Sigma’s new “Bigma” 50-500mm Super-tele Zoom (now with OS)
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taken with My New Best Macro Lens new Sigma 50 -500mm “Bigma” OS -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2010 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Sigma “Bigma” 50-500mm OS @ 210 mm — 1/2500 sec, f/6, ISO 200 — map & image datanearby photos
taken with
My New Best Macro Lens
new Sigma 50-500mm “Bigma” OS

As I mentioned yesterday, I got a new camera. What I neglected to mention is that it also came with a big mass of industrial beauty called the “Sigma Bigma”, the Sigma 50mm-500mm F4.5-6.3 OS HSM zoom lens. (The “OS” stands for optical stabilization, one of the new features Sigma added in this recent update to their original “Sigma Bigma” lens.)

Bridge and Fading Blossoms with some way-out-of-focus leaves in the foreground that either annoy you, or add a nice sense of creaminess -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2010 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Sigma “Bigma” 50-500mm OS @ 500 mm — 1/500 sec, f/6.3, ISO 220 — map & image datanearby photos
Bridge and Fading Blossoms
with some way-out-of-focus leaves in the foreground
that either annoy you, or add a nice sense of creaminess

Let me say up front that I had very low expectations for this lens, beyond the versatility and convenience of a 10× superzoom that goes to 500mm.

  • First of all, it's a 10× superzoom.

    Its max zoom, 500mm, is ten times more than its widest, 50mm. Superzooms like this can be really convenient which is why I got it in the first place, but are generally at best “okay” all around, but not “great” at anything. I used to have Nikon's Nikkor 18-200mm 11× superzoom, and it was a wonderful all-day all-around packing-light travel lens. But it was slow (that is, didn't let in a lot of light, thereby requiring long, slow, blur-inducing shutter speeds), and had a lot of distortion.

    I brought it on a camping trip a couple of years ago and it was really convenient, but seeing its compromises manifested in “bendy” horizons in ocean shots is painful. I used it on a trip to Disneyland last year, making it twice in three years that I used it. Clearly, its compromises were more than I was normally willing to deal with.

  • Second, it's a Sigma.

    Sorry if I sound snobbish, but I'm a realist: Sigma has not earned a reputation as a top-tier lens company. I personally have experience with only one of their lenses (Sigma 30mm f/1.4), and it matched the sense I had of them: their stuff can be great, but their quality control can be iffy, so you have to watch out to be sure to get a good unit.

    What can be great about Sigma is their value, along the lines of “90% of the quality at 30% of the price”.

    I've been getting the sense that Sigma is improving in the high-end range, but still didn't have much in the way of expectations for this lens. My feeling, I guess, is that they're the top of the 2nd-tier lenses.

  • I'd seem some horrible reviews of its predecessor.

    Sigma has had a 50-500mm superzoom out for a while, and I saw some reviews where side-by-side shots were shown from the Sigma and some other lens, and the Sigma's was so bad as to be not worth even using. Really really really bad.

    But that particular review was just some unqualified guy like me, and it was for a different, older lens. This new version was just announced in February, and had a completely new optical design, so maybe there was hope.

So, why did I give it a try?

  • It's a zoom out to 500mm.

    The longest reach I have now is my Nikkor 70-200 f/2.8 VR (which, despite being a Nikon, also had quality issues). I used to have a 1.7× teleconverter that could turn its maximum reach to 320mm, but I seem to have lost it )-:.

  • It's a 10× superzoom.

    So convenient, and this version has “OS” (optical stabilization).

  • Did I mention it's 500mm?

    That kind of zoom has some appeal.

  • It was my birthday

    'nuff said

Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2010 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Sigma “Bigma” 50-500mm OS @ 170 mm — 1/500 sec, f/14, ISO 1000 — map & image datanearby photos

First Impressions

When I first got the Nikkor 70-200mm way back when, I was shocked at how big it was.... much larger than I had expected, and my arms were tired after trying to use it hand-held for just a few minutes. It was massive. But I soon got used to it, and for years haven't given its size a second thought, except when it comes to packing. I can use it handheld all day.

