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Sigma 150-600 Lens Review

[Editor’s Note: Today’s article comes from frequent contributor Ben Hendel – @wdw_ben about renting and using the Sigma 150-600 lens.  Having shot the Canon 400mm f/2.8 lens before at a High School football game, I can only imagine what it must have been like to lug a lens that long into Animal Kingdom.  But if I did have access to that lens, you bet your bottom dollar Animal Kingdom would be the place to shoot it at.  I’ve seen people at my local zoo with monster lenses like this one and I’ve always wanted to try that out.]

A few weekends ago I went to an airshow in Fort Lauderdale featuring some of the best jet teams in the world. Because of this, and some travel I have planned in the future, I wanted to bring along a super-telephoto lens to test before spending thousands on one. I had done a fair amount of research, and I settled on renting the Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Sport, shot on a full-frame Nikon D610. This lens does work on a crop sensor camera, however, your effective range is 225-900mm, with an effective aperture of roughly f/7.7-10. This does mean you can see into Wednesday two weeks from now, but you’ll need a lot of light to do so.

The Sigma is a beast! Weighing in at 6.5 pounds, it is a hefty lens for which you’ll want a tripod or monopod if you plan on using it for more than a few hours. But with that weight comes a lot of glass. The reach of this lens is incredible. Never having owned a lens with a focal range of over 120mm (my Nikon 80-200mm), having 450mm of range was useful. That being said, I mostly rented this lens for it’s ability to be pushed all the way out to 600mm and remain tack sharp. Fair warning, though, I did spend a night calibrating the lens to my camera using FoCal’s wonderful calibration software. [Editor’s note, I’ve talked Ben into contributing a future article about calibrating your lenses.]

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On a practice day in Disney’s Animal Kingdom the day before the airshow, I had a ton of success getting pictures I could only dream of beforehand. I spent a ton of time on both walking trails and walked away with a ton of keepers, especially on the animals most people want to see especially: the tigers and gorillas. The sharpness of this lens was incredible after calibration. When I zoom in on the eye of the tiger (I will not sing, I will not sing, I will not sing…) [Editor’s Note – I am now singing this for you.] , I am able to see the blue sky and even some white clouds reflected back at me. The bird houses were incredibly interesting, especially because the weaver birds were busy building little houses. I was able to get clear shots of any bird I wished, when they stopped flying around, that is! Tracking a subject at 600mm is a chore, but that’s not a flaw in the lens, that’s just being really, really tight. I quickly developed a technique at the airshow of being pulled all the way out to 150mm to acquire and begin tracking a jet, then pushing in to 600mm (or as close as I wanted to zoom) to set up for the shot I was looking to take. I did not take this lens on Kilimanjaro Safaris as it would have lead to a fantastic black eye and terrible photos.

Tiger

One thing to note, when it game to objects in motion, especially at the 600mm end of this lens, fast moving objects are incredibly tough to frame, even once you’ve acquired them. Flittering finches and fast moving (we are talking miles an hour measured in the multiple hundreds) jets don’t stay in your viewfinder long if you’re not panning. And panning this lens is a chore. I recommend, if you’re worried about framing, pull out 15 to 25 millimeters and firing in a “spray and pray” manner. A less tight shot will allow you more freedom after the fact to crop and adjust your framing. This was a tip passed along to me by Don Sullivan (@donsullivan, check out his incredible photography) and I am passing it along to you. For shots like the tiger and gorilla, I was able to work more slowly and properly frame before pulling the shutter.

In the category of “ooooh, that’s a nice feature” is the tripod collar. The downside is that this behemoth of a collar does not detach. It also has three different screw bosses in it, so you can balance it on basically any camera and tripod combination. That means the foot of the collar is huge. However, it does have a fantastic little “click” to it when you’ve hit 0, 90, 180, and 270 degrees rotation with the lens. It’s a nice surprise so you know you’re locking in your camera at one of those points, and if you’ve leveled the camera on your tripod properly with one of those markers, the others will also be level if you are spinning it from portrait to landscape, or back again.

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This lens has a lot of upside. It’s incredibly sharp, it’s very accurate when focusing, and it’s reasonably priced for a super-telephoto lens. What does reasonably priced mean? The Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Sport will lighten your wallet by 20 pictures of Benjamin Franklin – $2,000. This sum of money gets you a lens, a shoulder carrying case for it (no picture of that, I’m sorry), and a heck of a bayonet that screws on to the front of the lens. It also screws on backward for transportation. There is no lens cap to speak of, but it does come with a nylon-like cover that Velcros around when the bayonet is stored backwards, with a little cutout for the thumb screw. This lens also supports Sigma’s USB Dock for Lens Calibration and firmware updates, however, it is not included. That’ll set you back an extra $59.

