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What's the significance of the word "Contemporary" in a lens description? Example from Amazon: Sigma 150-600mm 5-6.3 Contemporary DG OS HSM Lens. I've also seen this on LensRentals.com. Does anybody besides Sigma use this description?

  • That word is going to look very silly when those lenses are 20 years old. – Mark Ransom Dec 14 '16 at 15:04
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This is a Sigma name for one of their lens lines. It is not a general purpose term and really only has the marketing meaning Sigma ascribes to it. From the Sigma website, that definition is:

Engineered for today’s photographer who wants to do it all, our Contemporary line combines superior optical performance and compactness for high-performance lenses that cover a wide range of needs.

Other Sigma lines are Art and Sport. The marketing copy for all three lines is kind of ... fluffy, but at least those two give an idea of what to expect, while "Contemporary" seems like it could mean just about anything.

Sigma offers a 150-600mm lens in both the Sport and Contemporary series. Comparing the two makes the distinction between lines clear. Both lenses are variable-aperture at f/5 through f/6.3, but the construction is very different:

  • The Sport (or just "S") version uses 24 elements in 16 groups, while the Contemporary ("C") version has just 20 in 14 groups. A more complicated design implies better correction of optical artifacts — but add size, weight, and cost.
  • It's not just more elements, either. The glass in the S version is literally bigger. The S version takes a 105mm filter, but the C version has a more compact front element, with a 95mm filter size.
  • And not just that — those large lenses in the front group in the S version are made of Sigma's most expensive "FLD" glass, whereas in the C version, that's only used for the much smaller rear element.
  • Both lenses feature water- and oil-repellent coatings on the front element, but the S version has that on the rear element as well — and while the S version claims "dust and splash-proof construction", the C version just says "dust proof and splash proof mount" [emphasis added].
  • All of this means that the S version weighs 2860g, while the C version is just 1930g — only ⅔ the weight.
  • And, finally, the S version lists for $1999, and the C version less than half at $989. What's more, this is the cheapest S lens, and $989 is by far the most expensive C lens.

The 30mm f/1.4 Art and Contemporary lenses provide another example. Here, we have 9 elements in 8 groups vs. 9 in 7; a filter size of 62mm vs. 52mm; weight of 435g vs. 265g, and $499 vs. $339.

Overall, I think it's safe to say:

  • Art lenses: priority on optical performance and rendering
  • Sport lenses: high-end telephotos and zooms, sacrificing size, weight, and cost for optical performance and a more solid build
  • Contemporary lenses: a nice way of saying "this is the budget line filling what a lot of people really want but would be put off from if we actually called it 'budget', and also they might demand that they be even cheaper".
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    TL/DR version: Your last bullet point. – Michael C Dec 14 '16 at 7:40
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    Re: sport lenses: "... sacrificing size, weight, and cost for performance and increased durability. The 150-600mm C lens has optical performance very close to the 150-600mm S. The significant difference is in the build quality, materials used, and weather sealing. – Michael C Dec 14 '16 at 8:06
  • @MichaelClark Added that, although the optical design is also significantly different so I don't want to downplay that. – mattdm Dec 14 '16 at 13:31
  • The "C" might as well stand for "Cost" or "Consumer". – JohannesD Dec 14 '16 at 14:29
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    Solid answer. You could also turn the "budget" point on its head: Sport lenses are the premium line, designed for people who don't blink at spending twice as much for a more durable lens with similar capability. It's commonplace for manufacturers to target multiple markets with different mixes of features and price, like Canon's regular vs. L series lenses, or GM with it's Chevrolet vs. Cadillac brands. – Caleb Dec 14 '16 at 16:39

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