But that didn't even being to prepare me for the dwarf-star-producing mass of lens that this new Sigma Bigma is. Photos of it show a normal “big lens” shape that lacks context, so you don't realize that the lens barrel is as thick as a 1,000-year-old redwood, and just as heavy. “Tank turret” and “Saturn V Rocket” come immediately to mind. It is, literally, thicker than my arm. For some pictures and comparisons, see my post about just how big the Bigma is.

A Nikon D700 with the MD-10 vertical grip is even larger than Nikon's flagship D3, but it looks cute and tiny when this massive lens is attached. Or, I should say, when you attach the camera to the lens. I dare say that a smaller SLR (D40 or D60) might actually fit inside the lens hood. It would be comical.

This lens could not scream “mid life crisis” and “compensating” more than it already does, unless it were candy-apple red and came with a fold-down top.

Second Impressions

I had unboxed it late last night after posting about my new camera, and so took just a few test shots in the dark glow of my den. This included a 1/80th-second shot at 500mm without the stabilization feature turned on. I expected it to be horribly blurry due to camera shake, and I took it only for comparison to a shot with the stabilization on, but it turned out to be a stunningly usable result. I think that the lens just had too much mass to shake much in my hands.

The build quality seems excellent. I guess anything this heavy would feel solid, but it does feel solid... rock solid. I can't tell what the outside is made of, but I'd guess some kind of matte plastic. It's embedded with little microscopic flecks of something that sparkle in the light such that it gives the distinct impression of a matte metallic paint (and hence of metal). I don't suppose I'm describing it well, but it's very, very nice. Feels good. Solid. Manly.

I was also pleased to notice that it's the closest thing to a macro that I have: it's best magnification is 0.32×. A true “macro” should have a magnification of at least 1×, but many companies cheat and call 0.5× magnification a “macro” (including the borrowed Zeiss 100mm f/2 featured in my “Holy Cow, the Gardens at Kyoto's Eikando Temple are Gorgeous!” post... it's one of those 0.5× “macros”).

But I don't have any of those. The Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 that I used in this “Anthony Tipping Point” post is only 0.11×, and the Nikkor 70-200 used in this “Icy Water” post is just 0.16×. My all-around day-to-day lens (Nikkor 24-70) is a bit more magnifyiy at 0.27×, but you have to really get close in there to get it.

Curious George close up -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2010 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Sigma “Bigma” 50-500mm OS @ 210 mm — 1/500 sec, f/6.3, ISO 4000 — full exif
Curious George
close up

One of Anthony's Curious George friends, and the chopstick-holder puppy seen in yesterday's post

Third Impressions

So today I took a short stroll around the neighborhood to give the lens (and my poor wimpy arms) a workout.

I'm just amazed at the bokeh. I'm no connoisseur, and have simple (simpleton) artistic tastes, but wow, I'm just floored that a lens that should have so many compromises has such a great look. Check out the highlights in the lead photo of some wild flowers at the edge of a river (the context can be seen more clearly in this much lower quality photo from three years ago), or in the background chopstick-holder puppy in the Curious-George shot above.

Dreamy Bokeh on the “ 10 Gallons of Blossoms ” tree -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2010 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Sigma “Bigma” 50-500mm OS @ 50 mm — 1/1000 sec, f/5.6, ISO 200 — map & image datanearby photos
Dreamy Bokeh
on the “10 Gallons of Blossoms” tree
Wide Open ( these Martha Stewart blossoms look pathetic until they fully bloom ) -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2010 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Sigma “Bigma” 50-500mm OS @ 170 mm — 1/500 sec, f/5.6, ISO 250 — map & image datanearby photos
Wide Open
( these Martha Stewart blossoms look pathetic until they fully bloom )
At f/14 ( this pic is way too busy, but shows the stopped-down bokeh ) -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2010 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Sigma “Bigma” 50-500mm OS @ 170 mm — 1/500 sec, f/14, ISO 1400 — map & image datanearby photos
At f/14
( this pic is way too busy, but shows the stopped-down bokeh )

The 500mm zoom allows you to reach way out of your zone. I'm not into “street photography”, but wow, those who are would love this.

