Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS Vs. Sigma 500mm f/4.5 EX HSM
I recently acquired the vaunted EF 500mm f/4L IS which has now replaced my long time standard Sigma 500mm f/4.5 EX as my primary birding lens.
A straight review of the Canon lens is almost unnecessary.. at this point people know well enough that these big Canon primes are almost without fault for image quality and performance. So merely adding my name to the list of fanboys is hardly worth the typing time. Nobody doesn't want the best.. it's just a matter of how to get it and how much it will cost!
However,. I did see that my experience with the Sigma version over the last few years could be a service. To date I have seen but one other side by side comparison.
First Impressions and ergonomics:
- Overall Build Quality: TIE
Although they certainly differ in appearance,. both lenses appear to give an equal impression of overall build quality. That being rock solid top notch.
- WEIGHT: Winner, Sigma
The Canon weighs in at 8.53 pounds, the Sigma 6.8 for close to a 2 Lb difference.
- Manual Focus Ring: Winner, Sigma
On my copies the Sigma focus ring is far smoother to turn and more tactile as far as material. I have found the same conclusion when I compared other EX lenses to Canon L lenses.
- Other Controls: Winner, Canon
The Sigma AF/MF switch and focus limit switches, though easier to find,. stand too proud and thus are very prone to being tripped accidentally. In fact it is almost impossible to remove the Sigma from its case without this act turning the AF/MF switch to "manual". The Canon switches are recessed well,. and yet still easy to use. I have yet to see any of them get "bumped". There are also a lot of additional controls, such as the focus stop buttons on the front end of the barrel and the focus preset switches and ring.
- Lens Collar: Winner, Sigma
The Sigma's collar is superior in several ways.
It is mounted toward the front of the lens,. as opposed to the rear,. so it is completely out of the way regarding controls on both the lens and camera, and tripod head. I find that this makes the lens seem to balance more easily.
The tripod collar is much smoother,. allowing you turn the lens in the collar easier and with less jerkiness. It is in fact "butter smooth" on the Sigma. It feels like it is on roller bearings. The Canon isn't bad,. but it's not as good. I feel the front mount and larger diameter of the ring on the Sigma must contribute to this,. by balancing the lens better there is less sideways force,. and thus less friction.
- Tripod Mounting FOOT: Winner, Sigma
Again the Sigma has gone the extra mile on the little things. The Tripod foot is longer,. allowing more leeway to balance the lens with T-cons being added,. and it has four threaded mounting holes,. two 1/4" and two 3/8" The Canon has only two total. The canon is shorter. The grip surfaces when used as a carrying handle are about equal.
- Included Case: Winner, Sigma
The Canon provides a very sturdy hard case that looks sadly a lot like a professional Make up artists case. Other than for shipping, it is of no use to a photographer at all. Yes it will protect the lens better, but again, I will never actually put the 500mm in that case until the say I sell it. The sigma case is a soft case that is a practical way to carry it into the field. It's not perfect, if it had more room for an attached body and additional pouches for filters etc, it could be a serious contender for field carry.
- Lens Hood: Winner, Canon
This was tougher to call. the Canon is more significant,. deeper and clearly doing a better job. It is easier to mount and remove. But the Sigma hood has a more substantial feel,. and when it is mounted it is far more secure. The Canon will break very easily,. (and is in fact prone to it) The Sigma seems less likely to do so.
Ergonomic impressions summed:
Some of my findings may be a surprise to a lot of you,.
...but it was what I have come to expect in fact.
Sigma may not always be Canon's equal in optics and focus speed etc.. But I have found that with there EX line Sigma seems to try and "outdo" Canon and Nikon on the things that they "can" beat them at,.. and this is where Sigma EX lenses can, and often in my opinion do, succeed in being "better" than the OEM's.
Performance IN USE:
So this is where we get down to the nitty gritty. Shoe size and "smooth rings" are fine for ogling in your living room,. but the real issues are how does it perform Optically,. how fast does it focus,. how accurate. And here is where the Sigma EX often starts to fall behind it's nearest "L" competitor...
- Viewfinder Image: Winner, Canon.
Fluorite equipped lenses and .5 on the f/stop do have an effect, bringing a slightly brighter view finder. If you've never seen the viewfinder image that a Supertelephoto will provide,. either of these lenses will drop your jaw.
- Auto Focus Speed: Canon!
