Sigma 150-600mm Sport vs. Contemporary: Full comparison and review

I bought both the Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Sport and the Sigma 150-600mm Contemporary version and I've spent over 40 hours reviewing these lenses to provide this full and in-depth review for you guys.

The results of my testing have been extremely surprising.  

When it comes right down to it, I would choose the Sigma 150-600 Contemporary (the one that is nearly half the cost) over the Sport version–even if the price isn't taken into consideration.  

I know that seems a little crazy at first.  

It did to me too, so I repeated some of my tests 3 and 4 and 5 times to be certain that the results were right.  

Let's dive in to the testing and I'll show you how I got to that conclusion.

Contemporary Version

Sigma 150-600mm 5-6.3 Contemporary DG OS HSM Lens for Canon
Sports Version

Sigma 150-600mm 5-6.3 Sports DG OS HSM Lens for Canon

Sharpness

The lenses are so extremely close in terms of sharpness that it's really hard to pick a winner.  

The following shots were all taken with identical camera settings and conditions while the camera was locked on a tripod.  

I repeated the sharpness test at every focal length imaginable.  

I took multiple photos with each lens at each focal length, and here I'm displaying the photo from each side that best represents the average result that I was getting at each focal length.

For my sharpness tests, I usually like to tape a piece of paper and a picture up against the fence and shoot it from a tripod.  

Although I do own a very expensive lens testing software suite that I sometimes use for lens tests, I feel like the old “paper on the wall” test gives me the most “real world” result.  

Sometimes a number and an MTF chart just can't quite communicate what seeing an actual resulting photo can.

Both shots taken at 600mm at f/6.3 while locked on a tripod.

Both shots taken at 600mm at f/6.3 while locked on a tripod.  You're viewing this at 300% to magnify the result.  At 100% and certainly when zoomed out, there is no perceptible difference.  

The Sport version does have better contrast (acutance) which is one element of judging sharpness, but also remember the resolution.  When you zoom in even further in to look at the resolution, the sport MAY have the tiniest edge, but I'd probably put this at “too close to call.”  Any difference at 600mm wide open on these lenses is just splitting hairs.

The results at 600mm are extremely close, but the result at 500mm gives a significant edge to the contemporary version.

At this focal length, the contemporary version is significantly better than the Sport version. This photo is a 300% magnification for easy viewing, but even at 100% the winner is obvious. Zoomed out to have the photo fill the screen, the photos look identical in sharpness.

At this focal length, the contemporary version is significantly better than the Sport version. This photo is a 300% magnification for easy viewing, but even at 100% the winner is obvious.

Zoomed out to have the photo fill the screen, the photos look identical in sharpness.

Now we're headed to 250mm, again with both lenses at f/6.3 and still locked on a tripod.

At 250mm, the Contemporary is still ahead of the Sigma. The contemporary has better contrast for sure, and the resolution is also improved.

This one is a tough call.  The Contemporary has much better contrast at 250mm and f/6.3.  The Sport version MIGHT have just the tiniest little improvement in resolution.  Sharpness is made up of both acutance (edge contrast) and resolution (ability to show fine detail).  

So it's really hard to call a winner on this one as well.  But it'd be tough to argue that the Sport version looks cleaner at 250mm, so I'd have to give the edge to the Contemporary.

Now I shot the lenses at the focal length where you're least likely to shoot them–150mm.  

The results?  It's absolutely identical.  

I started at these photos for quite some time seeing if I could pick a winner, but even zoomed in to absurd magnifications, the results are a dead heat.

150mm-sport-contemporary

All of these tests are shot at f/6.3.  The reason I'm showing the tests at f/6.3 is that it's the most common focal length you'd shoot this lens at.  

But if you stop down to f/7.1 or higher and do the testing, the difference between these lenses is even tighter.

So when it comes right down to it, after hours of testing and reviewing many many many photos, the sharpness is almost identical between the two lenses.  

If I had to pick a winner in the sharpness battle, it'd be the Sigma 150-600mm Contemporary, which had better contrast at several focal lengths and better resolution at one focal length.  

