Tips & How-Tos

Sigma 100-400mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM | C: First Look | Sneak Peek | Quick Review

The Sigma 100-400mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM | Contemporary lens is the newest full-frame super telephoto zoom lens in the Sigma Global Vision lineup, an update on the super-sharp 120-400mm F5-6.3 zoom lens. This is a very lightweight long-reach lens, weighing in at just two and a half pounds, and at 7.2 inches long in the bag, is lighter and more compact than the 70-200mm F2.8 EX zoom lens with twice the reach.

This is a first impressions, sneak peek, quick review of this hot new lens after my initial two hours of working with it. As soon as the lens showed up at my house, I was on the road to my favorite nearby birding hotspot, Sandy Hook, NJ—a seven mile long sliver of sand, wetlands, bays and beaches. I unboxed the lens in the parking lot and threw it on my 6D, and set about to grabbing some bird shots. We will follow up with a more in-depth breakdown of all the features, USB Dock customization, and suchlike in the near future, but here’s my raw take after two hours birding in flat light with this incredible new optic.

A snowy egret takes flight from a tidal pond as seen through the Sigma 100-400mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM | Contemporary lens paired with a Canon 6D. 1/1000 F6.3 ISO 500 at 400mm. The autofocus speed of this new lens is really impressive straight out of the box. I was usually in the 6m-∞ focus limiter zone to speed AF performance even more.

This lens is lightweight, easy to handle, and crazy sharp at 400mm, which is where I had it pegged pretty much constantly. The three zone focus limiter helps speed Autofocus response, and in the 6m-∞ zone where I was mostly focusing, the AF response was seriously zippy and able to keep up with all sorts of flying, flitting, and skittering shorebirds in very flat lighting conditions. The entire take was captured in AI Servo (Continuous autofocus), center focus point, and back-button focusing in either Manual or Aperture Priority mode.

The 100-400mm was able to track this great egret in flight over the water, through foreground dune grass thanks to the speedy AF and focus limiter settings. 1/1000 F6.3 ISO 500 at 400mm on the 6D.

The 100-400mm Contemporary lens shares a lot of Sigma DNA with its 150-600mm sisters, but it does skip the variable zoom lock to shave weight and cost. That being said, the zoom barrel is very well damped, and showed no signs of creep, even while hiking with the lens pointed skyward at 400mm for extended periods of time, and also in deliberate shaking tries to see if I could force it to budge. And the ability to easily work either the zoom ring or push-pull method to rack the focal length is a great touch, though as I mentioned, most of the time I was keeping it pegged at 400mm while out in the wetlands. My one very minor gripe with this lens is that when the lens hood is in transport position, it completely blocks the zoom ring.

A great egret in a salt marsh at 100mm. 1/2500 F5 ISO 400.
Same bird, same spot, zoomed all the way to 400mm. 1/2500 F6.3 ISO 400 at 400mm

Paired with a full-frame Canon 6D, it felt very well balanced in the hands, and it is nice and crisp through the viewfinder. It was very flat midday light, ranging from cloudy-cloudy to cloudy-bright so it was an expose to the right kind of day. The AF was quick and responsive, and I had an easy time of tracking birds in flight, and scampering on the sand straight out of the box. I’m very excited to tune the lens with a speed-priority AF and custom focus limiter setting in Sigma Optimization Pro before my next outing to tweak it even more. The photos in this series were lightly tuned in Adobe Camera RAW to optimize exposures.

Thanks to a cool night after a very warm day, it was a pretty low-contrast day, so most of the shots had a very low total dynamic range.
Building back contrast really made the birds pop and the fine detail on the focal plane is mind-blowing with this little tele lens.


On a full-frame lens, this is the perfect lightweight midrange tele lens for wildlife and field sports. And when it comes to crop sensor cameras, it is a virtual 150-600mm zoom lens, again, perfect for small and distant wildlife, and especially for youth field sports, where it is sometimes possible to be over-lensed with the actual 150-600mms (900mm reach on a half-size soccer field or 60-foot ball diamond is overkill!)

I knew by the whistling call in the distance I’d spy an Oyster Catcher along the waterline. AF tracking with this lens is swift, both for airborne and ground-based subjects. 1/1250 F6.3 ISO 500 at 500mm.
100% pixel view of the center of the previous frame. This lens is razor sharp wide open at 400mm! Click the photo to view full-size.
Snowy Egret Portrait at 400mm. 1/1250 F7.1 ISO 500.
Center of frame 100% view. Click the image to show fullscreen.

So after two hours of chasing birds on wing and along the water’s edge, at fast shutter speeds, I can tell you I am very impressed with both the autofocus speed and accuracy and the wide-open sharpness of this lens at 400mm. That’s what I was after in my shots, because, really, that’s what matters most to me in a tele lens.

Great egret at 400mm. 1/1250 F6.3 ISO 500.
100% pixel view of the above. Click to view full size.
Autofocus tracking with the lens at 400mm is really impressive. Super-responsive in following birds in flight. 1/1250 F6.3 ISO 500.

I didn’t bother turning on Optical Stabilizer, because even exposing to the right with slower shutter speeds, I was still always well above 1/1000, rendering OS wholly unnecessary. We’ll tackle OS effectiveness, performance with the teleconverters, tweaking the autofocus parameters with Sigma Optimization Pro, and a full-on breakdown comparison with its bigger sister the 150-600mm C lens in a follow up post in the near future.

Sanderlings are just about eight inches long from beak tip to tailfeathers and weigh in at a whopping 3.5 ounces! These tiny toasted marshmallows are super-zippy as the skitter along the surf’s edge. I as very impressed with the AF tracking speed of the 100-400mm as I may have already mentioned! 1/3200 F6.3 ISO 500 at 500mm.
100% pixel view showing both the focal plane sharpness and super-shallow depth of field at 400mm.
A grooming moment by one of the sanderlings. 1/1600 F6.3 ISO 500 at 400mm
100% pixel view of the above. Notice the fineness of detail in the bird’s leg joints, and all shades of feather.

The Sigma 100-400mm Contemporary is a super-sharp 4X super telephoto zoom lens in a very compact package for it full-frame reach and range. And at $669 street, it is a whole lot of lens for the money.

Comments (8)
  1. Jim says:

    I’m hoping this lens will prove to be a valid alternative to Canon’s EF 100-400L Mk II. Maybe that is unrealistic but one can always dream. I like the one lb less weight as well as the price.

  2. Craig says:

    You didn’t use the OS. My question is does it work well or not. Using OS even at higher shutter speeds is still very helpful in tracking flying birds.

  3. I am interested. Having been thinking a Tamron 150-600 G2, but that is twice as heavy and about twice as expensive. Unfortunately Yellowstone wildlife are frequently a long shot away! Waiting ti see these reviews on cameras like my Nikon D7200

  4. Yvon says:

    Is this lens also available for Nikon Mount ?

  5. Ben Jones says:

    Thanks for the review Jack I have one on the way to me.I ordered it from Adorama although I am in Manitoba, Canada.Its the quickest place that I could get one from. There service is great. I cannot wait to get my hands on it.It’s my first telephoto lens.Sigma has come out with some great stuff lately.I use a Canon 80D so it should be good.

  6. William says:

    Can you use 2x converter
    with the 100-400 lens
    I have a sigma converter

  7. Linda Covnot says:

    Can this lens be used with a Canon Rebel T5?

  8. Rafael says:

    To be clear, is the lens compatible with Canon autofocus? I plan to use it with a Canon 70D camera…

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