Sigma 100-300mm f/4 EX DG HSM APO
November 22, 2010
by Andrew Alexander
The Sigma 100-300mm ƒ/4 EX DG HSM APO has been around for a while in the Sigma catalog, receiving an update in 2005 to incorporate Sigma's DG specification. Apart from the name change, a comparison of the specifications between this lens and the previous version (the IF HSM APO) shows the same characteristics - suggesting that the performance should be more or less similar.
The lens features a constant ƒ/4 aperture, and was designed to fit film or full-frame imaging sensors. On a sub-frame digital camera body, the lens will provide an equivalent field of view of 160-480mm (Canon) or 150-450mm (Nikon and others). The lens is available in a variety of body mounts: Sigma, Canon, Nikon, Pentax and Sony; although HSM versions are not available for Pentax and Sony versions.
The lens ships with a petal-shaped lens hood and tripod mount, takes 82mm filters, and is available now for around $1000.
The Sigma 100-300mm ƒ/4 provides its best results for sharpness in the 100-135mm range, stopped down slightly. Issues noted above 200mm, particularly on full-frame cameras, suggest our sample could be de-centered.
When mounted on the sub-frame 7D, the lens provides excellent sharpness at 100mm and ƒ/4, at 1-1.5 blur units across the frame. Stopping down to ƒ/5.6 provides results which are essentially tack-sharp across the frame, and we see this performance continue at ƒ/8. Diffraction limiting starts in at ƒ/11; at ƒ/16 results are just under 2 blur units across the frame, just under 3 at ƒ/22, and around 5 uneven blur units at f/32 (using this lens fully stopped-down will not provide sharp results - around 5-6 blur units across the frame at any focal length).
The lens continues to provide good results through to 135mm, but at 200mm performance isn't as good. We begin to note some softness along the left side of the lens, suggesting some de-centering or other slight defect to the lens. At 200mm and ƒ/4, we note around 1.5 blur units in the center of the frame, 2 blur units on the right side, and upwards of 4 blur units on the left side. Stopping down improves this performance, but doesn't eliminate it; at f/8, the center is just above 1 blur unit, and the left corner is at 2 blur units. At 250mm and 300mm, the pattern is similar, except the left side of the frame is worse; in both cases at ƒ/4, the left side shows upwards of 6 blur units. Central sharpness isn't there, either - a very small central spot of sharpness at 250mm and ƒ/4 (~1.5 blur units) and at 300mm and ƒ/4, around 2 blur units.
Mounted on the full-frame 1Ds Mark III, the lens shows its flaws early on - in the case of this sample, the left-side softness issue is apparent even at 100mm and ƒ/4. At this setting, excellent on the 7D, we note very good performance through the majority of the frame - around 1.5 blur units, but the left-hand side softens quickly softens to 3-4 blur units along the left edge. Stopping down helps this, but there are no ''tack-sharp'' settings - that left-hand softness is always there, to some extent, between 100-200mm. At 200mm, the softness is quite noticeable at ƒ/4 - still somewhat sharp in the middle, but upwards of 9 blur units along the left side. Stopping down doesn't really help in this scenario - the corner doesn't lose its softness at 200mm until about ƒ/11, where diffraction limiting causes the center to lose its sharpness.
Above 200mm, the center loses sharpness, similar to what we noted on the 7D, and combined with the awful left side, the lens provides mediocre results. Even discounting the left-side softness, sharpness throughout the rest of the frame isn't great - 3 blur units at /4 - and even stopped-down, the best it can achieve is 2 blur units at /8.
Results for Chromatic aberration testing were similar on both the Canon 7D and the 1Ds Mark III. CA is kept nicely under control between 100mm and 200m at any aperture setting. However, CA is quite prominent when the lens is used between 200mm and 300mm, showing magenta fringing at areas of high contrast.
With the 100-200mm ƒ/4 mounted on the 7D, corner shading isn't really a factor. On the full-frame 1Ds Mark III however, corner shading is noticeable, but not extreme: at ƒ/4 the corners range between 1/3 and 2/3 darker than the center, depending on the focal range chosen. It's worth noting that the darker lens shading occurs at 250mm and 300mm. By ƒ/8-11, corner shading is no longer an issue.
Distortion is well-controlled by the Sigma 100-300mm ƒ/4. On the 7D, distortion isn't much of a factor, with some pincushion distortion above 200mm (just under -0.2% in the corners). On the full-frame 1Ds Mark III, there is just a slight amount of barrel distortion at 135mm and below - I think you'd be hard-pressed to notice it. Above 135mm, pincushion distortion begins to become noticeable in the corners, where we note -0.4% at 200mm and 300mm, in the corners.
