Is this Canon 400mm 5.6 L Prime worth the plunge?

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by jbg232, Jan 27, 2009.

  1. jbg232 macrumors 65816

    jbg232

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    Oct 15, 2007
    #1
    I have recently gotten into birding photography and have been scouring endlessly figuring out exactly what to replace my point and shoot with so that my birding shots for nature walks don't have to be cropped to the point of losing all detail just to get a nice desktop size image of a bird. Sharpness at far distances is my main concern. I don't plan on doing anything but daytime nature photography so a large aperture is not my primary concern, sharpness is a MUST.

    Anyways, I am thinking about going with canon and found a "New In Box Never Used Canon 400MM F/5.6" prime for $750. It seems like a very good deal but would be quite a bit of money to spend without having ever tried it out. I've read many reviews and am still undecided on whether to get a 400mm prime or the 100-400mm 4-5.6 L IS Zoom but that would cost MUCH more and I assume that most of my images will be fully zoomed anyway. Does anyone have any experience with this or both of these lenses to offer reasonable opinions?

    Since I'm writing anyway, is it worth the extra money to get a 40D vs. a rebel xsi with this lens and my purposes in mind (no action photography)?
     
  2. Grimace macrumors 68040

    Grimace

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    #2
    The 400mm f/5.6L is a fantastic lens. Very sharp, but you'll need to be in good light. But, that will actually be the case with both lenses.

    The 100-400mm zoom gets a bit soft from 340-400mm and the push-pull design is highly annoying (in my view) over the standard turn.

    In general, primes are much sharper than zooms, and the 400mm is no exception. Hands down, I'd say to go for it.
     
  3. jbg232 thread starter macrumors 65816

    jbg232

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    #3
    I should mention that I ONLY plan on using it handheld. Will the lack of IS hold me back with an XSI or will I have to move up to the 40D? I read many reviewers state that they can get good shots without the IS but didn't state in their reviews whether they were using tripods. As this needs to be a portable solution for those times when my wife is up ahead of me and I need to get a move-on with my shot (and can't be pulling out the ol' tripod)
     
  4. jaseone macrumors 65816

    jaseone

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    #4
    Am not familiar with recent Canon stuff but some googling turned up:

    http://www.the-digital-picture.com/Reviews/Canon-EF-400mm-f-5.6-L-USM-Lens-Review.aspx
     
  5. ChrisA macrumors G4

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    #5
    Hand holding means you will have to shoot at 1/500th of faster shutter speed. Can you do that with a reasonable ISO setting in your light? Look at some of your current work and look at the exposure data and determine if 1/500 will work for you. If you can't work it out post the data and some on here can do it for you.

    My guess is "maybe" you should be able to hand hold if the subject is in good light. But then aren't the best times to shoot when the sun angle is low and there are clouds over head? So f/5.6 is not as fast as you'd like

    Most people who do bird photos have to spend a LOT more than $750 for a lens. Birds are the single most expensive genre of photography I can think of becasue the subjects are so small and distant.

    Just use you existing data to work out if 1/500th can work. I'd call it as "marginal"
     
  6. FX120 macrumors 65816

    FX120

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    #6
    If you'll be working durring good daylight, outdoors, you shouldn't have a problem.

    You'll probably have to stay faster than 1/800th of a second to avoid blur if you're going to be shooting handheld on a bigger lens like that.

    So don't plan on getting shots of birds under heavy tree cover without a monopod.
     
  7. jaseone macrumors 65816

    jaseone

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    #7
    Now that is taking the look at glass before bodies school of thought to the extreme! :eek:
     
  8. ChrisBrightwell macrumors 68020

    ChrisBrightwell

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    #8
    LMAO. My thoughts, exactly.

    f/5.6 is useful in good light. The Rebel has a higher ISO range (up to ISO 1600) than the 40D, so I'd go with that if you're going to pick a 5.6 lens. I'm an idiot.
     
  9. LittleCanonKid macrumors 6502

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    #9
    Huh?? :confused: The 40D goes up to ISO 3200, while the XSi goes up to 1600...

    And another thing to consider is the 40D has 6 FPS, which may or may not be important when it comes to bird shooting (it probably will). The XSi has 3.5 FPS in comparison.
     
  10. ChrisBrightwell macrumors 68020

    ChrisBrightwell

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    #10
    D'oh ... You're right. I was looking at the auto-ISO number on the 40D. Thanks for pointing that out.
     
  11. rouxeny macrumors 6502

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    Jan 22, 2008
    #11
    Something sounds fishy. $750 for a "never used" lens that costs $1100 new seems a bit too low.

    Never used but once dropped?

    f/5.6 is not very fast. Plus, I'm not sure what kind of DOF it would give, and inadequate background blur would ruin a lot of your photos.
     
  12. Grimace macrumors 68040

    Grimace

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    #12
    Canon's 800mm f/5.6 lens would also "ruin" a lot of photos by your logic.
    DOF would be fine. The longer focal length makes that possible.
     
  13. PCMacUser macrumors 68000

    PCMacUser

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    #13
    The 400mm f/5.6 is one of Canon's most popular 'entry level' bird lenses. I don't own one, but most reviews and direct comparisons show that it is noticeably sharper than the 100-400mm zoom.

    If you can get a genuine example at a good price, then go for it!

    There are rumours that Canon will be releasing a 200-400mm zoom and (unrelated) an IS version of their 24-70mm f/2.8 lens in the not-too-distant future. Who knows how long that could be.
     
  14. wheelhot macrumors 68020

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    #14
    Aaah, the 24-70 is known as a great walkaround lens right? and the only flaw with the current version is no IS, as soon as 24-70 f/2.8 IS is release, I bet its current competitor (the some something, non constant aperture but with IS) will be much less popular
     
  15. Grimace macrumors 68040

    Grimace

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    #15
    Well, in fairness, the OP is talking about a $750 lens and the 200-400mm (if released) would cost around $5000.
     
  16. pooky macrumors 6502

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    #16
    I'm a birder, and whilst I am not a bird photographer (as I can't afford to be one!), I know quite a few, ranging from pro-level to amateur.

    Honestly, you will have a difficult time with that lens. You will get few sharp shots at f/5.6 handheld.

    Most of the really serious types I know use a 500mm f/4 lens with a 1.4x teleconverter and a tripod or monopod. This is pushing the limits, but with lots of patience you can get some really good results. This is definitely NOT a handheld setup, so don't even try it. I think sigma has a good 500mm setup.

    If you want handheld shots, I'd suggest the 300mm f/4 or (if you're rich) the 300mm f/2.8. You can add a TC if you want, but it will make it that much more difficult to get a sharp picture. On a crop body, that should get you close enough to photograph many birds, but you will have to be vey quiet, move very slowly, and be very patient. You will also miss many photos.

    And yes, I know the lens the OP asked about is only $750. The thing is, you can't really expect much photographing birds for that price.
     
  17. steeveage macrumors member

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    #17
    I agree. I've used a 100-400mm on my 40D before, and the push/pull is incredibly aggravating. There is a damper and locking setting on the lens body to prevent you from accidentally pointing your lens to the ground and having the zoom section of the lens slide out and slam down, but it is so easy to forget about it. Also, it's heavy and hand-holding at full zoom seem difficult.
     
  18. PeteB macrumors 6502a

    PeteB

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    Jan 14, 2008
    #18
    Some people say that, but my experience has been different. I find mine to be very sharp at 400mm.

    Example (at full stretch with a 1.4x TC)
    http://the-aperture.com/Flash/content/02Nature/15Zoos/01BirdOfPreyCentre/20080510_aper5391.jpg
    Example (without TC)
    http://the-aperture.com/Flash/content/02Nature/15Zoos/01BirdOfPreyCentre/20080510_aper5358.jpg


    In real world scenarios, using the 100-400, I find that I work at the same zoom level for extended periods (usually at 400mm). This means that the push-pull isn't an issue for me. I like the way I can just lock it there and know that accidental touches can't affect it.

    Also, when hand-holding, I rotate the tripod foot so that it's up above the lens - it makes it so much more comfortable to hold.
     
  19. Narcosynthesis macrumors member

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    Dec 21, 2008
    #19
    Compared to the 100-400mm You are losing the versatility of being able to zoom back to 100mm and the IS, but are undoubtably getting a sharper and better lens used at 400mm, so if you only really intend on using it at 400mm, go for the prime.

    I would say some form of support is pretty essential unless you have arms of steel - any lens of 400mm is going to be fairly hefty and when you add in the tight field of view hard to use accurately for a long period of time (though obviously it can be done) - a monopod I see as an essential tool with a long lens - light and easy to carry, and will support the weight of the lens without being as restrictive as a tripod to move the camera and frame shots. The main reason you mentioned for not using a support (slowing everyone down with the time taken to set up a tripod) is not as much of a problem with a monopod rather than tripod - the monopod is much more maneuverable than a tripod and just acts as a walking stick when extended, so much less hassle all round.

    On the 40d versus 450d - with the 40d you get a higher ISO (so can keep your shutter speed up in lower light) and faster burst mode, but it is obviously heavier and more expensive...
     
  20. rouxeny macrumors 6502

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    Jan 22, 2008
    #20
    I'll have to think about my DOF comment. I can't really say I've got that much experience shooting at those lenghths but I think you're right.

    Just another reason not to be posting at 2 AM.... :)
     
  21. Grimace macrumors 68040

    Grimace

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    #21
    No worries, it's actually the same concept as macro lenses, which you normally do NOT stop down past f/3.5. The [pseudo]extreme focal length of a macro wouldn't accommodate f/1.2-f/2.8 very easily - it would be very challenging to find a single focus point.

    The 400 f/5.6 is not a very heavy lens at all. You can easily handhold it for a long time, and you'll need to use ISO 400 or higher. A tripod will gain better results, but there is no reason to expect that you couldn't get good daylight shots while hand holding.

    Check out the numerous reviews at FredMiranda -- this lens is rated at a 9.5, which is very favorable on this site.
     
  22. Kebabselector macrumors 68030

    Kebabselector

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    #22
    I'd love a 400mm f/5.6, however i've got one with IS (sort of)

    It's worth looking at the 300mm f/4 IS and a 1.4ex. Gives you 2 primes in one, both with IS (though I will concede that the 400 f/5.6 is probably a little sharper than the 420mm f/5.6 on my combination - still better than the 100-400 though).
     
  23. compuwar macrumors 601

    compuwar

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    #23
    I am a bird photographer...

    It's a very sharp lens, while hand-holding is sub-optimal, on a reasonably bright day I don't see anything about the lens that would eliminate the possibility, it's certainly small enough to hand hold. Much depends on the ISO though, as well as where the OP is shooting and how steady they are.

    Seriously, a 500/4 with a 1.4x converter is an f/5.6 lens- very few "serious" bird photographers want to start out that slow. If you're serious, you either take the size hit of a 400/2.8 with 1.4x TCs or you go to 600mm at f/4. 500 is the "easy" way out (relatively light, but you don't get the low light performance of a 400mm or the reach of a 600mm.) The only serious bird shooters I know with 500/4s are just too old to bring real glass anymore ;)

    As far as Sigma goes, all their $foo-500mm zooms this side of $30,000 are f/6.3 at the long end. While they're great for what they are, you're going to need more light and more speed and they won't be close to the Canon in terms of sharpness. The extra reach is an advantage, especially for warblers- but overall IQ goes to the Canon.

    Handheld with a 300/2.8? You're joking, right? Have you ever even tried to hand hold a 300/2.8? I'm big, I sometimes hand hold my 400mm f/2.8 for short periods of time, but I wouldn't go out with a 300/2.8 thinking "I'm going to handhold this all day!" A 300/4 with a 1.4x becomes a 420mm f/5.6- all the degradation of a TC for 20mm? Seems sub-optimal to me.

    The 400 would get them close enough to photograph los of birds in lots of places.

    I've seen plenty of people get less spending more money.

    If the lens is really going for $750, it's a bargain.

    I routinely shoot with a 400/2.8, which gives me more time in the field than a slower lens, but with the right field craft, 400mm is enough for a lot of birds. I'd say I pull out a 1.4x TC about 5% of the time and a 1.7x TC less than 1% of the time. Much of my shooting is in preserves, parks or locations where the birds are used to people, but even when I'm out in the middle of nowhere, I can generally get "portrait" shots at 400mm.
     
  24. compuwar macrumors 601

    compuwar

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    #24
    I've found that generally when the MTF charts match what "lots of folks" say, the folks who're happy shouldn't ever do a side-by-side comparison with the "better" lens.

    http://www.luminous-landscape.com/reviews/lenses/forgotten-400.shtml
     
  25. AlaskaMoose macrumors 65816

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