Archive for the Articles about Photography Category

This Week’s Photo Contest Winner and More

Posted in Articles about Photography, eBooks, Instruction, Monthly Photo Contest, Photography Gear, Techniques with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 25, 2011 by Darwin

Go over to the How to Photograph the Canadian Rockies blog to see this week’s winner of the How to Photograph the Canadian Rockies Photo Contest. Be sure to enter before the the end of September to get that fabulous prize from Aurum Lodge!

Samantha and I are consolidating a number of our endevours into one landing place on the web. Watch for that coming soon! In the meantime we are doing some housecleaning and that means that some of our products and services will no longer be offered or will change significantly in the future. One of these products are our online courses over at Nature Photographers. Samantha is doing one more session of her acclaimed Learning to Speak the Language of Visual Expression six-week on-line course. I just reread her PDF lessons and I really think she has one of the best courses I have seen on creative and personal expression. If you are struggling with getting your voice to translate into photos, then this might just be the course for you.

And if you haven’t seen any of our instructional eBooks over at Visual Wilderness be sure to check them out. We are closing the shop at the end of August and this is your last chance to grab any of the titles that might be of interest. There are some free eBooks you can get like Good Photo in Bad Light, The l’il eBook of Trees, Trophy Hunting vs Immersion and Winter Musings. Grab ‘em before they are gone!

And of course you can get any of our popular titles like Essential Filters for Digital Nature Photography, Aperture: 3 Simple Rules, or The Basics of Light Painting. Grab them at 15% discount by using the code THANKS on checkout.

©Darwin Wiggett

Nudity is Evil but Sex Isn’t

Posted in Art of Photography, Articles about Photography, Controversy, Ethics, TCBlog, Workshops and Seminars with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 13, 2011 by Darwin

Samantha and I made a website using Photocrati (a WordPress plug-in) quite awhile ago where we showcased our nudes in the landscape fine-art photography. Photocrati  is specifically designed for photographers and is a great plug-in to produce a good-looking, functional website. It’s user-friendly and great for photographers who know little about HTML or coding (like us). We built the website in a day and loved the results. Photocrati highly recommends  Bluehost (based in Utah) as the hosting company to use for photographers and we went with that option. The interface between the Photocrati and Bluehost was seamless and we could not believe how easy it was to make a website!

All went while until about 2 weeks ago when Bluehost sent us a note that they were going to close our site down because of  ‘adult content’ (specifically nudity) which is not allowed in their terms and conditions (we admit to not having read these terms closely and missed the part about zero tolerance for nudity). We just assumed that a host of photography sites would have no problem with things like fine art nudes, or boudoir photography because these types of photography are common.

In discussions with Bluehost they told us that a women in a bikini is OK (no matter how sexually provocative), but nudity is forbidden. So we could post a shot of a buxom woman, in lingerie with a gun and stilettos stepping on another woman in a back alley but we can’t post an image like the one below. Hmmmm….

So we have had to move our Gaia Nudes Gallery over to this gallery page on my website… check it out and see if you think any of the work is offensive.

If you are planning a photo website with fine art nudes then don’t sign up with Bluehost — of course if you want to post your dominatrix lingerie photos, then Bluehost is happy with that! I guess sex is good, nudity is bad.

©Darwin Wiggett - Nude in Utah

Canon 24-70mm f2.8L vs Sigma f2.8 IF EX DG HSM

Posted in Articles about Photography, Lens Review, Photography Gear, TCBlog with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 2, 2011 by Darwin

Note: To see all future reviews please note this blog is no longer active, please visit me over at oopoomoo.com

On full frame cameras a 24-70mm lens is the standard zoom lens for most professional photographers whether you shoot weddings, portraits, journalism, sports, travel or landscape. A 24-70 f2.8 gives you a fast lens with a wide angle, normal and short telephoto capabilities. Almost every professional I know owns and relies on a 24-70mm lens.

For years I owned a Canon 24-70mm f2.8L lens and it was a workhorse lens for me especially for my photographs of dogs and kids and outdoor recreation.. I also used it for landscape photography (until I started using tilt-shift lenses). I sold my lens about two years ago anticipating that Canon would release a Mark II version of the lens that was image stabilized and a bit sharper and with less distortion at the wide end. To date (August 2011), that lens is not yet out. So for almost two years I lived without a 24-70mm lens, waiting for the new and improved Canon. In the meantime, Sigma lent me their 24-70mm f2.8 pro lens to test out. I borrowed Wayne Simpson’s Canon 24-70mm Canon and spent three days in the field shooting with the two lenses. Here is what I found out:

Prices:

Canon 24-70mm f2.8L at B+H Photo = $1399.00 (weight 950g)

Sigma 24-70 f2.8 IF EX DG HSM = $899.00 (weight 790g)

The Sigma 24-70 f2.8 and the Canon 24-70mm f2.8 lenses side-by-side

As you can see from the photo above the Sigma lens is significantly smaller (and lighter) than the big Canon 24-70mm lens and the Sigma costs 40% less than the Canon lens. Can the smaller and less expensive Sigma lens hold its own in the field?

