Review: Sigma 500mm F4.5 EX DG APO (Nikon F mount)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This lens is dramatic, beautiful, and big. The Sigma 500mm F4.5 EX DG APO is a lens I dreamed of shooting with since I learned of its existence. I recently reviewed the Sigma 300mm 2.8 and I thought that was a great lens. However, the Sigma 500mm has something different about it, and it’s not just the extra 200mm.

Pros and Cons

Sigma 500mm F4.5  20130714Gservo-6428

Pros

– Ultra Sharp

– The 500mm F4.5 EX DG APO is balanced. This lens can stand on its own tripod mount easily.

– Lighter than its looks

Cons

– This lens absorbs heat like a mother bleep.

– Draws a LOT of attention.

Gear Used

Sigma 500mm F4.5

To carry this lens around, I used my Lowepro 500 AW backpack. It was the only thing big enough to carry it. I used my Nikon D700, my Nikon D90 as well as my Olympus E-P1 with a FOTGA Lens Mount Adapter for Nikon. I used my 3leggedthing Tripod to hold the lens steady and my trigger trap as a remote. I also used a black rapid strap to secure the lens when I was shooting hand-held.

Tech Specs

from B&H

Performance
Focal Length 500 mm
Aperture Maximum: f/4.5
Minimum: f/32
Camera Mount Type Nikon F
Format Compatibility Nikon FX/35mm Film
Nikon DX
Angle of View
Minimum Focus Distance 13.12′ (4.00 m)
Magnification 0.12x
Maximum Reproduction Ratio 1:7.7
Groups/Elements 8/11
Diaphragm Blades 9

 

Features
Image Stabilization No
Autofocus Yes
Tripod Collar Yes

 

Physical
Filter Thread Rear: 46 mm
Dimensions (DxL) Approx. 4.8 x 13.8″ (12.19 x 35.05 cm)
Weight 6.82 lb (3.09 kg)

Ergonomics

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

With the hood on the lens is intimidating. It is very well-built and balanced. If you sit the lens on its collar handle, it will balance the lens flawlessly. This comes in handy if you have to put the lens down while shooting hand-held. I only did this as a test. I had a quick release tripod mount on the lens at all times along with a tripod.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The collar’s handle had 3 1/4 screw mounts as well as a 3/8 mount if you want to mount this lens directly to tripod legs or a mono-pod.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There’s a center line to let you know the lens is aligned horizontally or vertically. It helps when shooting landscapes or portraits.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The manual focus ring is a fantastic size. Manually focusing is very easy.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The 50mm features the typical lock for the aperture ring, but I never used it. This lens could be used on a film camera.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The aperture ring is standard and easy to read. Because I did not shoot film with this lens, I did not use it at all. It was nice to have the option, though. The filter and its ring are right in front of it, and they are very easy to reach.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The front element is big and gorgeous, but it collects dust easily in windy situations.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There’s a range switch for the focusing. This helps increase the auto focusing speed, and it does come in handy.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The filter is rear mounted, but I rarely used it. There’s a circular polarizer available.

Build Quality

20130721Gservo-6797

The Sigma 500mm F4.5 EX DG APO is put together extremely well. The EX lens coating feels nice. The lens has a solid feel to it. Nothing rattles or shakes. It feels fantastic. If feels a lot lighter than it looks. I was able to shoot hand-held, and it was actually comfortable to hold. I would not hold it for an hour straight, though.

Autofocus

20130714Gservo-6440

The autofocus is quick, spot-on, and silent. There’s also a limiter which has 3 settings: full, 8 meters to infinity, and 4-8 meters. When the lens is in the ‘limiter’ setting, the autofocus is extremely fast. I usually kept it on full. The minimum focus distance is around 13 ft or 4 m. You’re not getting close to anything physically. However, this lens is able to focus on pretty much anything. The manual focus ring is nice and smooth. It’s go a long way to travel, though, especially on the full range setting. Autofocus is the way to go, for me anyway. It just works better.

Ease of Use

_MG_6474(WebWM)

The Sigma 500mm F4.5 is extremely easy to use right out the box. The biggest thing to get used to is the minimum focus distance. You also have to get used to the (lack of) depth of field. Getting used to the lens took me about twenty minutes in the park. The distance scale comes in handy as well at certain times.

Image Quality

Sigma 500mm F4.5  20130720Gservo-6647

The overall image quality of the Sigma500mm F4.5 EX DG APO is rather brilliant. It’s definitely what’s needed for sports.

Sharpness

Sigma 500mm F4.5  20130724Gservo-6853

The sharpness of this lens is ridiculous. I could see people in helicopters, which were extremely far off. The detail it pulls out of things is stunning, hand-held or on a tripod. I could clearly read things of boats on the Hudson river without an issue.

