As one of the sharpest telephoto lenses for APS-C, the Sigma 50-100mm brings a professional long-distance zoom to mid-range DSLRs. In the absence of similarly sharp APS-C pro-lenses, can the Sigma 50-100 fill the portrait-sports-wildlife void?
The 50-100 serves best for medium-long range photography. It is excellent for weddings, for portraits, and for certain minor sporting events. 50-100mm is equivalently 75mm-150mm on 1.5x crops (Sony, Nikon) and 80mm-160mm on 1.6x crops (Canon), which puts it in a very similar position to the equivalent 70-200mm. Even the aperture is very similar. ƒ1.8 is equivalently ƒ2.7 with Sony and Nikon, and ƒ2.88 on Canon; compared to the ƒ2.8 of the full-frame 70-200mm.
Conclusion: the Sigma 50-100mm ƒ1.8 is an inexpensive professional portrait lens. The sharpness saturates the sensor size, the bokeh is perfect, and facial features are pleasing and compressed.
Perhaps the most versatile and pleasing portrait lenses are the full-frame 70-200mm ƒ2.8s. The good versions are listed below:
- Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM
- Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS
- Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR
The Canon is the cheapest at $1,945, the Sony is $2,598, and the Nikon is $2,796. The Canon scores 33 at DxoMark, with the Sony at 39, and the Nikon (E, vs previous G) is un-scored, although the performance is similar. At 33% to 50% of the price, the 50-100 contains 75% of the performance (score of 27), which makes an incredibly affordable alternative to equivalent full-frame lenses, especially considering the additional price for the full-frame bodies.
The 50-100 is very sharp; and if the major camera manufacturers decide to create a higher megapixel APS-C body than the current maximum, 24Mp, the 50-100 would likely further saturate the sensor’s sharpness, resulting in even sharper pictures.
The following photo was taken around the golden hour at sunset. Post-production was used for skin-softening, exposure adjustment, and blemish repair. The features appear compressed, the subject is incredibly separated from the background, and the bokeh is perfect. For $1,100 the 50-100mm is an excellent portrait lens for APS-C shooters.
Sports and Events
Conclusion: the 50-100mm is unviable for sports-photography due to autofocus issues. However, when autofocusing requires less rigor, such as the case of weddings and other events, the 50-100mm is incredible.
The Sigma 50-100mm features an almost perfect focal range for most events. If the zoom range were wider, it might be ideal; although it’d likely result in less sharpness. 50-100mm is great for most applications: weddings, news, and other events. The greatest downside when considering sports, is the viability of the autofocus performance. Unfortunately, in my past experience with the Canon 70D, the autofocus performance of the Sigma 50-100mm and 18-35mm, (and according to this review) is subpar; often missing focus when using the viewfinder. I cannot explain why the focusing problems occur solely on DSLR’s, but I can also conclude that the effect isn’t present in LiveView and thus mirrorless cameras altogether. Ironically, the lens is built for DSLRs, and thus can only be adapted to mirrorless cameras (the photos here were taken on an a6500, with the Sigma MC-11 Canon adapter); which has autofocus degradation in and of itself – it’s all very tragic. With these autofocus problems, I cannot recommend this lens for sports-applications; although for casual use, the lens is sharp and looks very professional. For other events, like weddings and news images, when subjects can be focused on much easier; this lens works very well for those applications.
The following was one of two dozen photos captured of a moving subject. About 10% were in focus, and only one was usable. This shot is indicative of the performance of event-photography, and sports-photography given the autofocus performance improves (or you get lucky, like me).
Conclusion: The 50-100 works okay at close-range with significant cropping; as such, the output has a very low-resolution. The only reasonable use is as a casual and inconvenient wildlife lens.
The question arises, how feasible is the 50-100 for wildlife? The zoom-range is ultimately insufficient for major wildlife photography. The following shot was taken around three to six yards away at 100mm (150mm eq). It was taken in my backyard, but in order to get any usable resolution I had to get several yards closer. This might work at a zoo, depending on how close the subjects are to their cage, but is largely unviable for anything further.
Even cropped to 17x†, the photo retains an impressive amount of sharpness; perhaps even to that of a kit-lens uncropped! While the 50-100mm isn’t suitable for long-range wildlife, the inexpensive $1,099 price-point proves that the 50-100 is suitable for short-range casual wildlife shots, where the output is very low-resolution. The cropped image’s resolution is 1,465 x 977, compared to the original resolution of 6,000 x 4,000.
The following image is the final-version.
This picture (below) was of a mouse our cats first noticed. The original image was taken at ISO 6400. To compensate, I took many photos rapidly and combined 16 of them into this final result, for an effective ISO of 400. He ended up trapped (video soon) inside of a toilet-brush container. This is his story.
The picture below is of a hummingbird taken outside of the Ice Cave trading post. It is cropped less heavily than the bird picture above, as I was able to get closer to the subject. This also explains the immense sharpness of the hummingbird’s features.
† zoom-size calculated using area, e.g. the uncropped area divided by the cropped area. (6,000 x 4,000) / (1,465 x 977) = 16.768x.