How can one justify a $10,000 lens that is too heavy to carry most places?
I was driving through Fakahatchee
Strand State Park, where Robert Hitchman of
Photograph America said that he'd seen
the extremely rare Florida Panther. A tawny animal crossed the road a few hundred
meters in front of me, just as Hitchman had reported happening to him. I
was prepared. My brand-new Canon 600/4 IS lens was in the back seat, attached to
EOS-3 body loaded up with ISO 400 color negative film. I
plunked the lens's tripod foot down on top of the rental convertible's windshield
frame and the Canon USM motor brought the panther into focus just as his black
friend joined him.
Black friend? Panthers don't travel with friends, I thought. Some careful
study through the viewfinder revealed that a pair of Golden Retriever-sized dogs,
one tan and one black, companionably ambling back to their homestead, which had
presumably been grandfathered into the preserve.
Anyway... even if I didn't get a picture of the rare Florida Panther, a 600 comes
in handy for the following situations:
bird photography (birds are small)
maximum compression and abstraction of patterns (Andreas Feininger was a
pioneer in using long lenses for city scapes)
sports (though a 300/2.8 plus 2X teleconverter might be better)
fashion (though a 300/2.8 is probably better)
Historically, 600mm lenses have been useless except to those with excellent
camera support technique. See, for example,
Tom Davis's article on tripods where he chronicles
the difficulty of working with his non-stabilized Nikon 600/4.
By adding an image
stabilizer (the "IS" in this lens's model number), Canon has brought the fun of
600mm photography to the lazy and unwashed. The image stabilizer consists of a
set of accelerometers that measure actual camera shake. The movement of the
camera/lens is compensated out by laterally shifting an internal optical lens
element. All of the measurement and compensatory jiggling is accomplished
elecronically, with power derived from the camera body battery.
With the image stabilizer engaged, you can pretty much stick the lens on any
old tripod and get excellent results down to 1/125th of a second. When using this
lens, I could see the image moving around in the viewfinder, even with the lens
a relatively heavy Bogen 3021 tripod with
Arca Swiss B1 ballhead. Holding the shutter release halfway down for a second
would visibly stabilize the image. Then "snap" and I'd have another keeper image.
Using ISO 400 negative film further increased my image yield to the point where I
scarcely lost any frames (out of 18 rolls) to camera shake.
Carrying it Around
Canon includes a hard suitcase that holds the lens. The one thing that Canon
didn't think of is that virtually all owners of this lens will attach a tripod
coupling plate, e.g.,
Stuff Q/R, to the tripod foot. The fit in the case is slightly tight with an
RRS plate attached. The lens itself may be carried by its tripod foot or with an
included strap. To get the lens into the case, you have to reverse the metal
hood. The lens comes with a leather condom of sorts that you can fit around the
hood whether it is mounted pointing forward (for photography) or backward (for
Shallow Depth of Field
A 600mm lens doesn't give you too much depth of field. If you're lucky, you'll
be able to expose at f/5.6. Notice how in this image the bird and a handful of
plants are in focus.
Out of Focus Highlights (bokeh)
Does Autofocus Work?
17 elements in 13 groups, 1 Fluorite and 2 UD elements
5.5m (18 ft; magnification 0.12x)
Where to Buy the Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS USM
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