Review: Sigma 150-500mm f/5-6.3 DG HSM APO

I had the opportunity to attend the 2010 Steelers training camp at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, PA on August 16.  Having attended in the past, I knew much of the activity would stretch across three practice fields and be wide ranging in distances, but mostly far away.  Solution?  Rent a long zoom lens.  Unfortunately the options were somewhat limiting for mounting on my Pentax K-7 but I ended up with the Sigma 150-500mm f/5-6.3 DG HSM APO Lens.

The Sigma 150-500mm lens attached to my Pentax K-7. This is with the lens hood attached and lens fully extended.

This lens is an ultra telephoto zoom lens ideal for nature, wildlife, or sports photography. This zoom range translates into an equivalent range of 225-750mm when used with a Pentax digital SLR camera which has a 1.5x crop factor to its sensor.  After putting it through a lot of work (a couple thousand images), I thought I’d share a few thoughts on the lens.

Pros of the Lens

  • Long reach – pretty obvious one due to the length, but it does indeed give you that long reach for applications where you need it
  • Build quality – Very well constructed.  The type of lens that feels professional and if properly cared for will be around for a long, long time.
  • Image quality – This is what it all comes down to right?  I was very pleased with the quality of the images produced with this lens.  At both 150mm and 500mm it was a very useable lens in the very bright sunny environment that I was using.
  • Lens Lock – Nice little feature to avoid lens creep (lens sliding or extending) while carrying it.
  • Price – For Pentax at least, this lens is only $999.  Some of you may be thinking “only??!!”  But for Pentax there are not many long zoom options available currently.  And for other brands, this is reasonably priced especially if you start looking at something like a Canon 500mm f/4 ($6k lens!) or event the Sigma 500mm f/4.5 for Pentax mount ($4,700!).

To get a sense of my vantage point for shooting at the Steelers training camp. There were 3 football fields right next to each other and I was able to shoot across all three adequately with the reach of this lens.

Photo during Steelers training camp from across the field closet to me using the Sigma 150-500mm. Click photo for more Steelers photos.

Cons of  the Lens

  • Variable and slow aperture – Once you get used to a constant aperture on a lens, it becomes addicting. And with an aperture of f/5 on the short end and f/6.3 on the long end, this lens is not very “fast”.  So it worked well for my use on a really bright sunny day, but I think it would be of little use shooting night sports or indoors where there were lower light conditions unless you had the ability to also crank up your ISO to 3200.
  • Size and weight – This lens is not small or light.  At 9.9″, a diameter of 3.7″ and a weight of 4.2 lbs you really do need to mount it to a tripod of monopod to use it effectively.  My choice was a nice heavy duty Manfrotto monopod.  Also keep in mind that even with the lens hood on reverse, this is still a LARGE lens and will likely require a special bag to carry it. I went sans bag at the training camp and used the included bag with my rental for transport (strap broke on the bag so using it in the field was not possible).
  • Tight zoom ring – Perhaps it was just the model I had, but it took a lot of effort to turn the zoom ring in order to change from 150mm to 500mm which resulted the loss of images captured in a few instances.

James Harrison ready to head to the locker room after practice. Gold cart was beyond the far end zone from where I was sitting.

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger signing autographs after practice. Click any of the photos for additional photos from training camp.

To read more about this lens you can CLICK HERE to purchase the lens, or CLICK HERE to rent the lens.