The new Sigma 100-400 Contemporary lens specs really look great but how does this lens perform out in the field actually making images of wildlife in their natural environment? Earlier this month I headed out to the coast of Katmai Alaska with the 100-400 to find out for myself. Would the lens be a good choice for a wildlife safari to Alaska and could it deliver the images I was hoping for? I’ve shot Bears in Alaska many times with my longer Sigma 150-600 Sport and Sigma 300-800mm zoom, so the question for me was how this brand new compact lightweight lens was going to perform in real world conditions? In many cases you really don’t need extreme focal lengths as the conditions will allow a close approach to the animals, but your main consideration becomes how you are going to carry and shoot with a lens for a full day shoot? I will take you through some situations I encountered on my trip and talk about the images I was able to capture to answer these questions and more.
Sigma 100-400 contemporary lens @ 100mm Nikon D500 1/640 sec f/16, ISO 360 manual mode with auto-ISO EV -0.3 handheld. © Robert O’Toole | 2017
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Once people start to move past the beginning stages of wildlife photography, I see a lot of people asking themselves, “now what?” Upgrading to a better lens can help you find new ways to capture what what you see, to see things differently, become more creative, and to have more fun. And Sigma’s two Sport zoom lens offer incredible performance and features for wildlife photographers.
There are so many choices available today, it can be difficult to find the right lens for you. I’ve listed a few points to think about to help those looking to move past the beginner stages of wildlife photography and to talk about the strengths of the two main lenses that I use today, the Sigma 150-600mm Sports Lens and the Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 Sports Lens.
© Robert O’Toole | 2017. Roseate spoonbill hatchlings on the nest Sigma 150-600 S @ 600mm (900mm equivalent) Nikon D500 1/800 f/6.3 ISO 1600 manual mode Auto-ISO -1.7. Spoonbill chicks are irresistibly cute, but since the adults prefer to nest farther back than other birds, you need a very long lens to isolate the nest to be able to capture the chick’s interaction close up. Here I used a crop sensor body with the 150-600 to give me the equivalent of a hand-holdable 900mm, which was the perfect solution.
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Bosque del Apache in New Mexico is one of the world’s premier spots for doing bird photography. Located on a major western flyway, every year millions of birds pass through on their way south. And one of the most recognizable is the Sand Hill Crane, which is a great avian subject for making a variety of spectacular photos. In this piece, we are going to discuss panning and speed-blur techniques.
Choosing the Right Equipment for the Assignment.
My normal travel kit consisting of Sigma 24-105mm F/4 Art, Sigma 120-300mm F/2.8 Sports and Sigma 150-600mm F5-6.3 Sport lenses worked out perfectly again on this trip. These three lenses cover me with an amazing range of 24 to 600mm for fantastic image quality on both my full frame and crop sensor DSLRs. I find these high quality Sigma zooms to all be a virtual match to any of the best fixed focus lenses available, and give me so much more versatility. And they make travelling so much easier when the airlines now have so many baggage restrictions.
Why do I choose to shoot with the Sigma 150-600mm F5-6.3 Sport over the contemporary model? Image quality is my number one priority, and since my main camera is a 36 megapixel full frame camera, the sports version is the better lens for my needs. The Sport version optical design gives me a sharper and chromatic aberration free image over a full frame sensor. The contemporary version design places size and weight a priority. Also, the full weather sealing of the Sport version is a plus when I am likely to be shooting in rain, snow, or dusty environments.
© Robert O’Toole 2016 | Sandhill cranes and cottonwood tree bathed in fog and early morning light. Sigma 150-600 S and Nikon D500 @ 330mm, 1/250s at f/7.1, EV -0.3, ISO 2000, Manual mode.
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If you are into outdoor photography, I suggest you check out Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska on your next trip. Here are few of my favorite moments and highlights from this summer that will give you an idea of what makes this park such a great choice for photography. Each year I spend two to three weeks photographing brown bears on the Katmai coast and this year I was there in June, July, and August to bear bear photography tours. I chose to bring along my Sigma 120-300mm F2.8 DG OS APO HSM Sports and Sigma 150-600mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sports.
© Robert O’toole 2016| Katmai NP Alaska, SIGMA 120-300 mm sports and 150-600 sports lens and NIKON D500.
Cubs were the big highlight this year for sure. The number of yearling cubs (a bear that is a year old, or in its second year) around was just fantastic. There were not many spring cubs seen early this summer but the yearlings kept the photographers really busy. At Hallo bay we had at least five mothers with cubs while at Kukak we counted 12 bears around one morning.
© Robert O’toole 2016|Katmai NP Alaska, SIGMA 120-300 mm f/2.8 Sports lens @ 300mm, NIKON D500, 1/1250 sec at f/4, manual mode, ISO 400. Image Copyright 2016 Robert OToole Photography.
Whenever I photograph yearlings it seems that they are either about to play, are in the middle of playing, or have just finished playing. The one, not so cool, thing about yearlings is that they really seem to enjoy challenging photographers by walking right up to just a few steps away. Then they will go for anything left on the ground or just to see what the leader or guide will do, all while under the watchful eye of a 500 pound mother bear. So I always recommend hiring a guide or tour leader for a bear photo trip.
