Hands-On Review: Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Contemporary Lens for Canon

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The 150-600mm focal length is rare in the world of photographic lenses, with only three options on the market. Sigma offers two of the three with the Sigma 150-600mm F/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary and the Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sport, giving customers a choice between lightweight portability or premium optical performance and weather sealing. At B&H, we recently got our hands on the value member of this pair, the Contemporary, for a tour of the Big Apple. The Sigma lenses are available in Sigma, Nikon, and Canon mounts.

When it comes to reach, the 150mm focal length at the short end of the zoom range isn't very special, since many kit lenses cover this focal length, but when you zoom the lens out past 300mm, you know you are going places that only a select few lenses ever go, and that is the attractive feature of these lenses. Sure, you can slap a 2x teleconverter on a 300mm f/4 lens for the 600mm experience, but your sharpness is degraded, and you are starting at f/8. The Sigmas and the competition bring you to 600mm without a crippling teleconverter, and you arrive there at f/6.3. In the super-telephoto world, every stop and every fraction of a stop helps.

Speaking of teleconverters, these Sigma lenses offer compatibility with the Sigma TC-1401 1.4x Teleconverter (Canon mount), and the lenses are optically transformed into eye-watering 210-840mm glass with the loss of one stop. Sigma offers the TC-1401 for Nikon and Sigma mounts, as well.

Design

I’ll say this: I am a fan of Sigma’s design aesthetics. Unlike the world of premium automotive design, the folk who draft lens bodies are relatively unknown. The design team at Sigma, or whatever team to whom they may outsource their design work, deserves a round of applause. Like other Sigma glass, the 150-600mm Contemporary features a look that is about as clean as a lens can get these days. The flat black is satin-finished and satin-smooth. The markings are clear and everything looks harmonious. If you want bling in the form of gold rings, red rings, or silver rings, Sigma is not for you. On some lenses, such bling denotes premium optics; on other lenses, it just denotes bling.

Although the Sport version features maximum weather sealing, the Contemporary features a dust- and splash-proof mount.

The Contemporary’s lens hood completes the lens with a squared-off attachment. As the main body of the lens curves outward toward the 95mm diameter objective lens, the curves and angles become right and then extend to the end of the hood. I assume that, because this lens is far from wide-angle, there was no need to continue the widening of the lens when it came to the lens-hood design.

The main adjustment ring is for zoom. A thickly ridged zoom ring provides a sure grip with the grooves running longitudinally with the lens. An anti-clockwise turn of the ring brings you from 150mm to 600mm. A reach across the lens will let you go through the full zoom range with one twist, but using a standard shooting hold, it will take most users two separate turns to get from one end of the range to the other. A zoom lock slide lever will lock the lens at 150mm and prevent zoom creep, or at 600mm to prevent un-zoom creep.

The manual focus ring is tiny in comparison to the zoom ring, and it probably rivals other lenses for the title of narrowest zoom ring textured grip. There is plenty to grab onto, but like many lenses today, the money is going into autofocus technology, not into manual focus ergonomics. Aft of the manual focus ring is a clear window with a focus distance scale.

Switchology

Next to the focus window is a quadruple-switch suite. The top switch runs through your focus modes: AF, MF, and MO. The MO mode is a combination auto/manual mode that allows the shooter to overrule the AF. When in AF, a patch of white appears aft of the switch, to allow a quick glance to confirm you are in AF mode.

The next switch is the 3-position focus limiter switch that allows full range, 10m to infinity, or 2.8m (minimum focus distance) to 10m.

The 3-position Optical Stabilization (OS) mode switch features an OFF setting and two modes. Mode 1 is full stabilization, and Mode 2 is used to isolate either the vertical or horizontal sensors, so if panning with your subject, the OS does not interfere with the panning. The lens detects the lens orientation to the horizon and automatically disengages the appropriate OS motors.

Last of the switches is the 3-position custom switch. When combined with the Sigma USB Dock, you can create custom profiles for OS, AF, and focus-distance limits to meet your specific needs.

Size

The Sigma 150-600mm Contemporary is similar in stature to a modern 70-200mm f/2.8 lens or a 300mm f/4. When zoomed out, the lens displays pronounced growth in the length department. Zooming is definitely not internal and the lens grows by 3.25" when zooming from its fully retracted position at 150mm to a fully extended 600mm.

