First Impressions: Sigma 150-600 (Contemporary)

Ever since getting interested in photography, I’ve hankered for a really long lens. I love wildlife in all its forms, but I have a particular interest in birds and bugs. Given the availability and cost of a decent macro lens, I’ve concentrated more on the insect world and any shots I’ve managed to snag of the feathered variety have generally been the result of a lucky shot when I was able to get reasonably close… or a bird had wandered too close to me! I’ve only owned a couple of lenses which reached 200mm (300 on a crop sensor) – the uber cheap Tamron 55-200 and, for a while, the Nikkor 18-200mm. Whilst the Tamron was sharpish at 200mm, the Nikkor wasn’t, so I never really bothered to pursue the dream of shooting birds.

Ruling out long primes for cost reasons in the past, I’d also read mixed reviews of lenses such as the Sigma 50-500 and softness a 500mm – that bothered me, but I figured it was to be expected. So I waited. And waited.

Sometimes things come together at the right time and I had a bit of cash laying around and the desire for a long lens reared its head again, so I began investigating what was out there. The Nikkor 200-500mm looked tempting with a constant f/5.6 aperture but was a little more than I wanted to pay. Similarly, the Sigma 150-600mm Sport, whilst looking amazing and having a bomb-proof build, was also more than I was prepared to pay… plus it’s a heavy bit of kit. I want to handhold most of the time, so I needed something a bit lighter. That left me with two real choices – the Tamron 150-600mm and the Sigma 150-600 Contemporary. I’ve owned the Tamron 17-50mm for a few years and loved that on my DX bodies and I’ve now owned two Tamron 90mm f/2.8 macro lenses – both have been sharp as a tack and I’ve genuinely loved the shots they produce. Because of this ‘brand loyalty’ I seriously nearly bought the Tamron, but the majority of tests I read suggested the Sigma nudged it in terms of sharpness at 600mm. And I’m being honest here – I wanted optimal sharpness for the money at 600mm – after all, why buy a 600mm zoom if you’re not going to want to shoot at the full length?

So, going back to the title of this blog article – ‘First Impressions’ – my genuine first thought as I unboxed was ‘BEAST’. As I said, I’ve not owned anything longer than 200mm before and only used a 300mm zoom a few times – so, despite watching many review videos, I was still in awe at the size, weight and build. With the lens hood on, it’s longer than I’d imagined, and more front heavy than I was expecting, but it’s a gorgeous sight to behold…

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I’m not going to go into the tech specs of this lens since there have been many, many reviews already. This is a purely personal view of how it made me feel and some thoughts on the first shots I’ve taken with it.

After the unboxing, I was only able to test the lens out in the garden in some crappy light, but one of our cats was on the prowl so I gave that a go. I should also point out, I never really shoot in continuous auto focus since most of the things I shoot stay still, but I’ve shot most, if not all of the following photos in continuous mode with 3d focus tracking – what a revelation! I’ve also been experimenting with auto iso – something I’d never bothered with on my d7000 – but on the d750 and the much better noise handling, I figured I’d give it a go… hence some over-the-top shutter speeds in some of these photos… it’s all a learning curve.

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d750 – iso 4500 – 150mm – f/8 – 1/320s

Whilst cat photos are great (if you follow this blog, you will see a lot of cat photos), I didn’t buy this lens primarily for feline action. Fortunately there were a couple birds in view, so, crappy light or not, I was determined to get a couple of shots.

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d750 – iso 1800 – 600mm – f/6.3 – 1/1000s

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d750 – iso 3600 – 600mm – f/6.3 – 1/1000s

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d750 – iso 6400 – 600mm – f/8 – 1/320s

The next morning, after a gloomy start, promised some sun so I took a trip down to Folkestone Harbour on the hunt for gulls and pigeons. I didn’t need to wait long.

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d750 – iso 280 – 600mm – f/8 – 1/1000s

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d750 – iso 900 – 600mm – f/8 – 1/1000s

The next logical step was to try and capture some birds in flight and, after some experimentation, I managed to grab a few I was pleased with.

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d750 – iso 400 – 370mm – f/8 – 1/2000s

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d750 – iso 450 – 370mm – f/8 – 1/2000s

I quite like the bokeh on the next shot, but of course, bokeh is subjective.

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d750 – iso 1000 – 600mm – f/8 – 1/2000s

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d750 – iso 320 – 600mm – f/8 – 1/2000s

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d750 – iso 450 – 600mm – f/8 – 1/2000s

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d750 – iso 560 – 600mm – f/8 – 1/2000s

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d750 – iso 320 – 150mm – f/8 – 1/2000s

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d750 – iso 250 – 210mm – f/8 – 1/2000s

In conclusion…

I’m very happy. I think I’m going to have a lot of fun with this lens and when I understand it’s limitations and strengths I’m looking forward to the images it will help me capture. The sharpness is as I expected (hoped) it would be, as is the build quality. I’m contemplating getting the Sigma USB dock to further tweak and play around withe the customisation options. But, for now, I’m just going to enjoy this big old hunk of birding glass.

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