SIGMA Shares

On the water with the Sigma 100-400mm f/5-6.3 DG HSM OS Contemporary

Guest Blogger John Lincourt gives the Sigma 100-400mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM | Contemporary lens a field test shooting yacht racing off Newport, Rhode Island

I consider myself very lucky to live near Newport, Rhode Island which has a rich sailing history and continues to have a very active sailing community that attracts world class events. This year I’ve been able to shoot two regattas with some very majestic yachts. The 1st regatta was the Candy Store Cup Maxi Yacht Regatta which assembled a variety of yachts from 76 ft all the way to 170 ft. In length. The second regatta was the J Class World Championships. 6 of these 140+ ft yachts were in Newport for the event. These magnificent yachts raced for the America’s Cup back in the 1930’s, and the resurgence of the class has given rise to some epic racing events in the Med, Bermuda and here in Newport.

My lens of choice to shoot both events was Sigma’s new 100-400 f/5-6.3 DG HSM OS Contemporary lens.  Because I shoot from a chase boat, I don’t have the luxury of using a tripod or even a monopod to stabilize my lens. Even the 150-600 C which at four and half pounds and just slightly larger in size can be tough to handle as the wind picks up and my chase boat starts bobbing around like a toy boat in a bath tub, so the light weight and compactness of the new lens is definitely an advantage.


As you can see from the image above, I still easily isolated this crewmember being hoisted up the mast. This shot was taken zoomed all the way in to 400mm.

Since my shooting platform is far from stable even in the best of conditions and the boats I’m shooting are moving in all directions, ideally, I need something that’s light and compact. The ability to quickly point the camera at a new subject that is in the exact opposite direction than you were just shooting, adjust the zoom & refocus can easily be the difference between getting the shot of a lifetime and totally missing out!

I shoot with a Nikon D7100 which is Crop Sensor camera, (DX camera). The 100-400mm on my DX camera translates to a full frame equivalent of 150-600mm using the 1.5x crop factor of my Nikon cameras (160-640 for Canon 1.6 crop factor).

Although I like to take advantage of the reach of my 150-600mm lens to get details on the boats, and to get closeups of crew grinding winches, climbing the mast or even just hanging off the side of the boat, most shots I take during sailing events land squarely in the 100 and 400 mm range of this lens.

Having the ability to easily zoom out to 100mm means that I don’t have to switch to my 2nd camera nearly as often. This shot taken at 100mm, wouldn’t have been possible with my 150-500. The thing is, no matter what sport I’m shooting, there are times that the action is close and I need to shoot wide and the next minute, I need all the zoom I’ve got. I don’t have time to switch lenses on my camera. I barely have time to switch to my 2nd camera when the action gets really close. Having a lens that has a good zoom range creates many opportunities for capturing fast changing action. For those times I need a really wide-angle lens, I usually do carry a 2nd camera already set up with a wide angle lens like my Sigma17-70mm f2.8-4.5.
Here’s a great example why I like a zoom lens. On a very cloudy, windy and rough 3rd day of the Candy Store Cup Regatta, I caught the sloop Wild Horses charging at me at a full gallop. She was still quite far away when I took this shot, so I had the zoom to 350mm to get the boat and the spray from her bow in full frame.
As she got closer, I continued to zoom out, clicking away. This shot was taken just before she passed close by us, I had zoomed out to 105mm to get the whole boat and the huge spray as the boat continued to crash through the waves.
As the boat pulled away, I began to zoom back in to keep her as close to full frame as possible. This shot was taken at 220mm.

One of the features of this lens that I got used to really quickly was the ability to zoom using a push/pull motion as opposed to rotating the zoom ring. Of course, the zoom ring is there and works well too. Having the ability to push/pull to zoom really speeds up zooming this lens.

A lens that doesn’t track and focus quickly has no place in a sports photographer’s gear bag. What I found out about this lens is that it is quick at focusing and once it locks on to a subject, it doesn’t let go. Granted, the sailboats I was shooting don’t travel at the speed of an F1 racer, but considering all the movement that was going on between me, the boat and the water, I think the lens did a great job.

The lens has a focus toggle switch that allows you to choose between full range focus, 0-6 meters and 6 meters to infinity. Most of the time I kept the focus toggle switch at 6m-infinity, so if an errant wave jumped up in front of me the lens wouldn’t try to focus on the wave. Yes, waves got between me and my subjects several times and I’m very happy with the results.

Here, the J Class yacht Ranger is almost totally obscured by the wave breaking in front of me. Shot at f7.1 & 280mm.
This shot was taken while chasing Naema at full speed. What it doesn’t show is the splash from our boat plowing through the waves also. Having the ability of not having the lens try to refocus on our bow wave as it got between us and Naema gave me the opportunity to get shots like this. The other thing that’s significant about this pic is that I had to shoot this image 1 handed because the other hand was holding onto the boat so I didn’t fall overboard. There’s only one reason I could do that, this lens is compact and very light. This shot is taken at 100mm.

I not only found that the focus was really good right out of the box, but this is a really sharp lens too.

This is one of my favorite boats to photograph, I captured this image of the 76 foot Wild Horses sailing away from me during the 2nd day of the Candy Store Cup, much different conditions than those I would be shooting her in the very next day. I just love this clean crisp shot. Oh yes, and at 76 feet, she was the smallest boat competing.
Naema, a 138 foot gaff rigged schooner has a bow sprit that extends a good 15 feet beyond the bow. I caught this bowman relaying directions back to the helmsman driving the boat just before the start of the race. I shot this at 400mm. That’s the 170 foot Meteor is in the background.
Back at the J Class Worlds, SVEA’s crew has a slightly more stable place to perch as they get ready to hoist their spinnaker. Shot at 400mm. Again, this is a nice crisp & clean image. If you need to fine tune the lens to your camera, its compatible with Sigma’s USB docking system. There is also a switch that will allow you use 2 custom programs or the default program.

Rounding out the features that make this lens worth a serious look are 2 items. This lens has the Hyper Sonic Motor (HSM) making it compatible with entry level cameras that don’t have a focus motor built in, and it has Sigma’s stellar Optical Stabilization (OS) system.

Here’s a better shot of Meteor, 170 feet of sheer elegance. Shot at 290mm

Is there anything I don’t like about this lens? I do have 1 minor complaint. The bank of switches that control the focus selection, OS & program mode are just a little bit high. Several times I found that I had inadvertently knocked the switch for focus ranges to 0-6ft. It was an easy annoyance to fix with a small piece of tape when working at a distance, to ensure I wasn’t swapping unintentionally to close focus.

To wrap up this post, there are a lot of things in the plus column only 1 in the minus:


It has a great zoom range

It’s built like a tank

It’s light & compact

Push/Pull zoom option

It has a great OS

It’s really sharp

It focuses quickly and holds focus on moving objects

It’s compatible with the Sigma USB dock

It is compatible with both FX & DX lenses

It’s compatible with entry level cameras that don’t have a built in focus motor


The placement of the bank of control switches

All in all, this lens is a winner for light weight, long-reach photography.


Comments (2)
  1. Awesome read and grateful for the post. It takes some real talent to be able to photograph sailing from the water and John Lincourt clearly has it. Especially with his choice in lenses!

  2. Great post JL. Well done!

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