Runny Nose -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2010 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Sigma “Bigma” 50-500mm OS @ 500 mm — 1/640 sec, f/6.3, ISO 200 — map & image datanearby photos
Runny Nose

But at the same time, we can take the flip side back to the sorta-macro situation...

Individual Cherry-Blossom Petals -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2010 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Sigma “Bigma” 50-500mm OS @ 210 mm — 1/500 sec, f/20, ISO 2800 — map & image datanearby photos
Individual Cherry-Blossom Petals

Then we come to the sharpness. It's not the sharpest lens I've ever used, but it's much much MUCH better than one could hope from a 10× super-tele-zoom. I found myself wanting to nudge up the sharpening in Lightroom just a tad on all of these, but I left most of them at Lightroom's default settings to demonstrate what you get out of the camera. I did add a touch of extra sharpening to the blossoms & leaves photo just above “First Impressions”, and the next two photos...

Backlit Blossoms -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2010 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Sigma “Bigma” 50-500mm OS @ 240 mm — 1/800 sec, f/9, ISO 200 — map & image datanearby photos
Backlit Blossoms

This photo isn't much on the artistic side, but I include it because it shows that you can get not-horrible sharpness. The bit of extra sharpening I added in Lightroom makes the veins on the backlit blossoms pop just a bit extra.

On the other hand, this next shot looked fairly mushy without the same amount of extra sharpening. Maybe I just missed focus, but the added sharpness spruced it right up, I think.

Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2010 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Sigma “Bigma” 50-500mm OS @ 500 mm — 1/800 sec, f/6.3, ISO 200 — map & image datanearby photos

But let's face it, the zoom is what I really wanted to play with. New toy and all, you know.

At 50mm -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2010 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Sigma “Bigma” 50-500mm OS @ 50 mm — 1/500 sec, f/14, ISO 720 — map & image datanearby photos
At 50mm
Same Location, at 500mm ( this is a throw-away shot, but I still love the reflections of the crosswalk ) -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2010 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Sigma “Bigma” 50-500mm OS @ 500 mm — 1/500 sec, f/14, ISO 2000 — map & image datanearby photos
Same Location, at 500mm
( this is a throw-away shot, but I still love the reflections of the crosswalk )

That last shot highlights an issue I'll have to pay extra attention to: I have a difficult enough time with a normal lens keeping the camera level, but with this mammoth lens I'll really have to, uh, keep an eye on it.

The rest of this post are just some more examples....

Carpet of Petals -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2010 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Sigma “Bigma” 50-500mm OS @ 210 mm — 1/640 sec, f/6, ISO 200 — map & image datanearby photos
Carpet of Petals
Zones -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2010 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Sigma “Bigma” 50-500mm OS @ 140 mm — 1/2000 sec, f/5.6, ISO 200 — map & image datanearby photos
Zones
Silky Spider Webs ( the title makes sense if you see the full-resolution version ) -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2010 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Sigma “Bigma” 50-500mm OS @ 210 mm — 1/500 sec, f/6, ISO 250 — map & image datanearby photos
Silky Spider Webs
( the title makes sense if you see the full-resolution version )
Infant Daycare Stroll -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2010 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Sigma “Bigma” 50-500mm OS @ 340 mm — 1/500 sec, f/6.3, ISO 250 — map & image datanearby photos
Infant Daycare Stroll
@ 50mm -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2010 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Sigma “Bigma” 50-500mm OS @ 50 mm — 1/1000 sec, f/5.6, ISO 200 — map & image datanearby photos
@ 50mm
@ 500mm annoyingly tilted just a bit, as tends to be my habit )-: -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2010 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Sigma “Bigma” 50-500mm OS @ 500 mm — 1/500 sec, f/6.3, ISO 280 — map & image datanearby photos
@ 500mm
annoyingly tilted just a bit, as tends to be my habit )-:
More Zones -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2010 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Sigma “Bigma” 50-500mm OS @ 460 mm — 1/500 sec, f/6.3, ISO 250 — map & image datanearby photos
More Zones
Moss and Lichen pseudo-Macro on some very bumpy bark -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2010 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Sigma “Bigma” 50-500mm OS @ 210 mm — 1/500 sec, f/13, ISO 3200 — map & image datanearby photos
Moss and Lichen pseudo-Macro
on some very bumpy bark
Personless Bike and bikeless person -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2010 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Sigma “Bigma” 50-500mm OS @ 240 mm — 1/640 sec, f/6, ISO 200 — map & image datanearby photos
Personless Bike
and bikeless person
Engulfed there's a photographer hidden in there among the blossoms -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2010 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Sigma “Bigma” 50-500mm OS @ 290 mm — 1/500 sec, f/10, ISO 800 — map & image datanearby photos
Engulfed
there's a photographer hidden in there among the blossoms

This next sequence of three shots really highlights the benefits of a super-duper zoom like this....

