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.
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 II. We 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!
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: