When you need a huge long lens for your Nikon there are a few choices. Today we will talk about the Sigma 300-800mm and the Nikon 600mm. If you are looking for a quick answer, in my opinion, the Nikon 600mm is the better lens. There, now you can quit reading if you only wanted a fast answer.
Onto the details: I first purchased the Sigma lens when I couldn’t find anyone that had the Nikon in stock. The Nikon is still extremely difficult to find and buy however. Both lenses have advantages and disadvantages from weight, size, and both have a learning curve to being able to use the lens to it’s best.
When you have both in your hands the Nikon is a smaller lighter lens but it is still very large and heavy. The sigma weighs just under 13lbs while the Nikon weighs 9.8lbs. I’m not sure that’s really a noticeable difference when you are carrying it around with all the other gear, but if you are only carrying the lens and camera body hiking a couple miles I’d rather bring the Nikon.
Length, the Nikon is 17.5” and the Sigma is 21.5” which does make a difference in traveling. I fly a lot and I would never ever want to check this lens. I try to pack all my gear in a standard roll aboard suitcase so I can bring it with me onboard the plane as a carry on. The Nikon will fit in a standard roll aboard suitcase and the sigma will not. This is a huge advantage to me because if you get a grumpy flight attendant they can enforce the one carry on rule and you’re stuck out of luck. Both lenses come with their own cases; hard case for Nikon and soft case for Sigma. Both of the cases are acceptable as carry on size but like I said, one carry on rule can get ya sometimes. My basic rule is that if I’m traveling alone I only bring the Nikon. And if I’m doing a driving road trip then I use the Sigma.
Physically handling each lens is different. The Nikon has VR so in the right conditions you can “almost” hand hold it. Basically, I’ve been successful using a monopod or leaning it against a tree, rock, car window, or other stable surface. The sigma does not have VR so a large stable tripod is a requirement. When I use the Sigma I put it on a large gitzo with a Wimberley head and a 6” Wimberley plate.
The big advantage of the Sigma is that it is a zoom lens. You will read in other reviews that you can find your subject at 300mm and then zoom in to 800mm. This does work good and I’ve used this technique several times with good success. I don’t think it’s a huge advantage though once you learn how to keep both eyes open with the Nikon you can find your subject easily too. To clarify that technique, look through the viewfinder with one eye and keep your other eye open looking at your subject. Your eyes will adjust and kind of “match” and you can find your subject easily using that technique. It takes practice but works with any lens.
Performance; both lenses will give you great images. Both lenses have internal motors to focus. The Nikon does focus faster. Nikon also says you cannot autofocus with teleconverters. This is NOT true. With a Nikon 1.4 or the new 2.0 teleconverter I can still use autofocus. When you put both converters on and stack them you do have to use manual focus. The sigma will autofocus with the Nikon 1.4 converter but will not autofocus with the 2.0 teleconverter.
So now we get to the real story. How sharp are they and which one gives you a better image. Honestly there is very little difference in sharpness. I’m not going to go into crazy charts and scientific method, you can see all that stuff on their web site and if you understand what those charts mean then you are better than me, ha ha.
To test sharpness I went out to a cemetery and found a dark stone against snow with some good colorful flowers. I figure that’s going to give the best idea of color, contrast and sharpness. The following pictures were taken on a Nikon D700 set at iso 200 and aperture was 5.6 for each image. I set the Sigma to 600mm so it would show the same magnification as the Nikon lens. The images have not been sharpened or anything. There is no post processing work done to any of the pictures.
As you can see, the Nikon images have a bit more brightness and contrast which makes it appear a tiny bit sharper. However, I don’t think it actually is sharper. If you process the Sigma image and add some contrast then the sharpness is identical. It’s just a trick of your eye. Personally I like the brighter contrast in the Nikon lens, but that is just a matter of opinion.
Both lenses are excellent. Don’t get discouraged by thinking a non Nikon lens will give you any less performance than using Nikon glass. When you get to this price range Sigma really did the job well and didn’t cut any corners.
That being said I would recommend the Nikon mainly because of the faster autofocus and the vibration reduction. Unfortunately it is almost impossible to find the Nikon 600mm lens to purchase in the USA. I finally had to get mine from Canada and Nikon USA will not honor any warranty for goods purchased outside of the United States. I am playing the odds on this one simply because I figure if I spend a fortune on a lens then they are going to build it well and I’ll never need warranty repair.
If you can’t find the Nikon 600mm then purchase the Sigma 300-800mm and throw on a few teleconverters and go take a picture of the United States flag on the moon.