Review of the Sigma 500mm F4 DG HSM OS Sport Lens

Review of the Sigma 500mm F4 DG HSM OS Sport Lens


The Sigma 500mm F4 is a big lens. I shoot with bigger lenses because I need the longer focal lengths when I’m on the wild horse ranges but this is a really big lens – the biggest I’ve ever used, actually. It’s a big ticket item too, as my dPS editor Darlene gently reminded me. Be extra careful.

Sigma has their lens safely back and I didn’t trip, fall, drop or dunk it so I guess it’s okay to share now that I’m very hard on my gear. This lens withstood two weeks with me and emerged unscathed. Bonus points to Sigma. This lens is built like a tank.

Sigma 500mm F4 Sport Lens Review 7

Finch on feeder, Chicago Botanic Garden, Glencoe, IL
Canon 5DIII, Sigma 500mm F4, ISO 6400, 1/1000th, f/8, monopod with a gimbal head.

What I really wanted to know when I tested this lens

When I tossed my name in the hat as a reviewer for this lens, what I really wanted to know was if a large 500mm prime lens is a practical focal length for the rigors of photographing horses, birds, and wildlife? How is it to shoot using support, rather than hand held as I normally do? Is the autofocus responsive? Does the lens make ultra sharp images?

I tested it in as many situations as possible in the limited time that I had it, starting with a few birding trips to the Chicago Botanic Garden. Birding was followed by visits to the Lincoln Park Zoo to get up close with the lions and tigers. I wrapped everything up by using it for the “at liberty” portion of an equine portrait session with four polo ponies. I love my results. Read on to find out why.

Sigma 500mm F4 Sport Lens Review 5

Striding goose, Chicago Botanic Garden, Glencoe, IL
Canon 5DIII, Sigma 500mm F4, ISO 400, 1/1000th, f/6.7, monopod with a gimbal head.

A few technical specs

  • Weight/Size: 7.3 pounds (3.3 kg), approximately 5.7″ wide x 15″ long (144.8 x 380.3 mm)
  • Focal length: Fixed 500mm prime, the lens does not extend further when focusing.
  • Maximum aperture: F/4.
  • Filter: Rear drop-in, 46mm.
  • Mount: Available for Canon, Nikon, and Sigma
  • Recommended uses: Nature, wildlife, sports and action
  • Price: $5999 USD
  • Release date: December 2016, shipping January 2017.

You can read more detailed specifications here.

Shop for the Sigma 500mm F4 for Canon or for Nikon mount at Amazon.

Sigma 500mm F4 Sport Lens Review 11

Detail of Sigma 500mm drop-in rear filter slot.

Supporting the lens

When photographing animals, birds, and wildlife, your typical gear is probably similar to mine. I mostly use the affordable Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens with either the Canon 7D Mark II or Canon 5D Mark III. If I’m a bit further from my subject, I add a Canon Extender EF 1.4X III. Normally I shoot handheld.

Sigma 500mm F4 Sport Lens Review 9

Comparison of my 100-400mm lens with the Sigma 500mm F4.

Sigma 500mm F4 Sport Lens Review 10

Comparison of my extended 100-400mm with the Sigma 500mm F4.

The Sigma 500mm lens with my Canon 5D Mark III (which also has an L-bracket on it) weighed approximately 10 pounds. That’s about three pounds more than my typical gear. It initially seemed possible to hand hold but fatigue and a resulting loss of sharpness set in quickly. My solution was to use a quick release plate to attach the foot of the Sigma 500mm F4 DG HSM OS Sport lens to my heavy-duty Feisol monopod with a Jobu gimbal head.

This combination supported the weight of the lens/camera combination while allowing me to position the lens exactly where I wanted it. It wasn’t as flexible as hand holding, but far more so than using a tripod.

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Backward glancing goose, Chicago Botanic Garden, Glencoe, IL
Canon 5DIII, Sigma 500mm F4, ISO 400, 1/1000th, f/6.7, monopod with a gimbal head.

Using support, I was able to shoot for a lot longer without fatigue – and without the shaky shots that come from fatigued hands. I also found the gimbal/monopod combination very portable and easy to maneuver when using this lens.

