When you start to get really serious about long-range photography, there’s nothing like owning a super-telephoto prime lens. There are zoom lenses out there that can cover the same focal length as a 500mm, but a prime lens will always give you that extra zap of quality. However, a 500mm prime is going to be large and heavy, and with so much glass contained inside, they tend to cost a pretty penny.
One alternative solution is the Sigma 500mm f/4.5 EX DG APO HSM, which isn’t exactly cheap, but is still far more cost-effective than camera brand versions.
This Sigma 500mm also benefits from being slightly more cost-effective than the latest and greatest Sigma Sports versions. But no matter how old or cost-effective a lens may be, it still needs to cut it in the wild, which we will soon find out.
Like all substantial 500mm prime lenses, this Sigma option is a pretty large piece of kit, weighing in at 3.1kg, but it’s still lighter than the similar Canon and Nikon varieties. The Sigma 500mm f/4.5 EX DG APO HSM is also useful on APS-C cameras, achieving an 800mm viewpoint.
One of the first things that stands out on this lens is the very sturdy tripod collar, which almost looks like a mini ski sled with built-in finger notches for easy gripping. In the middle of the lens is a substantial focusing ring with a ridged surface for easy gripping. There are other lens features to play with, including a focus limiter switch and a drop-in filter system that can house 46mm filters.
Internally, the optics are arranged with 11 elements in eight groups, with each element being treated to a multi-layer coating to improve overall image quality.
All the focusing is done internally via Sigma’s Hyper Sonic Motor, which also features a full-time manual override. The lens can fit 1.4x and 2x EX DG teleconverters for further extending the range, but you have to be aware that these converters will reduce the maximum aperture.
One aspect that is sorely missed at this focal length is image stabilization, but I guess you can’t have everything with an older lens. Also, these types of lenses spend most of their time sitting on a heavy-duty tripod or monopod to provide the best levels of stability. So, the lack of image stabilization isn’t a huge deal.
The HSM autofocus system is slightly more audible than on the latest range of Sigma glass. The difference is only by a hair and not so much a problem for the majority of times, but it is something to consider. The HSM system is relatively quick to lock onto focus, but this also depends on the particular focusing mode. On a Canon camera, continuous AF had a few missed shots, but copes far better in single-shot mode.
The f/4.5 aperture may not seem ultra-wide for a regular lens, but this aperture hovers around the norm for a typical 500mm lens. This aperture width provides a good degree of smooth background blur at a moment’s notice. The bokeh quality may not be to the levels of the latest versions, but it’s still respectable for its age.
The aperture, when fully wide-open at f/4.5, provides good central sharpness, but the edges are a touch soft. For the sharpest image quality across the frame, the aperture will need stopping down between f/6.3-f/8. Images stay sharp up to f/16. From thereafter diffraction starts to add a touch of softness to the overall quality.
The Sigma 500mm f/4.5 EX DG APO HSM is pretty good at handling the usual amount of lens anomalies, with chromatic aberration in the form of blue or purple fringing being very low even with the aperture wide open. Images are generally rendered with a nice degree of rich color and contrast, which is very neutral-looking.
How Does It Compare to a Sigma Sports Lens?
As the Sigma 500mm f/4.5 EX DG APO HSM is an older style lens, it would generally have to be compared to other older models that have now been discontinued. However, as many people are eyeing up the latest Sigma Art and Sports glass as possible alternatives to camera manufacturer versions, it’s worth making a comparison with the latest Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports.
The Sports version is out there to compete with the best primes currently available, which means it has all the bells and whistles expected for this level of optics. This lens features image stabilization, a slightly wider aperture at f/4, a weatherproofed lens barrel, and a completely reinvigorated optical design and AF system.
The 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports is clearly the better lens of the two, but it’s also a few thousand dollars more in money. This essentially means the bottom line is you are ultimately getting what you pay for. This point is not to sound pessimistic, but rather to show that lenses follow the same rules of diminishing returns as any other product out there. If you want the best and latest stuff, you need to pay that bit extra.
|Sigma APO 500mm f/4.5 EX DG HSM||Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports|
|Min. Focus distance||4m||3.5m|
Final Verdict on the Sigma 500mm f/4.5 EX DG APO HSM
The Sigma 500mm f/4.5 EX DG APO HSM can produce some very high-quality results when the focus locks on accurately. Images are produced with rich color and respectable levels of contrast, but you also may have to bump up the aperture for the sharpest results across the frame. Image stabilization would have been a great addition, but if you really need this facility, you’ll have to buy into one of the more contemporary lenses.
If you’re more of an occasional shooter or don’t need mission-critical optics, then the Sigma 500mm f/4.5 EX DG APO HSM can provide very good results in the right hands. However, those who want the smoothest bokeh with the sharpest images, backed up with an image stabilization system, you will have to fork out a few thousand dollars extra for the privilege.
Obviously, if you go down this route, the Sigma Sports, Canon, or Nikon versions are the tastiest morsels on the menu. But, the Sigma 500mm f/4.5 EX DG APO SM can still hold its own, if you don’t mind stopping down a little and can do without image stabilization.