Shooting Hand-Held with the Sigma 150-600 Sport

The super zoom market has really heated up over the past year or so with the launch of the Tamron 150-600 VC, the Nikon 1 CX 70-300, a new 100-400 from Canon, and two new lenses from Sigma, including the Sigma 150-600 Sport. I thought readers may like to see a few sample images along with some initial thoughts about shooting with this lens hand-held.

Before getting into this brief article I’d like to extend a big ‘thank you’ to Michael Wroblewski who very generously let me borrow his copy of the Sigma 150-600mm Sport lens so I could do some shooting at Bird Kingdom in Niagara Falls, Ontario.

NOTE: click on images to enlarge

NIKON D800 + 150-600mm f/5-6.3 @ 600mm, ISO 1600, 1/200, f/6.3
NIKON D800 + 150-600mm f/5-6.3 @ 600mm, ISO 1600, 1/200, f/6.3
NIKON D800 + 150-600mm f/5-6.3 @ 600mm, ISO 1600, 1/200, f/6.3
NIKON D800 + 150-600mm f/5-6.3 @ 600mm, ISO 1600, 1/200, f/6.3

I should point out that Michael suggested that I shoot with a monopod or tripod with this lens. Since I never normally shoot in that manner I ignored his advice and I chose to take all of my shots for this article hand-held. I’m likely one of the most ‘tripod-allergic’ photographers around so taking this approach made the most sense to me. This, of course, puts a different slant on the article, but since many photographers prefer to shoot hand-held most of the time I thought this perspective may be important to a number of readers.

NIKON D800 + 150-600mm f/5-6.3 @ 600mm, ISO 6400, 1/160, f/8.0
NIKON D800 + 150-600mm f/5-6.3 @ 600mm, ISO 6400, 1/160, f/8.0

As soon as you pick up the Sigma Sport 150-600 lens you immediately get a feeling of high quality and durability. This lens is beefy, weighing in at 6.3 lbs. (2.86 Kg), about 2 lbs. (almost 1 Kg) more than the Tamron 150-600 VC, Sigma 150-500 OS, Nikon 80-400 VR and other similar zoom lenses. This weight difference is very noticeable when shooting hand-held with this lens.

NIKON D800 + 150-600mm f/5-6.3 @ 600mm, ISO 6400, 1/125, f/6.3
NIKON D800 + 150-600mm f/5-6.3 @ 600mm, ISO 6400, 1/125, f/6.3
NIKON D800 + 150-600mm f/5-6.3 @ 600mm, ISO 6400, 1/125, f/6.3
NIKON D800 + 150-600mm f/5-6.3 @ 600mm, ISO 6400, 1/125, f/6.3

The zoom action is very smooth and all of the controls feel solid and tight. It is very apparent that Sigma was intent on producing a high caliber lens when they designed the 150-600 Sport. The construction seems top notch.

NIKON D800 + 150-600mm f/5-6.3 @ 600mm, ISO 6400, 1/15, f/6.3
NIKON D800 + 150-600mm f/5-6.3 @ 600mm, ISO 6400, 1/15, f/6.3

After spending a few hours shooting hand-held non-stop with the Sigma 150-600 Sport it’s my view that the majority of potential buyers of this lens would likely use it with a monopod or tripod most of the time. Hand-holding is possible, but unless you are used to shooting with a large, heavy lens most people would not find it comfortable to shoot with the Sigma 150-600 Sport hand-held for much more than 30-60 minutes at a time. You will definitely need to rest the lens against the crook of your elbow during lulls in the action.

