100-400mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM | Contemporary Impression
100-400mm as the prime choice for someone who is fascinated by telephoto photography
The 70-200mm and the 70-300mm are two major telephoto lenses. The former is chosen with a specific purpose, while the latter can be picked even if there’s no immediate need for it. As for other telephoto focal lengths, they are chosen for a specific reason just like the 70-200mm F2.8. The 70-300mm is an entry-level telephoto zoom lens. The market is competitive and all manufacturers make excellent ones. The wide focal length range starting from 70mm makes it a multi-purpose lens to cover a wide variety of genres ranging from close portraits to all other scenes where telephoto focal length range is desired. The new SIGMA 100-400mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM | Contemporary is a perfect lens for someone who is fascinated by telephoto photography and wants to take a further step. The focal length range is slightly shifted to the telephoto side, and it makes a big difference.
Extra reach brings more photo opportunities.
While we can cover most scenes with a focal length range up to 300mm, we often want to zoom in further from there. Actually, telephoto lenses are used more often than wide angle lenses even for landscape photography and it’s best to cover up to around 400mm. When shooting children with a telephoto lens, we can’t always get close to them. But with a 400mm, you can fill the frame with them from the same position. The same goes for sports except sandlot baseball where we can get closer. When I received this lens, I felt that it effectively fills the gap between different needs. Though it’s somewhat larger than 70-300mm, the size and weight still allow me to shoot handheld. I shot typical scenes we want to shoot with a telephoto focal range and I hope you’ll find them useful.
"One step further" in landscape photography
I drove my car in the vast location and stopped whenever I wanted to shoot. I think this is how we usually shoot landscape photography. In my opinion, when we’re attracted by a certain scene, we’re looking with an eye around 300mm (though it depends on the size of the location). Although further adjustments in composition depend on the stance of the individual, we want the margin of around 100mm to zoom in further and this is why I want a telephoto zoom lens to cover up to 400mm. Of course, I can frame with 300mm, but 100-400mm lets me take “one step further” in landscape photography.
Just like a paint brush, sunlight shining through a break in the clouds lightens the ridge lines of the gentle hill covered by the snow. This scene didn’t last for more than three minutes. It’s true that we usually shoot landscapes using a tripod, but one scene doesn’t last for a long time and I mostly use my time looking for better shooting opportunities. So, I find the OS (Optical Stabilizer) quite helpful. I took advantage of the vignetting to avoid the image to look flat.
I looked for a black background to emphasize the snowstorm. I zoomed in to the deserted house and stopped it down to F11 to focus on the deserted house and the shape of the snow. Even at ISO 400, I ventured to use the shutter speed and focal length that may cause camera shake. Besides, the camera’s sensor has more than 50 megapixels. I wasn’t sure if I could freeze the falling snow, but the OS did a wonderful job.
The distance was longer than 25km. Zooming in to 400mm means I’m also capturing the fluctuation of air. In this sense, the image quality is great.
When the footmarks of a wild animal caught my eye, I wanted to express its trace. I shot it wide open to express the shadows of the trees softly. As the temperature exceeded zero degrees, the snow began to melt. I’m impressed by how minutely this lens resolved the snow surface becoming lumpy little by little. This was impossible in the film age.
Spring approaches around mid-March in Japan, but the temperature was still minus 13 degrees in the early morning. The sky became red suddenly as the sun rose. The shapes of the clouds are interesting. You might not believe it, but it’s not easy to frame a line of trees. The key is how much we include or exclude horizontally, setting aside the issue of vertical inclusion. While with a prime lens I could use faster shutter speeds and enjoy high level of sharpness, the limitation of focal length becomes heavy fetters. This lens, light and compact for the focal length range, powerfully assists shooting landscapes.
At a circuit
I went to Fuji International Speedway to shoot the pre-season test driving for the Porsche Carrera Cup, one make race for 911 GT3. Though it’s hard to fill the frame with a car using a lens around 400mm because of the long distance from the seats, I still see many photographers (professional and amateur) using 100-400mm lenses. I know it’s because they can zoom from 100mm, which is wide enough to capture not only the race cars but also the scenes surrounding them. If you want to increase magnification, you can switch to an APS-C camera. The focal length range of 100-400mm is convenient at circuits as well.
The angle of view of 400mm with no clipping forces me to give up taking close-ups and think about other ways of expressing. Because the Porsche 911 has the engine in the rear, the weight over the rear wheels is tremendous. So, when it accelerates to a maximum velocity at the exit of the corner, it looks like a fighter jet taking off from an aircraft carrier. It’s nothing but thrilling to see it lowering the rear and accelerating leaving black marks.
I panned the camera a little as I was shooting handheld without using a tripod. Though the OS has the sports mode, I had no problem shooting with the normal mode because the cars don’t move up and down very much. Yet, the sports mode does improve the yield.
Usually, I use AF to freeze the subject and MF to pan. Drivers of the Carrera Cup adjust brake balance by themselves and their cars don’t have ABS. At this test driving, they were trying different things and I saw many cars whose brakes were locked up. I was tracking the car with the AF as it entered the corner, but it moved to the direction I didn’t predict. Even so, the lens captured it perfectly because of the smooth synchronization between the AF of the lens, the AF of the camera, and the OS of the lens.
I could also shoot from behind the paddock as it wasn’t the real race. Because of the wide focal length range of 100-400mm, I could shoot the scene like this without changing the lens. While it’s true that some images can be shot only with a prime lens, it’s hard to deny the convenience of zoom.
The sense of distance at circuit should be almost equal to the ones for all other sports activities. This is a great lens for serious photographers.
As the first telephoto zoom and a gap-filler in the telephoto range
Though it’s slightly larger and heavier than the 70-300mm, the advantage of extra reach is enormous. If compactness isn’t your top concern, I recommend this lens even as your first telephoto zoom lens looking further into the future when telephoto photography becomes more than just fun. Even if you have several telephoto lenses, you’ll still find this one extremely convenient. Finally, let me suggest a new application of a telephoto lens. The following images are snapshots of everyday life. It’s difficult to shoot them quickly handheld, under lowlight conditions, and through windows. Yet, I found it stimulating to capture distant subjects which are hard to aim with shorter lenses.