So here we are again with the latest Sigma creation. This time we are going a little different direction as we have a bit different of a lens. As a full time Pro, I find myself lugging big and heavy glass around to get the best image quality possible while shooting my assignments (Sigma as produced a significant amount of said glass the last few years although it keeps getting lighter and lighter.). In a twist though, Sigma has announced and released a NEW 100-400F5-F6.3. Sigma has put together quite the portfolio of Pro lenses in all the Art, Contemporary and Sports series, it was only a matter of time before fitting into this range. There are LOTS of folks that want the reach of a telephoto but can’t afford the price tag on some of the larger heavier quality driven counterparts. This fits that bill. I must admit I’m always intrigued when a lighter smaller option comes up, so when Sigma asked if I’d take it for a spin I asked how soon it would be here.
Now is when I mention as always that I am not paid to write these reviews by Sigma OR by Robert’s Camera. Robert’s did step up and loan me a Canon 1Dx for the review out of their rental department though (Thank you so much as always), so if you need to rent gear or want to buy a NEW Sigma 100- 400F5-6.3OS when we are done here be sure too give them a look. It’s also worth noting that this review was done once earlier but something I found in the prorotype that Sigma sent me actually ended up being an issue with an early firmware that was installed. (Prototypes, ya know?) Sigma then sent me a Nikon copy to review fully, which I greatly appreciate as I generally in fact shoot Nikon regularly. and I would better be able to judge its abilities fully.
So as a full time pro, I mentioned above that I tend to carry around large and heavy glass. The emphasis here is on Large and heavy and that’s only because generally the large heavy lenses are the ones with the best quality. (They are getting lighter every year, but the high end ones are still the heaviest). The reason they are the biggest and heaviest is because they are constant aperture lenses. Lenses like a 70-200F2.8 is larger and heavy than a lot of similar range counterparts because no matter what focal length you are at the lens is F2.8. Sure the 400F2.8 or Sigma’s 500F4 are both constant aperture, but they are technically primes also so they don’t count. Anyway, in order to be a constant aperture they have to be large. Simple fact of physics. Lots of people can and do buy 70-200mm lenses, from Pros to Soccer moms. What if you need more though you can’t carry a big lens with you? What if you can’t afford the $12,000 that a NEW Nikon 400F2.8 costs? You CAN extend your 70-200F2.8 to 400mm using a 2x teleconverter (Sigma also makes teleconverters, but I have no experience with those). With the teleconverter it becomes a 140-400mm but at F5.6 instead of F2.8 and the image isn’t as sharp as without the teleconverter. There’s always a compromise and that’s not a good solution if you ask me. I never want to compromise my image quality even as a last resort. So now what?
(Size comparison between the Nikon 70-200F2.8E VR3 and the NEW Sigma 100-400F5-6.3)
You compromise on lens size. Enter the NEW Sigma 100-400F4-6.3OS. For $799 is this a Pro grade and quality lens? Can it stand up to the Rigors of daily in and out use from someone shooting sports and dragging their gear through the mud and trenches of every day photography? Is it sharp and fast enough to shoot things in motion in all scenarios? It’s so competitively priced is there anything you give up in this compromise? Complicated questions . To answer some of these questions I am going to compare the new Sigma to what some of you might consider to be an unlikely competitor. The Nikon 70-300F4.5-5.6VR. Why this lens specifically? I’ll explain in a bit.
