REVIEW - Sigma 150mm f/2.8 EX DG OS MACRO HSM

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Owen
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REVIEW - Sigma 150mm f/2.8 EX DG OS MACRO HSM

Post by Owen » February 25th, 2012, 10:18 pm

I've had a chance to shoot with the lens for a little over a week. Great for jumping spiders, but I'll keep it herp centric.

I’m going to start this off as a review on the new Sigma 150mm f/2.8 OS Macro, but since I have other macros, this will actually morph into a comparison review of focal lengths. Most modern macro lenses, whether from the camera manufacturer, or from an independent lens maker, will offer excellent sharpness. Deciding on which is best falls on subject and budget. All lenses listed below are available in Canon, Nikon and Sony mounts. The Sigmas are also available for Pentax and Sigma mounts, though the 150mm has not yet been released for Pentax.

Specifications/Measurements:

Sigma 150mm f/2.8 EX DG OS MACRO HSM

• 35.4oz lens only, 40.4oz with tripod collar, 45.6oz with collar, hoods, lens cap.
• 72mm filters
• 7” working distance at 1:1 magnification
• Full Frame (36mm x 24mm) compatible
• Optical stabilizer
• Internal focus, lens does not extend during focusing
• Silent internal ring motor focusing
• Comes with case, tripod collar, hood and lens cap

Sigma 70mm f/2.8 EX DG MACRO

• 18oz lens only
• 62mm filters
• 3” working distance at 1:1 magnification
• Full Frame (36mm x 24mm) compatible
• Lens extends 70mm when focusing to 1:1
• Screw drive focus (camera body)
• Comes with case, hood and lens cap

Tamron SP AF 60mm f/2 Di II LD IF MACRO

• 13oz lens only
• 55mm filters
• 4” working distance at 1:1 magnification
• APS-C (crop sensor) compatible only
• Internal focus, lens does not extend during focusing
• Internal (but not silent)autofocus motor
• Comes with hood and lens cap

The biggest issue in choosing a macro is what you’re going to photograph with it.

My preference is to use the shorter 50-70mm macros when photographing any animal that I may need to manipulate with my hands. The longer focal lengths tend to need more than an arm’s length distance to photograph anything bigger than a small sized lizard or salamander. For the Sigma 150mm macro, I need about five feet of working distance to cover a 10” wide field. That said, on animals that are active or wary, being able to get a nice detailed close up shot from four feet away can be a plus. The extra working distance with the longer lens also allows for more subject lighting options.

Here’s a shot of a 5” long young Sharp-tailed Snake with the 150mm (cropped for composition):

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Here’s a basking fence lizard taken from about 30 inches away (cropped for composition):

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The Sigma 150mm came in handy while photographing YOY black salamanders. These salamanders are an inch to inch and a quarter long. Being able to photograph them from 10” away allows for use of shoe mounted flash without shadows from the lens hood. Cropped for composition:

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Of course, shooting an adult means moving back a couple more feet (cropped for composition)::

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As mentioned before, the Sigma 150mm is available in Nikon and Canon mounts, so when I used it on my Sony, I turned the Sony’s sensor stabilization off and I used the Sigma lens’ optical stabilization. It works pretty well, but the claimed 4 stops of compensation is a bit optimistic at macro ranges. At longer distances, I have no reason to doubt the claim.

Thanks to the dual range focus limiter and HSM, autofocus is faster than any other macro that I have used. That said, it’s not that speedy, so not the best lens to use for shooting sports or fast animal action.

Something good about HSM that probably only applies to Sony is that you don’t need to use the Sony screw drive focus motor. The Sony motor is pretty strong and my 70mm non-HSM macro has been back to Sigma 3 times to fix the stripped focus gear assembly.

What is it best for?

• Shooting small herps close up where artificial lighting is needed without flash brackets.
• Shooting wary herps such a active lizards where close approach isn’t always possible.
• Getting that tight Crotalus head portrait from a safe distance.
• BUGS

What is it not so good for?

