At first glance, you might think the Sigma 100-400mm F5-6.3 DG HSM OS Contemporary lens is just another compact, telephoto zoom. Not even close! With it’s superb sharpness throughout its entire range, fine compact ergonomics, and attractive bokeh, the 100-400mm is a lightweight optic that will make any photographer a heavy hitter.
Sigma’s newest telephoto zoom is small enough to fit into most any camera bag, yet it’s priced to fit into most budgets. The 100-400mm is so sharp that it can hold its own against lenses costing three, four, five as much. In short, it’s another Sigma wonder that has earned a permanent spot in my field bag.
If the versatile range and diminutive size of the Sigma 100-400mm Contemporary lens isn’t enough to impress you, consider that it provides macro down to 1:3.8 at the long end, perfect for isolating subjects such as flowers and ideal for photographing insects and other small wildlife at comfortable distances.
Whether you shoot family photos, travel images, architecture, wildlife, macro, weddings, senior pictures, or just about any other type of subject matter, you will find this lens useful. It’s wide range, professional quality optics, and reasonable cost make it a real sleeper.
Design & Features
The Sigma 100-400mm F5-6.3 DG HSM OS lens is one of the Sigma Global Vision Contemporary lenses. Sigma’s “C” lenses are built to be versatile and compact with high quality optics. Sigma lenses are known for their innovative designs.
The small-but-sharp design of the 100-400mm is made possible through the use of 21 elements, four of which are SLD glass. The optic’s pleasing bokeh is a partial result of the lens’s nine-blade diaphragm. Apertures range from f/5 (at 100mm) to f/22. The front filter size is 67mm.
The 100-400mm is built for use on full-frame cameras. For APS-C shooters, the Sigma 100-400mm F5-6.3 becomes equivalent to a 150-600mm F5-6.3. The lens features a matte black finish. It measures 3.4” in diameter and 7.2” long. The included lens hood adds another 2.5”. Total weight is 40.9 ounces.
Compatible teleconverters include the Sigma TC-1401 (1.4x teleconverter) and the Sigma TC-2001 (2.0x teleconverter). Adding the TC-1401 results in a 140-560mm F7-9 zoom. Adding the TC-2001 results in a 200-800mm F10-12.6 zoom. On APS-C bodies, these teleconverters effectively produce 210-840mm F7-9 and 300-1200 f/10-12.6 optics, respectively.
Optical Stabilization (OS) is controlled with a three-way switch. Setting 1, which stabilizes the lens along all axes, can provide four to five additional stops of shooting over non-OS lenses. (More on this later.) Setting 2 is designed for stabilization during panning. The switch should be set at Off for tripod shooting.
The 100-400mm F5-6.3 is built from Thermally Stable Composite (TSC) material, which reduces weight and resists expansion with changes in temperature. The lens mount is made of brass for durability. A rubber ring seals the lens against the camera body.
Zooming from 100mm to 400mm can be accomplished two ways. First, you may turn the 1.75” front rubber ribbed ring through 75° of rotation. Secondly, you may grasp the ample indented back rim of the lens hood and push/pull. The latter facilitates quick zooming for moving subjects. Going from 100mm to 400mm extends the length of the lens about 2.5”.
Focusing for the 100-400mm is fast thanks to an newly designed Hyper Sonic Motor (HSM). The zoom can be manually focused by turning the .75” rubber ribbed back ring. Focusing from infinity to the minimum distance of 63” completes 115° of rotation.
Manual focus is smooth and nicely damped. At the closest focusing distance, 63”, magnification is 1:3.8. A focus-limiter switch with three settings is on the left side of the barrel toward the back, just above the OS switch.
