Real World Review of the Sigma APO 50-150mm f2.8 DC OS HSM lens

Posted by on Aug 22, 2012 in Real Life Reviews | 25 Comments

Samantha has been looking for a fast focusing, fast aperture, mid-range telephoto lens that was sharp and responsive on her Nikon D300s for several years. Every time she tested a lens it did not meet up with her expectation.

Now here is a case where I bet Sam was glad she did not own a long lens! (Notice the pepper spray on her hip in case the Faun gets frisky — safety first!)

In the past she tried out the Nikon 70-200 f2.8 ED VR II. At a price of nearly $2100 she expected a superb performer. It was very good optically (but not as good as she had hoped considering the price). It also suffered from close focus problems (it did not focus close enough and had some front-focusing issues with close subjects). For the dollar paid it fell a bit short. Yes… Sam is picky especially, when her wallet is involved!

She also tried out the Sigma APO 70-200mm f2.8 EX DG OS HSM. We both thought it was as sharp or sharper than the Nikon lens when stopped down to an aperture of f4.5 or higher and it had less fringing and chromatic aberration than the Nikon lens, but wide open at f2.8 the Sigma lens was a tad soft and rendered images lower in contrast than when stopped down. Why pay the price for a f2.8 lens if it is not an optimal performer at that aperture? So that one did not make it into Sam’s camera bag either.

We had heard really good things about the original Sigma 50-150mm f2.8 (equal to a 75-225mm on Nikon crop sensor cameras or an 80-240mm lens on Canon crop sensor cameras) released in 2008.  This year Sigma released its newest version of the lens, the 50-150 DC OS HSM this time with optical stabilization and a built in lens collar. Price in Canada is about $1150.00. We thought this might be a candidate for Sam’s search for a ‘reasonably’ priced mid-range f2.8 telephoto lens.

I borrowed a Canon version of the lens from Sigma Canada to try on my Canon Rebel T2i and Samantha borrowed a Nikon version to try out on her Nikon D300s. We both had the lenses to try for about 2 weeks. Thanks to Sigma Canada for letting us try out demo versions! Below is a photo of the lens in question (available in Nikon, Canon and Sigma mounts)

Rather than give you a long-winded blow by blow review we’ll just cut to the chase with the final word on what we loved and what we disliked about this lens. After all, most people will just scroll to the conclusion of a lens review anyway, so why waste space with filler no one will read ;-)

Here is what we loved:

  • On both the Rebel T2i and the D300s this lens focused super fast and accurately!
  • We had no front or rear-focus issues on either version of the lens on either camera.
  • Both close and far subjects focused accurately.
  • The close-focus distance was awesome; in portraiture we could focus so close we only had two eyes filling the frame!
  • The build and handling of the lens is robust and intuitive (the lens collar is a welcome addition for tripod shooting).
  • The lens hood is easy to attach and use.
  • This lens is sharp! At f2.8 is it very good. At f4 to f8 it is exceptional. At f11 and above it is still very good but sharpness is limited by diffraction which occurs at  smaller apertures on crop sensors cameras. One of the best telephoto zooms we have tested!
  • The price versus performance ratio is reasonable.

Here is what we did not like:

  • The optical stabilization gives you about a 2 stop gain; without OS we could hand-hold down to 1/125 sec. and get sharp photos. With OS we could go shoot as slow as 1/30 sec. Canon’s new IS (Image Stabilization) by contrast gives up to 4-stops of shutter speed gain allowing shooting as slow as 1/15 to 1/8 of a second!
  • The lens although well built is not gasketed and dust or moisture might get into the lens in harsher environmental conditions.
  • Surprisingly, the lens is big! It’s the same size as the Sigma APO 70-200mm f2.8 EX DG OS HSM and only slightly smaller than the Nikon 70-200 f2.8 ED VR IIWe expected that a cropped sensor lens would be smaller than the full frame version.
  • A recent article in Pop Photo stated that the non-OS version of the lens (the 2008 model) was sharper and much smaller and lighter (we did not have access to the older version of the lens to test this difference). If you don’t need OS and you want a fast compact lens, then look for a used version of the older 50-150mm Sigma lens!

