The following is a review of the Sigma 100-400mm F/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary lens which was released in February of 2017 as part of Sigma’s affordable “Contemporary” lens lineup. The introduction of the Sigma 100-400mm F/5-6.3 DG OS HSM C lens is a logical one for the company as it competes in a market segment that remains unexploited by the likes of Canon and Nikon.
Traditionally, both Canon and Nikon have forced their users to choose between consumer-oriented 70-300mm zoom lenses and professional-grade 80/100-400mm zoom lenses without offering many alternatives in between. An example of this is found in the Canon EF mount, where no sub-$2000 native mount zoom lens reaches the 400mm focal length (The only option is the $2049 Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 USM L IS II zoom lens). Nikon users have a bit more options thanks to the relatively new $1396 Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR lens, but there remains a significant gap between this lens and the entry-level Nikon 70-300mm lenses.
In the past, third-party lens manufacturers have played an important role of providing cheaper third-party telephoto zoom lens alternatives, and Sigma has always been at the forefront of this. The company first introduced the Sigma AF 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6 EX APO OS in 2006, then its successor, the Sigma AF 120-400mm f/4.5-5.6 DG HSM OS in 2008 – and later the Sigma AF 150-500mm f/5-6.3 DG HSM OS in 2010. All these lenses offered an adequate performance regarding their focusing and optical qualities at a price point that massively undercut the Canon and Nikon equivalents.
This trend continues with the Sigma 100-400mm F/5-6.3 DG OS HSM C lens, which features a highly attractive price tag of just $698. This makes it a good compromise between budget-oriented 70-300mm lenses and more expensive professional-grade supertelephoto zooms. Wildlife photographers will be especially interested in this lens, as the 100-400mm focal length range is one of the most useful for general purpose wildlife photography. The wide end of the range is excellent for close wildlife and environmental portraits while the longer end is excellent for mammal and large bird photography.
The Sigma 100-400mm F/5-6.3 DG OS HSM C is a well-made lens, with an optical design of 21 elements in 15 groups. Four of those are SLD (Special Low Dispersion) elements to help increase contrast and sharpness while minimizing color fringing. The lens relies on Sigma’s ring-type HSM (Hyper Sonic Motor), which has been a mainstay on the company’s lenses for many years. You’ll also find an autofocus range limiter to help speed up focus acquisition, as well as Optical Image Stabilization with roughly four stops of compensation (Sigma doesn’t specify, but that’s what I found in my tests).
Based on its specifications and Sigma’s recent track record, the Sigma 100-400mm F/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary lens promises to be a strong performer whose highly attractive price tag and lightweight is sure to attract the attention of many nature photography enthusiasts. During my time testing the lens, I have used it alongside both the Canon 1Dx and EOS R mirrorless camera via the Canon EF to EOS R adapter, and it has accompanied me on some outings to the John Heinz Wildlife Refuge near center city Philadelphia.
1) Lens Specifications
- Mount Type: Canon EF, Nikon F, Sigma SA
- Focal Length Range: 100-400mm
- Maximum Aperture: f/5 at 100mm, f/6.3 at 400mm
- Minimum Aperture: f/22 at 100mm, f/40 at 400mm
- Lens (Elements): 21
- Lens (Groups): 15
- Compatible Format(s): Full Frame, APS-C
- VR (Vibration Reduction) Image Stabilization: Yes
- Diaphragm Blades: 9
- SLD Glass Elements: 4
- Autofocus: Yes
- HSM Autofocus Motor: Yes
- Internal Focusing: Yes
- Minimum Focus Distance: 62.99 inches (1.6 m)
- Focus Mode: Manual, Manual / Auto
- Filter Size: 67mm front filter
- Dimensions: 3.4 in. (86.4 mm) x 7.18 in. (182.3 mm) (Diameter x Length),
- Weight (Approx.): 40.9 oz (1160g)
2) Build Quality and Handling
As part of the company’s budget-oriented “Contemporary” lens lineup, the Sigma 100-400mm F/5-6.3 DG OS HSM C is built very solidly with no wobbling parts whatsoever. The Thermally Stable Composite (TSC) used in its construction helps keep the lens light and inexpensive. Compared to the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 USM L IS II, the Sigma feels a bit more “plasticky,” but its handling is well above your average consumer-oriented telephoto zoom lens option. The Sigma uses a metal mount and offers no weather seals, although a quick look at the back of the lens shows that there is a rubber gasket around the bayonet mount. Sigma itself claims that the mount is “dust and splash proof,” and it seems there are no weather seals in any area other than the bayonet mount. While I wouldn’t use the lens in challenging weather conditions, I can say that I didn’t experience any issues when I used it during a light rain shower, and it seems better sealed than most budget-oriented lenses.
Measuring 86.4mm in diameter and 182.3mm in length at the 100mm setting and weighing 1,160grams makes the Sigma 100-400mm F/5-6.3 DG OS HSM C impressively light and compact for a lens of this type. Part of this is the fact that the Sigma lens is 1/3rd of a stop slower than the Canon and Nikon equivalents, but this leads to significant weight savings of 480grams (Compared to the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 USM L IS II) and 410grams (Compared to the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR). Not bad at all.
Both the rotating zoom and focus rings feel very smooth while offering the right amount of resistance so that nothing feels too loose. The larger of the two rings is the zoom ring, and it is located toward the front of the lens barrel, with the focus ring nearer to the camera body (not my preferred design). The zoom ring only requires a 90-degree rotation to go from 100mm to 400mm, which allows for very quick zoom adjustments. Uniquely, the lens also allows for push/pull zooming via the special indentation at the base of the lens hood which allows you to grip while you push and pull the zoom. A counterclockwise zoom ring rotation selects the focal length. Those familiar with Nikon lenses might require some mental retraining, as the zoom ring rotates in the reverse direction, while Canon users should be comfortable with this design. The lens also features a zoom lock switch at the 100mm setting, which helps, since there is some zoom creep when the lens is pointed downward.
Not included with the lens is a tripod collar (It isn’t available as a purchasable accessory either like with Tamron’s 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD). The lack of a tripod ring certainly helps keep things compact and to saves weight, but this comes at a cost. While the lens is indeed small and light for its class, it nonetheless remains a relatively large and heavy lens to have hanging from a camera mounted to a tripod. This can certainly make getting sharp shots harder when taking photos on a windy day.
At the front of the lens is a non-rotating 67mm filter thread, surrounded by a bayonet mount for the Sigma LH70-04 Lens Hood supplied with the lens. The hood is made of rigid plastic and provides ample protection to the front lens element.
The Sigma lens has four switches which adorn the side of the lens barrel. The first switch is a focus switch which has three options. Two of the options are quite familiar, being simple AF/MF options, but there is also an MO focus mode which needs to be set if you desire to have manual focus override in continuous-servo autofocus (AF-C). In single-shot AF (AF-S) the focus can be manually overridden by simply turning the manual focus ring. The second switch deals with the distance focus limiter. You have a Full option, a 6m to infinity option, and 1.6m to 6m. Using the distance focus limiter greatly aids in speeding up focus acquisition.
The third switch is for the Optical Image Stabilization. Here, you have an Off option, OS Mode 1 for standard stabilization, and OS mode 2 for panning. The fourth and last switch is the unique Custom switch (C1 and C2) which works alongside the Sigma USB dock and the Sigma Optimization Pro software to update the lens’s firmware as well as enabling the user to customize the C1 and C2 buttons.