• Shooting large herps that you need to manipulate by hand
• Those that don’t want a 2 lb plus lens to lug around

One other thing to mention is that the bright point highlight reflections from the sun or other lighting source with the 150mm are circular due to the curved diaphragm blades. My Sigma 70mm does not have curved blades, so highlights tend to be a nine sided ‘nonagon’. The Tamron 60mm also has curved blades. I tend to use the Tamron 60mm more than the Sigma 70mm since it's a better fit with my ringflash and offers me a littte more working distance at it's closest ranges. The Sigma might be a tick sharper, but not enough to notice in actual photographs.

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Re: REVIEW - Sigma 150mm f/2.8 EX DG OS MACRO HSM

Post by chrish » February 25th, 2012, 11:16 pm

Thanks for the nice timely review. I have a friend thinking about this lens vs. a 90mm macro right now. I will point him here.
Owen wrote:As mentioned before, the Sigma 150mm is available in Nikon and Canon mounts, so when I used it on my Sony, I turned the Sony’s sensor stabilization off and I used the Sigma lens’ optical stabilization. It works pretty well, but the claimed 4 stops of compensation is a bit optimistic at macro ranges. At longer distances, I have no reason to doubt the claim.
Did you try it the other way around (using camera IS instead of lens OS) or is that even possible?
My buddy has a Pentax camera with in-body stabilization and we were wondering if you could choose which one to use and which was better.
Something good about HSM that probably only applies to Sony is that you don’t need to use the Sony screw drive focus motor. The Sony motor is pretty strong and my 70mm non-HSM macro has been back to Sigma 3 times to fix the stripped focus gear assembly.
I have an older Tokina ATX 100-300 that kept having this problem, except the other way around. The lens was not turning correctly and kept messing up the screw drive mechanism. It failed on me a couple of times before I figured out the problem. However, once I got the lens fixed, AF has worked perfectly ever since.

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Owen
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Re: REVIEW - Sigma 150mm f/2.8 EX DG OS MACRO HSM

Post by Owen » February 26th, 2012, 12:18 am

Chris, I've used the stabilization both ways and there doesn't seem to be much difference either way. I don't really notice the stabilized viewfinder much with the lens OS on either. I haven't done any side by side tests with one or the other on or off, but it's just a general impression.

Not sure when the Pentax mount will be released. I preordered for Sony in March 2011 from Adorama, but when it showed up in stock at B&H this month, I switched my order after getting the we don't know answer from Adorama. The only thing is that Sigma backed off of their original 'splashproof design' spec. My guess is the weak point in that regard is the switches for AF/MF, Focus Limit, OS on/off. Build of lens seems top flight and focus is spot on with no AF adustment on the A77 needed.

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periglenes
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Re: REVIEW - Sigma 150mm f/2.8 EX DG OS MACRO HSM

Post by periglenes » February 26th, 2012, 8:28 pm

I shoot more insects than herps. How about one of those jumping spider shots, too? Love to see what it does with subjects that size.

-Frank

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Re: REVIEW - Sigma 150mm f/2.8 EX DG OS MACRO HSM

Post by fvachss » February 26th, 2012, 8:47 pm

periglenes wrote:I shoot more insects than herps. How about one of those jumping spider shots, too? Love to see what it does with subjects that size.

-Frank
I haven't shot with the Sigma 150, but I have with Canon's 180 macro and I find that, while the extra working distance helps with jumpers, if they can be coaxed into sitting still for a bit I prefer the extra magnification of the 65mm MP-E. (and yes, better flash diffusion would help...)

Image

Image

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Owen
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Re: REVIEW - Sigma 150mm f/2.8 EX DG OS MACRO HSM

Post by Owen » February 26th, 2012, 9:12 pm

A Jumper:

Image

A Lynx eating a Jumper (Lynx is about 1/4" long):

Image

1:1 life size is at just over 7" from the front of the lens.

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periglenes
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Re: REVIEW - Sigma 150mm f/2.8 EX DG OS MACRO HSM

Post by periglenes » February 27th, 2012, 4:07 am

Thanks! I love salticids and I love macro photos. Don't have any good spider shots to share in return, and we'd be getting off the topic.

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Re: REVIEW - Sigma 150mm f/2.8 EX DG OS MACRO HSM

Post by bgorum » January 2nd, 2015, 10:09 am

I owned the non-OS version of this lens, and rather than writing a new review I figured I’d just piggy back some comments onto Owen’s review of the OS version. The two lenses are quite similar with the OS version having a few more elements and weighing a bit more, (no doubt due to the presence of the optical stabilizing lens group). Other than OS and the weight the two lenses are virtually identical in terms of specifications that Owen listed.

