When the L-Mount Alliance formed, it allowed companies like Panasonic to jump into full-frame mirrorless with a list of lenses already available. But, one thing the L-Mount family was missing was a zoom, with optics from Leica topping out at 280mm and, later, Panasonic at 300mm. When Sigma started converting its line-up of lenses to mirrorless, however, the L-Mount family gained a super-telephoto, the Sigma 150-600mm f5-6.3 DG DN Sports.
The lens launched as the longest modern L-Mount, while competing with optics like Sony’s 200-600mm in E-Mount. Eager to see how Sigma’s lens fare as the longest L-Mount, I tried out the Sigma 150-600mm with the Panasonic S5 on birds and winter sports. Here’s how the lens held up.
Too Long, Didn’t Read
If you want a 600mm lens on L-Mount, the Sigma 150-600mm is currently the only option. It’s not a bad one, with great image quality and a sturdy build, but at least on the S5 the autofocus isn’t perfect.
Pros and Cons
- Longest reach among current L-Mount lenses
- Customize the speed of the zoom ring
- Great stabilization
- Slightly lighter than Sony’s 200-600mm E Mount
- Lovely mix of detail and, at 600mm, bokeh
- Autofocus isn’t the best
- Use of the AF limiter switch is a must
I used the L-mount version of the Sigma 150-600mm f5-6.3 DG DN Sports, tested with the Panasonic S5.
The Sigma 150-600mm is the company’s first Sports lens to migrate over to a mirrorless mount. But, it’s also the L-Mount zoom lens with the longest reach that’s currently available. So far, zooms from Panasonic just reach 300mm and Leica 280mm. On E-Mount, it’s a bit less unique, competing with optics like the Sony 200-600mm f5.6-6.3 G OSS or the Tamron 150-500mm f5-6.7 Di III VC VXD.
LensRentals lists these tech specs for the 150-600mm f5-6.3 DG DN Sport:
|“F” Low-Dispersion Elements||4|
|Angle of View||16.4° to 4.1°|
|Aperture Blades||9, Rounded|
|Extra Low-Dispersion Elements||2|
|Macro Reproduction Ratio||1:2.9|
|Mfr. Model Number||747969|
|Minimum Focusing Distance||1.9’|
At nearly five pounds, the Sigma 150-600mm makes me wonder, “Can I skip my arm workout now?” It’s actually not too bad to hike around with. I hiked four miles in my longest stint with this beast — half around my neck, half inside a backpack — and I didn’t regret my decision to bring it along. Where I started to feel the weight was training this lens on a bird and then, well, just waiting for the bird to do something interesting.
But, all of this is rather expected — and in fact, better than the competition. Sony’s 200-600mm lens is actually four ounces heavier. So, while I think you should maybe start doing some arm curls while you wait for this lens to ship, the weight is manageable and not a deal-breaker.
Photographers will need a larger backpack for this lens — the lens will need a vertical slot, not side-to-side. It’s roughly 10.5 inches long. The front is big enough to require 95mm filters.
The lens widens out quickly from the mount, then features a bank of control switches. These controls include an auto to manual focus switch, a focus limiter, stabilization mode, and a custom mode switch.
Next up is the tripod collar. It’s not removable. But, a dial loosens the collar, and it then clicks nicely into place when rotated to change the orientation of the camera on a tripod.
Following the tripod collar is the focus ring. This is much narrower than the zoom ring. This ring turns smoothly and slowly. The ring seems to slow down even further when focusing closer than three feet, which makes it easier to find that perfect spot. The focus ring is partially obstructed by the tripod collar, so it’s best grabbed from the side.
The lens has two shortcut buttons — they both do the same thing, but one is easier to reach when shooting vertically and the other horizontally. By default, the button changes the AF-point in autofocus but brought up the closer view on screen when in manual focus mode.
