Lens review

Sigma S 500 mm f/4 DG OS HSM

5 September 2017
Arkadiusz Olech

3. Build quality and image stabilization

The following chart presents a comparison between the basic parameters of the tested lens and those of its direct rivals and its predecessor. It is clear the group is quite tight. The Sigma sticks out when it comes to the best minimum focusing distance but it is heavier than its competitors produced by Canon and Nikon. Still it is also physically lighter than the Sony which weight comes a kind of surprise especially that it features a simpler optical construction than its rivals.

In the photo below the Sigma S 4/500 is positioned next to another Sigma lens, the A 35 mm f/1.4 DG HSM model.

Sigma S 500 mm f/4 DG OS HSM - Build quality and image stabilization

The tested lens starts with a metal mount and a contact plate. The mount surrounds a ribbed inner tube which is blackened and matted very well. In that tube you see a slot for drop-in 46 mm filters which are hidden about 3.5 cm deep. A rear element of the lens is immobile, about 3 cm in diameter, and it is situated 5 cm deep inside. The mount itself is surrounded by rubber sealing.

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Sigma S 500 mm f/4 DG OS HSM - Build quality and image stabilization

The proper body of the lens is made mostly of magnesium alloy. It starts with a solid, metal ring on which you find a white dot, making an alignment with a camera easier. That part of the lens soon gets larger, featuring a slot for drop-in filters, two switches labeled as BEEP ON/OFF and AF FUNCTION PRESET/STOP and then a SET button with the ‘016’ inscription meaning the year of the launch. Those switches control the right autofocus position with a possibility of returning to it in any given moment.

Sigma S 500 mm f/4 DG OS HSM - Build quality and image stabilization

Then the body gets wider and turns into a built-in tripod foot which can be rotated. At the back of the foot you see the CLICK ON/OFF switch. Using it you can turn the foot with click stops or make the movement completely smooth.

Sigma S 500 mm f/4 DG OS HSM - Build quality and image stabilization

The next immobile part of the lens features a distance scale window, expressed in feet and meters. Unfortunately no depth of field scale is available. Under the window you see the name and the parameters of the lens and on the left side a huge array of switches. First of them, FOCUS, controls the focusing mechanism modes. You can choose among three positions: AF, MO and MF. Apart from standard positions (the manual focus ring still works even if you set the lens on the AF mode) you get also the MO (Manual Override) option. It switches the lens into manual even during continuous AF. The next switch is responsible for the autofocus range limiter. There are three settings possible: FULL, from 10 meters to infinity, and from 3.5 meters to 10 meters. Then you see the OS switch, responsible for optical stabilizer (modes 1, 2 and OFF). At the very end you get a switch labelled as CUSTOM. You can choose between OFF, C1 and C2 positions which are responsible for the modes of the focusing mechanism saved by users after fine-tuning the lens with the help of the Sigma USB Dock.

Sigma S 500 mm f/4 DG OS HSM - Build quality and image stabilization

A manual focus ring takes almost 9 cm of the whole barrel and most of its surface is covered by rubber ribbing. The ring’s movement is very smooth and well damped. Running through the whole range takes a turn through an angle of 180 degrees.

The final part of the lens is as long as 15 cm. On it you can find ribbing to make your grip more secure, an inscription “MADE IN JAPAN”, a silver S letter, meaning the lens was classified as a part of Sport series, and also four AF SET buttons.

Sigma S 500 mm f/4 DG OS HSM - Build quality and image stabilization

The front element of the lens, over 12 cm in diameter, is hidden inside the casing over 2.5 cm deep. The very edge of the tube to which you can attach a hood is covered by a rubber safety strip. Because of that you can put the lens even on concrete without worrying that you might scratch the protecting coating of the body.

Sigma S 500 mm f/4 DG OS HSM - Build quality and image stabilization

When it comes to optics, the Sigma S 500 mm f/4 DG OS HSM consists of 16 elements positioned in 11 groups. Two large elements at the front were made of low dispersion FLD glass with properties of fluorite. Additionally, the lens features another low-dispersion element made of SLD glass. Inside you can also find a round aperture with nine diaphragm blades which can be closed down to a value of f/32. The big front element is protected by special water- and oil-repellent coatings.

Buyers get in the box a hood made of carbon fibres, a rear cap, a case and a dedicated strap. I have to admit that strap doesn’t make a favourable impression. Comparing it to a comfortable, expertly padded, wide strap which you get with the Canon 4/400 DO II, the Sigma strap looks and performs like a cheap fake. As Sigma have always been a leader when it comes to accessories of quality we are rather unpleasantly surprised that they decided to add something as tawdry to a lens costing almost $6000.

Sigma S 500 mm f/4 DG OS HSM - Build quality and image stabilization

Image stabilization

In the case of the Sigma S 4/500 OS the producer claim its Optical Stabilizer system can compensate for approximately 4 stops of shutter speed for sharper images. Of course we decided to check that claim. In order to do so we took several dozen photos with times of exposure ranging from 1/500 to 1/10 of a second and the stabilization switched on and off. For every set of photos we determined a percentage of blurred shots and presented it as a function of exposition time expressed in EV (0 EV being the equivalent of 1/400 of a second). An appropriate graph with results you can find below.

Sigma S 500 mm f/4 DG OS HSM - Build quality and image stabilization

The maximum distance between both curves reaches 3.5 EV and such is, in our opinion, the stabilization unit efficiency. It is a result a bit lower than the declared one but still good enough, allowing you to work with comfort at such long focal lengths.