Sigma's HSM (HyperSonic Motor) focus motor is the second fastest AF you can put on your EOS DSLR,... and on the high end Sigma 500mm 4.5EX it is the fastest iteration of the HSM I have encountered,. equaling and besting many Canon USM lenses,. even many L lenses. Likewise,. the USM (UltraSonic Motor) is at it's fastest when installed on Canon's big primes. You simply can not find faster focus than a 1D with a Canon Supertelephoto L.
- Auto focus Accuracy: Tie?
In the two years I have had the Sigma 500mm f/4.5 EX I found it's focus accuracy and speed to be as good as, and possibly better than any lens I own, including a number of L lenses. Mated to the 1D MkII it simply never fails at nailing the focus. In my experience with the Canon 500mmL I see no evidence yet that the Canon is any better or worse. Suffice it to say,. if the Canon is better,. it is a minute difference I have not detected.
- Focus Tracking: **Canon.
Thus far I have used the Canon to track a moving object only once Vs. two years with the Sigma. To me there was no clear advantage given to the Canon in my simple test with some gulls,. but this is a subject that requires more difficult circumstances and much more testing to see what the Canon can really do. I will update later.
Long overdue... the Canon has taken this title. Not surprising to many I'm sure,. but I had to see for myself. A year later I can without question state that the Canon not only has a significant advantage tracking moving subjects when linked to a 1D MkII,. but it seems to posses an almost magical ability to lock onto a birds eyes for focus even when tracking fast moving birds in flight.
- Image Stabilization: winner, Canon
I have now used the Canon 500 f/4L IS hand held fairly often! I would never dream of using the Sigma hand held,. and in two years I never once tried it. I shot the Canon hand held on day one out of necessity (it was a timing thing involving a moving vehicle and Cedar Waxwings) and hand held it works well! Also,. I have been using the Canon with just a Mono pod as opposed to always relying on a huge and heavy gimble head tripod affair,. something I would never have tried with the Sigma. The IS works very well in conjunction with a monopod with good steady discipline. The Canon will supply super sharp images used this way. If Sigma ever gets it's "OS" but in gear.. we may have a more even playing field.
- Aperture: Winner, Canon
F/4 Vs. f/4.5
Not much else to say. 90% of the time that .5 may not amount to much, but it does bring up the shutter speeds which is always a plus. Plus it effects T-con usage. (see below)
- Teleconverter Functionality: Winner, Canon
Canon has this wrapped up in two ways.
1st with the f/4 aperture the Canon can AF with the 1.4X T-con on all bodies, and with the 2X T-con on the "1" bodies.
2nd, the Sigma has a "problem" with it's "1" series compatibility. This leaves the Sigma with the 1.4X t-con unable to AF on the newer 1 series bodies despite the fact that it SHOULD AF at the max aperture of only f/6.3? To date we have no explanation.
- Weather Sealing: Winner, Canon
Some Canon L lenses including the 500mm offer weather sealing. I can attest to how well this works in extreme conditions, and I have heard tales of 1D cameras dropped into puddles and surviving. For the full benefit of weather sealing the lens must be mated to a weather sealed camera.. this is the Canon "1" series. The Sigma is very well built,. and like the Canon, I have had my fair share of run ins with it and weather. No it's never been drenched, but some drops never hurt it either.
- Image Quality: ?? So damn hard to say!
And this where the Sigma is really earning it's keep. Having had the the Canon for a while now,. I have gotten some STELLAR images with it. But the Sigma has also given me some of the best images I have ever had with all of my DSLRs to date. Literally thousands of superb images with detail and contrast that no other lens I have owned can equal save for this new Canon 500mm and the Canon 200mm f/1.8L.
If the Image quality of a lens that can be had used for $2,200.00 is on par with .. or even hardly noticeably less than the $5,500.00 Canon.. than that is a feat in itself. Interestingly, the other Side by Side review of these lenses that I have read had about the same conclusion re: image quality. Both perform to perfection wide open.
- COST NEW: Winner Sigma
Obviously the Sigma costs less,. but significantly so. At the time I wrote this The Canon is $5,500.00 @ B&H and the Sigma is about $3,400.00 (B&H suddenly does not carry it?)
- COST USED: Winner Sigma
This is where it starts to get really interesting. As the Canon holds it's value almost completely, but Sigma's drop about 1/4 - 1/3 in value almost the day they are sold. The Sigma in perfect condition can be had for about $2,400.00, where as the Canon's sell regularly for about 10% less than new price,. still at or over $5,000.00
Well,. as seen in the details above. There is no one lens that wins every category. Even where the pricier Canon excels in many aspects,. some of the finer details of ergonomics and use usability go to the Sigma. Obviously with the dramatic price differential,. a pure value winner has to be the Sigma. For a lot less money... one gets a lens that is very close to the equal of the Canon overall, and better in some ways.