All the other tests were a tie.

When I bought these lenses for this review, I was certain that the Sport version would be sharper than the Contemporary given the better build quality, additional FLD element in the lens, and the significantly higher price.  

What I learned from this test is that the price of the lens is NOT a good indicator of the performance of the lens–at least in this case.

I was so surprised by my results that even after testing and retesting, I read reviews from a few other reviewers who I respect and it looks like I'm not the only one who has found that these lenses have almost identical sharpness.  

Some of the reviewers I found said they felt the Sport had an very slight edge in sharpness, and others felt, as I did, that the Contemporary was just barely sharper.  

This isn't terribly surprising.  

Each copy of a lens performs differently, so to see some slight variation is normal.

Are these lenses sharp enough for professional photography?

I think the answer to this question is a resounding “yes!”  I have tried many different inexpensive superzooms over the last 5 years that I have been reviewing lenses professionally here on ImprovePhotography.com.  

They have always been underwhelming until Sigma and Tamron came out with their 150-600mm lenses.  

For superzoom lenses, these lenses all perform remarkably well.

3 years ago I went and shot Yellowstone in Winter and used a Nikon 600mm f/4 beast.  

That lens has good optics, but is so heavy that it's impossible to shoot without a tripod and gimbal head.

I missed countless shots that week when I'd pull over and see a fox in the snow that only gave me a few seconds to shoot it before it ran away.  

It took so long to get out my gear and tripod and get set up that I kept getting only photos of footprints where the fox had stood.

This year I went on the same trip with 40 readers of Improve Photography.  

I came back with a dozen or more publishable shots that I could never have got with the big heavy “professional” gear.  

And the image quality?  I wish I had a 600mm f/4 here with me right now to show you the difference.  

It's really not a huge deal.  

These superzooms are performing really well.  

For most wildlife photography, I PREFER these light superzooms to those heavy 600s.  

But if you're shooting sports photography, then the faster aperture of a 600mm f/4 or a 400mm f/2.8 puts those lenses in a completely different class.

build-quality

Build Quality

In terms of build quality, the Sigma 150-600mm Sport version takes the blue ribbon by a significant margin.  

The lens is just better built, and there's little room to argue with that.

Weather sealing is a question mark.  

Sigma advertises both version of this lens as being “dustproof and splashproof,” but if you read further into the technical specs of these lenses, some questions arise.  

The Sport version is later described as having “dust and splashproof construction” while the Contemporary is only described as having a “dust and splashproof mount.”  

Even more complex is the fact that this page on Sigma's site says the Contemporary has a water and oil resistant coating on the front element only, yet this page on Sigma's site says the coating is only on the rear element.  

Maybe they need to get their specs straight.  

Either way, it would appear from Sigma's marketing materials that there is at least some amount of better weather sealing than the contemporary version.

I shoot in pretty rough environments–especially when I'm shooting wildlife with a long lens like this one.  

I'm often hiking, pushing through snow in Yellowstone, etc.  

So weather sealing is an important factor.  

But Sigma hasn't been super clear on exactly what weather sealing has been done on either of these lenses.  

I'd like to see a couple tear downs to see how well sealed these lenses are, and what the difference is.

But I do have to point out that even without weather sealed lenses, I've only once had issues with a lens getting dirty inside.  

It's very common for a camera to get ruined in rain or weather, but much less common for the lens.  

Also, remember that the Contemporary lens is about half the cost of the Sport, so if something did ever happen…. you could just buy another and not be out any money from what you would have paid for one Sport lens.

One factor to consider, however, is that supertelephoto lenses are the most common type of lens to have issues with dust, humidity, or other elements getting in the lens.  

When these lenses zoom in and out, they suck in a significant amount of air.  

You can hear it.  

That air is tough to keep from cycling through the elements over time.  So weather sealing could be important.

Ease of Use

I don't normally include “Ease of Use” in my lens reviews because generally, all lenses are easy to use.  

