Neate Imaging
Wildlife and Landscape Photography

Sigma 50- 500mm HSM Lens Review


When I bought this lens I was looking for something to let me get closer to wildlife, and give me good image quality all at a reasonable price (about £699 - £900). Having used the Sigma for several months, I have found it’s benefits and it limitations.


Build Quality

The build quality and feel of this lens is excellent, I have trudged for miles with it either in the backpack or swinging round my neck. I have been out in very hot and cold weather and have not had any problems. I have bought the green lens camouflage cover (lens coat) to help protect it. The only part of the lens which shows wear is the tripod mount, the paint has worn away on the base. It is a heavy lens, so you may appreciate using it with a monopod or a clamp in a bird hide.



I have used this with the Nikon d2xs as this camera has an excellent motor drive for autofocus. It has worked reasonably fast with this lens, however to get good auto focus performance you do need a  medium to high end digital SLR, I also used this lens on the Fuji S5 where the autofocus was not usable and I had to manually focus the lens.  It is a heavy lens but with careful management can be used hand held for short periods of time. I also use it on a bean bag in hides and in the car where it has produced excellent results. It has also had some major advantages over the larger prime lenses, here are a few:-



Do I use it at anything other than 500mm? Yes, there have been occasions where I was just too close and there wasn’t time to grab another camera or change the lens, I could just back off and continue shooting. On one occasion I was in a wooden hide and the sunset over the water was a shot too good to miss. I usually use my Nikon 12 -24mm but in this instance the focal length was too far away (all I could see was the edge of the hide and not enough of the sunset.) So I set my Sigma on 50mm pushed it through the view window and got the shot.



The lens is an unusual diameter so filters can be costly. I bought the UV for my lens and to enable me to use polarisers etc I just bought an adaptor for my Lee Filter set. This cost about £30.00, I can now use my existing circular 100mm polariser and all my other filters on this lens.


Image Quality and Teleconverters


In terms of image quality as long as the animal or bird fills at least a quarter of the frame it will look great . Teleconverters are NOT an option the glass is simply unable to give good results when stretched beyond the 500mm focal length. I have tested it with the Sigma 1.4 TC, the auto focus no longer works and the image quality is less than acceptable (I sold my sigma teleconverter ). To get optimum quality with this lens you will need a hide to get closer, I have found the car to be very useful as most birds will completely ignore it. I  use my beanbag and just sit and wait for that ‘perfect’ moment. If you need more than 500mm(750) you will need a prime that allows teleconverters or the Sigma 300 - 800mm (Sigmonster).




Using it with my D200 it is equivalent to 750mm on a 35mm camera. The F stop (at anything but 50mm) is 6.3, at a reach of  750mm that’s not bad for a sub £1,000 lens. This flexibility has made it an invaluable part of my kit bag.




The image quality will never compete with a professional prime lens, but for the money, if used within it’s limitations it can still produce great images for a very reasonable price. For best results use with a camera body that has a good motordrive.