October 01, 2014, 07:26:58 AM

Author Topic: Sigma 300-800mm f5.6  (Read 2921 times)

Steve

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Sigma 300-800mm f5.6
« on: July 21, 2014, 11:32:08 PM »
White-Breasted Nuthatch by No Small Wave, on Flickr
Canon 1DIV, Sigma 300-800mm f5.6 @5.6, ISO3200, 1/640

As a student working part time, I don't have much cash available to me to buy gear to do what I really want to do, which is take amazing photos of cool birds.  As we all know, that gear is expensive. Obscenely, grotesquely expensive. Basically, you really need to be independently wealthy or a retired aerospace engineer or something to even think of taking up this hobby.  Since I can't even come close to affording a 600 f4 IS II, I'd been looking at other options including used, non-IS Canon 600's and the Sigma 800mm prime or 300-800mm zoom, all while saving up what money I could.

While looking into the Sigma 800, I realized that there is very very little info out there.  No one has really given it a comprehensive review and info and sample pics are scarce.  There's one kinda crazy guy who wrote an entire online book about bird photography who wrote a page about it but that's about it.  I'd pretty much figured on trying to save up for an old Canon lens and hope it didn't break ever.

So a couple months ago, by complete Craigslist serendipity, I got a stellar deal on a used Sigmonster.  I just couldn't pass it up.  It sat around for a while until this summer when my schedule finally allowed me a chance to do some bird photography.   So here's what I've found out about it so far:

1) It is not a telescope.  For some reason, I tried using it like it would somehow allow me to take sharp photos of sparrows 30m away.  Not gonna happen.  800mm is not that much longer than the 600mm I was used to (300mm non-IS + 2x TC).  Once I wrapped my head around that, things were much better.

2) AF is quick and generally very accurate.  It's at least as accurate as my 300 at 2.8 and more accurate than the 300 with the TC.  Its obviously not as fast as the bare 300, but it is quicker than the the 300 with 2x TC by a good margin.  The AF is silent.

3) The lens is wicked sharp at 800mm.  At first, I was disappointed with the sharpness because of point #1 but once I started using it correctly, the results were fantastic.

4) The lens is really contrasty. This is something I've noticed with other Sigma lenses, too.  A lot more contrast than the Canon 300.

5) The lens is unbelievably heavy.  I thought that wouldn't be a problem since I routinely hand hold my non-IS 300 2.8 and carry that around on a BR style over-the-shoulder strap, but holy crap the Sigma is a millstone.  It is tripod only.  I've taken some hand held shots, and its fine for a few, but there is no way this goes anywhere without a tripod and gimbal head (which I have, fortunately).

6) IT WILL NOT TAKE A TELECONVERTER.  This is one thing I'm actually really bummed out about.  I wanted an 800mm lens so that I could get 1120mm out of it.  I have a 1D, it should (and does) focus at f8.  Of course, a TC will physically fit and manually focus, but Sigma disabled AF with all TC's for this lens (I know because I checked with them). I bought a Kenko 1.4x specifically so that it would AF with my 1dIV, which it should do, and it doesn't.  I taped off the contacts to trick it into autofocusing and it works but IQ is iffy.  Its going to be a case of using it only when absolutely necessary to get the shot.

Here's a few more shots I've taken with the lens:

Chipping Sparrow by No Small Wave, on Flickr

Hammond's Flycatcher by No Small Wave, on Flickr

Semipalmated Plover by No Small Wave, on Flickr

Black-bellied Plover by No Small Wave, on Flickr

Here's one I took with a 1.4x TC

Semipalmated Sandpiper by No Small Wave, on Flickr


If anyone else has, or had, this lens and would like to share their thoughts, that would be great.  If anyone has questions about it, I can try to answer them.  I know at least one person here messaged me about it a while back.

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Sigma 300-800mm f5.6
« on: July 21, 2014, 11:32:08 PM »

Jim Saunders

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Re: Sigma 300-800mm f5.6
« Reply #1 on: July 22, 2014, 02:16:18 AM »
I'm interested to hear about this too; I had a 200-400 for the local airshow but I'd be very curious to shoot the next one with this lens and see what I get.

