Yesterday’s “Macro at the Mall” write-up got us thinking: wouldn’t it be interesting to follow the macro piece with something from the other end of the spectrum: images brought in close from a super telephoto lens. Some readers might remember that we snagged a little-used Sigma 50-500mm zoom (Bigma) lens via Craigslist a few weeks ago. We were going to do a side-by-side shoot off with that and the Sigma 80-400mm, but the 80-400mm has found a new home.
A week ago, we got an offer for the 80-400 from a local photographer that we just could not refuse. Money changed hands, and so the planned comparison article has been permanently shelved. Still, we thought it was time we took Bigma out for a spin. Our favorite testing ground is Memorial Drive in Cambridge. Foot traffic on weekdays is generally pretty low and the stretch lets us shoot across the Charles River to Boston without obstruction.
We shot a few series from the same spot, zooming through the range to see what we could see. The first set (50mm, 165mm, 320mm, 500mm) looked across from Cambridge to a boat house on the Boston side of the river. It was taken with a Nikon D90 on aperture priority at f8.
For the second set (50mm, 72mm, 116mm, 195mm, 320mm, 420mm, 500mm), we pointed Bigma across the way to the gold dome of the State House on Beacon Hill. The series was taken at f14 to see if we could get more detail out of the lens using a smaller aperture.
We were pleasantly surprised to see that both the sharpness and contrast held up throughout the zoom range. The edges of the image were definitely softer at the higher zooms, but the center focus was better than expected. We will have to repeat this test on a really bright day to see if we could coax a bit more out of both the Nikon and the Sigma.
The final set was taken using faster shutter speeds (1/320 – 1/400). We would have preferred birds flying around, but since none were in a cooperative mood we settled on the flag flying next to the Citgo sign in Kenmore Square (50mm, 135mm, 500mm).
At 500mm (f6.3, 1/320s), just what kind of details are visible in the image? Below are three crops from the image of the Citgo sign taken with the Sigma zoom at 500mm. At the bottom of the sign is the smaller Federal Health sign. The antennas on the rooftops were clearly visible, and if the shades of the windows were not drawn, we probably could see a person if they were standing at the window. We could almost make out the stars on the flag. Not too bad for a FirstUse effort.
There are sharper lenses out there if you are willing to drop SIGNIFICANTLY more money (>$6K). If you are looking for a 10x zoom lens, this Sigma is pretty tough to beat! In fact, it is really the only choice you have. We think this one is a keeper…unless we get an offer we cannot refuse 🙂
NOTE: Our recently acquired Sigma 50-500mm zoom differs from the recently sold 80-400mm lens in that it does not have optical stabilization (OS). Sigma recently released a newer and more expensive version which does incorporate OS. However, our experience with long zooms is that, while they CAN be handheld, they really should be on a tripod. When mounted on a tripod, Sigma recommends that the OS function be turned off. So if that is the case, why pay extra for the OS function if 99% of the time you won’t be using it?