NIKON D800 + 150-600mm f/5-6.3 @ 600mm, ISO 1600, 1/125, f/6.3
NIKON D800 + 150-600mm f/5-6.3 @ 600mm, ISO 1600, 1/125, f/6.3
NIKON D800 + 150-600mm f/5-6.3 @ 600mm, ISO 1600, 1/125, f/6.3
NIKON D800 + 150-600mm f/5-6.3 @ 600mm, ISO 1600, 1/125, f/6.3

I often shoot my Tamron 150-600 VC hand-held for stretches of 4-5 hours and I’d estimate that the Sigma would lead to the same level of fatigue in about half the time. The weight of the Sigma is such that I had to adjust my hand-holding technique and shooting style. I needed to bring my elbow further across my body and anchor it firmly into my mid-section as well as change my wrist angle in order to better support the added weight of the Sigma. I also found that I had to bring my shoulders forward and almost hunch around the lens to get a comfortable position to aid in weight distribution.

NIKON D800 + 150-600mm f/5-6.3 @ 600mm, ISO 6400, 1/50, f/6.3
NIKON D800 + 150-600mm f/5-6.3 @ 600mm, ISO 6400, 1/50, f/6.3

Normally when I find a subject for an image I focus on it by half-depressing the shutter and hold my lens steady, waiting for the exact moment to capture my shot. With my Tamron 150-600 VC I sometimes wait up to 20-30 seconds in this position before taking a single image.

NIKON D800 + 150-600mm f/5-6.3 @ 600mm, ISO 6400, 1/50, f/6.3
NIKON D800 + 150-600mm f/5-6.3 @ 600mm, ISO 6400, 1/50, f/6.3

With the Sigma I found this was harder to do because of the added weight and within 5-10 seconds I could feel my steadiness begin to waiver, so I needed to change my shooting style. Rather than wait for the precise moment to shoot, I decided to fire off a series of quick, individual shots shortly after the lens acquired initial focus. The Sigma 150-600 Sport reacquires focus very quickly between shots and I got good results with this approach.

The Sigma 150-600 Sport’s image stabilization seems to work quite well. If you look at the EXIF data you’ll see that I got some useable images at quite slow shutter speeds, some under 1/30th with the lens fully extended.

Auto focusing with my Nikon D800 was fast and accurate. In lower light situations focusing took a bit longer but it was still acceptable. My brother-in-law shot with the Sigma 150-600 Sport for a while with his Nikon D7000 and he did not experience any AF issues at all.

NIKON D800 + 150-600mm f/5-6.3 @ 490mm, ISO 3200, 1/30, f/6.3
NIKON D800 + 150-600mm f/5-6.3 @ 490mm, ISO 3200, 1/30, f/6.3

My impression is that the Sigma 150-600 Sport is sharper wide open at 600m than is the Tamron 150-600 VC. This is to be expected given that the Sigma Sport is considerably more money, costing about 85% more than the Tamron.

NIKON D800 + 150-600mm f/5-6.3 @ 600mm, ISO 3200, 1/320, f/6.3
NIKON D800 + 150-600mm f/5-6.3 @ 600mm, ISO 3200, 1/320, f/6.3

I must admit that I didn’t enjoy shooting with the Sigma 150-600 Sport on the first day out with it. I found that it was initially very uncomfortable and awkward to hand-hold. This was my fault for not realizing that I needed to change my approach. After I adjusted my hand-holding technique I found my results improved and the shooting experience was much more enjoyable.

NIKON D800 + 150-600mm f/5-6.3 @ 600mm, ISO 6400, 1/25, f/6.3
NIKON D800 + 150-600mm f/5-6.3 @ 600mm, ISO 6400, 1/25, f/6.3

Overall, I thought the Sigma was a high quality lens with a very solid and secure feel. Shooting hand-held is possible but it does require good technique and you may need to adjust your usual approach to compensate for the additional weight. I imagine the majority of photographers who buy this lens will use a monopod or tripod with it most of the time, and only shoot hand-held with it periodically, and for limited time durations.

If you’d like to see about twenty additional images shot hand-held with the Sigma 150-600 Sport lens, click on the YouTube video below.

