Sigma 500mm Sport Real world Review

September 19, 2017

Sigma 500mm "Sport"


Firstly, this review will not focus on product images, a listing of specifications or MTF charts - there are plenty of those around on the web.
It is based solely on a couple of months shooting sports and wildlife in my hometown of Perth, Western Australia.
Hover over images for a listing of body, ISO, aperture and shutter speed.

In the world of the exotic super-telephoto lenses, the first party manufacturers (Nikon, Canon and Sony) rule the roost.
They have been making these for a long time, have the heritage and history to back up the huge price tags. 

Post goal celebrationEven with a heavy crop, the Sigma 500mm Sport delivers great detail (Nikon D4, ISO450, F4, 1/1000th)

Recently, I have been shooting sports and wildlife with my 20 year old, second hand Nikon 400mm F2.8 AFS-II.
This is well known to be a lens that is capable of producing amazing images, and I found this to be the case in the short time I got to use it.
However, it broke - and given its age parts were no longer available from Nikon so it was written off.

What to do?!

I certainly couldn't go back to a zoom - once you've shot with a high end prime telephoto, its extremely hard to go back.
So my options were as follows

  • New Nikon 400mm F2.8 VR - Epic lens, priced at Circa $15,000 AUD
  • New Nikon 500mm F4 VR - Circa $11,500 AUD
  • Older generations of both the above lenses were somewhat available second hand at around the $7,500 mark - but having being burnt by a dead lens in the recent past, I wanted something new and under warranty
  • I considered the Nikon 300mm F2.8, however i'd often need to add a teleconverter to get the focal length i needed and already had an older Sigma 120-300mm F2.8 already

In recent years, Sigma have been making big leaps forward in their lens lineup, since moving to the "Global Vision" lineup with the Art, Contemporary and Sport lines.
On price alone, the Sigma 500mm Sport piqued my interest, could something nearly 1/2 the price of the comparable Nikon lens really compete?
I did a lot of reading, including the very thorough in-depth review by Brad Hill, a Canadian wildlife photographer (

The focal length for what I like to shoot (primarily Motorsport, Australian Rules Football and wildlife), the weight and fast aperture made it a relatively easy choice considering the price.
It also takes a 1.4x teleconverter (Mine is on order).

Mitsubishi Evo take offNikon D4, F4, 1/1250th

Physical attributes

While no 500mm F4 lens is going to be what you call small, the lens is surprisingly light.
Its more portable than my older 400mm F2.8, and even handholdable for short periods - however i primarily use it on a Manfrotto monopod for longer shooting sessions.

One thing i'd like to mention is the bag/carry case.
This is just awesome, well padded, shoulder straps so you can wear it as a backpack and you can carry the lens with a full size body attached.
It even passes most airline carry-on size limits - which for me is important if i want to travel to cover an event.

The lens is marketed as weather sealed - I did get caught out briefly in a rain shower which the lens handled without issue, but I do recommend a high quality rain jacket.
I use the Thinktank Hydrophobia 300-600mm model which works a treat with this lens.

Cute Australian Shelduck duckingNikon D500, ISO100, F4, 1/500th


Simply put, the autofocus is outstanding.
Its fast, accurate and with a pro level body (I shoot D4, D500, D800 currently), its just a knockout.
You will need to ensure that you have your level of focus "stickiness" and focus mode set to ensure that its not so fast it switches to the background however.
The focus limiter options also work well, with a slight increase in speed when set to the zone you want to focus on

The USB dock also allows some customizability with regards to focus speed as well as fine tuning focus - a great purchase for the price.

Swan Districts player narrowly escapes the oppositionNikon D4, ISO500, F4. 1/1000th

Image stabilisation

The lens offers a number of stabilization modes - I tended to stick with the default mode, except when doing heavy duty panning.
I found that the stabilization was the equal of the latest generation OS in my Tamron and Nikon zooms - which are all very good.

OS operation is again customisable via the USB dock

Mumma Shelduck taking the kids for a walkNikon D4. ISO100, F4, 1/640th

Image quality

This lens has simply blown me away with its image quality.
Razor sharp wide open (who really buys an F4 lens to stop down to F11 unless they have to?) and really nice bokeh in both the foreground and background.
Even with a heavy crop on a relatively low megapixel body, the sharpness delivered is fantastic.

I have found no issues with flaring in the situations i've used the lens, likely due to the very deep (mmm carbon fibre) hood, and newest coatings on the lens.

Flying Liam RyanNikon D4, ISO500, F4, 1/1000th


I cannot comment directly on the competing Nikon (or Canon) 500mm lenses - I suspect they are also very good in all the ways that the Sigma excels.
However I do find it very hard to believe that they are delivering twice the value of the Sigma Sport, which is pretty much what you are paying.

Kudos Sigma!

Feel free to leave a comment if you have any queries regarding this lens, more than happy to answer :)
Some additional images:

Duck coming in to landNikon D500, ISO140, F4, 1/1000th

Porsche 911 in wet conditionsNikon D500, ISO100, F4, 1/500th

The comtemplation after a close lossNikon D800, ISO360, F4, 1/1000th Australian Magpie strikes a poseNikon D4, ISO2500, F4, 1/1250th Mitsubishi Evo at speedNikon D4, ISO100, F9, 1/250th