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Sigma 150 vs Canon 100 - Do I even want a macro?

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Thread started 02 Mar 2012 (Friday) 10:36   
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wihakowi
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LONG POST WARNING!
First I will lay out my needs and desires and explain my experiences to this point:
~ I want to take photos of small living things outdoors that often move - either on their own or with the environment.
~ Normally, I have little need or ability to be closer than 1 1/2 to 2 feet from my subjects - it scares them off or they fill too much of the view. When I do need to be that close and closer, I realize a tripod, flash and MF are needed.
~ I would like, in fact not theory, to have a fast lens aperture available in order to use higher shutter speeds.
~ My hands shake more than they used to - especially when I am trying to get closer to my subjects and I get a bit tense. Effective OS/IS would be great.
~ I am trying to break away from my tripod addiction a bit to bring more spontaneity and candidness to my style.
~ Effective AF would be great. I can easily use the USM to fine-tune but need AF to get me in the ball-park!


How I am working now:
~ To attempt to get what I want above, my current setup is a Canon 7D, 70-200 2.8 II, 1.4 or 2x III TCs, 580 flash w/diffuser.
~ Current MFD distance is just shy of 4'
~ Max magnification w/2x is about .42 (1:2.4)
~ Resulting IQ is OK but I am hoping for a simpler and lighter outfit that would give me me true macro if I should desire it and the ability avoid the TCs if my subjects allow me to get closer - the 70-200 combo not allowing a great magnification w/o TCs.

I decided to get the Sigma 2.8 macro OS:
~ Great reviews.
~ OS/IS
~ AF
~ Extra working distance of the 150mm (vs 100mm)
~ Tripod ring
~ Ability to accept Canon converters (which I already have)

Got the lens last week. Tried shooting with 7D and T3i, with and without 1.4 mkII converter, single point, AI Servo & Single Shot, with and without tripod.

1) The AF seems to be very hit and miss as to when it actually operates at all. Sometimes it works as expected, reasonably fast and accurate. Much of the time though, it will not AF at all and I have to shut down power to the body and/or switch the lens from AF to MF back to AF and/or move the focus ring near the focus point before the AF actually actuates. It feels almost as if the focus "gets stuck" at a point and simply turns itself off at random times and has to be "re-set" in order to work. It is much more frequent when using the Canon 1.4 converter but happens as well with the bare lens.

2) The second issue may or may not be related to #1. No matter what I do, the lens will not actuate AF at all when closer than about 2 feet to my subject. I have tried all 3 distance pre-sets, AF to MF to AF (like above) and total re-sets without success. I know that at "true" macro distances the AF is normally slower but what I have is a lens that simply doesn't try! It is like the challenge detailed above except that AF will never work - no matter what I do.

Had some folks tell me the above is not normal behavior so I called Sigma. They listened to my concerns as well as a converter question:
~ The AF would regularly have no action whatsoever - under many conditions.
~ The AF would not function at all with distance limiter set on 0.38-0.53m position.
~ Amazon's packaging was, in my opinion, unsatisfactory.
~ Would either Canon converter cause any issues with the lens?

The tech support answer was:
~ Neither AF action that I was experiencing was normal. He suggested possibly firmware, but I have the latest version and he agreed "it must be out of adjustment."
~ He was upset at Amazon packaging and said that "the shipping could easily have thrown the OS out of alignment". He said "the OS is a floating element in the lens and sensitive to jostling and bumps" (I always thought that OS/IS was a motor gyro within the lens rather than an "element" but whatever).
~ Re: converters he said, "the lens is a f/2.8, it should function and AF fine across the board with either converter on the 7D body."
He suggested that I either send it to Sigma for calibration or deal with the vendor (Amazon). I chose to deal with Amazon.

Amazon was great. They agreed to:
~ Send me a new lens.
~ Give it to me at the current listed price (lower than I paid).
~ Overnight ship it.
~ Package the lens better. I really hit them hard on this one, using Sigma's own dissatisfaction as my lever.

In the meantime decided to drop my manhood and go ahead and RTFM. I am much enlightened by their write-up (and realize that their tech obviously hadn't read the manual).