First a note on the design of the lens. The Canon lens physically gets larger when zoomed to 24mm and is shortest when zoomed to 70mm. This is a strange design feature because most lenses are physically longer at longer focal lengths like we see with the Sigma lens (see photos below).

Sigma at 24mm (left) aad Canon at 24mm (right)

At 24mm the Sigma lens is short and compact but the Canon lens is fully extended at 24mm.

The Sigma (left) and the Canon (right) at 70mm

At 70mm both lenses are the same size. Canon’s design means that the lens is larger and extends even longer at 24mm. This may seem counter-intuitive but it is actually kind of clever because the lens hood on the Canon then becomes fully functional at all focal lengths. The hood attaches to the lens body with a bayonet mount right above the red line on the lens. The hood is long and when the lens is extended to 24mm, only about 1/3rd of the hood is used. Pulled back to 70mm the full hood length is used. The Sigma lens has a short hood that is optimized for 24mm and when the lens is zoomed out, you still have a 24mm effective hood. So with the Canon you have a fully functional hood but with the Sigma it only works its best at 24mm.

So… the price you pay for the clever functional zoom within a long hood is that the Canon lens is bigger lens that weighs 20% more than the Sigma lens! If you do a lot of backlit photos then the Canon 24-70mm and its functional lens hood will better prevent flare.

A 24mm is a 24mm right?

Both the Canon and Sigma lenses are 24-70mm focal lengths so I expected both lenses to give me the exact same coverage when I swapped the lenses on the tripod-mounted body. I was surprised that with the camera in the exact same position that the two zooms gave very different angles of view at the same focal length!

The Sigma 24-70 at 24mm

The Canon 24-70 at 24mm

What the heck??? How can the two lenses both zoomed to 24mm and mounted on the same camera body on a tripod (nothing was moved) give such different coverage? Is is because the Canon extends out at 24mm and so the front of the lens is closer to the subject?

If this is the case, then at 70mm when both lenses are physically the same size then we should see the angle of view be exactly the same. But both lenses produced different coverage even at 70mm even when the camera was fixed in position on a tripod. Note how Brando the dog is slightly larger in the frame with the Canon lens.

The Sigma lens at 70mm

The Canon lens at 70mm

The Sigma gives wider angles of view than the Canon when both are set to the same focal lengths. Which one is more accurate is hard to say but for reference I tested both against my 24mm TS-E lens and the Sigma and the Canon 24mm TS-E had almost exactly the same coverage. I don’t think the Canon 24-70mm lens is truly a 24-70!

What About Close-Focus Abilities?

This one is easy, the Canon can focus significantly closer than the Sigma at both 24 and 70mm.

Sigma close-focus at 70mm (top), Canon close focus at 70mm (bottom)

But which lens is sharper at close focus? Below is the same scene at the closest focus for each lens. The camera is tripod-mounted, live view, manual focus was used, mirror lock-up and an aperture of f8 was used.

The detail close-up scene

Sigma lens at 70mm f8 (top); Canon lens at 70mm f8 (bottom)

Center sharpness (above 100% magnification in Photoshop) was similar at close focus at 70mm for the two lenses but with the nod going to the Canon 24mm F2.8L lens.

Edge sharpness at closest focus at f8 for both lenses was disappointing and both lenses suffered from fairly severe chromatic aberrations at closest focus at 70mm (see below).

Edge sharpness at f8 for the Sigma lens (top) and the Canon lens (bottom)

What about Bokeh?

Bokeh is the the aesthetic quality of the blur in the out-of-focus areas. With fast lenses like a f2.8 zoom, the quality of the blur is important as a counter point to the sharp areas. To test how each lens rendered out-of-focus areas I shot various scenes at different focal lengths all at f2.8. Below are several sample photos. For me both the Sigma and the Canon seemed to render the out-of-focus with similar pleasing blur (but I give the nod to the Sigma for softer bokeh at 24mm).

Sigma lens at 24mm f2.8

Canon lens at 24mm f2.8

Sigma at 55mm, f2.8

Canon at 57mm, f2.8

Sigma at 70mm, f2.8

Canon at 70mm, f2.8

Overall Sharpness

I tested the sharpness of both lenses using my Canon EOS-1ds Mark III. I always use Live View and manual focus to test sharpness because auto-focus can vary with various lenses and each lens needs to be micro-adjusted for precision of focus. Live View with manual focusing gives consistent sharp results.

