Lens Guides

Everyday Super Telephoto: SIGMA 100-400mm DG OS HSM | Contemporary Lens

Wildlife and nature photography is my passion, and I have been shooting with a variety of telephoto lenses for years, relying on long-range optics like the SIGMA 150-600mm DG OS HSM | Contemporary and the 500mm F4 DG OS HSM | Sports to capture photos of creatures great and small. But despite the excellent reach, I often found myself wishing I had something a bit more compact that I could carry on a daily basis. That’s when I learned about the SIGMA 100-400mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM | Contemporary — smaller, lighter, with plenty of zoom power for everyday shooting.

The SIGMA 100-400mm DG OS HSM | Contemporary
Telephoto lenses provide great compression for landscapes with a completely unique look.

First impressions of the 100-400mm DG OS HSM | Contemporary

The 100-400mm DG OS HSM | C has been around for quite a while, but when SIGMA released a new version of the lens for E-mount and L-mount, I realized that I needed to give the DSLR version a try. Thankfully, it not only works with Nikon F and Canon EF DSLR cameras, but modern mirrorless cameras as well with the OEM adapters. For me, the lens easily mounted on my Nikon Z 7II using the Nikon FTZ adapter. It fit easily, quickly and securely.

When I first received this lens, I was immediately impressed by its lightweight, compact design despite its zoom range. This size and weight make it a dream to handle, and I am easily able to take it anywhere I may wander. The lightweight hood is essential, especially out in the field. Not only does it prevent light leaks, but it is also added protection when I am hiking or in my kayak. The hood acts as a bumper to prevent the lens glass from being scuffed or scratched. I always make sure the hood is attached when I am using it. It easily locks into place, and when not in use, stores right on the lens.

Canada Geese with goslings, shot from my kayak. I shot this image while following them with my camera… they were fast swimmers!
280mm, 1/400s, F6, ISO 800

The focal range is AMAZING! The 100-400mm range allows me to both be close to my subject or further away, depending on what I am shooting. With flora and portraits, I am able to use the shorter side of the lens (100mm) and I am able to get close to my subject — just a little more than 5 feet away!

The longer side of this lens (400mm) works great for wildlife, and in my case, shy birds and dragonflies. The length also gives BEAUTIFUL separation of subject and background, even with aperture range of F6.3 to about F8.

I recently was able to not only view a partial solar eclipse, but this lens was remarkably effective in photographing it. It was early morning, about 5:30AM with low-light conditions. I was able to handhold this lens without issue. Its optical stabilization (OS) is superb!

The beautiful partial eclipse as seen in Western New York, seen rising over the Cattaraugus Hills in the early morning. Handheld, locked onto the sun.
400mm, 1/8000s, F6.3, ISO 250

All my shots using this lens have been handheld. With tricky subjects, low light or movement I lock my body and the OS does an amazing job keeping my subject focused. I am simply astounding by what I can capture with this lens, in all types of lighting conditions. It is quickly becoming a favorite lens of mine and it is always in my gear bag.

Versatile enough for nearly any situation

Let us talk portraits! I challenged this lens with tricky light situations and lots of motion during a beach maternity session. It did NOT let me down. It passed my challenge with flying colors. The depth-of-field range was excellent and a pleasure to work with during the session. The zoom range allowed me to get in closer while keeping my distance, to grab more intimate moments between the couple. It also gives beautiful bokeh that only enhances any portrait session. I could not be more pleased with this lens’ ability to capture an entire session start to finish.

Probably my favorite subject to photograph using this lens has been nature images. From dragonflies, to birds, frogs to macro shots, this lens effortlessly captured it all! It came along with me in my kayak, and I was able to shoot from my kayak without any problems. Even the occasional splash from my paddle was not a problem for it.

Favorite features of the 100-400mm DG OS HSM | Contemporary

The various features on the SIGMA 100-400mm Contemporary lens are especially useful, and offer a ton of value in a lens this affordable. Some of the most notable features are:

  • It is a full-frame telephoto!
  • Aperture range is very generous, F5 for enough light and subject separation, all the way up to F22 for capturing details.
  • Close focusing distance, which is about 64 inches, great for macro images.
  • It is incredibly lightweight and compact, which makes it a pleasure to take along on any excursions without adding more bulk to my gear bag.
  • The optical stabilization (OS) is useful when I am handholding in challenging situations.
  • The focusing motor is reliable and quiet, a major plus when capturing wildlife of any kind.
  • The focus ring and zoom ring are smooth, fluid and precise. I have used both manual and autofocus easily and effectively.

There are 4 main switches on the barrel of the lens, each to make it even more customizable to your shooting needs and are quite useful. Let me get a little bit more in-depth here:

The focus switch has 3 settings. The AF (auto focus), MO (manual override) and MF (manual focus). With an easy slide of the switch, you can easily move between the three modes quickly for your focusing needs.

The second switch is your focus limiter. You have 3 options here as well. Full range, which will be in handy when you are out in the field and not sure what you will be photographing. It will cover the entire range. 6m – infinity, if you subject is further away from you. Finally, 1.6m-6m, for closer subjects, also a great range for your flora and macro shots.

The third switch has your Optical Stabilizer (OS) options. You have 3 options: OFF, 1 & 2. Mode 1 is your standard stabilization, for example…. a skittish dragonfly on a reed, a macro image of a flower that is being moved by a breeze, or during a portrait session. Mode 2 is for your panning shots, as in, locking onto a bird that is flying or any object that is moving rapidly within the frame.

Optical image stabilization is a huge help when zoomed in on tiny dragonflies, especially from a kayak.
400mm, 1/500s, F6.3, ISO 180

The fourth and last switch is the custom switch. You have 3 options: OFF, C1 & C2. You can use this switch to allow customization of your Optical Image Stabilization, Autofocus Speed, and Focus Limiter range, all in one preset. In a flip of the switch, you can automatically use one of your customized settings. The “off” setting is the default. The SIGMA USB Dock is required to make use of this feature, but it’s a worthwhile addition if you make regular use of this lens or have more than one SIGMA lens of the same mount.

There is also has a lens lock feature in the middle of the lens. I find it very important to use this switch. It keeps the barrel securely locked with no movement. This keeps it safely secure while you are hiking around a location, or when it is stored in your gear bag.

SIGMA 100-400mm DG OS HSM | Contemporary Final Thoughts

Overall, this lens is a favorite of mine due to its versatility, handheld capability and lightweight design. I find myself using it often as it easily covers a range of work from portraits, landscapes, macro, wildlife and more!

I highly recommend the SIGMA 100-400mm DG OS HSM | Contemporary as I continue to be impressed by the broad capabilities it offers. You will be more than happy to have this incredible ultra-telephoto in your arsenal of lenses.

Beautiful wild daisies in a field. I shot this from a low angle, and the daisies were backlit with the late day sun.
100mm, 1/200s, F6.3, ISO 125

Comments (2)
  1. Susan Dillard says:

    I love this lens! Bought it a couple of years ago for a trip to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. Light enough to carry and great images!

  2. D mitchell says:

    How did you find it working with the canon Camera, I have AR6 how do you think it would work with that version?

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