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Sigma 100-400mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM | C — First Hands-On Test

Sigma’s new Contemporary 100-400mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM has just arrived, and I’ve been spending some time putting it through its paces at a media event in Utah’s Park City.

The new lens is, according to Sigma  “a state-of-the-art telephoto zoom that brings a new level of portability and quality to the super telephoto market.” Sigma has called this lens a “light bazooka” (with “light” referring to the weight of the lens—or lack thereof), and their stated goals are to make an affordable and easily transportable super-tele lens.

Touting Sigma’s Optical Stabilizer (OS), the Sigma 100-400mm 5-6.3 Contemporary is highly compact and lightweight compared to similar products on the market. A push/pull zooming function and a new Hyper Sonic Motor (HSM) allow for a more responsive approach to photography while a 1:3.8 macro feature can be utilized from up close or from a further distance. Like each and every Global Vision Lens, the Sigma 100-400mm Contemporary is handcrafted at our single factory in Aizu, Japan and undergoes individual evaluation before leaving Sigma’s facility. – Sigma’s marketing information. 

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I’ve used several super-telephoto lenses at airshows, and they’re quite large and quite cumbersome, and the Sigma is much smaller and less overwhelming to use. At the media event in Utah, I’ve been able to place the lens on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, place it in a backpack and move around without feeling bogged down.

In my first tests, the Sigma Contemporary 100-400mm has proven to be an excellent super-tele lens, especially for a photographer looking for occasional super-telephoto shooting but without the budget of a higher-end lens.

For example, Canon’s EF 100-400mm F/4.5-5.6L IS USM lens weighs 3.04 pounds (1378 grams) and the Sigma lens weighs (1160 grams) 2.56 pounds and costs more than a thousand dollars more than the Sigma. The Canon lens has a stop-wider aperture and focuses a bit faster than the Sigma lens (though I’ll have to go back and compare these to be sure).

I had some trouble when trying to use the Sigma MC-11 converter to operate the lens on a Sony body, though this is likely due to a need for a firmware upgrade to the MC-11—something I can’t do in the field, as it requires a USB cable type I don’t have with me.

The magnification is long enough for sports work, nature and wildlife work. The built-in stabilization reduces jitter when shooting at 400mm sufficiently for the lens to be handheld in normal lighting conditions. (I suspect it won’t be quite long enough for airshows, where shooting at 500-600mm isn’t uncommon, but I’m still going to give it a go, as bringing a 150-600mm lens gets really inconvenient.)

If you’re not familiar with this zoom range, this is a good example of the versatility. This first shot is of a mountain biker riding up a ridge line at 100mm:

A mountain biker captured with the new Sigma 100mm lens at 100mm

And here is that same mountain biker at 400mm:

That same mountain biker, at 400mm

The reach of the lens is also great for sports, so I spent some time capturing mountain bikers hitting jumps on the trails, and the wide range of focal lengths allowed me to vary composition easily.

While focus speed would have been faster with a high-end prime sports lens, it was still fast enough that I could lock focus on these riders despite the layout of the trail. Just before this jump, the trail drops a good 10 feet and then rises to this apex, which completely obscures riders until they cleared the edge of the jump. This is a tough autofocus situation and the lens nailed most shots. (I did help it along by pre-focusing the lens at the shrubs just to the viewer’s left of the riders after each rider passed, which is about the focus distance of the jump.

I’ll be putting this lens through its paces some more, and a longer review is coming. First impressions, though, indicate this is a great, versatile lens. At $800, it’s a steal for the enthusiast photographer looking to occasionally photograph sports, wildlife and nature.

More information on the Sigma 100-400mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM | C is available at sigmaphoto.com

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