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Canon 400 f2.8 IS vs 500 f4 IS

Todd Mahon , Jun 09, 2002; 01:52 a.m.

After saving for years I am going to be buying either a Canon 400 f2.8 IS or a Canon 500 f/4 IS for use on an EOS 3 body. Right now I am leaning toward the 400/2.8 because I can get a 400mm f/2.8, a 560mm f/4.0 and an 800mm f/5.6 using TCs. In addition, I live in NW British Columbia and I am frequently shooting under low light conditions (overcast and closed forest canopy) so the faster lens has obvious advantages. The flip side is that I am mostly shooting birds and will almost always be using TCs to get the required zoom and will therefore be at f4 or f5.6 anyway.

My reasons for going with the 500 f4 are that it costs almost $3000 cdn less and that it weighs 3 lbs less.

So here are my specific questions, but I would also appreciate any other comments on the subject. Is the 500/4, at 3 lbs less, going to be noticeably easier to work with? How do people feel about the quality of 400/2.8 with the 2x TC? (From what I have heard about the 500 f4 the concensus seems to be that the 2x does not work that well with it)



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Petr Zavadsky (CZ) , Jun 09, 2002; 06:28 a.m.

2x doesn't work well with anything unless you stop down 1-2/f and event than it is compromise.
Also Dan Heller using this lens almost exclusively use it with 1.4/2x TC's.
400/2.8 is almost as heavy as 600/4 and almost the same price. Go with 600/4 if birds are your main subject, wide open it will be much better than 400/2.8 with TC wide open. Leave 400/2.8 to sport photographers :)
My choice of lens would 500/4 due to weight/price/convenience of use issues, but beeing pro, I would rather take 600/4.

Shun Cheung , Jun 09, 2002; 08:39 a.m.

If you are into birds and you can deal with the weight (and price) of a 400mm/f2.8, then you are better off getting the 600mm/f4. 400mm is going to be too short for birds in most occasions and you might as well glue a TC onto the 400mm/f2.8 all the time, thus you lose the f2.8 advantage completely. (Acutally you can't glue it on, because you'll be switching between the 1.4x and 2x a lot.)

Therefore, you are left with the classic 500mm/f4 vs. 600mm/f4 situation that has been discussed and debated over and over. If weight, size and price were not issues, the 600mm/f4 would be the clear choice for birds, but not everybody can handle its weight comfortably. For example, I understand that Mary Ann McDonald actually uses the older 500mm/f4.5 EOS lens because it is lighter than the current f4 IS version. I personally also prefer the lighter 500mm/f4 and it is also easier to travel with it by plane. But only you can decide which one fits you better (and whether any 3-lb difference is significant to you). Please read the existing threads (for example, this thread) on the pros and cons; there is absolutely no reason to repeat the discussion here.

It may be diffciult to figure out which lens fits you best sitting in front of a computer. If possible, rent them or borrow them and try them out yourself.

Ryan Taylor , Jun 09, 2002; 12:53 p.m.

Shun summed it up pretty well. I will reiterate the advice of renting before buying. 3 lbs doesn't sound like much. But when you consider the weight of a heavier lens plus the needed support, the difference is NOT trivial. I'm in pretty good shape but I didn't feel comfortable handling a lens the size of a 400/2.8 or 600/4. No question for birds, even with TC's you'll always be wanting more length than the 400.

Michael Rutherford , Jun 10, 2002; 10:02 p.m.

if money isa big concern get the 400 2.8 you are right on about the different focal lenghts is allows you with teleconverters.

I have one and use it routinely ART MORRISS A well known bird photographer has done shots with stacked converters and converters and exstension tubes and his shots routinely show up in Audobon, sibleys, and other famous bird magazines. He is a working pro and does this for a living. He takes good shots with teleconverters. Mind you he uses canon teleconverters not cheap no name brands. So yes use 400 2.8 and a 1.4 and 2x teleconverter and with the new sereies II converters you can stack them and get even more range. I routinely print 16x20 pics with no problem that turn out sharp. Mind you Art and me both have really good tripods and tripod heads. Thanks and good luck Mike :0

Bob Stewart , Jun 11, 2002; 09:17 a.m.

A lot depends on your subject. As stated, for birds 600 f/4 IS is the king of the hill. The 500 f/4 IS is by far the most prevelant choice for general wildlife photography. The 400 f 2.8 is used by some wildlife photographers, but is mostly a professional sports photographer's lens. Personally, I would go with either the 500 f/4, or 600 f/4. At roughly the same weight and cost as the 400 2.8, the 600 gives you a lot more coverage. The 3 lbs of weight is significant. With any of these lenses you are going to want a Wimberly head or a very sturdy ball head, and a very good tripod. with the 400 2.8, a wimberly head and a Gitzo 410 tripod, you're around 20lbs, which is a fair amount to hike with. Another question is what lenses you already have? If you have a good 300mm lens, IMO, the 400 isn't enough of a step up in coverage to justify $8,000.

Bob Stewart , Jun 11, 2002; 09:54 a.m.

Todd, I reread your post and noted you are mostly shooting birds. I think you really should consider the 600 f/4 IS, or at least the 500 f/4. I have the 600 f/4, and shoot mostly birds. At 600mm, I still use the 1.4tc more often than not, and often use the 2x tc. 400mm is really going to be too short for most bird photography, and you're going to be using the 2x a lot to get to 800mm. If you're willing to spend the money and carry the weight, the 600 f/4 is a much better choice for birds than the 400 2.8. One caveot would be if you are going to fly a lot, and want to carry the lens on the plane, the 400 2.8 will be easier to carry on than the 600 f/4. A good bird set up would be the 600 f/4, and either a 300f/4 IS, or the 100-400IS, for flight shots. I think if you look at published photo credits of succesful bird photographers you're going to see that a lot of them were done with the 600 f/4, and you're going to have to look awhile to find many done with a 400 2.8.

Shun Cheung , Jun 11, 2002; 10:03 a.m.

It is reaching the point that we are repeating a lot of the argument in the 500mm vs. 600mm threads. Please take a look at the latest installment of those threads for additional information.

Concerning tripods, with the introduction of many carbon fiber tripods by Gitzo and others, most big lens owners use the much lighter and much more expensive Gitzo 1548 or 13xx, etc. instead of the heavy aluminm 410, etc.

Richard Tynan , Jun 12, 2002; 12:25 p.m.

Given the difference in weight (and price !!) I would favour the 500/4 unless you definately knew you would be using the 400/2.8 at least some of the time on it's own.

I chose an EF500/4.5 over the 600/4 simply on the weight. I take a lot of birds myself, but the 500 is more than heavy enough for me to lug around. I feel that if I had the 600, it would not get used very much. The 500/4's are a very reasonable compromise between size, weight and reach. Also I do use it a lot without the TC for other wildlife and so enjoy that 'shorter' focal length as well.

The 500/4 is still a reasonably fast lens. Another stop is often always nice to have but you have to draw the line somewhere.

You better hurry up and decide soon, else Canon will have their 500/2.8 IS out. !!!! :-)

Darrill Stoddart , Jun 13, 2002; 01:59 p.m.

I started a recent thread on the 500 vs 600 issue and after taking advice and considering the issue I purchased the 500 f4 IS. I am fairly big but would not want to take anything larger while travelling or even local to home. These are big lenses. I have used the 500 with 1.4 and 2x teleconverters separately and together on a Gitzo 1349 with B1 and Sidekick and the results are very good. Without TCs the lense is superb. I would consider the 400 too short for wildlife and especially birds. A 300 with TC would more than fill the 400 gap in focal lengths. Good luck with your decision. Darrill

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