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PostPosted: Sat Aug 09, 2008 3:59 pm 
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My latest catch from ebay is the smaller cousin of the Sigma 400mm f/5.6 APO macro reviewed here.
So if you want to capture da duck O' the day you better get a little closer to the quackage than with the 400mm: A quack of 30cm hight can be captured from 6m away and still fill the frame of your humble APS-C sensored camera. Full-framers have to get a little closer at 4m...

But before I get into example pics, here are the main facts from the catalog:
Size: 90x195mm = large, but 65mm shorter than it's bigger cousin :?
Weight: 1190g w/o caps and collar = not too heavy for such a big lens and 100g lighter than it's bigger cousin:?
Optics: ?? elements in ? groups = ?? Don't have any information, but assume it's a 6-7 lens construction :?
Closest focus distance/max.magnification: 1.2m / 1:3 (tested and confirmed) :D
Filter-thread: 77mm = standard :)
No IS = very bad :cry:
AF (no built in focus motor/HSM), so does not work on D40/x/D60-bodies :( , manual-focus override by turning a ring :?
Covers full frame/FX or smaller = normal :)
Comes with an antique looking lens-bag :?
Price: around 300-400€ used = not dirt-cheap :?
The front- and rear lens-cap are cr*p (as usual with a Sigma lens) :(
Distance information is relayed to the camera, so the Nikon body can do all the advanced exposure-related stuff with this lens :D
Aperture ring = yes, just like a Nikon D-lens, moves in 1/2 stops up to f/32 :D
Built-in lens-shade :)
Tripod-collar can be removed without dismounting the lens :D , easy to turn camera to portrait-mode :D
Limiter switch: Yes, with two positions: "full" or 3m to infinity / 1.2-2m.

Versions:
Unfortunately his lens is discontinued and can no longer e bought new. I haven't seen other versions of this lens yet on eBay, but I suspect, that there is an older version, just like with the 400mm APO macro. Rumour has it, that Sigma only built a small number of this lens, so I assume, that there was no HSM version. (Readers who know better should give me a hint!)
As to lens-mounts: There are at least versions for Nikon and Canon.

Motivation:
Now why should one get the 300/4.0 over the 400/5.6?
- it's shorter (=less intrusive) and lighter
- it has a larger aperture
- it has a shorter focal length
These facts make the 300/4.0 less prone to shake so you can shoot a little longer when the daylight fades.
The larger aperture also gives you better control of dof so cou can isolate your subject better at f/4.0 than at f/5.6
And sometimes 400mm is just too much to frame the shot correctly.
But as with all tele-lenses (that are not tele-zooms) as you're working fom quite a distance it's harder in any case to frame the subject correctly, be it with a 300mm, a 400mm or 500mm lens. "Zooming with your feet" works best at focal lengths below 100mm 8)
So this must be the main reason, why Sigma eliminated those fixed focals from their catalog: people don't want to be restricted by one focal length or carry two or three such lenses with them.

Alternatives:
- The Nikon AF-S 300/4.0: An excellent lens (see review here) but look at the price. Even used you pay 800+ € for it (lowest price new from a reputable dealer in Germany: 1160€!).
- The Sigma HSM 100-300/4.0: One of the best zooms in it's class ( see test there) but at 92x224mm, 1480g quite a monster. Costs 1000€ new and is sold used seldom for less than 550€. You can also read my review of a used copy with less than stellar performance in the corners over there.
- The Nikon AF-S VR 70-300/4.5-5.6 (see Gordon's review): again a very good choice including VRII. And a pretty reasonable investment. But you loose one stop at the long end plus some IQ in the corners (might get worse with FX-body)

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Last edited by Thomas on Sun Aug 17, 2008 12:35 pm, edited 9 times in total.

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PostPosted: Sat Aug 09, 2008 4:19 pm 
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First impressions:
Same construction and build-quality as the larger cousin :)
But the lens is definitely not sharp :cry:
-----a few shots later-----
Aha, the lens exhibits a constant front-focus. So out came the D300 manual in search for the focus correction ability and after some testshots a +20 adjustment was dialled in. After a few more testshots it became clear, that the lens has the same potential for crisp, sharp shots as it's larger cousin.

