So, Just How Bigma is the Sigma?
NOTE: Images with an icon next to them have been artificially shrunk to better fit your screen; click the icon to restore them, in place, to their regular size.
Sigma Bigma Sigma 50 -500mm F4.5-6.3 DG OS HSM -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2010 Jeffrey Friedl,
Nikon D700 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 70 mm — 1/200 sec, f/2.8, ISO 2500 — full exif
Sigma Bigma
Sigma 50-500mm F4.5-6.3 DG OS HSM

This continues from Part I and Part II on my new lens. A friend came over and I used his camera either to take some pictures, or to model the lens.

I'm no good at product photography (I tried it once a few years ago, and failed miserably), but I've tried spicing these up a bit to keep them interesting....

Nikon D50 mounted on a Sigma Bigma -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2010 Jeffrey Friedl,
Nikon D700 + Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 — 1/500 sec, f/1.4, ISO 720 — full exif
Nikon D50
mounted on a Sigma Bigma

The puppies on the hood and under the lens are tiny chopstick holders, seen in my “New Camera” post the other day, and I used the “Mostly Monochrome” Lightroom develop preset seen in my Stupid Tone-Curve Tricks post as the basis for this look.

So, just how big is it? The photo below shows my (very big) full-frame Nikon D700 with MD-10 vertical grip, a combination which is even larger than Nikon's flagship D3. It looks small in the photo below because the camera is zoomed so far back. Mouse over each button below the photo for a different situation...

My Full Frame Nikon D700 with MD-10 Vertical Grip
My Full Frame Nikon D700 with MD-10 Vertical Grip
Body Only      Standard 50mm      Consumer Zoom      Bigma @ 50mm      Bigma @ 500mm
mouseover button to see that version

In Part I I was astounded at how huge the lens is, yet, every time I see pictures of it, it doesn't seem that big. A reader (thanks Itano-san) pointed me at the blog of someone who just got The Bigma, and the photos of it on make it look cute. So why was I so astounded at the size?

I think one reason I was surprised at the size is because I had seen this cool five-minute video at showing the sizes of a bunch of large lenses, including the previous (non-stabilized) version of the Sigma Bigma. The guy in the video has massive hands that would make a basketball look like a grape, and is surrounded by HUGE lenses that rightly make The Bigma look like a child's toy.

It was suggested to take a comparison shot against the Nikkor 70-200 f2.8 VR, and when I stood them up next to each other, I was shocked to find them to be exactly the same length. And when I added the lens hoods, the 70-200 was actually longer by a bit. (This is, of course, when The Bigma is zoomed back all the way... as you can see above, it gets substantially longer as you zoom out.)

But The Bigma is much heavier and thicker, Here's a thickness comparison with a consumer zoom:

Thick -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2010 Jeffrey Friedl,
Nikon D700 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 58 mm — 1/200 sec, f/2.8, ISO 2500 — full exif

I'm feeling less intimidated now that I'm getting used to it, but wow, I was surprised when it first showed up.

Over all, I'm really impressed with it — thrilled with it — but I have noticed a few drawbacks...

  • It makes me feel like a paparazzi when I'm out with it. Yuck. Not a nice feeling.

    The feeling is particularly pronounced when bracing the lens against something (railing, telephone pole, etc.) because it looks like you're trying to hide behind something and photograph covertly.

  • The balance places the zoom ring in the perfect spot for gripping with the left hand while holding the camera with the right, but the focus ring is too far back to be reached when holding the lens comfortably, so to manual focus, I have to adjust my grip to one that's less comfortable and less steady. Since I prefer to use manual focus when I can, this is unfortunate.

  • Because the forward/inner barrel extends out from inside the rear/outer barrel, I worry about using this in the rain. It was misting slightly this morning when I was out with it for a bit, and the thought of getting the inner barrel wet then retracting the wetness back into the lens when unzooming scared the heck out of me, so I abandoned the outing. I don't know whether this is a valid concern, but I'll not use The Bigma in the rain until I know for sure.

    (The Nikkor 70-200's zooming is all internal, a benefit I didn't appreciate until today.)

  • It has a zoom lock to stop the zoom from self-extending due to gravity when you're walking around with the lens pointing down, but I wish you could lock at 200mm as well (the focal length that has the maximum magnification).

  • It does not hold focus while zooming at all. Not even close. You must refocus after adjusting the zoom.

  • f/5.6 is definitely not f/1.2, so pictures like in “Impossible Photography: No Light, No Tripod, No Hope. D700 and a 50mm f/1.2” and “Pushing Lowlight-Photography Limits: The Atta Terrace Hotel at Night” are less likely with The Bigma.

  • The tripod-mount foot has just one screw hole (unlike the Nikkor 70-200VR, which has two), so it could spin in place if not tightened down with considerable force. The bottom of the foot is made of a slightly rubbery material that seems to bite well, so I've not actually experienced any inadvertent twisting (as of this writing, I've used the foot just once, with a monopod), but it's a concern.

