Photo by Matthew Gore

Sigma 100-400mm or 150-600mm: Which Should You Buy?

Is the extra reach of a 600mm lens worth lugging around the extra size and weight?

About a year and a half ago, I bought the Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Contemporary lens. I don’t photograph wildlife very often these days, but I wanted a lens handy for those occasional times when I needed some extra reach. I ended up keeping it in the trunk of my car, permanently, for those times when I’d spot some wildlife from the road, but I also got some use out of it for shooting sports. It’s cheap for a 600mm lens, at about $999 (or even less).

Above Photo: Frank Clark, #55 defensive end for the Seattle Seahawks, shot with the Sigma 150-600mm lens at 600mm at 2018 training camp.

Just months after I purchased the lens, though, Sigma announced a new lens: a more compact 100-400mm f/5-6.3. With a similar price tag (about $700, now) and identical aperture range, I was initially surprised that anyone would consider trading the extra reach for a smaller lens, but I quickly started hearing from readers that this was the kind of thing that they were looking for, so when Sigma sent me one to test out, I was intrigued to find out which one I’d prefer using myself. This is what I found.

Size and Weight

Matthew Gore | Light And Matter The Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Contemporary lens (top) and Sigma 100-400mm f/5-6.3 Contemporary lens, without their hoods.

Size and weight are the only reasons that I’d consider going for the smaller lens, here, though for some people, especially APS-C camera owners, the reach of a 400mm lens is sufficient. You’ll have to decide based on what kind of work you shoot, but when it comes to bird and wildlife photography, I find that more reach is always better.

There is a significant size difference. The 100-400 is actually smaller than a Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 IS II/III lens, weighing 2.55lbs compared to the Canon’s 3.28lbs, and the Sigma is 7.2″ long while the Canon is 7.8″.

The Sigma 150-600, on the other hand, weighs 4.3lbs and is just over 10 inches long, with its hood adding another 3.5″ to that length. It looks pretty impressive, if you’re the type of photographer who cares about that sort of thing. Sometimes looking the part is important, after all.

It’s worth mentioning that both lenses are compatible with the Sigma dock, but only the 150-600 ships with a tripod-mount collar. The 100-400 is just small enough that you can probably get by without one, which is good because you’ll have to…. there’s no accessory collar available.

Telephoto Reach

Let’s start off with the basics: how big a difference is there, really, between a 400mm and a 600mm lens? Is 400mm enough? I can’t answer the second question for you, but I can give you an idea of the difference.

Matthew Gore | Light And Matter Downtown Seattle from Queen Anne Hill at 100mm with the Sigma 100-400mm f/5-6.3 C

Here’s an image I shot with the 100mm end of the 100-400mm zoom lens from Queen Anne Hill in Seattle, with Mt. Rainier in the background.

I re-framed and shot the mountain peak, and also the top of the Space Needle at 400mm and 600mm. The differences can be seen here (click to enlarge).

Similarly, I shot the downtown scene at 100mm and at 150mm, the near end of each zoom. In this case, the wider lens offered a much more attractive field of view, being able to capture the skyline and Mt. Rainier at the same time, but of course, the practicality of a particular lens depends entirely on your goals and location.

Image Quality

Here we have a couple of shots of the top of the Space Needle (again), one from the 400mm end of the 100-400mm at f/6.3 and one shot at 403mm (according to the metadata) with the 150-600mm lens, also at f/6.3, where there is most likely to be a difference in image quality.

These are 100% crops. 1 For these to be 100% crops, you’ll need to view the images on a screen large enough to display 900px wide images .

The differences are minimal at this resolution and are confounded by the slight difference in focal length2 This is more than the 3mm difference; likely the 400mm end of the 100-400mm lens does not quite reach a true 400mm focal length, as is the case with most zooms. and the mile of air between the lens and the subjects.

Out of curiousity, I decided to see what the image quality from the 400mm lens would look like if it were scaled up to match the resolution of the 600mm. Does it play out as expected?

Yes, the scaled-up image quality is really quite bad compared to the native 600mm, as expected.


It was mid-winter when I started testing these lenses, and I wanted to check their autofocus capabilites, so I began by looking for some winter wildlife. Unfortunately, even with a 600mm lens, the harbor seals in Port Gardener Bay stayed beyond of my reach.

Matthew Gore | Light And Matter Even at 600mm, it’s hard to tell what we’re looking at, here… it’s a harbor seal, I think.

