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I will be spending next summer up in Alaska and want to get some wildlife shooting in. I would like to start planning now for what lens to save up for.

I have been looking at the Sigma 150-500. It has gotten some pretty good reviews and the range is very impressive, especially when you consider that I will be shooting on a DX camera, that gives me a max zoom of the equivalent of 750mm. Which to me sounds perfect for shooting things like bears and such that you either don't want or just can't get close to.

I will have other lenses for anything closeup when the 150mm end is too long (though changing lenses is always a pain in the field).

That being said, it is a bit on the slow side. I also have never shot with close to anything that long, so I don't know if it is overkill or not.

I do want image stabilization, so that way I don't always have to hike with a tripod, and don't have to set a tripod up for every shot.

What is typically considered the usual focal range for wildlife photography? How important is having a fast lens (I doubt I will be doing a lot of night or lowlight shooting)? Any other recommendations within that general price range? Would something in the 70-300 range be a more practical choice (or maybe even one of the 28-300, though I hear you sacrifice some image quality in exchange for that flexibility)?

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Strangely it's the 50-500 not the 150-500 that is the more highly regarded Sigma zoom, nicknamed the "Bigma" by wildlife shooters. –  Matt Grum Nov 29 '12 at 9:26
    
Yeah but some reviews have told me that the 150-500 is a little bit sharper, and I don't think I would need the extra range/weight/price of the 50-500. –  Taylor Huston Nov 29 '12 at 13:45

2 Answers 2

Yes that is a reasonable lens. The most popular for wildlife is actually the Sigma 50-500mm which, despite the larger range, actually performs better.

When choosing a lens like either one of those you have to manage expectations:

  1. The lens is not super-sharp, particularly towards the long end. If you intend on shooting birds and small wildlife, you do need that long end though! You would do better with a fixed 400mm or 500mm but it will cost you in price and weight.

  2. The lens is very dim. F/6.3 is the maximum aperture at 500mm and you have to stop it down to improve sharpness. So this lens will make you struggle in low-light. Luckily for you, light does not get very low in Alaska in the summer :)

Overall it can be a good choice. If, for example, you are not planning to shoot birds and small animals, then you can do much better for a similar price with a shorter lens. The Sigma 100-300mm F/4 is ultra-sharp and among my favorite wildlife lens. The middle-ground is probably the Sigma 120-400mm F/4.5-5.6 but I have not tried it, so I cannot vouch for its performance.

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Good points, +1 to max aperture and focus speed concerns, +100 to considering primes instead of a super zoom. –  Shizam Nov 29 '12 at 15:57
    
There's a distinct lack of any affordable 400mm or 500mm primes for Nikon, if it were Canon I'd say get the 400 f/5.6L and a 1.4x extender. As it is it looks like the Bigma is the best bet for reach. But I don't know how close you can get to wild bears. –  Matt Grum Nov 29 '12 at 16:22

The Sigma 150-500mm is a good lens.

It's reasonably sharp. Probably your results would be better using this lens at 500mm than using a sharper 300mm and cropping to the same size. It's not razor sharp, but for the range you get, it's pretty good.

The image stabilization works well. I've taken hand held shots of the moon at 500mm and 1/250th or even 1/125th I think with good results. But for maximum sharpeness on a zoom lens, even at 1/500th and using IS, you're probably better off with at least a monopod. And IS isn't going to help with moving subjects, especially birds in flight.

Autofocus speed is pretty good. Not super fast, but good.

It's a big lens to carry around, and tiring to try to hold for long periods.

Have you considered the Nikon 80-400mm? That, or the 28-300mm would not have quite the reach, but might be more versatile. I don't have experience with either lens, but have heard good things about them. I believe the 80-400mm is a similar price range and more compact?

The focal length required depends on what and how you shoot. I think the rule of thumb is you never have enough! Moose Peterson uses a 200-400mm VR and a 600mm. But he also spends all day getting in the right position rather than relying purely on focal length.

500mm is not too much for small or timid birds, I can tell you that much. I don't think the 400mm-600mm range is overkill if you really want to get good wildlife shots. I've used the 150-500mm at the zoo, where animals are relatively close. But unless you spend a lot on fast glass there is going to be a diminishing return on longer focal length as you lose speed and sharpness and ability to hand hold.

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I thought about the 80-400, but at the end of the day it is about $400 more expensive (new, though a quick look at Amazon shows some used for as cheap as $800), less long end range, and only slightly faster. If 300mm is a long enough range that leaves me open to several cheaper options, some under $500, though I kind of think I'd like to have the 500mm, even if I rarely use it, just in case? –  Taylor Huston Nov 29 '12 at 13:57

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