500mm Sigma, Tamron lenses for Canon

This is a discussion on 500mm Sigma, Tamron lenses for Canon within the Digital Cameras, Lenses & Accessories forums, part of the PHOTO FORUM category; I am trying to ascertain what people think of the lenses from Sigma and Tamron that have a long end of 500mm. This would be ...


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  1. #1

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    I am trying to ascertain what people think of the lenses from Sigma and Tamron that have a long end of 500mm. This would be the 50-500, 150-500 and 200-500. I am looking at getting a longer lens but just can't see spending three to four thousand dollars or a pre-owned Canon 500mm. I can't seem to find a preowned non-IS canon 500mm that I don't think is a risk. Please let me know what you think of these lenses. I currently have the Canon 100-400L and to be honest I am happy with it but not over the top happy. I also wish it could go further for wildlife and autosports.

    Thanks in advance for your help.


  • #2
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    Forget about these lenses for motorsport use. No lens with an f/5.6 maximum aperture is much good for sports work (and I include the 100-400L in that statement). Why?

    The frequency and accuracy of the tracking autofocus system in Canon cameras (Nikon too for that matter) is directly dependant on the amount of light hitting the camera's AF sensors. As the camera always focuses with the lens at its maximum aperture the amount of light hitting these sensors is controlled by the lens' maximum aperture. An f/5.6 lens has half as much light to AF with as an f/4 lens which in turn has half as much light as an f/2.8.

    As the amount of light hitting the AF sensors decreases the camera reduces the frequency at which it samples for auto focus to maintain accuracy. In cloudy or overcast conditions the frequency with an f/5.6 is low enough that the car can move significantly out of focus between samples.

    Further and ignoring the AF frequency issue the auto focus motors on the Tamron and Sigma 50-500mm are not fast enough to reliably track a race car. No-one will be able to tell you much about the 150-500mm Sigma as it is brand new but as it isn't "EX" designated (that's the label Sigma stick on their better lenses) it probably isn't going to be fantastic.

    I spend most of my life around race tracks photographing race cars. No-one I have met has ever had any joy with the Tamron 200-500mm or Sigma 50-500mm in that application. Plenty have tried them but given up.

  • #3

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    Thanks Cadwell,

    From both of my posts you have basically told me what I should have already figured. That is, if I really want Pro quality photo's I am going to have to get a pro quality lens such as the Canon prime lenses.

    Thanks again for your assistance. I have seen from your photos that you would definitely know what you need to have.

  • #4
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    Ultimately for a lens to be a good sports lens it needs to have two characteristics; wide maximum aperture and a fast AF motor. The wide maximum aperture allows you to use shallow depth of field to isolate a subject athlete from the background, allows the use of high shutter speeds to stop action and, perhaps, most importantly helps with auto focus speed and accuracy because it allows more light to get to the camera’s AF sensors yielding higher AI servo tracking rates and higher contrast for the AF sensors to work with. The fast AF drive mechanism is needed to initially acquire the subject and to allow accurate tracking of fast moving subjects.

    The Canon 100-400L, Sigma 50-500mm EX and Tamron 200-500mm are all good lenses but they strike a compromise between portability (size, weight) and cost versus long reach. The price for having a relatively small and light 400-500mm lens like these is a small maximum aperture of respectively f/5.6, f/6.3 and f/6.3. Interestingly the AF system for Canon bodies (apart from the 1 Series) is only rated up to f/5.6 maximum aperture so two of the lenses under discussion are already “out of spec.” and AF only works because the lens misreports its maximum aperture to the camera.

    Leaving aside the maximum aperture question, the AF motors on these lenses aren’t the fastest either. The USM implementation on the 100-400L is fairly sluggish (comparative to other Canon USM equipped lenses) and the same can be said for the HSM implementation on the Sigma 50-500mm. The Tamron has a conventional DC micro motor arrangement which makes no pretence of being lightning fast.

    I would love to be able to walk around a race track carrying something like the Sigma 50-500mm. A lens that weights only 1.8kg is an attractive proposition compared to the 8.0kg of lenses (Canon 600mm and Sigma 120-300mm) plus two camera bodies that I normally struggle around with. That’s before I even start thinking about the price differential. Unfortunately the truth is that the “little” Sigma 50-500mm won’t do the job well enough.

    Once you get to 400mm there’s a very limited choice of “good” sports lenses. From my experience these are:

    Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 EX DG HSM + 1.4x TC (gives an effective f/4 maximum aperture 420mm lens and in my experience out-performs the Canon 100-400L by dint of its larger aperture)
    Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM + 1.4x TC
    Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS USM
    Canon EF 400mm f/4 DO IS USM
    Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS USM
    Sigma 500mm f/4.5 EX DG HSM
    Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS USM

    (These are the lenses still in production, earlier versions of some them work well too)

    That’s not to say that you can’t “get by” with some other lenses if you’re prepared to accept lower resolution and lower “keeper” rates, but I am aiming my comments at someone who is “not over the top happy” with the 100-400L. That implies you want a lens that works to high standards.

  • #5
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    Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 EX DG HSM + 1.4x TC (gives an effective f/4 maximum aperture 420mm lens and in my experience out-performs the Canon 100-400L by dint of its larger aperture)
    Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM + 1.4x TC
    Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS USM
    Canon EF 400mm f/4 DO IS USM
    Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS USM
    Sigma 500mm f/4.5 EX DG HSM
    Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS USM
    George drifts off dreaming the impossible dream

  • #6
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    You Noinks are quite lucky, you have the excellent 200-400mm f/4G ED-IF AF-S VR NIKKOR as an option. A constant f/4 400mm zoom would be something I'd like to have in my camera bag.

    Unfortunately there's no direct equivalent available for the Canon mount. I live in hope, though, as I consider 400mm a "weak" focal length for me.

  • #7
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    You Noinks are quite lucky
    Never heard that before took a while to sink in thought it was some native eskimo tribe and at 3 grand don't think I will ever see one - OK back to dreaming

  • #8
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    Ah... 'tis a common (and good natured) nickname we of the Canon persuasion have for Nikon owners.

  • #9
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    - love it


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