Review Sigma 150mm F/2.8 EX macro REVIEW

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#1
Lens: Sigma 150mm f/2.8 EX DG APO HSM IF MACRO

Price: avg. roughly £570 new


Took delivery of my new sigma 150mm macro a few days ago, and I've been putting it through it's paces in the field.


Focal length: 150mm. a good, long length for photographing skittish insects. Also quite a nice length for long portraits.

Max aperture: f/2.8. This is the only macro lens above 105mm to offer an aperture of f/2.8. Nice faster shutter speeds and blurred backgrounds, mean it's got good application as a general purpose long lens (though for this a zoom is more flexible).

Image quality: Excellent. Nicely sharp at f/2.8, getting VERY sharp past f/3.5. Softer past f/16 due to diffraction (but this is normal for any lens). Excellent image quality at all the apertures normally used for macro. I haven't noticed any vignetting or chromatic aberrations. Bokeh is very smooth.

Build quality: Excellent. Solid feeling metal barrel. Feels like a quality piece of equipment in your hands. The switches feel nice and sturdy. The 'crinkly' EX finish grips well, but also picks up dirt easily. The large manual focus ring feels smooth and easy to turn, yet nice and secure.

Auto focus: Reasonable for a macro. Not too slow, good accuracy. Hunts a bit in low light, but the limiter helps a lot. Silent thanks to HSM motor.

Accessories: Includes a lens hood, metal tripod collar and padded case. The lens hood is tight and secure. The tripod collar is solid and nicely designed. The case doesn't have a belt loop, but does have a shoulder strap. My one caveat here is the front cap that came with it is very poor, it's loose and doesn't stay on well. I've replaced it with another older sigma cap (I happened to have spare), which isn't centre pinch but holds in place much better. The rear cap isn't as tight fitting as the canon ones, but perfectly adequate.

Weather sealing: No. This is one thing I would like to see on this lens. But none of it's competition is weather sealed, so this isn't a negative piont.

Size and weight: Nice weight to it. Not too heavy, but you know you're holding something. Size is nicely compact.

Value for money: Very good. Image quality is pretty much on par with a canon 180mm L series, which costs twice as much.

Competition: Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX, Sigma 180mm f/3.5 EX, canon 100mm f/2.8 / f/2.8L IS (or Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 VR), canon 180mm L f/3.5 (or nikkor 200mm f/4).

The 150 compares well to all these lenses. It doesn't have VR/IS, but is suitably cheaper than the lenses that do. It's a lot cheaper than the canon 180mm or nikkor 200mm, but with the same great IQ and faster (though a bit shorter).
To me, it's main competition comes from it's bigger brother, the sigma 180mm f/3.5 EX. The bodies of these lenses are very similar, just the 180mm is larger. The extra 30mm might be useful in some instances, but it is also larger, heavier and slower. The 150mm is hand-holdable, not as easily as the ~100mm macros (especially the VR/IS models), but with good technique it is within my limit of hand holding. With the 180mm I tried, I struggled to handhold it, this lens seems more suited to a tripod (where it excels as a direct rival to the canon 180L). The 180mm is a bargain now it has been discontinued, I've seen them going for under £400 excellent condition used, which is crazy good value for a lens that can easily rival the canon 180L or nikkor 200mm micro.

It's worth considering all the above lenses, and pick the one best suited to your needs.



Summary:

I think the 150mm is an excellent lens for the price. Great IQ, great working distance for insects, and well made.
Highly recommended.



Sample pictures:










-UPDATE-
There is now an OS version of this lens available.
The price has risen significantly, but it now has OS (making it the longest optically stabilised macro AFAIK), sigma's new weather sealing (yet to be tested) and slightly enhanced optics (as well as sigma's newer much nicer finish).
While the 150 OS doesn't seem quite the amazing value as the older version, it still sounds pretty darn good bang for buck compared with the canon 180L and nikkor 200 micro, neither of which is stabilised or sealed (though I don't yet know the effectiveness of the sealing).
 
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#4
Looking at this as my next lens, what is the focus speed like because rid have to double up as a short telephoto for me...
 
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The focus speed is OK. Not brilliant, but reasonable if you engage the limiter. Perfectly good enough for day to day stuff, but maybe a little slow for sports. It tends to hunt a bit in low light. But I'm perfectly happy with the auto focus when I use it. (I just leave the focus limiter engaged all the time, since I'm never going to use AF for things closer than 0.52m)



There has now been a new OS version of this lens announced, incorporating sigma's image stabilisation. As far as I've heard, the optics are very similar, probably just with reduced vignetting and CA (but I've never noticed either of them in my 150).

Might be worth waiting and seeing what that is priced at before buying a 'old' version one.


Personally, even if I could afford to sell my 'old' 150 and buy an OS one, I don't think I would.
That money is better spent on flash, so you get get shutter speeds fast enough to freeze wind movement/ insect movement.

But if OS would be useful to you, the new version looks interesting!
 
