Sigma 170-500mm F5-6.3 APO Aspherical A-mount lens review by JimD

reviewer#28609 date: Jun-16-2016
sharpness: 4.5
color: 4
build: 3
distortion: 5
flare control: 5
overall: 4.3
tested on:
  • film camera:Film camera
  • APS-C: 6MP6 MP; 10MP10 MP; 12MP12 MP; 14MP14 MP; 16MP16 MP; 20MP20 MP; 24MP24 MP
  • full frame: 12MP12 MP24MP24 MP36MP36 MP42MP42 MP
ownership:I own this lens
compared to:Sigma 120-400 f4.5-5.6 APO HSM
Sony 18-250 f3.5-6.3
price paid:$150
positive:Light for the length
Surprisingly sharp
Build quality
Noisy and slow AF
Very long minimum length
comment:I don't know why I bought this. I'm not a big fan of Sigma; I've had a 70-300mm and a 400mm AF strip gears on me and another get fungus within months. And I already have the 120-400mm. Price is really the only reason I can think of- it was tough to pass up 500mm of almost mint lens with a Dyxum rating above 4 for about $150.
Once I unpacked it my first impressions were not good; it is hard to believe that only 3 years and .05 on Dyxum ratings separate this from the 120-400mm. It has chronic zoom creep, and it doesn't even have the basic short-end lock of the comparison lenses. It looks plasticky and the barrel feels like plumbers' PVC piping. In appearance it's a dinosaur from another era: skinny barrel and massive hood. I'm used to the versatility of the 18-250mm and I've always felt that the short end of the 120-400mm is way too long for a modern zoom (we can't all afford a 70-400mmG or even the Sigma 50-500mm), so 170mm is even worse. Oh, and the 86mm front element means that if I want a decent polariser it'll cost about half the price of the lens!
So, was the extra 100mm worth $150?
Surprisingly, yes. 100mm more length is not to be sneezed at, especially for birds. It's lighter than the 400mm. Sure, it hunts like a hungry honey-badger and the AF, compared to the HSM on the newer lens, sounds like truck traffic. But once you have the subject in focus it takes a damn fine image, and the rating begins to makes sense. I went out into the garden, and at full length, in tricky light, handheld, got some sharp pictures of nesting barbets. The high contrast shots show no CA at all, and with the big hood, no evidence of flare. As another reviewer has pointed out, even the creep can be turned into a positive, allowing for push-pull zooming more quickly than turning the ring.
Will I use it instead of the 400mm? Not often, but it's not bad for a backup. It'll certainly be on the spare camera on the game park trips, at least until I can afford that 70-400mm!

rating summary

lens image
  • total reviews: 16
  • sharpness: 4.16
  • color: 4.19
  • build: 4.25
  • distortion: 4.63
  • flare control: 4.50
  • overall: 4.34 - Home of the alpha system photographer
In memory of Cameron Hill - brettania