I'll admit, spending twice as much as my F5 for a lens was an intimidating feeling. Talk about credit card anxiety! But “big glass” doesn’t come cheaply, and I really wanted to get closer to wildlife, especially small birds. I carefully did my homework to decide on a lens that would get the job done, would be of professional caliber, and wouldn’t completely bankrupt me. When the dust settled, I got the Sigma 500mm f/4.5 EX HSM.
Why the Sigma? Well, for my needs, it seemed to fit the bill. Now that I’ve had many opportunities to put this lens to the test, I feel I can give an honest review.
Sigma 500mm f/4.5 EX HSM
The Sigma 500mm prime lens is big. If you’re used to handling a 300mm f/4 or compact zoom, get ready for a shock; it will dwarf smaller film bodies or the N70. Such is the norm with big glass.
Physically, this lens measures 350mm long by 123mm wide (13.8x4.8 in), and weighs in at over three kilograms (that’s over six pounds). You won’t want to use this lens without a good support, but I’ll discuss that later. Despite the size of this lens, I can still fit it into the main compartment of my LowePro Nature Trekker AW II with a pro body attached. In general, the build quality of this lens is excellent, and the textured finish adds a professional look to the lens overall.
The lens has a three-position focus limiter switch which allows you to choose between the full range (4mm-infinity), 8m-infinity, and 4-8m. This is useful for those situations where you know your subject will be a certain distance away and you can speed up the focusing performance by limiting its range.
The manual focus ring is large and very smooth. Because this is an HSM (hypersonic motor) design lens, full-time MF override is possible without changing any settings on the body or lens. Do note that HSM lenses share the same body compatibility for AF functionality as Nikon's AF-S lenses.
The lens has a large tripod foot that has finger-grips machined into it, which makes carrying the lens a little more comfortable. The included hood has a bayonet mount with a knurled locking knob. There are no markings on the hood to help with aligning it for mounting, which can be a minor annoyance. The hood itself is quite short for a lens of this focal length. While this helps keep the packed lens compact, there may be situations where lens flare could be a problem.
|Lastly, this lens uses 46mm drop-in filters. Sigma includes a 46mm polarizer in addition to the clear element with this lens. I think that’s a nice bonus. The lens also includes a soft-sided (but well-padded) case and a carrying strap.|
The Sigma 500mm f/4.5 HSM has 12 elements in 9 groups. The lens incorporates apochromatic elements and two ELD (“Extraordinary Low Dispersion”) elements to reduce chromatic aberration. The lens has a nine-bladed aperture, and a minimum focus distance of 400cm (about 13.1 feet). Sigma's 1.4x and 2x teleconverters are usable with this lens, but AF functions are disabled. I found that AF functionality was spotty with my Tamron SP 1.4x converter. However, by modifying a TC-14E (or TC14-EII) by removing the metal tab in the bayonet mount (not for the faint of heart), you can get fairly reasonable AF performance with an effective aperture of f/6.3.
|Angle of view||5°|
|Lens construction||12 elements in 9 groups|
|MOD (minimum object distance)||0.29m / 11.4"|
|Filter size||46mm (Drop-in type)|
|Overall length||350mm / 13.78"|
|Maximum diameter||123mm / 4.84"|
|Weight||3,150g / 6.93 lbs|
|Number of diaphragm blades||9|
|Minimum focusing distance||4m / 13.1 ft|
|Standard accessory included||Hood|