Confession time…
While I think the Sigma 150-600 Sport is sharper than my Tamron 150-600 when shot wide open at maximum focal length, I’m not sure how many photographers will notice the difference once they process their RAW images. So, just for fun I inserted an image taken with my Tamron 150-600 VC in this article. The image was taken at the same venue and on the same day as the Sigma images. You may be able to spot it right away…

Technical Note: All images were shot hand-held with a Nikon D800. RAW files were processed through DxO OpticsPro 10 with a DNG file then exported into CS6 and Nik Suite for additional adjustments as needed.

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25 thoughts on “Shooting Hand-Held with the Sigma 150-600 Sport”

  1. Hi Thomas,

    I really enjoy your images and reviews.

    I have a Nikon D750 and am looking at buying a lens for sports/wildlife photography.

    I’m choosing between the Tamron 150-600mm and the Sigma 150-600mm Contemporary. Any recommendations?
    A head to head shootout would make an for an interesting review.

    Cheers,
    Vic.

    1. Hi Vic,

      I haven’t shot with the Sigma 150-600 Contemporary so I can’t give you any hands-on perspectives. From what I’ve seen there likely isn’t a lot of difference between the two lenses. It may simply come down to the features on each lens and which one you like to shoot with more. I believe that the Sigma has a docking station which theoretically should make it more flexible in terms of future firmware updates.

      Unfortunately I don’t have a working relationship with Sigma Canada so it is not likely that I can get a review sample of the lens.

      Ephotozine has done reviews on both lenses and rated them very closely. I had a look at their MTF charts on both lenses and it appears that the Tamron is sharper than the Sigma at f/8 and f/11 when shot at 600mm. At f/6.3 @ 600mm the centre sharpness of the Tamron is ahead of the Sigma Contemporary, but it loses to the Sigma in terms of edge sharpness.

      The majority of folks who buy one of these lenses are likely going to shoot at the long end of the zoom most often and will likely want the best centre frame sharpness. Based on that – I’d probably pick the Tamron, everything else being equal.

      Tom

      1. Thanks for the feedback Thomas.
        Much appreciated.

        I had seen a review of the Tamron which reckoned it was a bit soft from beyond 400mm (which is where you want to use it), but after seeing your images it looks to me that its pretty good at the long end.

        1. Hi Victor,
          Like any long telephoto lens the Tamron is a bit softer at the long end, but I have not found it objectionable at all. Even shooting wide open at 600mm a little work in post can make a big difference. If you have the chance to shoot at f/8 it does sharpen up nicely.
          Tom

  2. Hi Thomas,

    Great article and wonderful photos.

    Do you think the difference in image quality between the 120-300 F2.8 and the 150-600 would be very dramatic in normal lighting conditions?

    I am aware that the 120-300 is an f2.8 but wondering if the difference in image quality would be as much as the difference in price?

    1. Hi Neil,
      I have never used the Sigma 120-300 f/2.8 so I can’t comment from first-hand experience. Looking at DxO, the 120-300 can be a very sharp lens depending on the body used with it and I would suspect that within its focal range it is likely sharper than the 150-600 in the 150-300 range. If you are thinking about using a 2X teleconverter with the 120-300 you may find that the advantage drops off considerably. More expert opinion and hands-on perspectives on this lens and the Sigma Sport are likely best found on sites like Sigma Rumors.
      Tom

  3. Hi Mr Stirr, do you always use OS function when you use this Sigma 150-600 mm? I heard the OS can affect the image sharpness. I have some blurred shots that I suspect this because the OS is ON. Do you have some thoughts about the OS should be ON or OFF to obtain the maximum image sharpness

    Many thanks
    Hoan

    1. Hi hoan,
      I only had the lens to use for a few days so I only have limited experience with it. Unless I’m using a fast shutter or shooting from a tripod I would typically always have OS/VC/Vr turned on. At what shutter speed were you shooting when you got some blurred images?
      Tom

