Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Sigma 50-150 F2.8 lens

I was never a DSLR guy.  There, I said it.  I totally and completely skipped the DSLR video craze. 
Shooting video with a still camera?  I was probably the only person in the modern world who didn't
shoot on a DSLR and stayed with video cameras.   I'm kind of glad I waited for big sensor proper video cameras, I'm not a professional stills shooter, I don't understand DSLR's like I do video cameras.  But now I have some catching up to do in regards to lenses.  You see, most lenses that you will be using on the large sensor video cameras, are still lenses (unless you reside in the big budget world and can afford PL mount lenses, and the Epic, and the Alexa, in which case, I HATE you! :-)  The problems with still lenses for video are many, short focus throws, jerky zooms, varifocal instead of parfocal and more.  But in the process of my research, I heard a few interesting tidbits about a certain lens.  Now these legends were referring to the older Sigma 50-150 F2.8.  It has been discontinued in favor of the newer  Sigma 50-150 which is much bigger and heavier (more on that later).  The legend goes, that this is the lens that Red 'rehoused' to make their 50-150 Red Pro Zoom.  I have no idea if this is true.  But after seeing pictures of it online, I thought it might be nice to have as a 'mid telephoto' for my FS 100.  It seemed pretty small and compact for a telephoto lens.  This can be nice when you don't want to 'build up' your camera with rails and a lens support.  Of course, if the lens is big and heavy, you NEED to build it up, as you don't want to put to much stress on the little E-mount on the FS100.  Most telephoto zooms are big and heavy.  This is one of the only ones that is a F2.8 and reaches out to 150mm and stays relatively small.  Alas, they are not easy to find nowdays, I looked all over eBay and in the used section of most lens stores around the country.  Finally, I got lucky and saw a '9+' condition one come up for sale at B&H for $570.  

Now, many of you probably realize, this lens
does NOT come in a Sony E-mount.  You
can get it in either a Nikon mount, a Sony A-mount, or a Canon EF mount, and then get 
a Novoflex adapter (for Nikon mount), a Sony LA EA1 or LA EA2 for Sony E to A mount 
adapter, or a Metabones Canon EF mount to E-mount adapter.  Each of these offers some
advantages and disadvantages as well as
different price points, and I will be talking
about and reviewing these adapters in another post.  But for now, lets just say that the Sony
LA EA2 adapter will give you autofocus ability (which is an advantage for Sony A mount lenses) and the Metabones will give you image
stabilization (which is an advantage for Canon EF mount lenses).  That's kind of the summary of it.  Unfortunately, this lens does NOT have built in IS, so you can't get image stabilization (more on that later).  But the one B&H had was a Canon EF mount, and as I own the Metabones adapter, I knew that I would at least get iris control, so I quickly bought it.  
So lets go through the pros and cons of the lens.
First, the cons.  The biggest thing to me, is
that it has no image stabilization.  When you have it zoomed in to 150mm, it is going to shake, unless you are on a tripod.  On the kit lens, I can be at 200mm and be rock steady with Sony's active IS.  Now the new version of the Sigma 50-150 DOES have IS, BUT it is as big and heavy as a 70-200.  So I am guessing that you have to give up the IS to get the smaller and lighter lens.  This is a shame, because with the small, light lens, it is just begging for you to go handheld, but you can't without getting some wobbles.
And it is long enough to cause the camera to be a little front heavy.  But really, that's it. That's because this is positively one of the BEST stills lens that you can buy for a motion picture camera.
No joke.  If you find one, buy it and send me a $5 donation for pointing you in the right direction.
Seriously, show me the money......better yet, really send it to me.  No, I'm serious, put that money
in the mail!  This lens is what you want a cinema lens to be.  Well built, and sturdy.  Very nicely
dampened focus and zoom rings, if you are careful, you can actually pull off a live zoom with this thing!  That's right, now all us big sensor guys can go back to indiscriminately zooming like we
used to with the zoom rocker on the little chip cameras!  In all seriousness, it is nice to be able to
zoom in veerrryyy sllllooooowwwwlllyyy during an interview sometimes.  And with this lens,
you can do it.  The focus throw is perfect.  I absolutely HATE still lenses in which you go from
focused at 6 inches to infinity in 2 centimeters of focus throw.  Talk about STUPID.  Yeah, I
know there are reasons for it in the still world.  But guess what, I'm not a still photog, so I'm
gonna complain all I want!  But this lens has the perfect amount of focus throw.  When zooming,
the lens does not extend at all.  That's right, all you matte box users rejoice, this lens is perfect for
you!  And it's parfocal too!  Or as close as a still lens can get.  Crash zoom in, get your focus, and
zoom back out, just like you used to with your shoulder mount video cameras!  And the
image?  It's just gorgeous!  Which is to be expected I guess as still cameras are resolving 16,
24, and even 32 megapixels nowdays while HD video is basically 2.  It's clean, sharp, plenty
of contrast, and the bokeh is just beautiful.  If all still lenses were like this one, the 'cinema'
lens makers would be in trouble.  If you'd like a look at some work I've done with
this lens, watch the following video.  This video has a quick look at the lens, and some
random cuts of video (but it's actual video I've done for paying clients, NOT test video.)
There are some interviews for a documentary, and some b-roll of a house fire that I
used to produce a commercial for the local fire department, just raw, ungraded and
unedited video.  Take a look here:

Also, if you would like to see it, the completed commercial I made with that fire footage is here:

So in conclusion, I'd say that the older Sigma 50-150 is a great lens for anyone
with a large sensor camera.

Mechanics (longer focus throw, smooth focus and zoom, no extension when zooming.)
Good images
Constant F2.8

No image stabilization means it is mostly a tripod lens
A little front heavy

In Canon mount it works great on the FS100 and FS700
with metabones adapter and would work great on the Canon C100 and C300.  On the
AF100, you'd probably want a Nikon mount, which you can also use on the Sony
cameras, it's just then you use the Novoflex adapter which doesn't let you know
which Fstop you are at, although it DOES let you control just don't know
where you are.  Anyways, in my opinion it's probably a better lens for motion pictures
than it is for stills, with stills most people are probably going to jump on the bigger,
heavier 70-200 lenses.

Gabe Strong


  1. Gabe, is there any easy way to differentiate between the older version of the lens (which you reviewed) vs. the newer version? For example, I searched on and they had 4 lenses:

    Is the bottom lens (the one with HSM-II) the newer one?

    1. The new one is bigger and has a tripod support on it. The older one does your link, there is only a picture on one of the lenses, which is the bottom lens. It is a Nikon mount version of the lens I reviewed as it has no tripod mount. The other way you can tell, is that the newer version has IS (Image Stabilization)
      and the older version which I reviewed has no IS. I think that is one of the reasons, that the older version is nice and light.

  2. Thanks for review, it was excellent and very informative.
    awesome lenses sigma..
    thank you :)

  3. Thanks for the comment, I'm glad it helped you out! Any questions feel free to ask!

  4. I'm really enjoying the design and layout of your website.
    Qassim & QU