Sigma 150-600 Contemporary review

I’m gonna sound harsh to most people who own or consider buying this lens, but I assume. This is a review after over 1 year of use.

Update: I’ve been told that Nikon users are globally more pleased with the lens. Considering most of the latest Nikon DSLRs are not featuring an OLPF I would be keen to believe it plays a role. But the hard truth is that a sharp lens stays sharp even on a camera featuring an OLPF, like all Canon cameras except the 5DsR.

I’ve never been happy with my results, even far from it. The lens has been soft since day 1 and fine tuning it was useless. I wouldn’t go as far as saying the USB dock is useless, it allowed me to update the firmware (which didn’t change anything I could sense).

Built: If we judge the build quality of a lens by how the different pieces fit together, it sure is honorably built. If we judge it by how sturdy it is, this lens is junk. I’ll go further and say this particular lens is a scam, it’s similar to a click bait. I guess you get what you pay for, although to my knowledge the similarly priced Tamron 150-600 G2 is much better built. Whatever. I’m set for a 330€ repair for using the lens normally.
I recently found out that the lens cap left dents in the filter thread, but worse, repetitive mounting and removal of the lens hood has cracked the plastic support ring near a screw where it’s particularly thin. And this will cost me 330€, or a third of the lens price, to have it fixed. Wow.

Tripod collar: It does the job, although a longer foot would have been nice. It does not rotate smoothly at all, and for it to rotate more or less ok it becomes very loose increasing chances of shake motion blur. This is a bit stupid as using a tripod is exactly to avoid shake. In all fairness, the Canon 400/5.6 is not any better in that regard.

Optical quality: Mediocre. I just bought a Canon 400mm f/5.6L and a 1.4x II TC, and it immediately felt like it’s not that I wasn’t able to handle a 500-600mm lens, because my results were instantly much much better. The combo at f/8 is brighter, clearer, crisper and AF just as fine as the Sigma on my 7D mark II. Without the TC it’s another world. All without image stabilization. I can very evidently see that I get my ISOs kept in acceptable levels at high shutter speeds while the Sigma requires significantly higher ISOs in similar conditions. I guess its many glass elements are hurting light transmission, and it’s true the Canon 400/5.6 has particularly few elements which must help.

AF: The Sigma can be snappy when the limiter is engaged and the AF performance tweaked to “speed priority”. But it tracks poorly and I get one out of 4-5 images in acceptable focus when tracking birds in flight. Hunting is frequent even in good light if the subject is very OOF when starting acquisition. That does not happen on the Canon (yes I love the Canon and I hate the sigma).

Stabilization: What stabilization? Oh yes the one you can get to work moderately ok when using low shutter speeds and get 1 sharp frame out of 5, ok. The same stabilization that works against you at high shutter speeds. I don’t have the time to switch it off when a bird decides to take off, and even if I did, the stabilization unit seem to not return in perfect neutral position when turned off on the go, which ruins the images taken immediately after.

Image quality: Well, disapointing all the way. Never really sharp. Was it a bad copy? Maybe. I don’t really care. When I buy a lens I don’t want that it needs to be sent back immediately for adjustment.
Also, this lens behaves horribly in backlit situations. I’m ok that it doesn’t behave as good as a much more expensive lens, but not to the point of making most (if not all) backlit shots unusable.
Out of focus parts of the image can become really ugly when highly specular surfaces are present like water drops, reflective objects and such.

Customization (USB dock): That is the good part of the lens (which Tamron proposes too). The USB dock allows for fine tuning the lens at all focal length and various distances from MFD to infinity, if it needed it. Mine was too soft to clearly distinguish a point of precise focus, so it served no purpose.
Upgrading the firmware which is tradionally done by shipping your lens back to the manufacturer and waiting for it to returns, can be done using the dock. That is neat. However my lens has received at least 2 firmware updates that I can remember and they changed nothing.
You can also customize the AF performance vs accuracy, and attribute 2 custom functions to the C1 and C2 position of the custom switch on the lens barrel.
It’s fine, but quite frankly, that the focus limiter dedicated button stops working in C1 or C2 mode is crazy stupid. You are forced to define a set in stone focus limit if you want for example your C1 position to be “AF speed priority” and your C2 to “AF accurary priority”.
You’re not forced to use a focus limiter distance, but AF speed priority doesn’t speed things up noticeably unless you do. But it’s not particularly faster than regular AF performance with the focus limiter engaged. AF Accuracy priority however is noticeably slower. Again this feature feels half-baked.

Conclusion: Never Sigma again. At some point I was considering “upgrading” to the 500/4, which I’m sure is much sturdier but simply because I’m felling robbed by Sigma for this very fragile and weak 150-600C that will cost me a third of its price to repair so it can be sold, never again. I guess “you get what you pay for” works both ways.

Something that cannot be categorized but you must be aware you’re not getting 600mm with this lens most likely partly due to focus breezing but I suspect Sigma happily rounded something like 560-580mm to make it 600. For example my Canon 400/5.6 + 1.4TC (560mm) shows slightly better magnification regardless of the focus distance.

I compare this lens a lot to the Canon 400/5.6 because in my opinion it represents a good alternative in a similar price range, especially since there are plenty of used copies out there. You lose stabilization, yes, it’s f/8 with a TC, yes, but isn’t the end goal of photography to produce images of a quality you’re happy with? At least that’s my end goal. I’ve taken some reasonably good (for me) shots with the Sigma but they all required a lot of careful post processing to recover some sharpness (but never been able to get amazing details), and it’s what? 100 out of 50,000 shots. The ratio is obviously not 1/500, a lot of shots were missed because of me, but still the keeper rate was too low.
For instance I got the 400/5.6 + 1.4 TC II for about the same money I could resell the Sigma, which I most certainly will do one it gets back “fixed” from the manufacturer.

The Sigma 150-600 contemporary is fragile, and optically far from up to 2016 standards in my opinion. The price would be right considering its maximum aperture IF it was optically very good. I read sometimes that some copies of it are excellent, but be aware you might not be that lucky and such a wide sample variation from “excellent” to useless is not acceptable.

Anyway! Considering this lens? Consider another before you do!

Get a lens that is sharp and sturdy, even if it means no IS and forces you to up your game as a photographer. Then start saving money for the same brand lens of your dreams. In my case that is probably going to be the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8 version II, III if I can afford it. Anyway at some point those big whites are so expensive once you’ve saved about 5000-6000€ you can find any of the 400/500/600mm ones falls within your budget on the used market and make a decision from there.

Sigma 150-600 Contemporary review

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