Sigma 500mm f/5.6 DG DN Sport Review: The Perfect Telephoto?

When I heard about the latest Sigma lens, the 500mm f/5.6 DG DN Sport, I wanted to revisit the Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary. The new lens sounded ideal because it is unobtrusive, lightweight enough to handhold easily, and has the reach to capture these elusive Wolfdogs in their natural surroundings.

This sanctuary houses mixed-breed dogs that have been crossed with Wolves, an animal that over-confident owners often find too challenging to care for. At Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary, the animals get the best care and are housed outside in natural environments, which are better for the dogs and prospective photographs.

Sigma 500mm f/5.6 DG DN Sport black wolf
The intensity in this wolfdog’s eyes are captured perfectly by the Sigma.
Sigma 500mm f/5.6 DG DN Sport white dog
I loved the sharp focus on the eyes as well as the smooth fall-off as the image goes out of focus.

At first, I assumed that this lens was part of the more affordable Sigma Contemporary series due to its smaller proportions, but it is indeed a member of the professional “Sports” series instead. This lens is designed for harsh situations, whether on the stadium sidelines, on the dusty streets of the latest conflict, or in the pouring rain across from an eagle’s nest.

It’s important to mention that this lens will be released for both Sony E-mount and L-mount cameras. Both mounts lack compact telephoto primes like this, so the Sigma should fill a much-needed niche.

Sigma 500mm f/5.6 DG DN Sport profile shot
In profile, the Sigma 500mm is very compact and perfect for travel or safari.

Sigma 500mm f/5.6 DG DN Sport: How It Handles

The Sigma 500mm f/5.6 is undoubtedly easy to carry due to its weight of 49 ounces (1,385 grams). Being a higher-end sports series lens, the 500mm f/5.6 has a rubberized hood, 95mm filter threads, and all the controls you would expect in a professional optic. The aperture ring is an interesting addition to a telephoto lens and can be set for smooth or click-stop action. The lens has customizable buttons and a five-stop image stabilization system, which let me keep the lens on target. I especially appreciated the lens collar’s 90-degree click-stops and dovetail cut-outs for Arca-style tripod mounts.

Sigma 500mm f/5.6 DG DN Sport lens collar
The collar is cut for Arca-style mounts but is quite tight to the lens barrel.

In the hand, the aperture ring is positioned right where the fingers naturally rest, and the controls are easy to manipulate. The lens felt right to hold, which is very important in a tool designed for quick and chaotic situations. The Sigma HLA high-speed linear motors ensure the lens can keep up with rapid wildlife and sports players. As usual, the lens is fully sealed against inclement weather.

Sigma 500mm f/5.6 DG DN Sport aperture ring
I didn’t expect to find an aperture ring on this lens but it’s placed perfectly and is a joy to use.

Sigma 500mm f/5.6 DG DN Sport: How It Shoots

The obvious reason for the compactness of the Sigma 500mm is its relatively slow f/5.6 aperture. The L-mount version can utilize teleconverters for extra reach, but that does exacerbate the issue brought on by the darker maximum aperture. I don’t mind cranking the ISO to compensate for a slower aperture. Still, I want the optical quality to be uncompromised when considering a high-end telephoto lens. I was thrilled that the new Sigma 500mm f/5.6 doesn’t understand the word compromise.

Sigma 500mm f/5.6 DG DN Sport goat
The overall image quality out of the Sigma 500mm is near-perfect. It might be the G.O.A.T.

First off, this lens is sharp. The center of the image at f/5.6 is contrasty and rich with detail. I saw nearly no improvement when stopping the aperture down because it was already so good to begin with. However, even the corners are rock-solid at f/5.6 with very little change when stopping down the aperture again. This is the kind of lens you can shoot all day at f/5.6 and have no concerns. There is no field curvature to worry about either so if you focus in the center of an image the corners would be focused on the same plane, and vice versa.

Sigma 500mm f/5.6 DG DN Sport sharpness
The Sigma 500mm is sharp across the frame from center to corner.

I checked for any LOCA, or longitudinal chromatic aberrations, that might show up, and the Sigma didn’t show any tell-tale signs. No color fringing or overall color casts appeared in the image’s out-of-focus areas. I also checked for flare on the bright and sunny day that I had, and the Sigma 500mm performed admirably. Even shooting directly toward the sun, there was no significant loss of contrast or ghosting to be worried about. The excellent lens hood will also do a great job of shielding the front element from any errant light from the sides of the frame.

Sigma 500mm f/5.6 DG DN Sport wolf in pose
This beautiful wolfdog posed in the falling light of the evening. I had to move a fair bit to make the fixed 500mm work up close.

With any long telephoto lens, shallow depth of field will almost always be present in the image, so it’s essential to evaluate how the lens will render out-of-focus areas. Specular highlights render smoothly on the 500mm with minimal cat’s eye effect and no onion rings. Stopped down, the lens maintains lovely round shapes to the highlights, and this all contributes to creamy-smooth backgrounds with no harshness or frenetic distractions. When shooting wildlife, you want a softly blurred backdrop that makes the subject stand out while showcasing their surroundings. The Sigma 500mm f/5.6 will not disappoint in this regard.

Sigma 500mm f/5.6 DG DN Sport in hand
I could handhold this lens all day and didn’t mind the slower f/5.6 aperture at all.

Sigma 500mm f/5.6 DG DN Sport: A Perfectly Wonderful Wildlife Lens

It’s hard to find any faults in the Sigma 500mm f/5.6 DG DN Sport. The slower aperture allows for a portable and convenient lens that can travel anywhere, and it keeps the cost down while at the same time filling a gap in the market for which it is intended. Optically, this lens is superb in every way and easily competes against any first-party offerings from any brand out there. There is no compromise in the build quality or features that have been added to this lens, and the only complaint I have is that I can’t get it in all the existing full-frame mounts. It’s rare to review a piece of gear that stands out from the crowd, but this is definitely one of those situations.

Sigma 500mm f/5.6 DG DN Sport crow shot
The Sigma 500mm focused fast and accurately and would be at home in the woods as much as on the football pitch.

Are There Alternatives?

There are no primes in the available lens mounts that fit the bill, but the Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 would be a good option, albeit with a slower aperture and more bulk. Similarly, the Sony 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 is an exceptionally good lens with more versatility than a fixed lens, but it still can’t compete with the excellent image quality of the Sigma 500mm.

Should You Buy It?

Yes. This is a real gem for someone who is okay with a prime telephoto wildlife lens. For those who value pure image quality over the versatility of a zoom, the Sigma 500mm f/5.6 is a stellar choice.