John Galea's Blog

My blog on Gadgets and the like

Sigma 150-600mm f5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary (Canon)

I’ve been maxing out the zoom on my 70-300 lens constantly so started doing some digging on what the next step up in zoom might be. I came across two lenses in my price range Sigma 150-600mm f/5.0-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary 1900g at $1399 and a Tamron 150-600 $1479 F5-6.3 2010g. There’s a sports version of the Sigma lens but it’s even heavier and more expensive and reviews seem to say not a lot better. So the Contemporary it is. This is not an easy lens to find, I ended up finding one at Aiden Camera a store in downtown Toronto that has been in business over 40 years, at a good price, but be aware they do not sell extended warranties, and will not accept returns on this lens in spite of their web site saying they do. I had also looked into teleconverters, and there are non Canon ones, but they don’t come cheap and come with distortion trade offs, so I ruled those out.

To be upfront, this will NOT be a detailed review discussing the lens’s optical characteristics, I have neither the skills nor the equipment to do that, so head on over to google there are lots of WAY more qualified people than I …

What struck me immediately, although not literally, was just how BIG this lens is, it’s huge. It’s a significant piece of engineering and it positively DWARFS the 70-300. Here’s an image comparing the Sigma, the 70-300 and for sh.ts and giggles the stock 18-55.

Lens size comparison

To put this in perspective the lens measures 27.5mm without the hood, 33.5 with, Vs the 70-300 at 16.5 and 24.5, and that isn’t even mentioning the MUCH large radius … Weight wise the lens is 1966g without the hood and 2072 with, compared to 719 and 770. The tripod ring, that can be removed weighs in at 127g, so it your not using that you can remove it, although it provides an easy way to carry the lens.

The lens came VERY well appointed with front and back caps (of course), the hood (I had to buy the one for my 70-300), a very nice carrying case for the lens, shoulder straps for both the lens and the carrying case, and even comes with a rubber collar that attempts to provide more dust resistance for the camera/lens interface. Keep twisting the lens hood until you get resistance, otherwise it is not properly locked. Getting the lens on the camera is a feat that takes some patience and I can not imaging doing it in the field without a solid surface to work on. On second look I can see why. My camera body has two dots, one white for EFS lenses and white red for EF lenses. The lens is then correctly color coded to show you which one to line up with. The Sigma is colored wrong in that it is white when it ought to be red, so I was lining the lens/body up incorrectly.

Carry case that came with the lens

Updating, or even checking the firmware on the lens requires the purchase of an additional USB dock, roughly $70. The version of the firmware is STUPIDLY NOT written in the EXIF data. If you do buy the lens from a physical store, you may want them to check the version of the firmware before you leave. I, sadly, didn’t think of that so i am left wondering just how old the firmware is. By comparison, the Canon lens firmware can be udpated from the Canon app … Update: I bought the USB dock only to find the firmware was up to date. The most unfulfilling $70 I’ve spent 😦

Its worth mentioning, that given the weight, the chance of this lens or the camera with this lens surviving a fall are slim IMHO.

EXIF data wise it’s a total bomb, in one place the lens is noted as a “Lens Type : Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM | S” while in another “150-600mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM | Contemporary 015”. And Adobe Lightroom does not have lens correction data for the Sigma, but did for the Canon. I have to say this is disappointing, and good luck trying to find a way to contact Sigma to ask questions, you get directed to a repair rep. I did however get a hold of Adobe and they pointed me to a web site that lists supported lenses, well it turns out that Adobe support my lens in Adobe Lightroom Classic but NOT in Adobe lightroom (cloud). So it would seem I need to change the Adobe product I’m using to get this feature, and relearn, because even short cut keys are not the same on these two products. A little maddening I have to say. Update: Well someone from the community forums told me that was WRONG and it is supported and showed me how to do it, you just manually tell it that you have a Sigma and it finds the right lens, for whatever reason the auto detect on the lens didn’t work right. It’s sad when your user community knows more than your support people. I’m totally unimpressed

The mount on the bottom of the lens for a tripod or monopod is a good way to grip and carry the lens, we do mostly wildlife stuff, so lots of walking about with the lens. There is an ODD clause in the user manual which states “Please do not use optical stabilizer in the following situations … When the lens is mounted on a tripod.” Ok so if I want optical stabilization use the camera’s tripod mount? This is odd … speaking of odd, the user manual is one of those multi language fold outs where you have to find your language, I hate them.

The switches on the side of the lens for things like turning auto focus off, optical stabilization off and the like are easily bumped, especially if your carrying the lens under your arm. They are raised above the surface of the lens, likely to make them easier to operate even with gloves. I solved this by cutting a piece of electrical tape making a flap over them. I can still change them if I want but they won’t get hit accidentally. I had the same issue by the way with the Canon lens.

