DSLRs have become a go-to tool for outdoor videography because of their great capabilities and affordable price. Personally, I have been hesitant of using a DSLR as a primary hunt camera due to the lack of a good long reach lens. Short of spending thousands on a fixed 600mm lens, a 70-200mm is about the best one can expect. 200mm is a decent focal length for archery range shots.
A Tough Decision
An upcoming project to the mountains of Azerbaijan had me wavering on the choice of a full frame sensor camera. A 5D/FS700R combo had all the features I wanted in a camera, but fell short of the focal required to pick up those once in a lifetime shots I did not want to miss. I spent some time researching other lens options with just a few requirements - 1) It had to be versatile. No fixed telephoto lenses. 2) The lens needed to fit and communication with both the 5D and FS700R. 3) Finally, it had to be quality. No aberrations, sharp focus, etc.
After comparing a number of options, I settled in on Sigma’s 50-500mm f/4.5-6.3 with the Canon EF mount. Not only did this lens have 2.5x the reach of a 70-200mm, it was also nearly 30% wider! Still, I had a few concerns. First was the speed of the lens. The f/6.3 lenses I have shot with before were very slow. Not good for those first and last light situations. Second was whether or not this lens (being an “off-brand”) would communicate with the FS700R through a Metabones adapter. A close third concern was the quality of the image. I’ve shot with Sigmas before and always thought they were great lenses, but the longer the telephoto reach, the more to go wrong. At just over $1,500, I wasn’t certain this lens would be quality enough, but took the gamble anyway.
When the lens arrived, the first thing I notice was its size. At 50-500mm for a full frame 35mm sensor, this is not a compact zoom. It’s 9” long from camera mount to objective at 50mm, and just over 12” at 500mm. With the lens hood attached, add another 3” to the overall length. The lens weighs in at a hefty 4.3 lbs. Not really what I wanted for hiking through the Caucasus Mountains, but well worth it IF the image quality is there.
I have shot a lot with Canon’s L-series glass on 5Ds, so this was naturally my standard of which to compare the Sigma to. To produce the same exposure level, the first image was shot with the Sigma at 50mm, f/4.5, 1/125 sec, and ISO 320; and the second with the Canon 24-105 f/4 at 50mm, f/5, 1/125 sec, and ISO 320 - both using the 5D MKIII. The Sigma is a mere 1/3 stop slower than Canon’s 24-105mm. Not bad! I expected it to be at least 1 full stop slower simply because the Sigma has 22 lens elements versus the 18 of the Canon. Based on experience (I don’t have one on hand to compare side by side), the Sigma 50-500mm will come in about 2/3 stop slower than Canon’s 70-200mm f/2.8 (this lens is almost 1/3 stop faster than the 24-105mm). *Note: these images are unedited.
Here is a cropped version of the shots above to compare image sharpness. (The focal point is slightly different, so compare in-focus to in-focus). Again, the Sigma holds up next to the quality of Canon’s L-series. Both shots are cropped from the center of the image.
Now to look at chromatic aberrations. These shots are cropped from the very edge of the frame where aberrations are often present and most prominent. (To really see the difference, view these images full screen.) Here, the Sigma separates red just slightly more than the Canon. Both are only enough to notice at 100% zoom - certainly not an issue for most applications.
In my opinion, the Sigma 50-500mm stands up to the quality of Canon’s L-series.
Attachment and Communication with Sony FS700R
Now to test the Sigma on the Sony FS700R via a Metabones Canon EF to Sony NEX adapter. The lens is a scary tight fit to the Metabones adapter. So tight in fact, that I very carefully applied a super thin coat of oil to mount points on both the lens and adapter. If you do this, be careful NOT to get the oil on the electronic contacts as this could prohibit camera-lens communication.
I have shot with Tamron lenses on an FS700U using a Metabones adapter, and had issues with clean operation of aperture adjustments. The Tamrons also lacked the ability to use in-lens image stabilization. Both work on the Sigma 50-500mm. When adjusting aperture, the lens jumps to wide open for a split second before settling in on the adjusted setting. While you can’t pull a live aperture adjustment, it is quick and easy to shoot around. The in-lens image stabilization has two settings. #1 is for handheld, stabilizing both horizontal and vertical movements. #2 is for tripod use, stabilizing just vertical movement to prevent lag while panning. Both modes work exceptionally well. Auto focus and auto iris do not work.
The video below includes a handful of samples shot on the FS700R with the Sigma 50-500mm. Shot in S-LOG-2, each clip shows the raw footage first, then the color graded version. The first two clips were shot at 6400 ISO and f/6.3 15 minutes before sunrise. Clips 3, 4, and 5 illustrate how the lens reacts with varying angles of direct light and how it handles flares. The final clip shows the reach of the lens. This deer was at 250 yards.
The Sigma 50-500mm is very quickly becoming my favorite lens. The large size and hefty weight are easily overlooked by the quality of the image and reach of the zoom. This is my new go-to lens for most hunting situations, regardless of anticipated kill range. It has a reach comparable to many fixed-lens video cameras, but can still back out further than other zoom lenses of comparable quality. Also impressive is the fact that this lens can focus as close as 20". Throw this on an APS-C camera, and you’ve got a reach out to 750mm! As for Azerbaijan, this lens has my excitement at a new level!