Sigma 60-600mm f/4.5-6.3 DG DN OS Review: Big, Heavy, But Versatile Leave a comment

Sigma’s 60-600mm f/4.5-6.3 DG DN OS Sport lens arrived during a flurry of product releases and bitterly cold weather earlier this year. It’s been a minute, but I’ve now had a chance to test it in full.

I didn’t get the time to make a full review back when it launched, but I did use it enough for a first impression article and video.

As I started to pack for a trip to Brazil on a photo safari, I reached out to Sigma to ask if I could spend more time with the lens. I already was planning to test the Sony a7CR (a test I completed last month) and while it was an odd pairing (the smallest of Sony’s full-frame bodies with the largest of Sigma’s “Sport” lenses), I knew the animals and wildlife of Brazil’s Pantanal region would allow me to put the lens to the test.

Sigma 60-600mm f/4.5-6.3 DG DN OS: Design and Build Quality

The Sigma is a massive piece of glass, weighing more than five pounds, and is nearly a foot long at its smallest. The lens would be the heaviest piece of equipment I’d bring to Brazil, occupying a large portion of my allotted carry-on weight.

But it also eliminated the need to bring several lenses with me. Generally, in addition to my 24-70mm f/2.8 GM II (which did come with me), I bring a 70-200mm and either Sony’s 200-600mm or the Sony 100-400mm plus a teleconverter. Those two lenses combined are more than the weight of the Sigma.

In the end, I also brought a 70-200mm with me as a backup for the lenses my son and I were using, but I didn’t have much occasion to switch away from the Sigma.

sigma on boat

A Lot of Specs in a Lot of Body

The wide range of focal lengths is the most compelling feature of the 60-600mm. Priced about the same as the Sony 200-600mm, the Sigma gives photographers an extra 140mm of versatile wide-end reach.

This proved invaluable on my photo safari in Brazil because it allowed me to capture close and far animals without switching lenses. Capybara, caiman (a small relative of the alligator), birds, and giant river otters came quite close to our boat. Usually, I’d use one camera with a long lens and one with a broader lens to capture animals at different distances.

Jenni the jaguar

There were a lot of faraway creatures, too. After photographing the caiman, I photographed birds in trees more than a hundred yards away. Combining the Sigma with the Sony a7CR gave me plenty of reach and pixels to crop.

The Sigma 60-600 has an aperture range of f/4.5 to f/6.3 compared to the Sony 200-600mm at f/5.6 to f/6.3. The Sony 100-400mm is f/4.5-5.6, but using a 1.4x teleconverter brings it to the same 600mm of the Sigma lens to f/8 as the minimum aperture. That’s a full stop of light lost by converting the Sony 100-400 to make it the same telephoto focal length as the Sigma.

The 60mm focal length has a minimum distance of 17.7 inches (45cm) and a close focus resolution of 0.4, which isn’t macro by any stretch, but it is an excellent distance to photograph close objects. At the telephoto end, the lens has a resolution of 1:3.3, which makes it ideal for details and smaller objects.

Optically, the lens comprises 27 elements in 19 groups and features a 9-blade aperture for smooth background defocus. The body of the optic is mostly magnesium, with carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic and “thermally stable” plastic composites, which I believe means that the lens won’t melt or warp in high temperatures.

The Sigma 60-600 also has a water-and-oil repellent coating, which proved itself in the high-humidity, high-temperatures of the Pantanal wetlands where our trip was centered. On the few occasions where the lens fogged up, I could quickly wipe it off on my shirt (I know, I know) without smearing or leaving streaks.

Sigma mentions that this lens has a push-pull design, which sounds nice but is misleading. The lens extends to zoom and the 60-600mm throw requires an unfortunate amount of turning to extend the lens fully; a natural tradeoff of a lens with such an extreme focal length range. Sony’s 200-600mm has an internal zoom, but few other super-telephoto lenses do. I’m not even sure it would be optically possible to make an internal zoom for a 10x tele without the body being even more massive than the Sigma 60-600mm already is.

Jag-u-ar

Instead of turning the zoom dial, pulling the barrel of the lens out is possible (hence the push-pull design note). This is most useful from a wide angle to 600mm, but it’s certainly not a system for fine adjustments.

The other issue is that the lens suffers from “creep” when pointed downward. The lens has a lock, but it only locks at the retracted focal length. The lack of focal length lock on the Sport lenses is something that I’ve commented on since the DSLR days.