Below the OS switch is a Custom Settings switch, which allows users to configure lens two different lens characteristics. These are set by attaching the lens to the optional Sigma USB dock. The 100-400mm C lens offers the same robust customization including Focus Speed tuning, custom focus limiters, OS preview adjustments as the pair of 150-600mm zooms and the 120-300mm F2.8. (allie, add PDP links)
Included with the Sigma 100-400mm 5-6.3 DG HSM OS Contemporary lens is a front cap, an end cap, and a robust hood. This telephoto zoom, as with all the Sigma Global Vision lenses, can be mounted in the Sigma USB dock to change lens characteristics and update firmware.
All Sigma lenses are covered by a four-year manufacturer’s warranty.
Handling in the Field
The Sigma 100-400mm provides photographers with an enjoyable, care-free experience. Gone are the days of having to lug big, heavy, and expensive long lenses into the field to produce prize-winning wildlife images, tightly cropped landscape shots, or other long focal length pictures. Instead, today’s cameras allow photographers to turn the ISO up a bit and shoot with the smaller, fast-focusing, and equally sharp telephoto zooms, of which the Sigma 100-400mm is a class-leading example.
On a full-frame camera, the Sigma 100-400mm zoom feels well-balanced. Whether following flying birds or zooming in on your kids or grandkids playing soccer, the 100-400mm is a pleasure to use. Its good balance makes hand-holding quite easy.
Autofocus is quick, even in low light. How low? I was able to focus in my dimly lit basement down to 1 EV. That’s an exposure of 15 seconds at f/5.6 and ISO 100. There’s no way I could manually focusing in such low-light conditions.
While you might initially think of the 100-400mm Contemporary lens as a wildlife lens, that defines this optic too narrowly. Much of the shorter end of this zoom is great for portraiture. Shot wide open, the lens is tack sharp.
Consider the high key image above of Annabelle (above). While the details in her face and hat are nicely in focus, what makes this image work so well is the beautiful blurring of the background—the fine bokeh—which transitions from the blues of the water to the whites of the sky. It’s a cool-toned picture with the warm face popping out from under the stylish hat.
The nice thing with this telephoto zoom is how consistently sharp the lens is across its zoom range and its various apertures. While many similar zooms are sharp on the short and mid-range focal lengths, they often fall off in resolution near the end. At 400mm and wide open, this lens is sharp. Many zooms that cost much, much more can not claim such stellar performance. This sharp-at-all-focal-lengths quality instills confidence while shooting.
What’s nice about shooting portraits with the Sigma 100-400mm is that you can carry it with you anywhere. It’s compact and lightweight, so you won’t leave it behind. For example, you are ready when your teenage daughter willingly dons Sigma’s trade show shades and poses with a cool leaf she found at one of your favorite nature preserves (below).
For family travels, the convenient size and weight of the 100-400mm makes it ideal. You can hand-carry it, put it in a small shoulder bag, or easily add it to the stable of lenses in your burly backpack.
Mid-summer we headed to Nickel Plate Beach near Huron, Ohio, on the south shore of Lake Erie. On that beautiful blue-sky day, I suited up my 100-400mm with a Sigma polarizer filter and photographed my kids playing at the beach.
As small waves lapped the shore, Annabelle frolicked in the wet sand (above). The Sigma 100-400mm focused quickly and produced a color-rich, contrasty, and sharp images. Turning toward the water (below), I captured Phoebe bursting from the water like a flying fish. The 100-400mm proved to be handy, quick, and enjoyable to use with the at the beach.
My newly favorite tele-zoom also accompanied me to the Toledo Zoo. Shooting wide open or one stop down from wide helped blur backgrounds, highlighting the zoo’s animals. Shooting with the 100-400mm with its great ergonomics and optical stabilization was as-easy-as-pie, and the resulting images are sharp and contrasty (below).
If you are headed into the wilds, the Sigma 100-400mm F5-6.3 DG HSM OS Contemporary lens is a great lens to take with you. Unlike days of yore, the 100-400mm does not break your back or the bank. Small, easy to use, and quite affordable, this tele zoom provides sharpness for wildlife, isolated landscapes, and macro.