Look me in the eye
Image
(click through to the 1024 pix version)

Don't touch!
Image
(click through to the 1024 pix version)

Both images were shot at f/4.0 (!) handheld in "vivid" mode, no other sharpening applied. Shooting distance was around 1.3m and I applied only a little cropping (plus curves in image #1). So we are at around 1:3 magnification in the original images.

This also shows nicely that you get an all-round lens with this ability to go down to 1:3 magnification. I really hate to carry around another 83x116mm, 720g package (my Nikon 105mm f/2.8 VR) just to go beyond the measly 1:9 many standard Nikon lenses/zooms provide (like e.g. the famous 18-200 VR!).

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Last edited by Thomas on Sun Aug 10, 2008 10:48 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Sat Aug 09, 2008 9:53 pm 
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Here's proof of the lens's size, compared to a Sigma 400/5.6 (bottom) and a Nikkor 180/2.8 (top):

Image

As you can see, both Sigmas are of identical construction. The 300mm being only that bit shorter.

Btw: the thing on the left side is the tripod-collar. As you can easily see, it opens all the way up to release your camera+lens out of the grip of the collar. The new Sigma collars need the lens detached from the body to get out of it :?

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PostPosted: Sun Aug 10, 2008 10:18 am 
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Wanna see detail sharpness?
Well here is a 100% crop from my latest and greatest entry for the Duck-O-the-Day competition: "Missy Blue Eyes"

Image

Shot at f/5.6 1/2000 sec handheld.

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PostPosted: Sun Aug 17, 2008 10:18 am 
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Ok. Here's the results from the lab-test showing the Siemens-star from f/11 (at the top) down to f/4.0 with a 100% center-crop to the left/1st and a 100% corner-crop on the right/2nd. And if you click on either image you have access to the large original in it's full 4288 x 2848 glory.

300mm f/11:
Image Image

300mm f/8.0:
Image Image

300mm f/5.6:
Image Image

300mm f/4.0:
Image Image

As you can see the corners in general hold up pretty well and the performance is very good albeit a little soft at f/4.0, which may result from a little misfocus still: See how the corner-crop is better than the center-crop at f/4.0.

There's also some small amount af CA visible in the corner-crops but nothing at the center-crops. This is also a very good performance!

So the lens shows its close relation to the very good Sigma 400mm f/4.0 APO macro not only on the outside but also in its optical quality. If it were not for the slight front-focus it would get a highly recommended here. But people who either MF or can adjust micro-focus in camera are well off getting a copy of this lens!

Together with a 1.4 or 1.5 teleconverter it gives you a 450mm f/5.6 which has quite a reach and can focus down to 1.2m and 1:2 magnification!

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PostPosted: Sun Aug 17, 2008 1:11 pm 
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Wanna have a look at some shots to illuminate the IQ of this lens with my Kenko 1.5x teleconverter? Here goes (click through to larger version):

at f/5.6 and f/11 (add 1 stop for the TC, that is f/8.0 and f/16 resp.):
Image Image

at f/11 and f/5.6 (add 1 stop for the TC, that is f/16 and f/8.0 resp.):
Image Image

And now one final image to show you at which magnifications we're working here (f/5.6):
Image

As you can see from those images that were made at an aperture of f/5.6 (of the original lens =f/8.5 in combination with the TC) the IQ of this combo is quite impressive.

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Last edited by Thomas on Wed Aug 20, 2008 9:25 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Sun Aug 17, 2008 4:20 pm 
Nice detail. I like the two flowers on the right. Great colour too. I'm only not so sure about the sharpness of the top left flower. Is/was that perhaps due to the front-focus issue you described?

And is the one of the fly representative of the maximum size you can get or would it be possible to have it larger that that? I don't know how much cropping/resizing was used here of course.

((Other questions transferred to this thread))

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PostPosted: Sun Aug 17, 2008 7:05 pm 
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The above examples are only slightly cropped from the 12MPix original to 9-10MPix.
And the not-so-sharpness of the 1st image resulted more from the softness of the small flowers and the limited dof than from any focus error. In the original you can count the legs of the small fly at 4 o'clock :wink:

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PostPosted: Thu Aug 28, 2008 10:29 pm 
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Another add-on remark:
Just came back from shooting with my brand-spanking new Sigma 150/2.8 macro. Weeeeell, I missed the reach of the 300/4.0 shooting some shy insects. The sharpest lens doesn't help if the critter has already taken flight :?
Another interesting observation: The 300/4.0 is as long/bulky as the 150/2.8 or the micro-Nikkor 105/2.8 with lens-hood attached :shock:
Well yes, this is the benefit of the built-in lens-hood of the 300/4.0 as you just pull it out when shooting. Whereas the reverse-mountable lens-hoods of the other lenses always stay mounted...

