Review: Sigma 60-600mm f/4.5 – 6.3 DG OS HSM for Wildlife Photography

Review: Sigma 60-600mm f/4.5 – 6.3 DG OS HSM for Wildlife Photography

0Comments

Out of the box I was impressed with the build quality and features (particularly the Arca Swiss foot) of this lens.

In 2019, Sigma is bringing a new lens to their line up. The 60-600mm f/4.5 – 6.3 DG OS HSM (available for Nikon and Canon) offers flexibility and quality as a portrait and super telephoto lens. The lens, optimized for DLSR cameras (DG), features optical stabilization (OS) and Sigma’s Hyper Sonic Motor technology (HSM). This review focuses on the applications, strengths, and weaknesses for wildlife photography. In short, I found the image sharpness, build quality, and versatility of the lens to be good. The lens may not be suitable for a full professional looking for amazing bokeh of an f/4 or f/2.8, but many will find its flexibility and image quality to be more than satisfactory. For the nitty-gritty details read the rest of this article and view my final rating below.

First impressions

Out of the box, this lens has a great feel. At a little under 6 pounds (2.7kg), the weight lets you know the majority of its construction is from metal. The only pieces of plastic were the hood and lens cover. The weight is not surprising considering they have to pack in the elements to give you a 60-600mm focal length. I was surprised at how short the total length of the lens was considering its impressive ability to have a 10x optical zoom.

Here, the lens is mounted to a Nikon D810, which I used to test the lens

Build quality

There are some features out of the box that I noticed and appreciated immediately. Aside from the plastic pinch-style lens cap, the lens came with a padded Velcro hood cover. It was a quick way to protect the camera’s front element and provide some padding while in the case. The foot of the lens had Arca Swiss mounts built in removing the need to purchase a 3rd party plate if you use Arca Swiss tripod mounts. The hood mounted to the camera with a sturdy set screw rather than a twisting-lock design like many lenses have. Last, all mounts were metal, and the front element was large with very nice looking glass.

The rear element of the camera has all metal mounts

The front element of the lens has very nice looking glass

Image Quality

In the lab

To examine the sharpness of the lens I took a series of images at 60, 220, and 600 mm and throughout the range of apertures (wide open to closed) at each of the focal lengths. All images were taken from a tripod and in natural lighting. The images below are entirely unedited, and I have provided samples of a 2:1 crop at approximately the center edge of each image to examine sharpness. The captions of each image dive into my observations at each particular setting, but the trend was the same throughout the tests. Edges of images were soft up to about four f-stops over wide open. The lens had a predictable sweet spot between f/10 – f/16 where edge sharpness was excellent. Sharpness tapered off from f/16 to the maximum aperture.

At 60mm and wide open (f/4.5) there was noticeable softness in the edge of the image.

The sweet spot of the lens was at f/14 which provided sharp edges at 60mm.

When set at the smallest aperture there was some softness in the edge, but not nearly as much as shooting wide-open.

Set at wide open (f/5.6) and 220mm there was noticeable softness in the edges.

At 220mm, f/14 the edges were very sharp

While set at 220 mm and the smallest aperture (f/29) the edges were slightly soft, but not as soft as wide open.

At 600mm f/6.3 there was noticeable softness in the edges.

While at 600 mm the lens was sharpest at f/16

There was some softness in the image at 600mm and the smallest aperture (f/32)

I brought the lens into the field to make wildlife images and test out some of its qualities. I shot all of these photos and found them to be sharp and well stabilized. Sharpness would only improve with the use of a tripod. I will use the images to highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the lens.

I began to appreciate the incredible versatility of the broad focal range in this lens while in the field. Zooming out to 60mm allowed me to shoot contextual shots and wildlife portraits without moving my feet. The images of these swans were taken back to back – one at 60mm and the other at 600mm. The group of swans was about 40yards (~40m) away. These images are uncropped and unedited and show how the lens is capable of contextual and portrait scenes.

This image of a Trumpeter Swan was captured at 600mm. I was able to isolate it from the group thanks to the super-telephoto lens.

