As you may have read I rented the Sigma 60-600mm f/4.5-6.3 DG OS HSM with Nikon Mount for a recent event I was shooting at, at the time I could not find a review with a lot of information about using the lens for a fast moving sporting event so I decided to write one to help out anyone looking for a Super Zoom lens.
I used the lens to shoot at a BMX race and while it is not the fastest moving sport, it is very demanding on the focus and ability to very quickly lock and track subjects. I am not going to cover the specs of the lens there are enough reviews out there with that info. I wanted to give real world use information, actual pictures I took and my thoughts on using the lens.
I know I said that I wasn’t going to cover specs but there are a couple of specs that will have to be covered, the big one being that the lens is not a fixed aperture which is quite annoying, but not the end of the world. When I shoot sports I almost always shoot Manual, so I set the aperture to f/6.3 and never really changed it so that kind of solved the problem. However f/6.3 is a problem in and of itself, for sports f/6.3 is kind of slow especially in rainy weather which I had a lot of, but you easily save a lot of money by giving up that stop and a third of light that most sport zooms have at f/4. I just turned up the ISO and in reality it did not change the image quality very much unless you zoomed in and really looked for it.
The other spec that is annoying is the weight, it is hard to get past it, I used the lens handheld and on a monopod with a gimbal so I could move as freely as possible. This was also my first time using the monopod/gimbal combo and probably the best way to use the lens. Hand held it gets heavy really quickly and is cumbersome to use in fast paced sports when you have to move the zoom a lot and fast.
Handheld, that’s how I shot when I had to move around a lot, out on a BMX track you constantly have to adjust the height of the monopod as you move which takes time while holding a 10 pound camera, the ground height varies a lot which make quickly moving difficult. Handheld also really makes zooming in and out hard, the zoom ring has to be turned many times to go from one end to the other. Sigma also has an indentation on the end of the lens barrel that you can hold onto and pump the zoom in and out, but the zoom is a little stiff and results in a shaky motion. It was ok to get from one end to the other quickly but not while following someone moving.
Monopod, well this was a relief to use, when I was shooting the riders quickly coming towards me I could let the monopod steady the camera and lens and you could crank on the zoom pretty hard and keep up since you didn’t have the weight of the lens on your hand. Using the monopod also helped to steady the lens at the 600 end, but with the built in OIS you hardly needed it.
While I mentioned OIS I can say that it was incredible how well it worked, it was so steady that I never had any noticeable shake until it timed out when you let go of the focus. I did find that you needed the second OIS position for panning shots and it also really helped to use it.
Not sure you would call these items accessories but the Lens hood is incredibly nice, much better than any I have used before. There is a screw to tighten to hold it in place and the screw contacts a rubber ring on the lens so it is tight and quiet. The regular lens hoods always come loose after a while and if they fall off at a sporting event could become a hazard if they roll out onto the track. The hood is also rubber coated on the end so if you rest the lens on the hood on a table it is quiet and does not scratch anything.
Lens foot, the foot was a good size to use with the monopod gimbal, and since it is an Arca type it slid right on to the gimbal I purchased and was easy to balance. At first I was kind of annoyed when I read that it didn’t come off, but honestly I would never take it off and I actually carried it by the foot a lot since it was the best balance point and very easy to hold onto.
Focus was super quick, and really didn’t miss many times, even when I was down low and riders would jump and suddenly pop into the location where I was framing there was plenty of time to focus for the split second that they were there. Focus was incredibly sharp for the focal range, but it was not tack sharp, and not that I expected it to be either. I was very happy with the images I took with it and would not complain about the focus at all. Of course it missed some pics, but even my Nikon lenses do that.
This first image set was of some riders leaving the gate so they are slightly in motion, and at full zoom, no flash. I didn’t search through and pick the best image, just the first 600mm one I came across. I should also mention that this was taken from the top of turn one so it was at the full length of the track.
Here is another example this one was not in as good of light, it was cloudy and in return the image is a little noisier, but unless you zoom to 100% you will not notice it. This is the kind of shot that you could not get with any other lens and the reason I wanted to test it out. The first shot is in the exit of turn one and I am sitting on top of turn two, and this track is pretty long.
Since the lighting was not as good I dropped down to 1/800 and bumped up the ISO to 500.
Now this is at the entrance to turn two, and the riders are about the same size as in the last shot at the other end of the track. I also have shots from in between these positions. If you recognize the rider you know that these guys are flying, and the focus was spot on. Also notice that the lower image was at 130mm. so if this was a 70-200 you would be at about 50% zoomed in and never would get the guys to fill the frame from the far end.
Here is another, this one was at 95mm, with flash.
Here are a few more sample images from the same event
The link below takes you to the gallery that all of these are from, a lot of the pics in here were taken with the 60-600, a few were with a 24-70. You can check out the image information and see which lens was used as well as the exposure data if you would like to see more shots.
There are always trade off’s, it is so hard to not find fault with any lens. The biggest issue for me was that the zoom ring goes the opposite way that my 24-70mm goes and it drove me nuts switching back and forth, the first ten pics were always zoomed to far in when I was shooting action with it. Not much you can do about that though, and I imagine with enough use you would get used to it. Weight is a big issue, at about 6 pounds it is really heavy and I was very worried I would drop it, or it would come off my Black Rapid strap so I was very cautious when I walked with it. Another issue with the weight that I did not think about was when carrying my light stands I had to put the camera down, it would swing too much to really walk with it free hanging. You could call the price a con but there isn’t another 10x lens out there and if you want the versatility it doesn’t come cheap, but it still is cheaper than a brand name f4 600mm lens by like $10,000. Again the f/6.3 is a con if you want to shoot indoors or later at night, I was able to use the flashes near dark to compensate but it wasn’t ideal.
So after renting it there is no doubt that I will buy this lens, honestly I could have left it on all day everyday I was there, it was that much fun to shoot with. The 10x zoom range is just incredible and would be an awesome lens to use as a walk around lens if you didn’t have to be the one carrying it. I carried it around and used it a lot and my arms were tired at the end of the day.
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Here is the monopod I used and the Gimbal, both performed really well and it was a very inexpensive solution.