Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in 2015. The 150-600mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM | Sports lens has since been discontinued.
Last year, SIGMA announced a pair of zoom lenses for full-frame cameras, the 150-600mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM | Sports and 150-600mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM | Contemporary. With identical focal lengths and apertures, and advanced feature sets including the SIGMA-exclusive lens customization, these two new champion zoom lenses share a significant amount of DNA. So, what is the difference between the Sports and Contemporary version of the SIGMA 150-600mm zoom lenses?
Contemporary vs. Sports Breakdown
The short answer can be summarized as such: two or so pounds, degree of weather-sealing, and around nine hundred bucks. Yes, the Sports version is built like a tank. It is heavier with an aluminum alloy barrel, and it has a much more weatherized build, with an optical configuration of 24 elements in 16 groups and a larger front element (105mm thread diameter). The higher price reflects these changes.
The Contemporary version has a different optical configuration (20 elements in 16 groups) and accepts 95mm front filters. Between the smaller diameter lens groupings and the barrel being composed of thermally stable composite, it is noticeably lighter at just over four pounds. True, it lacks the squall-braving sealing of the Sports version, but it does offer a water and oil resistant front element and gasketing at the camera mount; and is fully compatible with a variety of aftermarket rain sleeves for tougher conditions.
SIGMA is rethinking lenses. From the innovative zoom lock at all marked focal distances, to lens customization for AF speed, custom focus limiter and more, the 150-600mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM | Contemporary is a fantastic hyper-tele zoom lens designed with an eye on portability and performance.
An American Oyster Catcher, at water’s edge, as seen through the 150-600mm | Contemporary lens at 600mm on a Rebel T3i. This lens is super sharp in the center of the frame, even fully zoomed!
A variation on the previous image, same tech specs as above. AF was set to AI Servo as the bird wandered around in and out of the surf.
Don’t mistake the slightly less rugged build of the Contemporary lens with a lack of craftsmanship. Total DNA between these two makes them much more similar to one another in terms of exceptional groundbreaking performance and feature set than other competing lenses in the market. The 150-600mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM | Contemporary is the most advanced lens in the Contemporary line and shares the most advanced lens customization feature set (via the optional USB Dock) with the Sports version. This includes autofocus speed enhancement, custom focus limiter, 16 zone microfocus adjustments and firmware upgrades, Optical Stabilizer Preview behavior, Manual Override behavior and more. And like its sibling, it offers zoom lock at all marked focal lengths, and a Optical Stabilizer with an accelerometer for automatic detection and correction for vertical or horizontal panning.
Lens profiles for both lenses are included in the current build of Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw, the most popular RAW conversion engine. And SIGMA Optimization Pro and the USB Dock recognizes these lenses, when paired with the teleconverters, as distinct objects for customization; so you create Custom Settings for the lens itself, and for the lens paired with either the 1.4x or 2.0x teleconverters. Both lenses are swift to autofocus, and are very sharp at all focal lengths, even wide open.
A pollen-coated red wing black bird alights on a tree branch. 150-600mm Contemporary at 600mm, wide open.
The tripod ring and foot are removable on the Contemporary version, and the lens ships with a great rubberized band that covers the mounting bolts when the collar is removed. I’ve personally never seen this done before for any lens with a removable collar, and like the new zoom lock feature, it really sets this lens apart in terms of total design and usability.
Autofocus tracking with the 150-600mm Contemporary in AI Servo mode on a non-centered focus point at 600mm was able to keep up with this immature herring gull flying above the surf. (Straight out of the box, no AF speed adjustments via USB Dock.)
Especially when hand-holding, the weight difference between the two lenses is very noticeable, with the Contemporary version being much easier to hold without a tripod or monopod for longer periods of time, at all zoom lengths. Like the Sports, focal distance can be changed either by the zoom ring, or with a push-pull near the front of the barrel, and when the Sports is fully racked to 600mm, the front of the lens is heavy in the left hand. The lighter weight of the Contemporary version is appreciated after a long day in the field, hand-holding the lens.
The women’s race during the Tour of Somerville as seen through the Contemporary zoom. Moving at nearly 40 MPH, the bikers were flying around the course! AI Servo autofocus on the Reb T3i.
You can see the heat distortion in the background as the main pack of racers ride east on Main Street during the Tour of Somerville, as seen through the 150-600mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM | Contemporary lens at 600mm.
What is the difference between the 150-600mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM | Contemporary and the 150-500mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM | Sports zoom lens?
When compared to the last-generation 150-500mm DG OS HSM, the 150-600mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM | Contemporary is much more the more direct descendent terms of total hand-feel, weight, and build, and of course, street price. The 150-600mm | C is a little larger, and weighs a touch more; and the fit and finish has been updated between the generations. A few more buttons, and switches and features have been added, but there’s a through-the viewfinder similarity of experience that will make the 150-600mm | Contemporary feel instantly like an old friend to photographers upgrading from the 150-500mm.
A Sand Hill Crane, captured at 500mm through the 150-500mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM lens on a Sony A850, wide open. If you are familiar with this great lens, the new 150-600mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM | Contemporary will feel very familiar, even as you revel in the great upgrades between generations!
Obviously, there’s 100mm more reach, as well as the addition of the focus limiter, the two-mode OS with accelerometer, the custom functions settings, the unique new zoom lock switch, manual override, resistant front element and gasketed rear element, a redesigned lens hood and the tripod foot connector bolt covers as new features on the Contemporary zoom; which is really quite a list of upgrades! And, of course, as a Global Vision lens, every unit is tested with the A1 MTF device for optical performance. The 150-500mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM is a superb variable-aperture zoom lens with Optical Stabilizer offering a lot of reach and range in a relatively compact package; and has been a favorite of outdoor photographers for many years. The 150-600mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM | Contemporary builds upon that great legacy and is an even stronger performer; thanks to the additions and upgrades between generations.
A deer in the woods, as seen through the 150-600mm | Sports lens. This is the bigger, more ruggedized of the two 150-600mm zoom lenses in the SIGMA lineup, and it is a magnificent, if slightly heavy, beast! OS activated, 580EX strobe with Better Beamer flash mod.
And the Sports version, to mix a ton of metaphors, is the powered-up, supercharged, race-tuned-and-badged beast mode telephoto zoom version of the 150-600mm: The all-wheel-drive version with fatter tires, an upgraded 16-speaker stereo system, and all the whistles, bells, and gasketing you might imagine.