I have been looking for a good telephoto lens for my Sony A7II Full Frame Camera for some time now. I tried the Sony E 70-350mm on the FE mount, and unlike popular belief it doesn’t suddenly transform into a 100-525mm.
I searched for my telephoto lens with the following criteria
- Full Frame lens
- Focal Length of +400mm
- Optical Image Stabilization build-in (unlike the Sigma 170-500mm for Sony A-Mount I own)
- Shooting Mode Option Build-in (Panning if possible)
- Weather and Dust resistant. A fully sealed lens would be great but budget plays a part as well
- Good overall image quality
- Weight below 2.5kg
- Total cost under € 1200 euro
So I spend watching a ton of tutorials and reviews both on YouTube and sites like dpreview and I ended up with a little shortlist:
- Tamron 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 Canon EF which retails around €1100 or $1200
- Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary which retails around €1000 or $1100
- Sigma 150-600mm F/4.5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sports Canon EF which retails around €1800 or €2000
- Sony FE 200-600mm F/5.6-6.3 G OSS which retails around €1800 or €2000
Based on my budget, the Sigma 150-600mm Sports and Sony FE 200-600mm F/5.6-6.3 G OSS were out. Above my budget. You have to be strict otherwise you end up spending to much money. Additionally especially the Sigma Sports comes in at nearly 3kg. That is a bit too heavy
The two remaining options on the table are the Tamron 150-600mm and Sigma 150-600mm both suited for Canon EF, so both need a Canon EF to Sony (FE) adaptor for them to be able to work with the Sony camera. That is kind of important to understand. It wasn’t so clear to me when I started exploring.
I watched a ton of YouTube reviews for both lenses and it gave me a good insight to some of the user experiences, but in no way it was conclusive. So in the end it was a good insight, but it didn’t help me. Therefore I visited the one channel on YouTube which is seldom wrong Christopher Frost Photography probably the best channel when it comes to lens reviews both on the technical performance and image quality (check out the episode here) and his assessment was that the difference between the Tamron and Sigma are not big significant. Tamron has a bit better sharpness @600mm full extended. Sigma overall has a better performance. I use a rule of thumb for a telephoto lens that the image quality will suffer after your extend 90%+ (540mm) of the total focal length. So I am not so worried about it.
In the end I decided to go for the Sigma 150-600m C Canon EF. The main reason for it are my user experiences with Sigma lenses on my Sony Camera’s (A, E and FE mount) and those have always been very good. Sigma builds solid lenses, except for the 170-500mm for A-mount but I forgave them for it.
When it comes to Tamron my experiences; they have been very mixed. Some lenses were good, others disappointing. So I chose based on my own user experiences.
Once you order Sigma 150-600mm you will have to order the Sigma to Sony Converter which is the Sigma M-11 which caters for Sigma Canon FE lenses (very technical I know). The converter will cost anywhere between €175-€225 (depending where you buy) and in the US & Canada will cost around similar prices only in USD or Canadian Dollars. If you buy the Sigma USB Dock -which retails for roughly €40 or $40- The great thing about the adapter (converter) is that it will allow you to download the latest firmware from the Sigma site (and register your lens). I didn’t order the Sigma USB Immediately but now I did. It will keep your sigma lens performance up-to-date and improving with your Sony Camera body
Additionally I purchased a LensCoat (as you can see in the picture) to protect the lens from rain and serious dust. The lens might be water resistant it is not fully weather sealed. The Lens coat is made out of poly-something but it is water resistant, easy to put on and get off the lens. Additionally it makes your lens nicely blend in with the scenery. The Lens Coat did cost me a hefty €56 but I feel it is worth it.
I just shared the basic accessories you need when you consider buying this lens for your Sony FE camera.
Once I received the Sigma 150-600 I noticed and noted the following things
- Manual focus ring is extremely smooth. and positioned nicely. Excellent work
- The extension ring rotates the opposite direction from what you are normally used to. It is a bit stiff now, but I am assuming over time it will smoothen a bit. It is good now.
- The MC-11 adapter has a little usb connection
- The MC-11 adapter connects flawlessly with both the Sigma lens and the Sony A7III body. It locks well and always feels like a well integrated unit.
- The lens hood is gigantic
- The lens is not heavy but it isn’t a piece of cake either at 2kg.
- The buttons on the side (focus type, focus distance and focus assistance) are well designed and sturdy. With the Lens Coat on, still easy to access and operate.
One of the great things about a new lens is, that I get all excited and went out and returned home about an hour later somewhat disappointed. Why? Because my expectations were very high and unrealistic.
