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Opinions: Sigma 50-500 or Canon 100-400L

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  • Opinions: Sigma 50-500 or Canon 100-400L

    I'm looking for a big zoom lens. Let me know what you guys think.

    I have allready tried the canon yesterday (a big thanks to Dan Valentine), and I will try the sigma somewhere next year.

    my pro's and cons atm:

    Sigma 50-500

    -Bigger range
    -cheaper (and I mean like 500)
    -better for the shorter pics (the 50mm end)
    -twist zoom (what is the right word?)
    -less lightstrong (higher f)
    -heavier (if I'm right)
    -Not weather sealed (so air goes in and out)

    Canon 100-400 L IS
    -more lightstrong
    -weather sealed
    -push pull zoom (I will probably get used to it, but I don't like it)
    -much more expensive
    -100mm minimal is a lot (it becomes 160mm)
    -less zoom at the far end

  • #2
    In your pros/cons I think you're missing a big quality difference between the Canon & the Sigma.

    Oh yes, and the Canon has Image Stablisation - you should be able to handhold this lens at 400mm using 1/125th.


    A member of AirTeamImages


    • #3
      I have both.

      The 50-500 is softer, vignets slightly when wider than f/11 (yes even on a DSLR with 1.6 crop), a lot heavier (but easier to hold - bigger tripod mount). The twist zoom is much slower to use than the push-pull of the 100-400. The lens barrel nearest the mount point can work loose and require return to Sigma to tighten up again. 86mm thread - filters cost loadsamoney, the saving compared to the 100-400 may be lost if you buy a lot of filters (77mm thread on the 100-400).

      The 100-400 is not weather sealed and does collect dust. The IS occasionally malfunctions particularly if pointed near the sun/straight up (sometimes this will lock the camera up so that you have to turn off, unmount and remount the lens). The tightening ring is linked to the focusing ring so you can throw off your focus by adjusting tightness - this is pretty silly! It suffers a little from chromatic aberration (purple fringing to the edges of bright/dark high contrast areas) but this is nowhere near as noticeable as with cheaper zooms like the 75-300s. I know of two people who have had bearing failures on their 100-400s resulting in damage to the barrel and return to Canon.

      Having said all that both are good lenses - the 100-400 is clearly superior, particularly in situations that require the IS, and is the one I use 99% of the time. The 50-500 I only use occasionally when I really need that extra range either end (not often). If you can stretch to the price of the 100-400 I would go for that rather than the 50-500.
      Photo prints available from


      • #4
        Very interesting topic. Damien, do you have sample photos showing what kind of quality is possible with the Sigma at fully extended zoom?

        The 100-400 is not weather sealed and does collect dust.
        Is this a serious problem? How can you clean the lens?



        • #5
          I might be able to dig out some comparison shots later tonight.

          As for dust, no, it's no problem unless you're in the habit of shooting directly into the sun at f/32 or something like that... it just doesn't show up in normal photos. Canon or a camera servicing place will no doubt clean it for you if it bugs you, and extra some money from you too!
          Photo prints available from


          • #6
            I have to agree with Colin on this one,the IS on the Canon lens is the reason I got the 100-400mm and just to prove a point


            This was shot on 1/40th at F5.6 on AV with my 10D because the light was dreadful and admittedly I was also resting against a fence post but I dont think I would have got away with it using the Sigma?
            And I quite often shoot on 1/125th esp for spinning props and the results with the 10D are very impressive.

            John H


            • #7
              II chose the Sigma based on reports from lots of people who have them,say they are super happy and paid half the priice of the Canon.
              Given the IS is a major advantage you may want to ask how often will you need that capability?
              I for one would love a 100-400 IS but the Sigma is one sharp lens at 500mm as the pic below will show.
              Taken with a 10D this gives you effectively 793mm of sharp lens.
              Best value lens from where i sit on the market.
              Having looked at the 400IS exstensively its a nice lens but you simply have to ask yourself how much is the IS worth and how often will you use it.
              The 400IS simply cannot take this photo from where i took it at the base of the tower at SYD.

