Don Hamilton: Sigma 500mm Lens Review

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Read on for a review from photographer Don Hamilton on the 500mm f/4 lens from Sigma! Shop the full Sigma lineup here.

This week’s blog will present a look into my time with the Sigma 500mm f/4 telephoto lens. I was recently asked to shoot the lens along with giving my feedback. I was pumped, as I currently own a Canon 600mm f/4 II lens and there are days when I truly miss a 500mm f/4. Disclaimer: Having been a “Great White” lens shooter for more than 10 years, my experience with non OEM Canon lens was very limited. Boy was I surprised and enlightened! The Sigma 500mm lens is a keeper. The build quality along with the optics is first class. This lens coupled to my Canon 5DMK4 delivered consistent, sharp images with a most impressive Image Stabilization system.

Handheld from a flats boat, while poling through the shallow channels. Canon 5dMK4, Sigma 500mm, ISO 2000, f/5.6, 1/3200. Flat overcast light, imperative to expose to the right.

My first shoot was from a flats boat on an overcast, rainy grey day in Flamingo bay. When a great south Florida photographer named Mike Stern suggested a trip to Flamingo Bay in search of flamingos, it was game on. So it was another 4:30am wakeup call and drive down to the southern tip of the Florida Everglades. We were blessed with perfect tides. Despite the impending heavy rain clouds, Mike was able to maneuver us into the channels close to the oyster bed flats. To our surprise, we located more than a dozen Roseate spoonbills resting on the flats mixed in with many shorebirds and wading birds in the shallows. Huge props to Captain Mike Stern for the outing!

High Key Image: Canon 5dMK4, Sigma 500mm, ISO 2000, f/5.6, 1/2000

Imagine the years prior to Kodachrome film. It was only monochrome, folks! Here we have the same image in monochrome. I wonder how many viewers love the impact of the pinks and reds vs the monochrome image below. The name Rosette Spoonbill, implies rich contrasting colors of pinks, reds, yellows on a creamy white bird. Monochrome is almost anti-climactic in this illustration. 

The Sigma 500mm f/4 lens is very capable of fast focus and tracking the Spoonies in flight as well. Honestly my only want – wish we had better light instead of the flat and grey muddy skies! The Canon 5dMK4 coupled with Sigma’s f/4 was a pleasure to hand-hold and track birds in flight. I was amazed at how well it tracked and responded to my rear focus back button focus technique. If you are considering an alternative for a telephoto 500mm focal length lens, I would certainly consider Sigma as a serious contender.

Canon 5dMK4, Sigma 500mm, ISO 1600, 1/2000, f/5.6

I thought I’d push the limits with the boat under power and closing fast on this perched Osprey. Handheld, focus acquired, and locked on and adjusted as I “bumped” the back button focus. I always suggest AI servo mode.

Canon 5dMK4, Sigma 500mm, ISO 1600, 1/4000, f/5.6

On another outing, Greg Anderson and I were out exploring central Florida public lands and came across some fields of sunflowers. Greg decided to survey the situation with his new drone, so I pulled out the Sigma 500mm and shot some drone in flight shots! Drones are in my future as well, and I plan to take one to Hawaii this December. The new Hasselblad Camera system on the DJI Mavic 2 is amazing.

Canon 5dMK4, Sigma 500mm, ISO 1250, 1/1600, F 5.6

Time for some floral depth of field tests with the sunflowers. Note the flower on the right is very close, yet not in the same plane of focus as the flower on the left. Note: the black box on the leaf on the right is forward and in the focal plane. A full-frame camera sensor coupled with a telephoto lens gives very shallow depth of focus compared to crop sensor cameras. The flower on the left is tack sharp, straight out of the camera, vs the flower on the right.

Handheld Canon 5dMK4, Sigma 500mm, ISO 800, 1/5000, f/5.6

Detail and sharpness check: Say hello to the photo bombing bee! I love the ability to control ones depth of field and separation from the background with a telephoto lens. Sigma’s beautiful bokeh is an added bonus as well.

Handheld Canon 5dMK4, Sigma 500mm, ISO 800, 1/5000, f/5.6

By this time, I’m sure someone is curious about the high shutter speeds… glad you asked. The wind was blowing the flowers, thus my need for the exaggerated shutter speeds.

Well folks, that’s a wrap on a fabulous lens! If you are in the market for a 500mm lens and solid image stabilization, look no further. You also enjoy some leftover coin in your pocket as well, as the pricing is exceptional for this stellar lens.

Handheld Canon 5dMK4, Sigma 500mm, ISO 800, 1/5000, f/5.6

I’d like to thank Brian Linhoff from Sigma for allowing me to expand my knowledge on telephoto lens alternatives. Hands down, I was impressed! This lens is more than capable of delivering consistent, tack sharp images. I honestly thought I’d find a “slower” to lock on target lens here, but I was wrong. This makes an exceptional safari lens as well, as it is light and compact. Sigma, congrats on a wonderful lens.

Ok, back to post processing my recent 2018 Tanzania Safari Photographic tour. Stay tuned for another blog… Capturing Tanzania’s wildlife and landscapes. Happy and Blessed Holidays to all!

Keep up with Don’s latest work on his Instagram and shop his gear bag at! We are a Sigma Authorized Retailer.

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