Both lenses are optimized for sharpness in the f2.8 to f8 range. Higher apertures like f11-f22 suffer from diffraction and yield less resolution than wider apertures. For example check out the 100% magnifications of the images below. The top photo is f2.8, the middle one is f8, the final one is f22. You can see that f8 is the sharpest, f2.8 next best and f22 trails far behind in sharpness. This was true for both lenses at all focal lengths.

Canon 24-70mm lens aperture resolution; f2.8, f8, f22

At 24mm the Sigma performed better than the Canon at all apertures in both center and edge sharpness. Below are two samples the first center sharpness at f8 where there is only a minor difference between the two lenses and then edge sharpness at f8 where the Sigma does a better job.

Center sharpness at 24mm at f8, Sigma (top), Canon (bottom)

Edge Sharpness at 24 mm at f8, Sigma (top), Canon (bottom)

In tests at 35mm, 50mm and 70mm, the Canon was slightly sharper in the center and at the edges of the frame than the Sigma but not by much. At f4 both lenses performed equally at all these focal lengths. From f5.6 to f22, the Sigma was sharper than the Canon at all of these focal lengths. As well, the Canon lenses produced darker photos than the Sigma lens even when both were shot at the exact same shutter speed and aperture. The Sigma photos were lighter and a bit more contrasty.

Center sharpness at 50mm at f8, Sigma (top), Canon (bottom); both at 1/30s - note differences in angle of coverage at 50mm

Overall I give the edge in sharpness to the Sigma lens which was a better performer at 24mm and as good or better than the Canon at all other focal lengths from f4 to f22. The Canon was better at f2.8 at 35, 50 and 70mm. If you are a landscape photographer the Sigma has less diffraction than the Canon at f16 and f22.

The overall scene - Sigma at 24mm, f22

Below is a 100% magnified view of the scene above shot with the Sigma and Canon lens at 24mm and f22 — the Sigma lens handles diffraction at small aperture openings much better.

Sigma at f22 (top), Canon at f22 (bottom)

Auto-Focus Tests

Both lenses were fast and responsive in auto-focus. I could get sharper photos with both lens using manual focus and 5x Live View, but auto-focus was pretty close in sharpness. I calibrated each lens using Lens Align and micro-focus adjustments in-camera and once calibrated each lens accurately popped into focus. Neither lens seemed better nor faster than the other when it came to action photography.

©Darwin Wiggett - Sigma 24-70mm lens at 34mm, f2.8

Image Look

Both lenses produced images that looked similar. The Sigma lens produced slightly brighter and slightly more contrasty images than the Canon lens when both were shot in the same light at the same settings but overall both lenses produced crisp, sharp images.

Sigma 24-70mm lens

Canon 24-70mm lens

Final Considerations

The Canon lens has a filter size of 77mm which is common for Canon L lenses. The Sigma lens has an odd size filter thread of 82mm. If you use filters the odd size filter size on the Sigma might be a serious drawback requiring an investment in larger sized filters. For me, I use a Cokin Z-Pro Filter holder on my lenses and to get filters on the Sigma lenses was just a matter of buying an 82mm adapter ring for my filter holder. It would have been nice if the Sigma lens use 77mm threads which is a more common filter size than 82mm.

So Which One Should You Buy?

As always that depends. If you are a wedding or sports photographer who always shoots at f2.8 and likes to use back light, then I think the Canon is a good bet because it has better lens sharpness (by a small margin) at f2.8 and at all focal lengths except at 24mm. As well, the well designed lens hood/zoom mechanism on the Canon helps to prevent flare my having a more functional lens hood. Also the close focus ability of the Canon is better and sharper at 70mm than the Sigma lens and for detail photos at a wedding (rings, flowers, cake, tight face shots) this close-up capability would be welcome.

On the other hand, if you are looking for an all around travel and landscape lens, I would give the Sigma higher marks because it is smaller, lighter, sharper at 24mm and at all other focal lengths at apertures f4 and higher and it suffers less from diffraction at small f-stops (like f16 and f22). I also like that the 24mm setting on the Sigma is more true and more wide than the Canon 24mm setting. Also the Sigma lens is much less money which is always good. Both lenses seem to be robustly built and should handle the rigours of use well. Personally I prefer the mechanics and feel of the Sigma lens over the Canon lens.

Wish List

For both the Canon and Sigma lenses I wish both manufacturers made a 24-70mm lens with image stabilization (optical stabilization for Sigma). Having a stabilized lens would really help photographers get the most of a fast f2.8 lens so that we can hand-hold at lower shutter speeds. Both lenses also suffer from chromatic aberrations at the edges of the frame and are not as sharp as they could be when focused close. I expect better performance from such high end pro lenses. Overall either lens is a fine tool that will serve most photographers well. Which one you choose, depends on your interests and budget. I have no idea whether Canon or Sigma plan to update these work horse lenses but it may be worth waiting to see if they do unless you just can’t wait. Either way, you’ll get great images with these two lenses but be aware of their shortcomings.