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justaCanonuser

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Re: Sigma 300-800mm f5.6
« Reply #2 on: July 22, 2014, 05:00:21 AM »
Great images, Steve, wonderful! Past year I had the chance to test the Sigmonster in a Sigma booth on Frankfurt Book Fair (Germany). No joke, I was totally surprised to find this booth there, and we spend some time with the really nice guy running the booth. Unfortunately they only had some Rebel DSLRs to try the Sigmonster with, which was pretty useless, because they could not microadjust the lenses AF system - it had a severe frontfocus (if I remember correctly). I managed to get some test shots of people far away with MF and liveview-magnification and was pretty impressed how sharp this lens is (much better than I expected from a zoom). I read some user's complaints about the lack of sharpness of this lens on the web, but this might be caused by AF issues or there are copies with not so well adjusted lenses out there.  As you said, unfortunately, there are only a few reviews available that tell you a bit more, and that are up-to-date with recent camera models.

If the Sigmonster would not be that monstrous heavy, I'd seriously consider getting me a copy. With my old 500 prime plus some more lenses and two DSLRs, I still can hike a bit in rough terrain and on steep hills, but with such a monster lens on my back I'd really lose too much radius of action. I am no Schwarzenegger, and I don't travel with Sherpas.


I bought a Kenko 1.4x specifically so that it would AF with my 1dIV, which it should do, and it doesn't.  I taped off the contacts to trick it into autofocusing and it works but IQ is iffy.  Its going to be a case of using it only when absolutely necessary to get the shot.


If you have access to Canon's 1.4 Mark III TC I'd highly recommend to test this one side-by-side with your Kenko TC. You won't get AF (without taping  pins), but its optical quality is superior, at least with my Canon lenses (e.g. a vintage EF 500/4.5). I always wasn't happy with my 1.4x Kenko (Teleplus Pro 300) but thought that's simply because TC's aren't better. That changed when I got Canon's 3rd generation TCs, I was really - positively - surprised. Now I use TC's much more frequently than before. Might be worth a trial how Canon's 1.4 TC III works with your Sigmonster.

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banlu

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Re: Sigma 300-800mm f5.6
« Reply #3 on: July 22, 2014, 06:19:09 AM »
Hi.
I have one. Excellent lens, but complex to be used and heay to transported.
Good quality (but not as good as a Canon Tele), sharp and contrast are good.
Very heavy and very prone to micro-shaking. E.g. sometime I even obtained better resuts handhelded. On a tripod you need to stabilise the lens otherwise you may risk poor results. IS would be beneficial. No focus limiter is an other issue.
E.g. you will be happy with the images, but will need much more dedication than with a Canon Tele.




Great images, Steve, wonderful! Past year I had the chance to test the Sigmonster in a Sigma booth on Frankfurt Book Fair (Germany). No joke, I was totally surprised to find this booth there, and we spend some time with the really nice guy running the booth. Unfortunately they only had some Rebel DSLRs to try the Sigmonster with, which was pretty useless, because they could not microadjust the lenses AF system - it had a severe frontfocus (if I remember correctly). I managed to get some test shots of people far away with MF and liveview-magnification and was pretty impressed how sharp this lens is (much better than I expected from a zoom). I read some user's complaints about the lack of sharpness of this lens on the web, but this might be caused by AF issues or there are copies with not so well adjusted lenses out there.  As you said, unfortunately, there are only a few reviews available that tell you a bit more, and that are up-to-date with recent camera models.

If the Sigmonster would not be that monstrous heavy, I'd seriously consider getting me a copy. With my old 500 prime plus some more lenses and two DSLRs, I still can hike a bit in rough terrain and on steep hills, but with such a monster lens on my back I'd really lose too much radius of action. I am no Schwarzenegger, and I don't travel with Sherpas.


I bought a Kenko 1.4x specifically so that it would AF with my 1dIV, which it should do, and it doesn't.  I taped off the contacts to trick it into autofocusing and it works but IQ is iffy.  Its going to be a case of using it only when absolutely necessary to get the shot.


