1200mm Telephoto Reach with Autofocus is a Game Changer

Since its introduction as the first Sports lens specifically designed for full-frame mirrorless camera systems, the SIGMA 150-600mm F5-6.3 DG DN OS | Sports has been earning fans on both the Sony E-mount platform, and on the L-Mount Alliance platform. And very notably, on the L-Mount system, the lens can pair with the 2x TELE CONVERTER TC-2011 to become a mega-reach 300-1200mm F10-13 zoom lens with full autofocusing functionality through the entire zoom range!


Getting familiar with the 150-600mm DG DN OS | Sports + 2x Teleconverter

The SIGMA 150-600mm DG DN OS | Sports accomplishes its 1200mm transformation at a combined weight of just 5 1/4 pounds for lens and teleconverter, and at a price tag of under $2,000; which, to me, is game-changing. This makes extreme long-reach telephoto photography much more accessible, both in terms of price point, and also in terms of portability. We are talking extreme super-telephoto reach that is truly hand-holdable, and genuinely affordable.

Generally, I’ve been pairing the 300-1200mm setup with the L-Mount Panasonic S1R and S5 cameras for nature and wildlife; and I will admit I have had much more success so far with relatively stationary animals at 1200mm. Tracking birds in flight, handheld at 1200mm, which provided an impressively narrow 2.1º angle of view, has been a little bit of challenge so far. I’ve managed to track some jets on their 20-mile descent into Newark Liberty Airport against a clear blue sky, and I’m hoping with some more practice and persistence, I’ll nail some successful big-in-frame bird-in-flight shots zoomed all the way to 1200mm this spring.

While some may argue that F10-F13 is a little on the slow side compared to say, F5.6 or F8, I would counter by stating that imaging sensor technology has advanced significantly over the past few years. ISOs 3200 and 6400 (and beyond!) on a modern high-megapixel, full-frame camera totally outclasses lower ISO values on even the top-tier DSLRs from just a decade ago. For me, this is a combination of technological advances that adds up to a real win for long-reach autofocusing capabilities. And just to demonstrate just how good in-camera high-ISO capture is, all the images in this piece were optimized for web from in-camera JPGs instead of the RAW format files.

And of course, there’s also the 1.4x TELE CONVERTER TC-1411 for a little less reach with a bit more wide-open brightness, with a very respectable 210-840mm zoom range to consider…


A portable, handheld 1200mm combo, ideal for birds and nature

When it comes right down to it, smaller, more lightweight optics are much more easy to handle for every real-world photographer. And while heavy, expensive super-exotic tele lenses like the legendary 300-800mm F5.6 SIGMONSTER, the 200-500mm F2.8 and new and vintage exotic 1200mm primes from other manufacturers with yacht-like resale values certainly have their place in the super-telephoto lens pantheon, this SIGMA 300-1200mm F10-F13 setup is truly designed for on-the-go daytime action. Of all the long-reach autofocusing options listed in this paragraph, this is the only practically portable option. This is a sling-over-the-shoulder and scramble up the trail for a different vantage point option that these others just can’t match.

For the most part, this is primarily a long-reach setup that will work best with an abundance of sunlight. Think open, outdoor spaces like beaches and meadows with bright blue skies for the highest percentage of keepers.


Outstanding Stabilization and AF Performance

Even in the flat, gray shadow tones of early morning and late afternoon, I’ve been very impressed with the autofocus abilities and Optical Stabilizer operations of this lens combo, as well as its ability to capture handheld images of the various moon phases.

And quite honestly, for situations where documentation of the moment matters significantly more than pure pixel-peeping image perfection — rare species documentation, perhaps, or long-reach photojournalism — the ability to gain up the visual information from even a wildly underexposed high-ISO, low shutter speed JPG and have it come into the light is flat-out amazing, as shown below:

Screenshot of a slow shutter-speed capture of a gull on the shoreline of Sandy Hook in the dismal predawn light, a test of both the Optical Stabilizer function of the 150-600mm plus 2.0x teleconverter, and the in-camera processing prowess of the Panasonic S1R. This 1/125 shutter speed shot at 1200mm is pushing the limits of the OS, and the histogram that shows no values above about 128 is well under-exposed.
After adjustments to normalize the histogram, this photo of the gull looks surprisingly good for such a slow shutter speed and such dramatic push-processing in Adobe Camera Raw. 1200mm, 1/125s, F13, ISO 3200.

All in all, there’s just something amazing about a grab-and-go 1200mm lens with autofocus. This past weekend when a squadron of woodpeckers showed up in my yard, I was able to easily chase them and reposition myself on the hilly terrain as they flitted from tree to tree (see top of article). I’ve never been the patient bird-blind giant-lens on gimbal sort of photographer, so this greater degree of mobility fits my style perfectly.


True Telephoto Power for L-Mount

As it stands now, the SIGMA 150-600mm F5-6.3 DG DN OS | Sports is already the longest super-telephoto lens available for the L-Mount system. And when you add the 2x TELE CONVERTER TC-2011, it again puts it into a class all its own.

For birds, backyard critters, larger wildlife (especially the kind that require you to keep your distance), moon photography, and all those candid moments that occur in nature that might otherwise remain unseen, the 150-600mm DG DN OS | Sports and its compatible teleconverters make a spectacular combination.

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