©Darwin Wiggett - Canon 24-70mm f2.8L - great for tight close work!

©Darwin Wiggett - Sigma 24-70mm lens - great for landscape, travel and general use!

Note: I am sponsored by Sigma Canada and they provide me with lenses to use. I report things the way I see it and am not paid or influenced to bias the review. I use Sigma lenses whenever they perform better than Canon lenses. When they don’t I use Canon lenses. For my style of photography the Sigma 24-70mm lens is a better choice for me. Your mileage may vary.

Keeping Your Equipment Safe – by Les Picker

Posted in Articles about Photography, Instruction, Photography Gear, Techniques with tags , , , , , , on July 16, 2011 by Darwin

Keeping Your Equipment Safe

By Les Picker

www.lesterpickerphoto.com

Whether you’re a pro or amateur photographer, traveling any distance with photo equipment today is a major hassle. If you’re crazy enough to put delicate camera equipment through checked baggage; well, good luck. If you take it aboard as carry-on, today’s onerous weight and size restrictions take a major bite out of what you’ll be able to pack (see my blog on packing photo gear: http://blog.lesterpickerphoto.com/2009/05/25/transporting-your-gear/).

For a moment, though, let’s assume you’ve managed to cart your camera, lenses and accessories with you on vacation to Europe (or perhaps to Asia or Latin America). For the first three days all is well as you walk along the streets of Paris, Budapest or Florence, snapping image after glorious image. Then, one of the following disasters occurs:

A. You come back from dinner and find your camera, lens and laptop gone from your room;

B. You are sitting in a restaurant, hang your camera on your chair and when you get up to leave, the camera is mysteriously gone;

C. You are walking down a narrow, crowded street, someone walks by, you feel a slight bump and shove, and a moment later notice that your camera is no longer on your shoulder;

D. A group of adorable children walk up to you, engage you in greetings and then your camera is yanked off your shoulder, sending you sprawling, with bruises to your head and arm.

Actually, every one of the above incidents has happened to my colleagues, all of them experienced photojournalists, savvy in urban environments. With the downturn in the worldwide economy, fewer police on patrol and a ready Internet market for stolen goods, the theft of tourist valuables has become a going business. The question is, what can you do to protect your valuables from theft while abroad?

©Lester Picker

I’m a believer in proper planning, which I believe can go a long way to minimizing the chances that you‘ll end up being a victim. As a seasoned traveler and professional photojournalist, here are my top ten safety travel tips to protect your valuable photo investment. My thanks to Darwin for having me share this with you.

1. Research. Before I leave home on assignment I thoroughly research the areas I will visit. I check the U.S. State Department’s website (http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_4965.html) or  Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada (http://www.voyage.gc.ca/countries_pays/menu-eng.asp) for alerts in every area I plan to visit. I also check Trip Advisor (www.tripadvisor.com) for recent incident reports, as well as do a Google search for the city name combined with “crime,” “safety issues,” and other descriptors.

2. Take a checklist. I always keep an updated list of my photo equipment, serial numbers and copy of my receipts with me both in hard copy and on my iPod, in case I have to file a theft report with local police and my insurer.

3. No designer labels. I’m not sure why people do this, but camera bags advertising Nikon, Canon and other high-end brands are neon signs to would-be thieves. Use a bag without the designer name or cut off the one that’s on it.

4. Bag the vest. I no longer wear photo vests in foreign urban areas. Instead I’ve switched to products by ScotteVest (www.scottevest.com) which feature hidden inside pockets, or else I use shirts and pants with multiple pockets to store accessories. Disclosure: I am a monthly photography columnist for ScotteVest, but am not paid to endorse their products.

5. Airport security. How do you safeguard from theft those camera accessories that you might need to store in your checked bags? I use PacSafe products (www.pacsafe.com), which are lined with slashproof Exomesh titanium and also come with a long wire and lock. I put my camera accessories into the PacSafe bag(s) and lock them to the interior rollbar. Since I’ve used these bags I’ve not had a single theft from my luggage (I have had six previous checked luggage theft incidents all over the world).

©Lester Picker

6. Hotel security. Always lock your photo equipment in your hotel safe, even if out of your room for a few minutes. If the hotel does not have a safe or you have too much equipment to fit into the typically micro-sized safes, invest in a PacSafe 140 or PacSafe 85. These titanium mesh bags fit over your luggage and then you secure the luggage and bag with the provided lock to any solid surface. Hotel room tip: I advise against securing a bag to the bed frame, since frames can be easily disassembled, or to the leg of a desk, which can be quickly sawed or broken. Instead, use your PacSafe wire and lock to wrap around the toilet bowl. By my reckoning, any thief who goes through the trouble of turning off the water supply, unhooking the toilet tank from the bowl and making off with my luggage is a deserving thief, indeed.