Bokeh

Sigma 500mm F4.5 20130804Gservo-7120

We often say the bokeh is buttery, creamy, or some other form of food porn reference. Well, I can’t say the bokeh of this lens is like bacon whipped cream after a really good bleep. That would be underselling it. I was utterly amazed at the bokeh you could get with the Sigma 500mm F4.5 EX DG

Full Frame vs Crop

The Sigma 500mm F4.5 can be used on crop sensor cameras like the Nikon D5200, and with and adapter it can be used on Micro 4/3 cameras as wll. On the Nikon DX crop sensor the lens is equivalent to a 750mm, and on the Micro 4/3 sensor  it acts like a 1000mm. Here are some samples I did as a comparison.

20130721Gservo-6795

Nikon D700 FX mode

For this test the camera was mounted on a tripod and I just changed settings. I was looking at New York from New Jersey.

20130721Gservo-6796

Nikon D700 DX mode

Going to DX Mode gives you a lot of extra reach giving this lens a dual purpose.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Olympus EP1 with Fotga adapter

On the E-P1 you get even more reach, but it’s a bit more tricky to focus, even with focus peaking. This was an interesting experiment.

Depth-of-Field Test

Because of the focal range of this lens the depth-of-field can in- or decrease depending on where you focus. It can throw you off at first especially if you are inexperienced with the lens. Once you get used to it, however, play with what you focus on, then you come to understand things.

F4.5

Sigma 500mm F4.5  20130725Gservo-6869

F8

Sigma 500mm F4.5  20130725Gservo-6870

F32 close

Sigma 500mm F4.5  20130725Gservo-6873

F32 far

20130725Gservo-6875

50mm vs. 500mm

20130714Gservo-6340

When I first tested this lens, I was shooting on a river. I took a shot with a 50mm lens, then with the 500mm. This was proof of why a 500mm lens was needed: it keeps you from getting wet! To get the close-up shot with the 50mm, I would have had to get in the water and disturb the fish and piss of the fishermen.

Sigma 500mm F4.5  20130714Gservo-6345

There is no contest between the lenses. It’s like comparing a cherry to a watermelon. However, it makes you think about carrying another camera and lens when shooting with the Sigma 500mm F4.5 EX DG APO.

20130714Gservo-6417

They got wet, I did not.

Recommendations

  • You need a second Camera with a smaller, fast lens like the Sigma 24-70, just in case you have to shoot something close up. This is much safer and less expensive than a broken 500mm lens.
  • A bag like the Think Tank Airport Accelerator is needed. You need a nice strong bag for this lens.
  • Gloves in the winter. This lens gets hot in the heat, it will get cold as well.
  • A monopod or tripod is recommended. It will help you shoot for longer periods of times with the lens.

Who This Lens is For

20130804Gservo-7188

This lens is for whoever wants it. You have to have a reason to use it, though. It is perfect for sports photographers, for example. The Sigma 500mm F4.5 allows you to get up close to the action while staying out the way. If you need to get closer, throw it in DX mode (If you are a Nikon user), or crop in post.

20130721Gservo-6759

If you need to shoot anything at a distance, this lens is brilliant. Because of its sharpness, you have a lot of detail to play with. If you are shooting with a camera like the Nikon D800, you can do some amazing cropping .

Conclusions

20130804Gservo-7153

The Sigma 500mm F4.5 is a proper telephoto lens, without a doubt. I have held a few telephoto lenses, and this one is my favorite so far. While I did get strange looks when using it at times, it did not matter. This lens’ effect on me was profound. I have this thing of falling for particular focal lengths. 24mm50mm, 135mm, and now 500mm. There is something special about it. Now, would I own this lens? Yes, if I could afford it. But when I need it, I know I can rent it. It’s not a lens you would use every day unless wildlife, racing, or sports were a major part of your photography. If you need to shoot anything far away, this is the lens for you.

Additional Images

20130721Gservo-6750

20130804Gservo-7202

20130721Gservo-6792

Please Support The Phoblographer

We love to bring you guys the latest and greatest news and gear related stuff. However, we can’t keep doing that unless we have your continued support. If you would like to purchase any of the items mentioned, please do so by clicking our links first and then purchasing the items as we then get a small portion of the sale to help run the website.

Also, please follow us on Facebook, Flickr and Twitter.

Gevon Servo

Gevon Servo aka @GServo is an eclectic, NJ/NY Photographer. He’s a Nikon shooter, by choice nevertheless, will always test any piece of photography equipment. He believes that like ‘Photography’, ‘Coffee’,’Beer’ and ‘Comics Books’ and other things ‘Geek’ “You must try everything once to discover what you want to try again.