I would recommend using a sturdy tripod (rather than a monopod) to anyone setting up in a blind, with the intention of waiting for wildlife to approach a known watering hole or feeding spot. Over time, balancing this lens and camera combination on a monopod did take its toll on my shoulders. You wouldn’t want to miss a shot that you’d been waiting hours for, because your body was too fatigued from supporting your gear on a monopod, so use a tripod in that situation.

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Horse profile with fence, Somewhere in Suburbia, IL
Canon 5DIII, Sigma 500mm F4, ISO 500, 1/1000th, f/8, monopod with a gimbal head.

Sigma 500mm F4 Sport Lens Review 15

Profile of two horses with fence, Somewhere in Suburbia, IL
Canon 5DIII, Sigma 500mm F4, ISO 500, 1/500th, f/8, monopod with a gimbal head.

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Three “guilty” horses II, Somewhere in Suburbia, IL
Canon 5DIII, Sigma 500mm F4, ISO 500, 1/500th, f/8, monopod with a gimbal head.

Performance in adverse weather

Illinois in the fall is mainly cool. It’s rainy sometimes but more dry than humid. It is also often very windy. I did not have a chance to test the Sigma 500mm F4 DG HSM OS Sport lens in rainy conditions but it shot flawlessly in the cold (the coldest temperature tested was about 30 degrees Fahrenheit, -1 celsius). Wind was more of a factor because of the large profile of the lens. Some gusts would really grab it and that movement caused a loss of sharpness.

Of course, this isn’t an issue specific to this lens – any larger, longer focal length lens will be affected by gusty winds. Solutions would be to shoot in a more protected area, to use higher-than-normal shutter speeds, or to wait for a less windy day to shoot (which is what I would have done if I wasn’t reviewing the lens in a limited timed frame).

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Japanese Macaque (Snow Monkey), Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago, IL
Canon 7DII, Sigma 500mm F4, ISO 800, 1/100th, f/10, monopod with a gimbal head.

Autofocus performance

The autofocus on the Sigma 500mm F4 DG HSM OS Sport lens is flawless.

First, you can turn the annoying autofocus beep off with a simple switch right on the barrel of the lens. Turning the autofocus beep off is essential when photographing wildlife since the noise can make your subjects anxious. Thumbs up to Sigma for putting this feature in such an accessible location.

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Detail of Sigma 500mm F4 option switches.

There are also settings for autofocus, manual focus, and manual override. The point of the manual override mode is to have the lens in auto but be able to easily switch it into manual by grabbing the focusing ring. Because I could manually override the autofocus at any time, even when the lens was in auto mode, that’s the mode I preferred to use.


I tested the Sigma 500mm F4 DG HSM OS Sport lens with and without the stabilization turned on. There are two options; OS1 for handheld photography, and OS2 for panning and tracking. While using my monopod and gimbal head, I didn’t see a noticeable difference in sharpness between OS1 and OS2. There was, however, a noticeable difference in sharpness when OS was turned to the off position. Ultimately I switched it to OS1 and left it there.

More convenience at your fingertips

In addition to the stabilization, beep, and autofocus options there is a “focus limiter.” This switch allows you to choose within which range you need the lens to focus. For example, if you know you aren’t focusing on anything close to you, you can set the lens to focus only from 10 meters to infinity. Setting this limiter allows the lens to focus a smidge faster and that gives you a better chance of sharply capturing fleeting moments.

My favorite feature

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Detail of the Sigma 500mm F4 Recall Button.

Perhaps my favorite feature is the group of four rubber buttons circling the front of the lens.

To use them, find a location you want to have as a primary focusing point, hold down one of the buttons and hit the set button on the lens barrel. This action programs the lens to focus on the specific point you selected. The focus lock on that point is based on distance so if you move, you need to reset your buttons.

If you are stationary, sitting in a blind photographing birds or wild animals, this is an amazing feature. You can essentially compose four different shots in four different locations by assigning one of these buttons to each location. When a bird lands in one of your four locations, press the button for that focus point, press the shutter and grab your shot. I tested this with some of the spunkier zoo inhabitants and it worked like a charm.