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Les McLean

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#7
Good, well balanced and informative review....thanks (y)
 
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#8
I've had three of these yep three - awesome lens & I'll recommend it to anyone whose after a macro lens...

One thing thou - in all of the three that I've owned they've all been on a crop sensor body (Nikon's) & now I've gone FF with a D700 I would like to know what its like :confused:
 
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#12
Last picture is a full picture. Taken at close to 1:1 mag (it was a very large horse fly).
Downsizing tends to soften a bit, clicking the banner at the top of the images for the higher-res versions shows better sharpness.

This lens is a true macro lens, so goes to 1:1 magnification (i.e, on your D300 if you photograph a ruler at closest focus distance you should capture an area ~23mm across.
 

mrjames

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That last picture, is that a crop or just resized for the forum?
How close can you get with this lens? :)
it does a 1:1 ratio, so i'm guessing it is cropped image unless the bug is freaking huge



I like the 150mm macro, but my concerns with it are that it is big and heavy compared to a 100mm, and (if you know me you know I bang on about perspective like my life depends on it- but good images do depend on it so...) being a 150mm the increased working distance makes the perspective incredibly flat, and IMO makes images shot with a wider macro inheritantly more interesting as they capture a sense of scale that is lost with the 150mm

You might not even be able to spot this, but shoot a 150mm and a 100mm for a couple of years side by side and you'll start to notice that you prefer the 100mm images but until i'd given you this information you didn't know why. Of course getting the image in the first place is more important than the semantics of perspective, so in that respect the longer working distance might actually get you the image where as the 100mm will just get you a picture of an empty scene. But if you have the option to get closer with a 100 then you're going to get a better shot (unless you're consiously using the flatter perspective for artistic means), as ferris bueller once said "If you have the means, I definitely recommend picking one up)

One more thing, the increased telephotoness of the 150mm means that you're depth of field is even less at a given distance- so you must increase ISO to get a larger depth of field, or use more flash power and eat up batteries quicker.


I am still of the opinion that 100mm is the ideal length, especially on crop.
I've shot a lot of macro lenses: the tamron 90mm was one of my first lenses, and it was my favourite optically, but AF sucked so I couldn't use it as a short tele- it was a tiny lens though.
I sold it for the canon 100mm, AF was much improved but the bokeh was non circular when stopped down which meant I couldn't use it for professional use.
I then got the sigma, it does have silky bokeh and it is circular, but AF is mediocre, I don't like how far forward the focus ring is, the lens is ugly, it is massive with the hood and the perspective issue is annoying. It is sharper than the canon at 2.8 IMO, but not as sharp as the tamron at 2.8.
In short- use the right lens for the job, a 150mm is the tight tool if you're dealing with super paranoid insects, or are using it as a mid tele for gig photography when there is a physical barrier (or a metaphorical barrier of social convention)- in all other circumstances getting closer will always result in better images- I quote Robert Kappa "If your picture isn't good enough, you're not close enough."

The sigma 70-200 OS is vastly improved over the orignal in optical quality (I know because I have shot them both), so I would imagine the 150mm macro to be a bit better too. The canon 100mm IS solves the bokeh problem, looks sexy, has decent AF- and would be my choice of macro lens for double duty portrait/short tele
Alternatively I would pick up the tamron 90mm for MF macro and a canon 85mm for short tele. If you're really serious about macro, and only want the lens for macro- then don't discredit the mpe-65- wonderful lens!
 
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#14
it does a 1:1 ratio, so i'm guessing it is cropped image unless the bug is freaking huge
True, it was either Tabanus sudeticus or Tabanus bovinus, our two largest species of horse fly, and among our largest flies overall. With biting jaws like that I was very happy to have some extra working distance :eek:

One more thing, the increased telephotoness of the 150mm means that you're depth of field is even less at a given distance- so you must increase ISO to get a larger depth of field, or use more flash power and eat up batteries quicker.
That's a bit of a misconception, longer focal lengths don't actually have smaller DoF unless you're getting close to the hyperfocal distance (which is hardly the case for macro). In fact, it is easier to obtain a larger DoF with a longer lens if you're trying to keep the background blurred, because the perspective gives more diffuse backgrounds you can shoot as smaller apertures and maintain the same level of background blur for things like flowers.
True the DoF is less at a given distance, but the longer focal length means you won't shoot at the same distance, you'll move further away to get the same framing.


I've never seen a flat perspective issue at all, in fact some of the most "popping" macro's I've seen were taken with 180mm macros combined with 1.4x converters for an even longer focal length.
 
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#15
Some more sample pictures from using this lens as a general telephoto (all shot somewhere between f/2.8 and f/4):


Feather by adamhawtin2, on Flickr


BW-8920 by adamhawtin2, on Flickr


BW-8915 by adamhawtin2, on Flickr


BW-8912 by adamhawtin2, on Flickr


BW_IMG_5271 by adamhawtin2, on Flickr


_IMG_5266ebw by adamhawtin2, on Flickr


In the last two here you can see the helical bokeh pattern this lens gives wide open at normal distances. It's even more evident on full frame cameras, and I've seen it used to fantastic effect for portrait shots.
 