This image of a group of Trumpeter Swans was taken at 60mm and are about 40 yards away. You can see the sleeping swan on the left side of the ice that I zoomed in on for the image above. This image really shows off how much range you have between 60 and 600mm!

I was surprised by how close I was able to focus on a subject. At 600mm I was able to focus on subjects about 6 feet away. This was a huge, huge benefit for getting near-to full frame shots of small birds. The minimum focusing distance was noticeably shorter than other telephotos I have shot. The image of this small Black-capped Chickadee I shot at 500mm at a distance of about 7 feet. It is uncropped.

This Black-Capped Chickadee was perched about 7 feet away, and I was impressed that I was able to focus on it being that close.

As expected with a larger minimum f-stop (f/6.3 at 600mm) it was more difficult to get amazing bokeh and subject separation. To achieve the lens sweet spot it was necessary to shoot at an aperture between f/8 – f/14. Shooting at the sweet spot resulted in background elements being more noticeable. Even at 600mm and f/6.3, it was challenging to get subject separation. When photographing small birds, this often meant distracting sticks were left relatively in focus in the shot. Although I did not shoot in twilight conditions, it would be difficult to stop moving wildlife because of slow shutter speeds related to the minimum aperture.

This image was taken with the lens at 600mm, f/6.3. The relatively large minimum aperture left sticks in the background of the image.

600mm is a great reach, but what if you want to go even further? I used the internal 2x (DX) crop of my Nikon D810 to double the focal length for some shots. Even though I was effectively shooting at 1,200mm handheld, the optical stabilization (OS) system in the lens allowed me to shoot clean and sharp shots. I did not test this lens with any telephoto converters.

This timid Trumpeter Swan was shot using the DX crop built into my camera at an effective focal length of 1,200 mm. I was happy with the OS of the lens.

Focus, accuracy, speed

You may have noticed by now I was shooting in winter conditions while testing this lens. Even though temperatures were between 15-30F (-9 to -1degrees), the autofocus remained fast and quiet thanks to the HSM technology. I was impressed with the speed of the autofocus system in capturing moving birds.

I relied on the fast autofocus of the lens to lock onto this passing flock of Trumpeter Swans. This image was taken at 280mm and is uncropped.

Shots from the field

Here are a series of shots that I made with the Sigma 60-600 during my trials. Although I’m not using these to illustrate a specific point, I think the portfolio below can help you make your own deductions on what this lens can achieve and whether it is a good fit for you.

A Trumpeter Swan swims in an open lead of water during a bright sunset.

Two White-tailed Deer observe their surroundings before moving through a tallgrass prairie.

A White-tailed Deer walked through tall prairie grass in a native prairie restoration project.

A Trumpeter Swan stands on the ice after preening itself.

A White-breasted Nuthatch shows off its neck geometry.

A wild Turkey struts across a field of snow.

A Downy Woodpecker extracts a sunflower seed from a drooping head.

Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Good OS for shooting handheld
  • Incredible versatility from 60-600mm
  • Can replace a couple lenses in your kit for traveling efficiency
  • Excellent build quality and Arca Swiss plate as a default

Cons:

  • Sacrifice bokeh due to relatively large minimum f-stops
  • Edge sharpness is pretty soft at open apertures
  • It is heavy for its size and relative to comparable lenses

The bottom line, final rating and product value

Overall I was impressed with this lens for its versatility. I think there is a lot of appeal in having one lens that can “do it all”. However, fully professional photographers may shy away from the lens because of its minimum aperture and resulting depth of field. This lens sells for US$1,999 dollars. This value delivers a very nice lens with good capability. My overall rating: 8.5 out of 10.

Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Sigma 60-600mm f/4.5 – 6.3 DG OS HSM Lens
Author Rating
4

Read more from our Cameras & Equipment category

Ian Johnson is a photographer, scientist, writer, wildlife biologist, musician, and woodworker located in Hoonah, Alaska. Described as a Renaissance Man, he lives and breathes the challenges and opportunities that life in rural Alaska can present. You can find him subsisting-in and photographing Alaska simultaneously. Ian writes a personal blog and sells print products on his website here.