If you have access to Canon's 1.4 Mark III TC I'd highly recommend to test this one side-by-side with your Kenko TC. You won't get AF (without taping  pins), but its optical quality is superior, at least with my Canon lenses (e.g. a vintage EF 500/4.5). I always wasn't happy with my 1.4x Kenko (Teleplus Pro 300) but thought that's simply because TC's aren't better. That changed when I got Canon's 3rd generation TCs, I was really - positively - surprised. Now I use TC's much more frequently than before. Might be worth a trial how Canon's 1.4 TC III works with your Sigmonster.

Steve

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Re: Sigma 300-800mm f5.6
« Reply #4 on: July 22, 2014, 11:15:38 AM »
Great images, Steve, wonderful!

Thanks!.

If you have access to Canon's 1.4 Mark III TC I'd highly recommend to test this one side-by-side with your Kenko TC. You won't get AF (without taping  pins), but its optical quality is superior, at least with my Canon lenses (e.g. a vintage EF 500/4.5). I always wasn't happy with my 1.4x Kenko (Teleplus Pro 300) but thought that's simply because TC's aren't better. That changed when I got Canon's 3rd generation TCs, I was really - positively - surprised. Now I use TC's much more frequently than before. Might be worth a trial how Canon's 1.4 TC III works with your Sigmonster.

I have a Canon 1.4x mkII. It doesn't work as well as the Kenko, unfortunately, because when I use the tape trick the AF bounces and has trouble locking focus. The kenko locks much easier. IQ wise, they seem about the same. The Sigma just doesn't play well with TC's it seems, which is disappointing.

I have one. Excellent lens, but complex to be used and heay to transported.
Good quality (but not as good as a Canon Tele), sharp and contrast are good.
Very heavy and very prone to micro-shaking. E.g. sometime I even obtained better resuts handhelded. On a tripod you need to stabilise the lens otherwise you may risk poor results. IS would be beneficial. No focus limiter is an other issue.
E.g. you will be happy with the images, but will need much more dedication than with a Canon Tele.

Yep, it is definitely challenging to use and camera shake is a real issue. Shooting from a car is especially challenging because of the size and difficulty keeping it stable. I may end up making a custom beanbag for my truck or getting one of those apex ones that you can mount a gimbal head to.

justaCanonuser

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Re: Sigma 300-800mm f5.6
« Reply #5 on: July 23, 2014, 03:33:03 AM »
I have a Canon 1.4x mkII. It doesn't work as well as the Kenko, unfortunately, because when I use the tape trick the AF bounces and has trouble locking focus. The kenko locks much easier. IQ wise, they seem about the same. The Sigma just doesn't play well with TC's it seems, which is disappointing.


I never had the MkII version but according to reviews I read the MkIII versions are completely redesigned and optically a huge leap to better quality - at least with Canon's native lenses, of course. I'll never use my Kenko again, I think I gonna sell it on ebay...
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Steve

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Re: Sigma 300-800mm f5.6
« Reply #6 on: September 06, 2014, 02:04:34 PM »
Haven't had any updates here in a while so here's a Greater Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs by No Small Wave, on Flickr

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Re: Sigma 300-800mm f5.6
« Reply #6 on: September 06, 2014, 02:04:34 PM »

Steve

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Re: Sigma 300-800mm f5.6
« Reply #7 on: September 06, 2014, 02:16:41 PM »
Also, some further updates on field use:

The AF performs very well for the most part but it did struggle a bit in the early morning low light on small targets while I was laying flat on the ground.  It would often hunt back and forth even when aimed at what I felt like should have been pretty obvious subjects.  Once the sun peeked up the problem mostly solved itself.  It seems like the 5.6 max aperture might be on the small side and, combined with the super low angle and low light, made it a bit frustrating at times.  I've had similar issues with my 300 2.8 + 2x TC although not as pronounced.