Using Sigma's HSM autofocusing technology, autofocus results are quick and near-silent, taking around 1 second to go from close-focus to infinity. Point to point focusing happens very quickly, and the front element does not rotate during autofocus operations. Autofocus results can be overridden at any time by simply turning the focusing ring.
With just 0.2x magnification, the Sigma 100-300mm ƒ/4 does not offer exceptional macro performance. Minimum close-focusing distance is 180cm, about six feet.
Build Quality and Handling
The lens is a fairly complex design with 16 elements in 14 groups, including four super low-dispersion elements. It's large and somewhat heavy - just over three pounds of lens, coated with a textured finish with makes it very easy to handle. The size will make it tempting to hand-hold, but without image stabilization, you're better off using it on a tripod. The diaphragm consists of nine straight aperture blades. The body mount is metal, and the filter mount is plastic.
The lens features one control switch for enabling or disabling autofocus. A windowed distance scale shows distance information in feet and meters; there is no infrared index marker or depth-of-field markings on the lens.
The zoom ring is the smaller of the two at 1'' wide. The ring is composed of rubber, with large raised ribs. It takes a twist of around ninety degrees to go from 100mm to 300mm, and the ring is nicely smooth to turn. As an internal-focusing style lens, zoom creep is not a factor as the lens does not change its size when focusing or zooming.
The large focusing ring is a generous 2'' wide. The texture is similar to the zoom ring - rubber, with raised ribs. The ring turns quite smoothly, and ends in soft stops on either side of the focusing spectrum (ie., you can keep turning the ring, but an increase in pressure lets you know you won't continue focusing). There are about 150 degrees of turning fidelity, making it fairly easy to manually focus the lens. Attached 82mm filters won't rotate during focus operations.
The large petal-shaped lens hood reverses onto the front of the lens for easy storage. The lens hood is matte on the interior, using a ribbed texture to reduce the amount of light striking the front element of the lens. The hood is 4.5'' long, adding 4'' to the length of the lens when it is in use.
Save Pentax, none of the other major brands offer a lens in this focal length / aperture combination, allowing Sigma to take advantage of this particular niche.
Sigma 120-400mm ƒ/4.5-5.6 DG OS HSM APO ~$850
There are a variety of other Sigma lenses that could also be good alternatives to this lens - the 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 is probably more directly comparable - but we've tested this particular lens. The 120-400mm ƒ/4.5-5.6 doesn't feature the constant ƒ/4 aperture, but it does offer optical stabilization. Similarly to the 100-300mm ƒ/4, its performance falls down somewhat in the longer focal lengths, meaning that for maximum sharpness you'll want lots of light to be able to stop down. CA is handled better, though light falloff and distortion are just slightly better on the 100-300mm ƒ/4.
Canon EF 70-300mm ƒ/4-5.6 IS USM ~$600
Sharper, especially over 200mm, but you pay for this in substantial chromatic aberration and distortion. Corner shading is similar. The Canon is lens is much lighter, and features image stabilization, but you don't get the constant ƒ/4 aperture.
Nikon 70-300mm ƒ/4.5-5.6G IF-ED AF-S VR ~$600
The Nikon 70-300mm is sharper, especially over 200mm, but CA and light falloff are substantial. Distortion isn't so bad; you get vibration reduction in this lens, and it weighs much less than the Sigma, but you don't get the constant ƒ/4 aperture.
Pentax 60-250mm ƒ/4 ED IF SDM SMC DA* ~$1,200
The Pentax 60-250mm ƒ/4 is nicely sharp across all focal lengths, even wide open at ƒ/4; it may not reach 300mm, but its performance at 250mm is much better than the Sigma. CA performance is excellent, distortion is light.
Sony 75-300mm ƒ/4.5-5.6 ~$250
Not an exceptional lens - the Sigma is sharper and offers a constant ƒ/4 aperture. CA and light falloff are similar, and distortion is light, but this lens shows poorer results for sharpness above 200mm than the Sigma.
Let's take for granted that since the Sigma 100-300mm ƒ/4 series has been around for several years, we could probably find better (and probably worse) samples of this lens to test The user reviews for this lens certainly suggest that a better sample does exist. Using the results we obtained as a general indicator of what to expect from the lens, we've found that it performs best in the shorter end of its focal length spectrum (under 200mm). In this sample, corner softness issues showing on the left side of images produced mar the performance of the lens above 200mm, as well as prominent chromatic aberration.
