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Canon EF 500 f4.5 vs f4 IS

Beau S , Sep 09, 2005; 06:22 a.m.

I am deciding whether to go for used Canon 500 f4.5 or the new 500 f4 IS. With the crop factor 1.6X of D20, that would make 500mm into 800mm without losing AF (with the old f4.5 which used to be an issue when add 1.4X with most film camera). My main subject would be bird. The cost different I think is around $1,500 (lately used 500 f4.5 went for almost $4,000). Which one is a better deal?

Thanks in advance


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Herman Hiel , Sep 09, 2005; 07:06 a.m.

Beau, I do not have a 500f4.5. I do have the IS version and on a recent vacation I was in a car with a driver, wife and 6 year active kid. I shot on a beanbag (with all of the others not being as still as I would have wanted) with a 1.4 AND a 2x converter and my digitalpics come out fine. I do not know whether you need this multiplication (how big are the birds you want to shoot?) or whether a non IS could pull this of. This might help you choose. Have fun shooting.

Matt Sallis , Sep 09, 2005; 08:46 a.m.

Image Stabilisation is an absolute godsend with long lenses. I only go up to the 300mm f2.8L IS, used with 1.4 and 2x extenders, but IS has transformed what I can shoot successfully. You will get shots with shutter speeds you could never use on a non-IS lens. With an effective 800mm lens I would definitely go for the IS, no doubt about it.

Bob Atkins , Sep 09, 2005; 09:15 a.m.

I have the 500/4.5L and I love it. For a long lens it's relatively small and light (it fits in my standard "classic" Lowepro Trekker). I have not felt the need to "upgrade" to the IS lens, which is faster and has IS, but is also larger and heavier.

The loss of IS with TCs (unless you're using an EOS-3 or current 1-series body) is it's one major disadvantge, though I get good AF and good optical quality using a 20D and an older Tamron 1.4x TC. Note that not all Tamron TCs may AF with this lens. It may depend on the exact model and vintage. However on a 20D as you say, you're already at the 35mm equivalent focal length of 800mm without a TC.

$4000 is quite high for a used 500/4.5L. Closer to $3000 would be more reasonable.

Mark Chappell , Sep 09, 2005; 11:20 a.m.

I think you are extremely well advised to spend the extra money on the IS version. As noted by other responders, IS is often invaluable, even on a tripod. Plus, the f4 IS lens will AF happily with a 1.4X TC on all Canon cameras, and with a 2X on the 1v , EOS 3, and 1D- series cameras. Take my word for this: if you want to do bird photography, the chances are strong that you're going to be wanting to use a TC nearly all the time, 1.6 crop factor notwithstanding. FWIW, my website shows the focal lengths used for the photos, and if you look at the bird images, you will see that most (at least, most of the ones taken since I got that lens) were taken with the 500 IS+ 2X TC -- at 1300 or 1600 mm full-frame equivalence. Plus, the older 4.5 lens has been out of production for some time and I've heard it's increasingly difficult to get it repaired. Cost aside, the only advantage to the older lens is slightly less weight

Mike Smith , Sep 09, 2005; 12:02 p.m.

I have shot a lot of nature with a 4.5 lens over the last three years, and been on quite a few workshops where people have the 4.0 lens.

Despite what Bob says, I would not hesitate in upgrading in a flash if I had the funds to do so, the IS model is just so much more flexible, much easier to use with bean bags when using the car as a hide as just one example. It has the pre focus system button which the older 4.5 doesn't have - prefocus and set on a feeder perch, if birds move around you can follow, then trip the button when you go back to the perch and a new subject comes into frame rather than having to refocus - so much quicker.

Biggest plus is with the teleconverters, you are not restricted to single AF point with the 1.4 tc, this can be so frustrating as I have the 1.4 tc just about glued to the back of my 4.5 lens. The additional weight and size is more than made up for by the IS and pre focus functionality

Mike Smith


Gerhard Hofmann , Sep 09, 2005; 12:45 p.m.

Go for the IS as Mark already mentioned even with the crop you often will end up using a converter. The 20D works perfect with the 1,4 Conv. and the IS lens. In the last couple of months I had to shoot out of the car quite often and again the IS proved to be the most important part of the story, the same when I had to shoot in a tidal marsh with a very shaky ground. If I would have the choice between a 500mm lens with AF but no IS and a 500mm lens with AF but no IS I would go for the lens with IS. Luckily we can get both in one lens.


Bob Atkins , Sep 09, 2005; 02:16 p.m.

The 500/4.5L also has prefocus (i.e. you can set a focus point, then return to it via a twist of the prefocus ring). It also has 3 manual focus speeds, fast, medium and slow, so you can select rapid focus to manually track moving subjects or slow focus for accurate manual focus on static subjects.

I'm sure IS helps, but I have no problem shooting at 1/90s from a beanbag resting on the open window of my car or shooting from a Gitzo 1325 CF tripod with a B1 head and getting sharp images. With IS I could probably go slower, but I rarely need to given the quality of high ISO digital images (better than film!).

The difference between a used 500/4.5L and a new 500/4L IS is around $2500. If you have the money, why not spend it (as long as you don't mind the extra size and weight). If you don't, I don't think you lose much by going for the 500/4.5L. Remember that every Canon EOS supertelephoto shot taken before 2000 was taken with a lens without IS ( the 300/2.8, 500/4 and 600/4 IS lenses were introduced in September 1999).

Obviously if you shoot a lot in conditions that promote camera instability (high winds, less-then-ideal tripod, unstable ground, boats etc.) then the IS version may well pay for itself in a higher percentage of sharp images.

I could afford a 500/4L IS if I wanted or needed one badly enough, but I don't!

Kevin Ferris , Sep 09, 2005; 03:12 p.m.


I had the 500mm f4.5 back when I had manual focus equipment, and I now have the 500mm f4 with IS. The manual focus f4.5 was very sharp and easy to use (for a long lens). However, I prefer the f4 version with IS. It is a little brighter in the viewfinder, and the Image Stabilization (IS) is one of the best improvements in long lens photography in many years. If you get the f4.5 version you will not be disappointed with the quality. However, if you can afford the higher cost of the f4 IS version, go for it.

Remi Lemarchand , Sep 09, 2005; 06:55 p.m.

I heard that Canon didn't have parts for the pre-IS models though - Can anyone confirm/infirm? I would hate to spend $3,000 on something that can't be repaired (and there is no manual focusing with those USM lenses when the USM is busted)

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