As a passionate portrait photographer, I prefer to use a zoom during a session for the flexibility and range that a zoom lens has to offer. In order to minimize distortion, much of my portrait work is done in the 85mm or greater range. So when given a chance to evaluate the Sigma APO 50-150mm F2.8 EX II DC HSM I jumped at the opportunity. This lens seemed to combine the ideal features that any portrait photographer could ask for, i.e., range, speed and price.
The 50-150mm has a fast fixed f/2.8 aperture, which comes in handy when you’re working in low-light conditions or looking to capture images with a very shallow depth of field. I believe the look of a shallow depth of field is essential for the professional today as a way to differentiate your work from the plethora of non-professionals. And while I don’t often work wide open at f/2.8 due to the extremely shallow depth-of-field at that aperture, being able to stop the lens down to f/3.5 or f/4.0 is an advantage.
This lens does not have built in image stabilization, which may be a deal breaker for some photographers at this price (current street price, $775). But because this lens doesn’t incorporate image stabilization, it weighs in at only 27.5 ounces, making it a relative lightweight compared to other f/2.8 lenses with image stabilization. The Canon and Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses each weigh in at 51.8 ounces, nearly double the weight of the Sigma. The lighter weight makes it easier to hand-hold the lens and is less likely to cause fatigue when you carry it around for long periods of time.
Recently I helped another photographer at a wedding. I used two cameras, one with the Sigma 50-150mm and the second camera equipped with a wide-angle zoom. This combination worked well for all-day wedding coverage, and the lighter weight of the 50-150mm did not cause cramping or fatigue in my shooting hand. I eliminated the need for a tripod during some recent high school senior sessions by using this lens set at a faster aperture combined with a high ISO in order to utilize a faster shutter speed. And on an environmental session I have plenty of room for the 50-150mm range, which provides an 80-240mm 35mm equivalent setting when mounted on my Canon EOS 40D.
However, in the studio I did find the 50mm (80mm equivalent) a bit long at times for family groups. As I have limited studio space (a maximum subject-to-camera distance around 20 feet), there were times when I would have liked the lens to have a little more wide-angle capability. [Note: When you photograph a group in a small studio space with a wide-angle setting, always watch for lens distortion, as it will not flatter your subjects.] While this lens is not designated as a macro lens, it does allow for focusing as close as 39 inches with a magnification of 1:5.3. This ratio enables a 4-inch object to just about fill the long side of the frame. This enabled me to create some beautiful images with subjects that were an inch or more in size.
I found the HSM (Hyper-Sonic Motor) to be quick and responsive as stated in the product specifications. Also, Sigma includes a lens hood that does an excellent job of minimizing and eliminating lens flare. The one possible drawback of this lens is that it is not designed for full-frame sensor cameras. You can mount it on a full-frame sensor, but the capture will have a vignette area where the light doesn’t reach the full sensor. How much is a lens with all these features listed above? The MSRP is $1,150, but the street price is closer to $775, which is reasonable for a lens with this many features going for it. So is the Sigma APO 50-150mm F2.8 II EX DC HSM the perfect portrait lens? I won't make that call, but you can examine the sample portrait below and judge for yourself.