The Blog: See what
Sigma is saying.

07.07.2011

by Robert O’Toole

50-500mm F4.5-6.3 DG OS HSM vs 150-500mm F4.5-5.6 DG OS HSM

Over the past few years as a professional photographer I have been asked some really strange questions working in the field. What kind of movie you filming? How many millimeters you got in that thing? Can you see each individual feather on that bird’s rear end? Can I look through your lens?

On the other hand photography enthusiasts ask me some very good questions. The most popular topics by far over the past few months have centered on two Sigma lenses in particular, the 50-500mm F4-6.3 DG APO OS HSM and its cousin the 150-500mm 5-6.3 APO DG OS HSM.  The things most people seem to curious about are performance and comparisons to each other and other lenses. Some of the questions made me think about the results, so much so that I decided to take each of the two lenses out this morning and make some test images with my D300s (my D700 is being serviced by Nikon) and feature the results in the Sigma Blog.

Here are some of the best 50-500mm APO OS HSM / 150-500mm APO OS HSM questions.

How sharp is the 50-500 or 150-500? 

I have found that both lenses are capable of professional results. Over the past year I have made some of my favorite images with these lenses, and I can tell you the images are sharp enough for professional use no doubt. As soon as I decide on my favorite, the 50-500 or the 150-500, I will be purchasing one myself!

What is the quality like?

Over the past year I have had a copy of each one of these lenses with me in the field in all types of conditions and environments, from Alaska in February to Europe in summer and later this year to Australia. I have not had experienced any problems or needed any service other than some accidental damage to the rear of the 150-500.

What do you think about the autofocus performance on these two lenses?

My results of in-the-field work with birds in flight with both lenses have been spectacular. Bald eagles in flight at full frame, even head on at full frame have been dead on in-focus with Nikon D700, D3, D3s (FX full frame sensors) and D300s (aps-c 1.5 x sensor) bodies. See my website for some examples.

Which lens is sharper, the 50-500 or the 150-500?

My in-the-field results with live subjects seem to show no difference on my monitor. In testing my two copies the 50-500 seems to have a slight edge from 200-300mm over the 150-500. The 150-500 seems to have a slight sharpness advantage at 500mm. The differences are subtle enough that I don’t think many end users would see these in real world use.

Which lens is sharper from 300-500mm?

Take a look at the comparison images below and judge for yourself. It seems to me the 50-500 has the edge around 300 and the 150-500 at the longer end.

50-500mm vs. 150-500mm shootout results

The shootout images was made this morning just for this post and were shot in exactly the same way that I use the lenses in the field, handheld.

50-500mm F4-6.3 DG APO OS HSM

Sigma 50-500mm F4-6.3 DG APO OS HSM @ 300mm with Nikon D300s, ISO 320. Manual mode: 1/1600 @ F8. OS 1on handheld. Image copyright 2011: Robert OToole Photography

Sigma 50-500mm F4-6.3 DG APO OS HSM @ 500mm with Nikon D300s, ISO 320. Manual mode: 1/1600 @ F8. OS 1on handheld. Image copyright 2011: Robert OToole Photography

150-500mm 5-6.3 APO DG OS HSM

Sigma 150-500mm 5-6.3 APO DG OS HSM @ 300mm with Nikon D300s, ISO 320. Manual mode: 1/1600 @ F8. OS 1on handheld. Image copyright 2011: Robert OToole Photography

Sigma 150-500mm 5-6.3 APO DG OS HSM @ 500mm with Nikon D300s, ISO 320. Manual mode: 1/1600 @ F8. OS 1on handheld. Image copyright 2011: Robert OToole Photography

50-500mm F4-6.3 DG APO OS HSM at 300mm and 500mm

100% center crops at 300mm and 500mm with Sigma 50-500mm with Nikon D300s, ISO 320. Manual mode: 1/1600 @ F8. OS 1on handheld. Image copyright 2011: Robert OToole Photography

150-500mm 5-6.3 APO DG OS HSM at 300mm and 500mm

100% center crops at 300mm and 500mm with Sigma 150-500mm with Nikon D300s, ISO 320. Manual mode: 1/1600 @ F8. OS 1on handheld. Image copyright 2011: Robert OToole Photography

150-500mm 5-6.3 APO DG OS HSM and 50-500mm F4-6.3 DG APO OS HSM at 300mm

100% center crops at 300mm with Sigma 150-500mm on the left side and Sigma 50-500mm on the right @ with Nikon D300s, ISO 320. Manual mode: 1/1600 @ F8. OS 1on handheld. Image copyright 2011: Robert OToole Photography

150-500mm 5-6.3 APO DG OS HSM and 50-500mm F4-6.3 DG APO OS HSM at 500mm

100% center crops at 500mm with Sigma 150-500mm on the left side and Sigma 50-500mm on the right @ with Nikon D300s, ISO 320. Manual mode: 1/1600 @ F8. OS 1on handheld. Image copyright 2011: Robert OToole Photography

Conclusion: The Jpegs from these lenses look good at both focal lengths, even the downsized web images look good. To my eyes the 50-500mm F4-6.3 APO OS HSM seems to have an advantage in sharpness around 300mm and the 150-500mm 5-6.3 APO DG OS HSM looks slightly sharper at 500mm. I did not include any corner details at 100% but both lenses had good detail around the edges of the sign; you can clearly see the slotted screw heads at the very edges of the frame. I did not see any color fringing or distortion in any of the files. I hope you find this information interesting and helpful if you are in the market for a stabilized long telephoto zoom lens.

