Update: The Canon 100-400 f/4.5 – 5.6 is now in stock and shipping from B&H – Buy Now
Update: Added thoughts on the Sigma Contemporary version in the Sigma 150-600 section below.
I spent a week in Montana and Yellowstone National Park and used the trip as a test of a handful of telephoto lenses – these are the big ones, the ones you want to consider when you are getting serious about wildlife or sports photography.
Video Review of Big Zoom Lenses (and one telephoto prime)
- Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD
- Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sports Lens
- Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens
- Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM Lens
- Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens with Canon Extender EF 2X III
I used these cameras on a Canon 5D Mark III (full frame) and a Canon 7D Mark II (APS-C/Crop Sensor).
Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD
- Price: $1069.00
- Weight: 4.30 lb (1.95 kg)
- Filter Size 95mm
- Partially Weather Sealed (some discussion online about just how weather sealed this lens is)
- Plastic Lens Hood
- Removable tripod collar
- Minimum Focus Distance: 106.3″
For the money I found the Tamron to be an excellent lens. Seems just as sharp as the others in the review, maybe a tiny bit slower at focusing but nothing remarkably different. Build quality is good, some concerns over just how weather sealed it is and you only have Vibration Compensation (VC) on or off, no option for panning or more active motion while using VC. At 4.3lbs and 17 inches with hood attached and zoomed to 600mm you are dealing with a big lens that I still found to be comfortable hand holding. I am bummed that the filter size is 95mm, you are going to be spending serious cash to fit that lens with a decent filter. Recommended- B+W 95mm Kaesemann Circular Polarizer MRC Filter You also have very limited compatibility with extension tubes. Will not work with Canon and possibly some functionality using a Kenko 1.4x but you lose one stop of light and reports of some AF being much less reliable. No bag or carrying case provided.
Tamron Summary – For the money this is a great lens that gives you 600mm and remains fairly portable.
Buy from B&H: Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD Lens
Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sports Lens
- Price: $1999.00
- Weight: 6.3 lb (2.86 kg)
- Filter Size: 105mm!
- Fully weather sealed
- Customizable using USB Dock (sold separately)
- USB Dock Adj
- Soft locks
- NON-Removable tripod collar
- Minimum Focus Distance: 102.4″
People stop and stare when you pull this lens out of your bag. Fully extended and using the included metal lens hood you are holding a massive lens and at 6.3 lbs I found this lens really to be at the limit of handholding and I really only recommend using it in situations with tripods/monopods or beanbag setups. Focus was responsive but with the large size holding it on target at times was tricky. The 105 filter size is going to cost you if you want to throw anything on here. The B+W 105mm Kaesemann Circular Polarizer Filter I recommend is $350! With the complaints out of the way I can share that this is a well built, fully weather sealed lens that offers an impressive amount of customization. You have 3 modes you can setup with the USB dock that gives you control over focus speed, focus limiters and adjust the Optical stabilization as well as make micro focus adjustments allowing you to really achieve sharp focus with your body and lens. You also have multiple modes of OS and the lens will lock into position at all the marked focal lengths. This is important as the lens will certainly creep if not locked. You can easily unlock at any point by rotating the zoom ring. I found the colors and contrast out of this lens to be excellent and it is compatible with Sigma and Canon extenders, you will lose AF with some extenders and focal lengths. Most lenses need at least f/8 to focus and the 2x extender at 600m gives you 1200mm f/13 lens, manual focus only. It comes with a nice cloth lens cap cover, metal lens hood and padded carrying case.
Sigma Summary: Sharp 600mm in a feature packed lens – just make sure you won’t be in a situation where you need to handhold for more than a few minutes.
UPDATE: Sigma is now shipping this lens in the Contemporary version. Full Sigma 150-600 Sport Version vs Sigma 150-600 Contemporary Version Comparison coming soon. Brief differences.
- The Sports version prioritizes optical performance and the Contemporary version prioritizes portability.