The manual states:
~ The macro "light fall=off" phenomenon. Focus Distance vs F/stop Chart - At 1.65m the aperture is diminished to f/3.2, at 0.4m = f/5.4, and at 0.38 (MFD) aperture has darkened to = f/5.8!! The
If I am interpreting this data correctly, what it tells me is that the body doesn't really want to AF at all when the MFD is approached. Once I add the 1.4X converter the aperture goes to f/8.1, well under the AF range of the 7D. In fact, if I asses the data logically, anything under about 0.64m with the converter brings the aperture slower than f/5.6 thus not allowing AF with the 7D.

~ It states under "ABOUT TELE CONVERTERS" (their upper case shouting):
"With 1.4x APO Tele Converter, AF can operate between infinity and 0.53m. If the distance scale is between 0.38 and 0.53, only MF is available"
~ "When attaching the APO Tele Converters, the Focus Limiter will not function even if the position of the switch is changed."
~ "When attaching the 2.0X Tele Converter, it can be used in manual focus only"
and
~ several references to making sure to turn OS OFF when removing lens and when turning body OFF or risk damaging the lens!
Those last warnings scared me even more than the f/stop and AF surprises!

After reading the above, I realized that perhaps the original lens was working as designed! I am in a quandary as to what direction to take.

IF:
~ I cannot truly utilize the lens at f/2.8 at any distance closer than 1.65m.
~ I cannot use AF with any converters at, practically speaking, any distance less than about a meter.
~ The OS is not particularly effective at any of the macro distances (gleaned from internet postings/reviews)

THEN:
Why have this lens as opposed to the non OS version or the Canon 100L (or even the older 100USM)? As I mentioned above, the reasons for this model over the others were: f/2.8, longer working distance (5"!), takes converters, OS/IS and AF. Seems like with what I know now, for my style, the only real advantage is the closer working distance and that is marginal at 5". Not to mention I could lose a bunch of weight (Sigma = 1lb 3oz heavier than Canon 100L ) in the lens and $$ gain to my pocketbook!

Do I go back to my existing equipment and methodology, keep this lens (one of them) and learn to live with its limitations as a macro OR move on to something else?

What are my options that could best meet my needs? Seems as though all three macros (Sig 150, 100 & 100 L) have many of the same limitations re: focus speed, AF ability and loss of light. Canon 300 f/4 has 5' MFD.

Does the Canon 100L have effective enough IS at close distances to help me?
Does the Canon 100L with (third party) converters (esp 1.4) AF at closer distances?

I really want to find the best method of getting the these shots! Without AF I am in sad shape. It is heavy enough that I need two hands to hold it (being both short and heavy make it very difficult for me to hand-hold AND totally MF) - my old eyes really need the AF help. And ... my shaky old hands could use effective OS as well but I understand I'm not to expect too much in that arena up close.
One hope was to also be able to use it with my Canon 2x mk III converter but I don't even dare try it with the erratic operation bare and with the 1.4!

I have also not tried Live View since it normally does not work well with what and how I shoot - butterflies & dragonflies.

I am fully aware that to get "true" macro I am going to need a "true" macro lens; but if that normally entails a tripod, MF and a dedicated flash - why bother getting a lens that has AF (that doesn't work) and OS/IS (that needs to be turned off on a tripod)?

Quite objectively, photos taken with my 70-200 2.8 II w/2x converter (400mm) from its MFD (< 4') have nearly as much IQ as the ones I was getting with the 150 + 1.4 from 2 - 3 feet - my original "sweet working distance". As it turns out, that 2 - 3 feet is the closest I can get with the Sigma macro and AND have dependable AF & OS! The advantage of moving in to about 2' would be to fill the frame more with my subject. I am feeling somewhat lost and bewildered by this whole experience and may just send both copies back to Amazon and begin anew.

Thanks for hanging in there with this long communique.

Thoughts and opinions are most welcome,
Steve

Post #1, Mar 02, 2012 10:36:37




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photobug7d
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I have the Sigma 150.
Love it.

Post #2, Mar 02, 2012 10:57:35




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District_History_Fan
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Hi Steve,

You have some great questions that, quite honestly, I am looking forward to seeing answered as well.

There is another option you haven't mentioned. Your 70-200 f/2.8L IS II would be awesome with a Canon 500D close up filter. You lose infinity focus with the filter installed, but the 500D allows the native lens to focus at 1/2 meter. The working distance is great, you'll have IS and AF and you kit will be much lighter. Magnification is nice too (.6x), for many uses.

Take care.