Sigma has certainly identified a niche that it's capable of exploiting with this lens, but as it puts OS into more of its lens series, it seems to have passed this particular series over in favor of lenses with variable apertures (such as the 120-400mm /4.5-5.6). The 100-300mm ƒ/4 is an interesting lens, about as large as a 70-200mm ƒ/2.8, but offering slightly more reach. Unfortunately, the performance of this sample is on par, and sometimes bested by, the consumer telezooms of its competitors. An even more compelling argument against it is these same alternatives include image stabilization, either in the camera or the camera body system, which is perhaps more useful than the constant ƒ/4 aperture.
The VFA target should give you a good idea of sharpness in the center and corners, as well as some idea of the extent of barrel or pincushion distortion and chromatic aberration, while the Still Life subject may help in judging contrast and color. We shoot both images using the default JPEG settings and manual white balance of our test bodies, so the images should be quite consistent from lens to lens.
As appropriate, we shoot these with both full-frame and sub-frame bodies, at a range of focal lengths, and at both maximum aperture and ƒ/8. For the ''VFA'' target (the viewfinder accuracy target from Imaging Resource), we also provide sample crops from the center and upper-left corner of each shot, so you can quickly get a sense of relative sharpness, without having to download and inspect the full-res images. To avoid space limitations with the layout of our review pages, indexes to the test shots launch in separate windows.
Sigma 100-300mm f/4 EX DG HSM APO User Reviews
0 out of 10 points and recommended by assafb (1 reviews)
How disappointing, you have deleted my comment, so I have to post it again:reviewed January 4th, 2011
I find the comparison to the way cheaper Sony's 250$ lens extremely uninformative when Sony's 800$ G lens of roughly the same coverage is the real competitor.
Choosing to compare this lens to the cheap one is totally unhelpful, as if someone is contemplating between the Sigma and alternatives on Sony's cameras, he would probably like to see a comparison against the 800$ G lens. For that matter you could have compared this lens to a UV filter and it would have been just as useful to a Sony user.
Please do not delete this comment, even though it is criticism.
10 out of 10 points and recommended by ZinMe (3 reviews)Sharp, sharp, did I say sharp, even at f4, sturdy, focuses fastneed more room btw the zoom ring and tripod bracket
This lens is sharp. At 300mm, I stop-down to f4.5, and it is perfectly sharp. At 200mm it is sharp from f4. The focus is faster than Nikon AFS lenses. It is small enough to hand-hold for most people. The f4 is a trade-off with f2.8 lenses, but I find the advantages of the smaller lens is very helpful in shooting sports-- I can hand hold and react to the action much more quickly. With the newer sensors with good high ISO performance, f4 isn't really a limitation. Besides, many f2.8 lenses have to be stopped down so you really aren't gaining much anyway. It is a full frame lens, so sharpness on my D300 is great across the frame. Focus is fast and true with no hunting even in low light. At $1000 this lens is a fantastic buy. This lens is fantastic all around.reviewed January 4th, 2010 (purchased for $900)
I also bought the Sigma 1.4x TC. My results with the TC were not too good unless I stopped down by two stops, but then again, I have never had good results with TCs- even on Nikon lenses. I would avoid the TC for this guy.
10 out of 10 points and recommended by goldenpiggy (6 reviews)Simply unreal how sharp this lens is wide open across entire zoom rangeShe's a beast! That big MF ring gets in the way. OS would be nice.
I own the fabulous Nikon 80-200 f/2.8 AF-S and the very good 70-300VR. Always wanted more reach than the 80-200, and wasn't happy with the 70-300VR at 300 (70-220 is really, really good). Anyway, I picked up a used Sigma in Nikon mount based on various reviews.reviewed November 12th, 2009 (purchased for $700)
This Sigma lens is simply unreal. It is so sharp wide open, across the entire frame, from 100-300mm! At 300mm, it is a tad softer and less contrasty than from 100-200mm, but stop down just one stop restores that magic. I am floored by how sharp this lens is, not to boot the great contrast and color rendition.
Autofocus is very fast, almost as fast as the lightning quick 80-200 AF-S, and quicker than the 70-300VR. It has superb target acquisition, never hunting. Has full time manual focus override, although I wish the MF ring wasn't so darn big! The MF and zoom rings are just silky smooth, far cry from the 70-300VR's cruddy MF ring.
It's built as well as any Nikon gold ring pro glass. All metal barrel. The tripod collar is a little weak, but usable. The lens is fairly heavy for handholding, but manageable. Quality glass can't cheat gravity.
Comes with a nice softcase. Lens cap sucks, so I'm putting on the Canon 82mm cap. Yes, it takes 82mm filter. She's big.