Underneath these buttons, the lens has a lock that also adjusts how quickly the lens zooms. The L position locks the lens closed to put in a bag. The S position allows the zoom ring to turn moderately fast, while the T position slows down the zoom ring. I really like having the option to choose between a slower or faster zoom ring. Beware, however, that in the S position the lens will extend on its own if you point it down at the ground. That zoom ring is big, grippy, and easy to reach for.
Overall, I like Sigma’s design here. There are a lot of controls and I love the option to change how quickly the zoom ring turns. It’s big, yes, but that’s not surprising for such a reach.
I took this lens out in the middle of a Michigan snowstorm. The Sigma 150-600mm got pretty well covered in powder. But, the lens didn’t experience any ill effects and kept on shooting. I also didn’t spot any additional dust or moisture inside the body after the shoot.
As such a large telephoto, a metal build would be impossible to handhold. I don’t mind the Sigma’s plastic build here. Luxurious? No. Necessary? Yes. The weather-sealing makes it feel a bit more sturdy than a plastic lens that doesn’t have weather sealing.
The Sigma 150-600mm uses a magnetic sensor to improve the speed and accuracy of the autofocus by detecting precisely where the focusing lens element is. It can focus at an impressive 22.8 inches away at 150mm. But, there are 25 lens elements to move across a pretty big range, and it doesn’t always keep up with the action on the S5.
The last combo I used for wildlife before this was the Canon EOS R3 and the 70-200mm f4. Going from the R3 to the S5 feels a bit like trading in a convertible for a minivan, complete with Goldfish crumbs in every crevice. The S5 definitely has a place, but I don’t think it’s in the top three for sports and wildlife cameras. Where the R3 can lock onto the black eye of a black-capped chickadee, the S5 locks onto the bird body and is often thrown off when branches are in the way. The S5 isn’t my favorite body for fast focusing — I think Canon and Sony are both quite a bit faster. We’ve noted some focusing issues from the L-Mount before, and noted in our S5 review that autofocusing was better with Panasonic lenses.
That said, it’s hard to point fingers at whether the autofocus misses are from the lens, the body, or the simple physics of moving such a large number of lens elements quickly. I had about a 25 percent miss rate for action heading straight towards the camera. The subject, for this test, was kids on a sledding hill.
While that’s not great, I had between a 20 and 30 percent miss rate on action with the Panasonic 70-200mm f2.8 Lumix Pro on the S5 body. While the hit rate from the Sigma wasn’t great, it was about even with a shorter Panasonic branded lens on action coming towards the camera.
When birding, I was able to capture a lot of sharp shots of birds on branches (provided other branches were not in the way) but had difficulty focusing on birds in flight.
The other issue that I had with this combination is that the focus limiter switch was practically a requirement. Typically, using a limited range instead of full improves focusing speed, but the camera can still lock on when in the full mode. The lens wasn’t slower to focus in full mode — it actually wouldn’t lock on to closer subjects at all without switching to the closest focusing range.
While autofocus here isn’t spectacular, I wasn’t in love with the focus on the Panasonic 70-200mm either. And, as literally the only L-mount 600mm, it still deserves to be considered. It’s not a lens that’s going to convince me to buy into L-mount, but it’s one that I would still consider if I was an L-Mount shooter already. With some patience, you can still get some great shots here. The keyword here is patience.
Ease of Use
The extra dials and controls here mean this lens is best after you take a little time to get to know it. Take it out on a date first before you jump into an important shoot. The biggest must-know is that focus limiter switch. The “full” position will often not lock on to closer subjects. If a bird is close enough to fill most of the frame at 600mm, you’ll need to switch to the closest position. I missed some shots because I wasn’t familiar enough with the lens to know which switch it was on the row of controls and I had to pull the camera away from my face to adjust.
Once acquainted with the controls, the lens just takes some patience. Focusing a lens with 25 elements isn’t the fastest. But, if you’re patient, you’ll get some close shots beyond what’s available from Panasonic and Leica in the L Mount.