Formation

My biggest issue with this lens is the weight. I understand that in order to get good, sharp, super-telephoto glass you’re looking at weight. But all in, with a 1.5 pound camera strapped to the back of it, I had a package weighing 8 pounds that I was swinging back and forth on a beach in Fort Lauderdale for four hours. Monday was rough, I’ll say that much. My other big issue is that at 600mm, you get some crazy vignetting in your corners. While not noticeable on the camera’s LCD, they are prominent once loaded into a program like Lightroom. Thankfully, Lightroom contains automatic lens profile corrections for this lens, and that takes care of the corners quickly. When editing, it is the first thing I do to any photo before diving into deeper corrections. Finally, this lens does not accept teleconverters. Why you would want one is up to you (maybe you really do need a 300-1200mm lens for photographic the Church on the Blood from Nome), but this is a point to a lens I’m renting later this month.

Overall, I really liked this lens. It’s reach is fantastic, it’s fast for the price, the price is very reasonable, and it doubles as good help for bicep curls. But that last part is the biggest downfall for me. It is an incredibly heavy lens, especially when you are pointing it at an upward angle all day, like at an airshow. I would say the vignetting was an issue, but that was quickly and easily corrected in Lightroom, so it’s more of an annoyance than anything else. I would rent it again, should I need the reach at an airshow and should my upcoming rental of the Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 not meet my needs for a super telephoto.

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Author’s note: There is a Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Contemporary also on the market for less money and weight. I have not shot it, so for a review, I’d recommend Tom Bricker’s excellent review here: http://www.disneytouristblog.com/

[Editor’s Note: Thanks for contributing the article again Ben!  Always interesting stuff!]

Renting Gear

Let’s face it, photography isn’t exactly the cheapest hobby to get in to.  The camera bodies themselves are expensive to start with and then you need to throw in tripods, bags (especially if you’re Alan) and then there is the glass.  Virtually the sky is the limit when it comes to how much the glass can cost us.  When I watch football games on Sunday I’m always doing the mental math on how much money I see when I see the sideline photographers…….that one’s $2,000, that one’s $7,000, ooh look, there’s the $10,000 lens.  🙂

One of the ways around this is renting lenses.  Professional photographers do it all of the time as a way to bootstrap their businesses.  If you only need a specific lens for a single job, rent it for now until you have enough work to pay for the lens.  We can use the same practice as amateurs when it comes to our vacation trips and there are plenty of places to help us out.

For a few years, there was a service that would deliver lenses right to your hotel room at Walt Disney World.  Kingdom Camera Rentals, however has closed down since then so that isn’t an option any more.  Thankfully there are still a lot of great options available to you.

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The moon shines above one of the New Fantasyland turrets.  

In addition to Kingdom Camera Rentals, I’ve gotten gear from the folks at BorrowLenses.com.  With Borrow Lenses, you select the gear you want, how long you want it and the gear is shipped to you in excellent packaging with a prepaid UPS label to send the lens back to them at the end of the rental period.  I’ve rented the Canon 400 F/2.8 (a $10,000 lens) to shoot my stepson’s high school football games and I highly recommend the experience.  LensRentals.com comes highly recommended too, but I haven’t personally used them before.  I do like all the lens reviews that the owner puts up with each piece of gear that he rents out.

The downside to renting gear is that if you are only renting it for your vacation period, you are at the parks on vacation and trying to figure out how to best use this new, temporarily at least, addition to your bag.  That’s one of the reasons I like to rent a piece of gear for a bit longer and get it several days before the assignment or the vacation.  It gives me a couple of days to get more familiar with it.

The corollary to this theory is buying the gear you want to rent, and then quickly selling it again on eBay.  I’ve done this too.  Next time you have some time to kill hunt around eBay and look at what good lenses are going for. They tend to hold their value pretty well.  If you can get the gear on sale (when say Canon or Nikon is offering a good rebate) you can turn around and sell the lens back once the sale is off for at or more than you originally paid for the lens sometimes.  Even if you can’t time it right with a sale, you can still keep the lens longer (say a month or two) and still make out ahead versus what the rental price would be for keeping the lens that long.   It gives you more time to get familiar with the gear before your trip, which can mean higher quality photos on your vacation.  It just depends how comfortable you are selling on eBay.  The more expensive the lens, the more cautious buyers are going to be if you aren’t an active eBay seller.  Just think about it, would you buy a $2-$5,000 item off of eBay from someone with no sales history?

