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  Reviews by: mfurtman  

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Sigma 150-500mm f/5-6.3 AF APO DG OS

Review Date: Jun 30, 2008 Recommend? no | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 7 

Pros: EX quality, good OS, smooth zoom
Possible compatibility problems with Canon 40D, image quality only good, not equal to Canon 100-400

I was fortunate enough to obtain a copy of this lens for review from Gary Farber of Hunt's Photo and Video, my favorite online supplier of photography equipment. Both Gary and I were at the Outdoor Writers Association of America annual conference in June '08, and he loaned me the lens for two days of evaluation.

I found that this new lens is built exactly like the EX series of Sigma lenses, which they tout at their professional line. It is solid, relatively heavy, and has the exact same exterior coating as previous EX lenses. The zoom function is very smooth.

I spent a morning in the field photographing wildlife. The Sigma's autofocus, although as quick to initially lock on as I'm used to from my some Canon "L" series lenses, tended to more easily lose focus. I also noted that when in AI servo focus mode, my 40D was slowed from its admirable 6.5 frames per second to about 2 or 3 fps.

Further tinkering revealed, in One Shot or AI Focus mode, the full 6.5 fps returned, and autofocus seemed more reliable. I slapped it on on a Canon 1D Mark III, and a 30D, and found that the maximum fps second was maintained in all modes when using either of these bodies. Now I was beginning to wonder whether or not it was the 40D body that was malfunctioning, instead of the Sigma lens.

I hunted down a couple other photographers at the conference, and tried the lens on their 40D bodies and discovered that in AI Servo mode, the new Sigma 150-500 limited every 40D body to about 2fps. This clearly is an incompatibility issue with this particular camera body, and although I expect Sigma will rectify it soon, I would urge anyone shooting a 40D to try the lens on the body before making a purchase.

I did some static test shots on flowers using the Sigma and my Canon 100-400. The image quality of the Sigma 150-500 is better than what I recall from the 50-500, but still falls short of the Canon 100-400. Colors appear overly saturated at the same in-camera settings, and detail is not as good as the Canon.

I even took a Canon image (taken at 400mm) and interpolated it up in size so that the flower blossom would appear the same size as it does in the Sigma image (taken at 500mm). Despite a process (interpolation) that can degrade image quality the "pseudo-500" from the Canon STILL was as good or better than the image from the Sigma.

You can read the full review and see sample images at my website (

The Sigma lens is a nice lens that produces good results. But it isn't up to the Canon 100-400 in my opinion, and for the difference in price, I'd recommend the Canon lens.

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM

Review Date: Mar 4, 2006 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $1,495.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Relatively compact and lightweight; excellent image quality; rugged build; versatile zoom range; fast autofocus; Image Stabilization.
Relatively slow aperture (not a problem for digital shooters); the push-pull design, though excellent for wildlife and bird photography, does suck dust into the unit.

It used to be that, for serious wildlife photography, you needed a lens with at least an f/4 aperture. With the excellent high ISO settings Canon has developed for their cameras, this f/5.6 lens is up to the job in just about all light conditions. In order to maintain a high shutter speed for action photography, one just needs to "pump up" the ISO.

As a full-time, freelance photographer and writer, I find that this is my "go to" lens most of the time. If your shooting style is to sit by the roadside with all the other photographers in Yellowstone or other locations where wildlife gathers, the big primes are great, since you can use a tripod.

I prefer to get off the road and stalk wildlife. I also do a great deal of on-the-wing bird photography. Both styles of shooting are greatly aided by a hand-holdable, image stabilized lens, and the 100-400 is ideal for both. Some consider this lens heavy. Heavy compared to what? At just a tad over 3 pounds, I consider this lens light and compact.

Image quality is outstanding, especially with APS-C sized senors. Bokeh is fabulous. There's really not much wrong with this lens except that the push-pull design does act as a bellows and inhales dust at times. On the other hand, the push-pull design is much faster and more intuitive when tracking subjects moving toward you than a twist-type zoom function.

If you're curious about the quality of images this lens can produce, please visit my wildlife galleries at The vast majority of those images were taken with this lens. You'll also find a link to a longer review I've written of this lens on the Digital News and Views page of my site.

You can use a 1.4x telextender with this lens if you use the old "tape the pins" trick. However, you will find it greatly slows the autofocus. For stationary or slow moving subjects, the extender works fine, but will not yield consistent results on fast moving subjects. The 2x will not work at all, except as a manual focus lens.

In the days of film, this lens would have been too slow for serious wildlife work. With digital, it is an excellent choice. I've sold many, many images taken with this lens shot, when the light requires, at 800 and even 1600 ISO. After a little noise reduction in Photoshop, they are beautiful. Samples of such are in the review at my website, as well as sample images demonstrating lens sharpness.

A great lens at a very good price! Could it be better? Well, if it were a constant f/4 throughout its focal length, the 1.4x telextender would probably not slow the autofocus down nearly as much. On the other hand, the lens would have to be considerably bigger and heavier. The Nikon 200-400 f/4 weights in at 8 pounds and costs $5000.00, so I imagine any Canon counterpart, if ever released, will probably be quite similar in weight and price!

Canon EF 75-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM

Review Date: May 9, 2003 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 6 

Pros: light in weight, inexpensive, IS
bad match for 10D and moving subjects

First, I love this lens, and use it extensively for hand held wildlife photography. It may not be Canon's top of the line, but I've produced many, many saleable photos with it. However, I wanted to point out that there is a problem with the 75-300 IS when used on the 10D (I have both).

The autofocus system on the 10D is such an improvement over the D60 (which I also own), that it apparently has outstripped the ability of this rather slow focusing lens' to quickly lock on. When shooting moving subjects, if the lens loses focus, there is a very noticeable and annoying lag time of a half second or more, during which you can do nothing. I've tried just about every other IS lens on the 10D, and they work just fine. I've also confirmed that this is a problem with the 75-300 IS and 10D with several other photographers, and with a Canon pro-rep, all of whom, at my request, put their own 75-300 IS lens on a 10D body, and found the same problem. It seems to be universal, and not specific to a particular 10D body or lens (I tried my lens on not only two different 10D bodies, but several EOS film bodies, including the Elan 7E, A2, and 1N -- it only displays this lag on the 10D).

A simple test is to mount the lens on your 10D, and just pan and fire. You'll hear and feel the irregular shutter release. The camera won't fire if the lens doesn't focus. You might consider that a plus, except that it causes the lag-time I menitoned, which means that it also sometimes stops you from taking a shot once you're back on the subject.

So..., if you shoot action photos, and own a 10D, this combination isn't the best. You can learn to live with this hesitation, but it is annoying.