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Review: Sigma 50-150mm F2.8 APO EX DC OS (Canon EF)

by Bobby Zhang on 01/16/2013

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We’ve had a good time with the Sigma 50-150mm f/2.8 lens for well over a month now and it’s time for us to get to the point and give you the full on review of this third-party lens maker’s new and updated version of their 50-150mm zoom lens. The lens will fit right into many photographer’s bags as it acts as a good portrait lens at 50mm and a great sports lens with its long 150mm reach. Let’s see if it can stand up against the big names in photography after the break.

 

Pros and Cons

Sigma 50-150 sample 1

Pros:

  • The HSM (Hyper Sonic Motor) is extremely quick and fairly silent.
  • The newly added Optical Stabilizer gives you more freedom in your photos.
  • The overall build quality is excellent; the zoom and focus rings are smooth and the body itself feels solid.

Cons

  • It is a weighty lens and after a long shoot, you’ll really feel it.
  • The autofocusing is rather spotty at times when you need it to be quick, but can be fixed by manually adjusting.
  • The focus ring is placed too close behind the zoom ring which can get in the way when you need to quickly adjust for your ideal shot.

 

Gear Used

In this test, we used the Canon T3i with the Sigma 50-150mm f2.8 EX OS HSM

Tech Specs

From our announcement earlier this year.

  • Focal length: 50-150 mm (on APS-C: equivalent to 75-225 mm)
  • Max. / min. aperture: f2.8 / f22
  • 21 lenses in 15 groups
  • Internal zoom and focusing
  • Close-focusing limit: 80 cm (2.6 ft)
  • Filter thread size: 77 mm
  • Size (D x L): 86.4 x 197.6 mm (3.4 x 7.8 in)
  • Weight: 1335 g (47.1 oz)
  • Available in Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Sigma and Sony mount version

Ergonomics

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The lens is a unwieldy piece of glass and that isn’t going to change. The filter thread size is 77mm, making it one of the lenses with a larger front element, so keep that in mind when needing a filter. You will notice its size and weight every time you use it and every time you place it inside your bag. However, this will be the inevitable price that you pay for some quality IS and you shouldn’t expect much less if you want the added luxury.

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The AF/MF switch and OS switch are placed conveniently within range of your fingers and feel very intuitive when you need to turn them on or off. A quick flick with your thumb works every time. I found it easy to reach forward while continuing to look through the viewfinder for the appropriate switches.

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The zoom and focus rings are comfortably wrapped in grippy rubber but because they are closely oriented, you will find your palm accidentally grazing the focus ring as you zoom in or out. This happened only a few times when I needed to quickly readjust but it shouldn’t pose any problems for most kinds of shooting where you don’t necessarily have to catch everything.

A helpful tip that I found through most of my use is to remove the large and hefty tripod collar when shooting hand-held. The collar not only gets in the way of your rings but adds a significant weight to the overall lens, and let me tell you, any weight loss from this lens won’t hurt.

Overall, the lens is fairly sized for it to be held in one hand as you adjust your focus and zoom. It is solid and has a smooth coating which is comfortable in the hand but lacks the coarse and bumpy coating that I’d prefer for reassured grip. Despite that, there is no way you’ll accidentally drop this lens due to the grippy rubber from the zoom and focus rings that dominate a good portion of the body.

Build Quality

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The lens body is well constructed out of a solid and hard plastic as with most lenses that have such large glass, it would be safe to keep a filter or lens hood on at all times just in case. It would be a shame to shatter the front element of this $1000 lens. For whatever reason, Sigma decided not to dust and moisture proof this lens which makes bringing it out into harsher weather conditions a little more worrisome.

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I found that the lens hood has a noticeable wiggle when it’s attached. However, it still stays on even when you give it a good bump here and there, so unless the wiggle will bother you forever, it isn’t a deal breaker. Although, there were many times when I found the lens cap had fallen off during transport inside of my bag which worried me from time to time. Thankfully, nothing happened. This may have been due to excessive bumps or I just didn’t put it on correctly, but I’d go with the first scenario.

The lens mount is of the metal variety rather than plastic to handle the massive weight. This makes sense since heavy telephoto lenses like this one puts significantly more stress on the lens mount region and could cause cracks on the mount over extended periods of time.

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The zoom and focus rings are smooth to turn and don’t have a grainy feel to them as you adjust them. The grippy rubber is high quality and helps with accurate adjustments.

