Lens Guides

Sigma 100-400 C- The powerful, portable telephoto lens solution for back-country photographers

In the past, getting large telephoto lenses deep into the back-country was akin to strapping a dumbbell to your back and hauling it around all day or even multiple days. I would often turn my athletes into pack mules or even bring an assistant along to help with the load. But last month that all changed. I recently received Sigma’s new 100-400mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM C lens and immediately put it to the test on three separate shoots covering landscape, mountain biking and finally wildlife.

On my first outing with the 100-400 I took it for a shoot in Utah’s canyon country. The weather was stormy with snow, rain, wind and fog all on the menu. The lens handled the weather great and was an absolute joy to use. I was out all day for three days straight and its lighter weight was a great relief to my shoulders. The sharpness of the lens was evident even on the back of my camera. When I got home and made some 17X22 in. prints I was blown away.

© Liam Doran 2017 | Breaking storm on the La Sal Mountains outside of Moab, UT. 1/15 sec. f/8 ISO 200 at 361mm. Shot on Canon 5DMKIII

© Liam Doran 2017 | Shooting in a heavy snowstorm in the desert was a memorable experience. 1/640 sec. f/7.1 ISO 1000 at 100mm. Shot on Canon 1DX
© Liam Doran 2017 | Layers of clouds converge on the high desert. 1/320 sec. F/9 ISO 200 shot at 156mm. Canon 1DX

The second test was on an assignment shooting mountain biking for a client. I would be travelling to Gunnison Colorado and shooting athletes in the Hartman Rocks area. I use a much smaller pack for mountain biking shoots and in the past, I was limited to my 70-200 f2.8 due to space limitation. But now my 100-400 is both smaller and lighter!  On this occasion, I would also be shooting extensively in AI Servo mode and autofocus speed would be critical. Did it pass the test?  Absolutely! My shots were spot on for focus and ultra-sharp, which is essential for print publication.

© Liam Doran 2017 | Mountain biker Kaitlyn Archambault navigating the rock at Hartman Rocks. 1/1000sec. f/6.3 ISO 800 at 260mm. Canon 7DMKII
© Liam Doran 2017 | Mountain bikers in a sea of sage at Hartman Rocks. 1/1600 sec. f/8 ISO 200 at 400mm.
© Liam Doran 2017 | The OS worked fantastic for panning shots too. Jon Brown books it home before dark. 1/80sec. F/8 ISO 320 at 160mm. Canon 1DX

Finally, I took the 100-400 on a backpacking trip into the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness outside Westcliffe, Colorado. Anytime you are packing up for a multi day back-country photoshoot weight is going to be critical, but so is quality. This is true for both camping gear and photo gear and I am very discerning about each piece of gear that goes into my backpack. Yes, it needs to be light, but it also has to serve its purpose. You might think a 12oz. tent is just great, until you spend a story night in the mountains and it rips to shreds. Similarly, your camera phone might be super light and great at times, but it’s not the right tool to make images for large format printing.

I heard about the possibility of bighorn sheep living in the area I was to visit, so I would be seeking wildlife imagery to add to some landscape photos. I naturally reached for the 100-400 C for the job. Light enough to pack, but with the quality for high end publication or large format prints. The 400mm reach was great for pulling in the bighorn sheep and showing them in their natural habitat.

© Liam Doran 2017 | Finding a herd of bighorn sheep in the backcountry is a truly exciting experience. 1/640 sec. F/8 ISO 640 at 400mm. Canon 5DMKIII
© Liam Doran 2017 | Hiking with new friends to the top of 14,065 Humboldt Peak. 1/800 sec. F/8 ISO 400 at 400mm. Canon 5DMKIII.
© Liam Doran 2017 | A bighorn sheep feeds in the high alpine willows. 1/400 sec. F/6.3 ISO 800 at 400mm. Canon 5DMKIII
© Liam Doran 2017 | A large ram high on the flanks between Crestone Needle and Humboldt Peak. 1/1250 sec. F/7.1 ISO 1000 at 400mm. Canon 5DMKIII

The new Sigma 100-400 C lens has rightly earned a spot in my pack…all of my packs. While its size and weight relative to other 400mm lenses does make it “convenient” and “comfortable” for all day and multiday applications, do not underestimate it as such. This is a professional grade lens that I trust to perform at a high level for any commercial, editorial or personal shoot where a powerful telephoto zoom is needed in remote locations.

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