I felt it was time to take my Wildlife Photography to another level so I bought a 600mm lens and WOW, what a difference!
Until recently I have focused more on Landscape than Wildlife Photography, I can’t exactly explain why as I have always loved animals but that’s just the way it happened. I have always had a 70-200mm lens which I would use to photograph wildlife when the opportunity presented itself but as a rule, I had my wide-angle zoom attached to my camera when I was out and about.
However, over the past few years, I have spent more & more time looking for and photographing wildlife. I guess the turning point was when we talked to Native Animal Rescue here in Perth about photographing some of their permanent residents with a view to helping promote the work that organisations such as NAR do to help protect & preserve our native wildlife.
I now have the Wildlife Photography bug, my wide-angle lens is on temporary leave & I have been doing my best to get wildlife photos using my trusty 70-200mm lens. Needless to say the more I did the more frustrated I became, getting close to wildlife is not easy and having to crop your images too heavily can cause quite a loss of quality, even for my incredibly sharp 70-200mm.
So I started looking at alternative lenses to give me that longer reach. Obviously the Canon 100-400mm L II was an option but I wasn’t convinced that 400mm would make enough of a difference so I started researching what long time pro Wildlife Photographers were using. Guess what, they were all using 600mm fixed length primes costing a tidy $18,000+ and weighing in at over 3kg 😲
I’m not quite brave enough to ask my wife to let me spend that sort of cash on a lens just yet 😱
After more research, I also discovered that Sigma & Tamron had started to introduce longer & longer zoom lenses culminating with their flagship 150-600mm models. What’s more these lenses were getting incredibly good reviews for image quality & being at a much more reasonable price point they were an ideal entry into the 600mm club.
Choosing the Right Lens
Both Sigma & Tamron have 2 lenses in the 150-600mm category with varying price points & features, although they all share a lot in common: f/5-6.3 / Stabilisation / Zoom Lock / Quiet AF Drive / Tripod Mount …
Here they are in price order:
- Tamron 150-600mm f/5-6.3 VC USD G1 (released 2013)
- Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary (released 2014)
- Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 (released 2014)
- Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sport (released 2016)
My criteria for choosing one of these lenses:
- Weight: I want to be able to use the lens with or without a tripod and these lenses are not light so weight is very important.
- Image Quality: Obviously I want the best image quality I can get.
- Build Quality: I also want a lens that feels sturdy and well built.
- Features: Lens functionality is an important factor especially regarding Stabilisation & Auto Focus.
- Accessories: Not a big factor but something to throw into the mix.
- Support: I prefer to buy a brand that is known for good customer service.
After much research, reading reviews, watching reviews on youtube & deliberation I decided to go with the SIGMA 150-600mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary lens.
Here are my reasons based on my criteria above:
- Weight: The Sigma Contemporary was one of the two lightest lenses at 1.95kg
- Image Quality: The Tamron G1 (the other lightest lens) consistently came out at slightly lower quality while the other 3 all seemed very similar.
- Build Quality: All 4 lenses seemed to have good build quality with the Sigma Contemporary lacking in the weather sealing.
- Features: The Tamron G1 lacks a dedicated panning mode which is the biggest problem I could see.
- Accessories: Both Sigma lenses come with carry cases & straps, the Tamrons have neither which I would have a problem with.
- Support: From what I have read Sigma appears to come out top in the customer service area.
This is not intended to be a review of these lenses in any way, simply my subjective opinion based on the research I have done.
There is a lot of information about these lenses on the internet, some of it very conflicting, but the one consistent opinion I came away with was that you would not regret buying any of them and the differences are minimal.
All 4 of these lenses are amazing at what they do, especially when considering the price point and the image quality they produce for lenses with a 600mm reach.
I decided early on that I would most likely get one of the Sigmas due to their better reputation for customer service & the fact that they came with a case & strap (a more important criteria than I initially realised). Nothing I read about the Tamron’s was enough to change my mind, which in no way says Tamron are bad Sigma just seemed to suit me better.
In the end, it was the weight that swayed me towards the Contemporary model over the Sport which is almost 1kg heavier and really not suitable for hand-holding for any period of time. I would have liked to have the weather sealing but you can’t have it all ways and I don’t plan on going out in thunderstorms or traveling through the desert just yet.
Overall I think the Sigma Contemporary model is the best value for money for anyone who wants to get into some serious Wildlife Photography on a budget.
Initial Thoughts on Using a 150-600mm Lens
I’ve had my new Sigma 150-600mm Contemporary Lens for a few weeks now and you can see some of the results I’ve been getting on this page.
Learning to get the best from a lens like this is a journey, you don’t simply buy a 2kg 600mm lens and get perfect results straight up. There’s a bit of a learning curve on how to use these monsters and I’m definitely still learning a lot.
Little things like changing how you carry your camera & transport it are all new. I’m so glad this lens came with a strap & case which allowed me to start using it practically straight away.
So far I’ve got some amazing images that I could never have taken with my 70-200mm but I’ve also got a lot of duds. Managing shutter speed, aperture & ISO create a whole new challenge with a 2kg 600mm lens so I’m now watching a whole new set of youtube videos on the best approach to handling & using these beasts.
I hope to be posting some more articles about my journey with this lens so keep an eye out and feel free to ask any questions you may have 👍
These images were processed using a combination of Adobe Lightroom Classic CC, Adobe Photoshop CC 2019 & ON1 Photo RAW 2019.
- Adobe Lightroom Classic CC (Click Here for Free Trial or Purchase)
- Adobe Photoshop CC 2018 (Click Here for Free Trial or Purchase)
- ON1 Photo RAW 2019 (Click Here for Free Trial or Purchase)
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