Archive for macro photography

Inspirations – Budding 2 by Katarina Fagerstrom Levring

Posted in Inspirations with tags , , , , on November 2, 2011 by sabrina

© Katarina Fagerstrom Levring

1/100 sec., f/0.0, ISO 160, shutter prio, spot metering mode
Canon EOS 5D Mark II, Lensbaby Composer (50 mm) with  double glass optics and macro filters

Using flowers as my main motif and creating abstractions of them has made me realize that I had totally missed out on how sensual they could be. That is before I used the camera as my first creative tool of choice. During the time I have worked this way it has shown that I seem to have a natural talent to make the most out of this special trait in their personalities. I do see each flower as a personality, most often a female and as I spend sometimes several months with each species (the Iris for example) I’ve also learned that there is so much more to discover than what first meets the eye, with each flower. A budding tulip reminded me of how vulnerable one can be in the beginning of say a relationship, with a partner, emotionally and sexually or for that matter, the vulnerability in a beginning artist, hoping to flourish in her medium. ~ Katarina Fagerstrom Levring

Fall in the Canadian Rockies Photo Tour Results – Alan Ernst

Posted in Workshops and Seminars with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 5, 2011 by Darwin

©Alan Ernst

Bog Birch Branch

Lumix GH2 with Olympus 50mm/f2 macro lens at f 5.6, 1/15 sec, +2/3 EV, ISO 160

Waiting for a sunrise at upper Waterfowl Lake, I wandered off into a meadow. Mist coming off the lake on this frosty morning made for great close-ups of hoare frost covered vegetation. The colourful leaves of miniature birch shrubs caught attracted me but I had to search for a while to find a branch which had a good mix of colour and could be isolated from its surroundings / background without too much clutter. Once I found a suitable twig, I focused on one leaf and then ran a whole series of shots at different apertures to see the difference in depth of field. The exposures at f4 and f 5.6 turned out to be the best with sufficient selective focus while still keeping the background out of focus completely.

©Alan Ernst

Driftwood in the golden light

Lumix GH1 with 100-300mm Lumix lens at 280mm (35mm equiv. of 560mm) at f8, 1/60 sec, +1/3 EV, ISO 320

On our very first morning shoot at Whitegoat Lakes, participants had packed up and were waiting for the rest of the group to return to our vehicles. Sunrise was over, the clouds were turning white and grey, the reflections on the pond were gone. Time to pack up? Maybe not! When photographing in a group, some people will always be done sooner than others and then sit or stand around, waiting for the rest of participants to wrap up. In these situations, I always continue to scan my surroundings looking for worthwhile subjects.

I had noticed a kaleidoscope of colours on the pond caused by the reflection of warm early morning light on Mt. Stelfox when the bobbing driftwood caught my eye. I knew the moving wood in the water would be problematic in this relatively low light and did not want to step up the sensitivity too much (four thirds sensors are not much good above ISO 400), so set the drive to continuous and rattled off a few shots in succession to hopefully capture the driftwood when movement was minimal. One shot turned out to be sharp.

©Alan Ernst

 Mistaya Canyon

Lumix GH2 with Olympus 11-22mm lens at 14mm at f8, ¼ sec, + 1/3 EV, ISO 160 Polariser and 2 stop hard edge ND

In overcast weather we often venture to canyons and waterfalls or into forests, to take advantage of the diffuse light. Mistaya Canyon never disappoints, with many interesting angles, layered rocks and moving water. At this spot, shooting into the canyon upstream, instead of a solid ND, I used a 2 stop hard edge ND in reverse and at an angle, to darken the foreground and white water, while capturing more detail in the dark of the canyon. Although I bracketed for an HDR image, I found to my surprise that the filters applied were sufficient to even out the contrast to use a single exposure with only a small amount of shadow / highlight adjustment.

©Alan Ernst

  Mount Wilson Spires

Lumix GH1 with 100-300mm Lumix lens at 100mm (35mm equiv. of 200mm), at f8, 1/200 sec, +1/3 EV, ISO 125

When passing Mt. Wilson in the afternoon or evening I always crane my neck to look at the jagged peaks towering almost vertically above the Icefields Parkway. Most people drive right by as they cannot be seen until you look straight up. I have many great images of these turrets in all kinds of moody or warm light, shrouded in mist, covered in snow or ice, etc. On this occasion, stopping a little further along the Hwy, I noticed the almost perfect repetition of outlines of the lower and upper mountainsides, something I had never observed before. We were running late for our sunrise shoot but decided to stop anyway for a quick grab shot from the road.