7. Insurance. Make sure your equipment is insured and updated.

8. Distribute your memory cards. As a pro I’m paranoid about this, but then again I have to come home with the goods. Whether pro or amateur, make backup copies of your memory cards and distribute them separate from your camera equipment. It’s one thing to lose your camera. It’s another thing to lose vacation memories. Buy a cheap portable backup drive for less than $100, back up to your laptop each night, or upload to a favorite photo-sharing site (see my blog on backing up your images: http://blog.lesterpickerphoto.com/2009/06/02/backing-up-your-digital-images/).

9. Be street savvy. Brush up on local scams, such as the cut-the-camera-strap-and-run, motorcycle-pull-and-drive, cute-little-kids scam, and bag-lady-on-bus scam or whatever the latest ones happen to be. Don’t leave your camera on a table, chair or counter. Use a camera strap reinforced with wire.

10.  Don’t be heroic. This is injury- or life-saving advice. If thieves confront you, remember that your equipment is not worth injury or death. Give it up and file a police report immediately, then contact your insurer.

Les Picker is a professional photographer whose work has appeared in National Geographic books and magazines and dozens of other major magazines and newspapers. He travels widely throughout the world. His blog is: http://blog.lesterpickerphoto.com


©Lester Picker

Sigma 50-500mm f4.5-6.3 APO DG OS HSM Lens Review – A Field Test

Posted in Articles about Photography, Lens Review, Photography Gear, TCBlog, Videos with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 21, 2011 by Darwin

Note: To see all future reviews please note this blog is no longer active, please visit me over at oopoomoo.com

Recently Sigma Canada lent me a copy of their new 50-500mm f4.5-6.3 DG OS HSM lens to try out on my Spring Photo Tour in the Canadian Rockies. I used the lens for six days in a variety of conditions and took hundreds of photos. Here is what I thought of the big lens with the 10x zoom! Note: all sample images were made with a Canon EOS-1ds Mark III full frame camera.

The Background

Listed below are the ‘features’ of the lens that might entice someone to consider this piece of glass:

  • crazy all-in-one 10x zoom range; 50-500mm on a full frame camera or 75-750mm lens on an APS-sized camera!
  • optical stabilization feature for a 2-4 stop shutter speed advantage for hand-held photography.
  • HSM (hyper-sonic motor) for silent auto-focus.
  • low dispersion glass elements for best lens performance.
  • ‘reasonable’ price for a lens with these capabilities (approx. $1800 CAN, street price).

The Results

OK, so what’s not to like about a lens that goes from the normal point-of-view of the human eye to pinpoint telephoto images? How much zoom is 10x in the real world? The two images of the below highlight the incredible zoom range in action and show the same subject photographed from the same position (in my car) only seconds apart.

©Darwin Wiggett - Bear at 50mm with the Sigma 50-500mm lens

©Darwin Wiggett - Bear at 500mm with Sigma 50-500mm lens

During my spring photo tour I mostly used two lens; my trusty Canon 24mm TS-E (tilt-shift lens) for big wide-angle scenes and the Sigma 50-500mm lens for everything else. I loved the flexibility of the zoom range of the big Sigma lens from normal for generic landscape photography to telephoto for skittish wildlife and distant scenes. The more I used the lens, the more I liked rarely having to change lenses and the better prepared I felt for any photo opportunity! I could frame and zoom on the fly and get things I would have missed if I had to change lenses.

©Darwin Wiggett - Sigma 50-500mm at 500mm, 1/40s at f6.3

©Darwin Wiggett - Sigma 50-500mm lens at 58mm, 1/4s at f14

Besides loving the zoom range and the flexibility of the lens I also really liked the build quality and the operation of the zoom and focus rings. Best of all the lens was snappy and fast to focus and auto-focus was accurate on my 1ds Mark III. The OS (optical stabilization) worked well down for me down to about 1/60th of a second hand-held even at 500mm. I was able to walk around and photograph wildlife without a tripod and the lens seemed to grab focus the majority of the times (except in very low contrast light).

©Darwin Wiggett - Sigma 50-500 at 500mm, 1/250s at f6.3

500mm at f6.3 - detail at 100%, no post production sharpening

I also liked the ability of the lens to focus close at all focal lengths. I could make images of flowers and hummingbirds and other small subjects from a distance and nearly fill the frame. I cropped the image slightly to make a more squarish presentation but even at this distance I was not a minimum focus.

©Darwin Wiggett - Sigma 50-500mm lens at 500mm, 1/250s at f6.3

All in all the lens was a joy to use because of its crazy zoom capabilities and responsive auto-focus. I felt like I could photograph anything I could see and I certianly got images that I would not get with a kit full of prime lenses or regular zooms because the opportunity would be lost when changing lenses.

©Darwin Wiggett - Sigma 50-500mm at 413mm, 1/15s at f10

©Darwin Wiggett - Sigma 50-500mm at 167mm, 1/400s at f5.6

Ok, so the zoom range is fantastic… but what about sharpness?

