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Bird Photography Lens Choice

Dimitare Tchilinguirov , Oct 07, 2008; 11:07 a.m.

Hi everyone,

I am contemplating adding a new lens to my arsenal specifically for bird photography. Here is a list of my current equipment:

Body: Canon 30D

Lens: 10-22mm

24-70mm F2.8 L

70-200mm F2.8 L IS

Canon TC 1.4x II

My budget for the new lens is about $1400.

I plan to take shots of birds in flight and my current combo 30D 1.6 x 1.4 x 200mm is simply not long enough.

Given my budget and existing arsenal, and based on your own experience, which lens would you buy?

Also, I believe the existing Canon lens has been on the market for quite a while. Do you expect newer and improved version coming out soon? In your opinion, would it make sense to wait for couple of months.

Thanks for your help!

Regards, Dimitare


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Bill Ferensen , Oct 07, 2008; 11:13 a.m.

I use Canon's 300mm f/4 IS for birds, most often with the 1.4 extender attached. Sharp lens, good price.

Dieter Schaefer , Oct 07, 2008; 11:59 a.m.

With this budget you only have two choices - 300/4 or 400/5.6. You would likely use the former with the 1.4x all the time - attaching the 1.4x to the latter will have you loose AF. Personally, I would go with the 400/5.6 - lightweight and fast focusing. Plus, you've got the 30mm covered with the 70-200/1.4x combo already.

Dick Arnold , Oct 07, 2008; 12:42 p.m.

In addition to a 70-200 2.8L I have a 100-400 4.5-5.6L. I Paid about 1300 for it a year an a half ago. I like it because I found a zoom very helpful stalking birds. Sometimes I get pretty close and the ability to retract to 100 or points between has been very useful. I will not get into the debate about sharpness. There are plenty of threads that address this that you can research along with Bob Atkins evaluations. For my purposes it is sharp enough at 400. There is a swan flapping its wings in my gallery shot at 100mm that I would never have gotten had I had a straight 400mm lens mounted. There is also, in the gallery, an Oriole on a shepherds hook that was shot at 400mm that blew up very well.

Sinh Nhut Nguyen , Oct 07, 2008; 12:44 p.m.

EF 400 f/5.6L USM, the best lens for the money for bird in flight. I own one and love it. When you shoot bird, get the longer lens over the faster lens. Just be careful because once you get the 400, you'll want the 500, then 600, then 800

Derrick deHaan , Oct 07, 2008; 01:21 p.m.

If third party is an option, you can look at Sigma glass. I bird with the 50-500mm myself. I am happy with the results on my 40D. The only downside is in post. In my opinion, Sigma glass needs a boost in saturation and contrast. They tend to be a tad warmer than my Canon counterparts. My lens set is split nearly 50/50 Canon and Sigma glass. Just another option to think about. I find the extreme zoom range useful.


DeLoyd Huenink , Oct 07, 2008; 02:11 p.m.

As an avid bird photographer who has tried to use a number of different lenses, I concur with the idea that you must have at least 400mm to get close to the shots you want. I have used both the 400 f5.6 and the 100-400. I felt that the 400 was a bit sharper, but that is very relative. How sharp is sharp? I think that given your budget, I would go with the 100-400, as the versatility of the zoom is really helpful. Just last week I was on the river taking pictures of sandhill cranes. I was using my 400mm F4 DO lens (not the one I usually take in the kayak,) and missed a number of flying crane pictures because I could not get the entire bird in the frame. The 100-400 would have been much better. Even shooting smaller birds, I find the composition that a zoom offers to be valuable. One last note...all 400 mm glass is not the same. Last year I found a used 400mm f4 DO and the pictures from it are superior to either the 400mm 5.6 or the 100-400. Plus with the f4 you can add the 1.4 extender and still retain autofocus. Happy birding.


Jamie Robertson , Oct 07, 2008; 02:32 p.m.

I would also recommend the 100-400. The zoom is useful and you also get IS. The 400mm f5.6 doesn't have IS.

Arash Hazeghi , Oct 07, 2008; 03:25 p.m.

below $2000 = 400 f/5.6 or 100-400 (very portable) above $2000 = 500 f/4 IS (you need a good tripod, less portable)

Eric Merrill , Oct 07, 2008; 09:08 p.m.


I'm happy with a 300/4 IS + 2x on a 40D. This works out to be the equivalent of a 960/8. If you want autofocus, stick with the 1.4x for a 670/5.6.

One advantage of the 300/4 IS over the 400/5.6 is the IS. I'd have gone with the 400 when I was buying if it had IS. I'm glad I went the 300 route.


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