The barrel size is manageable in the hand and may even squeeze into the spot in your camera bag formerly reserved for your 70-200mm. The objective filter thread is, as mentioned before, a gaping 95mm. The larger Sport version checks in at 105mm at this end.

Weight

Sigma designed the Contemporary to be the lightweight option of the 150-600mm lenses, and it tips the scales at 4.25 lb. This is not a light lens, but the Sport version adds more than 2 lb of additional ballast to your camera bag, weighing over 6.3 lb.

The weight and matte finish of the lens combine to give it a solid feel. The body is made from a combination of aluminum alloy and polycarbonate resin. Although lighter than the Sport, you will find that the Sigma on a full-frame body will give your arm a workout as you carry it between shooting locations. But, simply remind yourself that you are carrying a 600mm lens with a respectable maximum aperture, and all will be forgiven. Many 600mm lenses could be sold with optional pack mules, assistants, dollies, or fork lifts.

Mechanicals

The zoom ring has a nice heft, as does the diminutive focus ring. Turning through the zoom range makes you believe that you are turning plastic on plastic. Likely, that is exactly part of what you are doing. Nothing on the Sigma feels like metal aside from the tripod collar, and the mechanicals have a plastic feel. This is not a criticism; it is just a statement of fact. The weight of the zoom ring and focus ring are really quite nice, but alchemists have yet to design polycarbonate lens mechanicals that feel like metal. Until then, you get plastic feel with plastic construction. Trust me, there are dozens of lenses on the market that have plastic components that are drastically inferior in tactile feel to the Sigma.




 


 


 


 


 


 

Shooting

It must be the conservative design of the black Sigma or the blasé attitude of most New Yorkers, but the big Sigma, even when zoomed out, rarely got a second glance from passersby. Shooting in popular tourist areas with the lens mounted on a brand-new Canon 6D got me exactly zero queries on what I was shooting or what I was shooting with. That is a good thing for most photographers trying to get good shots and not disturb others.

On my first outing, I wanted to really test the lens. Before I took the lens out, I was told to keep my shutter speeds high and stay away from caffeine. Well, I quit caffeine several years ago. All that was left for me to control was the shutter speeds. To heck with the warnings, let’s shoot this thing handheld, at twilight, at 600mm. After all, digital is free!






 


 


 


 

Well, it was either my non-caffeinated hands or an excellent OS system from Sigma, but I was able to get sharp photos, with the lens wide open in fading light and without a tripod in sight, at ISOs less than 1600. Sigma advertises a four-stop OS on a few of its lenses, but I was not able to find a published OS spec for the Contemporary. Regardless, I either have the steady hands of a surgeon, or the Sigma works hard to keep the image steady. I’ll give Sigma all the credit here before I challenge friends to a round of Milton Bradley/Hasbro’s Operation game.

Were the images tack sharp? No. But, it was getting dark and I am sure if anyone watching me knew anything about photography, they would doubt that I was able to come away with the shots you see here. Perfectly sharp? No lens could get a perfectly sharp image in those conditions without the benefit of a tripod. Sharp enough? You bet. 

The following night, I retraced my steps, this time with a tripod. Success! This time I stopped down from wide-open, used mirror lockup on the 6D, and soaked in the light.

At 600mm, the lens features very shallow depth of field, and if focusing on something relatively near (even hundreds of yards away), you will get a soft background. If you are looking for gorgeous star-points around distant highlights, this lens is not for you. Even stepped down to f/16, the 9-blade aperture diaphragm failed to produce super-attractive aperture stars.



 

For some shots with the sun overhead, I left the Sigma in its included soft carry case, attached the 6D, and biked over to Prospect Park, in Brooklyn, in search of Tennessee Warblers and Louisiana Water Thrush. I heard many birds in the trees, but none posed for the Sigma. For birding fans, I stopped by the water to photograph the famous (they have appeared in the New York Times) mute swans (Cygnus olor) of Prospect Park Lake, as they and their neighboring geese are not in hiding.

Overfed by scores of children, the swans and geese were on the shore, ignoring the food being tossed at them and immune to the close company of humans. I was able to point the Sigma at its minimum focus distance at the swans that could care less about my presence or the presence of the Sigma lens.



 

I wanted to try the Sigma’s ability to track fast-moving wildlife. The one squirrel I saw dove into a bush before I could get a model release prepared and the Sigma pointed in its direction. Undeterred, there were scores of high-speed Homo sapiens on two-wheeled machines cruising by. Perfect.




