I have been using the Sigma 100-400mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary all summer long for macro and close-up work and I would like to share with you my findings. First impression is that it is light, which means I can handhold the lens out in the field. At 2.5 pounds, it is the same weight as my Sigma 150mm F2.8 EX DG OS HSM APO Macro lens but gives me the extra reach I often need to fill the frame with my flower images especially when working the water lily pools at either Longwood Gardens or the NY Botanical Gardens. In the images above and below, I was about 20 feet away from the water lilies with the lens mounted on my Canon 7Dv2 camera body. This gave me over 7 inches of depth of field at f/22. For close-up work, I almost never go below that, as I want edge-to-edge sharpness and maximum depth of field. All images, except for last one of penny were hand held.
In all of these images, I am using some sort of external flash. Most of the time it is my Sigma EM-140 DG Macro Flash but I do occasionally use the pop up flash or a larger flash when working distances are over 15 feet. In bright overcast conditions, I power the flash down to minus 1&2/3 or more in ETTL (through the lens). Manual mode, 1/16 or less works the same. This allows me to use slower shutter speeds with the flash freezing my motion as well as that of the subject. Make sure you keep you ISO at 800 or higher as this will reduce the duration of the flash output ensuring it freezes all motion by allowing more natural light on the subject. Dropping your ISO below 400 in these conditions will probably give you ghosting from motion even with rear curtain sync enabled on the camera.
Conversely, when the sun is out, I drop my ISO to 250 or even down to 50, raise my shutter speed to 1/200 – 250th of a second (this is where most flashes will sync) and power the flash up! In ETTL mode, this effectively makes my flash the main light source and the sun just becomes fill even on whites!
Combining the Sigma 100-400mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary with the EM-140 DG Macro Flash mounted on the front allows me to work in even backlit conditions. I simply power the flash up or down, mostly depending on the color of the bloom, giving just a hint of light to the blooms and keeping distant backgrounds nice and dark all while handholding.
This lens also has a great minimum focusing distance of only 63 inches but beware, getting closer is not your friend for your depth of field. At that MFD, I have less than ½ and inch of DOF. I find this online depth of field calculator great for determining just how much DOF you have with your lens and camera combination. As usual, I wanted to see just how far I could push the close-up capabilities of this lens. Why? It has become a permanent fixture in my landscape kit so I can isolate subjects and its great close-up capabilities.
I often go to locations where my bag is just too heavy to add my Sigma 150mm F2.8 EX DG OS HSM APO Macro and EM-140 DG Macro Flash so pushing the limits of the lens to see just how small of an object I could photograph would be useful when wildflowers are blooming in the desert southwest or I want to photograph insects here at home or in Costa Rica. I pulled out all the stops. First I attached the Sigma TC-1401 teleconverter. Next I attached 56mm’s of extension tubes. I combined all that with a speedlight powered down to 1/32 power in manual and mounted it on a tripod. Below is the full frame image of that combination.
Do realize that at that magnification and working distance of around 48 inches, I only had about a ¼ inch of depth of field and it would be nearly impossible to handhold, but I find that truly remarkable! The Sigma 100-400mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary has made a believer out of me and will now be used more often for macro/close-up work when out in the field.