Football season was long past (for the Seahawks and local schools, anyway), and long telephoto zooms like these are no use for indoor basketball. So, I headed up to Stevens Pass to see how things looked on the slopes.

Matthew Gore | Light And Matter Shot with the 100-400mm lens, this snowboarder was catching the last rays of the setting sun for some nice highlights.

And there, I had better luck. With the reach of these long lenses, I didn’t have to hike too far up the mountains to catch the action. I took several hundred shots, and had no trouble with either lens tracking skiers and snowboarders as they shot down the runs. Autofocus performance was very similar between the two lenses, and they both did well after achieving initial focus, which was sometimes slow.

Matthew Gore | Light And Matter Moments later from the same location, the sun had dropped below the surrounding peaks.

I was hoping that I’d find a major difference in autofocus speed or tracking capabilities to give me a good reason to recommend one lens or the other, but with my Canon 5D Mark III, the tracking was quick and reliable with both, even in poor light3 I misjudged how much daylight I’d have at the time of year in the mountains, and the northern slopes where I was shooting were in deep shadow for most of the time that I was shooting, which forced me to use an ISO of 3200 or higher to get decent shutter speeds. .

General Shooting

As a general rule, I was always happy to be carrying around the lighter 100-400mm lens while I was moving, but there was rarely a time when I was shooting that I didn’t wish I had a little more reach.

Seahawks DB Justin Coleman joking with Delano Hill at practice
Matthew Gore | Light And Matter Seahawks DB Justin Coleman joking with Delano Hill at practice, shot at 600mm with the Sigma lens.

In fact, when shooting with either of these lenses, I found that I shot overwhelmingly at the long limit of the zoom range, either 400mm or 600mm. Shooting at sports events with the 600mm end gave me the freedom to capture more intimate, portrait-like shots of players. On this particular day at the Seahawks practice facility in Renton, WA, I shot 496 shots with the 150-600mm lens. Of those shots, 306 were at 600mm, and another 88 were shot between 500 and 600mm (mostly just below 600mm).

Matthew Gore | Light And Matter Shot with the 150-600mm at 600mm

Similarly, on the day at Stevens Pass, I took 504 shots with the 100-400mm lens. Of those, 261 were shot at 400mm (with 368 between about 300 and 400mm). These numbers would have been even higher had I not been testing the autofocus by shooting subjects that were closer to me (and, thus, harder to focus).

Both lenses are excellent for providing sharp, close-up details of small or distant subjects, but more importantly to me is their ability to compress distant backgrounds into a frame and to isolate interesting shapes and patterns for better compositions. Of course, that’s true of any long telephoto lens.

Matthew Gore | Light And Matter Shot across Jetty Island in Everett, WA, we see the peaks of the Olympic Mountain range compressed with a tug about 100 feet away.


Where the coverage of these two lenses overlapped, I didn’t find any significant difference in image quality; they were both sharp and moderately contrasty, without too much distortion, though there is some pincushion at the telephoto ends that needs correcting. And while they are sharp, they do not have the vibrance and contrast of a Canon “L” prime telephoto, which is to be expected, since these Sigma lenses are about 1/10th of the cost. However, a modicum of judicious post-processing brings them very close.

Autofocus was also accurate and moderately fast, though achieving initial focus can sometimes be slow.

Matthew Gore | Light And Matter Shot with the 100-400mm lens at 400mm, across the Puget Sound to the Olympic Peninsula.

So, should you get the 100-400mm or the 150-600mm? Since there are no major differences in image quality, you can safely make the decision based on your knowledge of yourself as a photographer. The 150-600 will give you better zoom range and, thus, more detail when shooting distant subjects, but only if you’re willing to carry it. If you’re the type of photographer who is going to leave it behind because you don’t want to deal with the size and weight, it won’t do you any good… of course, the best telephoto lens is the one that you have with you.

If you’re going to be traveling light with your equipment and have limited space in your luggage, then the choice is obvious: the 100-400mm is an excellent choice and gives you great image quality and reach.

However, if you’re not absolutely constrained by size restrictions and you think you’ll be able to force yourself to carry the extra weight, I recommend going with the 150-600mm lens. It covers almost the entire range of the smaller lens but gives you enough more to really make a difference, particularly with skittish wildlife. Incidentally, I bought the cheaper (about $810) “international version” and purchased a 3rd party warranty with it that gave me broader coverage, and still ended up paying less.

Questions? Comments?

As usual, I’m happy to answer any questions that you might have about these lenses and their use. Just let me know in the comment section below.

