Sigma 50-150 lens test

Sigma APO 50 - 150 f/2.8 EX DC HSM Field test

The 70-200 for the small chip set
Sigma 50-150 web site

I recently tested the Sigma 150 f/2.8 macro lens.

I liked it a lot. Beautiful finish, HSM focusing, crystal clear images, what’s not to like? So when I heard about this lens, I jumped ahead of all the other writers and said ‘I called it!’. I’ve been shooting most of my portrait work with a 28-75 zoom. Nice, but could be a little longer. I love shooting wide open and obliterating backgrounds, and that 150 macro I had on loan was just the ticket for shooting with my Nikon D200 APS-C size sensor. And as wonderful as that lens is, I’m about at the point where fixed focal length lenses (unless you’re looking for a macro macro like the 150) just won’t do. Once you get used to the flexibility of a zoom, you’re spoiled, and there ain’t no going back to the barn when the horse already left!

But I digress, let’s get a look at this particular First, make sure you read the title and understand this is a FIELD test. No resolution numbers or MTF charts, I’m going to tell you how well this lens performs in the field. And since I’m a portrait guy, we’ll be looking mostly at how it fits in the portrait photographers arsenal. First, let’s see what this lens is all about.

Like most lenses nowadays, it’s nomenclature has lots of initials. They’re not just for looks so pay attention to them. If you’re reading this, you already know what 50-150 f/2.8 means. I’ll point out that the aperture remains constant at all focal lengths and focusing is internal, meaning the length never changes and the front doesn’t rotate so your polarizer won’t be doing cartwheels on the front of your lens! APO means aspheric shaped elements are used to keep everything focusing on the same plane. EX signifies special low dispersion glass is used to keep things nice and sharp and contrasty. And DC is something you need to pay attention to. This lens is specifically designed for digital cameras with the smaller sensors, not full frame sensors. Are digital lenses better than ‘regular’ lenses on digital cameras? I can tell you from my own testing, the short answer is yes, so if you’re a professional shooting digital, and who isn’t, invest in new lenses if you need them.

Next, let’s see who they’re aiming at with this lens. The Sigma web site ( states it’s a ‘compact, lightweight, large aperture fast focusing lens for sports, nature, and fashion photography.’. That’s quite a mouthful, and I can tell you that I was pleasantly surprised at how small the lens is. As someone who has practically abandoned tripods, I’m wearing the camera-lens combo on my neck several hours a day ‘in season’ and weight is very important to me, and one of the big reasons I don’t own a 70-200 f/2.8 lens like everyone else I know! Case in point. This lens weighs 27.5 ounces and Sigma’s new 70-200 f/2.8 macro weighs 48 ounces! That’s about half the weight! And now if I take my calculator out and do some hard (for me) number crunching, I discover that while this lens is a 50-150 on a full frame camera, a very nice range, on the smaller chip cameras like Nikon, Fuji, Sigma (1.7 factor) and some Canons things get quite interesting. Figuring a factor of 1.5, the lens now becomes a 75-225 f/2.8 zoom! Holy multiplication factor, I can now have my long, fast, zoom lens and eat my cake too! You get the idea. And while Sigma says this lens is aimed at the sports, nature and fashion photographer, I’d say they should be right out there marketing this lens to portrait guys like me who kill for long and fast lenses that you don’t need to carry in a suitcase or remortgage the house for! Unless they come out with a 24-200 f/2.8 lens that weighs 16 ounces and costs $200 between now and July, I’ll probably be owning it. Sigma, this lens has ‘portrait photographer’ written all over it, market accordingly.

Well, now that I’ve had the nerve to tell Sigma what to do with this baby, let’s see how it performed in the field. Gotta’ tell ya’, the weight and speed are wonderful and when you combine them with that HSM focusing, you feel like a Ninja. Quick, quiet and deadly focusing, no nunchucks needed. I used the lens for portrait sessions in the studio (January in New Hampshire) and also trotted it out to a wrestling match I had to photograph. I did a few outdoor images for examples to show some lens attributes, as noted in the accompanying photos.

Let’s take portraits first. Unless I’m going for an ‘extreme’ effect by using a wide angle lens on a portrait, I’ll usually go for a longer lens because I like the perspective I get by keeping some distance between me and my subject. Plus they don’t usually like me with the lens an inch from their nose. This is a piece of cake for this lens, since the shortest length is a 75mm lens equivalent. But I did something else a little different from usual. I typically do my studio portraits at f/6.3. My studio isn’t very big, so the distance from subject to background is about 3 feet. I’d like to have twice that since I really like my backgrounds out of focus. So I adjusted my lights to give me an exposure of f/3.2 (remember, shutter speed not a factor here unless it’s long enough to pick up room lighting) and fired away! The results were beautiful, just note that since the DOF is so shallow, on some close ups with big image sizes, only one eye would be in focus. I’ve decided f/4 to be about optimum to achieve the look I’m going for. All images were beautifully sharp and contrasty. I can’t tell you what this thing will do at f/16 since I never clicked past f/5.6 and I doubt many of it’s intended users would go down that far also but based on my experience with other Sigma lenses I have no doubt it’s optically stellar.

And how about sports? How about taking this to a high school wrestling meet in a school gym with no flash? Man, what fun! Shooting at ISO 800 I was able to capture images at will without the pasty look of a direct flash. Just set your camera focusing to ‘constant’ and the HSM zips back and forth quickly and quietly. This would be a great lens for gymnastics, where flash photos are not allowed. Outdoor sports would of course be a piece of cake. The 70 or 80 to 200mm lenses have long been favorites of sports photographers, whip this on your small chip camera and laugh at the guys with the big heavy lenses and monopods.

Any gripes. Not really. I did ask Sigma about vibration reduction. I was told while it may be a possibility in the future, the added weight and cost would be considerations. I personally take the size and weight over the bigger lens. Wait a couple (?) of years, I hear we’ll be shooting at ISO 1600 with ISO 100 quality anyway!

Sigma 50 - 150 f/2.8 lens.

Sample studio images taken with the lens.