I was looking for a mid-range telephoto zoom to use as a flight lens or a medium landscape lens.
Nikon* offers the 80-400 VR, but that lens doesn’t focus quickly enough for me. They also offer the 300 F/2.8 – but it’s too heavy for handholding.
This led me to research other options. Several people suggested the Sigma 100-300. Since I enjoy the Sigma 300-800 f/5.6 so much, I figured it was worth a shot.
The first thing that attracted me to this lens was its internal focusing. That means the lens doesn’t get longer as it extends to 300 mm. I also liked the fact that it had a relatively fast (f/4) constant aperture throughout the zoom range. Lenses with variable apertures tend to be less sharp and contrasty than lenses which have a fixed aperture.
The lens is very solid and comes with a nice carrying case, front cap, back cap and a custom designed lens hood. It’s not possible to take the lens cap on and off with the lens hood on. This is annoying but no deal breaker.
The Sigma 100-300 has a very nice fit and finish and mounted to both the Nikon D3 and D90 (my two test bodies on this trip) with no problems.
The High Speed Motor (HSM) provided very accurate and high-speed focus. I found the lens to be bright, contrasty and sharp. Like you would expect, it was sharpest at around f/8.
The lens is not exactly light. At about 3.5 pounds, it’s just light enough for me to reliably hand-hold it for extended periods of time. It does come with a lens collar which makes it easier to mount the lens to a tripod or a gimbal head.
In practice, the lens zoom took a bit of getting used to. It’s NOT a push/pull zoom – which is a good thing. But the zoom ring on my lens was a bit stiff at first. After a few hours of use it either got easier to turn or I got used to doing it.
The one flaw in this lens is it’s lack of a focus limiter switch. For flight photography, I don’t need the lens to close focus. The birds are at least 20 feet away when I am photographing them in flight. If I could tell the autofocus to START looking for focus 20 feet away, the lens would acquire focus more quickly. Again, it’s not a deal breaker, but it’s probably the only thing keeping this from being a perfect flight lens.
The images from the lens were true to color and the lens showed very little color fringing.
I don’t use any fancy test equipment because I am not a pixel peeper. I trust my eye. Based on my experience, this is a very good lens for the money and it affordably fills a hole in the Nikon lineup.
The best recommendation I can make is that I plan to keep it.
The lens costs around $1060 street price and comes with a four-year warranty.
*Sigma makes this lens in a Nikon, Canon and Sigma mount.
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