Canon 200-400 6 Month Test
"You are going to bring out what?"
"What do you mean it will have a 1.4x teleconverter INSIDE it?"
Not science fiction but Rouse fact. Two of the questions that I posed last Summer when I was asked to participate in the testing of a new prototype lens, the Canon 200-400mm. Since then I have tested it around the world, I have had it out and about for 6 months and here is what I found....
Introduction ( the bit above is just the enthusiasm....)
For years Canon users had been looking enviously to Nikon photographers, as they have had a 200-400mm lens since time began. In my first incarnation as a Canon photographer I was caught up in this too, reading articles by leading Nikon wildlife photographers about how they loved their 200-400s. Several years ago, when I made my much publicised change from Canon to Nikon, one of the reasons was to use the 200-400mm lens. It stayed with me happily throughout the whole time I shot with the Nikon system, and when I decided to change back to Canon (purely for the awesome 1DX...well one reason anyway) I did so with a pang of regret for the loss of my beloved 200-400mm. You see the 200-400mm lens is more than just a piece of glass, it is more than just another lens, it gives the creative long lens photographer options that we have never had before. It gives us the chance to express our thoughts without compromise. It kinda makes us a different kind of long lens photographer. More in control, producing images from camera that are more....well, classy, for want of a better word.
Shooting with the 1DX I learnt to adapt with the lens range that Canon had. Of course the Canon 200-400mm has always been mooted, but nothing had ever shown up other than a lump of white painted cardboard. Then one day all of my prayers were answered, BANG! a real out of the blue moment. Shakira was there at my door, begging for me to give her another chance. I said to her, "look I have have had enough of the warbling voice and those shakey hips" but I thought about it and....uh, ok sorry back to the lens. One minute I was looking at a suspicious cardboard box, the next I was holding a prototype 200-400mm lens in my hands. Rumours had been rife for weeks that a 200-400mm had been available at the London Olympics for pros to use; with the proviso that images from it had to be approved by Japan before any could be used. I even saw a couple of shots of pros using them, but nothing else. Then, the day after the Olympics finished, my dreams came true. A Canon 200-400mm lens, yes an actual working one, arrived on my doorstep for "testing". My brief was this. Test it, push it, stress it, use it in your everyday life.
Since then I have really really pushed it, in fact its been with me for 6 months, getting stress dusted in all manner of environments and totally abused in only the way that a wildlife photographer can! Give us a brand new shiny lens and it is like a red rag to a bull, we just have to knacker it immediately so that it looks well used. It is like a challenge to us, and I am the master of knackering lenses!
So it has been everywhere with me, here you can see me with the it being used whilst working on my Cheetah project in Kenya (the said big cats were currently snoring their heads off just out of shot). I know what you are going to say, that head is reflecting too much light, well who needs a fill-in flash!!!
On this occasion, and many since, it has been use as my primary long lens. At times it has seemed like a clandestine M15 spy operation, we had a special camouflage cover made by our friends at LensCoats
that covered it up completely, especially the 1.4x converter mechanism. Canon were rightly concerned about the mechanism being photographed at this early stage so I had to be very very careful indeed. But I had to use it, so it came with me out an about at airshows, workshops, trips abroad, you name it I used it.
I want to say thanks to all my clients who respected my wishes to keep its existence secret, everyone was interested but it was a prototype and I could never let anyone else take any pictures with it - no matter how much they pleaded! There were a few instances on forums where I was reported as being seen with it, amusingly these were torn apart by the usual forum geeks, all saying that I was either a) lying or b) carrying an "extended 300mm. Right boys, well now you know the truth, I have been field testing it for Canon since September. I have also been posting many images taken with it on public forums, with the EXIF removed of course, so the images have been well seen with no bad comments. Its been an awesome lens to use.....ooops it is too early to say that, just hold onto that thought though.
Before I go forward I need to make one thing clear. My integrity is everything to me. I have not been bribed to write this, it is all my own awful cockney grammar and my own findings. I stand by them, right or wrong. Of course I will take flak from the same forum muppets that always give anyone flak for doing anything, but I suspect that, just like the 1DX review, they will be in the minority. After all, I am just a professional wildlife photographer.