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#16
Love #1 and #4... compositionally very appealing and the B&W conversions in all cases are very aesthetically pleasing. Nice lens.....
 
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#17
Love #1 and #4... compositionally very appealing and the B&W conversions in all cases are very aesthetically pleasing. Nice lens.....
Thank you, I can spend quite a while fiddling with the contrast and individual colour luminance when I'm converting to B&W.

The more I use this lens, the more I would recommend it. It's perhaps not as easy to get used to as a shorter lighter macro lens, but it's getting more rewarding as I improve with it. I'm also greatly satisfied with it as a general medium telephoto, while it may not have speedy AF, it's IQ and bokeh rendering are superb. Also great for outdoor portraits, you can get great separation at f/2.8 and give subjects a lot of breathing room as it were (though I don't use it like this very often).

When it was all snowy last weekend I went out with just this lens on my 40D and a pentax MX SLR with a 50mm and really enjoyed shooting like that, it makes an interesting partner to a wide/standard lens for picking out detail in landscapes.


E1-8909 by adamhawtin2, on Flickr

(f/2.8, the vignette is added)
 
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#18
squishy said:
Thank you, I can spend quite a while fiddling with the contrast and individual colour luminance when I'm converting to B&W.

The more I use this lens, the more I would recommend it. It's perhaps not as easy to get used to as a shorter lighter macro lens, but it's getting more rewarding as I improve with it. I'm also greatly satisfied with it as a general medium telephoto, while it may not have speedy AF, it's IQ and bokeh rendering are superb. Also great for outdoor portraits, you can get great separation at f/2.8 and give subjects a lot of breathing room as it were (though I don't use it like this very often).

When it was all snowy last weekend I went out with just this lens on my 40D and a pentax MX SLR with a 50mm and really enjoyed shooting like that, it makes an interesting partner to a wide/standard lens for picking out detail in landscapes.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/75758432@N08/6842043923/
E1-8909 by adamhawtin2, on Flickr

(f/2.8, the vignette is added)
Another beautiful photo and a lovely conversion. Do you use quadtone at all for you B&W conversions (assumption here that you have photoshop!) I ask because the tone in one of your photos looks to have a very faint cyanish tint (the one with the flowers) while the others look slightly warmer if that makes any sense. It could just be my screen of course :)
 
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#19
Would be great to see some examples of the close-up macro potential of this lens (strong hint for some pics!) please... :)
 
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#20
Another beautiful photo and a lovely conversion. Do you use quadtone at all for you B&W conversions (assumption here that you have photoshop!) I ask because the tone in one of your photos looks to have a very faint cyanish tint (the one with the flowers) while the others look slightly warmer if that makes any sense. It could just be my screen of course :)
Thanks, most of them are done in Lightroom (Lr4 beta at the moment), some have a mild blue/cream split tone. The dandelions one does have a different tone, it's a very crude split tone done in DPP using the individual R, B, G curve editors to apply different tints to shadows and highlights.

Would be great to see some examples of the close-up macro potential of this lens (strong hint for some pics!) please... :)
There's some at the top of the thread, but I'll gladly post some more:


Grass snake by Adamhawtin, on Flickr


Agapanthia villosoviridescens by Adamhawtin, on Flickr


Tench by Adamhawtin, on Flickr


Andrena by Adamhawtin, on Flickr


Porcelain fungus by Adamhawtin, on Flickr


And this last one has a pentax 50mm reversed on the front of the 150mm to achieve much higher magnification.


Bee close up. by Adamhawtin, on Flickr
 
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#21
squishy said:
Thanks, most of them are done in Lightroom (Lr4 beta at the moment), some have a mild blue/cream split tone. The dandelions one does have a different tone, it's a very crude split tone done in DPP using the individual R, B, G curve editors to apply different tints to shadows and highlights.

There's some at the top of the thread, but I'll gladly post some more:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/adamhphotography/5772630737/
Grass snake by Adamhawtin, on Flickr

http://www.flickr.com/photos/adamhphotography/5786271306/
Agapanthia villosoviridescens by Adamhawtin, on Flickr

http://www.flickr.com/photos/adamhphotography/5773308850/
Tench by Adamhawtin, on Flickr

http://www.flickr.com/photos/adamhphotography/5603802296/
Andrena by Adamhawtin, on Flickr

http://www.flickr.com/photos/adamhphotography/5324165612/
Porcelain fungus by Adamhawtin, on Flickr

And this last one has a pentax 50mm reversed on the front of the 150mm to achieve much higher magnification.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/adamhphotography/5606257651/
Bee close up. by Adamhawtin, on Flickr
Thanks for the info on the split-toning! Also, am amazed at the macro capabilities of your lens! An excellent piece of glass (in the right hands of course :) ).....
 
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