Again, the advantage here is that this is a little faster than asking the lens to refocus. That millisecond is a precious advantage when photographing wildlife.

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Approaching lion, Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago, IL
Canon 7DII, Sigma 500mm F4, ISO 1000, 1/640th, f/8, monopod with a gimbal head.

Image quality

Image quality is a subjective thing but without it, state-of-the-art features and well-placed buttons don’t mean a thing. I was blown away by the images I produced with this lens.

Straight out of camera the colors rendered beautifully. They were soft, nuanced and creamy. Backgrounds blurred softly away creating a clean canvas for wildlife compositions. The separation between elements was also phenomenal. I had a lot of fun experimenting with “layering,” like the series of four monochrome equine images above and the zebra image below.

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Layered zebras, Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago, IL
Canon 7DII, Sigma 500mm F4, ISO 2500, 1/640th, f/8, monopod with a gimbal head.

Images made with this lens are tack sharp. Details of eyes, fur, and feathers are crisp and well-structured. There is no visible distortion and only very minimal vignetting. For wildlife images, I prefer the  range of f/8 to f/11 but I didn’t find any unusable apertures. I could have happily shot at f/4 if the circumstance called for it.

Because I was so happy with the quality, all of the wildlife and bird images included in this review were very minimally processed in Lightroom CC. I sharpened the RAW files, adjusted the white balance, and made a few targeted adjustments to enhance details.

Transporting and carrying the lens

While the weight and length of Sigma’s 500mm F4 lens aren’t unusual for this lens category (the Canon version is almost exactly the same weight and dimensions, and also $3000 more!) it is a factor when using it. First, you need to be careful about how you carry a large lens like this to prevent damaging your camera’s lens mount. During a typical shoot you might normally hold your camera by its grip, and let the weight of the lens hang off of the camera body. With a lens this large, that isn’t recommended. Instead, make it a habit of holding onto a lens of this size by the foot, and support the camera’s weight with your other hand. You can also cradle the lens like a baby, which I did often (I didn’t sing it any lullabies, though).

You also need to consider carefully the logistics of hiking to your destination with such a large lens. Investing in a special large lens backpack like this one might be a solution for ease of carrying. Lastly, if you have weight and bag restrictions when you travel, you’ll have to find a workaround for that.


Baby zebra portrait, Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago, IL Canon 7DII, Sigma 500mm F4, ISO 1600, 1/640th, f/8, monopod with a gimbal head.

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Zebra with turned head, Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago, IL
Canon 7DII, Sigma 500mm F4, ISO 2000, 1/640th, f/8, monopod with a gimbal head.

Bottom line

This lens performed very well for me. Images were sharp and overall quality was excellent. For me, because I am often hiking (or recently, biking!) to locate and then keep up with very mobile herds of wild horses, the size and weight of the lens were a bit difficult to manage. Horses are also unpredictable and I often need a shorter focal length to capture all of their behaviors as their curiosity overcomes them and they start to approach me.

If you’re like me, I’d recommend the Canon 100-400mm I mentioned earlier in this review. For an affordable option with an even longer focal length, try Sigma’s own 150-600mm that weighs in at around 4 pounds for under $1000.

I would recommend the Sigma 500mm F4 DG HSM OS Sport lens for a birder, or any type of wildlife photographer that stations herself in a blind, and waits for the animals to come into view. If you’re that photographer, sign up at B&H to be notified when this lens will ship (here for Canon mount, or click here for Nikon) to ensure you get one of the first copies. You won’t be disappointed.

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Review of the New Sigma 500mm F4 DG HSM OS Sport Lens
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Lara Joy Brynildssen is an avid equine, wildlife, nature and travel photographer. She is crazy about her cats, loves her Canon 5D Mark IV, and never refuses a sip of limoncello. More seriously, LJ is working on several series of wild horse images, writes about and teaches photography and exhibits her work in the Chicagoland area. Follow her at

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  • Eric Lorenz

    Great article and beautiful images! Definately not an everyday lens, is it? (Especially if you want to preserve your back health!)