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PostPosted: Fri Aug 29, 2008 9:34 am 
So Thomas. Having used both the 300 and 150 quite extensively, which one do you think you'll be getting the most use out of??

Mark


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PostPosted: Fri Aug 29, 2008 2:22 pm 
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Well, that's a tough question, Mark!
It totally depends on the following factors:
A: What magnification do you normally need for macro? 1:3 or beyond?
B: What distance do you have or need from your subject? >60cm or <60cm?
C: What do you shoot with the lens, when not in macro mode? Distant sports and birds or landscape/portraits?
If you tend towards the 1st alternative, the 150/2.8 is for you. If you tend more towards the second alternative, the 300/4.0 is the better choice. But there is another important question that might decide it:
D: What are your next lenses above or beyond the choosen macro? In my case a 105mm 1:1-macro and a 400mm 1:3-macro.
I could imagine living with the 105mm 1:1 plus the 300mm 1:3 OR with the 150mm 1:1 plus the 400mm 1:3. Currently I'm working with a APS-C body so the 105+300mm combo seems ok. But if I switch to an FF/FX-body, the 150+400 might just be the best combo as you lose the 1.5x crop-factor.

Or you wait for the renewal of the Nikon 80-400 VR as your general tele walk-about zoom (stabilized). Then I would keep the 150/2.8 and sell the 300/4.0. This would be a very good combo to go down to 1:1 and cover 80-400mm and thus covers many situations.

And remember: The Sigma 300/4.0 (as well as the Sigma 400/5.6) can not be bought new and with guaranty any more :(

Following is a shot to show you the size of the full fixed-focal crew from 500mm on the left to 50mm on the right:
Image
-Tamron 500mm f/8.0--------Sigma 400mm f/5.6-------Sigma 300mm f/4.0------Nikon 180mm f/2.8-----Sigma 150mm f/2.8-----Nikon 105mm f/2.8-----Nikon 50mm f/1.4

But watch out: both macro-lenses (Nikon 105mm, 2nd from right and Sigma 150mm, 3rd from right) are shown with lens-hood mounted :wink:
The three lenses to the left of them have retractable lens-hoods, which are perhaps optically not optimal but very practical!

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Last edited by Thomas on Wed Oct 08, 2008 9:19 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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PostPosted: Fri Aug 29, 2008 3:49 pm 
Ahhh so many decisions!!! Thanks for the detailed and considered answer. So many things to do (buy :evil:)...

Mark


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PostPosted: Fri Aug 29, 2008 4:01 pm 
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Hehe, I always wanted to confuse a Canonite :twisted:

But seriously, looking at your current setup: I think the 150/2.8 is an excellent complement and you can still use it as an all-round lens far and near! At 300mm you're entering long tele-land (remember the 1.6x crop-factor giving you the equivalent of almost 500mm focal length on a film-body) and that requires special techniques to get good shots. And than you'll find out that you're carrying a 1.3kg monster with you but the framing is too tight and you cannot get further away :?
With the extraordinary sharpness of the Sigma 150/2.8 you can easily crop into the picture (or do some post-processing) to the effect of 1.5x extra magnification easily. This in effect gives you a 225mm/f2.8 lens which is very handy and versatile.

So here's my suggestion: get the Sigma 150mm f/2.8 EX APO macro HSM and be happy with it :D

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PostPosted: Fri Aug 29, 2008 6:22 pm 
Thanks Thomas. It's definitely on the list, right after I have enough for the 70-200 f/4. :roll: It's an expensive business, this. :D

Mark


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PostPosted: Fri Aug 29, 2008 7:10 pm 
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Well Mark, this poses a different situation: If you are going to get the 70-200/4.0 you've covered the 150mm with a very decent zoom!
So perhaps the 300/4.0 is the better extension of your collection then?!
BUT:
Speaking of money, you could argue that the Sigma 150/2.8 sits "in the middle" of the 70-200 zoom plus has 1:1 macro capabilites plus has 1 stop larger aperture plus is cheaper plus has better IQ.

Well, how could you argue against that :twisted:

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