Post #3, Mar 02, 2012 11:06:13


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sawsedge
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For butterflies, I felt I was pushing my luck getting as close as I could with a 300/420mm. In your situation, I would really be looking at the 180mm lenses. Or put a small tube on your 70-200. Or something like the 500D closeup lens (not the body, this screws onto the front element like a filter).

I have the 100 USM (non L), and it never focused well at any distance on my 20D, but does OK on my 50D. As I usually do manual focus on still subjects, this isn't an issue for me. I think it would be both too short and not focus well enough for a moving subject like a butterfly.

Have you looked up Juza? He prefers morning for his insects, and the 180mm lenses.

Post #4, Mar 02, 2012 11:18:28


- John

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District_History_Fan
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It should have been mentioned (in my earlier post) that the 500D close up filter focuses in a narrow distance range (=/- 1/2 meter) but from there, the zoom ring on the native lens controls magnification level as needed. It isn't a perfect solution, but many folks find it works well for their uses.

Post #5, Mar 02, 2012 11:34:23 as a reply to sawsedge's post 15 minutes earlier.


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Lester ­ Wareham
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I moved you to macro talk, my fault for being less specific in your original thread.

As I said the 100 classic works fine at life size in reasonable light so I would expect the sigma to be ok. Can you clarify the exposure level you are having problems with your AF.

You said you want a f2.8 for faster shutter speeds, but this will give you very limited depth of field at even limited magnifications. For example I almost never shoot above f5.6 with butterflies. Maximum blur shots on flowers I might try f2.8 or f3.5 depending on the lens but often that if not enough dof, tripod shots anyway.

Post #6, Mar 03, 2012 13:07:32


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halitime
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300 f4 IS with an extension tube set up also works well.

Post #7, Mar 03, 2012 14:25:40


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Lester ­ Wareham
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Reading the bit about f5.8 it does sound like the light fall off with this lens is a bit more than the nominal 2 stops. I have found the 7D to be much less tolerant of af operation with lenses below f5.6 than the 20D for example (experience is from double stacking 1.4x tcs), if you have another body you could see if that improves things.

As an informational note the Canon 180 lens manual lists the light loss as 1.333 stops at life size and the 100mm classic is the nominal 2 stops, both are internal focus, 2 stops is expected of an OLE focus lens with a unity pupilary magnification.

As I say I would get used to MF for macro anyway. The normal techneque is the use the focus ring to set magnification and then focus by moving the lends and body closer or further away from the subject.

Post #8, Mar 04, 2012 02:50:15


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wihakowi
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Lester Wareham wrote in post #14018714external link
Reading the bit about f5.8 it does sound like the light fall off with this lens is a bit more than the nominal 2 stops. I have found the 7D to be much less tolerant of af operation with lenses below f5.6 than the 20D for example (experience is from double stacking 1.4x tcs), if you have another body you could see if that improves things.

As an informational note the Canon 180 lens manual lists the light loss as 1.333 stops at life size and the 100mm classic is the nominal 2 stops, both are internal focus, 2 stops is expected of an OLE focus lens with a unity pupilary magnification.

As I say I would get used to MF for macro anyway. The normal techneque is the use the focus ring to set magnification and then focus by moving the lends and body closer or further away from the subject.

I have tried (now both) lenses with my T3i as well. Pretty much the same results and frustrations. I do realize now that my challenges have to with my expectations and needs - not the quality or proper functioning of any of the macro lenses.

Re: light "fall off", I found the following on "The Digital Picture"'s review of the Canon 100L.

Magnification > Exposure Factor (loss in stops) > Effective Aperture:
Infinity > 0 > f/2.8
1:5 > 2/3 > f/3.6
1:3 > 1 > f/4.1
1:2 > 1 1/3 > f/4.6
1:1.5 > 1 2/3 > f/5.0
1:1 > 2 > f/5.9

So, it seems that the Canon 100 L has even more light fall off than the Sigma 150. I can't figure why a 2x exposure factor would equal (2.8 X 2) f/5.9 but I guess it does!

Still mulling over whether this lens will do what I need in the +/- 2' range.
I may return it and use the $$ to get a Canon 100 non L. If it's not doing what I want at 2 to 3' and for true macro I really need MF (very dificult for me handheld) and a tripod (negating need for IS), why keep the 150 or get a 100L?

I tried out a friend's Sigma 50-500 OS and was surprised by its "quasi-macro" abilities. In the 200mm - 300mm range the close focus ability is is impressive:
around 200mm = 1:3.1 at 2' and 300mm = 1:3.4 at about 2.8' distance (from focal plain - making it a working distance of around a foot and a half). I know the lens is slow light-wise but my 70-200, 2x combo is the same speed.