  • Lara Joy Brynildssen

    Thank you!

  • It would be nice to see a sport based review of this lens as it would certainly be an option for me, rather than the expensive Canon lens. Alternatively I’d be happy to review it if someone sent me a copy for a while.

  • Lara Joy Brynildssen

    dPS only had the lens for a very limited time and it had to stay within the US otherwise we would have done a sports-oriented review too.

  • LOL as Lara Joy said we had limited time with it. You’d have to talk to Sigma about a review.

  • watch for an article on back health coming soon on dPS actually!! Ironically

  • I’ll get in touch with Sigma and let you know

  • good luck!

  • Andy Chua

    I don’t think this review has test the lens at it’s best yet. Why is the reviewer shooting image at f6.3-f8. We wanna see how sharp the lens is wide open.

  • allaboutthatbass

    How can this fella call his writing as a review when he dare not show a single photo at one should be reading it.

  • Lara Joy Brynildssen

    So I guess I need a new profile picture since I am not a “fella,” LOL. I’m a female photographer. Here you go. F4. Sharp as a tack.

  • Lara Joy Brynildssen

    I photograph a lot of wildlife and find F4 and below rarely gives me enough depth of field but here you go, wide open. I also uploaded another image to a comment above, also at F4.

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  • Will Fair

    These lenses have a huge market share in sports and Birds in Flight (or any moving wildlife for that matter) and yet every object is stationary. I have waited for a review on this since it was announced, would have been great to have seen at least one image. Any lens of this quality will perform as such on a tripod or monopod. Would like to know how the focusing and tracking are handheld on a bird in flight. Just food for thought…nice images!

  • Lara Joy Brynildssen

    I hear you. Birds in flight would have been nice. Unfortunately, the two weeks I had it, in November, in Illinois, it was windy, rainy and cold. The birds just weren’t cooperating. I did try to use it handheld but it was just too big/heavy for me personally so any BIF would have been with a tripod or monopod anyway. I hope you can find a sports review of the lens elsewhere. Let me know if you do. I’d love to read that review! (I don’t shoot sports)

  • Daniel Berglund

    Thanks! Great review! Yours is one of the first and the best. 😀 I really like that you had the Canon equivalent to compare it with, and even a Sigma 150-600 sports. Thumbs up!
    What Sigma is doing with their ART-series is great, and to start fighting with the “big guys” in such a hard field as the pro telephoto lenses is bold. It seems to me they’ve come to stay this time (the Sigma 500/4,5 didn’t really make it).

  • Lara Joy Brynildssen

    thank you!

  • Daniel Berglund

    You’re welcome! 😀 BTW, you say the autofocus is “flawless”. Does that mean quick and responsive compared to the EF 100-400 IS II or to another prime in the same focal range like the EF 500/4 IS II?

  • Lara Joy Brynildssen

    Hi Daniel, If your style of shooting is compatible with a large prime lens like the Sigma 500, then it’s a great lens with strong focusing. I only had the lens for a very short time so I didn’t do comprehensive focusing comparisons with other telephoto prime and zoom lenses. I would test it before you buy it to ensure that it’s right for you.

  • Luis Piovani

    Great Review! The pictures are great. I have the Canon 100-400 II (bought it for my wife) and have been using the Sigma 150-600 Contemporary for about 2 years now (Used a 400 f5.6L before).
    A Canon 500 f4 was always on my wish list, but still could not justify to pay the price. For now, I’m buying the 150-600 Sport (to replace my Contemporary) as I use it in very harsh environments, but may be this new Sigma 500 f4 is a good alternative (more affordable than Canon) for the near future.
    Thanks for sharing your experience with the lens.


  • Lara Joy Brynildssen

    Thanks! I would, without hesitation, tell you to buy this lens when you’re ready financially. I remember being very frustrated with managing the size of it but that’s just something one has to manage with a prime lens of this focal length. As my photography style changes, I think more and more that a 500 prime might be in my future. And the Sigma 1.4 extender to go with it too!

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