      1. Hi Mr. Stirr, I shot at 1/1000. Even I used the monopod and trying as steady as I can, some images are blurred. But I’ll try to re-fine their OS feature via Sigma USB dock. I have three choices of OS mode inside this software. I’ll give them a try. If all of them do not help to maximize the sharpness, hmmmm I’ll shut them off. At 1/1000, it’s enough by itself to avoid blurring issue, I think. Many thanks for sharing your thoughts.
        Regards

        1. Hi hoan,
          Having the OS on when shooting from a monopod may be part of the issue. I’m not familiar with the Sigma dock and the various OS modes…sorry that I could not be of more help.
          Tom

          1. Good day Mr Stirr. Per your experience, at what speed 1/600, 1/800, 1/1000 etc…the VR or OS function becomes useless and affects negatively the image sharpness?

            Best regards
            Hoan

            1. Hello hoan,
              I haven’t had an issue with VC or VR on other lenses being a problem. Since I don’t have a lot of experience with the Sigma Sport unfortunately I can’t comment about how the OS may be affected at various shutter speeds with that lens.
              Tom

  4. Hello Thomas,

    Wonderful article and bird images!

    I recently found you through youtube and PL, and have subscribed to your youtube channel. I am so impressed with your images, but even more impressed with your civility, your practical, real-world approach, and your helpful articles and tips for bird photographers like me. I have read hundreds of articles over the 4 years of learning photography with my D7000, and it is so refreshing to have found you and your articles, along with all the people at Photography Life.

    Like you, I NEVER use a monopod or tripod for my birding, though I’m, of course, not opposed to that technique. I just find it so restricting compared to the freedom that handholding affords me. I am a healthy 57 year old male and am able to handhold supertelepotos quite well so far, including the beast in the Nikkor 300mm f/2.8 🙂 Having said that, I have not ever rented/bought a quality tripod/monopod, so I haven’t really given them a fair shake; I assume my percentage of keepers would improve, though I feel I nail enough of my images already and therefore don’t feel the need to go the tripod route.

    Of course that may change if, and when, I acquire something like the Nikkor 500mm f/4 🙂 I’m torn between that lens and the Nikkor 300mm f/2.8, one giving me more reach at a much higher cost, but the other giving me a stop more light and at reduced cost. I have saved enough $$ for these lenses, but now your article has really made me consider this Sigma 150-600 as a great value for the money!

    Looking forward to following your photography and your well-written and practical articles, Thomas…

    Thank you so much,

    Terry

    1. Hi Terry,
      Thank you so much for your most generous comment! Knowing that my work is helping readers like you really means a lot to me and I can’t thank you enough for sharing your feelings and opinion.
      Tom

  5. Good day,

    Tamron image is at f/8.0. Sigma images are at 6.3
    Even the technical review`s (there is only one good at lenstip.com) shows that at 500 and 600 the Sigma at 6.3 is as sharp as the Tamron at f/8.0. For me is good when you have such a dark lens to be usable wide open at the long end. Sigma do that, Tamorn is soft wide open. Sigma is better in the corners too at 500 and 600mm. So that make a difference. I would pay 1000$ more for that build, USB dock and better optical performance. The Tamron is best value but the Sigma is just better lens cause of the build and the optics. But 1000$ more will force many people to get the Tamron. If you are wildlife photographer better go with the Sigma sport. If you don want to pay the price go with the Tamron, 400 5.6L or 300/4 lenses. The primes are better than this vario lenses but they do not offer 600mm, image stabilizaton or such a build. There are enough good choices out there.

    1. Buy the way i was using 300 2.8L IS, 600/4.0L IS, 400 5.6L and i never saw such sharp zoom lens before with reach 600mm.
      For example the Canon 600/4.0L IS mk1 is a little soft at f/4.0 and i think is reasonable to tell that the Sigma is close at f/6.3. It`s true that from 5.6 the prime is way better 🙂 But it`s cost 4 times the Sigma it is heavy and it is not a zoom.