Sharpness is subjective. In the end, is the sharpness of the lens going to suit your purposes? Are you selling professionally, do you make mega-big prints or will you never make anything over 12×18 inch prints? What is sharp for one person is crap for another….

When I test lenses for myself, I have a simple subjective scale for lens sharpness:

  • Excellent (the rating for sharpest lenses I have tried e.g. macro lenses or prime short telephoto lenses like an 85mm or 135mm lens). Does the tested lens match up to these levels of sharpness?
  • Very Good (good zoom lenses like a 70-200mm lens, or a prime 50mm lens would fall into this category).
  • Good (decent zooms producing professional or nearly professional quality).
  • Acceptable (good enough to make a nice 12×18 prints with a post-production sharpening)
  • Crap (Coke bottles are better than this)

Most lenses I have ever tried are normally in the good (consumer lenses like a 70-300mm f5.6) to Very Good range (pro level lenses like a 24-70mm f2.8 lens). Some lenses have sweet spots. Some lens are sharp in the center but crappy on the edges. Some zooms are better at some focal lengths than others. Some lenses are optimized for sharpness wide open while others need to be stopped down a bit for good performance. You can spend a lot of time testing every possible permutation and other sites offer this information on the web by running the lens through bench tests in the lab. But for me, I just want to know what I can get in the field with a lens and if the results give me what I need (publishable sharpness). I am lens interested in optical bench tests.

Based on my field tests making actual images in the field I would rate the sharpness of the Sigma 50-500mm lens as follows:

  • 50mm – Acceptable
  • 100mm – Good-
  • 135mm – Good
  • 200mm – Very Good
  • 300mm – Very Good
  • 400mm – Good +
  • 500mm – Good -

The lens seems to have a sweet spot for sharpness in the 200-300mm range. I found the 400mm images from the Sigma 50-500mm lens to be sharper than the 40omm images taken with a Sigma 120-400mm lens or the Canon 100-400mm lens so I would say this is a great lens to use in the 200-400mm range. I think 50-150mm  is the weakest performing range of this lens.

©Darwin Wiggett - Sigma 50-500mm lens at 332mm, 1/25s at f10

At 500mm the Sigma is decent but of course it’s nothing like a 500mm prime (I have tried the Canon 500mm f4L and would rate it as Very Good). I got publication quality photos with the Sigma 50-500mm lens at 500mm and even though it does not perform to the levels of a 500mm prime, it still gives decent results. Everything is a compromise, even if you could afford a 500mm prime ($6000-$9000 CAN) would you constantly carry the giant beast in your camera bag (over 8lbs)? With the 50-500mm it was small and light enough that I actually had the lens with me all the time and got shots at 500mm that I would have missed if I owned a 500mm prime (because I would have left the lens in the car). Sharpness is the be-all for some photographers, but having a great shot that is a little softer but useable is better than having no shot at all!

©Darwin Wiggett - Sigma 50-500mm at 500mm, 1/25s at f10

©Darwin Wiggett - Sigma 50-500 at 450mm, 1/640s at f7.1

The Dislikes:

No lens is perfect and the 50-500mm lens has some flaws that may make or break it for you:

  • 95mm front lens element means the lens is hard to filter. I managed to use a polarizer and ND filters by using a Cokin Z-Pro Holder and a Cokin Z-Pro 95mm adapter ring but using filters on this lens will cost you big bucks to buy Z-Pro or Lee sized filters. This is not an easy lens to filter.
  • if you use 1.4, 1.7 or 2x extenders you will not be able to auto-focus your lens (manual focus only). I would not recommend extenders for this lens as sharpness suffers to non-acceptable levels. Plus who needs an extender when you got this much zoom range?
  • the lens is less contrasty than Canon or Nikon lenses and sometimes the colours seem a bit flat (but for me that was an  easy fix in  JPEG camera settings or in RAW conversions).
  • when I use live view and manual focus I love it when the lens stays sharply focused no matter what focal length I zoom to (like my Sigma 120-400mm lens does) – the 50-500mm lens needs to be refocused every time you change the zoom setting (frustrating for the way I shoot). But when auto-focus is used, the lens is zippy and so refocusing is less of a chore.
  • the weight and bulk turns some people off but it is only a tad bigger than the Canon 100-400mm lens and for what you get I think the lens is actually surprisingly small.
  • like all big lenses, to get optical sharpness requires precision in technique – this lens requires a super robust and sturdy tripod for any shots less than 1/60th or 1/125th of a second. People might complain that this lens is not sharp but chances are good it’s an inadequate tripod problem and not a problem with the lens! For longer shutter speeds, 1/30th of a second or longer,  mirror lock-up and a remote release are a must! It is difficult to get a sharp shot with this lens at slow shutter speeds unless you are using proper technique and have a super solid tripod and tripod head.
  • this lens (and many super long lenses) doesn’t do great with distant subjects; atmospheric haze, heat shimmers and other atmospheric effects can reduce apparent sharpness in long lenses and long zoom settings; realize this is not a issue with this lens but is a a long telephoto issue in general.
  • the lens vignettes (slight darkening of corners) at all focal lengths in apertures from f4.5 to about f9.0. I don’t mind this because I often purposefully add vignetting to my photos in post because I like the effect (the vignetting can easily be fixed in Camera RAW). But some people demand and need even exposures across the frame.
  • the lens does suffer from fringing at the edges of the frame with full-frame cameras when the lens is in the 50-150mm range and shot in contrasty light (this can easily be corrected in Camera RAW in Photoshop or Lightroom). If you plan to shoot JPEGS and do not want to spend time correcting fringing, then this lens might be problematic for you.
  • edge sharpness on full frame cameras is about one quality factor from center sharpness (but this is common with most lenses).  On APS-sized sensors both edge vignetting and edge sharpness concerns disappear because of the crop factor of the camera.