              The thing is built like a tank to say the least and the extra weight is great for stability when on the monopod taking long range shots like the one above.
              With its weight and a bit of practice 1/250th at 800mm on a pod is within your grasp for half the price of the Canon.
              I'll be getting a 400IS but until i do i am very happy,stoked infact(as are 99%of 50-500 users) with this very underrated piece of gear.


              • #8
                Both are excellant lenses, however for my part the Canon achieves superior image quality and is the one I use almost exclusively.

                The IS is very important for me being somewhat shaky handed

                For example, a recent trip to AMS met with awful weather, ISO400 for both days, and I know for a fact that without IS a lot of my shots would have come out blurry, especially at the longer focal lengths.

                I think where you live is a factor too, unless you shoot exclusively in Sun. For Darren in Oz, low light and dull weather are not as big a factor as for me living in the UK. In poor light or overcast days the IS is a major boon as the shutter speed needs to drop.

                Having used both the Canon is the one for me, however whichever one you get you won't be disappointed with.


                Garry Lewis

                Air Team Images -
                Air Traffic Controller - Toronto ACC (West Low)



                • #9
                  G'day Garry
                  You are 100% correct on the light situation.
                  We are lucky that we generally have good light most of the year round which makes a big difference in lens selection.
                  If you "need" the IS because you shoot alot in poor light i would definitely go with the 100-400IS.
                  It really comes down to horses for courses with both lenes providing something the other does not and both take very good qualtiy photo's.
                  Pay your money and take your choice!!
                  All the best


                  • #10
                    thx for the replies, well looks like the 100-400 is better, but more expensive and push pull. I think I am going to buy the sigma (if testing is positive), after that if I have the money the Tamron 28-75 f2.8, and after that I am broke (I will buy a batterypack with my sigma I think), so then I'll be really broke, so maybe the 50mm f1.8, and then a......never mind, I'll be around 80 then :P


                    • #11
                      Here we go. Two comparison shots with exactly the same settings/location/time/etc. These are 1:1 crops from the full size images, saved at maximum quality to hopefully keep compression from affecting the comparison.

                      First picture - 100-400 on left (@ 400mm), 50-500 on right (@ 417mm). Illustrates that the 100-400's softening above 300mm puts it pretty much equal to the 50-500 at the 400mm or so mark.

                      Second picture - 100-400 on left (@ 400mm), 50-500 on right (@ 500mm). Look at detail like the probes on the side of the nose to see that the 100-400 gives a sharper result at the long end even when it's not performing at its best.

                      Don't have anything handy to compare at the 300mm mark - well, plenty really, but as they're not taken in the same conditions/iso/shutter speed/aperture they aren't useful comparisons. But you can take it from me that the 100-400 is significantly superior at that point. The faster focusing also means its more likely to get you the shot on a fast moving target.[/img]
                      Photo prints available from


                      • #12
                        Damien, thanks a lot for the comparison shots. Looks like the 50-500 has slightly more contrast.


                        Btw, was this shot taken with the 100-400?



                        • #13
                          Originally posted by DamienB
                          Here we go. Two comparison shots with exactly the same settings/location/time/etc. These are 1:1 crops from the full size images, saved at maximum quality to hopefully keep compression from affecting the comparison.
                          Can you post the originals or the exif? Those comparisons look a little fishy.....


                          • #14
                            Thomas - the light changed a bit between the two Concorde shots, and yes, that shot is a 100-400 one.

                            JeffinDEN - do you know, I make it a policy of ignoring the requests of people who accuse me of being a liar.
                            Photo prints available from


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by DamienB
                              JeffinDEN - do you know, I make it a policy of ignoring the requests of people who accuse me of being a liar.
                              When did Jeff call you a liar? He just asked to see the EXIF's.