(Nikon D4s, 500ISO, NEW Sigma 100-400F5-6.3@400mm. 1/1000th@F6.3)
First off the build quality is on par with ALL of Sigma’s current lineup; top notch. It’s got a great feel in your hand. It feels very solid. It feels like a much more expensive lens which I can’t imagine anybody on Earth would complain about. The switches on the side are all very gratifying and you are sure when you click the selector from one notch to the next. There is even a lock switch so that your lens won’t creep while you are walking or while it is in your bag. A very nice touch. I’m very confident that this lens could take the regular handling and ‘being roughed up’ inside of a camera bag. Much more so than my Nikon 70-300F4.5-5.6VR that is which is definitely plastic. A SUPER cool feature is the Custom switches on the side of the lens. The lens’s AF speed can be adjusted via the optional Sigma USB Dock which is nice, but even nicer are the Custom 1 and Custom 2 selector on the lens which allows you to set parameters on the lens depending on what you are doing for quick reference. Once I got the Nikon version of the lens I played with it on my USB Dock for about an hour before exhausting all the different setting options. You can in fact increase the autofocus speed on the lens using the USB Dock, to which it is asked; “why does sigma give you the lens with slower than maximum AF speed?”. The answer is simple, the default AF speed is the most accurate. I of course set the lens to maximum speed, and I’ll be honest I was not disappointed. I’ll get to that shortly though. Are you shooting birds at the birdfeeder and only need the lens to AF from 4.9m to 5.3m? Set it through the dock and the lens will be much faster because it won’t be hunting the entire range of the AF and it’s custom set so you won’t be required to position yourself at a distance pre determined by Sigma every single time. This is all done with the C1 and C2 settings INSIDE the lens via the USB dock. Decide to upgrade from a Digital Rebel to a 1Dx Mark 2? Or how about from a D5 to a D800 to zoom in more on that tiny bird? The settings go with the lens, you just have to put it on the camera you want. You can even set the C1 and C2 settings so that C1 is the fast AF in the full range, and C2 is the standard AF from 8-8.2 meters if you want. When turned off the lens is the stock configuration. Super cool if you ask me. Possibly the coolest lens feature I’ve seen in a while.
(Canon 1Dx, 640ISO, NEW Sigma 100-400F5-6.3OS@400mm 1/3200@F6.3)
The Image quality of the thing is superb. It’s fantastically sharp. I know I’ve said that about a lot of the Sigma lenses I’ve tested but lets qualify this. My Nikon 70-300F4.5-5.6VR is the kind of lens that a soccer mom would keep in her bag to shoot photos of her kid out on the field. It’s great for what it is and what it is, is a $600 lens that gets you to 300mm on a full frame body. The Nikon 70-300VR is a little soft at 300mm in my experience but that’s what you get from a lens that cost only $600 and could have easily been designed around glass out of an ash tray as opposed to ED Elements and Nano Coating space technology. Overall though the Nikon 70-300VR is a good lens for most amateur photographer’s telephoto needs. The NEW Sigma 100-400F5-6.3OS fits into this category if you ask me. It’s a lens about the size of a 70-200 that can get you out to 400mm for $799. For most photographer’s generic wants and needs this thing is going to kick butt. At 400mm the thing is crazy sharp and the thing is light enough that you could hand hold it for a significant amount of time if necessary. I sat on my back porch hand holding it looking for birds for several stretches of time and had zero issues. For this purpose I could see putting one in my bag in regards to taking on trips as a super telefoto. Want to go on a hike? Grab the 100-400 for birding. At $799 it’s an incredibly cost effective way to getting to 400mm and it’s super sharp too! (Did I say that already? I think I did).
Personally I feel that photos of birds just sitting are boring, but unfortunately it’s what I got in my time with the lens).
So there’s a lot of good with the NEW Sigma 100-400F5-6.3OS, but are there any bads? The only thing taht seemed odd to me about this lens is that it doesn’t have a tripod collar. In reality that’s not bad, nor is it a flaw in the lens. Really, it’s not an end of the world for most scenarios but if you are shooting video it’ll be annoying. I do not know if Sigma sells a tripod collar for the lens or not, but if they do I will update this thread. For most still shooting scenarios you won’t need a collar, but it would be nice to have it as an option so you don’t put all that weight on the lens mount. With that said, the lack of tripod collar is the only odd thing I can find in what has turned into being an exceptionally impressive lens.