But after spending a lot of time with both of these lenses, I found that ease of use was one of my biggest complaints with the Sport version of this lens.  

Because the Sport is so much heavier, it takes a solid twist of the hand to zoom the lens.

The zoom ring is very stiff, and needs to be to prevent the lens creep.

When shooting wildlife and sports photography, which would be the primary uses of this lens, having a very stiff zoom ring can easily cause you to miss shots.  

That was definitely true in my testing.  

I'd say there were 10 or 15 shots over the course of each day that I missed with the Sport because I couldn't zoom the lens quickly enough to capture the animal at the right moment.

The Contemporary version makes zooming much quicker.  

The zoom ring itself is much larger and is in a more normal position on the lens, and the lens is lighter so the zoom ring twists much faster.

I will point out that Sigma advertises the Sport as having “twist and push-pull” functionality for zoom, but the Contemporary is advertised as only “twist.”  

Frankly, that's marketing crap.  Any non-internal-zoom lens can be pushed and pulled.  

All it means is that Sigma put a rubber ring around the end of the Sport version that you could grab and push/pull the lens in or out to zoom.  

Realistically, this would be a horrible user experience to push/pull with this lens.  

The lens zooms out so far that you'd pull a muscle trying to zoom out.  

That's ridiculous.  Both of these are just twist-to-zoom lenses.

front-elements-of-lenses

Weight & Size

The Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3mm Sport lens weighs significantly more than the Contemporary version.  

The Contemporary weighs 4.3 pounds (1.95 kilos) and the Sport weighs 6.3 pounds (2.86 kilos).  

Just because I'm hungry right now, I'll put that in terms I can better relate to.  

The Contemporary lens weighs the same as 8 Krispy Kreme Donuts, and the Sport weighs as much as a Chihuahua with 3 bananas on its back.  

I don't eat dogs.

In a practical shooting situation, I have to say that the difference in weight is dramatic.  

In wildlife photography situations where I was mostly driving around and pulling over for a quick shot of animals as I saw them, the weight of the Sport didn't bother me much.  

However, when I had to walk any distance while carrying the lenses, the extra weight of the Chihuahua on my lens made it unbearable to carry around.  

Worse, there were times when shooting birds in Florida that I didn't bring the heavier lens with me because it was too much of a nuisance.

Unless you're only shooting on a tripod and traveling with the lens in a car (not toting it around in a camera backpack), I highly recommend the Sigma Contemporary lens.  

It's so lightweight that it makes wildlife photography a lot more fun.  #DitchTheChihuahua

The physical size of the Sport is longer than the Contemporary by 1.2 inches (3.5 cm).  

It's always nice to have shorter lenses since they are more convenient as long as the focal length is the same.

But I can't imagine 1.2 inches making much of a difference one way or the other.  

However, this difference in the physical length also affects the way the lenses are engineered, and means that the Sport version has a larger front element which requires 105mm filters, while the Contemporary takes 95mm filters.  

This, too, is rather inconsequential because it's unlikely that wildlife and sports photographers would use filters very frequently.  

Sports photographers would probably never use them, but sometimes wildlife photographers use a polarizer to cut the reflections and glare off leaves.

Aperture

The specs of a lens rarely tell the full story, and that's definitely true with these lenses.  

Although both lenses are 150-600mm f/5-6.3 lenses, they are not at all the same.  

The question is, when does the lens switch from f/5 to f/5.6, and f/5.6 to f/6.3?  

You may be surprised to see that these lenses don't at all change at the same focal lengths, meaning that one of the lenses is actually faster than the other.

Sport

  • f/6.3 from 600mm to 314mm
  • f/5.6 from 313mm to 185mm
  • f/5 from 184mm to 150mm

Contemporary

  • f/6.3 from 600mm to 390mm
  • f/5.6 from 389mm to 181mm
  • f/5 from 180mm to 150mm

As you can see, the Contemporary is actually faster than the Sport version from 313 to 389mm, which would be a pretty normal focal length to shoot with this lens.  