ImageGorum_140525_2456_7_8 by bgorum, on Flickr

I chose to buy the non-OS version because it is considerably less expensive than the OS version and because I am a confirmed tripod user, so OS is not essential for my way of working. The TS-21 tripod collar that is included with the lens is the same collar included with several of Sigma’s other lenses, (for example the 100-300 f4 which I reviewed here- http://www.fieldherpforum.com/forum/vie ... 15&t=19960). I was fairly impressed with the TS-21 on the 100-300 and I am even more so with the same collar on the 150. Compared to the size of the lens the TS-21 is over-sized on the 150 macro, and that is a good thing. The lens is absolutely rock solid on a good tripod when the collar is locked down tight. My only complaint is that the collar is not really smooth when rotating the lens, but I can forgive that in return for the solidity the collar provides.

ImageGorum_140505_2085_6_7 by bgorum, on Flickr
(Example of ugly background @ f11)

The lens has no significant optical deficiencies that I could find. It goes without saying that it is sharp. If you pixel peak it actually out resolves the Nikon 70-180 micro (viewtopic.php?f=15&t=10603) and believe me, that lens was no slouch optically. Contrast and color are both excellent with the Sigma 150 macro, though I think I may prefer what I got with the 70-180 just slightly here. I never experience any chromatic aberration, distortion, focusing errors, or flare with the Sigma 150 macro. The only complaints I can come up with are that it loses resolution when stopped down beyond f11 (all lenses do) and backgrounds sometimes have a rather harsh look to then. I really never used the Sigma 150 for distant subjects, since I always had the 100-300 for that, so I can’t speak to how it performs there. One of the most pleasant surprises I had with the Sigma 150 was how well it performed on the Sigma 1.4x APO DG converter. I tried that converter on the 100-300 and thought the results were fairly mediocre, but the 150 + 1.4x is a whole different enchilada. The combo is tack sharp, even wide open. This really increases the versatility of the 150 macro, making it a very nice 210mm f4 in situ lizard lens!

ImageGorum_140730_3881 by bgorum, on Flickr
(150 + 1.4x @ f8)

I should note that despite this lens being an internal focusing one, it does still lose light as you focus closer, so the maximum apertures listed above only apply at a distance, not close-up. I never bothered to check what the actual maximum aperture was at 1:1 on my lens, but a quick search of the web, (always a somewhat dubious source), indicates that the maximum aperture at 1:1 is actually f 5.6. This is interesting because this is the same maximum aperture we would expect with a lens focusing to 1:1 via extension alone. Just goes to show how little I understand about optical design I guess. There are a couple other issues for Nikon users. When I was looking to buy this lens I did some research and found out that early versions of the lens did not reflect the loss of light as you focused closer in the camera’s display or in the exif data. In other words, if you had the lens set at f2.8 and the focus at infinity, then changed the focus to minimum focusing distance without changing the aperture, the camera’s display and the image exif data would still say f2.8, even though the effective aperture was smaller. Sigma upgraded the firmware at some point during the lens’s production so that it would display the correct effective aperture with Nikon cameras. Mine had the upgraded firmware. I don’t know if lenses with the earlier firmware can be upgraded to display apertures correctly at close range. The other issue I had was that the lens would not AF in live view with my D7000. This was a big disappointment, since I had hoped to shoot some video of calling spadefoots with the lens last summer.

Like Owen mentioned, this is a great lens for small herps and for in situ photography. It is not so great for posed pictures of medium to large herps. You simply have to be too far, (more than arms length) for that. I ended up carrying and old 55mm f2.8 AF micro Nikkor with me this summer for posed shots while road cruising, etc, because the 150 was just too long in those situations. The non-OS version is now discontinued, but is readily available used in the $400-$500 range. If you need a macro lens with lots of working distance and can live without OS, (I think you can!), then you won’t be disappointed with this one.

ImageGorum_140714_3711 by bgorum, on Flickr
(Road cruised Hognose snake shot from as far away as I could get and still reach it, this is a little tight for my taste)

ImageGorum_140801_4018 by bgorum, on Flickr
(The working distance of the 150 is just about perfect for this kind of shot)

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