 


 


 


 

I won’t report a 100% hit rate, but I did get handfuls of sharp photos of the bikes speeding by. It was probably a combination of user error, lack of practice at panning after 20-30mph targets, and my relative unfamiliarity with the Canon 6D that kept me from getting more successful images of the bikes. I cannot pass the blame to the Sigma, as the silent and fast autofocus definitely seemed up to the task. The shallow DOF of the Sigma gave me more than one shot where the biker’s shoe was tack sharp, but the bike’s drive train was soft and vice-versa. This could also be a side effect of the cacophony of motion involved in bicycling, even at blistering shutter speeds. Regardless, I feel that the Sigma and 6D delivered some keepers.

Overall

After a few days with the Sigma 150-600mm lens, I was left impressed, and I wanted to keep taking it out to capture images that mere mortal telephotos cannot capture. Birders, wildlife shooters, and those wanting to simply extend the reach of their DSLRs without breaking their backs or wallets should have great fun with the Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Contemporary.

44 Comments

Hello, did you make any fine-tuning with Canon 6D for getting the more sharp results? 

Hello Durul,

I did not do any adjustments to the lens nor to the camera to get the results you see in this article. Everything looked pretty good to me, and I only had the gear for a limited amount of time, so I did not tinker. :)

Thanks for the question and thanks for reading!

Best,

Todd

Hi, Is this sigma150-600 f/5-6.3 Contemporary lens compatible with Canon 1D X Mark III body. 

Hi M. J. P.,

Yes, the Canon EF mount version (https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1082154-REG/sigma_150_600mm_f_5_6_3_dg_os.html) will work on your ID X Mark III body.

Thanks for reading! Let us know if you have more questions!

Best,

Todd

Hello Todd,

Thanks for this article. I was wondering if you use a separate tripod collar when using this (I have the one that came with this, but it causes shake in my pictures)

Hi Subha,

I did not use a separate collar, but there might be some aftermarket ones out in the wild. I know that many companies make tripod collars for lenses because the OEM ones aren't always great.

Best,

Todd

Hi Todd,

I just purchased this lens after giving it a try for a week long rental. I previously owned the 150-500 model and this lens trumps that in every way. I have used it on three different bodies (1D Mark III, 50D, and T2i).  On the 50D and T2i the lens performed well and focus was quick but not stellar for tracking fast-moving objects (not unexpected due to the limited usefullness of nine AF points).  On the 1D Mark III, focus was lightning fast and spot on and tracked very well in AF Servo mode.  The OS on the copy I have is terriffic and the ability to change OS modes is a great tool.  Sharpness handheld on all three bodies was good enough.  Add a mono or tripod and it just gets even better (I prefer a tripod with a Gimball head).

Overall, I am impressed with this lens.  I just purchased the docking station and customized the lens even further.  I have not used the custom settings yet but plan to as soon as the rain stops in a few days.  (Nothing worse than getting a new lens and having the weather kill your plans to play.)

Thanks for a great review. 

Good stuff, Jim! Thanks for sharing your experience with the lens. I am glad you are enjoying it and I hope you get some great shots when the weather improves! Thanks for checking in!

I have the cannon rebel and I take pictures of our football, baseball and basketball teams. I am looking at getting the contempary, will it work for what I want it to do with that camera?

Hi Carl,

I would sat that those photographic missions are very much what Sigma had in mind for this lens! 

Thanks for reading!

Hi Todd--I currently have a Nikon D 600 but am really thinking about the D 810.  Not a pro but love to photo stuff and always looking to upgrade.  I've got the 70-300 Nikon and it's OK but I still look for more when I'm trying to do hummingbirds, and other close up stuff.  2 questions.  1.  Would I notice a differ ence in the D600 and the D810   and 2.  Would you go with the Sigma or the new Nikon

Thanks,

Hugh

Hey Hugh,

Tough questions for me to answer, but here it goes:

1) The D600 is a great camera. If you are happy with the results, I always recommend sticking with what you have. The D810 beats it in resolution, so, if you are doing heavy cropping, it may give you an advantage. Your budget might also help you decide!

2) I haven't used the new Nikon lens, so I cant pick a winner here, but, forgive me for sounding like a commercial, we do offer a 30-day return policy on gear that will let you test both and decide for yourself.

