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10x zoom lenses are normally reserved for the lower end of the interchangeable lens market due to the compromises that have to be made in manufacturing them. This lens from Sigma however, is EX branded and aimed much higher up. We take a look at its performance.
- Focal length 50-500mm
- Aperture f/4-6.3
- Angle of view 46.8-5°
- Filter size / type 86mm
- Construction Elements/groups 20 elements in 16 groups
- Focusing type Internal
- Closest focus 1m-3m
- Weight 1.840kg
- Dimensions (Dia x length) 95x218.5mm
- Mounts available Sigma, Canon, Nikon,(with HSM) Minolta, Pentax (without HSM)
- Tripod bush Yes, removable
- Price £899.99
Build and Handling
This lens has a solid feel to it, although the weight has a lot to do with that and gives rise to its nickname of the ‘Bigma’. The nickname also gives a clue that the lens has a following strong enough to give rise to an instantly recognisable, unofficial name. It arose, unsurprisingly, from its predecessor, a similar lens that has now been superseded by this DG version.
We tested one on a Nikon D70, and in Nikon mount the first thing in front of the mount is an aperture ring. Then follows a distance window marked in metres and feet before you get to the tripod mount ring, which is only removable in one position when there is no camera fitted. The mounting plate is a sturdy, 100mm affair, which doubles up as a carry handle. Forward again of this is the Manual Focus ring that, as is usual with the EX range, is nicely torqued with no sloppiness. On the left of the barrel at this point is a zoom lock switch that has a secondary purpose when using a converter. It prevents zooming below the 100mm mark to avoid damaging the attached converter.
Next up is the zoom ring, again well torqued and requiring very nearly half a turn to achieve the full range. At this point the barrel extends during zooming and at the full 500mm has extended 85mm in length. The good news is that the front element does not rotate as the fully internal focussing mechanism is operated. Autofocus, with the HSM motor, is quiet and surprisingly quick given the scope of the lens. The front element is large (86mm filter thread) but is well shielded by the bayonet type petal hood that comes supplied in the zippered pouch along with a carrying strap. Although the lens is a large one, with the zoom lock employed it is not so large that it cannot be carried on a strap while you are out and about with it.
This is the area where most high magnification zooms fall down. However, this one did not fall as far as some! Not unusually it is better at the short end but the picture quality only degrades slightly as the focal length gets longer. Distortion is amazingly well controlled, showing figures of –0.231% (pincushion) at the short end and +0.919% (barrel) at the long end of the zoom. On the chromatic aberration front, the lens is again remarkably well behaved and at no point did the figures achieved give any cause for concern, all being well within acceptable limits.
Files printed to A3 on an Epsom 1290 printer showed the lens to be sharp enough for the vast majority of circumstances with good contrast throughout the focal range. Although not producing the exceptional levels of say, the 120-300 EX, it certainly beats the average zoom lenses.
Showing the versatility of the lens, this was taken at 1/125sec at f/6.3 and 50mm
Deliberate framing to include the reflection and space above and below was not difficult with this lens. 1/500sec at f/9 and 270mm. Nikon D70
The detail picked up with this 100% crop from the full frame shot is quite good. 1/160sec at f/6.3 (wide open) and 500mm. Camera/lens mounted on a beanbag.
A lion shot through a wire mesh on a Nikon D70 with an exposure of 1/40sec at f/7.1 and the lens at 320mm.
Click on each comparision photo below to view full size versions
50-500mm set at 50mm and f/4
50-500mm set at 500mm and f/6.3
Below is our lens test data. To find out how to use these graphs look at this article: How we test lenses
The ability of this lens to frame subjects with all their surroundings as well as an ability to pick out distant objects without moving your feet or changing lenses does have its attractions. The enormous standard to ultra-telephoto range of the lens, along with a decent performance and almost total lack of distortion makes this one well worth considering. If you are travelling and don’t want a sack-full of lenses it becomes almost indispensable!
In summary, the positive points of the Sigma 50-500mm EX DG HSM are:
Good build quality
Excellent focal range
Well controlled distortion and CA
Good value for money.
The negative points are:
A bit of a lump to carry all day.
Slightly softer than shorter zooms (but not much!)
Only a single socket on the tripod mount.
Test by Ian Andrews