Saturday, 6 March 2010

Sigma 500 f4.5

First, I'd like to get a gripe out of the way – the British weather and forecasters.  Last weekend was grey damp and miserable.  Monday morning when I had to go back to work, it’s sunny, as was Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday but today, off work for the weekend – grey, damp and miserable.  On Monday, the 5 day forecast had Saturday as being dry and sunny as it still did on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday raising my hopes for getting out for the weekend but then on Friday they changed their mind and forecast rain!  Only politicians' can get things so badly wrong consistently and get away with it. Gripe over.

One of the reasons I was looking forward to this ‘promised sunshine’ was that at the beginning of the week, I took ownership of a second hand Sigma 500 f4.5 lens and wanted to get out and try it out.  I’d been looking at this lens for a number of years seeing the odd one appear on the market for a bargain price and have done a lot of research on it.  All reviews and information seemed to be saying this was a very good lens, being smaller and lighter than the Canon equivalent but slightly slower and without IS.  The only question marks I had were how good it was wide open and with a converter.

The first thing I noticed about it was how big and heavy it was compared to what I was used to with my Canon 400 5.6.  Clearly, I wasn’t going to be hand holding this much.  It was also too big to fit into my backpack with my camera attached so had to keep them separate.  With it packed away in my bag, it didn’t seem too heavy though I don’t think I would feel quite so confident to go on any of the 5 mile hikes I do with the 400mm.

I had hoped today for optimal weather to test the lens but of course it wasn’t – grey, drizzle and cold, but I was determined to go out and try it out so I decided to go to one of the local hides.  On approaching the hide I saw a Kestrel at the top of the tree, a good opportunity to test the lens.  Unfortunately, by the time I got it out of the bag, attached it to the camera and then put it on my monopod, the Kestrel was off!  On reaching the hide there was only one other person there, someone I’ve seen regularly the year before and we got chatting, which helped pass the time by as there was nothing around.

Eventually, a Heron appeared, finally a chance to test it.  At first I just used it at the bare 500mm, the focusing seemed good on the 1D Mk IIn and I tried some shots wide open and stopped down to f6.3 at 800 and 1600 ISO.  Couldn’t see any differences on the screen and so decided to keep shooting wide open due to the poor light taking advantage of the f4.5.  A Heron was an ideal candidate to test the lens out as they are slow moving, often staying still for minutes on end waiting for small fish, frogs or rodents.


Shot bare at 1/1250 f4.5

As it slowly moved away I switched to using my 1.4 converter.  Most reports online I had read said this caused the camera to ‘hunt’ and was best to manually focus.  Despite the dull light, this was not the case and seemed to be as good as it was on my Canon 400mm.  It wasn’t quite quick enough to keep the Heron in focus when it suddenly took off (below) though.


Fortunately, it only flew back to where it had started then continued looking for food and so I was able to continue to try variations of apertures.



At one point, it remained motionless and so I thought I would take the opportunity to take a number of photographs  of it at different f stops to see if there was any differences.  The image right was taken at f4.5 at 1/250.  When I got home and compared the different variations I could tell little between the wide open shot and the one stopped down to f7 other than the depth of field, so far this seems a very good and sharp lens.  I also tried some shots without the converter and again I could find little difference amazingly. 

So far this lens was turning out to be better than I was expecting. 





Canon 1DmkIIn with Sigma 500 f4.5 + converter

After a while the Heron flew away and soon it became quite and lifeless again until I noticed a small silhouette at the top of a tree which looking through my binoculars could see it was a Kestrel.  First impressions were that there was no point attempting to photograph it as it was too far away and with the bland grey sky it would just look like a black blob.  However, I stuck the converter on and compensated the exposure by +2 stops and took some images and was fortunately to take some just when it took off and briefly hovered. 


Sigma 500 f4.5 + converter at f4.5  1/800

Although these Kestrel images aren't great, they’re not bad considering the circumstances and something I previously couldn’t have achieved.  They are not completely sharp due to the relatively slow shutter speed/long focal length combination and very heavy crop.


Sigma 500 f4.5 + converter at f4.5  1/1000


I finished off the day with a few of the remaining wildlife – Mallards and Coots, though the light seemed to be getting worse.


So far so good.  I didn’t test the lens as I would have liked to – a big question mark is how it will handle on my monopod when out in the field instead of a hide.  It’s unlikely I’ll be using it with a tripod as the one I have is really not ideal for a lens this heavy, besides I like to travel ‘light’.

The one thing I did notice about the images from this lens though it may be too early to tell, but they seem to be a bit ‘warm’ in colour, almost film like.  I can’t quite make my mind up about how I feel about this effect though it can easily be changed in processing.  All I need now is some decent weather…long range forecast for next weekend? Rain!


  1. Nice stuff Frank. I'm looking for a used Sigma 500mm 4.5f in good condition for a canon mount. How much it would cost?

  2. Hi Madhawa, I got mine 2nd hand just before the price increases in lenses. Last time I saw one at the place I got mine in the UK (, it had gone up to £2300 however they are very rare now. Brand new they're around £3400!


  3. wow amazing, shrap and great picture
    Thanks for review, it was excellent and very informative.
    thank you :)

  4. lovely shots! nice and sharp!