At dusk mid-summer, a particularly strong thunderstorm steamed across Ohio. From the safety of a distant hill, I pointed the 100-400mm at the most active part of the sky. With exposures around 1 second, I fired off a number of shots, many of which captured ominous clouds and streaks of electricity. Focusing in the late day light was simple, and the resulting shots were tack sharp.
The Sigma 100-400mm is great for all kinds of wildlife, from photographing birds to depicting megafauna. My work in the Children & Nature has me frequently catching wildlife and creating high key images, highlighting shapes, colors, and textures of common animals found in our own backyards. Recently, Gorman Nature Center contacted me with an exciting find: a smooth green snake. Looking to add another image to my Curious Critters series, I pulled out the Sigma 100-400mm to produce a portrait of the brilliant lady. The resulting images are sharp, contrasty, and rich with color.
The Sigma 100-400mm excels at many types of nature photography. It provides a great range for isolating patterns and textures in landscapes. It’s a great zoom range for mammals such as white-tailed deer, moose, elk, and bear. The long end will work for many birds. And, if you need more reach, add a teleconverter, either the TC-1401 or the TC-2001. Now you have the reach of a 560mm and 800mm lens, respectively. Alternatively, you can mount the 100-400mm to an APS-C body for a 150-600mm F5-6.3. At these focal lengths, you can photograph the moon, birds from afar, and other distant subjects.
Nature shooters are particularly excited about the Sigma 100-400mm because of its excellent close-focusing ability. At 400mm, the minimum focusing distance of 63” provides true macro at a magnification of 1:3.8. This allows photographers to turn from depicting deer or birds from a distance to shooting butterflies and dragonflies relatively close at-hand. I say “relatively,” because that’s exactly what the benefit of this lens is: photographers can get fabulous magnification but maintain a working distance that will decrease the odds of scaring away flighty subjects.
Across my career, I have done a lot of macro work. For me, the bar is set high for lenses used for shooting small subjects: a lens has to capture minute details or it does not find a place in my bag. I have to say that right away upon shooting macro subjects with the 100-400mm, I was blown away. The details are amazing!
On a recent hike at Malabar Farm State Park, I came across a fabulous clump of fawn mushrooms (above). While these fungi are quite common, this bunch was unique: as they grew from the rotting log below them, they lifted up a carpet of moss to make a wonderful green hat!
While I often use the Sigma 105mm or Sigma 150mm for mushrooms, I decided to back up and shoot at 200mm with the Sigma 100-400mm. This longer focal length produces a narrower field of view, reducing background distractions. The resulting image is so sharp that you can see spider web strands stretching across the moss spore structures!
I also love photographing wildflowers, especially blue ones. Among the most prolific and photogenic blue blooms are those of the humble chicory plant. The image above reproduces the coffee-substitute’s colors nicely, and contrast is strong; most impressive, however, is the detail resolved in the image. You can make out tiny hairs covering the petals. Finally, the bokeh is quite nice, blurring the stems behind the blossom in a way that is pleasing and adds to the design of this geometrical image.
Manufactures make various claims about optical stabilization. I prefer to run my own tests. For the 100-400mm, I photographed a copper cupola atop the workshop at Kingwood Center Gardens . Setting my D800E on high speed mode, I fired off 20 shots consecutively with the OS off and 20 shots consecutively with the OS on. It was a sunny, blue-sky day, so I added a Sigma polarizer filter and dialed the ISO down to 50. This allowed me to shoot at 1/15 second at f/16.
Back at my computer, I compared the results. With the OS off, not a single one of the 20 shots was “very good.” In fact, not one was even “acceptable.” With the OS on, all 20 were “acceptable,” and 18 of 20 were “very good.” My results show that you can reasonably gain at least four stops hand-holding with the OS turned on.
The Sigma 100-400mm telephoto zoom is something special. Sigma’s new optic is amazingly sharp throughout its entire range. The compact optic handles nicely. And it provides good bokeh for anything from macro to portraits.
My prediction: Once you start shooting with the super-sharp optic, you’ll be reaching for the 100-400mm all the time!