©Darwin Wiggett - Sigma 50-500mm at 450mm with a Cokin P173 Blue-Yellow polarizer, 1/4s at f16

Below is an image shot at 50mm with the Sigma 50-500mm lens and the image that follows shows the fringing at the edge of the frame in contrasty light.

©Darwin Wiggett - Sigma 50-500mm lens at 50mm, 1/1600s at f10

Colour fringing at the edges of the frame at 50mm with the Sigma 50-500mm lens

Conclusion

I was super skeptical about this lens. Any lens with a 10X zoom range I am ready to write off as crappy in terms of image quality. I told Sigma I would test it but that they should be prepared for a completely honest review. I was prepared to pan this lens. But I was wrong.

Sure the lens is not as sharp as a 300 or 500mm prime lens, but who would expect it to be? I was surprised by how good this lens actually was especially in the 200-400mm range. It was decent at 500mm and yields publication quality images (with a little help from post-production sharpening). The weak spot in the lens is the 50-150mm range where sharpness and fringing are problems that need to be fixed in post-processing. Also this lens needs to be used with proper techniques to yield optimal results.

©Darwin Wiggett - Sigma 50-500 at 244mm, 1/30s at f13

The one thing that caught me off guard is how much I loved the zoom range and how I felt I was ready to capture any subject from intimate details, to landscapes both grand and extractive, to wildlife all with one lens. I got addicted to having one do it all (and more) lens on my camera. How liberating! And surprisingly I found that long lens settings in the 400-500mm range made up the vast majority of my landscape work with this lens.

If I was going on a trip that was a combination of generic nature photography where I might expect grand landscapes, wildlife and intimate details, then I would be tempted to take just two lenses; a 24-70mm f2.8 and the 50-500mm lens. Two lens and I am covered for every possibility! In fact next year I am going to Iceland and these two lenses might be my perfect travel companions.

©Darwin Wiggett - Sigma 50-500mm lens at 167mm, 1/60s at f5.6

The Dilemma

Sigma lenses are made to fit Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Sony, and Sigma cameras so if you have one of these camera systems, then you might consider the Sigma 50-500mm lens. The problem is Sigma makes a few long range telephotos to choose from and so your choices become a bit difficult:

Sigma 50-500 f4.5-6.3 – reviewed above ($1800 CAN)

Sigma 150-500mm lens f5-6.3 – (street price $1200 CAN)

Sigma 120-400mm lens f4.5-5.6 – see my review here (street price $1000 CAN)

Which one to buy?? It all depends on what you own already, your needs, your photographic subjects etc. I bought the 120-400mm lens after I reviewed it because I liked it better than Canon’s 100-400mm lens and I liked that I could filter the lens easily (77mm filters which I already own). Plus I already have a 70-200mm lens. That choice made sense for me. Look at the specs of each of these lenses and check out several reviews to decide if any of these lenses shoot your shooting style and budget.

For an all round nature shooting I would be happy with either the 50-500 or the 120-400mm lenses. I have not used the 150-500mm lens. If I planned to be a wildlife specialist, I would save up my coin for a fast prime lens (300mm f2.8, 500mm f4 or a 200-400mm f4 or Sigma’s new 120-300 f2.8) but all of these these lenses are very expensive and very heavy. There is no perfect lens but with a little research you can find one that is a good match for you. Good luck!

Full disclosure: I am sponsored by Sigma Canada. I give fully honest reviews of what I think but for some people the issue of ‘sponsorship’ might colour their view of this review. I only accept sponsorship from companies where I am allowed to say whatever I think, Sigma Canada allows this. If you buy from B+H Photo I will get a small percent of the sale that helps support this website.