My set up was a Nikon D300s, manual mode, RAW quality at 1600 at F8, ISO 320-400, OS 1 on, handheld. The image were shot full frame as shown at 300mm and at 500mm by moving my position. Before processing I selected the sharper looking files of each focal length. Then I extracted the Jpegs from the RAW NEF file, resized to 800 pixels, and then applied USM at 150, .5, 0 in PS CS5. For the center crop comparison images I opened the full size Jpeg files, set the view to 100% and placed the images side by side. The 100% crops have no sharpening applied in PS.

If you would like to see a larger example or you have any questions I would be glad to help, just drop me an email request. If you would like to join my free newsletter list please email me.

For more information or to find out about my workshops please visit my site or email me at Robert@RobertOToolePhotography.com

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18 comments so far

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  1. Hey Trevor Robert here.

    Thanks for taking time to comment. I agree with your suggestions.

    Having used Canon for more than 10 yrs I can remember dropping $7600 for a new 1DSMKII and finding that my L lenses that were sharp with my 1DMKII and 1DS were not so sharp anymore. So I know what you are talking about in regards to pixel density and lens resolution demands.
    Also I sometimes wonder about lens wear and tear over time. I have been using my 150-500 and 50-500 Sigma loaners now for over a year and they have been all over the planet, Europe in May, July in Alaska, Australia in September in all kinds of weather and they seem to be holding up great.
    Anyway I think Sigma deserves praise for offering glass like the 50-500 or 150-500 that can hold up to professional use and still deliver sharp professional quality images at an affordable price.

    Robert

  2. Great comparision! I own the Sigma 150-500mm f5-6.3 APO OS HSM, and for the cost vs better glass I can’t really complaint. In my opinion this lens does a great job of rendering sharp, clear images within a nice zoom range. That said, one of the reasons why I like Sigma is because in my personal experience I found the AF focus to be very fast in comparison to other lenses. So much that I purchased two Sigma 150-500mm OS. Now one of the two, actually the second one that I’ve only owned for five weeks to date has had to be replaced 2x because the AF motor died. As a matter of fact today, I’ll be picking up the new 3rd X replacement for my second newly purchased 150-500mm lens that finally came in to my local camera dealer. But in a matter of five weeks I’ve had two brand new Sigma 150-500mm lenses AF faulty…how weird! Both starting with serial #s 118 & 119. Besides this issue, I’ve had wonderful results with the lens when is worked properly and I get a ton of inquiries from flickr members asking me more about this lens.

    Bottom line is the Sigma 150-500mm f5-6.3 APO OS HSM, for only $1,069 + tax is an awesome deal! You get a nice range up to 500mm, clear and sharp photos…with a killer DOF! The AF is very FAST, working properly! I do not regret the purchase, and I would buy it again!

    After all, show me a company that has 100% working lenses without any faulty and/or technical issues? I’m a happy consumer and love the Sigma products. I would love it if they would be kind enough to have me test out their new Sigma 120-300mm f2.8 OS HSM, this is going to be a sick lens in a good way! :)

  3. Hi Cindy,

    Sorry to hear about the bad luck but glad to hear the replacement is doing well for you.

    I agree with you that the Sigma 150-500 is a great value, especially for Nikon shooters since there is nothing modern to compare in the Nikkor lineup.

    The Sigma 120-300 does look very interesting, I hope to be able to try one out soon.

    Thanks for sharing your experience.

    Robert

  4. I own the 150-500 and use it for sports photography, i find that it is very sharp at 500mm when shooting an object that is close to me but when the object is at a distance of 100mtrs or so then the focus is soft. This is where i would expect a long lens to be sharp as that is the purpose of having a 500mm lens. i have had sigma NZ look into it and they say that is the way the lens is made and are not interested in replacing or recalibrating the lens which is disapointing. I hope this is not tipical of all 150-500 lenses.
    Does anyone else have the same problen or is it just me?

  5. Thanks for the info and the comparison. I currently have a Nikor 70-200 f2.8 which is giving me some extremely clear shots at both close range and distances. But I lack the range of a super zoom. And in trying to keep within a budget to add lenses to my bag, these two Sigmas seem to be ones which might fill the bill.
    My eyes seem to lean toward the 150-500 for the sharpness, but certainly still seem to have some concern on the reliability and longevity of the lenses. Being a “professional amateur” at this stage of the game, I cannot afford to drop abundant coin multiple times every few months.
    So basically, I ask your opinion…..I use a Nikon D5000 with intentions to upgrade to a D90 or whatever the “latest thing” may be within a year or two. I need a lense that will fill my needs and remain reliable for a few years barring some freak accident. Would these Sigmas be a good investment?
    I appreciate your time in replying and thank you for your comparison.
    Eric

  6. Thank you, Robert for your response! When you get your hands on a Sigma 120-300 f2.8 OS HSM, please do let me know how you like it.

    As for Eric West, I’m not a “professional photographer”, or for that matter even a “professional amateur”– I’m just an amateur at photography! I welcome you to visit my flickr photo stream at link below to review my photos. I always write under the photo the lens I used, but for the last six weeks all my shots especially of birds have been with the Sigma 150-500mm OS HSM. Check it out and get a feel for the photos, and this is coming from an amateur…keep that in mind:)
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/cindylovesphotography/

    If you have trouble with the link, look me up under:
    Cindy Loves Photography

    Good Luck to you!
    Best regards,
    Cindy Bryant

  7. i recently bought a sigma 150 500mm and use it for nature photography,i am amazed at the sharpness of this lens in even low light conditions.its real value for ur money and would def recommend it .
    amit lotlikar ,mumbai india

  8. Hi Amit: Are you using the Canon Version. Please e-mail me at jaidkapc@gmail.com

    Thanks and regards.

  9. i purchased the 150=500 a few weeks back and used it yesterday for the first time to prepare for my trip to the national chuck wagon races in clinton ark…i went to the park to test it out on joggers moving vehicles…water fowl…anything that moved…tried different setting..different shutter speeds…different fstops…and all images were blurred i had set the os setting..at 1 and 2…the auto focus was set and i was using a mono pod…is this a defectective lens has anyone else had such a problem…i m using a d7700 shooting full frame…do not have any problem with my nikor lens and sporing events…shoot a 70-200 2.8 but wanted the extra length because of the races….

  10. I have this lens and its one of the best lens for wildlife and birds at that costing. I learned from online reviews that at 500mm the lens is not sharp, But mine is very sharp and i am loving it. I use this lens mostly at 500mm and i love the sharpness

  11. Nice head to head review of both Sigma lens. This review is useful for me to make decision. Based on my need look like I will go for Sigma 150-500, because mostly will use on max fl. Just curious about max fl 500 on both lens. Does it give same magnification ?

  12. The target sign is not a very good indicator of lens resolution and sharpness. Bird feathers are a real test, as are precisely engraved/printed photographic test target/patterns.

  13. I bought the150-500 but have the chance of the 50-500 at good price is it worth having both?

  14. Nice review. In my opinion, and also realizing that actually view the same thing differently, the color contrast in the comparative 300mm and 500 pics goes to the 150-500. It would be my choice as I prefer wildlife images. I am by far not a pro, and I do own the grand daddy of these lenses, the 170-500mm Sigma.

    On a game drive the flexibility of the 50-500mm will be a great advantage. There is nothing as frustrating as having a leopard lying right next to the vehicle and you have to scramble for a shorter lens.

    i would not mind an upgrade to either of these lenses though.

  15. I’ve owned both the OS and non-OS versions of the Sigma 50-500mm, for shooting action sports. They are my favorite lenses, by far. I recently sent my 50-500 OS to Sigma for calibration, and it came back even sharper than before, though it was never what I would call “soft” by any means. Prior to the calibration, the OS lens did seem a bit less sharp at 500mm than at around 300mm, as the author of this blog noticed, but now it’s sharp through the entire range.

    If anyone has the lens, and is having sharpness issues at any length, I would suggest sending it in for recalibration.

  16. Robert, thank you for the comparison. Visited your site to see examples and saw most of the Sigma pictures on your Home page were taken by the 50-500. There were a couple of 120-300 f/2.8, but none by the 150-500! So, do we infer that you prefer the 50-500 over the 150-500?

    Enjoyed the fabulous, inspiring pictures. Thank you again!

    Vinny

  17. Robert, thank you for the comparison. Visited your site to see examples and saw most of the Sigma pictures on your Home page were taken by the 50-500. There were a couple of 120-300 f/2.8, but none by the 150-500! So, do we infer that you prefer the 50-500 over the 150-500?

    Enjoyed the fabulous, inspiring pictures. Thank you again!

    Vinny

  18. I bought the 150-500 OS because I have all sorts of fast and sharp lenses from 50 to 200. I am truly amazed at the across the board performance of this lens and question the accuracy of some of those reviews that complain of softness at the higher magnifications. It stays on my Pentax K3.