Sigma 50-500mm f/4-6.3 EX RF HSM, aka BIGMA, was a very unique lens when it was introduced about ten years ago. It was the first super zoom lens design to cover virtually every occasion throwing at you. From the normal-eye 50mm to the super tele range of 500mm that most wildlife photographer use regularly, all in a giant package, hence the nickname BIGMA. I bought it in 2004 for the sake of owning it. I wasn’t using any high power zoom before but the thought of owning a 500mm lens was good. Soon after it was launched, it quickly became a popular choice for amateur wildlife photographer. Its price also soared over the years and the latest version is double the price I paid for mine nine years ago.
So why this lens?
Ok, if you are talking about ultimate image quality, this isn’t the lens and you will be better off saving your bucks for some ‘L’ lenses or pro range optics from Nikon or other manufacturers. Despite being an ‘EX’ range from Sigma, it only produces slightly better image quality than Sigma’s standard consumer lenses for the equivalence focal ranges. So, not a pro quality lens and why should I bother? Well, the answer is simple: it’s a one of a kind lens. Sigma keeps making them and even revising the design to create the latest model for modern DSLRs. It’s a popular lens indeed, particularly with amateur wildlife photographer. I have used it in some occasion and to me, it’s that 500mm that really got me going. I used it to photograph the Queen’s Jubilee cerebration last summer and I got a pretty good shot from the bridge!
Sigma’s EX range is always the ‘pro’ range that she hopes. The EX line usually have all the big aperture lenses. While the BIGMA isn’t a big aperture but it’s big in size and weight and that… sorry to say it again, the 50-500mm range for ULTIMATE FLEXIBILITY!!!! It may not build like a Canon 100-400mm L lens but you can definitely feel the quality. The front element is a huge piece of glass with an uncommon thread size of 86mm! It also extends and transforms into a bazooka! My BIGMA is the very first version and it has the original Sigma EX greenish grey textured finish. All the switches, focus ring and zoom ring are smooth. The HSM is quite and fast, as demonstrated with my Canon EOS 5D mark 1 and mark II. I do think it’s nicely built.
Using it in practice, good and bad
There had been a few versions or naming changes along the way until the latest optically stablised version, SIGMA 50-500mm f/4.5-6.3 EX DG OS HSM. They all share about the same optical design with slight modifications for each update. I haven’t tested the latest OS (optical stabilized) version but people say it has roughly the same image quality, may be a tad sharper in the centre. The trade off is that the maximum aperture from the latest lens is a little slower at f/4.5 rather than f/4 of the original. But the claimed 4-stop OS definitely beats the o.5 😀
First, be warned with what I am going to say!
If you intend to buy this lens, you need to be STRONG!! I mean you need to be lifting weights regularly in order to operate this smoothly. At nearly 2kg on its own, it’s no light weight. Sigma even gives you a separate lens strap to carry it because it is likely to be heavier than your SLR. Because of its weight, do check if your tripod and head can take it and the camera! Most consumer tripods and heads will certainly collapse.
Second, even if you can hold the lens, you will be struggling to get a sharp shot due to lens shake (hence the OS helps). In bright daylight, you shouldn’t have any problem but when it’s overcast, you need to boost the ISO in the camera to keep the shutter speed up to a decent level in order to avoid any movement. But of course, there are ways around it, lean on something or use a monopod, or go to your gym 7 days a week to train to be Arnold Schwarzenegger!
But if you can overcome all the issues listed above, you will be rewarded though. There are times that you need that extra reach and since you don’t need to change lens (like ever…) then you won’t miss a shot. You can also get quite up close and personal with your un-suspected subjects (like stalking a girl or guy hahah). It’s just an amazing hardware. It’s just weird but fun.
What I find is that at 50 to 200mm, it’s quite sharp but at around 400 to 500mm, it gets a little softer and a bit of distortion. Unless you are shooting some straight line subjects, you will be hard pressed to notice it. I shoot mostly portrait with this lens so I found it good. In fact, I used it for one wedding before I turned pro and bought my ultimate weapon, Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM!
I do love the flexibility. During my first ever paid wedding job, I had my Canon 5D, the BIGMA and my Canon EF 28-135mm IS USM. That was enough to cover everything I needed. The funny thing was, after the church ceremony, I was soaking with my sweat (from holding the BIGMA!)
That says it all. It’s a unique lens with unique features. You will fall in love with it even though you may not use it a lot if you have other lenses to play with. But if you want a proper do-it-all lens and don’t mind the weight and size, this is the ultimate lens that will give you that ultimate range! Even it doesn’t give the ultimate image quality. It’s a decent lens that every fun photographer should have one…. on the shelf! Ok… I do use it but only occasionally but I do LOVE it!!! I mean it.
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