Daycare @ 50mm Goldilocks says “Too wide!” -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2010 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Sigma “Bigma” 50-500mm OS @ 50 mm — 1/500 sec, f/10, ISO 400 — map & image datanearby photos
Daycare @ 50mm
Goldilocks says “Too wide!”
Daycare @ 500mm Goldilocks says “Too close!” -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2010 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Sigma “Bigma” 50-500mm OS @ 500 mm — 1/500 sec, f/10, ISO 640 — map & image datanearby photos
Daycare @ 500mm
Goldilocks says “Too close!”
Daycare @ 240mm Goldilocks says “Just right!” -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2010 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D700 + Sigma “Bigma” 50-500mm OS @ 240 mm — 1/500 sec, f/10, ISO 720 — map & image datanearby photos
Daycare @ 240mm
Goldilocks says “Just right!”

Continued here...


All 12 comments so far, oldest first...

Looks like a lot of fun. And that’s what this is all about, isn’t it?

I especially like the silky spider webs shot. And yes, it does make my street photography glands start drooling (am I mixing metaphors?).

— comment by Zak on April 15th, 2010 at 12:25am JST (7 years, 1 month ago) comment permalink

Wow, this is serendipity (or maybe irony I dunno). I came to your blog at 2:10pm New York Time to search through it and see if you had any posts that talk about your holistic lens strategy. I was thinking I’d send you an email so I didn’t pollute your comments but since your talking lenses…

Do you have any posts that talk about your strategy for which / how many lenses you’ll get? -I bet the short answer is, “YES!” but I’d love to know more.

Love the shallow DOF shots and thank you for mentioning your thoughts on Sigma. I was considereing the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 for Pentax but maybe I’ll get the Pentax Prime instead. Also please show a picture of the Bigma with another object for context. Thanks!

— comment by Ron Evans on April 15th, 2010 at 3:27am JST (7 years, 1 month ago) comment permalink

“This lens could not scream “mid life crisis” and “compensating” more than it already does, unless it were candy-apple red and came with a fold-down top.”

That made me snort Diet Coke out my nose. Thanks.

And I’ll second Ron Evans’ request to see a photo of the Bigma say, by Anthony. Or George.

— comment by Marcina, USA on April 15th, 2010 at 9:13am JST (7 years, 1 month ago) comment permalink

Ron,

Here’s a photo of Jeffrey using the Bigma:
http://www.juzaphoto.com/eng/articles/sigma_200-500_2_8_ex_dg_field_review_samples.htm

Hah, not quite. (I used to have arms like that, but alas, no more). Here are some shots of the lens I just posted. —Jeffrey

— comment by Andrew Shieh, Sunnyvale on April 15th, 2010 at 11:17am JST (7 years, 1 month ago) comment permalink

Hi Jeffrey,
Thank you for posting the images taken with the new Sigma 50-500 OS. Nice work!
I have been looking for sample photos taken with this lens as I am very interested in buying a long zoom for bird photography. It would be great if you could take some pictures of easily found birds like pigeons or gulls. If possible please image the birds at mid and long range (300/400/500 mm). If the IQ is very good at 400-500 mm I will order one right away.
I know that Sigma has a reputation for spotty quality as some lenses are good while other have significant problems. I own a Sigma 150 mm macro and its IQ is excellent. I hope that Sigma has made a significant effort to improve their quality control with their upper tier lenses. The previous version of this lens had an average reputation, some people were able to get good images but many complained of soft focus at 400-500 mm. The new lens seems to have an enhanced optical formula and adding OS to it you would expect better images. So the prrof is in the pictures . Lets take a close look at them. Thanks for your willingness to assist you fellow friend-photographers!
Fernando

— comment by Fernando on April 15th, 2010 at 11:21am JST (7 years, 1 month ago) comment permalink

Hi Jeffrey,

Started reading your blog a couple of weeks ago when I searched for some exif reading tools. That worked great and saved my backside on some corrupted NEF files, THANKS.