It may not be a huge deal, but when we're already talking about a slow superzoom lens, having that extra 1/3 stop of light in that range can make a difference, and it's a surprise to see that coming from the less expensive of the two.

size

Reach

I'm always interested when testing lenses to see how the REAL focal length of a lens compares with the advertised focal length.  

Focal length is actually kind of complicated to figure out without some serious scientific measuring, but I do like to compare lenses of the same marketed focal length and see which one has more reach.  

Sometimes the lens manufacturers get very creative with this number.  

An example of this is the Tamron 70-200, which doesn't reach nearly 200mm when compared to the Nikon and Canon version.

Having said that, I don't see any real difference in focal lengths between these lenses.  

I am not set up to test to see if it's true to 600mm, but the focal length on all three lenses seems to have exactly the same reach.

Autofocus

When I looked at the specs for both of these lenses, it immediately made me wonder if the Contemporary would focus faster, since it is lighter weight.  

The motor on the autofocus simply doesn't have to be as strong to push the lens more quickly.  

As long as they have the same focus motor, my guess was that the contemporary would be a bit quicker.  I was right.

At shorter focal lengths, you really can't feel any difference between the autofocus speed of these lenses.  

They both focus very quickly.

At the longer end, or rather when focusing from close to far, you start to see a noticeable lag in the focus speed–especially on the Sport version.  

The difference isn't dramatic, but it's definitely there.  

The Contemporary focuses just a hair faster, which is a big deal considering that this lens's primary purpose is for wildlife and sports photography.

This beautiful, beautiful piece of photography work was done by me, Jim Harmer. I call it "Light post in front of my house."
This beautiful, beautiful piece of photographic genius was done by me, Jim Harmer. I call it “Light post in front of my house.”  Maybe it'll sell for $2 million like the potato photo?

Bokeh

I only did a basic bokeh test of these lenses, because they both have the same 9 blade rounded aperture, but the result was identical.  

The rounded aperture produces a nice looking bokeh.  

It's not like the bokeh you get from an f/2.8 or faster lens, but it's a smooth and creamy blur that doesn't distract from the image.

Price

The price on these lenses seems to be fluctuating a bit now that they have been out for a little while, so it's worth checking.  Check the price of the Sport on Amazon here, and then check the price of the Contemporary on Amazon here.  

Both those links open in separate tabs so you won't lose your place here.  

Generally, the Sport version costs $1,799 and the Contemporary costs $989.

One tip for saving a ton of money on these lenses is to buy used.  

I know there are always concerns about buying a used lens, but I've had really good luck with buying the “like new” listings on Amazon.  

This way you still get Amazon's excellent return policy, and you're likely saving $100 on a lens just because it was bought, someone opened the box, and decided to return it.  

I think it's worth the savings.  If you haven't bought “like new” lenses on Amazon before, click the link above to the listing page, and then look on the right-hand side.  

There's a little box where you'll see the lens available from “Other Sellers on Amazon.”  

I save quite a bit of money by buying “like new.”

Except for the rare sale that could happen with these lenses, you really won't find the price fluctuating much between retailers.  

Sigma uses MAP pricing (minimum advertised price), so it'd be very rare to see the price be any different between retailers.

coyote mousing in yellowstone
I captured this shot of a coyote diving into the snow to catch a mouse in Yellowstone with the Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Sport

Conclusion

When it comes right down to it, I prefer the Contemporary version of this lens.  

The guys at the camera club may not give you “respect” for wielding a gigantic, overweight chihuahua on the end of your camera.  

The build quality doesn't look as manly and tough, but after spending dozens of hours reviewing these lenses, I see far more benefits to the less expensive Contemporary version than the Sport, which is nearly twice the price.

I found myself missing shots from the slightly slower autofocus on the Sport, the sharpness of the lenses is either equal or gives a slight edge to the Contemporary version in my testing, the Contemporary focuses a little faster, and you'll be saving $900!  

My suggestion?  