(Canon 1Dx, 2000ISO, NEW Sigma 100-400F5-6.3@400mm. 1/8000th@F6.3)
The AF performed admirably, even in low light environments on my 1Dx but with a Camera like the 1Dx it should. I did not, and do not have a consumer level camera to test this lens on, but my overall impressions of the AF even in a back lit event type environment were very positive. While the lens performed well on the 1Dx, it performed flawlessly on my D5. To the point where I took it to an event called the Monumental Mile and the 100-400 proceeded to track any runner I locked onto. No hunting, no suddenly deciding it didn’t know where it wanted to be, no focusing on someone’s hand instead of their face where my AF point was locked.
(Nikon D4s, 7200ISO, NEW Sigma 100-400F5-6.3, 1/1000th@F8)
On the 1Dx I took it to a heavily back lit function in low light and it also grabbed anything I wanted with little trouble. (I had the D5 at the event just described also, but I did NOT have the Nikon version of the 100-400 then. Either way, the lens performed very very well even on the older 1Dx body.
(Canon 1Dx, 10,000ISO, NEW Sigma 100-400F5-6.3OS@260mm. 1/20th@F6.3)
So what do I think? Yea I think this an awesome lens from Sigma in a direction they have already taken numerous steps. With this lens I truly feel like they show their interest in ALL photographers and helping all photographers get the best images despite the fact that I know full time pros buying this lens to add to their kits. It sure makes me think more about their 150-600 Sport or Contemporary lens as well (which I’ve admittedly never used but will coming up in my workshop in October at the Redbull Air Race. More details to come). Even in an event environment where in all reality this lens could have faltered due to its variable aperture it held its own quite nicely. Yes I had to push the 1Dx past where I honestly wanted to because I did not have the Nikon copy at that time, but at the same time the limiting factor was the Camera, not the lens being unable to acquire focus or etc.
(Canon 1Dx, 12,600ISO, NEW Sigma 100-400F5-6.3@400mm. 1/125th@F6.3)
The bottom line is that this is a $799 lens that will get you to 400mm with very sharp results. Earlier I compared this lens to Nikon’s 70-300F4.5-5.6VR instead of Nikon’s 80-400F4.5-5.6VR and I owe you an explanation. I can do it with numbers, which last I checked are highly definitive. The Nikon 70-300F4.5.6VR cost $600 when brand new. The NEW Sigma 100-400F5-6.3OS costs $799 now which is very competitive with that 70-300 in terms of price and in my opinion gets you a much better quality image. It also gets you out to 400mm which is the minimum you want for shooting things like soccer, baseball, or football. Nikon and Canon both also have 80-400 and 100-400 variants but as you can tell by the links provided both cost $2200-$2300. Is 1/3 of a stop of aperture at the long end worth a $1300 price premium? Not to me, and it shouldn’t be to you either.
(You scratch that itch little buddy. Canon 1Dx, 640ISO, NEW Sigma 100-400F5-6.3@181mm. 1/500th@F5.6)
So there you have it. The NEW Sigma 100-400F5-6.3 in all of its glory. I really am impressed with the lens. So much so that I initially didn’t think its a lens that I would add to my bag but I’m now considering it. We’ll see how it goes as I admittedly still need to buy the Sigma 135 I reviewed last time. Sometimes work and life get in the way. Vehicle repairs and server storage upgrades get expensive. It’s top of my list right now though still. I digress though. In all reality as I described earlier the 100-400 is a walk around lens, or a lens targeted toward the parents wanting shots of their kid on the athletic field. In that aspect this lens is a home run without any doubts and I’d even venture to guess this lens is great for pro’s shooting in bright environments too. It’s super sharp and it’s exceptionally affordable. I have no idea how they got it into this price point considering the Nikon and Canon Equivalents are almost 3 times as expensive. I wish I could have shot some more outdoor action with it, those weren’t the assignments I had at the time. Until then, if you are interested in more info or want to just buy one of these bad boys call the folks down at Roberts Camera, they will tell you anything you need to know. As far as zooms go, I feel like this gives me a good feeling as it comes to waiting on Sigma’s 24-70F2.8OS coming very soon. I’m excited for the future, and you should be too. More soon.