Home L-Mount Santa Monica bush fires with two of Sigma’s finest telephoto lenses

Santa Monica bush fires with two of Sigma’s finest telephoto lenses


Being on the spot when news is breaking has been one of the abiding tenets of my long career as a photojournalist. And last week’s dramatic Pacific Palisades fires in the Santa Monica Mountains proved an irresistible draw. I just had to load up the gear and get on the road.

The fires were also an opportunity to put two of my recent telephoto lens acquisitions through their paces. Sigma makes both. I am increasingly impressed by both the build quality and performance of Sigma’s current lineup. The two lenses in question are the Sigma Contemporary 100-400 F6-6.3 DG DN OS for L-Mount and the Sigma Sports 60-600 F4.5-6.3 DG OS HSM for Nikon.

Safety first

I headed over to the danger zone with a friend, the Chinese photojournalist Quian Weizhong—it’s always a good idea to have company in case something unexpected happens in these fast-changing and unpredictable fires.

When we arrived, we were not allowed to get close to the fire line. So we sought out a high point, and that’s where the amazing L-mount 100-400 mm lens came into play. I also carried a Nikon-mount Sigma 60-600 mm Sports lens, but the 100-400 worked marvellously.

Go-to lenses

These two Sigma lenses are my go-to for almost everything I do these days. The 100-400 is also much lighter than competitive telephotos, so it is easier to carry. Yet, it still has a useful range and benefits from optical stabilisation—something which is particularly useful since I am using the Typ 601 SL rather than the later SL2 with in-body stabilisation.

Overall, I am delighted with the results from these two lenses, and not just for the dramatic fire shots. It also comes into its own for candid wildlife photography, as you can see below. When setting out on a wildlife mission, I usually travel with my long-time friend and community news photojournalist, Raul Roa, who also happens to be the photo editor at the Los Angeles Times Daily Pilot.

This year, we’ve planned outings to capture some of the rarer creatures around, including California Condors and the California endemic Yellow-billed magpie. Raul has been using a Canon-mount Sigma 60-600 for more than two years now, and he’s done some amazing with it.

Whichever way you look at it, this is a thoroughly versatile telephoto for L-mount. Use it on Leica’s APS-C CL or TL2, and you get a 50-per-cent longer range—in this case, from 150 to 600mm. And, if you stay with the full-frame sensor of the SL or SL2, Sigma provides two teleconverters. The TC-1401 produces a focal range of 140-560 mm at f/7-9, while the TC-2001 expands the range to 200-800 mm at f/10-12.6. Incidentally, similar teleconverters are available for the Nikon-mount 60-600 mm.

Both these lenses work well for daylight photography as long as you know how to use them, and they are some of the best you can get. I would certainly recommend the L-mount Sigma lenses to anyone who cannot justify paying the price for Leica lenses but will need excellent performance.

All images ©Nick Ut

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  1. Thank you for sharing these photographs, and your experience of these lenses. Spectacular! I recently purchased the Sigma 100-400mm, for use with a Lumix S5 body. I am tremendously impressed with the images, even hand-held at 400mm focal length. The combination of in-lens and in-camera image stabilization is superb. At the opposite end of the focal length range, I also have the Sigma 14-24mm Art, which is another fantastic lens. Thanks again Nick for the inspiring photos. Keith

  2. A nice article to demonstrate that pretty much all modern lenses can do an adequate-to-great job.

    It is articles like yours that help photographers, especially beginners, to know that it is the eye behind the camera that is of first importance – not the gear!

    Many Thanks for your work

  3. What a treat! But the splendid photos aside, which are splendid by the way, you must be having a strong pair of wrists must you not? Or a good masseuse.

  4. The images, the writing, the thesis. Concise, pertinent, inspiring.
    And to finish with an iPhone 7 image evokes a fun smile.
    A wonderful way to start the weekend. Thank you.

  5. When I saw your Name, know your photos brought me back as in flash back, I was in the square in TET when the colonel of Vietnamese police put the 38 to Charlie’s head, justice served. What was never disclosed at the time, was Charlie had teams out killing the police families. So was case of justice served! Catherine LeRoy was another special photog and that is where I first saw Leica m2. Thank you for this and look forward to many more!

  6. Thanks for a great article and images. I’ve been indebted to you for many years and still am as the “napalm girl”image has been on my English curriculum down here in France for almost thirty years now and I’ve enjoyed teaching about it for so long. I’ve never ventured over the 50mm focal length and usually use 28 or 36mm (Leica X2) for most of my shots but the results are of your long telephoto Sigma zoom lenses are truly amazing.


  7. Thank you for sharing! And for reminding me that with the original SL I already have an excellent camera and don’t necessarily need the latest and greatest to produce spectacular images.

  8. That’s a great article Nick, and I quite agree about the Sigma L mount lenses, they’re nicely made and produce excellent results (and they’re sensibly priced and sized as well!).
    with all best wishes from the UK
    jono slack

  9. You have a thing about fires, Nick..? I’m thinking of a girl on fire in Vietnam.. You changed America’s collective conscience.

    • Yes David, it is the same Nick Ut. I met him in 2014 at the opening of the new Leica HQ in Wetzlar. I had my photo taken with him in front of that photo and one of Elliott Erwitt’s. I met Mr Erwitt later the same day.

      To Nick, thanks for letting us see your wonderful photos here. You will find a very understanding and knowledgeable community here at Macfilos. I hope you will let us see more of your wonderful work.



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