The Sigma 100-400mm f/5-6.3 DG HSM OS Contemporary might just be the lens you are looking for if you want a compact, lightweight and inexpensive full frame telephoto zoom. Although the lens is hardly fast with an f-stop that varies between f/5-6.3 depending on your focal length, on paper it looks like Sigma have managed to make a lens that strikes a good balance between convenience and performance.
Is the f/5-6.3 aperture too slow?
The fastest f-stop you can use this lens at is f/5 and that is only for focal lengths from 100mm through to 111mm. Anything above this and you’re looking at f/5.6 or f/6.3. To be honest for the type of shots I would use a lens like this for I wasn’t too concerned by the slow aperture. For video I would primarily use a lens like this outdoors when I needed to shoot quickly and grab shots at longer focal lengths. I don’t think this lens is particularly suited for indoor use unless you are prepared to use higher ISO settings.
To keep both the weight and price down, Sigma have made the casing of the lens out of Thermally Stable Composite (TSC) materials along with some traditional metals. Despite this, the lens feels solidly made and quite robust. At 1,160g (40.9oz) it isn’t what I would call lightweight, but for a full frame lens with this type of reach it’s very light.
I have recently been putting the 100-400mm f/5-6.3 through its paces to see just how it fares as a telephoto zoom when used for video. A telephoto zoom lens with a variable aperture like this is not something I usually use, but I was interested to see if the Sigma could change my mind.
Sharpness, chromatic aberration and bokeh
To be honest I wasn’t expecting the lens to be that sharp given its focal range and relatively affordable price. I used to own a Sony 70-400mm f/4-5.6 G which is three times more expensive than the Sigma. While the Sony lens produced pretty good results, wide open at f/5.6 at 400mm I didn’t find it that sharp. So how would a much cheaper lens fare? I was keen to find out and set up a few small tests to find out.
I was pleasantly surprised by just how sharp this lens is. Not only when stopped down, but also when used wide open. Most lenses inherently perform a lot better when stopped down (particularly telephoto zooms with a long focal range), but even wide open the Sigma was sharp. The lens is sharpest at 100mm, but even at 400mm it is still very impressive. Not only is the centre sharpness good, but the sharpness is also well maintained out to the edges.
The lens does a very good job of suppressing chromatic aberration. There is a very small amount, but it’s not something that is likely to rear its ugly head in a lot of real world shooting scenarios. The bokeh of the lens is not overly impressive though, and not particularly round. The bokeh does look slightly better at shorter focal lengths, but at 400mm it tends to look quite distorted.
Real world performance and thoughts on using the lens
My friend Taro and I shot a few test images with the 100-400mm f/5-6.3 on a Canon 5D Mark IV and found the lens to be be nice and sharp, and usable at all focal lengths. The lens is slightly softer wide open at 400mm than when used at other focal lengths, but nonetheless it still delivers good results. The lens has both twist and push-pull zoom mechanisms depending on how you would like to work. The lens has a large sized rubber zoom ring which is fairly nice to use and Sigma does include a zoom lock on the lens so it won’t start creeping out and extending if the lens is facing down. The zoom ring rotates in the Canon-standard direction (opposite to the Nikon standard). The lens barrel extends out when zooming by 2.38″ so you are not going to be able to use this lens with a matte box mounted on rails.
The focus ring is at the back of the lens and not at the front and this does take some getting used to. When I first started shooting with the lens I found myself accidentally zooming it instead of changing the focus. The focus ring itself is fairly decent and I didn’t have any real complaints after using it for a while.
The autofocus performance when using the touch screen on the Canon 5D Mark IV was not that fast and it often took a while for the focus to lock onto a subject. The OS system worked pretty well, but I probably wouldn’t use it for video if I was operating from a tripod. I always find that OS or IS systems tend to give your image a ‘floating’ look if you use them with a camera on a tripod.
The most obvious competition comes directly from Canon’s 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens. The Canon is faster, but that speed comes at a considerable cost. At $1,999US it is almost 2.5x more expensive than the Sigma. I don’t own the Canon 100-400mm so I haven’t been able to compare the optical performance between the two lenses. From all accounts other reviewers of the Sigma 100-400mm have found the lens to compare very favourably to the Canon. While it may not be quite as sharp, it’s pretty close.
Sigma 100-400mm f5-6.3 DG HSM OS Contemporary: Price and verdict
The Sigma 100-400mm f5-6.3 DG HSM OS Contemporary retails for $799 US which makes it a very attractive proposition for shooters looking for a sharp, compact tele zoom with a lot of reach. This is less than half of the price of the Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM. The fact that the lens covers full frame sensors is also a bonus as you know you will be able to use this lens on future cameras.
Yes the push/pull zoom and the fact that the lens extends out so much are not ideal features for someone wanting to shoot video, but the lens’s performance and price overshadows these complaints. I found the lens produced good results at all focal lengths and the images were sharp and crisp. If I was looking for a telephoto zoom with this sort of range that covered full frame sensors the Sigma 100-400mm f5-6.3 DG HSM OS Contemporary would be a good choice.
Lens Construction 21 Elements in 15 Groups
Angle of View (35mm) 24.4º-6.2 º
Number of Diaphragm Blades 9
Minimum Aperture f/22
Minimum Focusing Distance 160 cm / 63 in
Filter Size (mm) 67mm
Maximum Magnification 1:3.8
(Diameter x Length) 86.4×182.3mm/ 3.4×7.2in
Weight 1160g/ 40.9oz.
Sigma DG OS HSM
Nikon DG OS HSM
Canon DG OS HSM