Conclusion:

For the money and the performance in terms of sharpness, focus ability, and build quality we rate this lens an excellent buy! Sam ended up buying the lens for her Nikon D300s and now has a fast medium telephoto zoom to use for action, and assignment work (see photos below). I didn’t get to buy a version for my Rebel; too much money invested in tilt-shift lenses I guess! :-(

Below are some photos we took during our tests – see the captions for further details:

Part of our CD collection: the subject used to test edge sharpness!

Edge Sharpness – 100% magnification of lower left edge of the frame

Handheld window light portrait; Canon Rebel T2i 140s at f2.8

Classic Ford – Nikon D300s 1/1600s at f2.8

A Trillium flower – This is the close focus ability of the lens!  (Canon Rebel T2i 1/60s at f2.8)

Cremona Parade on Canada Day – Canon Rebel T2i 1/800s at f4

Farm workers weeding organic carrots – Nikon D300s 1/800s at f5.0

Summer Sky – Nikon D300s 1/125s at f8

The lead singer of The Polyjesters  (polyjesters.com) - Nikon D300s 1/500s at f3.2

Cochrane Skateboard Park – Nikon D300s 1/100s at f3.2

Galloway Bull – Nikon D300s 1/160s at f4.5

Sitting on the fence – Nikon D300s 1/30s at f4.5

The only thing that makes Sam happier than a new lens is a great bottle of wine. Sometimes lenses are cheaper; trust me!

About the Author

I am a Canadian landscape and outdoor photographer who loves long hikes in the woods, yummy food, hairy dogs, good company and a good guitar jam.

25 Comments

  1. Todd Sisson
    August 22, 2012

    Hi Darwin.

    Surprising results here – looks quite impressive. It would be great to know what focal length each of the shots was made at. Was it sharp throughout the zoom range?

    Cheers – Todd

    • Darwin Wiggett
      August 23, 2012

      Todd, the lens was equally as sharp all through-out the zoom range. We wanted to spare readers the 8 million comparison shots we made to make sure Samantha was happy with her purchase ;-)

  2. Sarah Slade
    August 23, 2012

    Looks good. How does it compare with the Canon 70-200/ 2.8USM in terms of sharpness? You’ve mentioned the IS quality in comparison, but I’d be very interested to know the rest of the performance story. Cheers, Sarah

    • Darwin Wiggett
      August 23, 2012

      Sarah, we did not do official tests of the Sigma versus the Canon. I used to own the Canon 70-200 f2.8 IS USM and I would say the Sigma is just as sharp and easily compares with the Canon glass. Of course on a crop-sensor camera with a 70-200mm lens you are going to have more zoom than with a 50-150mm lens

      But Compared to the Mark II Version of the Canon 70-200mm f2.8 IS USM II (the latest version) the Canon is sharper at f2.8 but after f4.5 both lenses are very close. The Canon 70-200 does not focus as close, but its image stabilization is remarkable (so you’ll have to decide if the Canon lens is worth the extra $1300 more than the Sigma).

  3. steeve
    August 23, 2012

    Hi,
    thanx for the review, i’m not looking for that lens since i own a Pentax DA*50-135 and the new Sigma is not available in Pentax mount anymore.

    Have you tried the new Sigma 150mm Macro OS, it might be available for Pentax and i might be interested in that lens.

    Keep up the good work.

    Steeve

    • Darwin Wiggett
      August 23, 2012

      Hi Steve, I own the sigma 150 macro OS. Love it. Very sharp, well built, no complaints!

  4. Jim & Karen
    August 23, 2012

    Thanks for the review.
    I have been interested in the 50-150 range.
    We have a 70-200 4L which is a great lens but sometimes the 70mm is too narrow on our canon crop sensor cameras.(T2i/60D)
    We were also interested in getting 2.8 lens with this range, for low light situations.
    This lens may be what we were looking for and at a reasonable price.
    Did you use any filter’s on the lens?
    Did you use the camera/lens combination on a tripod and did they balance well with respect to shake.

    Thanks
    Jim

    • Darwin Wiggett
      August 27, 2012

      Hi Jim,

      For our test shots we did not use filters. In the real world shooting situations we used polarizers and solid ND filters but the results (if you own good filters) are still exceptional.

      We did our sharpness test with a tripod, cable release, live view focus and mirror lock-up.