Stabilization is a must with such a long telephoto and thankfully Sigma didn’t skimp here. I still grabbed sharp 600mm shots — which the reciprocal rule suggests are best at 1/600 — at 1/320. I spent a lot of time at 1/500, since much of my shots were taken in shiver-worthy weather after (or during) a cup of coffee.
600mm is a great reach, and with the Sigma 150-600mm, I could get some excellent up-close detail. The long focal length makes up for some of that narrower aperture. And, it does a pretty good job of reducing imperfections like colored fringing and pincushion distortion.
The length of this lens helps make up for the narrower aperture. You’ll need a higher ISO, but you’ll still get some beautiful background blur. Backgrounds are soft and smooth. Points of light are round and without any hard edges.
The Sigma 150-600mm is decently sharp. The middle is great. At 600mm, there’s a slight loss of sharpness at the edges, but I still got a good amount of detail when positioning the subject on the edge. At 150mm, the edges are a bit sharper, with just the corners that are slightly soft. It’s not quite as sharp as some of Sony’s lenses — which we could argue can be too sharp — but it’s solid.
Most of the character here comes with the compression of such a long lens. It really softens that background and makes objects appear closer together. I didn’t have too many issues with flare while out shooting, but you can create some circular flare spots if you point the lens right towards the sun.
Despite the extreme telephoto, I couldn’t spot pincushion distortion with this lens. Straight lines were still kept relatively straight.
Sigma brags on the reduction of chromatic aberration on this lens, and for the most part, they aren’t exaggerating. Some branches against a blue sky had a thicker blue around them, but I didn’t spot the telltale purple and green until tree branch with peeling bark with very fine texture. Even then, the aberration was difficult to spot.
I spent a lot of time in the S5’s Cinelike modes which have a great, unique feel to them. (Just beware that because the native ISO here is 200, not 100, the RAW files will appear darker than the JPEGs). I liked the deeper colors here. Flare was controlled well enough that the lens didn’t create any major loss of color.
Extra Image Samples
From day one, the Phoblographer has been huge on transparency with our audience. Nothing from this review is sponsored. Further, lots of folks will post reviews and show lots of editing in the photos. The problem then becomes that anyone and everyone can do the same thing. You’re not showing what the lens can do. So we have a whole section in our Extra Image Samples area to show off edited and unedited photos. From this, you can make a decision for yourself.
- This lens offers a lot of zoom, and a 600mm reach isn’t easy to find.
- There are lots of controls, including the option to control how fast the zoom ring turns.
- It’s stabilized.
- It has a wider zoom range than Sony’s closest competitor but is actually lighter.
- Images have a great mix of sharp detail and telephoto-induced bokeh.
- The weather-sealing survived a snowstorm.
- On the Panasonic S5, a quarter of action shots were soft — but this is at least partially because of the body.
- The lens won’t focus close without using the focus limiter switch.
The Sigma 150-600mm is a bit of a mixed bag — but, on L-mount, it’s rare enough that it’s worth considering for that huge reach. The images are excellent, with that ultra-telephoto compression and bokeh, solid sharpness, and little aberration. While heavy, it’s lighter than similar competing lenses and the weather-sealing survived a snowstorm.
My biggest sticking point here was the autofocus — and I believe that it’s, at least in part, due to the body that I tested this lens on. Action shots had quite a few soft shots in the mix, but it was similar to the results shooting the same body with Panasonic’s 70-200mm lens. The lens, however, relied heavily on the autofocus limiter switch. While most telephotos need that switch to focus quickly, the Sigma 150-600mm wouldn’t lock on closer subjects, such as birds, without it. I can’t yet vouch for how the E-Mount lens would perform on some of Sony’s faster bodies.
Ultimately, the Sigma 150-600mm lens will reward patient photographers with a big reach, durable build, and sharp photos with little distortion or aberration. I’m giving this lens four out of five stars. Want one? Try them at LensRentals or pick one up at Adorama.