So yes I am working in partnership with Canon on this lens, and you will see some advertorials out with a subset of the images that you see here. But what is wrong with that? If we had have had more professionals like me working on pre-release gear then certain camera debacles that have affected both Canon and Nikon recently could have been avoided. I was honoured that Canon trusted me to do this as it is the first in a new generation of lenses. Now I hope that I get the chance again, Like I said you should all be glad that working pros are testing the gear first rather than some propeller head from a Japanese lab. Had I found anything major then I would have reported it immediately and would not have put my name to this lens if it was not fixed. But I found nothing. I tried damn hard too, I am like that, nasty. But the lens works, there you go, that is the review, time for the pub. Brilliant, shortest review ever...bye......If only it were that easy and I could get away with that!!
Why use a 200-400mm lens?
Before I get into the Canon lens I wanted to take a minute to explain why a 200-400mm lens is so attractive to sports and wildlife photographers. You might think that most wildlife photographers use fixed 500mm and 600mm lenses, sports use 400mm lenses and that is that. Well it used to be like that, especially in the days of small sensor sizes when we did not have much latitude to crop. These days the size of the image is less important, as most dslrs produce images that are perfectly big enough to either use whole or to crop to some degree.
So what really counts now? In my opinion, apart from keeping my chest wig fertilised and free from maggots, flexibility
is the key these days. There is no doubt that my 600mm lens comes into its own with small birds or subjects that are very shy, especially with a 1.4x teleconverter. But it is heavy and using it greatly limits my creative options. Once a moving subject comes too close there is nothing I can do, grabbing a second body with a 300mm attached is the usual reaction but this wastes valuable time which usually equates to a missed shot. For some of us that means money. With the big 500 / 600mm lens I can only take one kind of shot and the composition is determined for me, I am not in complete control. And, trust me, I hate being out of control.
Canon 1DX, 200-400mm lens @ 560mm, ISO 8000 (after sunset), f6.3 @ 1/320th second
A 200-400mm lens gives me the control back. Its visual effect is like a 300mm f2.8, both at the 200 and 400 ends. It produces wonderful diffuse backgrounds, great facial compression and allows me to keep shooting a moving subject as it gets closer and closer and CLOSER! As a wildlife photographer I find it invaluable and I can say very honestly that using a 200-400mm has made me a better photographer. Its made me think, it has made me compose pictures as I want them and its allowed me to get shots that otherwise I would have missed. Its been a vital part of my kit for years now, with the release of the amazing Canon 200-400mm with the BUILT-IN 1.4x teleconverter, its evolution has come full circle.
A Pointless Comparison
This is a plea to the lens geeks. Please do not start comparing the Canon lens with the Nikon one, it is pointless. The Nikon 200-400 does a great job for Nikon photographers and the Canon lens will do a great job for Canon photographers. Comparing the two is just pointless, as no one is going to change camera system to use this lens are they? No they are not, so please don't fuel the silly Canon vs Nikon debate anymore, it's not what this lens or this review is all about.
The Canon 200-400mm lens
Canon 1DX, 200-400mm lens @ 412mm, ISO 1600, f5.6 @ 1/1600th second
So now we come to the lens itself. You can get excited now. It is really tough to know what to say about it in meaningful terms, I am not going to do the tech bull of physics diagrams, pictures of the lens barrel and all really really boring stuff. There is nothing that any of us can do to influence what the lens looks like inside, how it is made or anything so waste time talking about it? So that is that, no more. No I think that the best way of showing the talents of this lens is to show you how it worked in various situations, all of which were challenging as you have come to expect with me. Hopefully they should answer some key questions, I will summarise it all at the end again. Ok lets have a look at the AF first.....
How fast is the Autofocus?
I tell you, it is faster than me forcing my way to the front row of a Shakira concert in my leather singlet, and trust me I get there very quickly!!!! Nothing of course will touch the blazing AF of the rocket ship 300mm f2.8, but I would say that the AF of the 200-400 is very close. It certainly exceeds that of the 500/600/800mm lenses in terms of speed and lock-on. I have not tested a 400mm lens as that is for sports photographers, so it is not fair to compare it. Want some proof, ok here goes, Usain the Otter!
