Review: Sigma 500mm f4 DG OS HSM Sports (Canon EF Mount, Adapted to Sony FE)

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TheSigma 500mm f4 DG OS HSM Sports is a massive lens that’s not too bad for wildlife

I rarely review lenses as big as the Sigma 500mm f4 DG OS HSM Sports, but they’re an important part of the sports and wildlife photography world. And surprisingly, the Sigma 500mm f4 DG OS HSM can be handheld and shot if you’ve got the right settings. As a prime, fixed focal length lens without as fast of an aperture as many of the others out there, photographers who shoot outdoors are still bound to value it for its relatively compact size for a lens of this type and its fairly lightweight nature. You’ll also be glad to know this lens has a dust-proof and splash-proof design. So if you’re like me, then you’ll want to adapt it to a Metabones adapter that has weather sealing built into it and mount it onto a camera like the Sony a7r III.

And believe it or not, that’s exactly what I did.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Weather resistant design
  • All the comments that you’ll get along the lines of, “That’s a big lens.”
  • Quiet to focus
  • Sharp image quality
  • Gorgeous; absolutely spectacular bokeh
  • Pretty close focusing
  • Lightweight, sort of

Cons

  • Can be slow to focus sometimes and inaccurate
  • Lots of different settings with image stabilization, focus limiter, etc. But that just makes sense if you’re doing this professionally.
  • Requires a very strong tripod.

Gear Used

The Sigma 500mm f4 DG OS HSM Sports was used with the Manfrotto BeFree Compact Aluminum tripod, the Metabones Canon to Sony 5 adapter, and the Sony a7r III.

Tech Specs

Specs taken from the Sigma website listing

Lens Construction 16 elements in 11 groups
Angle of View (35mm)
Number of Diaphragm Blades 9 (Rounded diaphragm)
Minimum Aperture F32
Minimum Focusing Distance 350cm/137.8in.
Filter Size (mm) Φ46mm (Rear)
Maximum Magnifications 1:6.5
Dimensions
(Diameter x Length)
Φ144.8mm × 380.3mm/5.7in. x 15in.
Weight 3,310g
Corresponding Mounts
Sigma HSM
DG
Nikon HSM
DG
Canon HSM
DG
HSM -Hyper-Sonic Motor
DG – DG for Digital Full Frame and APS-C
* The appearance, specifications, and the like of the product are subject to change for improvement without notice.

Ergonomics

The Sigma 500mm f4 DG OS HSM Sports has a really, really interesting look and feel to it. Externally, it has a texture I’m used to with Sigma’s older lenses. But it’s indeed a Sports lens, and being that this is a prime lens, it features only one big ring–and that’s for focusing. Every now and again, it may be useful to actually use it. There is a tripod collar connected to it and one heck of a lens hood that you can also use for digging yourself a hole to crawl into and sleep while outdoors. You know, because even though this is a lightweight lens you’re still going to be tired and everyone loves sleeping in holes.

Here are the main controls on the lens: There is the focus type, focus limiter, optical stabilization, and custom settings that I never bothered to mess with. Then there are more settings on the ring closer to the body–all of which I never really used either but they’re self explanatory enough.

Turn to the front of the Sigma 500mm f4 DG OS HSM Sports and, well, you get the idea…

Build Quality

The Sigma 500mm f4 DG OS HSM Sports is quite honestly a great workout. When you feel like you want to go out into the woods to pump some iron all on your own, you can trek along this lens and start doing curls to improve those sad photographer muscles of yours. Heck, you can even do it in the rain if you wish because the lens has a bit of weather sealing. Wildlife photographers will surely enjoy that.

Ease of Use

While there are a whole lot of settings on this lens, you’re more or less just putting a respectable distance between you and your subject, pointing, shooting, and admiring the image. That’s it. The focus limiters sometimes help when needed and to be honest, I never felt at any time that this lens got in the way of getting a good shot except in situations where animals were blending into the background.

Here’s one of those situations: I was following this coyote around while stationary on a tripod for a pretty long time. But as you can tell (and if you know anything about color theory), his colors aren’t too far off with the environment he’s in. So it was sometimes tough to get his face in focus as he moved about. Perhaps this is because of the Metabones adapter (it had the final firmware) and the Sony a7r III vs the Canon DSLR that I could have used, but more often than not I’ve had great luck with Sony cameras and adapted lenses.

To aid this, I used the focus limiter.

Autofocus

In many situations, the Sigma 500mm f4 DG OS HSM Sports is very fast. The only other major exceptions where it became a pain were when ducks and swans were swimming about in the water, and when trying to focus on a puma while it was behind glass. But sometimes you need to expect that. There are surely times in real life where animals won’t just sit there and wait for you to take their photos. So you’ll need to be quick. Focus limiters and being able to manually touch up the focusing really helps here.

Image Quality

Overall image quality from the Sigma 500mm f4 DG OS HSM Sports is very, very solid. When paired with the Sony a7r III a photographer can get great versatility in post-production to make the photos even better. At a level and price point like this, you just have to expect that the image quality would be fantastic with something like a Sigma lens.

Bokeh

The Sigma 500mm f4 DG OS HSM Sports has some of the smoothest and most gorgeous bokeh I’ve seen. Of course, this works best when your subject is pretty close to you. In the case of this California Sea Lion, it was probably less than 15 feet away and it was also pretty darned friendly. Now, I’m not expecting every photographer to be able to do stuff like this out in the wild, but there’s a chance you might be able to.

Chromatic Aberration

In my tests, I couldn’t really find any major chromatic aberration. I thought I saw some through the viewfinder but it ended up not being the case.

Color Rendition

The Sigma 500mm f4 DG OS HSM Sports in these images seems to be very warm with its color rendition. But instead, I was shooting at 5500K daylight. The colors themselves though are vivid and with the exception of the Sigma 35mm f1.4 Art lens, I’d say that this is Sigma’s most vivid lens.

Sharpness

Whoa, the sharpness of the Sigma 500mm f4 DG OS HSM Sports is very, very good. I had a whole lot of fun pixel peeping (yes I said it) to see all the details on these animals. At f4, you’ll be very happy with little to no reason to stop the lens down. But you really should do so.

Birding is what I expect a lot of photographers to do with this lens.

Extra Image Samples

Conclusions

Likes

  • Lightweight for what this lens is
  • Weather sealing
  • Effective enough autofocus
  • Good overall image quality

Dislikes

  • The autofocus wasn’t always accurate

The Sigma 500mm f4 DG OS HSM Sports is a lens that wildlife and specifically birding photographers are bound to enjoy. The combination of solid image quality, weather sealing and all will make it work out. If you can’t afford Canon’s own version, then this is a solid alternative. But if you’re on the Sony system, then perhaps consider some of their zoom lenses. Even then, you’re still not going long enough in some real life case situations with the Sony system at least at the moment.

The Sigma 500mm f4 DG OS HSM Sports receives five out of five stars.