So what say you?  Have you rented gear before for a trip?  Have you done the buy new and flip it on eBay trick before?  Let us know in hte comments.   We know there are lots of people reading the blog, so hit the read more and leave a note in the comments.

Also, if you are going to be ordering from Amazon.com anyway, please consider following this link.  It doesn’t cost you anything but we earn a very small commission and it helps support the site.

Side Note

If you are looking for inspiration on what you can do with your photography when you aren’t in the parks, please direct your attention to site contributor Alan Rappaport’s series – The LEGO Awakens.  Alan is recreating still shots from Star Wars – The Force Awakens with Legos.  His shots are truly inspiring and his behind the scenes posts on how he’s getting them are fascinating. Bonus points, there’s a Disney theme park tie in!  He’s using the Pepper’s Ghost effect (as utilized in the Haunted Mansion) in his work.  Check it out!!!!

 

 

Merry Christmas

Hey there Disney Photography Blog readers!  Merry Christmas!  We hope you all had a great time with friends and family.

Did anyone end up with anything photography related under the Christmas tree?

I gave prints out of this picture to my wife, stepdaughter and stepson.  We did a family Spring break trip back in May so I made a print of the photo below at Adorama Pix.  They turned out great (like always) and were a big hit.  Make sure you check out our earlier post on printing if you need any tips.  I really wanted to do a calendar this year for people but I didn’t get a chance to finish it off in time.  My wife, daughter, and I are going back to the park for Spring Break 2016 and the plan is to definitely get some pictures for a 2017 calendar.  I just need to make sure I get it done in time.  😉

 

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Under the tree for me was an Altura  Camera Cleaning kit – cleaning swabs (both dry and wet), microfiber towels, a lens cleaning brush, a lens cleaning pen, and a blower – all in a nice little case that can go in my bag.  I always keep a cleaning kit in my bag.  You get rain spots, dust, and other dirt on your lenses and you never know when you need a spot cleaning.  I know there are tools available for cleaning the sensor myself, but I definitely don’t trust myself to do that with my camera.

But having a cleaning kit is no exception for getting your lenses cleaned professionally.  I always take my lenses in to the local camera shop (I’m blessed living near Chicago where there are still good camera shops nearby).  A lens usually costs $30 – $40 to clean at the shop I go in to.  Occasionally they run a Groupon or other coupon for 1/2 off.  When they do that I make sure I take everything in.

So, did anyone out there get anything under the tree?  A new camera body?  A new camera lens?  A tripod perhaps?   Leave a comment below and let us know.

Thanks again for coming back to the website after our far too long absence.  We have a lot planned for 2016 and can’t wait to show it all to you.  If you are shopping at Amazon, please consider following this link, it doesn’t cost you anything but it helps us with a very small commission.

Timbuk2 Snoop XS Review

Editor’s Note: Today’s post is from Disney Photography Blog friend Alan Rappaport (@AlanRappa on Twitter).  Alan was a frequent contributor in the past and we are glad that he’s returned for today’s gear review.  You can find more of Alan’s writing here and see his pictures on Flickr here. On with the review……

 

Finding the perfect camera bag is a holy grail quest that every photographer explores. For us Disney photographers, there’s the additional challenge of not only finding the perfect bag, but finding one that can also perform under the conditions of a Disney theme park.

 

To me, this means a bag that’s comfortable for extended periods of use, easy to access, easy to travel with and doesn’t get in the way while enjoying Disney’s attractions. I’m not saying the Snoop is the holy grail, but to echo the sentiment of the Knight from The Last Crusade, I feel I have chosen wisely.

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The Snoop Camera bag is a messenger style bag that comes in three sizes and retails from $130 –  $170 (though it can frequently be found on sale at Timbuk2.com).  (Editor’s note: The bag Alan is reviewing is currently on sale at Amazon for $84.99 and free shipping)

 

For this review, I am going to be focusing on the XS size which is perfect for anyone shooting with compact or mirrorless camera system.

 

Starting with the outside of the bag, one of my favorite things about the Snoop is that it doesn’t scream ‘camera bag’ when you look at it. This is essential for me when I’m traveling as prefer to keep my gear as incognito as possible. The Snoop is stylish, while remaining understated. It’s currently available in two styles – Black and Diablo, though I do hope Timbuk2 adds it to their custom bag builder at some point.