On the plus side, when I got this lens I assumed I was going to have the zoom ring welded to the long end but when shooting these larger shorebirds being able to zoom out to frame the shot was fantastic.  The above shot was taken at 687mm according to EXIF and only slightly cropped for composition.  I have several frames with clipped tails and legs from when birds came in too close and I didn't zoom out.

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Re: Sigma 300-800mm f5.6
« Reply #8 on: September 06, 2014, 02:54:42 PM »
I've had one for 7 years now and love it.  For all of the downfalls you mentioned and with which I concur, the ability to compose through the lens is huge for me.  Also, with the 5DIII, I'm able to use a Kenko 2x converter with Live view and autofocus works quite well.  It is slow, which is certainly not conducive to working with quick subjects, but for shots like these owl images, the results are superb both with and without the converter.  The last 3 shots are with the converter attached using live view autofocus.

I have noticed a huge difference between the quality when attached to my 7D vs my 5DIII.  The noisier sensor on the 7D renders the images soft when compared to those shot with the 5DIII.
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Steve

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Re: Sigma 300-800mm f5.6
« Reply #9 on: September 06, 2014, 03:04:18 PM »
Also, with the 5DIII, I'm able to use a Kenko 2x converter with Live view and autofocus works quite well.  It is slow, which is certainly not conducive to working with quick subjects, but for shots like these owl images, the results are superb both with and without the converter.  The last 3 shots are with the converter attached using live view autofocus.

Huh, wow, never even thought to try it with the live view AF.  All of the subjects I've been shooting have been too quick.  Do you have to tape off the contacts to get it to focus?  At any rate, good to know that can be done.  I'll keep it in mind for waterfowl season coming up.  1600mm would be nice to have on some ponds.

Nice owls, btw.  I like the peekaboo shot.

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Re: Sigma 300-800mm f5.6
« Reply #10 on: September 06, 2014, 03:16:49 PM »
No tape needed. It works just like a directly connected lens using live view.  It's just a bit slower locking down the focus.
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Re: Sigma 300-800mm f5.6
« Reply #11 on: September 06, 2014, 03:28:49 PM »
Have you tried any of the Sigma TC's ?

Steve

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Re: Sigma 300-800mm f5.6
« Reply #12 on: September 06, 2014, 06:20:49 PM »
I haven't although they are supposedly announcing a new 1.4x and 2x.  I wonder if they will work with the 300-800 or not.  Probably not because I think, from talking with a Sigma rep, that the lens has some specific design issue that makes TC's problematic.

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Re: Sigma 300-800mm f5.6
« Reply #12 on: September 06, 2014, 06:20:49 PM »

DominoDude

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Re: Sigma 300-800mm f5.6
« Reply #13 on: September 06, 2014, 06:53:07 PM »
This is the only Sigma lens I would consider buying. But as you guys mention, it's not very often one can find it. Around here the used ones are rumoured to be roughly $3500 ($8450 for a new one).

Lovely to see your bird shots with this lens.
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Re: Sigma 300-800mm f5.6
« Reply #14 on: September 06, 2014, 08:54:25 PM »
I've had one for 7 years now and love it.  For all of the downfalls you mentioned and with which I concur, the ability to compose through the lens is huge for me.  Also, with the 5DIII, I'm able to use a Kenko 2x converter with Live view and autofocus works quite well.  It is slow, which is certainly not conducive to working with quick subjects, but for shots like these owl images, the results are superb both with and without the converter.  The last 3 shots are with the converter attached using live view autofocus.

I have noticed a huge difference between the quality when attached to my 7D vs my 5DIII.  The noisier sensor on the 7D renders the images soft when compared to those shot with the 5DIII.

http://www.canonrumors.com/forum/index.php?action=dlattach;topic=21888.0;attach=120258;image

I just wanted to say I absolutely love that third shot of the owl almost hiding! Wow. It made me smile and laugh. Really love it. well done.
« Last Edit: September 07, 2014, 02:15:06 AM by expatinasia »
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Re: Sigma 300-800mm f5.6
« Reply #14 on: September 06, 2014, 08:54:25 PM »