I was fortunate enough to get a chance to test out the new Sigma 150-600mm f5-6.3 Sport lens at the Festival of Cranes out in New Mexico. The images above and below are some of the first I captured with it early one morning at the Bosque del Apache NWR. What is unusual about the images is that I normally use a Canon 1D Mark 3 body, but as fate would have it, the Canon mount Sigma 150-600mm f5-6.3 Sport lens got lost on its way to the festival. What to do? Sigma tech rep and photographer Brett Wells came to my rescue and offered me his Nikon version of the Sigma 150-600mm f5-6.3 Sport lens along with his Nikon D600 body. So while it was a bit uncomfortable for me working with a camera body that I wasn’t familiar with, I had no problem putting the lens through its paces. After all, Sigma makes most of their lenses in Canon, Nikon, Sony, Pentax, and Sigma mounts. As I returned to the festival tent I had a surprise awaiting me as the case with the Canon mount Sigma 150-600mm Sport had just came in and was at our booth. I could now use that lens for the next few days in combination with my Canon 1D Mark 3 body.
That first day, I used the lens primarily at 600mm. After all, it is that added reach that is really appealing. The OS really shined in those early morning tests as it allowed me to track and keep focus on the subject even with some pretty slow shutter speeds in both horizontal and vertical positions. When testing a lens, I feel it is important to see how it performs in difficult situations such as low low light and with a subject that is coming right at you. This challenges many lenses but as you can see in any of the images above and below, it performed extremely well in all of those situations.
I hand held the lens the entire time I was testing it. The solid build felt comfortable in my hands but if you feel you may not be able to hand hold the lens, a side mount Gimbal style attachment for your ballhead such as the Induro GHBA will allow you to track and acquire focus on your subject even at 600mm! The Sport sealing also felt reassuring during one of the many wind storms with dust blowing all over the place. I simply wiped it down when I got back to the room. Another great bonus is the metal hood. When photographing, I often keep the camera and lens on the floor of the car so I have easy access to it. I have broken plenty of plastic hoods this way so the metal hood is just another fine touch. OK, so the first few days with large birds proved to be a huge success. But why not try it out on some smaller birds that were around the refuge…after all smaller ducks and birds are much faster and would really test the capabilities of any lens, so on a few mornings, I went out to do just that. Below is an image of a northern shoveler just taking off in early morning light. The bird is quite skittish and I knew he would take off no matter how quietly and slowly I approached. Finger on the trigger and lens held tightly against the body, he suddenly blasted off. The Sigma 150-600mm Sport acquired and locked on the subject as I burst off about 6 frames with the up wing position being my favorite and the downward stroke my second. Given that 5 of 6 frames were keepers (last frame he started to fly away) is impressive for any lens with such small birds.
After the festival, I was able to visit some new areas that a friend wanted to share with me. She had found and area where there were some courting western grebes. I have never seen that behavior personally so I was absolutely thrilled to have that chance. When we got there, the birds were just going about their normal business of fishing and having territorial disputes and with the calm winds, it made for some beautiful portrait and behavior images.
Unfortunately as soon as the courting behavior started, the winds picked up substantially and put an end to any chance we could get at capturing it. I know I will be headed back there again and this time spend a week or more with these beautiful birds.
Another great location for you if you are ever in the Albuquerque area is the zoo. They have hundreds of beautiful “wild” ducks that inhabit their ponds. I used the term “wild” because they are free to come and go as they please but given that people love to feed them at the pond, they tend to stay around for the free handout. The wood duck and American widgeon pictured above are just two of the many beautiful species that inhabit the ponds at the zoo in great numbers and that poses many compositional challenges. This is where the versatility and range of the Sigma 150-600mm f5-6.3 Sport lens really shines. I was quickly able to use the zoom to compose on subjects that were close to me (like the widgeon) to isolate it among the 100’s of other ducks and then zoom out when one swam away from the group.
One of the biggest challenges you face in an environment like that is you don’t have much room or time to track a subject that is flying. I was photographing the wood duck when a few children spooked a flock of birds. I wheeled around, zoomed, acquired, locked focus, all against a difficult background and the image above of the landing mallard is the result. I was genuinely impressed.
As I packed the lens up to ship it back, I thought about how versatile the lens was and how well it performed even in difficult situations. The sport seal makes this a perfect walk around lens for me as I am always out in environs that don’t necessarily treat my gear nicely. The build quality is outstanding and the zoom was stiff enough to allow for smooth zooming without catching or sticking. The stabilization and tracking performed flawlessly even maxed out at 600mm.
I am looking forward to testing the Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Contemporary as well to in order to compare the two but given that my gear is subject to some very harsh environs, I know the Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Sport lens will soon be a vital part of my bag.
As usual, you can find more information about my workshops, tours, lectures, blog, eBooks, and more at:www.roaminwithroman.com