©Alan Ernst

Nigel’s Navel

Lumix GH1 with 100-300mm Lumix lens at 240mm (35mm equiv. of 460mm), at f8, 1/800 sec, + 1/3 EV, ISO 125

Returning from our photo hike to snowy Wilcox Pass, the early afternoon light was still very intense and not overly suitable for overall landscapes. However, the fresh snow which made walking a little challenging by intermittently turning the steep trail to ice, slush or mud, also covered the rocky slopes of Wilcox Ridge and Nigel Peak, making for very contrasty patterns of rock and snow. I managed to get some good landscape extractions but my favourite one turned out to be these amazing folded rocks on the flanks of Nigel Peak, which beat any fault formations I have seen before. I have walked this trail half a dozen times but never noticed it before.

©Alan Ernst

Windy Point Sunrise

Lumix GH2 with Olympus 11-22mm lens at 12mm (35mm equiv. of 24mm), at f9, 1/2 sec, ISO 160, 3 stop hard edge grad

Usually we reserve sunrises like these for our November tours, when the likelihood for blazing colours is fairly good. However, it takes a number of factors to provide this kind of light and they generally will only occur 10-15 % of the time between end of September and early April . Our fall tour participants were treated to three very good sunrises in six days and were lucky indeed. The wind was fierce on this morning however, ripping along the lake and around Windy Point. I only managed to get two or three shots from this elevated location, when filters flew out of my hand and my backpack rolled down the hill. I could hardly hang on to my tripod and had to retreat to a lower viewpoint which was far less impressive but also, much less windy…

The regular November tour out of Aurum Lodge sold out a year ago but if anyone is interested, an additional tour has just been added to this year’s schedule, which runs from late afternoon on Wed. Nov. 16th to mid day on Sun. Nov. 20th. Four nights, single occupancy, C$ 1,359 all-inclusive – contact Alan at info@aurumlodge.com to reserve your spot.

Photographer of the Month – Xavier Nuez

Posted in Photographer of the Month with tags , , , , on September 19, 2011 by sabrina

© Xavier Nuez

This month I’m excited to share the work of artist and photographer Xavier Nuez. Born in Montreal and now living in Chicago, Xavier’s work has been featured in both galleries and museums and is included in numerous corporate, public and private collections.

Darwin:  I notice that many of what I consider the best photographers are also musicians or musically inclined and that these photographers have some of the most evocative visual compositions. What is it about music and photography that gel so well?

Xavier: I’ve never considered the relationship between my music and my photography, so this is a new puzzle. There is something very meditative about the two, both in the production of the art and also in the appreciation afterward. When I’m shooting or playing music I can focus so intensely that nothing else exists, while I find it hard to concentrate most any other time!

They both seem to be art forms that require both left and right brain. In both cases you are channeling emotion through a mechanical instrument, an instrument that requires years and years of practice to master. And I must say here that I’m hardly a master with my guitar. I play just well enough to enjoy myself. There has always been a different level of passion and dedication to perfection with my photography.

It requires patience to master any instrument, and while I think most people understand that to be true with a musical instrument – that it takes years and years to develop the muscle memory and dexterity – I think most people underestimate the commitment required to master the technical skills required in photography, which includes not just the camera but the lighting equipment.  So I guess another relationship is patience.

Lastly, creativity and expression are muscles that need to be exercised for you to be a good artist. Musical and visual art are just different muscles, and I do believe there are intangible benefits to my images, having more than one creative outlet.

Darwin: Besides being a fine photographer and musician, you do things like glaze and paint china and then make stunning detailed macro images of your work. I love the fact that you create art and then make additional art by photographing your first creation. What other art forms do you practice?

Xavier: Funny you should ask! For 15 years I was an avid sketch artist (mainly pencil) and occasional painter, but this passion has waned. Coincidently last week I bought a sketch pad because I miss drawing.

And for some years in my teens and twenty’s I loved writing short stories. I still enjoy writing but I haven’t written fiction in years.

I’ve always loved improv comedy and for a couple of years I studied with a group in Toronto. I wish this had been a bigger part of my life because it’s clear to me that through improv you smash down so many barriers to self expression.

Darwin: Your alleyway work is mind-blowing! What is the worst thing that has happened to you while making your forays in the dark and dangerous heart of the city? And what is the best thing that has happened to you while making alleyway photos?

