Canon 500mm f4 IS vs Sigma 150-500mm DG OS HSM

I had an opportunity recently to perform  a comparison of the Sigma 150-500mm DG OS lens vs my much used Canon 500 mm f4 IS. The latest Sigma zoom with image stabilization (OS) has much appeal as it is a relatively  light weight lens with optical image stabilization and it covers a wide zoom range. Many of us have a real need  for a hand holdable lens of 500 mm. This test compares two scenes shot on tripod with both lens and a Canon 7D body using the same camera settings.  The small area in red is shown as cropped to actual pixels with no sharpening applied. The point of focus was the wood screw on the bridge and the center of the foliage on the tree scene.

target image 1

target image 2

Crops of actual pixels from the two scenes above

comparsion crops


Clearly there is more fine detail and contrast in the  images from the Canon  lens. The Canon at f4 is better than the Sigma at f8 though the Sigma produces usable sharpness and does not do bad for a zoom. Corners are much sharper on the Canon, Color fringing shows up at the corners and edges with the Sigma, not visible with the Canon.   The magnification is greater with the Canon lens, if the Canon is a true 500 mm then the Sigma appears to be closer to 470 mm. (compare the size of the screw heads). The sharpness of the Sigma clearly benefits from stopping down from f6.3 to f8.  Unfortunately the wildlife photographer often needs fast shutter speeds hence f4 and f5.6.  Be aware early models of the Sigma had incompatibility issues with Canon 40D bodies (now rectified). I strongly recommend testing all lens  for image quality immediately upon purchase as sample to sample variation is a problem with some models. In sum  the Sigma lens may be a reasonable low cost alternative within it's limitations and  is one of the only low cost long lens alternatives  for Nikon users.

The Canon 500 f4 IS retails for around $6000 USD vs $1000 for the Sigma 150-500 DG OS at B&H, the Sigma is available in Nikon, Pentax and Sony mount as well.

So what does the Canon's $5000 price difference get you?

- faster autofocus

- sharper and more contrasty
- maximum aperture 1 1\3 stops faster at f4 vs f6.3
- a longer true focal length
- focus limiter settings ( invaluable! )
- focus distance preset
- programmable lens buttons

So what adavantage is there to the Sigma

- Lighter at 4.2 Lbs vs the Canon at 8.5 Lbs 
- tripod collar is removable to reduce weight for handheld operation
- much less expensive
- much closer focusing 7.2 feet vs 14.8 feet
- optical image stabilizer is supposed to be good for 3-4 stops vs Canon's 2 stops claimed
- zoom rather than fixed focal length

Sigma lens at B&H

Canon 500mm f4 IS



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