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Sigma AF APO Tele Macro 400mm F/5.6 Vintage Lens Review

The Sony A350 camera has been partnered with the Sigma AF 400mm f/5.6 to find out how this vintage lens from the nineties performs.

| Vintage Lenses

Sigma AF APO Tele Macro 400mm F/5.6 Vintage Lens Review: Sigma 400mm F5,6 Front Oblique View | 1/4 sec | f/16.0 | 40.0 mm | ISO 100

Routinely available telephoto lenses, be they zooms or prime optics, seem to plateau out at 300mm. Beyond this the price and the weight escalate, so the search is always on for something to extend that range, particularly for wildlife and sports photography, that is more accessible. Here we have a virtually new example of the Sigma AF 400mm f/5.6 lens, originally released in 1995 and in this incarnation with a Minolta (now Sony) A mount. For the purposes of this review, it was decided to keep the advantage of AF, so it needed a Sony DSLR, an AF adapter at this stage not being available. The Sony A350 is a 14.2MP DSLR, not the highest resolution, but certainly capable of very good quality for web and for prints up to perhaps A3. Tickets were booked for the South Lakes Safari Zoo and we headed North on a very warm and sunny Sunday to put the lens, and camera, through their paces. Let's see how we got on.


Sigma AF APO Tele Macro 400mm f/5.6 Handling and Features

Sigma AF APO Tele Macro 400mm F/5.6 Vintage Lens Review: Sigma 400mm F5,6 On Sony A350 | 1/5 sec | f/16.0 | 40.0 mm | ISO 100

The lens was available, in this version, in Nikon, Minolta and Pentax AF fittings, which in itself shows how times have changed. This lens is a Minolta AF fit, which of course is carried forwards by Sony and is the same as their A fit DSLR range. Nikon and Pentax DSLRs are still available to accept their versions of the lens. The alternative choice is the adapter to enable the Minolta/Sony fit lens to be used on Sony E mount mirrorless bodies. As the lens would be used for wildlife, it was decided to use a Sony A350 DSLR, admittedly just 14.2MP but still capable of making good images.

There is a built-in pullout lens hood, which is a bit reluctant to pull out initially, probably not having moved since 1995. However, this does ease up a bit, still somewhat juddery in action but at least not loose. There is a standard 77mm filter thread. The lens overall is well finished, reasonably compact for a 400mm lens and weighs in at a tolerable 1435g (measured) without caps but including the tripod collar.

As we continue our tour of the lens, next up is the distance scale, clearly visible in both feet and metres through a generously sized plastic window. Just next to the scale is the focus limiter switch, offering a choice of full range or 1.6-3m or 3.5m-infinity. There is no depth of field scale. Focusing is down to 1.6m, giving a maximum magnification of 1:3. This is closer than most zoom lenses, and very much closer than most 400mm lenses. Although not actually “macro” in the same way as a macro lens is expected to be (1:1) nonetheless it is very much closer than average focusing.


Sigma AF APO Tele Macro 400mm F/5.6 Vintage Lens Review: Sigma 400mm F5,6 Rear Oblique View | 0.3 sec | f/16.0 | 40.0 mm | ISO 100

The rubberised manual focus ring is enormous, behind which is the AF/MF collar. More than just a switch for this lens, an entire, substantial collar. Behind this collar is the removable tripod mount, most useful for changing between landscape and portrait orientations.

Optical construction is 10 elements in 7 groups, including 2 SLD (Super Low Dispersion). The lens is described as APO (Apochromatic), meaning that it is corrected fully for focusing of all three colours of light – red, green and blue. This does indeed seem to be borne out by the CA performance and the lack of colour fringing in the images. This also means that focusing IR light may not need any focus point correction, providing the IR wavelength does not stray too far beyond 770nm. The diaphragm comprises 9 blades, to assist with producing smooth bokeh.

Handling a 400mm lens, especially with a crop factor that means we may be trying to view an image with a “35mm-format equivalent” field of view of 600mm, is much more demanding than handling a 300mm. Perhaps this is why so many lens ranges stop at 300mm. However, the need is there for affordable longer lenses as with wildlife and some sports it is sometimes impossible to have any lens that is long enough.

The best result is obtained by using a tripod, but image stabilisation systems make hand holding a viable alternative most of the time. This lens is very usable and with its close focusing ability also very versatile. There are also plenty of mount options, although not all for this particular version. For this version, the three AF mount options are, as already mentioned, Nikon, Minolta (now Sony A mount) and Pentax. The MF mount options are Nikon, Minolta, Contax, Olympus. There is also an HSM version of the lens, with AF mounts for Sigma SA and Canon.

Let's see now how the performance stacks up.


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Sigma AF APO Tele Macro 400mm f/5.6 SEARCH

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30 Mar 2022 12:17PM
Great review.

One wonders how much of this is down to spotty aging of some Sigma lenses around this time, particularly at a time of such technological change (internal focus, different ways to go about AF). This would effect even pristine copies like the one you've tested.

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5 Apr 2022 9:05AM
Yours seems a very soft copy. I had one with Canon fit and it was sharper than my Canon EF 400mm f/5.6, and measured it to be sharper too. Two problems with it in general. For Canon, earlier versions would work only at f/5.6, and the black colouring would become sticky. A pity Sigma never brought out a newer version but I suppose they decided more sales with a 100-400 zoom.
3 Jul 2022 11:29PM
Yes, the quality varies since time affects the lens, and there are several versions of this same lens. I bought one from eBay. The lens is currently used by me with Sony a77 (APS-size). That makes 600mm. The sharpest aperture for APS-cameras matches this test and it is clearly f11 (two stops down). The copy of mine is near mint and quite sharp as described by The color balance is warm and vivid - not cold blue like Tokina AT-X f5.6 400mm. The autofocus is slow and very often hunts. NOTE: At first I used the lens with Sony a450 and the autofocus was always correct. Then I tried to use it with my Sony a65, but the images were a bit blur all the time since the lens always backfocused (the focus too back). Then I paired the lens with Sony a77 which allows the fine tuning of the autofocus mechanism. The correct adjustment of autofocus was (-3) to eliminate the backfocusing. After that the lens made a good use with Sony a77. Then I ordered another copy from this same lens. It was a great disappointment: it was much more worn out, the coating of the lens barrel peeled off at least some places and the autofocus was even more unshure. It never produced sharp pictures. The lens was immediately returned by me and the seller indirectly informed that the focusing problems also existed during the previous ownership.

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