Are my calculations correct:
Current setup gets me 1:2.4 or about .42 magnification from just under 4'.
Sigma 50-500 OS would get me 1:3.4 or about .30 magnification from about 2'.
I'm still better off with the 70-200, 2x combo for magnification, yes?


Thanks,
Steve

Post #9, Mar 04, 2012 22:47:40




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Lester ­ Wareham
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f stops are a ratio of the lens focal length to lens aperture diameter, the amount of light entering is proportional to the aperture area, thus the square of the diameter. So f/5.6 is 2 stops smaller than f/2.8 (there is inherent rounding in the standard f-stop numbers).

I would think a 50-500 is a very heavy lens to use for macro, although a reasonably close focus tele lens can work ok for flowers and the larger bugs if you don't need to get close in.

Adding a 2x to anything will take a lot of sharpness off, even a 1.4x does. This is much more noticeable at high magnifications which are very demanding on lens sharpness.

If you want to do macro handheld and you find handholding difficult I would go for a lighter lens, one in the region of 100mm is probably best but my memory is you sigma is not bad, I am sure quite a few people were getting good results with this lens.

There is a lot of techneque with macro but with some practice you should get the hang of it quite soon. I would suggest to keep working with your macro lens rather than trying alternatives for the present. If you want to try a different lens have a go with it before committing.

Post #10, Mar 05, 2012 00:27:24


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Crimzon
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Well I can say from actually trying it, the 50-500mm does not make a good macro. You can get much closer, just not close enough, even with all 3 extension tubes (65mm).

My 55-250mm makes a much better macro. It works backwards though I can focus much closer at 55mm then I can at 250mm. @ 250mm I'm about a foot or 2 away, but @ 55mm I'm practically on top of the subject, so much that my 430 ex even with the wide angle flash flap down, can't actually reach the subject.

I'm not very good at math so the reasons elude me, so I won't even try and explain it.

Post #11, Mar 17, 2012 14:16:58


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wihakowi
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Crimzon wrote in post #14103443external link
Well I can say from actually trying it, the 50-500mm does not make a good macro. You can get much closer, just not close enough, even with all 3 extension tubes (65mm).

My 55-250mm makes a much better macro. It works backwards though I can focus much closer at 55mm then I can at 250mm. @ 250mm I'm about a foot or 2 away, but @ 55mm I'm practically on top of the subject, so much that my 430 ex even with the wide angle flash flap down, can't actually reach the subject.

I'm not very good at math so the reasons elude me, so I won't even try and explain it.

I agree on the above but bear in mind that I never wanted "true macro" capability, just the best solution to "filling the screen" with butterfly sized live animals. The 55-250 does MFD to about 3' as I recall. The thinking on the 50-500 is that it will get in much closer (at 200-300mm), retain AF and OS and still give the flexibility of the rest of its focal lengths.

I am now realizing that between my own fading ability to "get down", "get close" & "get dirty" and the bugs' skittishness, closer distance abilities in a lens may not be of great advantage to me anymore! I may have to reside myself to being "on the outside, looking in"!

Speaking of math and equations - is there a direct correlation between like focal lengths and distance? In other words, all things being equal, does a 150mm lens at 1.5' fill the same frame area as a 300mm at 3'? Or a 250mm at 3' vs a 500mm at 6'?

Steve

Post #12, Mar 17, 2012 16:59:07




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tonylong
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I don't know the technical answers but I'd say sure, with a two-dimensional framing you could get pretty much the same framing of a specific subject with twice the focal length and twice the distance.

However, there are other considerations such as perspective and depth of field considerations. You end up with two different images.

Post #13, Mar 17, 2012 22:16:12


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Lester ­ Wareham
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For a given magnification and effective apature the DOF will be the same, however perspective (how much of the background in the frame) will be less for a longer lens.

I will note that closeup work with butterfly and dragonfly type targets it gets harder to find the subject in the frame as the focal length increases, 100mm easy, 180mm still easy, 300mm more effort, 400mm harder, 600mm very hard, these are my personal experiences.

On the quality point of view close up lens aberrations will be better controlled with a macro lens than a good quality tele prime with a macro mode like the 300L. Zoom lenses tend not to have as nice bokeh as primes.

Post #14, Mar 18, 2012 03:34:51


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