Monday, 23 September 2013

Sigma 50-500mm f4-6.3 APO EX 'Bigma'

One of the less obvious reasons to buy into a particular system when you are choosing which DSLR to go for, is to consider what your friends may already have. If all your friends all shoot Nikon, and you buy the only Canon, then that limits you in terms of shared learning that you can participate in. But, much more importantly, it limits you in terms of the extra gear that you might have access to. If a friend buys that new 40mm pancake lens that you've heard so much about - or better still that strangely exotic 15mm fisheye, and you both use the same camera system, then some borrowing and lending of lenses can take place (so long as you trust they will take care of your gear). But if you are the only guy with the Nikon, then you're kinda stuck.

Many people use this as an argument for buying a Canon camera, since 'most' of the entry-level DSLR purchases are in the Canon system. Oddly enough, my decision to move to the Sony range (apart from being taken with the incredible technology they are coming out with in their camera bodies) is due to my being able to 'borrow' a whole swag of Sony/Minolta/Zeiss lenses from a friend.

Case in point: I haven't even bought the camera body yet, and the other day as I was talking to him (Hi Stew), he said that he had something for me. And oh boy, did he ever...

Sigma 50-500mm f4/6.3 APO EX lens. Nicknamed the 'BIGMA' for obvious reasons.
From the back of his car he produced this 'bad boy' - the Sigma 50-500mm f4-6.3 APO EX lens - a massive (both in weight and size) 10x zoom lens. Stew told me he hardly ever used it, and it was mine if I was interested.

I'm not much of a super-telephoto shooter myself. I don't shoot a lot of sports or action, and I am definitely no bird or wildlife photographer. But, I do shoot sports occasionally - and really enjoy it. And whenever I do I always have to beg, steal or borrow a lens to do the job.

Well now, with the Sigma 50-500mm in my arsenal, I don't have to borrow anymore. Attached to an APS-C sensor camera like the Sony A200, this 50-500mm monster becomes a 75-750mm MEGA-monster! 750 freakin millimeters!

Of course that comes with its own unique set of problems. First - it's a relatively slow lens at the top end at f6.3. I'd prefer if it were f5.6, but we are talking 750mm, with an 86mm front element. It's big and heavy enough as it is, without doubling the front of the element to let in twice the amount of light! So I'll live with f6.3 and probably only shoot with it on sunny days.

Second - because it is still big and relatively heavy, with a telescopic zoom that stretches from here to eternity, it's a fairly unstable lens - hence the tripod collar. At the very least, I will only use this lens attached to a monopod, although it could probably benefit from my most solid, stable (and heavy) tripod. Sigma have bought out a newer (more expensive) version of this lens with OS for Canon and Nikon, and you'd have to say that a lens of this size and magnification could really use it.

But of course, with the Sony cameras, Image Stabilisation (Steady Shot) is built right into the camera (thank you Sony), so I don't need the OS version (which they don't make for Sony anyway). Even so, I will still limit this lens to monopod/tripod only use.

Internet reviews suggest that this lens is actually a surprisingly good performer - even wide open - and pretty sharp all over stopped down to f8. The lens Stew gave me is in pretty good nick, although I haven't had a chance to test it out yet. What I did notice, however, was that the tripod collar didn't allow for rotation into a portrait orientation - it seemed 'glued' into place. A quick check on the web revealed that this 'sticking' is a common problem. And sure enough, with a little CRC and careful (but firm) elbow grease, I managed to get the collar moving again. On some models the collar can come off completely - while on other models it can't. Alas, mine is in the later category. But I managed to wedge some q-tips soaked in Isopropyl Alcohol in the gap where the mount unscrews to release the locking pressure, and move them around the lens barrel to pick up the 'gunk'. Moves pretty freely now.

I'm looking forward to taking this lens out for a spin. In about a month we have some motorcycle street racing here in Greymouth. I can see some serious telephoto zoom action happening about then...

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