  • The optical-stabilization feature causes the view through the viewfinder to “swim” quite a bit at times, much (much!) more than it does with any of the few other VR lenses I've used. It's normally not a problem, but sometimes makes framing very difficult.

  • A few times it (or my Nikon D700) have gotten very confused with each other, and the viewfinder reported that it was at the impossible f/95, and at the same time, autofocus and VR stopped working. Flipping the camera off and on would solve the problem.

    Update May 2010: sometimes this problems happens a lot and gets very intrusive, sometimes manifesting itself in an apparent shutdown of len's CPU (causing the camera to consider it a non-CPU lens and default to camera settings about non-CPU lenses, which in my case causes it to comically be f/2 even at 1000mm. I've contacted Sigma about it and sent my lens in for them to check out. )-:

(I update the list above as I notice things; last update May 7, 2010)

Other than that last issue, these are all relatively minor issues. My overall rating is 「ブラボーシグマ、ブラボー」(“Bravo, Sigma. Bravo.”)

Continued here with more samples...

Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2010 Jeffrey Friedl,

All 8 comments so far, oldest first...

Uh, this is not the Bigma.

The Bigma is the 200-500 f/2.8.

This thing is nothing compared to that behemoth.

I believe the 50-500 got the “Bigma” moniker before the 200-500/2.8 was released. Simga has bigger lenses than the 50-500, but it’s the one people refer to as “Bigma”. —Jeffrey

— comment by Ken on April 17th, 2010 at 12:48am JST (14 years, 1 month ago) comment permalink

Just to support Jeffrey, the Sigma 50-500mm is what people refer to as the Bigma. If the 200-500mm was practical enough for normal people to own, it might have taken over the nickname, but at $29000 USD and given that you almost need to have a jeep and mount it to a gun turret, the 200-500 f/2.8 is not exactly practical for most people. The “lesser” 50-500mm cousin, however, has long been popular with birding and wildlife photographers, and has long had the “Bigma” moniker.

The strange thing is, that Sigma also has a 150-500mm OS, and 120-400mm OS, that you would think would be better in the telephoto ranges since they are less extreme zooms, but for whatever reason, the 50-500mm is the one that always has had the highest regard.

— comment by Josh on April 17th, 2010 at 1:28am JST (14 years, 1 month ago) comment permalink

Wait- you don’t have a 50mm f1.4? You’re missing out on a lot of fun!

— comment by Paul C on April 17th, 2010 at 3:08am JST (14 years, 1 month ago) comment permalink

Thanks for giving us some shots that show the perspective of the bigma.

I was all ready with the insults and ‘player hating’ for your Bigma but then I saw that 50-500mm armor-piercing anti-tank weapon that Sigma is hiding in that green canister.

Go on with your bad self!

— comment by Ron Evans on April 17th, 2010 at 4:33am JST (14 years, 1 month ago) comment permalink

Jeffrey, you might try a clear plastic wrap cover [like comes on a roll] for light rain protection. As you might suspect, I am growing to appreciate my Canon 5D Mk II with my L lenses. Not that I would normally go into a downpour uncovered, but pretty good in fighting mist [at least so far]

I have something like that (a FotoSharp Rain Coat), but non of my other lenses have such exposure, and I’m really paranoid about getting moisture inside the lens…. that’s not something I’d think you can undo easily. —Jeffrey

— comment by Mel Lammers on April 17th, 2010 at 6:34am JST (14 years, 1 month ago) comment permalink

The mouseover to see lens – very cool!

— comment by Marcina, USA on April 17th, 2010 at 6:45am JST (14 years, 1 month ago) comment permalink

That’s just what I was wondering — how big is it? — when I read that you got it. You, of course, answered the question with more precision than anyone else. Back in my newspapering days I used a big 300 f2.8 now and then, but never got good at it.

— comment by nils on April 19th, 2010 at 10:48am JST (14 years, 1 month ago) comment permalink

Wow, Jeffrey – I stumbled across this entry randomly, and thought for a bit, because I knew your name sounded familiar. Then it came to me – I used your English Japanese electronic dictionary for years while I was a university student taking Japanese classes! I had no idea that you had a blog or that you were into photography!

Just to go further on the first comment (now a year old, I know) – the 50-500mm is the “Bigma.” The 200-500mm f/2.8 has been nicknamed the “Sigmarine” (presumably because the thing looks a bit like a submarine).

I don’t know why Sigma gets a bunch of nicknames for its lenses, but here are two others I’ve heard of:

Sigma 150mm f/2.8 Macro lens – the “Bugma” (as this is the bug hunters’ choice macro lens)
Sigma 300-800mm f/5.6 – the “Sigmonster” (whether for its reach, size, or weight, who can say? It’s huge)

— comment by David K on February 25th, 2011 at 10:10am JST (13 years, 3 months ago) comment permalink
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