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The tripod collar is constructed out of strong metal and the plastic knob used to attach it to the lens body does the job despite it feeling a bit on the cheaper side. Make sure to always mount your set up with the tripod collar rather than your camera body. This helps distribute the weight and not snap or crack your lens mount during a shoot.

Autofocus

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The AF is spot on most of the time and with the help of the HSM, it does a fairly good job to quickly and accurately grab the shot that you want. There are times when the AF system does fail you, but more so when you are trying to track fast-moving subjects. While some of it may have been my own fault, there are other times when you can feel this lens hunt for the appropriate subject and eventually not even getting the right one you want.

Ease of Use

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There isn’t anything particularly difficult about using this lens. Aside from the weight, the HSM and OS guides this lens effectively. Aside from the large focal range and the obvious size, the Sigma lens feels like my kit lens when it comes to the learning curve. To put it bluntly, you can plug and play. To make things easier, it is a fixed aperture lens, so you won’t have to worry about adjusting and compensating for that.

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The Optical Stabilization system is different from the usual on and off system. There is an off/1/2 option because OS 1 is basically the typical OS you will find on any other lens while OS 2 only compensates for vertical movement. You would normally use OS 1 but when you are doing quick panning motions, especially during video, OS 2 would come in handy.

With the OS on, I found that images shot at shutter speeds as slow as 1/25 sec can come out to be clearer than expected. Sigma claims that you can shoot up to four stops slower than normal but I only managed around two stops. That was with multiple shots and rearranging. Anything slower could be a difficult task due to the length and weight of the lens.

When you are shooting, you will see and hear the OS kick in as it flicks on as you half press the shutter button and then again after your shot. The small clicking noise is barely noticeable but it is still there. This wasn’t really a huge problem, but it was just kind of annoying after taking over 400 photos that day.

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You can travel the entire focal range from 50mm to 150mm in just around a 45 degrees turn. This makes for awesomely quick zoom. The focus ring travels all the way around with less than a 90 degrees turn. Everything is clearly labeled and marked with the distance scale directly on top of the lens, typical of any lens.

As with most higher-end lenses, you’d expect a carrying case. I am grateful for this as keeping my lens inside the case during my flights home and back to college allowed me to not worry too much about opening my camera bag to shattered glass.

Image Quality

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On my T3i, the Sigma lens had a 80-240mm range while if you were to pick up the Nikon version, it would be a 75-225mm due to Nikon’s smaller APS-C sensor.

Sharpness

Shooting wide open at f2.8, the lens is tack sharp with nice and creamy bokeh. With the help of the HSM and OS, images are just about always in focus and crisp. I found this to be crucial during fast action indoor sports, such as hockey where the lighting was a little bit better than completely terrible.

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Stop it down a bit to f4 to f8 and images continue looking clean and crisp as long as you make sure you’ve got good light because you’ll begin to feel the lens hunting around more than you’d want it to if it gets too dark.

Once you hit f22, you’ll begin to notice a slight degradation in image quality. This is mainly due to diffraction, common in most cropped sensor cameras, and is no exception here. But for most shooting environments, I found no reason to find myself in the f22 region.

Color Fringing

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As for color fringing, I found that this lens produced quality images that I pretty much expected, considering that it is a higher-end lens. Stopped down at the widest f2.8, there were minimal to no color fringing that was noticeable. Even if there was at times in the very high contrasted areas, Lightroom made it a quick fix. At f22, things began to be slightly more noticeable but still, Lightroom is there to help.

Distortion

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Overall, there aren’t any noticeable vignetting or distortion happening in your images. When you do notice it, a quick fix in Lightroom will straighten everything out. I found the Lens Profile for this lens in Lightroom worked well too for a quick fix.

Conclusion

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Designed for cropped sensor cameras, the Sigma 50-150mm OS works wonders when it comes to speed. At an awesome f2.8 aperture, this lens becomes much more flexible to fit your shooting needs and environment. Whether it is outside on a bright day or indoors in a poorly lit hockey rink, the images are clear and sometimes even surprisingly so.

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With a slightly higher $999 price tag, this Sigma lens costs much more than your average glassware but it is also appropriately priced. For the performance from the HSM and OS which combines to produce stellar images, it is difficult to not want one in your own bag. At the popular 50-150mm focal range, this lens can be used for close portraits or for far-reaching sports, making it one of the more versatile lenses out there.

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