Sunday, 20 February 2011

Sigma 500mm f4.5 - one year on Review

With only two weekends so far this year when it hasn’t rained (so not getting out again this weekend) and it being a year since getting the Sigma lens, I thought I'd spend some time going through my thoughts of how it’s been so far.

Strangely, before buying this lens myself, I couldn’t find that much about it apart from the usual specs, there wasn’t many example images, especially any that convinced me it was what I wanted.  One place I did go to was Pbase Sigma 500mm f4.5 unfortunately, the images are as only good as the person taking them and the equipment review part of the site is a good example of this with good images on ‘lower’ equipment and poor images on newer ‘better’ equipment.

I was lucky that I got this second hand and before the hike in photographic lens prices, but it is still considerably cheaper than the Canon or Nikon equivalents.  The one thing that would probably put people off is that it has no image stabiliser, however, although it would be nice to have this, it would have meant it wouldn’t have been as cheaper lens and bigger and heavier.  I only have currently one lens with image stabilisation so I haven’t come to rely upon this in my photography.  I always carry around a monopod with this lens and if I’m not using this I will find something else to rest it on – my bag or knees or some other object that is around such as a fence.  I always try and follow the guide of having the same or faster shutter speed as the focal length of the lens you are using and so, as you can see from the photographs below, I often shoot wide open and at an ISO of 1600 as I’d rather have a grainer picture which I can improve during the processing than one that is blurred and can’t be fixed.

Shooting at F4.5

I was pleasantly surprised to find that shooting this wide open still produced very good images and find myself doing so for more than 50% of the time without concern. (See Great Tit below)  Just as well with the kind of dull, grey weather we get in this country and when I do shoot at narrower apertures, it’s usually to get a greater depth of field.

F4.5 1/800 sec ISO 1600


F5.6 1/800 sec ISO 1600


F5 1/5000 sec ISO 1600


I use this lens with two cameras – a Canon 30D and a Mk IIn.  With the latter it is noticeably faster obviously.  Speed of focusing hasn’t been a problem unless shooting birds in flight in which case I will use the Mk IIn or the Canon 400mm f5.6.  One of the reasons I don’t upgrade to the latest new camera releases, apart from the cost, is I feel I am more held back by my own ability and opportunities.  The sequence of Turn shots below were taken using the Sigma lens and Canon Mk IIn, but I had to spend a lot of trial and error watching the Turns movements and practicing keeping them in frame.
TBP_4339 TBP_4340 TBP_4341 TBP_4342


F5.6 1/1600 sec ISO 800


When I first got this lens I thought I would struggle carrying it around as I like to walk a lot and so be portable with any lens and equipment I have.  However, I straight away got a new bag for it – a Tamrac Expedition 7x – and this does a great job of taking away the weight of it and whatever else you are carrying on your back, so I can quite comfortably walk a couple of miles with it, I’m not sure I could do that with the Canon equivalent.  This bag is also great for using as a camera rest (see Starling below) I will also often attach it directly to my monopod and sling it over my shoulder.  One thing I have noticed, because it is a bigger lens and have missed opportunities that I might have otherwise go with the 400 or 300 lenses so the lens isn’t a walk around lens in that way and you really need to be in position, ready to take your photos with this.


Obviously I’ve only had this lens for a year so far although it was second hand, so I don’t know if it will have the lasting power of the Canon, but so far so good.  I have actually dropped it from a short height, luckily it fell onto its lens hood which dented it, but the lens was fine much to my relieve.  I have some covers on it so the complaints of the paint work chipping off hasn’t been an issue for me.  Hopefully I will be getting many years out of this yet as it has taken over my 400mm as the main lens I use.

F6.3 1/1600 sec ISO 1600 Taken lying down resting on my camera bag


F5 1/1000 sec ISO 1600


F4.5 1/6000 sec ISO 400


F5.6 1/1250 sec ISO 1600



Image Quality

I’m most definitely not a ‘pixel peeper’, as it seems you either like the photo or you don’t, but I’ve included an image (Mallard Duck) typical of the ones above, where it was  taken at ISO 1600, 1/1000 and f4.5.  It’s not been processed, so there has been no sharpening or noise reduction.