 

The exterior is constructed of ‘bomb proof’ Codura fabric backed with a waterproof TPU liner on the inside. While I can’t vouch for the bag’s ‘bomb-proof’ effectiveness, I have been caught out in inclement weather  a few times with it.

 

The outside of the bag got completely drenched, but my gear remained snug & dry on the inside. To help keep the elements away from your gear, the Snoop features extra fabric at the top corners that fold in like origami when the bag is closed.

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On the top of the Snoop you’ll find a sturdy hand strap which is great for managing the bag while getting on or off attractions. To make life even easier when loading/unloading rides is the single-handed shoulder strap adjustment.

 

This is a unique feature that makes adjusting the length of the shoulder strap a breeze which is fantastic when you’re trying to expedite your exit from a ride vehicle or speed you way through bag check.

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Directly under the front flap you have two storage pockets. The first being a clear, zippered pouch that is great for smaller items such as memory cards or spare batteries. Behind that, you’ll find a stash pocket with an anchor for your keys, or in my case, a microfiber cloth.

 

Flanking the zippered pouch are two Velcro strips which do a great job keeping the flap closed when not buckled. There’s a large strip of Velcro on the underside of the flap, which makes it easy to seal the bag without precisely lining up opposing Velcro sides.

 

The Velcro can be loud when opening the bag, but Timbuk2 includes Velcro ‘silencers’ along with the Snoop for when stealth shooting is a must.

 

Below the Velcro straps are two buckles to lock down and cinch up your bag when you’re on the move.

 

Ok, now on to the main event, the interior of this bag. The Snoop includes a cushy, padded interior with Velcro dividers for you to customize to fit your gear. The bottom of this comportment is well padded, giving your gear a nice soft bed to rest on while protecting it from bumps and bruises.

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The camera compartment can easily carry my Sony A7 with one lens attached along with two additional lenses (in my case a 24-70mm & 55mm). There isn’t room for much else, however you can get creative with the dividers to maximize the internal space. No matter how you slice it though, if you travel ‘gear-intensive’ then this may not be the right bag for you. It’s best for shooters who prefer to stick to a streamlined or ‘daily’ kit.

 

Best part about the camera compartment is that it is completely removable. This makes the bag even more versatile for traveling as it can double as a regular messenger bag when you don’t need to carry your gear along with you.

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In additional to the camera compartment, on the inside there is an internal divider that houses a zippered pouch along with two organizational pockets

 

The Snoop is comfortable on the shoulder, however I wouldn’t  more padding on the strap – especially since the pad is non-removable. You’re mileage may vary here, but as long as you pack a sensible load the Snoop will carry it in stride while going easy on your shoulder.

 

There’s no magic button to getting at your gear. Like any messenger bag, just swing the bag to your front, open the flap and grab what you need. While the velcro was strong on it’s own, I preferred to keep the buckles engaged to minimize the risk of the bag opening when not intended.

 

The small profile of the XS makes it easy to swing the bag around to your back and navigate crowds without having to worry about bumping you gear into other guests. It’s also easy to fit the bag between your legs on tight attractions such as Space Mountain or Expedition Everest.

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As far as Disney Photography goes, The Snoop is an easy recommendation for shooting around the parks as it meets all the criteria I stated at the beginning of this post. The XS suffers from a few shortcomings when compared to it’s larger siblings – namely the lack of a tripod attachment and no Napoleon pocket on the front. Aside from those two items (and the lack of a custom bag option) I have zero complaints with this bag.

 

Those of you who travel light in the parks, and are looking for a bag that likes to play as much as you do will be well served checking out the Snoop. Not only is it a comfortable, durable bag, but Timbuk2 is a great company, and stands behind their products offering a lifetime warranty.

 

Feel free to sound off in the comments if you have any questions. I’d love to hear what everyone’s current ‘holy grail’ camera bag is.

 

The Snoop Messenger Camera Bag is available directly from Timbuk2, or can be found at Amazon, B&H Photo, and wherever fine bags are sold.  

 

Pros

Removable camera compartment

Easy to adjust shoulder strap

Waterproof liner

Velcro silencers

‘Incognito’ appearance

 

Cons

No tripod attachment (on xs)

No Napoleon pocket for quick access (on xs)

Strap pad could use more padding

No custom options (at least not yet)