This lens just about matches the image quality of my 80-200 AF-S (although the 80-200 AF-S, being a fast lens that's truly usable wide open, gives more pop and has warmer colors). The Sigma has longer reach, and is a lot cheaper. I can't say enough good things about this phenomenal lens. It is world class, right up there with the best from Nikon.
If they come out with a optical stabilized version, I would jump at it in a heartbeat. For now, a monopod will have to do.
10 out of 10 points and recommended by Seppo (1 reviews)IQ, AF function, silence, constant length.A bit heavy.
First: I am not a pro, have not even photographed much. Still, after some experience with a cheaper 70-300 zoom, and after first thinking of a zoom reaching to 400-500 mm, I am now happy that I bought this one.reviewed September 8th, 2008 (purchased for $1,225)
Before deciding, I carefully went through all the test information of the possible alternatives.
Also in practice, the image quality does seem to overcome what I could have gained putting my pennies in image stabilization or longer reach.
With my Nikon 300D:s 12 MP APS-C size sensor, pixels clearly are the resolution-limiting factor.
A good quality TC, in my case Kenko Pro 300 DG 1.4, gives extra reach up to 420 mm, and this glass really seems to tolerate it.
Technically the tube works smoothly, accurately and silently, and is a joy to work with. Extra convenience comes from its lenght staying invariably the same.
I hesitated about the lacking stabilisation.
Now, the objects, like birds, often move fast, so a short exposure time is needed anyway, (and the 300D with its good high-ISO area allows it).
And with a tripod, stabilisation would be off.
So the only thing I could think of -I don´t actually miss it.
10 out of 10 points and recommended by Nikola_Konsulov (10 reviews)Sharp, fast AF, constant f4 aperture, silky smooth Focus and Zoom Rings, pleasant bokeh, scales under glass, build and finishNone
I feel this lens is everything that it is supposed to be. Build and optical quality at a pro level, but minus the OEM prices of Canon, Nikon, Sony/Minolta, Pentax/Samsung and Olympus/Leica/Panasonic.reviewed December 7th, 2007 (purchased for $999)
I've only made some test shots thus far. The quality is surely there. The lens is magnificent in my opinion. The bokeh is so nice and creamy. The CA's are very well controlled. I even tried it with my Sigma 1.4x EX DG APO Tele-Converter and there doesn't seem to be any loss in sharpness. If there is, it is so minor that I can't tell off hand with out pixal peeping. The Tele-Converter does slow down the AF mechanism due to gear reduction.
Since I have the non-HSM version (Alpha mount) I just want to say that I feel the Auto Focus is fast. I've read some reviews from Minolta people that say the lens is average or even slow in AF speed and is prone to hunting. I have measured the speed of the AF from minimum focus distance to infinity (with the lens cap on). It moves along at 1/2 a second with my Maxxum 5D from one end of the focus range to the other when at 100mm. I also do not think it is prone to hunting. It will hunt when there is a lack of contrast for the AF system. Any system will hunt when there is a lack of contrast. That is the one constant universal flaw of AF systems.
If you're in the market for a high quality pro zoom lens with this range, but find that the OEM lenses are a bit too much in price. Especially, for the f2.8 lenses out there. Try this one. The optical quality is high and a constant f4 aperture should be bright enough. An f2.8 lens will not make a "make-or-break" difference when compared to this lens.
9 out of 10 points and recommended by julioalperi (15 reviews)Resolution,distortions,vignetting,CAs,bokeh.Good tripod collar.Price.None.
This is an excellent lens. Great resolution , low vignetting, low distortions, nice bokeh,low CAs and excellent build quality . It woks fine with the Sigma 1.4x converter ( some CAs and a somewhat lower resolution can be noticed ). Silent and fast HSM. Good tripod collar. I highly recommend this lens ( combo).reviewed November 20th, 2006 (purchased for $892)
9 out of 10 points and recommended by Powerdoc (7 reviews)Optical quality, AF, build quality, internal focusing, hold well the 1,4 TCa little soft wide open at 300
I tried this lens on several cameras : 10 D, 20 D and 5D. It's sharp at all aperture and focal lenght except wide open at 300 where it's a little soft.reviewed February 14th, 2006 (purchased for $1,500)
So at 300 mm, I will recomand to stop down at F5,6 or more.
It hold well the 1,4 TC if you stop down at F8 at 420 mm.
The build quality is superb, the lens is a little bit heavy, the internal focusing and zooming is great. The AF is on par with the best USM from Canon.
This is a very nice lens, but I would recommand to use a monopod with it. It's one of the best sigma zoom