Review: Sigma 50-500 f/4.5-6.3 APO

Kerry’s Quick Hit – The Sigma 50-500 lens has a tremendous focal length range which gives it great versatility. The tradeoff in this extreme focal length range is that the lens is fairly heavy.

On a recent vacation I wanted to make sure that no subject was going to be out of range of my camera so I needed a big lens. The problem with long focal length lenses are that they are huge, bulky, and usually fixed to a specific focal length like 400mm. I wanted something more portable and with a wide focal length range so I decided to try out the Sigma 50-500mm lens.

Sigma 50-500m / Canon 70-200mm

The biggest lens I own is the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 is L mk 1. While the Canon lens is a fantastic lens in its own right, on my 7D it is effectively a 112-320mm which is decent for range but pretty long for close subjects. The Sigma is effectively an 80-800mm which works well for close objects as well as having some incredible range.

The top three things I like about the 50-500mm have certainly got to be the huge focal length range, its image stabilization, and its relatively small size. During my vacation there were days that I used the 50-500mm exclusivly because the wide focal length range covered all of the spectrum that I needed. For most things, the image stabilization system worked quite well and helped make some otherwise impossible shots happen. As for the size, the lens fit comfortably in my standard camera case without having making me decide which gear would be left at home.

Keep in mind that this lens was never designed to be your daily walk around lens but since I took it with me specifically as a travel lens, I am going to use that frame of reference here. The two things that bothered me were a rather slow autofocus and the weight. While the autofocus did sem slow compared to my regular lenses I use, you do have to keep in mind the massive focal length range of the lens. My 70-200 has a total range of 130mm and my 24-70 only has a range of 46mm. This monster has a range of 450mm so sometimes the autofocus really has a long way to adjust. The biggest issue I had though was the weight. This is one heavy lens, weighing in at 5 pounds, this beast will put some serious hurt on your shoulder after carrying it around all day.

Extended to 500mm

Focus shift
There is one particular quirk to this lens I have not had on any other zoom lens and this is a focus shift between focal lengths. With other lenses I can zoom in to get my focus and then zoom out to compose my shot, if you do this with this lens your zoomed out shot will be out of focus. I wasn’t able to find an effective work around for this and while I don’t think I really missed any shots because of it, it is something that some people might find annoying.

Who is it for?
I have to admit to struggling a little to answer this question as high end sports photographers and wildlife shooters love those big 400mm f/2.8 or f/4 lenses that allow them to shoot at fast shutter speeds. The relatively slow f/5.6 – f/6.4 is going to be a limiting factor if you don’t have bright conditions. The lens is just too big and heavy for wedding photographers. For nature and landscape shooters its probably an ideal lens as shutter speed is less important and the massive focal length range could actually save from having to lug several different lenses. For most people I would probably recommend the 70-300mm as it is a much more portable lens with a focal length that should work in a wide range of situations.

What about the bokah?
I can just picture many of you rolling your eyes and scoffing at a lens with this aperture range. Keep in mind that depth of field is affected by focal length and distance to subject and not just the aperture size so you can get some really short depth of field when using a long focal length with a nearby subject.



Slideshow of samples from St. Kitts

 Image hosting courtesy of SmugMug

I am a big fan of Sigma lenses and the 50-500mm does not let me down in build quality, sharpness, or results. It isn’t going to be a lens for everyone but if you have a need it can fill you will not be disappointed. At $xxxx it isn’t a quick impulse buy but it is pretty much impossible to find a lens with the versatility that this one has. Despite some of its quirks and the weight I would certainly take it out on other trips where I expect to need the long range but also may have some closer encounters and don’t want to have to change lenses or worse, carry two bodies with different lenses on them.



Kerry Garrison lives in Castle Rock, Colorado with his wife and two dogs. With 10 years of experience shooting products and 5 years of experience in the wedding industry, Kerry brings a good deal of technical know-how and can explain topics in easy-to-understand terms.

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