Xavier: Well thank you very much! When I look at this series, it’s a little hard to believe how often I’ve put my life on the line. But the older I get the more cautious I become.

I just got back from Saint Louis where I just added a new image to the series. I spent hours during the day roaming through rundown areas, looking for something to shoot later at night. I had a long list of prospects, but I kept wondering if I should hire a cop for some of these – something I’ve never done. In the end I didn’t, but I did bring several friends with me, unlike just one the way I usually do.

I’ve had many heart-pumping moments, and I’ve come close to becoming a casualty too many times, but the worst and best story has to come from Compton, CA. First, its Compton – made famous by the dueling gangs, the Bloods and the Crips. While in the middle of a shoot, a gang – 12 guys in black hoodies – chase me and my 2 friends back to my van. We have time to throw the gear in and lock the doors but then the gang surrounds the van and tells us to get out. It’s surprising how organized they were – they were literally standing all around the van. I get the impression that if I try to leave, bullets will fly. Also, and this shows you how truly insane I can be, I’m holding out for the slim chance of actually going back to re-do the shot I was working on!!

It’s a Latino gang and I speak Spanish so I lower the window a crack and try to explain what I’m doing, emphasizing that I meant no disrespect. We have a tense conversation for several minutes, until the gang leader (the only one without a hoodie) asks me if I’m Luis, the friend of a friend. I say, “Yes! Of course I am!” He then starts waving to the gang saying, “I know this guy! He’s cool he’s cool!”

In an instant I go from being a target to being part of the family – it was just a mind-blowing turn of events. I step out of the van and half the gang hugs me. They tell me I can go back to taking pictures, and that I’m safe within certain streets – I’m beyond thrilled that I can return to my photograph. Several of the gang members including Jorge, the leader, decide to hang out with us and I set up again for the earlier photo.

Ten minutes later a cop car appears around the corner skidding to a halt. Two cops jump out with laser guided hand guns and because I’ve jumped in front of the camera to protect the shot, I find myself staring at a vibrating red dot on my chest.

A minute later, we’re all standing with our hands on the hood of the cop car. I’m waiting for the cops to relax before starting to explain what I’m doing, but Jorge jumps in and says “Do you officers know lieutenant Menendez? He’s a friend of mine.” The cops turn white and wide-eyed. They stare at each other and quickly return to their car, saying “We’re sorry we thought something was going on here. Have a nice day.” They get in the car and drive away and we never see them again. This gang has been paying off the lieutenant and you don’t mess with his revenue stream.

Jorge then comes up to me and says, “You’re not Luis, are you.” I say, no, I’m not, and we both laugh. I ended up getting 2 of my best shots that night.

Darwin: You make fine art images and you do assignment work, which do your prefer or do you like both for different reasons?

Xavier: Assignment work was 90% of my income for 20 years. I haven’t done a commercial gig in a long time – I’m not opposed to it but my art keeps me very busy. I’m thrilled that I can thrive by creating the images I’m truly passionate about. It’s no longer something I have to squeeze in at the end of the day.

I enjoyed being a commercial photographer – being paid to create photographs was a dream come true. Shooting architectural interiors for magazines and interior designers was the bulk of my work, with fashion, industrial and product filling in the rest.

© Xavier Nuez

© Xavier Nuez

© Xavier Nuez

© Xavier Nuez

© Xavier Nuez

© Xavier Nuez

© Xavier Nuez

© Xavier Nuez

© Xavier Nuez

© Xavier Nuez

© Xavier Nuez

Inspirations – Cactus Spikes by Hamish Roots

Posted in Inspirations with tags , on September 18, 2011 by sabrina

© Hamish Roots

I would love to say I was crawling on my belly surrounded by thorny cacti in an arid landscape, dominated by towering pillars and arches of wind-carved stone, lit by the after-glow of a falling sun over the horizon…but sadly no, this image was made in Bristol (UK) on a brief trip to a local flower shop to pick up a gift for a friend. I spied this cactus on a table and was drawn to its soft spherical shape contrasting wonderfully with the sharp spikes jutting out of its surface, the diffused light from a skylight provided just enough illumination to pick out the details.