So in the first three days I made roughly 1000 pictures, which is a minimum as you need to get your lens and camera to record what your eyes are seeing.
Day One: I went out with my A7III, The Sigma 150-600mm and my Geekfroto Tripod. The latter being one of the few things I haven’t upgraded the last three years. I quickly cycled (yes I cycle everywhere) out of my town into the fields on the banks of a small river where I know there will be Coots, Great Crested Gerbe, Ducks, Geese, Sparrows, Swans, Cormorants and my favourite the Hawks, but the latter being a challenge.
I also found myself right in the flight path of entire squadrons of Geese coming in low over the river, crossing over me (3-4 meters) hovering in strong cross winds, flying in formation into the wind and breaking hard to the South-West to have tailwinds. This all happens in 10 seconds and you need to be ready.
Meanwhile right in front of me in the river the Coot Community was facing its own drama. And older Coot, lets name him Donald, was feeling a bit feisty and decided to terrorize his buddies or ex-wifes. Still not sure, but it remains a fascinating sight seeing animal groups interact.
As you can see from Day 1. I was using high ISO’s, fast shutter speeds, single auto focus, zone focus. All that the experts claim gets you the best results, but the results because of the high iso and shutter speed and focus types chosen isn’t great and on top of it I didn’t properly use the tools the lens offers (focus distance, type of focus panning?) So that left me a bit disappointed. Additionally the passing squadron of geese had laid bare the limitation of my trip/mono pod. Not as much the legs but the ball head. Impossible to shot quickly on the type ball head. That really surprised me. Wise lesson but I’ll get back to that one later.
Day 2 was shooting or testing from my window upstairs just to know how to use the camera and the lens and make them work together with my eyes. So I did learn a bit.
Day 3: Back to the same territory, the conditions were a bit better, much more sunlight but also more wind. Close to freezing with a chill factor. But as usual I was very happy to go on my bike. Yes never by car. Always by bike or hike. One of those two. This time I just brought the mono pod and my new Gimbal Head. A Gimbal head allows heavier cameras and lens to move horizontally and vertically (so two axis) in one smooth movement. Ideal when you are faced with fast flying birds (hawks especially). I bought the Neewer Professional Heavy Duty Gimbal Head which is pretty much cheap retailing at €/$80. The more high end models cost hundreds of euros/dollars. So there I went with my gear and foldable little chair (what a good purchase that has proven to be)
If you want to make this lens work, I the following camera settings are working for me and render the best results so far. I am still improving:
- Camera Mode: Manual Mode (when Aperture Priority the shutter speeds are insane and even at f/11) which means crancking up the iso)
- Camera Focus Mode: AF-C (the little green dots will appears). Especially when you are tracking birds in flight it is critical the AF-C is on.
- Focus Point: Zone (when tracking flying birds) or Spot (Flexible or Fixed) for stationary bird. In experience after a few days I would chose Zone at any time
- Shooting Mode: Use Burst (always)
The best lens settings I am still learning, but one or two handy beginner tips:
- Focus Distance: keep in mind what your trying to shoot I saw the difference in quality when changing from FULL to 10m-infinity. The details are better visible. I still forget to do it more often than not, but that is just discipline.
- Focus Type: MO. This is a really cool feature as it is allows you to autofocus but still use the manual focus ring to adjust focus. Takes some practice but the feature is really helpfull. Especially when shooting birds in trees where the AF-C mode at times struggles.
Now lets get to some of the shots taken this morning (day 3). Which was an odd day as it looked great and life on the river was really full of birds (09:30am) until the local rowing club came in with trainers and megaphones onshore.. really ticks me off.
Anyways I applied the camera settings as mentioned above and started shooting see pics below
Day 3 in my opinion was very successful. Made a lot of progress in terms of making my Sony and The Sigma Lens work for me.
Funny story is that I was on my bike home when I notice a Cormorant swallow a fish, I got off my bike quickly, got my lens out of my backpack and shot handheld, I did quickly adjust the focussing distance on the camera to 2-10mm. The last two where the best pictures I have managed to take after three days of owning the lens.
So if you are thinking of buying a telephoto lens and expect quick result you might get disappointed. I take a minimum of a 1000 test shots and I am still and will be learning. Just enjoy the process and funny thing is how much I have picked up about animal behaviour. Certain type of Geese are very anxious, others like the Canadian Geese are far more relaxed and territorial. Coots live in big packs and tend fight quite a bit. Gebes are always in pairs and very guarded. I have also discovered the hunting grounds of hawks, but those birds are really fast.
Anyways hope you enjoyed this little blog episode.
Be sure to check out my YouTube Channel! Behind The Lens With Paul
Instagram: Paul Takes Photos