Why I Ditched My Sigma 150-500mm Lens

by Anthony Morganti

Sigma 150-500mm Lens

I got this lens about a year ago and was very excited to use it. 500mm for less than $1000.00 seemed too good to be true but after I finally was able to spend some time shooting with it, I discovered that it was, indeed, too good to be true.

The lens is big and heavy. Very difficult to tote around, handhold and focus but that’s not the real crux of the problem. The issue I have with the lens is that it’s soft. I just cannot get consistent crisply focused images with this lens.

Now I know, zoom lenses typically aren’t at their sharpest when you use them at maximum focal length but let’s face it, we all zoom all the way in. That’s why we buy these darn things anyway. We zoom them all the way to get as close to our subject that we can. It’s just the way we photographers do things and if we are comparing lenses, we’ll compare them zoomed all of the way in. The Sigma just isn’t sharp enough. It’s as simple as that.

Last weekend I went to a nice park near me that has numerous nature trails. I took along the Sigma 150-500mm Lens, my Nikon D800e and my Monopod. I planted myself in one spot and took some shots of the birds as they came to feast on the birdseed I left for them.

Composition and focusing were relatively easy — as a matter of fact, the overall shot was pretty easy. I was there an hour or so and took dozens of images. Sigma suggests that when you’re using the lens on a tripod, you should turn Optical Stabilization off. I was using a monopod so I took some with Optical Stabilization on and some with it off.  When I got home I anxiously loaded my SD card into Lightroom only to be disappointed. Most of my shots were focused fine but all of them were noticeably soft.

The following day I went back with the same camera and monopod but instead of the Sigma 150-500mm I used my Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II. Ok, this lens is over 2 1/2 times the price of the Sigma but it is more than half the maximum focal length. What I found was astounding. I could crop the images with the Nikon so the angle of  view was similar to the Sigma and the Nikon lens was sharper, crisper, had better contrast and most importantly, showed more detail than any shot taken with the Sigma.

Why should I shoot with the Sigma that’s ALWAYS soft when I could shoot with the lighter, faster Nikon, crop the image and still show more detail?

Below are the shots I took with both lenses. Both had image/optical stabilization on and I was roughly in the same spot when I took the images. As is apparent, I did get a bit higher with the Nikon but was pretty much the same distance away from the subject. They were processed identically in Lightroom with just the default sharpening used on both images.

As you can see, the 500mm does get you closer to your subject

That’s a typo on the bottom image. I shot the Nikon lens at f/2.8 not f/6.3

As you can see, the 500mm Sigma has much greater reach than the 200mm Nikon.


On this image comparison below, I cropped the Nikon image so that it has roughly the same view of the Sigma lens had at 500mm.

Same Size Mashup

Already I think you should be able to see that the image shot with the Nikon lens is better focused, crisper and clearer than the image shot with the Sigma lens.

In the following group of images I cropped both images so the nuthatch is filling up the frame. In these images it’s obvious that the Sigma lens is soft and the Nikon lens is sharp.

Cropped Mashup

Now it should be quite obvious that the heavily cropped image that was shot with the Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 VR II at 200mm is sharper than the image taken with the Sigma lens.

I spent just over $900.00 on the Sigma lens and it definitely hurt when I traded it in to Amazon.com for $538.90 but that was the best I could get for it on trade from anyone.

What stinks is that Nikon doesn’t make a reasonably priced prime or zoom that approaches 500mm. They make a 200-400mm that runs around $6,800.00. They have a cheaper 80-400mm for around $2,700.00.

As for prime lenses, unless I win the lottery, gain a benefactor or a sponsor, forget it. 400mm prime: $8,999.00 500mm prime: $8,996.00 (it’s slower than the 400mm hence cheaper) 600mm: $9,799.00 800mm: $18,200.00.

This is an area that Canon shooters have a distinct advantage. They make a great zoom at a great price, 100-400mm: $1,699.00 and a 400mm prime for: $1,339.00.

It’s often written that equipment isn’t important — that it’s all about composition and technique — but who are we kidding? Composition and technique are important but sometimes, we all get limited by our equipment.