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best canon lens for wildlife photography?

andrew taylor , Feb 02, 2004; 04:10 p.m.

hello, i am speculating to go in for either a 100-400mm f4.5/ is usm or the 400mm f5.6 usm. but i am not sure which one would be the better for wildlife photography. i believe prime lens yield better image quality but dont live up to the zoom versitilaty.

does anyone have any experience with both these lens and know which might be a better choice? i would also want to use teleconvertors with either one and does "IS" really make a difference with handheld shots as i feel using a mono/tripod a pain for action shots.

thanks in advance, andrew

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Stephen Steiner , Feb 02, 2004; 05:18 p.m.

There is no "best" lens. It depends on a number of factors, such as the kind of wildlife you are shooting and how close you can get. That said, IMO, the best all-around such lens is the 500/4 L IS (Canon), especially if you also photograph birds (small birds might also require the 1.4 TC). If it were possible, I would also carry the 300/2.8 L

IS is the best thing ever to happen to long telephotos, even tripod mounted, as it provides an effective two stop difference.

If you think "using a mono/tripod a pain for action shots" when shooting a long telephoto, get used to unsharp images.

Marcus Christian , Feb 02, 2004; 05:33 p.m.

Yeah if you want to even consider handholding a heavy, long tele and expect even half decent results you have to have the IS. What you describe is exactly what it is most useful for.

As for the two lenses, unless (as the other poster suggested) you can tell us the sort of wildlife the suggestion has to be go for the 100-400. The 400 will be little use when you come across a deer just 30 foot away, unless you want a close-up of its nose or something.

Kim Janson , Feb 02, 2004; 06:05 p.m.

IS is not providing any effective f-stops. It simply eliminates the blur on the image caused by camera movements. (With its limits of course)

So if tripod or shutter speed of 1/500 is used, IS is not much for help.

I think it is normally recommended not to use IS with tripod.

IS make it possible to take handheld pictures with shutter speed even of 1/60 s with a 400 mm lens which is very nice compared to the normally used minimum 1/400 s without IS. This has nothing to do with f-stop, except that marketing people are converting this ration to effective f-stop ration. This is in my opinion only to confuse people.

IS will not make f 5.6 lens to a f 2.8 lens in any conditions.

Maureen M , Feb 02, 2004; 06:46 p.m.

Umm, nobody said IS will be "providing ... effective f-stops". Stephen said "provides an effective two stop difference".

In this recent thread, a poster explained "stops" and how the term has come to mean more than it once did long ago: ...the term 'stop' has now come to mean a halving or doubling of the exposure rather than just an adjustment to the size of the actual aperture, so 'increase by 1 stop' could mean EITHER change the aperture from f11 (say) to f8, OR increase the shutter speed from 1/60th to 1/30th (say).

In the context of hand-holdable shutter speeds, "provides an effective two stop difference" seems to be an accurate statement.

Jay . , Feb 02, 2004; 06:47 p.m.

I opted for the 300/2.8L-IS. It's smaller, lighter and a lot cheaper than the 500. With a 1.4x or a 2x it's got the long reach but the close-focus distance stays the same--a lot shorter than the 400 or 600. I've used it with the 1.4x-I and *two* 2x-II's stacked, with still decent results, thanks to IS. With a 1D or 10D/D60/DRebel its even better thanks to the crop factor. I'm very happy with my 300/2.8IS.

Mark Ci , Feb 02, 2004; 07:05 p.m.

Either lens is going to be only marginally useful with 1/4x teleconverters, and both will be completely useless with 2x teleconverters. Focusing an f/8 lens isn't something you want to try to do on a regular basis and f/11 is just about hopeless. The zoom will be worse with converters optically. I found mine very unsharp with the 1.4x and didn't bother to try it with a 2x.

Bob Atkins , Feb 02, 2004; 07:27 p.m.

My recommendation is usually the 300/4L (IS), with a 1.4xTC, and maybe a 2xTC. The 300/4L on it's own is excellent and fairly fast. It works very well indeed with the 1.4xTC and it's usuable with the 2x. The IS version also gives you IS of course! IS does make a significant difference when handholding a long lens.

The 300/4L (IS) is more versatile than the 400/5.6L and gives better quality (and is faster) then the 100-400L. Of course it's not a zoom, so if you want a zoom, then the 100-400L isn't a bad idea.

There are some brief reviews and comments on these lenses on my website www.bobatkins.com in the "reviews" section.

Matthew H , Feb 02, 2004; 09:59 p.m.

Get a solid tripod (Bogen 3021 is affordable, stable, and not that heavy) and a decent head that can support your lens. Telephotos are heavy and you do NOT want to be handholding it as you will 1. get tired after a few minutes and 2. get soft pictures unless you use fast shutter speeds or IS. I highly recommend the Canon 400mm f/5.6 I find that it is razor sharp even wide open. And from what I've heard, performance with a 1.4x TC is quite good (and certainly leagues ahead of the 1-4 zoom). I've gotten sharp mule deer shots at 1/30 using the Canon 400 f/5.6 on a tripod with MLU and remote release. Remember, IS doesn't fix subject motion!!

Robin Sibson , Feb 03, 2004; 04:08 a.m.

It all depends on what kind of wildlife photography you want to do, how much you are prepared to spend, and how much you are prepared to transport and carry. Whilst a 300/2.8 might be manageable, I would certainly be interested to hear from 500/4 or 600/4 users about their experiences with international air travel!

It sounds from your posting as if you are interested in what can be achieved with a lens in the general price range of the 100~400IS, the 400/5.6, or the 300/4IS. Unless you are happy to limit yourself to use on a reasonably solid tripod, you will probably find IS a great advantage, and that rules out the 400/5.6. My own experience of a great deal of wildlife photography in African game parks (where you work a lot from a vehicle, regardless of what other opportunities are available) is that the flexibility of the 100~400 is really valuable. With a -1v or -3 body it will AF with the Extender 1.4x, and does so effectively in reasonable light levels. My son Isaac has the 300/4IS which is a very good alternative but, certainly for birds, you are likely to want to have both Extenders available. When I can contrive a shot which does not need a long lens, I use the 135/2 a lot, sometimes with the Extender x1.4, and that combination (or the 200/2.8 which I do not have) is also good for flash shots at night.


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