Sigma 400mm F5.6 APO telemacro A-mount lens review by eccles

reviewer#2943 date: Nov-20-2007
sharpness: 4.5
color: 5
build: 2
distortion: 5
flare control: 4
overall: 4.1
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 MP; 24MP24 MP; 36MP36 MP; 42MP42 MP; 61MP61 MP
ownership:I used to own this lens
compared to:Sigma 400mm non-APO
price paid:Ł250UK (used)
positive:High build quality
Limit switch
Great optics even wide open
Close focus
Scratch resistant barrel
Built in hood
Removable tripod collar
DMF focussing doesn't work with A100
comment:I paid over the odds somewhat for this example from London Camera Exchange but it's in superb condition and handles like new.
Compared to the non-APO version that I have it's a little sharper at f8 and f11 but much sharper at f5.6. Purple fringing at high contrast edges that can mar some images from the non-APO lens is much better controlled. I didn't get much CA on the non-APO, and I get even less with this one. Detail at 100% once stopped down on the non-APO is there, but it needs a little post processing to coax it out. The Telemacro needs less work. Check out my bird shots in the samples for this lens - the chaffinch, and probably the second robin, would have had purple fringing with the non-APO but it's well controlled here.
As for handling, well, it's heavy. You can hand hold it but not for long and it's better with a monopod.
The finish is good with a sort of rubberised coating that shrugs off scratches, and the limit switch is useful.
It can hunt a bit in poor light but many long lenses do this.
The AF/MF collar is a bit awkward as it's right by the tripod collar.
Sadly, DMF doesn't work with my A100. This is probably done on purpose by Sigma. This is a heavy lens, and because the focussing ring is so large, there isn't much space elsewhere to support the lens when hand holding. If AF spun the focussing ring around you could run the risk of the lens and camera twisting out of your grip, so in AF mode the ring is completely decoupled, and in MF mode AF is decoupled from the camera.
In conclusion, this is a fine lens, and as commented elsewhere, this is as good as it gets unless you start paying really big sums for 'EX' or 'G'.
Note: I have specified a '4' for flare control as although I haven't encountered any significant flare I haven't really run into shots that might have caused it.
Edit: Two months on, and I still rate this lens very highly. I have found that with a monopod attached and the monopod segments retracted I can hand hold it quite successfully by using the monopod grip as support. For the macho amongst you, you might compare it with holding a Uzi. :)
The lens has been compared favourably against the Canon 400mm f5.6 L when tested, and I can quite believe it. I can crop pictures very heavily and still get usable, printable images. The only drawback is that it is no longer available new, and it is difficult to find s/h, causing prices to soar in the last couple of months. The price I paid two months ago seems positively cheap today.

EDIT: My lens snapped an AF drive gear support pin yesterday, 20th October 2008. I was able to partially dismantle the lens to get the broken pin out to stop it fouling the aperture mechanism. I can still use it as manual focus only but I was very disappointed to find that Sigma UK no longer support this lens nor do they carry any spares. It is apparently six years old. I have modified my build rating accordingly.

rating summary

lens image
  • total reviews: 19
  • sharpness: 4.58
  • color: 4.58
  • build: 4.42
  • distortion: 4.89
  • flare control: 4.26
  • overall: 4.55 - Home of the alpha system photographer
In memory of Cameron Hill - brettania