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This summer I headed up to Alaska with a new Sigma 18-300 F3.5-6.3 DC OS HSM | Contemporary lens in my bag to help me document my time photographing the coastal brown bear and other wildlife. My plan was to use the extreme focal length range to capture behind the scenes style images during my wildlife photo tour. Mounting the contemporary lens on my new prosumer DX crop sensor body, I was really surprised at how small and light the package was. With a wide 18-300mm and 10 fps capability, this lens is surprisingly capable.
First Stop: Kodiak Harbor
Kodiak island, the second largest island in the US and the 3rd highest volume fishing port in the country, is used as our tour base. From here, we use a charter float plane service to reach our photography destination. Originally my plan was to shoot around Kodiak island for the entire day, but a sprained knee meant I was only able to hobble around town a short block or two radius from my hotel!
Kodiak harbor. Sigma 18-300 C and Nikon D500, 32mm, 1/250s at f/8, handheld, manual mode.
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The stiffness in my back and legs from 15 hours in coach was a small price to pay considering I was on my way to photographic heaven. My flight was taking me non-stop from Atlanta all the way to Johannesburg to catch a charter fight to an airstrip on a private conservation area adjacent to the 7,500 plus square miles of Kruger National Park. For the next 10 days I would be shooting in a place with unlimited photographic opportunities so good its like nowhere else on earth.
© 2016 Robert OToole | Sigma 150-600 sports lens and Nikon D810 and D500, handheld.
Over the course of 10 days we had the opportunities to photography 11 different leopards and 6 different cubs. These are 3 of the six the young leopards had the pleasure to photograph on the tour. The cub on the right has a red nose from gorging on an impala that was brought back by its mother.
The area that I visited on my tour is special and known for the large number of habituated leopards found there. Since very few photographers even know of this area there is a lack of crowds and other photographers. Another important advantage here is that this area is a private nature reserve so off-road driving is no problem at all, anyone that has experiences the on-road only Serengeti or the Maasi Mara knows how priceless off-road capability is for making good images.
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What is it about snow monkeys that brings people from all over the world back year after year? After all the famous snow monkey park in Nagano, Japan is pretty small and can get crowded but being able to see the snow monkeys close up and interacting and with one another, and sometimes with people, is really an experience you wont forget. But above all else I think that the young monkeys and their non stop energy are really the biggest attractions at the park.
© 2016 Robert OToole | Sigma 150-600 sports lens and Nikon D810, 1/500s, f/8, ISO 800, Manual mode, Auto-ISO, handheld.
The young cute Japanese macaques sometimes look more like teddy bears than monkeys.
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We just recently returned from an awesome 30+ day tour of Japan and the people, food, opportunities, and sights were all amazing, it seemed like there was always a surprise or something new around every corner.
During my winter wildlife tour we visit a few different areas of Japan but before that tour officially begins we had the chance to spend a few days in and around the greater Tokyo area doing street shooting and visiting some of the most photogenic tourist hotspots. This post features some of my favorite images from around Tokyo.
The 24-105mm F4 DG OS Art is my standard short travel lens, the focal length range and compact size makes the perfect compliment to my 120-300mm F2.8 DG Sports and 150-600mm DG OS Sports lenses, giving me coverage from 24-600mm. I never leave home without it!
© 2016 Robert OToole | All Sigma 24-105 art lens and Nikon D810.
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24mm F1.4 Art lens Reversed for High Magnification Macro Photography
© 2016 Robert OToole
High Magnification Macro Photography reaches into a fascinating world of details that are normally hidden to the naked eye. The simplest and most cost effective way to get reach high magnification is to reverse mount a wide angle lens. When used in reverse the 24mm F1.4 DG HSM | Art lens gives me sharp detailed images at 5X or five times life-size. Check out some of my favorite images below.
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This winter the El Nino weather phenomenon is creating ideal conditions for big wave surfing photography. By pure luck I was offered space on a charter boat that was going to be out in the lineup during a big wave surfing tournament being held the next day. I jumped at the opportunity but this would put me on the 405 freeway by 1 AM to make it to the boat dock in Mexico at 5 AM. The schedule worked but unfortunately it didn’t include any time for sleep until sometime the next evening. Sleep is overrated anyway right?
The surfing tournament was held to coincide with the arrival of a large pacific swell formed thousands of miles out in the pacific, its track and intensity influenced by El Nino. The swells travel unimpeded and slam into the reefs forming waves that can reach 20, 30, even 40 feet on the face.
© 2016 Robert OToole | Professional big wave surfers and their equipment. Sigma 24-105 Art lens, 1/1000 s. f/8 at 68mm, ISO 320, manual mode, Nikon D810.
Professional big wave surfers use waverunners not only to access the surf breaks but also for pickups to take surfers back into the lineup. My Sigma 24-105 Art lens gave me a perfect perspective I was looking for. In the foreground are backup big wave boards attached to a buoy while a wave peels off in the distance.
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