You can see that, despite being wide open and at ISO 1600 the sharpness isn’t bad and with a bit of sharpening, improves greatly.

Click on photograph below to see the same full size cropped image processed.
Clicking on the image of the Pheasant will give a larger image and shows the detail in the feathers, again at ISO 1600 but stopped down to f5.6 to get a bit more depth of field.

Regarding any other image related issues with this lens, I have not come across any, certainly none that I have noticed but then, as I have said I am not a pixel peeper.  I did feel the colours were a bit warmer but if you don’t like this it is easily changed if you shoot RAW.


x1.4 ConverterIMG_8198

Being able to use a converter on this lens and still get good quality images was a big selling point for me.  Researching online gave me contradicting, mixed opinions.  I don’t know if this is down to the user or the quality of the individual converter or lens so I can only speak from my own experiences. 
The Cormorant photograph right was taken using the Kenko pro x1.4 converter.  It’s also been cropped quite heavily,  as the original was in landscape.  This converter works great with the Sigma lens as it does with my Canon lenses.  It does slow it down, more noticeably when using my Canon 30D but it is perfectly useable, especially with the Mk IIn and even copes with larger birds in flight.  I don’t hesitate on using the converter if it helps and will shoot wide open with it on.
Photograph left – ISO 800, f5 and 1/3200


I’m certainly glad I got this, particularly when I did as it’s now getting out of the price range of many enthusiasts even second hand. 
It’s given me the chance to get that little bit closer to wildlife that I couldn’t with the 400mm lens even with the converter.  With the converter on this, it’s a bonus.  The extra amount of light it lets in at f4.5 makes a big difference compared to what I was used to at f5.6.
Since posting this, I have continued to successfully use this lens and have done a more in depth review here where I have also made some comparisons to the Canon 400mm f5.6 lens.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

A Rainy Weekend…Again

As I type this, the song ‘”The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore” by the Walker Brothers is playing on the radio which is appropriative for the kind of weather we’ve been getting this year so far especially over the weekends.  Yesterday I was determined to get out, if only for a walk and despite it raining when I left home, I headed out to one of my favourite locations.  The weather forecasters predicted the rain to clear early on so I timed my arrival for then – of course it was still raining when I arrived.  Not deterred, I had a walk around and had borrowed a camcorder to have a bit of fun with.  As it happens, it turned out a good way of showing how often in the woods you can spot deer but of the difficulty of actually photographing them.

Below is a short video I took of a typical sighting of Roe Deer  that I came across, showing the problems of not getting a clear view and how easily they can disappear. They are remarkably well hidden in the woods with their drab colour and it’s often only their movement or white rump that will give them away.  The image on the right was taken in my usual way which is sitting down with my back against a tree, overlooking an open area which I know they often will pass or cross over.  However this takes a lot of patience…and luck!


Continuing my walk there seemed to be more to see in the flooded fields at the wood edges with large numbers of Swans and Geese making the most of the opportunities supplied by the large bouts of rainfalls of recent weeks.  Large parts of the woods themselves were flooded and had become very marshy.  After over an hour after the forecasters said it would stop raining, it did however in the woods it still felt like it was raining as all the water collected in the top of the trees and branches dripped down.

It was very quiet about with little stirring apart from my stomach as I had missed breakfast.  I couldn’t help but think back to the story books you would get as a child where animals lived in little comfy homes with  a log fire, pictures on the wall etc., and that’s where they were on this cold, damp morning, while muggins here was wandering around in the elements.


Some signs of a possible early arrival of spring as I came across some Snowdrops which came as a bit of a surprise as it seems such a long winter, though I think this may be a bit optimistic, barely being mid way through February and a forecast of another spell of cold weather for the next few weeks.

Towards the end of the walk I came across some signs that there had been some activity by Foxes as shown by this fresh Fox scat.