"Declaring the glory of God
through photography of His created world"
copyright 2007 by Joseph LaQuiere
Sigma 50-500mm F/4-6.3 (Bigma)
It is hard to deny the versatility and usefulness of the 10X range zooms to anybody with a broad interest in photography and widely varied subject mater. In this category of lenses the mother of them all has to be the Sigma 50-500mm known as the "Bigma". There are a number of lenses to compare with the Bigma but none other, that I know of, reach 500mm.
Many complete and technical reviews are to be found on the Internet, by others who are much more competent of through testing than I. So in this review are my own observations and experience with this lens not a rehash of all the performance specs. but how it works for me in the real world.
I like the 50-500 a lot and I have purchased several and sold them to friends. I also use and own many of the lenses that are frequently compared to the Bigma. I just purchased the 28-300 L Canon with IS, I also own the older (now discontinued) 35-350 L, the Canon 100-400 IS L, the Canon 400mm F/5.6. L and a Tamron 28-300. Many of these lenses reach equivalent focal length and F/stop with converters. So I have a lot of ways to get to 400 or 500mm and each lens has its own advantages. The great thing about the 50-500 is of course the extreme range in one lens; the way I shoot is often with no specific goal in mind and spur of the moment so at one instant I may need wider angle and the next 500mm. The 50-500 makes a great nature/wildlife lens because it is capable of capturing a landscape scene then going for a small bird at 400 or 500mm. The lens also has a good close focus distance making semi macro shots possible as well. Many like to compare the Bigma to the 100-400 IS L. The difference that I see between the 50-500 and the 100-400 is this:
Canon100-400 vs Bigma
50-500 is cooler overall in color rendition with slightly less contrast.
Sharpness on the 100-400 is more even across the lens whereas the 50-500 is sharpest at the center of the lens, not dramatically so but more noticeably so than the 100-400.
In the three copies of the Bigma that I have seen sharpness has been good and all three have been very similar in all aspects.
50-500 lens vignettes less than the 100-400
Without IS turned on the 50-500 is easer to get sharper pictures with because of the mass of the lens.
The 50-500 is more susceptible to flare then the 100-400 perhaps because of the smaller shade necessary for the wider angle.
The focus is reasonably fast and quiet the main difference that I notice when compared to the 100-400 is that in servo mode it tends to drive back and forth a bit more and is nosier doing so.
Both the 100-400 and the 50-500 are great performers and capable of professional work.
Durability and reliability of the Bigma I would rate superb. I have had experience with three of these lenses over 4 years. One of the lenses, that is owned by a friend, receives daily rugged use. None of the lenses have ever failed.
I have also not seen a significant instance of chromatic aberration or purple fringing.
Nature and Wildlife and Everything In-between? You Bet!
The big attraction to the Bigma is for people that are interested in nature and wildlife photography, this lens can handle it all, even semi macro work. You can have nearly everything (albeit heavy) in one lens and for less than $1000. The Bigma makes an excellent lens for nature and wildlife photography during travel, again because of it's super range (50-500mm) it is reasonably fast at f/6.3@500mm, focuses quite fast, is rugged and has high picture quality. If I traveled often by air and needed to reduce the amount of gear that I carried the Bigma would be my frequent companion. There is another benefit of a lens with this amount of range and that is the prospect of changing lenses to obtain a shot. Often when photographic opportunities occur they happen quickly, unexpectedly and are many times fleeting, as light, expressions or positions change. If you have the capability to frame your shot with the lens that you have on your camera instead of needing to change lenses there are many more opportunities that can be successfully captured. So ultimately if the lens you have mounted to your camera is able to capture an image whilst one in your bag could never be deployed quick enough, the one on the camera will always be capable of a higher degree of perfection simply because it is able to get the shot. This is why zooms are so useful and hard to part with. You will also find that having a lens like this simplifies getting exceptional candid and people shots that show expression and emotion without getting in someone's face.
The only real drawback to the Bigma is the weight. There is no getting around the fact that it is bulky and heavy, but still within most peoples ability to carry and handhold. While a tripod can be useful the Bigma is extremely usable without a tripod. Almost all of my use of this lens is hand holding. The size of the Bigma actually helps with hand holding, you can read my comments on this in my article here.
Things to Remember
It is easy to forget when you have a lens of this range and just zoom right in not paying attention to your shutter speed. If you are using one of the Canon DSLRs, 10D or later, higher ISO is very helpful to enable you to keep your shutter speed up. Canon cameras, since the 10D, have exceptionally low noise and you should deploy higher ISO as needed. It is always advisable to push up the ISO and properly expose the shot than try to under expose to keep shutter speed higher. When you under expose you will likely end up with more problematic noise than if you had just pushed up the ISO. Don't be afraid to use noise reduction software, Noiseware is my favorite. Also remember to be conscious of holding technique when taking images under low light conditions. Keeping these things in mind will help you get sharp images with the Bigma
I have had great results with the 50-500 and many sharp images. The Bigma is very capable of producing professional images. If you want to reduce the amount of lenses you need or just have the exceptional versatility in hand or if you cannot afford the multiple of thousands of dollars it takes to cover this range with Canon glass do not hesitate to get yourself a Bigma. This is a quality extreme range telephoto on a budget. Click this link to see a page of simple test shots taken with the Sigma 50-500mm.
Canon 1d MkII N, Sigma 50-500mm 1/400, f/7.1 @IS0 320
Sigma 50-500mm f4-6.3 weight 4lbs