Even as a self-admitted prime lens lover, I can’t deny the allure of a telephoto zoom lens. A couple of my personal favorite tele-zoom lenses include the 24-70mm and the 24-105mm from Canon, which are touted by many as capable of "doing it all" if necessary. A bold statement, but you wouldn't find me arguing. But what other options are there? Though it may not be as recognizable, there certainly is a lot to love in Sigma’s 50-150mm f/2.8 EX DC OS HSM APO Lens. With a pretty unique focal length, it's one of few options that can go from normal to three times zoom in one convenient package, all at f/2.8, and all for under $1100. Sure there are other more expensive options out there, but price and brand name aren't everything.
For starters, don't get this confused with the Sigma 50-150mm f/2.8 II EX DC HSM: it's not the same lens. It doesn't even look the same. I can't speak to how well the previous model performed, but I can say that this upgraded version looks to have been completely re-imagined from the previous version.
If you only gave a cursory glance to the Sigma 50-150mm tele-zoom, it could easily be mistaken for Sigma’s 180mm macro lens- and that’s a good thing. One of the selling points of the 180mm lens is its gorgeous matte black aluminum exterior that gave it a rugged and sturdy look. That same selling point carries over to the 50-150mm. This lens has a great weight and solid feel, exactly what I expect from a lens like this. When you hold this lens, you will not have trouble believing that it won’t let you down.
The size of the lens doesn’t change when you zoom in and out since the zoom is fully housed within the body. I like this feature a lot, as the balance of the lens never changes noticeably and you won't find yourself in an awkward position with the lens twice the length it was originally. I'm sure you can picture situations where this might be an issue.
When I’m shopping for tele-zooms, I have a pretty heavy bias against variable aperture lenses. If I’m going to invest in glass, I tend to want to pay just that bit more to know that I’ll never be limited on what, when, and where I can shoot. Gracefully, the 50-150mm can open wide to f/2.8 throughout, and having the ability to control depth of field and light to at least f/2.8 is a big deal.
Sigma must have used the same auto focus motor and focus ring as they did on the 180mm, because this lens feels, focuses, and shoots just like the 180mm macro. I loved the fast auto focus, the smooth focus ring, and the silent motor. The optical stabilization is also identical, which is a good feature. Although I found some low light auto focus issues with the 180mmm macro, I was pleased to find that not to be the case in the 50-150. Low light autofocus was incredibly reliable, only failing to focus in basically straight darkness. This is definitely a lens that lets you shoot without thinking. I never found myself struggling with the lens, save for it's rather high minimum focus distance of a little over 2.5 feet (80 cm). But this is not a macro lens, so that is to be expected.
I found no issues with chromatic aberration, a great feature that is becoming more and more common among these higher-end Sigma lenses. The quality of the glass would surprise many of you who refuse to purchase anything that doesn't start with a "C" or an "N."
So what about sharpness? Is it sharp at all ranges of the lens? It’s not perfect, but it’s darn good. At both ends of the spectrum, the sharpness was pretty consistent. At both f/2.8 and f/22, images weren’t perfectly sharp, but they were more than acceptable. From f/16 through f/22, subject matter can look a little foggy, but not muddy or muddled like you can find in other lenses. There is none of that fogginess at f/2.8, and standing alone the image appears wonderfully sharp. It is only when you compare it to the crisp, tack sharpness seen between f/5.6 and f/14 that you see f/2.8 is just shy of perfect.
At 50mm (f/2.8, 5.0, 10, 16, and 22 from left to right)
At 150mm (f/2.8, 5.6, 10, 16, and 22 from left to right)
The Sigma 50-150mm isn't perfect. This is a big lens. I get that it is big because of what has been put into it, but it is still big. The weight and size are that of what one would think of a longer zoom lens, so you might be a little unhappy that it only extends to 150mm. It’s somewhat disappointing to realize that 150mm is just short of what’s great for wildlife photography. It’s actually a great portrait lens, but there are lighter weight options in this category.
My second nitpick is the orientation of the focus ring and the zoom ring: they are opposite what I’m used to. The zoom ring is closest to the front element on the lens, while the focus ring is behind the zoom ring closer to the lens collar. It’s not that big of a deal, but when you’re used to one way, it can be somewhat difficult to adjust your mind to a different way.
What’s to like:
- Fast and reliable auto-focus, silent motor, and smooth focus ring
- Sturdy build
- Minimal chromatic aberration
- Pleasant sharpness throughout
Room for improvement:
- Weight and size
- Backwards focus/zoom ring orientation
I like this lens. I would welcome it on my shelf (in fact, I think it’s going to stay). I’m a fan of prime lenses, but this guy has its place and its uses. The Sigma 50-150mm f/2.8 is fast both in aperture and auto focus, it’s sharp, it’s sturdy, and it’s reliable. If you can get over the weight, this lens will serve you well in a variety of situations. Though I admit this lens can't "do it all" as I ask in the title of this review, it can do most of everything asked of it exactly as expected. You can't ask for much more from a lens.
For those of you who are "too good" for third party lenses, it's your loss. Sigma has seriously upped their game and this lens can compete with the best. If you're interested, check it out. It's on sale for only $999 now until the end of September 2012, and then is available for $1100.