Courtesy Sigma

Super-telephoto for Mirrorless

The Sigma 150-600mm F5.6-6.3 DG DN OS S is Sigma’s first super-telephoto zoom lens made exclusively for mirrorless cameras. Nothing about this lens is small or lightweight, except for the price. At $1,499, it’s an excellent choice for photographers looking to get started with long focal lenses or who will only occasionally need a very long focal length lens.

The lens is suitable for cameras in the L-Mount Alliance (Leica, Panasonic, and Sigma) as well as Sony E-mounts. Although a big player in the photographic world, Sigma is a small company that takes pride in making nearly every component of its lenses at the Sigma plant in Japan’s Aizu region.

As befits a lens this size, it comes in a dedicated padded case with both a shoulder strap and a flat strap designed to slip over the extendable handle on rolling equipment cases. The lens is not small, and though it weighs 4.63 pounds, it balances nicely and feels lighter than it is when mounted on a Sony Alpha 1. As with all lenses of this focal length and size, it benefits from Sigma’s optical image stabilization system, which appears to work in conjunction with Sony’s IBIS system.

©Ellis Vener
In this portrait of Chris Hill, the background is important for context. While Hill's replica Fokker Triplane is visually compelling, I wanted the focus on Hill.
©Ellis Vener
Using the Sigma 150-600mm at nearly 300mm focal length let me keep the aircraft just fuzzy enough to be interesting but not distracting. The distance allowed me to light Hill separately from the plane.

Its minimum focusing distance is 22.8 inches at 150mm and 110.2 inches at 600mm. The aperture range is 150mm at f/5 to f/22 and 600mm at f/6.3 to f/29. It takes a 95mm filter, and there is no internal or rear filter mount. Its optical formula comprises 25 elements in 15 groups.

The tripod mount collar is permanently attached and has click stops every 90 degrees. The collar is not removable, but the tripod mount is. The tripod mount is a cast magnesium Arca-Swiss type quick-release foot. The bottom of the foot has a 1/4"-20 threaded receiver. Removing the foot requires loosening four bolts with an included hex wrench, which reveals another 1/4"-20 thread receiver. While most photographers will never need to remove the foot, this feature allows the lens to be mounted to a monopod, tripod, or other support or to use a third-party mounting solution without it if they chose. Flanking the foot are two lugs for attaching a shoulder strap to the lens.

©Ellis Vener
A long telephoto lens compresses the foreground and background. Here I used that trait to make the Fokker just as much a character in the portrait as Hill himself.

While there are adapters for E-Mount lenses to other mounts, when I tried using the Techart TZE-01, the lens wouldn’t communicate with the Nikon Z 6 or Z 9 bodies I had available. In a 2020 interview, Sigma’s CEO Kazuto Yamaki said the company has researched and considered making lenses for Canon R and Nikon Z cameras. However, I wonder if that might be a polite way of saying, “That’s an interesting idea, but don’t hold your breath.”

Being designated as part of Sigma’s Sports line of lenses means this lens is designed for accurate, fast autofocus, and it performed well with Sony’s flagship Alpha 1. Sports photography means shooting in foul and fair weather, so the lens features seals galore in all of the necessary places where dust or moisture might get in.

For the portraits of pilot Chris Hill and his replica World War I era Fokker DR 1 Dreidecker (below), I mounted the Sigma/Sony combination on a ProMediaGear tripod with a Manfrotto 608 Nitro fluid head. I wanted it to appear that Hill was returning from a dawn patrol mission just as the sun broke through the wintery early morning clouds. I positioned him by his plane, then directed him to walk toward me. I began photographing as he walked, so the camera, in face detect autofocus mode, would already be tracking him as we went into then out of the pool of warm light. I used a single Light & Motion StellaPro Reflex S light fitted with its 12-degree Spot lens for lighting. To create the lighting effect, I gaffer-taped two layers of Roscolux 1/2 CTO gel across the light with the cooler overall color created by setting the camera and processing the image for daylight white balance. The camera was set for Auto ISO and shutter priority to control the exposure. To process the raw files, I used Adobe Lightroom Classic.

©Ellis Vener
This portrait adds motion to the shot. The Sigma lens and Sony Alpha 1 combination tracked the subject's face perfectly as he walked toward me.

While you might rarely need a lens longer than 150mm, longer focal lengths open up compositional possibilities that are unavailable with shorter lenses. Long lenses are useful for isolating a subject against an out-of-focus background as well as narrowing the field of view. With cameras that can deliver 20-megapixel or greater resolution in the APS-C format, the reduced angle of view becomes that of a 225-900mm f/5.6-6.3, which is nothing to sneeze at.

The Sigma 150-600mm f/5.6-6.3 DG DN Sport is not a substitute for a larger aperture supertelephoto, but its MSRP of $1,499 is a small fraction of what large-aperture super-telephotos lenses cost. The combination of focal length range and sharpness makes it ideal for making dynamic outdoor portraits as well as being useful for sports and wildlife photography.

The creative possibilities, optical and build quality, and price make it a prime contender for those who don’t need an f/2.8 or f/4 telephoto. This is one of those lenses that has a broader range of capabilities than a lens made for specialists, but it won’t be one that you’ll use every day. When you need it, you’ll be glad you have it. 

Ellis Vener is a contributing editor. 

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