I hope those answers are not too political! Thanks for reading and writing in!

Nice that they gave you a sharp one to test this time - bonus!  

I thought it was just my steady hands! Thanks for reading, Photomonkey!

Very well written lens review! If Sigma has a heart they will give the author one of these lenses as a reward for the great review...i know that reading it has left me convinced that I have to get one!

Thanks, Winston!

Ha! Wouldn't that be nice! (Dear Sigma, I'll take a Nikon mount version. Thanks!)

I appreciate the thought and the compliments, especially after getting bloodied in my Tokina 24-70 review!

Thanks for reading and let us know if you get one and how you like it!

I am using the Contemporary on a 6D and 70D and have been really pleased with mostly back yard shots. I sometimes have to bump the manual focus ring to get AF started, but that has not been a problem. I have not had my Canon 400 f5.6 on either camera since I purchased the Sigma. I would definitely purchase again.

I am glad it is working out well for you, Gene! Thanks for reading and sharing your experience!

will this lens fit a Sony a57??

Hi Sheila,

Sorry, there is no Sony mount currently offered for this lens. I am not sure if Sigma will be offering a Sony mount in the future.

I'm tempted to jump on one of these, but I don't know if I should wait for the new Nikon 200-500 f5.6? Any opinions?

E.T.,

I am curious to see how the Sigma performs against the new Nikon as well. Until then, we just have to phone home.

Thanks for reading!

I received my copy of the "Contemporary" two days ago with Nikon mount. I put it through some practical testing, hand-held, in my backyard. On the D800E I had a 90% success rate when shooting still subjects at relatively long shutter speeds, e.i., 500mm @1/125s and slower. I found the lens tack sharp between f/6.3 - f/11. At f/16 there was slight degradation of sharpness. I mounted the lens on the D7100 and shot songbirds near my feeder. My success rate wasn't as good, perhaps 70%, but I was shooting animate subjects. And since I needed fast shutter speeds, I cranked up the ISO and fixed incidental noise issues in ACR. Also, the lens balances much better for me on the D800E.

One important "con" for its design. I found it nearly impossible to manually focus this lens while hand-holding it. The focusing ring is too far away from the center of balance of the mounted lens to properly support it while shooting.

<<A zoom lock slide lever will lock the lens at 150mm and prevent zoom creep, or at 600mm to prevent un-zoom creep.>>

The zoom can also be locked at marked intermediate focal lengths from 200-500mm.

This lens is a keeper!

Hello Bruce,

Thanks for sharing the fruits of your labor and catching my error on the zoom lock.

I am glad you are enjoying the Sigma Contemporary! Thanks for reading!

When will this lens be available in K mount for my weather-proof Pentax K-5?  I've been reading reviews for months and my appetite is whetted.

At the present time it does not appear Sigma will offer the lenses in the Pentax K mount.

Hello Philip,

Unfortunately, it doesn't look like a Pentax K-mount has been scheduled for this lens yet. I cannot find anything indicating one is coming, but Sigma might surprise you. You never know! Cross your fingers!

Recently baught this lens. It's a dang good lens. I am a Canon user, and was comparing it head to head with the canon 100-400... Most online reviews gave the canon and edge on photo quality... but in one review the Reviewer made the comment that the total difference between the lenses on image quality could be rectified by taking a step or two... that encouraged me, and in my personal tests The only image quality differences I noticed were the sigma getting about 30% closer to the image. I like mine. I have a military airport in my back yard... litterally, and I have shot jets flying over at about 1000 feet and gotten images so clear I can see the sun reflections off the visors of the pilots. My only frustration is it's really got a narrow lightrange.enything approaching Dusk pretty much requires a tripod. Shooting Birds at 1/1000 generally results in under exposed images. still very usable, but, some ps adjusting is required. For the most part however, I love this lens. 

Hey Curt,

I am glad you are enjoying the Sigma! What base do you live near? I am a former US Navy and Coast Guard aviator and have a lot of aviation photos in my Lightroom catalog.

Thanks for commenting and thanks for reading!

There are presently four lenses on the market that I am aware of in this range and all are over $1000.  The two Sigma's spoken of here, the Tamron and Nikon just came out with a 200-500 (I am a Nikon user); a little less range than the others but still in the same class.  When spending this kind of money on a lens, no one wants to make a mistake.  Someone needs to do a test (are you listening popular photography?) on all four of these lenses and let us know the positives and negaitves of each and how they compare optically.  I would like to own one but have no way of comparing them since I live hundreds of miles from a camera store and have to rely on mail order for my purchases but will not spend that kind of money until I have a reasonable basis of which is right for me.

