With so many telephoto zoom lenses available, narrowing your options down can prove a daunting task. The easiest way to go about it is to place the different lenses into three distinct subgroups (though finding one such group for the Sigma 100-400mm f/5-6.3 HSM DG OS C proves to be a challenge, as the lens’s price point makes it somewhat of a unicorn).
The first group is made up of your consumer-oriented 70-300mm zoom lenses like the Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM Lens ($499) and the Nikon AF-P NIKKOR 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6E ED VR Lens ($596). In the past, lenses in this group performed relatively poorly, but this is no longer the case; a lens like the Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM proves surprisingly competent. Compared to the Sigma 100-400mm C, these lenses are a bit cheaper as well as being noticeably smaller and lighter. They also benefit from a slightly better focusing performance (though their lack of a focus distance limiter places them at a distinct disadvantage compared to the Sigma).
The Sigma has an all-important 100mm focal length advantage at the telephoto end of its range, which makes it much better suited for wildlife photography – while it loses 30mm at the wide end. It also features a much more robust build quality and a better feature set, like a Focus Distance Limiter and compatibility with the Sigma USB Dock. Probably the most surprising element of this comparison is that the $698 price tag of the Sigma 100-400mm f/5-6.3 HSM DG OS C places it at just $100 more than the NIKKOR 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6E ED VR Lens and $200 more than the Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM Lens. Due to this fact, it’s hard not to recommend the Sigma lens over both the Canon and Nikon offerings as you get noticeably more range, much better build quality, and more features at a price point that is only slightly more expensive.
The second group of lenses is made up of other 80/100-400mm zoom lens offerings, of which only the Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD is in the same price range as the Sigma lens. Indeed, the Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD is the Sigma’s closest competitor, and the two lenses are very similar overall. The Tamron benefits from having a fully weather sealed construction and has a better focusing performance.
When it comes to which lens is sharper, both the Tamron and Sigma have some distinct advantages, though the overall impression is quite similar. Generally, the two lenses are nearly identical at the 100mm focal length. At 200mm and 300mm the Tamron exhibits slightly better sharpness in the center of the frame while the Sigma offers better corner sharpness. At 400mm, the two lenses are incredibly similar, with the Tamron a hair sharper in the center of the frame at f/6.3. Sharpness wise, choosing a winner between the two comes down to whether you prefer getting the most resolution in the center of the frame, where the Tamron is a bit better, or whether you need a more consistent performance across the entirety of the frame, where the Sigma has a distinct advantage. If I had to choose between the two lenses, I would go with the Tamron offering, mainly for its better focusing performance, improved weather sealing and the ability to add a tripod collar – though its weak corner performance means that there is no clear winner in this comparison.
Compared to the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L USM IS II, the Sigma lens is a bit softer, with this most obvious at the 400mm mark. However, you’ll be hard pressed to notice a big difference in the middle section of the zoom range. The Canon is better built and also has much better focusing performance. In the Sigma’s benefit, it is much smaller size – and, of course, it comes in at nearly a third of the price. While the Canon is certainly the better lens of the two, I have a hard time saying that it’s three times better than the Sigma offering.
Compared to the Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G AF-S VR Lens, the Sigma manages to perform at a similar level in regards to image quality. The Nikon does feature weather sealing, but its relatively plasticky build doesn’t feel any more robust than the Sigma. The Nikon focuses faster, while the Sigma is smaller and lighter. When taking the price point of both lenses into consideration, the Nikon certainly seems overpriced, and it’s hard to truly recommend the Nikon over the Sigma.
The third group is your 150-600mm zoom lenses like the Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary ($989). While these lenses offer a lot more focal length at the telephoto end and are thus much better suited for wildlife photography, they also give up 50mm on the wide end. This makes them less suited for more general and landscape photography. They are also much bigger and heavier, with the Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary coming in at 10.41 x 25.91 cm / 4.1 x 10.2″ (width by length) and weighing in at a whopping 1.95 kg (4.3 pounds). There is no comparison when it comes to handholding the two lenses, with the Sigma 100-400mm C proving the much better option for handheld photography. If you have a tripod/monopod and can stand the size and weight, going with a 150-600mm lens might be the better option, but if you need small size and the ability to easily handhold, a 100-400mm lens is the way to go.
The Sigma 100-400mm f/5-6.3 HSM DG OS Contemporary marks an important release for wildlife and nature photographers looking for a budget-friendly option that gets them to the 400mm focal length. With its $698 price tag so close to most consumer-grade 70-300mm zoom lenses, the choice comes down to whether you want the extra 100mm at the telephoto end – and in most cases, the answer is an unequivocal yes.
Unsurprisingly, the Sigma 100-400mm Contemporary has proven very popular, and its success led to the release of the competing Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD lens. The Tamron is a bit more expensive, but it comes with some features that might give it an edge over the Sigma depending on your preferences. Nevertheless, there is little doubt that the Sigma 100-400mm f/5-6.3 HSM DG OS Contemporary is a good performer. It has good optics, a mostly solid focusing performance, and a robust feature set – all in a small yet well-constructed package that does not cost an arm and a leg.
Sigma 100-400mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary
- Optical Performance
- Bokeh Quality
- Build Quality
- Focus Speed and Accuracy
- Image Stabilization
- Size and Weight
Photography Life Overall Rating
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