600mm at Miss America

2016 Miss America Betty Cantrell greets her fans
Shutter: 1/125, Aperture: ƒ/6.3, ISO: 2500, Lens: 600mm

For the fourth year in a row I had the extreme pleasure of shooting the Miss America pageant in Atlantic City. Celebrating its 95th year, this is one of my favorite events, ever, to photograph. Other than Slash concerts. Anyway, I knew I needed to step up my game a bit, and that the press section would be further removed than usual, so I rented the Sigma 150-600mm f/6.3 from LensRentals.com. I want to tell you about my experience at the pageant of course, but also give you my two cents on this lens.

Miss America Class of 2016
Shutter: 1/150, Aperture: ƒ/5.6, ISO: 2500, Focal length: 150mm

Truth be told, I had previously regarded Sigma lenses as the knock-off third party gear. If you really wanted to go hard, you saved up and got Canon L series glass. That cool red line beckons and tells you that there’s nothing else you ever need to look at. Anyway, two years ago Sigma released the 18-35mm f/1.8. That sounded amazing! I got one for a wedding and fell in love. It’s a well constructed lens, and frankly it provided a great aperture at that focal range. The best advantage was being able to take photos of the father-daughter dance at twilight without using any flash. I use it to shoot concerts, I’ve shot a few weddings with it, and it’s also great for hanging around going on local adventures when you don’t know if you’ll need the low depth of field for crazy details or low light. Anyway, now that the Sigma-actually-makes-solid-lenses nut has been cracked, my eyes have been opened and I was ready to check out the rest of their fresh offering. FYI, the seats pictured above was the location of our old press spots. This year we got moved back about 30 rows. So I’m glad I took the chance and rented the 600mm ahead of time.

Miss Georgia Swimsuit
Shutter: 1/125, Aperture: ƒ/6.3, ISO: 2500, Lens: 600mm

How long did you think I’d make you wait for swimsuit pics? Anyway, here she is, your new 2016 Miss America, Miss Georgia, Betty Cantrell. Here I am all zoomed in, and I cropped appropriately. If you look through my set, you’ll see that I didn’t get anyone’s feet. The distance wasn’t the worst part of this set-up. It was all the people standing up blocking my vantage point. That and a handful of the photographers were stuck in self-centered mode that weekend and a real pain in the ass to work with. But I wanted to use this opportunity to share a tip when shooting pics of women in swimsuits (on a stage or otherwise modeling, not creepy on the beach without their knowing) I like to crop in tight, usually above the knees. I feel like it’s just that much less exploitative to come closer in. Like you’re supposed to be shooting her in a bathing suit. It feels less voyeuristic than if I was far enough back to get the whole body head to toe. Well I suppose if you’re dealing with a model, they’re looking right at you, or there is studio lighting, that’s different. Sigh When it comes shooting a beauty pageant, they probably won’t look at you directly, I feel it focuses more on the person than the meat if you crop in a bit. So I didn’t really miss not getting anyone’s feet in my shots.

Miss Oklahoma swimsuit
Shutter: 1/125, Aperture: ƒ/6.3, ISO: 2500, Lens: 600mm

Notice this shot cropped just below the knees, is working out just fine. I’m also hoping my photos capture the confidence present that these women are ultimately being judged on. Miss Oklahoma looks incredibly confident, and I wanted to make sure my photo showed that confidence. When you’re working with a large telephoto lens, you’ll almost always require a monopod. This lens has some decent weight to it, but I was able to disconnect from the monopod and operate it handheld fairly easily. But for most of the show, the monopod put the camera at the height of my eyeballs, but I ended up with a decent “window” through the people infront of me, and I could just wait for each contestant to enter my space and I’d fire away. But I want to point out that to me the biggest selling point of this lens is it’s weight. It does extend to just about 19″ when it’s full zoomed in (as opposed to the 70-200mm always being the same size) I was also using the lens hood, mainly for the protection of the glass from people bonking into me all night. But when it’s compacted it’s just a little longer than the 70-200mm, so it fit, with my monopod, in my standard camera bag. And it was easy enough to cart around. There were a few times I walked around and got pics without the monopod, and it wasn’t that difficult to hold up. If you’re going to be shooting for any extended amount of time (perhaps longer than a half an hour?) then I absolutely recommend a monopod. But if you’re driving around and spot a bald eagle, you could pull over, pop on this lens, get the shot and then get back to driving pretty quick.

