Roger Reynolds Hon. FRPS has been involved in photography for over thirty years. He owns and operates Photoventures which organises specialist tours with the photographer in mind. He is currently on a photographic group tour in New Mexico, USA and has taken the new SIGMA 12-24mm F4 DG HSM | Art and SIGMA 500mm F4 DG OS HSM | Sports lens with him on the tour. He shares with us his first impressions.
The SIGMA 12-24mm F4 DG HSM | Art lens and the SIGMA 500mm F4 DG OS HSM | Sports lens are put to the test in New Mexico by photographer Roger Reynolds
I am now in New Mexico on our final Photoventures tour of 2016 and have got with me two of the new top lenses from Sigma that were launched at Photokina in September. The SIGMA 12-24mm F4 DG HSM | Art lens and the SIGMA 500mm F4 DG OS HSM | Sports lens, along with the Teleconverter TC-1401 1.4x and the Teleconverter TC-2001 Teleconverter 2x.
First impressions were great, they looked beautifully engineered and the 12-24mm | Art was quite a bit different from the previous two versions that I own. This new lens is much larger in the front element commensurate with the fixed aperture and looks to be worth every penny of the quite substantial price increase over the earlier versions. The 500mm | Sports is a lens that I have been hoping Sigma would make. The wider aperture of F4 as against the older F4.5 means that it can be autofocus with both tele-convertors on top end cameras.
I am using both lenses with the latest Canon 1DX Mk2 and I can tell you that the combination is great from both lenses. The 12-24mm | Art is self-explanatory, it has great contrast and at F4 it makes for a considerably brighter image in the viewfinder that the earlier derivatives. The new hard plastic front cover is also a plus point. You can judge the lens yourself from the images but it is as sharp as a razor.
The 500mm | Sports is outstanding! The autofocus is quick and more importantly accurate and the sharpness is stunning with both tele-convertors. It is about the same weight as the latest Canon 500mm F4 and comparing result against images taken on that lens I find that they certainly are a match or even have more contrast giving the feel of better edge sharpness. The images here with the exception of the sunrise shot were taken of static subjects and the proof of the pudding will come when I am shooting the birds at Bosque del Apache next week. Watch this space and find out. However on first impressions, and at less than 2/3rds of the price of both the Canon and Nikon 500mm lenses, this will be a very serious contender and you will have enough money left over to but a top of the range camera.
We have arrived at Bosque on our New Mexico tour and now is the time to put the new SIGMA 500mm | Sports lens through its paces and give it a thorough test. The number of Cranes was reduced this year and the usual crane ponds were empty overnight. Mid-morning the snow geese arrived to occupy the lake although they kept to the far bank so it was necessary to use the matched teleconverters that are available for this lens. They certainly did the business, quick focusing on the Canon 1DX Mk 2 produced pin sharp images to be proud of. The control of contrast was good giving great detail in the bright sun. So, very impressed with the first outing.
We are continuing our visit to Bosque which is allowing me to give the new SIGMA 500mm Sports F4 lens released at Photokina a real workout. I am also giving the matched tele-converters a good test as the birds are keeping their distance this year. It has been an unusual year all around with the season in Florida weeks behind and the storm along the Pacific Coast disrupting the annual migration of some birds. At Bosque the usual crane ponds are devoid of sandhill cranes and the numbers are low still. Every year I have been, there have been cranes in the two ponds alongside the main road. Not this year, so we have had to search them out and adapt to the changes in habits.
After a search round the reserve at Bosque del Apache we discovered that the best place this year to photograph the sandhills was on the corn fields. These are grown specially to supply winter food for the cranes and geese. As is always the case the crop was cut back some 50 yards or so from the road so it was necessary to shoot with a tele-converter most of the time. No problem because the SIGMA 500mm |Sports F4 seems as sharp with the convertors as it is without. The images here are taken with both the 1.4x and 2x times matched convertors. If you can spot the difference you have better eyes than me. One unusual shot in the group is of a sandhill crane with a rat. It tried to swallow the rat without success and was continually harried by other cranes trying to steal it. I Never knew the cranes ate rodents, you learn something new every day!
As the Sandhill Cranes are not on their usual ponds we had to be a bit inventive and try and work out where we could get our dawn shots on this visit. The best bet was to head to the feeding grounds and see if they headed there when they left the ponds they were roosting on. Luck was with us and we had not been long at the location when the birds began to fly in. This was well before dawn and the wind was howling with a wind chill well below freezing so the arrival of the cranes was a reel godsend.
To get reasonable shutter speeds in the low dawn light it is necessary to use very high ISO settings and I started off at 6400 reducing to 3200 as the sun broke the horizon. For the new SIGMA 500mm | Sports this was a real test to see how it would autofocus in such low light conditions. You can judge the results yourself but one thing is sure the lighting situations were stunning and offered a good variety of images. Made standing in the freezing cold all the more worthwhile.
During our time at Bosque del Apache the long lens has seen most of the action so there was little room for using the new Sigma 12-24 F4 Art lens. I managed one image across the Crane Ponds capturing the last light of the day as the thunder clouds rolled in, however White Sands was where I wanted it most to emphasise the vastness of the dunes and the superb textures to be found there. On one morning we had a fantastic herring bone sky which mirrored the rippled dunes and for this the 12-24mm came into its own producing stunning wide angle images. This lens is a powerful tool but has to be used carefully to maximise it immense field of view. I hope you enjoy these images.
To learn more about Photoventures and the tours planned for 2017, visit their web site: http://www.photoventures.net/