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Ugnius Bendziunas

I have been shooting with the Sigma 100-400mm for a year. And for wildlife photography, it just sucks. There isn’t enough reach and ur wrong that it gives you enough reach for wildlife photography, you can only shoot sport or big animals with it. I have never gotten a perfect image with the lens because I always needed to cropp down very much. But of course, the only way you can get good bird and wildlife images with it, is just with a hide, nothing else. That’s why I sold my Sigma 100-400mm and ordered the Sigma 150-600mm contemporary. Because there is just not enough reach if it is a shy animal or bird. You almost always need to crop down, what makes he image quality truly suck. And even though there Sigma lenses does not have weather-sealing I have used my Sigma 100-400mm in storms, in rain and in snow. You just need to be careful with it and nothing will happen! These lenses cost much and are professional lenses, you just need to know how to use them, and how to photograph the subject.

Ugnius Bendziunas

There were just so many moments that I could have gotten professional and excellent images if I just had the longer reach, and in all of those cases I just needed the extra 200. So I pretty ruined the shots because I didn’t have the longer reach. I have made many good shots with the 100-400mm but then it was animals or birds not that far away. So you just need to have the 150-600mm otherwise you will ruin many good photo opportunities.

Ugnius Bendziunas

The Sigma 100-400mm is a really nice lens, but just for very close up animals and birds.

Kohinoor Kar

Great review, Matthew. I have used Sigma 150-600 C quite a bit for relatively slow moving subject and moon. I wanted to switch to Tamron 100-400 only for its lighter weight. After reading your thorough review, I feel like keeping my Sigma and ignoring its weight. During pandemic, I am not flying anywhere and no question of carrying weight. Everything is local. Thanks, KK

Tracy Johnson

Great info – exactly the insight I’ve been searching for. I will be photographing an event at Barber Motorports Park and need to take a wide range of shots. I’m thinking the 150-600 will offer what I need from the pit to on the course panning and blurred shots. Any suggestions?

Last edited 3 years ago by Tracy Johnson
matt brookes

Great post – i am contemplating 400 / 600 and you have made some valid points, especially re weight. I mainly photograph birds on a Canon 7D MkII by stalking, not sedentary. So while the 400 would probably be the “sensible” option for my needs (especially on a crop camera) I just know if I buy it I will want the 600 within a week. So I am erring towards the 600 and if it proves a pain I trade in for a 400 just need UK lockdown to finish so I can try them in my local camera store :(

matt brookes

Thanks Matthew – decision made!

Ugnius Bendziunas



I own the 100-400 C and the 150-600 C along with the TC1401, which I use with both. The vast majority of shooting takes place in good light so the light loss issue associated with the TC1401 does really affect me much. Additionally, I found a 3rd party tripod collar for the 100-400, but have had little opportunity to need it because of the lens compact size and lightweight is definitely handhold manageable. I use both lenses on either a Canon 6d2 or 7d2 with IMHO excellent results. Cutting to the chase, the 150-600 hasn’t gotten out of its case much since obtaining the 100-400. My travel combination especially where a plane is involved is frequently the 6d2, 100-400, and TC1401. I hauled the 150-600 to Costa Rica a couple years ago along with the 7d2. Most of the time, the 7d2 was coupled to a Tamron 18-400 with the 150-600 sadly left alone for most of the time. My compliments on probably the most objective comparison review of these two fine lenses.


Great review! I am contemplating something like 100-400mm + TC1401, to get a similar range, but a lighter weight. I understand I would lose 1 stop in light gathering, but nowadays newer sensors would give me satisfactory IQ as high as 3200 or even 6400.

BTW, I would use the lens combo in mostly outdoor locations.

tord S Eriksson

I have the 150-600 Sports, and the 100-400 C, but I use the 100-400 C a lot more. The main difference is focusing speed and bokeh where the Sports is a clear winner, and if there is light enough to use the TC I can’t find any sharpness differences between the two at 550mm.

Hell of a difference in portability as well!


Thanks for the informative write up! Do have have any experience with the Sigma ‘Sport’ variant of the 150-600?

tord S Eriksson

I own Sports and 100-400 C. The former has nicer bokeh, and amazingly fast focus speed. The latter is so much easier to bring along, due to its smaller bulk and weight.

Getting on in age makes the Sports a challenge, as you need at least a sturdy tripod, if you’re out a whole day shooting, due to its bulk.

Wow, this is awesome how sharp they are. I always choose the lightest one because of my back pain.