Lens switch flaps made of electrical tape

I had planned a light day of first shoot, but it didn’t end up that way, we ended up on a 9 hour trek at multiple locations allowing me to put the lens to work in a number of different settings/conditions. I found no perceivable difference in battery life, and was able to get shots hand held without a monopod or tripod. It did get tiring holding it up while waiting for the next shot, a weight issue. I had no issues in the lighting through the day.

I did find with the higher zoom that capturing birds in flight was more challenging, but this is nothing specific to the lens, other than it seemed a little slower to focus tracking the moving object. There is a mode for the optical stabilizer designed specifically for vertical movement, that may help.

The lens has been in the market since 2015 according to the firmware logs, and the last update to the logs was August 2020.

When your use to your setup, you learn what are going to turn out and not, change up your gear as significantly as this lens upgrade is, and you have to reset your thoughts and expectations. At first, I have to admit, I expected too much … The double reach of this lens over the old one is a definite upgrade, but to state the obvious it still has limits of when things are too far off. I personally found, based on the optical viewfinder I expected pics to be better than they were. Upon comparison with my GFs 2000mm reach P900, my expectations were off … Overall the lens performed well, and in lower light, it faired better than I expected. I did notice a “perception” that the resulting pictures when at max zoom are not as crisp. I see this when I see just how much the image can be cropped, compared to the old lens. I haven’t quantified it yet, I have to think about how to do that.

Weight wise, I have to say, this thing is heavy, but everything is relative, here’s a comparison, so in the end if you want more zoom, buckup.

Canon 70-300 710g,
Sigma 150-600mm f/5.0-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary $1399 1930g
Sigma 60-600mm F4.5-6.3 DG OS HSM IS $2399 2700g
Sigma 150-600mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sports $2399 2860g
Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II $2999 1640g
Tamron 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2 $1479 2010g

Let’s look at an optical comparison, this is a picture shot at the same distance on different days (both images were shrunk to make them easier to see). As you can see, optically speaking the differences are stunning, don’t pay attention to the lighting, different time of the day etc, the point is more how much more zoomed in it is. I thought a picture would drive home the point.

70-300 lens at max zoom
150-600 lens at max zoom

I had an impression that the Sigma wasn’t as sharp, so I did a test and printed out of graph paper and then took a pic of them with the same camera, the two lenses, same distance, same lighting, same zoom, 300mm. And I have to say, the pictures are startlingly similar and if anything the 150-600 is slightly crisper. I have no idea if this is even a fair or reasonable test … I’m out of my depth.

Sigma 150-600 5 inch graph paper

Canon 70-300 5 inch graph paper

Sigma 150-600 1/8th inch graph paper

Canon 70-300 1/8th inch graph paper

So all in all time will tell if I’m happy with this lens or positively thrilled. The weight of it means I will not be likely to take it with me in the kayak, so I will keep the lighter, easier to handle lens for the boat. So with that …

March 24, 2021 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Upgrading your docker host

A while back I made the transition to docker containers running on Linux and love it. It’s light, fairly easy to maintain, performs well, can be pretty easily backed up and stable. I focused in on docker command line for deployments and ended up with scripts to create and update my containers. Most of these containers are pretty active so keeping them current, easily, is important. These updates can be anything from new features to security updates. Containers are often packaged with surrounding code that itself might be what’s being updated. At some point, your container host is going to be in need of upgrading, and that is where I was at. I was on Redhat 7.1. I could have considered an in place upgrade, but decided to use this as an opportunity to do some clean up and move forward all the way to current, Redhat 8.3, so I started from scratch. As part of the developer program I can use Redhat free of charge. So off I go … Installing Redhat 8.3 was simple and easy, then I did security updates, and lastly installed docker and I’m off to the races.

With some careful planning migrating containers to a new host is relatively painless. Two things make this easier, first off make sure that if the container provides services outside the container host, give the container it’s own IP. This makes moving it easier and more separated. This is pretty easy with the docker CLI, just use -p ipaddress:port:port, and add that new IP to the host. Second, insure you use volumes for the container data and config. That’s the -v in docker CLI. By clumping these volumes under one directory it makes backing up, and migration easy. You can even create separate drives for these container mount points. I did this for one of my containers who’s data is large and migration to a new host simply meant moving that drive. Doing this for every container can become a management nightmare, so I only recommend it for the bigger ones.

