Review: Sigma APO 50-150mm F2.8 EX II DC HSM

By Don Chick, M.Photog.Cr., CPP

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.

200910we_sigmaFigure_01.jpg
©Don Chick

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.

 

200910we_sigmaFigure_02.jpg


©Chick Photography

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.

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Subject was photographed at 111mm or (111*1.6=178mm). Model: Ross Bachelder.
©Chick Photography

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Comments (6)

This article seems to assume or something that most people are cropped sensor shooters...
I like that this lens is lighter, it would be easier to carry around but I really like the balance of the big Canon lens. And for me, IS is a must on Long lenses

Dan:

I have been using this lens for about a year now and I find it has been my go to lens. it is sharp through the full range, lightweight. The focal length is perfect for studio and outdoor work.

JIm Thomas:

Have two of these gems. While I do miss the VR, this lens is my #1 choice for portraits, The range, wide aperture & sharpness make it worth a look. The 1.5x extender works well too.

I agree that Canon makes wonderful IS lenses; however, the price/value of this lens has a lot going for it. I've really enjoyed shooting most of my portrait work with it this year.

Travis, my assumption is not about sensor size, (this lens will vignette the image when used on a full-frame sensor) but rather on the considering the merits of this lens by the portrait photographer.

I had been waiting for a great zoom lens for a while, once i got the full frame D700. I was in a camera store and saw this lens on consignment and just love it .. Nikon lens for my D700 that zooms from 28-200 full frame. This lens was originally created for film cameras, so it also does not have VR built in but it is really sharp and good glass and only weighs 21oz with the protective UV filter on it
I am not sure if it is better or worse than the Sigma but it works great in the studio.and i also have a smallish studio for width so it does work well.... Oh, it was $210.00 .. that is another way to go ..

I have had the opportunity to use this lens for the last several months, and all I can say is WOW! Sharp, Fast and Light weight are some of the attributes to this lens. I find it as the lens I go to once the event starts. It gives me various ranges to work with and I now seem to leave my 70 to 200mm in my bag. I have also added other Sigma lenses to my bag and I also love the 120mm-300mm. Check it out!

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