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These lenses are usually used for sports and wildlife photography but my application is a little different. I am interested in doing ultra high resolution "close up" images of small plants in the wild. I use a Nikon D800e. Right now I am using a 28-300 mm Nikkor walkabout. I find that I cannot get full closeups due to the size of the subject and the intervening terrain which makes it difficult if not impossible to approach the subject more closely.

I am looking at the newly released Sigma 150-600mm FX and the Sigma 50-500mm ($900) and the new Nikon 200-500mm ($1400). The word out there is that the Nikon has better image quality and a better IS system. I am wondering if it is worth the extra $500 bucks?

Last question: has anybody done any testing on the addition of top quality 1.4 teleconverter to these lenses?

  • Is there a reason you're not looking at macro lenses, which are designed specifically for close-up work? – Dan Wolfgang May 5 '16 at 13:18
  • It looks to me like the newly released Sigma lenses are in the $1500 range. The $900 lenses you refer to seem to be older models. – MikeW May 5 '16 at 18:50
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Assuming you are working in good light during the day, you don't really need an extremely fast aperture. What you need is focal length. The more the better. But only you can answer the question regarding whether paying more for better performance is worth it or not.

The Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS Contemporary is a popular lens due to the focal length range it offers for price at which it sells. The same is true of the Tamron 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC. They are very similar in many ways, including price and image quality. I've seen some very good work done by friends with both of those.

I haven't seen anything shot with the new Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6. The fact that it has a constant f/5.6 maximum aperture throughout the zoom range gives it at least that advantage over the Sigma and Tamron 150-600mm lenses that start out at f/5.6 at 150mm but are f/6.3 at 600mm.

On the other hand, the image quality in this comparison at The-Digital-Picture seems to indicate the Sigma can at least hold its own. The biggest drawback with this comparison is that the Sigma was tested on a Canon 1Ds Mark III and the Nikon lens was tested on a Nikon D3x.

Unfortunately only the Sigma 150-600 has been tested by DxO Mark as of 5/5/2016. Once they test the Tamron and Nikon lenses as well this link should provide that comparison. DxO Mark will allow you to specify the camera used to test each lens. If the lenses have all been tested on the same camera you can do a more direct comparison with how each lens performs when mounted on the same camera.

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I had a Sigma 150-500mm f/5-6.3 lens. I don't know how that lens compares to the lenses you're considering. The image stabilization worked well, but autofocus hunted all the time.

Image quality was fair, not great. Add a teleconverter and the image quality would have been poor. Autofocus, already poor, would not have worked at all, and shooting in anything but full sun would be difficult I would imagine.

The magnification of those lenses is around 1:5, so nowhere near macro range, because the minimum focus distance can be 5-7 feet at the longer end of the zoom range.

I think you'd be better with something like an f/2.8 180mm macro.

You can use a teleconverter with a macro lens to increase the magnification (or increase your working distance from the subject). Just make sure the rear lens elements allow you to fit the teleconverter. Will be far easier to work with, especially shooting in shade, you can get true macro shots when the situation allows you to get close enough, and the image quality will be so much better.

  • I am not sure what you are getting wrt. using a macro telephoto. The problem is that I cannot get close enough to the objects, and even zoomed to 300 mm the subject does not fill the frame so I am not sure how a macro would help? – Dave May 6 '16 at 3:07
  • Might help to know how small the subjects are and how far you can typically get to them. A sharp f/2.8 180mm macro with 2x teleconverter may give you better results than a f/6.3 zoom at 500mm is what I'm suggesting, and the macro is much better when you are able to get close to the subject - unless you're saying you can never get close? – MikeW May 6 '16 at 4:21
  • No, can't get close usually. These would be, for example, flowers cultivated in a flower bed in a botanical facility, one cannot just walk throug – Dave May 6 '16 at 6:49
  • The flower bed and set up a tripod. So what would the range of subject distances with your setup? – Dave May 6 '16 at 7:11
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    You may genuinely be better off with a 180 macro, 2x TC and an APS-C (DX) body. This would give you a ~540mm f/5.6 effective focal length - though it would cost a fair bit more. – Chinmay Kanchi May 6 '16 at 17:18
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I have the Sigma 50-500mm, the OS (stabilisation) is fine, however the lens is a tad bit soft at the 500mm, and it's very heavy so a tripod is really mandatory.

Can't say about the other lenses though.

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