If you want to buy the 50-500mm lens in the USA I recommend B+H Photo (good service and prices and they support this website) and for Canadian customers please support The Camera Store – the best place to buy any camera stuff in Canada (a biased but honest opinion!).

I hope this field review has been useful. Feel free to comment but keep things polite and reasoned and offer useful input that will help others make informed decisions. Name-calling, thoughtless comments or personal attacks on anyone will not be tolerated and those comments will be removed. Play nice!

©Darwin Wiggett - Sigma 50-500 at 167mm, 1/4s at f13

©Darwin Wiggett - Sigma 50-500 at 167mm, 1/10s at f10

©Darwin Wiggett - Sigma 50-500mm lens at 500mm, 1/250s at f6.3

Some new interview links

Posted in Art of Photography, Articles about Photography, Artistic Development, Controversy, Good News, Humor, Instruction, Photography Gear, Techniques, Workshops and Seminars with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 16, 2011 by Darwin

Sam and I were lucky enough to be invited to a cool photography podcast based out of Calgary called I am Aduro. This podcast is run by Al Del Degan of Aduro Phorography and Andrew Bolton of Zombie Darkroom. We had a great time chatting and laughing with Al and Andrew. Check it out (click on the Listen Now button on the bottom of the link page) and learn what Sam really thinks of Peter Lik’s photography and why I have little respect for most Leica photographers! As well you’ll learn what it really takes to make a living at photography and the underlying theme for the show is fine art nude photography plus there are lots of cool and interesting links.

Speaking of Fine Art Nude work, check out an interview just posted where Sam and I talk about our upcoming Gaia Nudes, Nudes in the Landscape photo workshop. Click here for more.

©Darwin Wiggett

The Weekly Photo – June 6 – Tilt Shift Magic

Posted in Art of Photography, Articles about Photography, eBooks, Good News, Image Processing and Software, Instruction, Photography Gear, TCBlog, Techniques, VWBlog, Workshops and Seminars with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 6, 2011 by Darwin

©Darwin Wiggett

The photo above was taken on the Spring Photo Tour in the Canadian Rockies. I shot this image at sunset at the Kootenay Plains Reflecting Pools (my unofficial name for the place – click on the photo to see it larger). I used a Canon 24mm Tilt-Shift lens for three distinct advantages:

 

First, I used the shift feature to correct the perspective in the scene. With a normal 24mm lens the camera would be pointed down to take in the foreground deer skeleton and the trees in the background would distort and look like they are falling into the frame – yech! With the shift feature on the 24 TS-E lens, I simply leveled the camera back so that it was parallel to the trees and then shifted the lens down to take in the deer skeleton. The result are straight trees in the background with no distortion.

Second,  I  also used the shift feature to give me a wider field of view than a 24mm lens can give. In a single frame I could just get the skeleton and the tops of the mountain in the scene, nothing more. I wanted more sky than the 24mm lens could take in, so I shifted the lens up and took a second photo which was easily merged into a wider rectangle using Photo Merge in Photoshop CS5.

Finally, I used the tilt feature for enhanced depth-of-field. With tilt I got everything sharply focused from near to far by tilting into the plane of focus (see scheimpflug rule). Tilt can give you depth-of-filed from inches from the lens to infinity – very cool!

If you don’t know the advantages and creative power of Tilt Shift lenses for landscape photography and if you want to try out and learn how to use Tilt Shift lenses (Canon or Nikon) then be sure to come out to a seminar and field workshop by Samantha and I entitled: The Tilt-Shift Lens Advantage for Outdoor and Nature Photographers where we will demystify these powerful tools and show how they can be used in an easy to understand way. This hands on session is limited to 15 spots and we’ll have lenses on hand or bring your own lenses. The session is held in Calgary, June 11 1-4PM – see this link or email seminars@thecamerastore.com or call 403-234-9935 for more information.

Speaking of Samantha, she has just published an article for those unsure of using Social Media in photography – To Tweet or not to Tweet – check it out to see if you are a tweeter or not. So far I haven’t taken the plunge into the the twittery world….

And those of you who are fans of eBooks and like to promote the ones you find useful to friends and colleagues we are happy to announce that both Visual Wilderness (VW) and How to Photograph the Canadian Rockies (HTPTCR) websites now offer affiliate programs so that you get a percentage of any referrals you make. Help us spread the word and get paid and buy new camera goodies!

VW Affliate Program

HTPTCR Affliate Program

Finally, Here is one more sample of how to use the shift feature on Tilt Shift lenses to create megapixel wide scenes:

I took these three photos below with the lens shifted up, in the center position and then shifted down. In Photoshop all three images overlapped perfectly and Photo Merge in Photoshop CS5 aligned them perfectly into the final image (the fourth one below – from the Kootenay Plains Reflecting Pool – click to see the photo larger).

Lens shifted up

Center image - no shift

Lens shifted down

Final Image

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