- Contemporary version weighs 4.25 lbs (2 lbs less than the sport version)
- Contemporary version is more compact and features a removable tripod collar
- Contemporary version filter size is 95mm (105mm on sport version)
- Contemporary version sells for $1089! (Almost the same price as the Tamron)
- Preorder the Sigma 150-600 Contemporary from B&H
Sigma 150-600 Samples:
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens
- Price: $2199.00
- Weight: 3.5 lb (1.59 kg)
- Filter Size: 77mm filter
- Fully weather sealed
- Lens Hood has a filter door
- 3 IS modes
- Adjustable tension for zoom range
- Removable Tripod Collar
- Minimum Focus Distance 38″ (Best in the class)
I am going to give you the summary for this lens first – if budget isn’t a concern this is the lens I would pick. Yes, you sacrifice some reach, 400mm vs 600mm from the Tamron and Sigma but you gain a much more portable lens that is easy to hand hold and focuses fast with excellent sharpness and overall image quality. The most expensive of the bunch, not counting the price of the Canon 70-200 and 2x extender, you pay for this convenience quality package but get a well built lens that is significantly lighter than the other two, offers a normal sized filter, full weather sealing, customizable tension and a lens hood with a little door for rotating CP filters. For the Canon 100-400 I recommend the B+W 77mm Kaesemann Circular Polarizer MRC Filter. You also get three IS modes, normal, active and during exposure only. I found the IS to be excellent and we shot handheld video using this lens and am very happy with the stability. This is the lens I found myself coming back to again and again during my travels. It was portable and easily fit in my Think Tank Photo Airport Essentials Backpack. Handholding was a dream and while shooting the animals the lens focus speed is fast, really fast and had no problems keeping fast moving animals in focus. This lens coupled with a crop sensor camera like the 7D Mark II is awesome, you get that extra reach from the crop factor and the focusing brains of the 7D Mark II coupled with the speedy lens gave me tack sharp images again and again. Compatible with 1.4x and 2x teleconverters from Canon- with the 2x you will be manual focus only but interestingly the dual pixel AF of live view with the Canon 70D and Canon 7D Mark II still works albeit slightly slower.
Summary: Fantastic lens if you desire portability, fast focus and handholding versus 200mm more that the Tamron and Sigma offer.
Buy from B&H Photo: Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens
Canon 100-400 Samples
Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM Lens
- Price: $1339.00 ($1239 with rebate ending Jan 31st)
- Weight: 2.75 lb (1.25 kg)
- Filter Size: 77mm
- Integrated hood
- Partially Weather Sealed
- No Image Stabilization
- Removable Tripod Collar
- Minimum Focus Distance 137.8″ 11 feet!! (Worst in class)
I am a big fan of prime lenses(6 Reason you should own a prime), I believe they often offer excellent values, to name one reason and the 400mm f/5.6 L from Canon does not disappoint. It is the sharpest of the bunch, again in my real world testing I saw only slight variations across all these lenses, the lightest of the bunch and the most portable with a nifty integrated lens hood you will never leave behind. Downsides – no image stabilization and I personally find longer telephoto primes to be harder to work with. If you are not in the right spot you may need to do a good bit of “zooming with your feet” to get the desired composition. With shy wildlife this can be difficult.
Summary: If you are willing to sacrifice versatility and IS you get a sharp and portable lens.
Buy from B&H: Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM Lens
Sample 400mm Images:
Canon EF 70-200 f/2.8 + Canon EF 2x Extender
- Price: $2648.00 (70-200 = $2199.00 & Canon 2x = $449.00)
- Weight: 3.99lbs (70-200 = 3.28 lb (1.49 kg) & Canon 2x = 11.46 oz (325g))
- Filter Size: 77mm
- Weather Sealed
- With 2x extender you suffer 2 stops of light loss
- With 2x extender you suffer slower focus with more hunting.
- With 2x extender you No Auto focus on some lenses (If max aperture is above f/8)
I recognize that this is an odd combo to throw into the review but it was actually requested by a few people. Lots of serious photographers already own the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens as it is an awesome lens for wedding, event and even portrait photography. Sometimes those photographers want more reach but not often enough to shell out $1000-$2000 for a bigger zoom. Using the Extender gives you a 140-400 f/5.6 lens at only a slight cost increase. You are starting at f/5.6 where the other lenses give you slightly wider apertures and I did see more hunting and generally slower AF when using the two together. I will add that the extender does not impact image quality much if you start with a good lens and I was very happy with some of the shots I got. Remember that the 1.4x and 2x extenders have limited compatibility and you should watch my video on the 2x extender to learn more.
Summary: an affordable solution for more zoom if you already have the 70-200 and don’t plan on photographing fast moving subjects often.
Buy from B&H: Canon Extender EF 2X III
Samples images from Canon 70-200 with 2x Extender
Final Thoughts – Big Zoom Field Review
Great news – all of these lenses performed well and I was happy with the quality from all of them. It really comes down to your needs and the conditions you will be shooting in. The Tamron’s value is hard to overlook with 600mm of reach for just $1069 and while I liked the quality and features of the Sigma, the size and weight just wouldn’t work for the type of portability I want. As I mentioned above the Canon 100-400 was the lens I just kept coming back too and would be the best lens for mine needs, I just need to start saving. I’d love to hear from you which would work best for you and why? Leave a comment below.
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