Miss Tennessee - evening gown
Shutter: 1/100, Aperture: ƒ/6.3, ISO: 2500, 600mm

It focuses pretty evenly too. Even when the subject wasn’t bathed in immaculate spotlight, I could grab some decent indoor images. It does take some experience to get your subject in focus, and it’s not as lightning fast as something like the 50mm, but that’s the way light works. You can see some noise in this image, because I was at ISO 2500, the darker areas are going to reveal some noise.

Miss Mississippi zoomed out
Shutter: 1/100, Aperture: ƒ/5.6, ISO: 2500, Focal Length: 150mm

Miss Mississippi talent
Shutter: 1/100, Aperture: ƒ/6.3, ISO: 2500, Focal Length: 600mm

To be fair, I’ve cropped in a little on the second image, but this should be a fair representation between 150mm (top) and 600mm (bottom). Notice my aperture dropped from f/5.6 to f/6.3 and I didn’t adjust the shutter speed. Again, this was a very well lit event, and I’m set at ISO 2500 for the entire thing, but in this case I didn’t mess up my exposure too much zooming in and out. Most of the event, I was zoomed in all the way at 600mm. All in all, I like my images from this year better than last. I technically sat closer to the stage last year, but only had a 70-200mm, and a terrible angle. I would have liked some free time to try this lens out in the wild, looking for birds and wildlife, but I can’t really complain with the test drive subject matter.


I was a bit hesitant when I first heard about this lens. Other than the attractive weight and handling, the lens boasts a nearly impossible price tag. At around $1100, this lens is attainable even for hobbyists. I got my 70-200mm f/2.8 for about $1000. But I also use it twice a week, easy. That lens has paid for itself a few times over. The 150-600mm is for a much different type of use, and I wouldn’t be taking it out more than 4 or 5 times a year (until I had the lens in hand and found an excuse to go out and look for wildlife regularly). To be clear there is the Sports (S) version of this lens that is closer to $2000. It has additional elements, and better weather-proofing. They both have Optical Stabilization that you can manually deactivate. I had the non-sports, Contemporary (C) version.

Shutter: 1/100, Aperture: ƒ/6.3, ISO: 2500, Focal Length: 600mm

Right now, if I had $1100 chillin’ and wasn’t afraid that I’ll be forced to pick up a new Macbook pro fairly soon, this would be at the top of my get list. It would be great to have on-hand for events, and the infrequent bird excursion. I’m absolutely bringing it to next year’s pageant. I would love to bring this to the ballpark or a gymnastics meet (especially if I can only shoot from the stands). Actually my local ballpark limits lenses to 8″ (the 70-200mm) and this extends quite a bit longer than that. I wonder if anyone would notice. But at the end of the day, I’m very impressed with Sigma’s 150-600mm, and it’s an absolute steal at $1100.

Shutter: 1/300, Aperture: ƒ/1.4, ISO: 100, Lens: 50mm

I can’t forget the toe dip! This is quite literally the best 23 minutes of my year. The newly crowned Miss America heads to the beach and frolics in the surf, posing for photos. Except for the other photographers being very pushy and consistently in the way, this is my favorite event to shoot. I knew the 600mm would be overkill for this event, as we’re able to be quite a bit closer to the subject, but also I didn’t want to risk damaging the lens in the surf. My signature move is to go into the water (about calf-deep) and shoot so that Atlantic City is in the background. Most of the photographers stay safe and dry on the sand, and their background is the ocean. Also, by being further out I get a few more direct glances. Anyway, I used my Canon 6D’s wifi to send this to my phone then used Instagram to apply visual treatment that’s so popular with the hip kids these days.

Shutter: 1/4000, Aperture: ƒ/2.5, lens: 50mm, ISO: 100

I haven’t had the chance to meet with Betty one on one, but she sure can pose for a photo. There’s a certain old-hollywood classiness that I’m digging right now. It may be the hair, or the pose, or the height, I can’t be certain. Seriously, universe, if we can find a way that I can shoot photos of pretty women on a beach full-time, and provide for my family, let’s do that. Let’s do exactly that. There really is nothing else in the world I’d rather be doing at any given time.

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