Take the money you save to buy a flight to Iceland, then after you come home, go to a good pet store and buy yourself a chihuahua (Seriously.  WHAT is with the Chihuahua obsession in this review?  I gotta get to bed…)

Reasons to Buy the Sigma 150-600mm ContemporaryReasons to buy the Sigma 150-600mm Sport
Faster aperture in part of the zoom rangeBetter build quality overall
Much lighterFully weather sealed
Almost half the costBuilt of metal instead of plastic
Zoom ring easier to adjustIncludes a high quality lens hood
Smaller and shorter
Focuses faster at the longer focal lengths

If you'll be buying either of these lenses, could you help me out by clicking one of the links below to see the Amazon listings for your lens?  

Those are affiliate links that give us a 4% commission on your purchase.  

It doesn't cost you an extra penny, but helps me to recoup the cost of buying both of these lenses and spending dozens of hours testing them for you.  

You can click the links now and buy later and I'll still get the commission.  

Thank you guys!

Sport for Canon

Sigma 150-600mm
Contemporary for Canon (recommended)

Sigma 150-600mm
Sport for Nikon

Sigma 150-600mm
Contemporary for Nikon (Recommended)

Sigma 150-600mm

69 thoughts on “Sigma 150-600mm Sport vs. Contemporary: Full comparison and review”

  1. Jim, loved your comparison and did click on Amazon links for you. I have both lenses and agree with you.
    Do you have any ideas or comparison between the Sigma 150-600 and the Nikon 200-500 5.6? I have that lens too
    and am trying to compare the two. Thank you.
    Anne

  2. Hi Jim
    After weeks of research in the Sigma 150 to 600 contemporary lens, i’m buying this lens to shoot my son surfing but I only have a Nikon d3100 sorry don’t laugh. Would you recommend a Nikon d7100 would be okay as this in my price range.
    Kind Regards
    Vern

  3. Hi Jim Great Review Please feed the Chihuahua on My Savings
    Very impressed with the focusing speed
    Well Done
    Dave

  4. I wish I hadn’t read this review as it will soon make me £849 poorer (UK price for a Sigma 150-600mm Contemporary + Sigma TC1401 teleconverter bundle).

    Great review, thanks.

  5. Jim, After reading this, I figure that I’m seriously considering the 150-600 Contemporary over the Sport edition for wildlife. In Canada it’s retailing for $1299.99 versus $2699.99 for the Sport. Considering your points on slower AF on the Sport, I think I can do without the weather-sealing and stick with the Contemporary. I’ve used the AF-S II 600mm f/4 before I had to return it and it was a beast to move, but oh so crisp on the AF. I’d certainly love to have a 600mm f/4 again, but at least the 150-600 will get me out to that focal range and not bankrupt me in the process.

  6. Hi Jim,

    I read in the comments you did a review between Tamron and Sigma cont. 150-600 but I can’t find it. Is it publushed yet? I’m going back and forth between the two but would really like your perspect I’ve before I make a purchase. I trust your input. Thanks!

  7. Hi, so nice of you to buy both lenses and share your experiences! Really appreciate that.
    I have had the contemporary for 8 months now and really like it, but I do feel it wont resist the amount of use under bad conditions which I put myself in. I’ve already had some issues with the tripod mount foot, and with the plastic hood.
    I’ve published and won some contests with the images taken with the lens (I’m only amateur anyway, you can see some pictures in my flickr) so my concern is not in the sharpness or the performance of the lens (using the usb dock I managed to improve it a lot), but I’m afraid it will stop working in the middle of an important trip. For that reason I didn’t sold my old 400 f5.6 and use it as a backup.
    Also I bought my wife a Canon 100-400 II, excellent sharp and quick lens, but I still prefer my contemporary for the reach.
    So I’m interested in the sport as a definitive solution. Now come the question… do you think the sport will stand better under the rain, in the sand, in the jungle, in the snow, etc etc?

  8. Great review thanks Jim.

    I take my hat off to you for all the effort you’ve put into this.

