We’ve all seen the photos, so it is real. It looks very well built, so it will be hefty. As will the price, somewhere in the $7000 USD range. It will have a built in 1.25x TC so it will have an effective maximum reach of 500mm at f/6.3.
I’m not really a zoom kind of guy, I prefer to shoot with primes but high focal length zooms are certainly very versatile and in the field they are even more valued where changing lenses can be both dangerous and frankly impossible. And modern zoom designs have really narrowed the difference in optical performance when compared with primes. The only sector that zooms can’t displace are the superfast primes (f/1.0-1.4) where the size and weight of the front element would be nearly impossible to wield and the price impossible to rationalize. But I am working on convincing Sigma to let me have their 200-500mm f/2.8 for a week!
Let me introduce you to my idea of an alternative lens to the upcoming Zuiko 150-400mm: the Sigma 60-600mm f/4.5-6.3. My thanks to Sigma Canada for their generosity in lending me this lens.
Sigma has once again demonstrated great innovation in producing an unexpected new tele zoom model with an unheard of 10x focal length range. And they manage to still keep production in their historic northern Japanese factory without having to resort to production in Vietnam or worse, China. The corona virus pandemic is a reminder to the world that we must not let China subsume production of nearly everything that we use – not only are we doing business with an evil dictatorship but it is that very dictatorship’s arrogance and conceit that allowed the current health crisis to threaten to infect the entire global population.
Sigma switched to the novel use of carbon fiber reinforced plastics and thermally stable magnesium composites to reduce weight and allow weather sealing. The Sigma compares favorably in size with the 2x TC attached to the Zuiko 300mm f/4 to yield a 600mm f/8 lens. The Sigma is just a little longer, a little wider and a little heavier than the Zuiko combination – this is not an engineering miracle because the Sigma does not incorporate internal zooming. As the focal length increases, the Sigma extends to nearly double it’s length. But it is relatively compact to carry until you have to deploy it. All this for only $1700 USD.
I ran my usual resolution tests with the Olympus EPL-5 body at ISO1200 (to offset the very slow Zuiko at f/8) and a commercially printed ISO12233 resolution chart and HYRes3.1 software as described in an earlier blog. In addition to testing it against the Zuiko 300mm f/4, I also tested it against the Sigma 300-800mm f/5.6 super telezoom. Both Sigmas have Canon EOS mounts allowing them to be adapted to Olympus bodies with full AF and aperture control using Metabones adaptors without optics and with 0.71x reducing optics (Metabones Speedbooster 0.71X Ultra). This made the Sigma lenses faster and with an even wider range of focal lengths so that their larger size mandated by use in full frame sensored DSLRs would not necessarily be a disadvantage.
A couple of caveats to explain the test results. My house was just big enough to test the two Sigma lenses at a maximum focal length of 500mm. The short size of the Zuiko 300mm f/4 allowed me to test it at 600mm with the back of EPL-5 rubbing against my family room wall. Both Sigma lenses perform better with the Metabones 0.71x reducer which also gives an additional full stop of aperture. Both Sigmas perform optically similar to the Zuiko at the various focal lengths, the Zuiko might show marginally higher resolution but whether those absolute numbers are accurate – it is also doubtful if such differences would be visible after post production of the images.
The takeaway from this chart is that the Sigma 60-600mm gives consistent performance throughout its focal length range which is valued in a zoom. So I expect the Sigma at 600mm to perform with equivalent image quality as the Zuiko 300mm f/4 with 2.0x TC. Let’s see what the real world gives us. I took a nature hike with two camera bodies and two lenses on slings as shown in the title image of this blog entry.
So what image was shot with what lens? Left Cardinal and Mrs. Cardinal, right cattail, left construction crane hook, and left side ducks – were all shot with the Sigma. The Zuiko actually failed to achieve correct focus on the crane hook even though through the EVF I thought it had!
The Sigma 60-600mm f/4.5-6.3 is a viable alternative to the upcoming Zuiko 100-450mm f/4.5. With a Metabones 0.71x reducer, the Sigma becomes a 42-420mm with an aperture of f/4.5 at the far end. Image quality is likely comparable but the Sigma will have a huge price advantage. I also prefer my zooms to be internally zooming – there’s something amateurish with a zoom that has an extending front element. But there is another compelling reason to stay with team Zuiko. Focus speed. Adapted optics tends to have more sluggish S-AF speeds and by extension equally handicapped C-AF performance. I manually focused each lens to its closest focusing distance and aimed it at a roof vent on a house across the street. The Zuiko (f/8) took 0.9 seconds to achieve focus. The Sigma 60-600mm took 2.1 seconds. The Sigma 300-800mm took 1 minute, 7 seconds and repeated pressing of the shutter release. The big Sigma does not have a focus limiter switch so it took several attempts for the range of the focal length sweep to reach close enough to infinity before focus lock was possible. Luckily the Sigma 60-600mm has a three position focus limiter switch like the Zuiko.
It is true that we don’t know enough about how the new Zuiko 150-400mm will perform but it it unlikely that it will surpass the optical quality of the Zuiko 300mm f/4 prime. Its pricing will be expensive. Which makes it a wonder how Sigma is able to produce such an optically complex zoom for such a reasonable price. Given that it also has very good optical performance throughout its entire focal length range makes it a true alternative to the Zuiko 150-400mm.
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