Anyway, I’ve been admiring the pics in this post, when I noted there is some …. jpg-nesss (sorry, there is probably a more real term, but I can’t think of it) around the edges of the in focus flowers in ‘Silky Spider Webs’. Just wanted to confirm those are the result of the LR jpg conversion (or whatever you used to edit/develop that one)? Given this was a new lens, I thought it might be worth asking.

Keep up the blogging, you have yourself another weekly visitor from down under.

Yikes, I see what you mean. I used Lightroom…. I’ll have to check the settings I used for export. Thanks. —Jeffrey

— comment by Norgs on April 15th, 2010 at 5:25pm JST (7 years, 1 month ago) comment permalink

I just realized that on a post like this I should have the larger versions (you get when clicking through to the thumbnails shown in the post) should really be full resolution, so I’ve just re-exported them from Lightroom without any resizing, and uploaded them here, so if you looked before, looking again will get you the full-size frames.

Norgs, whatever I did wrong in generating the previous copies seems to have been fixed when I did this… the “silky spider webs” shot is now JPEG artifact free (and at its full resolution, you can really see all the namesake threads.)

— comment by Jeffrey Friedl on April 15th, 2010 at 10:40pm JST (7 years, 1 month ago) comment permalink

Jeffrey,

I greatly appreciate your tests as this lens has my attention and I haven’t found much information anywhere else. The pics look pretty impressive. I’m wondering, however, would it be possible for you to test doing some wildlife photos? I suspect many who would be considering this lens would be shooting birds and other moving subjects and it would be nice to see what results you find.

Thanks and keep up the great work!

Craig

The lens has the ability to take fairly sharp photos… it’s not in the same class as a prime, but it’s amazing given it’s a 10× zoom and costs less than $2,000. But its ability to take fairly sharp photos of birds in flight will be strongly limited by the user’s skill, and in my case that would be a pretty big limitation, and so the results would tell you nothing about the lens. —Jeffrey

— comment by Craig on April 27th, 2010 at 1:10am JST (7 years, 1 month ago) comment permalink

I’m not very skilled, but managed a few birds in flight images with this lens, posted in this dpreview thread:

http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/readflat.asp?forum=1030&message=35159126

— comment by Mark on May 1st, 2010 at 11:04am JST (7 years ago) comment permalink

I guess the Bigma has just been superseded with this version 😉

— comment by Henk on May 20th, 2010 at 1:03am JST (7 years ago) comment permalink

Jeffrey,

Thank you so much for your review on this new OS version of Sigma 50-500mm lens. Actually I am looking a super zoom tele for my D3, so this lens should work well on FX body. Since it is quite new, it is really hard to find a review on the internet!

I was considering 150-500mm OS but now I think I may pay more to get this new Bigma! I think this lens should be optically better than 150-500 OS, certainly better than old Bigma?

Leon

— comment by Leon on June 7th, 2010 at 6:20pm JST (7 years ago) comment permalink

Looking at all your images does confirm that they All look soft to a point where one would think shutter speed or focus has been an issue.
I have always been of the opinion that Sigma Lenses are a little too soft for me. I there for never bought one up until a month ago. I was looking for 500mm Lens. Unfortunately there is not much around and Sigma appears to be the only one within a reasonable price range. Reluctantly i yielded and purchased one because really wanted the extra range and was prepeared to accommodate softness on the image results.
Now i wished i never had bought one and should have listened to myself!! Anything past 400mm onward is pure crap quality. I say crap because i expected at least reasonable results. The average person may think the images look fine but it soon reveals something else when viewing it at a 100%.
First and last Sigma i ever bough! May be alright for the average happy snap Joe Blow but not for the more serious Photographers out there.

— comment by Rainer on March 31st, 2014 at 10:08am JST (3 years, 2 months ago) comment permalink
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