Sigma 500mm f/4.5 APO EX DG

Although hardly what you could call a budget price, this lens is the most affordable of the 500mm prime lenses that are available. Primes at this sort of focal length are well into the realms of ‘specialist’ lenses, so we take a look at what you are getting for your hard earned cash.

Sigma 500mm f/4.5Specification.

  • Focal Length 500mm
  • Aperture f/4.5
  • Angle of view 5º
  • Filter size 46mm drop in
  • Construction 12/9 elements/groups
  • Focus type Internal HSM
  • Closest focus 400cm (1:7.7)
  • Weight 3.15kg
  • Dimensions 123x350mm
  • Mounts available Sigma, Canon, Nikon (D). (Pentax and Minolta without HSM)
  • Tripod bush Yes,
  • Price (SRP) £3000

Build and Handling
The lens is not massive for a beast of its ilk and we were surprised at how manageable it is. Not that you would want to hand hold it by any means, but it was easy to manipulate on a monopod and did not put a great strain on the tripod.

From the mount forward, you first encounter the standard AF/MF switch followed by a filter holder that takes 46m Ø filters. A polarising filter is supplied with the lens. There is a simple pinch catch to keep it in place, which worked as well as any. Next up, and hardly visible it is so well made, is a rotating ring that you can attach a carrying strap to. A raised nameplate follows this with the focus limit switch to the left side of it. A decent sized, three-position affair restricts the focus to between 4m and 8m, 8m to infinity or the full 4m to infinity. This helps to speed up what is already a quick and silent operation. By silent, we mean that you do not hear the HSM motor working at all, just a very quiet ‘tick’ as it locks onto the target.

Manual over-ride is possible without changing any settings and the broad (75mm) focus ring is a joy to use.

Forward again from the focus ring is the tripod mount collar with the mount plate slinging back under the lens and doubling as a carry handle. It is well balanced and further refined by the provision of four mounting points to accommodate various camera weights.

A knob on the left side allows the mount to rotate so orientation of the camera can be achieved on the tripod, but the whole thing is non-removable. To use the lens on a beanbag it has to be rotated out of the way, but as the focus ring does not rotate when AF is being used, there were no problems on that score.

The lens is finished off at the front with a sturdy, but surprisingly short (85mm), lens hood. A small knob is used to fix this in position and gave a sense of security to the whole thing. This lens is compatible with Sigma’s 1.4x and 2x EX Converters, although you loose the AF capability.

Optical Quality
The DG upgrade to this lens has turned out an excellent performance where the control of aberrations is concerned. As for sharpness, by not trying to achieve the f/4 of the opposition and loosing what is only a third of a stop, Sigma have managed to start off with good wide open figures that peak quickly, making this a very usable lens. Colour balance is in the neutral area that we have come to expect from Sigma and the contrast is ok, although not outstanding.

The 500mm is useful for frame filling and the relatively fast f/4.5 aperture allowed an action stopping 1/1000sec shutter speed to be selected.

1/1250sec at f/5.6

1/1250sec at f/8

Detail is good here we've enlarged the centre portion of the frame to show what the lens is capable of

Click on each comparison photo below to view full size versions

500mm set at f/4.5

500mm set at f/8


Below is our lens test data. To find out how to use these graphs look at this article: How we test lenses

Overall this lens performs extremely well and produces some excellent shots. In the specialist areas where it would be used, such as Wildlife and sports, it proves easy to handle and, just as importantly, carry. It's supplied in one of Sigma’s semi-hard pouches, this time with a sturdy shoulder strap and is much easier to transport than a metal carry case. The pouch still provides adequate protection. Although not lightweight, the lens is not such a burden that it wouldn’t get used for its intended purpose. Far out-performing, for example, our 170-500mm zoom, if you have a genuine need for this type of lens, you won’t be disappointed.

In summary the main positive points of the Sigma 500mm f/4.5 APO EX DG are:
Good build and finish
Fast quiet autofocus
Very usable wide open
Manageable for its type
Close focus distance is good.

Negative points are:
Lacks a little contrast
Hood a little short for the focal length.

Check the latest price of the Sigma 500mm f/4.5 APO EX DG here

Test by Ian Andrews

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