With this super-zoom, I would love to see a feature that allows the lens to be locked within a specific range of focal lengths. It would be great to set the widest zoom position to 200mm when photographing distant animals or athletes, so there’s only a 200-600mm range to select from. This issue is a minor quibble and something that’s not actually easy to implement, but I still wanted to mention it.

Sigma 60-600mm f/4.5-6.3 DG DN OS: Image Stabilization

The four stops of image stabilization in the lens function better than I had anticipated and reduced blur from the hand shaking that’s so typical at long focal lengths. I didn’t use a tripod on the trip and despite this, almost no photos are blurry due to camera shake.

Sony says the image stabilization in the a7CR is up to seven stops, which is markedly better than the a7R V it is based on. The combination of the body and the lens stabilization on the a7CR was noticeably better than when I put the Sigma lens on the a7R V. I shot over 4,000 images on the trip, and almost none were out of focus due to lens movement; the only blurry shots were due to shutter speed.

The image stabilization is essential because of the size and shape of the lens. The Sigma 60-600mm is one of the heaviest lenses I’ve ever used and the heaviest zoom lens I’ve shot for any length of time.

The stabilization was so good that I could pivot around on a moving and rocking boat and track birds by hand without having the motion throw them out of the frame.

The weight of the lens is the biggest issue. The tradeoff for the 10x zoom range is a heavy and wide body. At more than five pounds, it’s ungainly to use and I had to put the lens down between shots, which led to some missed images. Having to hoist the lens back up to the ready position often took longer than the opportunity to photograph an animal presented itself.

Sigma 60-600mm f/4.5-6.3 DG DN OS: Quiet Running

The hypersonic motor in the Sigma 60-600mm is responsible for both the focus speed and the quietness during use. During the whole trip, I only heard the AF once, and that was when the lens overheated from sitting in direct sun in nearly 100-degree weather for more than an hour.

The lens made a grinding noise internally, and the focus lagged for a few seconds, but it went back to normal after I took it off the camera, gave it a few seconds, and reattached it. Learning my lesson, I covered the lens with a towel to keep it out of the sun when not in use while I wondered why all lenses aren’t white.

Besides this reboot from literally baking in the sun, the lens was silent, with absolutely no motor noise when shooting video.

Sigma 60-600mm f/4.5-6.3 DG DN OS: Image Quality vs Weight

The heaviness of the lens would not be worth it if it weren’t for the fact that the image quality is superb. I was shooting RAW plus 10-bit HEIF during my review and as the a7CR wasn’t released yet, I could not evaluate the RAW files.

The HEIF files looked great, but they reflected the sharpening and color rendition of the camera’s processor, so I couldn’t evaluate the image quality fully. When I got home and looked at the images in Sony’s (awful) Imaging Edge software, I found the quality was indeed excellent.

For Many, The Sigma 60-600mm is a Worthwhile Addition

The Sigma 60-600mm is a unique lens. With excellent image quality, even better stabilization, and a rock-solid design, it’s a fantastic choice for the enthusiast photographer and many pros.

Sigma’s Art lenses are known for their resolution and low optical aberrations, but this Sport lens is nearly as good. Some images exhibit minor chromatic aberration at areas of high contrast (skies with leaves in front of them, for example) but nothing that isn’t correctable in software.

sigma60-600

I don’t usually trust once-in-a-lifetime photo shoots to new lenses and I did bring backup glass, but in this case, I captured 90% of my images on the Sigma 60-600mm lens and wasn’t disappointed with the results.

There are negatives to the lens, but the positives outweigh them (pardon the pun) for the intended user. This is an excellent choice for photographers looking to pack a single lens instead of multiple lenses.

Dedicated sports and wildlife photographers, who don’t typically need a wide-angle field of view, might be better off with a lens like the Sony 200-600mm or a prime lens. That said, the majority of photographers have flexibility as a primary need and it is here that the Sigma shines.

sigma60-600

sigma60-600

Are There Alternatives?

Yes and no. The 10x super-telephoto market is pretty bare as this is the only one available. Sony’s 200-600mm G and the Tamron 50-400mm F/4.5-6.3 Di III VC VXD are choices for different segments of focal length needs. The Sony 200-600mm G is much more compact, lighter, and has an internal zoom, though.

Should You Buy It?

Maybe. At $1,999 it’s an affordable lens relative to the features but the weight and size are a drawback. That said, if you’re looking for one lens with the full range of focal lengths this offers, it’s a perfect choice.

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