I use a Nikon D7000 and completely agree with the DeGruchy comment, how does an amateur know which is best especially for the price:

New Nikon 200-500 at just under $1400

Tamron or Sigma 150-600 both just under $1100

Older Sigma 150-500 at around $700

I have been using the sigma contemporary for about a month. It is fast, clear, and very sharp. I chose it over the Tamron because of the locks to stop lens creep. The sigma sport was out of my price range and more weight then I wanted to pack . Another reason for the contemporary was you can purchase a usb dock for updates at home and don't have to send in to sigma. I shoot with a nikon d7000.

Hey Sue,

Thanks for sharing your experience with the lens. I am glad you are enjoying it! Thanks for reading!

I will submit a suggestion/request to the powers that be to do an article on these lenses with comparison images (no promises on what they do or don't choose to do an article on however).  If you're the type that wants more tangible information rather than just reviews etc, I would recommend renting these lenses most of which are able to be rented from various online rental agencies.  A weekend rental of them could save you alot of money in the long run after you've put them through your own test and means of use.

Hey Dennis,

I wish I could tell you which one is best, but I have only used the Sigma! Sorry! Hopefully someone will come out with a definitive head-to-head test.

Decisions, decisions! Thanks for reading!

You might want to watch this utube video comparing the "Canon 100-400 II vs Sigma 150-600 Sport & Tamron 150-600, Canon 400 f5.6" by Tony Northrup  @ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lgurGidoSJs or "Zoom Telephoto Field Review Tamron 150-600 vs Sigma Sport 150-600 vs Canon 100-400 & more HD" by PhotoRecToby @ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TawKGClbECU .

Both of these guys do excellent reviews.

Thanks for the links, Darrel! I'll check them out as I am curious as well!

Thanks for reading!

Hey Bernard,

I agree, a head-to-head shoot out would be great, but, unfortunately, we cannot really do that here at B&H. I am sure someone will be putting these lenses through their paces very soon. I know there are some Tamron vs. Sigma 150-600 direct comparisons already on the web.

Having said that, I enjoyed the Sigma and am planning on taking it out for a spin again this week!

It took me 9 months to get my 150-600 sport version lens. Was it worth the wait? YES! I am a Nikon purest at heart and have been reluctant to stray from the Nikkor lenses. My wallet, on the other hand, dictated something different! After reading everything I could find about this lens, I decided to order it and wait it out.

I mounted it to my D810 the same day it arrived - if you are going to pixel-peep, the D810, 36 mpx image will make short work of finding fault with the lens. The quality, color rendition, contrast and sharpness of this lens blew me away! I love it! The stabilization works well and the AF is very fast and very quiet. Sigma has really stepped up to the plate.

Then, when you mount it on a crop frame camera (D7100 & D300s) you have a 220mm-900mm with f-6.3 at the long end and it's still an f-5 at the short end. Yes, it's big and it's heavy. When you see the results from this lens weight and size become unimportant.

Hey John,

Are you my old next-door neighbor who used to play hockey for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Hartford Whalers? If so, tell the family hello!

Sounds like the Sport version of the lens is rocking it for you. Great to hear! Thanks for reading and writing in!

I own the odler 150-500mm and was already impressed with it's great performance on my Nikon D3X. I would like to see an optical test comparison of the contemporary to the sport version. That would influence which one I would trade up to.

Hey Hamish,

Unfortunately, I haven't gotten my hands on a Sport version yet for a comparison, but I think there are some reviews of it online on other sites.

An old friend had the 150-500 and she got great results from that lens as well. Thanks for reading!

I sure would have liked to see a comparison of the big name glass.  I am thinking about selling my Nikon 80-400 that I use as a loaner lens on my photo tours for either one of these or the Tamron. 

Thanks

Hey Daryl,

Thanks for reading and thanks for your comments. Unfortunately our reviews aren't set up to be head-to-head comparisons as we are a retail outlet.

And, without sounding too much like a shameless plug, we do have a very generous return policy that will allow you to do your own testing at home and then decide. I know, probably not what you had in mind, but just an idea. Thanks for reading!

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