      So these new zoom lenses are good. They are good even at D800 36mp cameras. They will be good at 20-24mp crop sensor camera but of course the resolution at 500 and 600mm is simply not enough to catch the 24mp crop sensor camera. It will be soft at 100% at any aperture. These lenses are designed and will be better to use on Full Frame cameras. Using 600mm lens on crop sensor….for small birds and close distances yes. Shooting eagles from 60-70 meters do not expect miracles.

      1. Hi veselin,
        Thanks for the comment! I agree that zoom lenses have come a long way. Buyers do need to consider the trade-offs involved when they purchase any gear, and also have realistic expectations.
        Tom

    2. Hi veselin,
      Thank you for sharing your perspectives – much appreciated! Regardless of the camera gear that each of us choose there are trade-offs involved. In the case of the Sigma 150-600 Sport and the Tamron 150-600 VC I would agree that the Sigma Sport is sharper at f/5.6 than is the Tamron. Whether that difference at f/5.6 is worth 85% more money to a buyer will be a personal choice. The weight differences between the two lenses is considerable and many photographers who prefer to shoot hand-held may find the Sigma Sport is simply too heavy from a practical standpoint. We also need to keep in mind that depending on the post-processing applied and the final use of the images some buyers may not see that much difference between images taken with both lenses. From a personal perspective the Sigma Sport would not be a lens that I would buy as it is far to heavy for my preferred shooting style. I always prefer to shoot hand held and I find that the Tamron 150-600 VC is a better fit for my specific needs.
      Tom

  6. Thomas, left a comment at PL but thought I would stop by here to reiterate some of my thoughts. I don’t put much stock in MTF charts because I think they really don’t relate to real world images. You demonstrate the quality through practical application. What really amazes me are the low shutter speed captures. Now I would not be inclined to hand hold this monster but on a monopod I believe I could make it sing. I think your practical image review and comments have inched me toward my decision regarding the Sigma 150-600 Sport. Thanks for another great article.

    Now which bird is it? LOL

    1. Hi Mike,
      I think the Sigma 150-600 Sport would be awesome when used with a monopod. As I noted in the article I only use any kind of camera support when I absolutely have to and I always prefer to shoot hand-held. This lens is a beast and I doubt most people would buy it thinking it would be one they would use exclusively hand-held. I guess being ‘tripod-allergic’ has forced me to work on my hand-holding technique. It’s kind of funny, but I seldom even think about shutter speed when I’m shooting hand-held. As long as the subject is stationary I pretty much assume I’ll get the shot as long as I’m at 1/60th, and I’ll often test myself with shots as low as 1/30th or 1/15th just for practice. If the VR on the lens is good (i.e. 3.5 to 4 stops) I can often get useable shots at 1/30th and 1/15th. The Tamron image will be revealed in another article.
      Tom

  7. Nice shots, as always. Some questions:
    1) Since you borrowed the lens, I will assume you did not run it through the Sigma dock for focus adjustments. However, did the friend you borrowed if from do so?
    2) Did you do any AF Fine Tune on the D800 before you shot it at the bird park?
    3) Did you shoot any bursts? From reading the article, it seems that all shots were single release, no CL or CH involved. Being a Sports lens, it would seem to me that it should work well when shot in burst mode.
    4) Do you have any plans to review the Contemporary version of this lens? In viewing the MTF curves of the Sports and Contemporary versions, the curves of the Contemporary version appear to be better to me, and perhaps even better then those of the Nikon 80-400.

    Thanks, WEJ

    1. Hi WEJ…Thanks for the positive comment and the questions!
      1) I believe that Michael did do focus adjustments with the Sigma dock.
      2) No, I did not fine tune my D800 at all.
      3) No, I didn’t shoot any bursts. I was indoors and the birds were either stationary or moving slowly. None were in flight which is the only time that I would shoot a burst.
      4) No plans to review the Contemporary lens. I don’t have access to one, nor do I have the time with all of the other projects on my plate.
      Tom

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