    My finger has been hovering over the ‘Buy’ button for a couple of weeks now and your excellent review helped my finger take the plunge.

    I’m really looking forward to seeing how well this performs on my aps-c camera. If it is as good as my 24mm prime Sigma Art or my 17-70mm Sigma Contemporary, I’m going to be very happy.

  9. Terrific review and I would like to see you do a comparison review between the Nikon AF-S 80-400mm and the Sigma 150-600mm Contemporary! Ok, perhaps not a fair comparison can be achieved, however I’ve done just that, well almost, by comparing my Nikon 80-400mm on a Nikon D500 and the Sigma on an FX D800E. My D500 had to go back for a warranty repair so I was stuck with a X1.5 shorter focal length with the 80-400mm being just that! So, I bought the Sigma with a view to sell it when my D500 was returned. That never happened.

    I was so amazed at the Sigma C I kept it and the 80-400mm Nikon hasn’t seen the light of day for 3 months! Yes, I occasionally miss the 80mm end, but that’s all.

    I highly recommend the Sigma C when compared to the Nikon and wonder what you may think.

    Richard

  10. I already have Sigma 150-500. Is it worth buying 150-600 or you have another recommendation in similar price range? Thanks much for your response.
    mona

  11. Hi Jim, very interesting review … just a short question … didn´t you consider the sport version could be a bad copy? .. use to happen frecuently in Sigma .. :/ …

    Sorry for my english.

  12. Jim, Good job on the review. I’m still torn, but thanks to you, I find myself leaning toward the contemporary version. I t should meet my needs and I always wanted to go to Iceland. just not sure how to convince my wife that the trip was part of a lens purchase. Oh well! She can have the Chihuahua. By the way have you anything to say about the new Tamron 150-600.

  13. Hola !!! me pareció espectacular la comparación, excelente trabajo !! estoy pensando hacer un viaje a Sudafrica este año, como la ves la d500 nikon con el sigma 150-600 contemporáneo? , hoy tengo una d7000 con un 300 f4 nikon.
    Saludos y gracias

  14. Hi Jim,

    How does the Contemporary version work for motorcycle races?
    Since the lens is not that fast (f6.3 at 600mm). I was wondering that I´d need to do high ISO to compensate. Have you tried the lens for sport events or only tried it for wildlife?

    Thanks
    EduOak

  15. Thank you for this review.

    I’ve been sitting the fence on this wondering if I was really going to notice that much of a difference in these lenses as someone who really just wants to take better pictures of birds in the yard or deer wandering the treeline, the random moon events, and the occasional trek to Lake Michigan and it’s wildlife. I’m usually the one who has to strap the camera in the front seat or I lose my photo ops (turkeys don’t like to stick around like the deer lured by the neighbor’s bird feeder LOL) and the few red foxes I’ve seen are fleeting opportunities that feel like I’ve won the lottery only to lose the ticket not being able to get the camera out of the bag fast enough. I’m not so fond of having to carry a chihuahua around with me, so for me, I think the contemporary is the way to go.

    Thank you for taking the time (And spending the money, yikes!) to review both of these lenses for us.

  16. Great review!! Would you say that one has a higher keeper rate than the other? I saw you mentioned missing a few shots do to the focus ring of the sport. But all else equal, is one more consistent than the other?

  17. Hi Jim,
    I read in the comments you did a review between Tamron and Sigma cont. 150-600 but I can’t find it. Is it published yet? Thanks!

  18. I use the sigma 150-600C with nikon D7200. Though it is a very good lens but sometimes fail to focus when i try to track a bird with it. not a problem with big birds but with medium and small ones.

  19. Torben Hvass, Denmark

    Hi Jim.
    Will both the Contemporary and the Sport lens work on Canon EOS 60D and 7D Mark I with the TC-1401 converter?

    1. Torben Hvass, Denmark

      Hi Jim.
      Will both the Contemporary and the Sport lens work with AF and IS on Canon EOS 60D and 7D Mark I with the TC-1401 converter?

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