Sigma APO MACRO 150mm F2.8 EX DG HSM Lens Review

Can it be the Perfect Portrait Lens?

Let's get one thing straight right off the bat. I ain't one of the technical guys who does lens tests so I can't tell you if the best corner sharpness of this lens is at f/11 at eight feet. This is a field test. While searching for a new portrait lens I saw this one on Sigma's web site. Wanting to know if this was the lens of my dreams, I begged my editor to let me give this baby a try. I explained that for Nikon mount shooters I felt there was a void in the lens lineup for portrait shooters. I'll tell you what I mean.

I visited the web sites of Nikon, Canon, Sigma, Tamron and Tokina. Of course the Canon web site won't do me much good with Nikon and Fuji cameras, but I wanted to see their (quite extensive) line up also. Let me tell you what I was looking for. And just so I don’t have to keep going back and forth between full frame digital cameras and the smaller frames of the Nikon and Fuji cameras, let me stick with the smaller size and we can get back to the full frame cameras at the end. OK? Great.

I’m looking for a small, lightweight, fast lens that I can leave on my camera 90% of the time when doing outdoor portraits. Vibration reduction would be nice but not essential. I need a lens of at least f/2.8. I need it to go from moderately long to long. I don’t need macro. And I don’t need the lens to work on film (full frame) cameras. So if any lens manufacturers are listening out there, here’s what I want. I want a 75-150 f/2.8 VR lens. That’s it. Where can I buy one, I’ll be first in line. And now that I’ve told you what I want, let me tell you why.

I don’t like using tripods, my location and business model dictates that I work quickly, so that’s the reasoning behind the light weight. I like shooting longer lenses because of the working distance it gives me, the compression effect, and I like to obliterate backgrounds. For these reasons, I’d be shooting at the longer end (150mm) whenever possible and ditto for shooting wide open at f/2.8. I know you optical guys can slap one of these babies together because you already make 70-200 f/2.8 lenses. They’re very nice, thank you, but they’re too darned heavy for me to wear around my neck all day. Two years shooting those canons and I’d look like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. I’ve got enough issues already. As an added bonus, this lens would be priced even less than the 70-200 breed. But until that day comes, I’ve got to use several lenses, both fixed and zooms, to get what I want. And that brings us, in a rather roundabout way, to the lens in question, the Sigma APO MACRO 150mm F2.8 EX DG HSM.

Wow! That’s quite a mouthful! Just to be sure I didn’t miss anything, I copied and pasted it from . To dissect things, the APO means it uses special low-dispersion glass to minimize color aberration. If you’re reading this, you know what 150mm and f2.8 mean, let’s move on. EX means it’s got a fancy finish and pro build quality, DG means it can be used on film, full frame, and other digital cameras. HSM is the fast and quiet hypersonic motor. Got all that? Great, now let’s see how it all works.

The short review? I love this lens to death. If they gave awards for great looking, wonderful feeling pretty lenses, this would be Angelina Jolie. It looks and feels amazing. And the HSM focusing is fast, quiet, and deadly. So now you know I like the lens. And after shooting several hundred images in a couple of weeks with it, I couldn’t wait to find an excuse to strap this on my Nikon D200 and start blasting away. Wait, you say - a Nikon? Wouldn’t that make this lens effectively a 225mm lens? Isn’t that a little long for day to day portrait work?

You’re right on both counts. I’ve been itching for a long, fast lens to give me that great compression effect, narrow angle of view, and backgrounds as soft as marshmallows. This does the trick. Throw in the fact that it’s a macro and comes with a tripod collar (which I immediately removed) and you’ve got a little bonus. I took outdoor portraits. I took flowers. I took them at noon, at dusk, all over the place. I never went over an ISO of 200. I never closed the lens down past f/4. It gave me just what I was looking for. I even like the lens so much I borrowed a piece of jewelry, strapped the tripod collar back on, turned on the studio lights, and did a shot of that at f/13. Beautiful. So after all this, is this the lens of my dreams? Well, no. Not your fault Sigma, it’s a macro lens and I’m looking for a portrait lens, and after having lived with zooms for so many years now, I just can’t go back. If I buy this lens, I won’t be faithful, you’ll soon find me cheating with those pretty zooms with the wide apertures. Sorry, I’m that way.

It comes down to this. If you shoot Canon and are looking for a long macro lens, this is wonderful. If you shoot smaller chip cameras and want a REALLY long and fast lens, buy one. But if you’re a spoiled portrait photographer who now must have a zoom lens, the single focal length will hinder you. So I ask again. Somebody out there make a 75-150 f/2.8 VR lens. No macro. No defocusing control. Just a fast, long lens that would be perfect for portrait photographers.

Of course, if you could make it 28-150mm for the same price and weight, that would be nice too. Just asking!

I don’t know what this flower is, but it sure is pretty! Who says flowers must be taken at f/16? This was taken hand held at ISO 200 at 180th @ f2.8, no adjustment to file.

To show the difference a long lens makes, this comparison image was taken with a 75mm lens at f/2.8. Model: Alecia Johnson.

This is the look I get with the Sigma 150. I moved back to get about the same image size, but look at the difference in the background!

This image was taken in a courtyard in the middle of the city. The background is a group of bushes some distance away. This lens is perfect for this type of image.

Alright, you got me on this one, I stopped all the way down to f/3.2! The beauty of a fast lens is that it allows you to shoot at low ISO’s, like the 100 ISO used here, and still use a fast shutter speed, in this case 1/250.

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