Either of these lenses will go a long way to making any nature photographer's kit better than it is with Zooms or standard telephotos alone. You can't go wrong with either choice.
But if price is no object,. and the extra weight is "doable" then the Canon has to be the overall winner.. the trouble is, the "win" is a remarkably slim margin. This slight lead makes the $Dollar value issue even more compelling.
Cash to burn?
Get the Canon. I also can not stress enough how much more freedom the Canon offers with it's IS. Shooting handheld and with a monopod are a joy to me, as I do not always want to lug a tripod and gimble head. Only with IS do I see this as an option.
As Canon shooters our only IS options are EF lenses and the very few SIGMAs with OS. If they still made this in a Minolta mount the Sony Alpha shooters could use In Body IS and get some help.
Looking for quality the equal of Canon,. but on a budget?
Find a good used Sigma for less than half the price. Enjoy all the benefits of the Canon Supertelephoto and sacrifice only Image Stabilization, AF with T-cons, and weather sealing.
- Sigma 500mm f/4.5 EX HSM
Sample Images Taken with 1D MkII
This lens in combo with the MkII offers literally bulletproff AF. I spent about 7 hours on a sunny Saturday shooting Osprey in flight and diving for fish. I took about 300 photos that day.
NONE of them were out of focus.
Sorry all the links are DEAD! My hosting site went dead some time back. I hope to get these working again soon.
Sigma Sample Images Taken with 10D;
- Sample Images taken with EF 500mm f/4L IS
Thus far I have only the one small gallery of Cedar Waxwings and a few very nice images of a Cooper's Hawk,..but the combo of Canon SuperTele and 1DMkII seems bulletproof!
**More Images added!**
http://cyberdynesystemsimaging.fotopic.net/c1294880.htmlIMG NOTICE: [NOT AN IMAGE URL, NOT RENDERED INLINE]100% crop of above;
http://images.fotopic.net …p;outx=600&noresize=1IMG NOTICE: [NOT AN IMAGE URL, NOT RENDERED INLINE]
New IMAGES With new EOS 1D Mark IIIIMG NOTICE: [NOT AN IMAGE URL, NOT RENDERED INLINE]
UPDATE October 2005
Recently I was asked if after spending an entire "season" with the Canon I still found the Sigma's image quality capable of comparing.
Here was my response:
You asked about Image quality comparing the two lenses reviewed....
Well,. before I answer directly,. I'll answer indirectly.
What I have found is that with optics in this caliber, being in the right place and the right time with the right lighting has a lot more to do with the differences I see in my final prints than the lens does.
The next jump in "keepers" has more to do with the lens than with the "image quality " of the lens,. IE, the Canon's IS has been a much larger impact on my photography than I had imagined,. even after owning several IS zooms,. I never really missed not having IS on the Sigma because the Sigma was still that much better than all the zooms. Thus,. the improvements in my final images are due more to the IS than the glass,.
The more direct answer:
The Canon does seem to have better resolving power,. finer details. This is especially noticeable when using the matched T-cons.. I'm amazed at the image quality with the 1.4 and yes,. even the 2X t-con. With the Sigma,. not only did I lose AF,. but I was never really happy with the images taken with the T-cons.
I've had the Canon now for the entire "season" of Wildlife,. and yes I'd say the image quality is slightly better,. but I do not think that alone has been a big enough change from the Sigma to give results that could be noticeably better. (ie prints from the two would look equally superb)
I have images taken with the Sigma that are still just as good, just as sharp, just as detailed as anything taken with the Canon..
The difference is again.. the Canon's ability to help me get those images more often.
I don't think you can go wrong with either choice,.
Consider also,. that if you buy a USED Sigma,. you will not lose any money if you ever decide to "upgrade" to the Canon.
I paid $2,400.00 for My Sigma used from KEH,. in MINT condition,.
I sold it for the exact same price two years later. (mind you I through in both T-cons,. so for the cost of the T-cons I rented this lens for two years )
It's only if you buy the Sigma new where you are pretty much guaranteed to lose money on the resale value.
So the Sigma remains the value leader,. while offering a good taste of the big primes (and allowing you to build those muscles too,. ) to help somone decide before shelling out 2.5 times the price on the Canon. I can't imagine anyone regreting owning it.