By chance I had my camera with me at the time (I was returning from photographing some woods near by), I used a shallow depth of field to accentuate just a small number of the spikes whilst still retaining the shape of the cactus body throughout the image. As much as a graphic image of shapes and forms coming in and out of focus, it also reminds me to be aware of my surroundings and details within it – regardless of whether I’m knee-deep in snow ‘somewhere’ within the Arctic Circle or standing on a street corner in Hong Kong. I had no idea what I would find when I went to the shop but I’m glad I had my camera with me! ~ Hamish Roots

Nordegg Mine Tour and Icefield Walk Results – Sonia Wadsworth

Posted in Workshops and Seminars with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 30, 2011 by Darwin

On August 19-22, I co-hosted a photography outing with Mark and Leslie Degner, Royce Howland, Samantha Chrysanthou and Alan Ernst to the Brazeau Colleries in Nordegg, Alberta and to the Athabasca Glacier in Jasper National Park. On the tour were six keen photographers that will share their favorite ‘take’ from the outing. Below are Sonia Wadsworth’s images.

©Sonia Wadsworth

©Sonia Wadsworth

©Sonia Wadsworth

©Sonia Wadsworth

©Sonia Wadsworth

©Sonia Wadsworth

This Week’s Photo Contest Winner

Posted in Monthly Photo Contest with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 18, 2011 by Darwin

Go over the The How To Photograph the Canadian Rockies website to see this week,s winner of the Canadian Rockies Photo Contest! Be sure to enter your photos in the Canadian Rockies Flickr Group to be eligible for the prizes.

The Weekly Photo – July 11, 2011

Posted in TCBlog, VWBlog, Weekly Photo with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 11, 2011 by Darwin

The images below are of Abraham Lake in spring — looks inviting doesn’t it? Let’s go to the beach and go swimming. How about a canoe ride?

If you visit Abraham Lake in Alberta in May or June you’ll mostly see a baked mud flat. If you want big turquoise waters then come in September when the golden falls colours contrast well with the blue-green basin full of water. But in spring the cracked earth makes for some cool photos. Abraham has many faces from the ice bubbles of winter through mud-flats of spring to pristine-looking mountain lake in the late summer and fall.

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

Spring Tour Results – Susan Richardson

Posted in Workshops and Seminars with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 2, 2011 by Darwin

Below are Susan Richardson’s favorite images she made while on the Spring Tour in the Canadian Rockies. We had a wonderful group and it was a fitting end to highlight my last spring tour (I am still doing, fall and winter tours). For anyone wanting to go on a Spring Tour in the future, I highly recommend Royce Howland’s offering (contact him now to reserve your spot for 2012) also based out the Aurum Lodge.

©Susan Richardson

©Susan Richardson

©Susan Richardson

©Susan Richardson

©Susan Richardson

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

The Sigma 85mm f1.4 as a macro lens?

Posted in Art of Photography, Articles about Photography, Good News, Lens Review, Photography Gear, TCBlog, Techniques, VWBlog with tags , , , , , , , , on May 24, 2011 by Darwin

Almost anyone who has been photography for awhile knows that an 85mm focal length lens is considered perfect for portraits. The lens is flattering to the human face and an 85mm lens is relatively small and unobtrusive. With a fast aperture of f1.4 you can get micro-thin slice of focus that makes your subject pop off the screen in a sea of blur. No wonder wedding photographers, journalists and fine-art photographers love a fast 85mm lens (see this review of the Sigma 85mm lens for portrait shooting).

I had planned to use my Sigma 85mm lens to do pet portraits and kid photos but have not yet set up any shoots of these subjects. This weekend for grins I went out with just the 85mm to see what I could do with nature subjects. Right away I found out that the Sigma focuses really close and at f1.4 I got a really lovely wash of blur that looked painterly (see below).

Closest focus with the Sigma 85mm lens at f1.4

I loved the look of the shallow depth-of-field but wanted the lens to focus even closer. The easy answer of course is too add an extension tube which is simply a hollow tube that pushes the lens away from the camera and allows the lens to focus closer. To learn more about extension tubes see this link.

I grabbed my set of Kenko extension tubes and slapped the 36mm tube between the camera and the Sigma 85mm lens. Suddenly the Sigma portrait lens focused super close and I could make frame-filling photos of all sorts of wee things in nature. I loved the soft painterly look I was getting using the lens wide open at f1.4. And the best thing, at such wide apertures, is that shutter speeds were lightning fast so I could just hand hold the camera and get tiny pricks of sharp focus in a wash of blur. The Sigma 85mm f1.4 is now going with me in my nature photography photo bag  as my ‘artistic ‘macro’ lens. I am looking forward to taking it with me on my upcoming spring photo tour. Watch out Monet!

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett

©Darwin Wiggett