Another complication of migrating containers is communication between the containers. I have two that are problematic, one that monitors other containers and a reverse proxy. This inter container communication is done through the internal docker IPs, so moving the containers separately becomes a little more complicated.

I ran into one major issue which is that NGINX reverse proxy checks DNS at start up time, and if an item does not resolve it pukes. This is problematic on startup if the order is not exactly perfect. The fix for this, is to use IP addresses in NGINX not names. To facilitate this I moved all containers to fixed IP addresses for their docker network. This is achieved using the –ip directive of the CLI.

All this said, migration of container went super smoothly and all my containers are now on a new host good for many more years of stable happy fun. So what all have I containeried at this point? Well … Pihole (ad blocker), Plex server (DVR and media server), NIGINX (web server and reverse proxy with SSL), Photoshow (self hosted photo gallery), Photoprism (self hosted photo gallery take two, for me), Transmission (torrent downloader with built in VPN), Headphones (music manager), Sickchill (TV show auto downloader), mysql (database services for Kodi and other containers), kodi (headless to allow me to kick off new content scans) and Monitorr (a web interface to monitor everything on your home network with web links). All this is running in one Redhat 83 VM with 9G of RAM. I also have Nextcloud running in the house, by decided to have this on it’s own host, not as a container for easier management/updating.

March 19, 2021 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Bird feeders

Ya ya, a little off topic, I know … I’ve never really had bird feeders going, just never bothered. This year, working from home due to COVID I set my office up next to a window to my backyard so this seemed like a great time to play with bird feeders. I learned a LOT, nature schooled me. I thought I’d share my experiences. Some of this should have been obvious, but heh … So first off, know there are bylaws on feeding nature that you can run a foul of (pun intended). So you need to keep these in mind. Feeding birds is Ok, but you have to be mindful to not intentionally feed things like squirrels, or attracting mice. More on this in a bit.

Ok, let’s start out with squirrels are VERY smart, mischievous, and bottomless pits. I stupidly thought it would be fun to leave peanuts out for the squirrels, and the word got out. At one point I had 4 squirrels fighting over my teeny tiny backyard, ya so that ended. I’ve had two bird feeders that the squirrels had a hayday with. First off, a simple suet feeder.

In short order the squirrels pulled it off the clothes line, pried it open and gorged themselves on the suet in one day, a $9 lesson.

So to fix this I used copper wire to attach the feeder to the clothes line and copper wire to keep the lid shut. Problem solved. I’ve had the suet feeder up and running most of the winter. The woodpeckers, nuthatches and sometimes even the sparrows eat from it. That said, it’s not as easy for them so they tend, in my backyard anyway, to not prefer the suet feeder.

The second issue I had was with a nut cage feeder. Well again, the squirrels pulled it down, lifted the lid and gorged. Take one I screwed the feeder to a pole and used copper wire to keep it shut. This helped but did not entirely stop the squirrels. They even tag teamed trying to pull it down.

Take two, I moved the feeder out to the clothes line, and used a carbiner to attach it to the line. The squirrels never even bothered to try. The squirrels would come up the pole where the feeder was for a week to try and figure out, wait, what happened to the feeder? Stupid humans … Then they would sit atop the fence looking over at the feeder knowing there were nuts in it, all very amusing to watch. Eventually they gave up.

And lastly I bought a Brome Squirrel buster feeder on amazon. This thing is brilliantly designed. The weight of the squirrel closes the feeding port, it actually works, perfectly!

Ok, now onto feed … well this too was a learning experience. I bought a couple Armstrong blends thinking they ought to be quality, well, don’t assume that. What was happening is the birds were being very selective and tossing out the “low quality” feed to get to the good stuff. This in turn attracted mice, and of course the squirrels. In doing research I found that, in spite of the fact that some birds like it, millet seed is not preferred and was largely what was being discarded by the birds and what was attracting the mice. To fix this I discovered the millet is the smallest of the seeds, and got lucky that my pizza pan had holes in it that were perfect in reducing the millet in the blend. By reducing the millet the waste, mess and mice issue was solved. Not that white millet is bad, it’s just when they have a choice of other things like sunflower seeds, well that’s where they are going. At some point I may try and JUST use millet and see what they do, now that I have it sorted. Heh, I had a BIG bag of feed and didn’t feel like wasting it.

You can also buy no mess feed that is shelled. This worked fairly well also at reducing mess, but the birds were not entirely sure at first what it was, they were use to sunflowers having a shell on it?

Now if you wanna have some fun, checkout the Squirrel obstacle course this guy created. Hilarious, time well wasted.

So here’s what all I’ve seen, black capped chickadees, cardinals, nuthatches, woodpeckers, sparrows etc.

March 12, 2021 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment