Which Lens to Buy: Sigma 150-500 or Nikon 80-400 or Tamron 150-600?

Ever since Tamron announced they were releasing a 150-600mm lens in a Nikon (and Canon) mount, the internet has been buzzing about how this lens will stack up with the other competition for telephoto zooms. Although the Tamron lens hasn't shipped in the Nikon mount (and won't until April 2014), I've been getting alot of questions about which to buy.... more accurately "do I wait for the Tamron lens or get one of the others now?"

First things first - I have owned both the Nikon 80-400mm and Sigma 150-500mm, so I can speak with some authority on those, but my statements about the Tamron are based on internet reviews and from conversations with people who got one of the early Canon mounts. For this blog, I'm assuming the Nikon mount will perform the same as the Canon. Also worth noting is that I'm not paid or otherwise incentivized to promote any of these products and these opinions are mine alone.

Rather than telling you which lens is the best (and therefore the one to buy), let's look at the pros and cons of each. The lens that is the best buy for my style of photography might not be the best for you! Also note that my pros and cons aren't a complete comparison of every feature, just the things that I thought were best/worst about each lens.

Sigma 150-500mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM APO Lens
Price as of Feb 2104: $899


  • Least expensive - appeal for hobby and amateur shooters
  • 500mm reach (750mm on a DX body)
  • Lighter than the Tamron (heavier than Nikon)
  • Optical stabilization is effective for handholding
  • Tripod collar is very sturdy


  • Slow autofocus with moving objects (birds)
  • Chromatic aberration is pretty bad
  • Not weather sealed 
  • Not tack sharp at 500mm, even when shooting at f/8-11. Some people report that their lens is tack sharp at 500mm, but mine was not. That'd suggest some quality control differences and you might get lucky (or unlucky). I'd even sent mine into Sigma for calibration but still wasn't sharp enough for me.

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR Lens
Price as of Feb 2014: $2,296 (with Nikon rebate)


  • Very fast autofocus and great at tracking birds in flight
  • Tack sharp at all focal lengths
  • Lightest weight of all the choices
  • No significant chromatic aberration
  • Weather sealed
  • Optical stabilization is very good


  • Significantly more expensive than the other choices
  • Least reach of these three lenses at 400mm (600mm on DX)
  • Tripod collar is a little undersized

Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD Lens
Price as of Feb 2014: $1,069


  • Longest focal length of these choices at 600mm (900mm on DX)
  • Weather sealed
  • Autofocus looks like it will be faster than Sigma, probably slower than Nikon?
  • Price makes it a viable alternate to the Sigma if it performs on the market


  • Heaviest of the lenses
  • Early reviews suggest focus gets soft around 600mm (alleviated by using f/8-11)
  • Lots of "unknowns" - will the focus speed keep up with the Nikon? How is the chromatic aberration? 

Review coming: I am working on purchasing one of the first Tamron 150-600mm lenses available in Nikon mount in my area, so I'll post some video reviews on YouTube as soon as I can. I also reserve the right to change my mind about the Tamron after using it myself.

Recommendation: Given these three choices, I can see no reason to opt for the cheaper Sigma over the Tamron. Even if budget is driving your selection, the difference in price is negligible but the extra reach and weather sealing alone should be worth the extra money. The challenge comes for those debating between the Tamron and Nikon - it's hard to overlook the $1,000 price difference between the two! I'd suggest anyone looking at those lenses take a hard look at their shooting while trying to decide. If you're often shooting birds in flight or are professional / semi-pro, then the Nikon probably fits your needs better. Of course, if reach is more important than focus speed, it's probably worth waiting for the Tamron's release. Making the decision a little harder is that some marketing genius at Nikon put a hefty rebate on the Nikon 80-400mm lens now, meaning you might pay more for the Nikon lens in April after the Tamron is released.

What's my plan? I primarily shoot with the Nikon 80-400mm now and have no plans to sell it because it's such a great performing lens. BUT, I plan to purchase the Tamron lens upon it's release and will keep both (unless the Tamron really under performs) so that I can have that 600mm reach. Which I will shoot will depend on the environment and situation.

Hopefully that helped provide some insight into how I view the lens market right now. Obviously there are lenses with greater focal length and much better performance, but those tend to run $8,000+ and I didn't think that was a fair comparison! If you have questions, feel free to leave a comment on this post or shoot me an email.

Happy shooting!