      In real world shooting we used auto-focus, hand-held and tripod shooting. The lens performed well in all situations and is balanced well on the tripod and in hand.

  5. steeve
    August 24, 2012

    Thanx for your answer.

  6. Todd Sisson
    August 24, 2012

    awwww c’mon Darwin! It is a generally held truth that camera gear nuts have a 12 million ‘comparison photo threshold’ for zoom lens reviews.

    Sure, 8 million is a little excessive for a prime lens review but for lens like this, 8 million sounds about right…. ;-)

  7. Marko Kulik
    August 27, 2012

    Good post Darwin!
    Sam and I came to the identical conclusion about the Nikon VR2 70-200mm .

    I had one of these lenses for a few months and sold it for the lack of versatility focusing close. ….And I picked up 1 very good Nikon lens and 1 awesome Nikon lens for the same price.

  8. Ito
    August 30, 2012

    Sigma claims a 4 stop OS. I own it but I haven’t really tested it, but I feel like mine is more than 2 stops.

    • Darwin Wiggett
      September 1, 2012

      We could not get a 4-stop gain with the Sigma OS. Two stops was no problem, occasionally we managed a three stop gain, but beyond that we could not get a sharp photo hand-held (maybe it is just us – too much coffee ;-)

  9. Russ White
    October 30, 2012

    I bought this lens to shoot sports with my Canon 7D.
    I was inside at a tournament; I kept app at 2.8 but set ISO high (1600-2000).
    My problem was that during multy exposures, the shutter speed dropped & under exposed the 3-4 shots.
    What happened?
    Tks
    Russ White

    • Darwin Wiggett
      October 30, 2012

      Probably the light was not bright enough in some instances to give you proper exposure even with the lens at f2.8 and at a higher ISO. Were you in aperture, shutter priority, manual mode or program mode?

    • Russ White
      October 30, 2012

      I was in A priority

      I also have the Sigma 70-200 2.8 but have not experienced same problem in this building

    • Darwin Wiggett
      October 30, 2012

      No idea what is going on then, a-priority and high ISO, camera should give proper shutter speed for proper exposure unless you pointed it at something bright or light-coloured and then did not use exposure comp to get the correct exposure.

    • Russ White
      October 30, 2012

      OK
      I will play around with inside/outside exposures & see what transpires.
      Thanks for help

  10. Adrian R
    November 6, 2012

    Hi,I have a 70-200 on a crop sensor dslr and I dont use it very often cause it is too narrow for portraits, I;ve seen full sensor camera with the 70-200 been used for portrait and iwas wondering when you tried the 50-150 did you see the 50mm range cose to the 70mm in a full sensor camera? i know by math they are very similar but tru the eye of the photographer would you agree?

  11. Mike Earussi
    November 11, 2012

    I own the earlier 50-150 II version and it’s NOT sharp equally at all focal lengths, only between 50mm to approx 110mm. After that is gets fuzzy real fast, even stopped down. So it sounds like the new design is definitely an improvement over the old.

  12. Steve B - Perth Australia
    December 4, 2012

    Great review, I currently own the 70-200mm OS Sigma and use on the D300s. I have been considering the 50-150mm OS as the 70-200mm is a bit long on the cropped sensor. This 50-150mm looks to be the go. Time to sell the 70-200mm as no rush to move into full frame. Mind you, I have been satisfied with the performance of this lens. All Sigmas I have owned have been fantastic.
    Cheers

    • Steve B - Perth Australia
      December 7, 2012

      Got it today, this lens is great. I believe it may be sharper that the 70-200mm.

  13. Alfred Albarracin
    April 3, 2013

    Used to have this lens before but without the OS even at that time I was surprised about the sharpness, fast focussing even in dark areas. I also tried this lens with OS and it was indeed a very good lens to have.

  14. Susie
    October 23, 2013

    Just bought the used Sigma F2.8 non-OS 50-150 since my kids figure skate. Not sure if it is the lens, or the fact of the F2.8 and the indoor tungsten, we get red ting in some of the pictures. So maybe it is the White Balance adjustment needed on the Nikon D3000. Any ideas?

    • Darwin Wiggett
      October 23, 2013

      Definitely a white balance issue.. try auto WB oand if that does not work try setting your white balance to fluorescent.

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