by Robert O’Toole
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 at 300mm and 500mm
150-500mm 5-6.3 APO DG OS HSM at 300mm and 500mm
150-500mm 5-6.3 APO DG OS HSM and 50-500mm F4-6.3 DG APO OS HSM at 300mm
150-500mm 5-6.3 APO DG OS HSM and 50-500mm F4-6.3 DG APO OS HSM at 500mm
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.