It has always been the case that when you need a little extra length in an image, a telephoto lens is the first option. As we have been tasked today with finding the best Sigma telephoto lenses under $500, we have to discount Sigma’s well-respected Art series, as the options here are not exactly cheap. But our budget range still allows us access to the equally capable Contemporary range of lenses which are far more affordable.
Sigma, just like the rest of the third-party lens pack has been producing top quality lenses at very affordable price points in recent years. But as we need to stick to a strict budget, telephoto versions are far less in number, which means we need a little leeway in regards to focal lengths to grab a lens under what we have for pocket money.
1. Sigma 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 DC Macro OS HSM Contemporary (Overall Winner)
The Sigma 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 DC Macro OS HSM Contemporary ticks a lot of boxes as a good all-rounder telephoto lens. On crop sensor cameras, the lens provides a healthy 28.8-320mm equivalent focal length, featuring image stabilization and a relatively useful macro mode.
Four special low dispersion and three aspherical elements are included in the optical arrangement, all with a super multi-layer coating. The macro mode offers a 1:3 reproduction ratio with a 39cm close focusing distance. The lens also has other handy features such as a zoom lock switch, which comes into play when you need to lock the lens at a certain focal length.
The macro side of things is a nice side benefit as the 1:3 ratio isn’t exactly full-sized, but it’s respectable enough for occasional macro shooting. The lens really comes alive in good light conditions when the aperture is set to f/5.6 and above, where the sharpest images can be found. In this zone, the lens has plenty of detail, color, and saturation for its price point, with the stabilization system being of most benefit at the longest focal lengths.
If you need a longer stretching lens than the option above, the Sigma 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3 DC Macro OS HSM Contemporary provides the most reach in this price bracket. Mounted on a crop sensor camera, the focal length comes in at 28.8-480mm, which should cover almost every type of telephoto shooting scenario.
To cover such a wide focal range, lots of optical correction is needed. This is why the lens contains a total of 17 elements in 13 groups, including one special low dispersion, four F low dispersion, and three aspherical elements, along with a super multi-layer coating to keep all those light rays in check.
This lens has a Micro mode, with the same 1:3 reproduction ratio as the lens above. Also, the lens features the same Hyper Sonic autofocus motor, which is remarkably quick and quiet, with a full-time manual mode, which is equally capable for video use. The lens has the same zoom lock switch for locking the lens barrel in place as the zoom lens above.
Optically, this lens is roughly on a par with the Sigma 18-200mm, providing the sharpest results from the short to medium telephoto range. The longest focal lengths are just a touch behind the 18-200mm for sharpness levels, but still very capable. The image stabilization system is equally as useful, providing very steady images at the longest focal lengths.
This is one of those good lenses for anything from wide-angle shots to wildlife photography, where you need a telephoto option to do a bit of everything.
Sigma has launched most of their top telephoto lenses into the higher price brackets, which means we will have to stretch out what we can from zooms that verge more into the wide-angle zone for affordable Sigma telephoto lenses. The Sigma 17-70mm f/2.8-4 DC Macro OS HSM Contemporary has an equivalent viewpoint of 27.2-112mm on APS-C format cameras, which at the least is in the middle of the short telephoto zone.
This lens benefits from a wider aperture of f/2.8-4 from the options above, and linked with the image stabilization system, this makes the lens a good option for shooting in low-light conditions. This lens also has a macro mode, with a 1:2.8 reproduction ratio and a quite close focusing distance of 22cm.
The macro mode works remarkably well at this price point, but it’s the telephoto area that has the most benefits. When the lens has its aperture set to f/4, the longest focal lengths provide respectable levels of sharpness which become a good solution for the likes of portrait photography.
If you need to cover more standard focal lengths with a bit of extra range, then the Sigma 17-70mm will cover most day-to-day needs.
4. Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 EX DC OS HSM (Budget Winner)
As the Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 EX DC OS HSM is designed specifically for APS-C format cameras, it provides a 27.2-80mm equivalent focal length, which just about stretches into the short telephoto range. But one of the biggest benefits on this lens is its wide f/2.8 aperture, which when coupled with the image stabilization system makes for a great low-light worker.
Although the lens is reasonably priced, it still features a good helping of quality glass. Included in the optical mix are two F low dispersion and three aspherical elements, with all individual elements being treated to a super multi-layer coating to minimize flare and ghosting.
The autofocus system is quick enough to capture fast-moving objects and the f/2.8 aperture makes it a great portrait shooter. Sharpness levels from the lens are very good in the center at f/2.8, with the overall best results coming in at f/4.
Zooming into the Best Sigma Telephoto Lenses Under $500
While there aren’t a huge amount of cheap Sigma telephoto offerings, the lenses that are available will cover most bases.
As evident from the examples above, in this price bracket, you tend to find lenses that do a bit of everything. This is mainly due to these options being aimed at the beginner or intermediate photographer who wants/needs more variety. Higher-priced options become ever more specialist for when you become more familiar with the exact type of subject matter you wish to shoot.
As a good general all-rounder telephoto option, the affordable Sigma 18-200mm provides good quality images with select features. But if you don’t need such a long reach and prefer a wider and faster aperture, the Sigma 17-50mm represents good value for money while also containing high-quality optics.