Canon 1DX, 200-400mm lens @ 360 / 340 mm, ISO 1250, f5.6 @ 1/1250th second
Ok remember the 1DX Review
that I did with the running otters? Usain the running otter is faster over 4 metres than the real master of the track, its a tough gig to get them in the frame yet alone sharp. Those first 1DX tests were taken with the 300mm f2.8, so I went back and repeated it with the 200-400mm in equally dim and awful conditions. And it worked just as well, actually perhaps better as the background was more diffuse and I could take more shots per run as I could zoom back. Both of these images were shot @ 340mm - 360mm, showing the flexibility of the lens. Now admittedly the 1DX allows most lenses to perform well, but the lens still needs to be quick to do something like these little beauties running.
Canon 1DX, 200-400mm lens @ 400mm, ISO 1250, f7.1 @ 1/2000th second
I did a special test with this kestrel, to push both myself and the camera / lens combo to the limits. I do it to keep my photography fresh and alive, just like spying on the neighbours naughty antics from the shed. I looked through the viewfinder and focussed on the kestrel as it came in to land, I only had a couple of seconds to get the lock on each time, but each time it snapped right on and followed it all the way in to the post. Job done, I shook my own hand...I know its strange...but I am alone most of the time...with my naughty thoughts and my vicar outfit (borrowed from said neighbours).
What is the AF like in difficult situations?
Ah yes, difficult situations, I remember that time with a traffic warden and the cone....oh you probably didn't mean that did you? Well I used the 200-400 in a lot of difficult lighting conditions as I have a penchant for shooting into the light and at oblique angles which I am well known for. So lets start with this lion....
Canon 1DX, 200-400mm lens @ 560mm, ISO 2000, f8 @ 1/1250th second
I know, its a bloody marvellous image that should have won the wildlife photographer of the year. Unfortunately the judges kicked it out, huh! If you know why please write and tell me because I sure don't! Anyway this was a very difficult shot, straight into the rising sun with little contrast to focus on, and over in seconds. In my new Inner Visions BLOG I tell the complete story of it, but for now just know that I had several options with the composition, settling in the end for the tightest shot @ 560mm. Yep with the 1.4x teleconverter enabled.....more later on that one. The lesson here though is that I had complete control over the composition, with the 600mm lens I would have missed it and with the 500 mm lens I would need a crop afterwards. The 200-400mm did the job like no other.
Canon 1DX, 200-400mm lens @ 560mm, ISO 1250, f6.3 @ 1/2000th second
A real toughie this one, to keep the lock on to a backlit subject that is flying fast and low across a distracting background. I will be honest and say that it didn't work every time BUT it worked enough for me to nail this really beautiful and tough shot to get. Again shot @ 560mm, worse case scenario if you like, backlit, teleconverter, fast moving subject. I cannot test this of course but I think that it would be unlikely a conventional teleconverter would have worked fast enough to capture this image, the internal one doesn't seem to delay the AF by anywhere near as much. But, like I said, this is all subjective from someone who has now lost most of his hair and wishes he could have that 70s "mullet" perm again. Pictures do exist of that, but so far I have bought them all.....
Canon 1DX, 200-400mm lens @ 325mm, ISO 1250, f5.6 @ 1/2000th second
A nice little sequence here, I locked onto the barn owl a few seconds before and followed it right onto the perch. I was able to compose @ 360mm to give the image some space, with a 500mm or 600mm lens I would have created art by just getting a bit of the wing. Again the 200-400mm gave me control of the composition and allowed me to take an image that I could crop later if I wanted to. It put me in control again.
So tell me about the IN-BUILT 1.4x teleconverter?
Perhaps the most headline grabbing feature of the 200-400 (after all it's ONLY a lens) is the IN-BUILT 1.4x teleconverter. Now teleconverters have been with us for years and most professionals use them at one time or another, well at least the 1.4x one anyway (in my view the 2x is best used for baseball practise). The problem with using an external teleconverter is that when you add it to a lens you generally lose some AF speed plus you introduce dust, hairs and other items of a personal nature into the closed camera environment. This will find its way onto the sensor, which results in hours spent in front of the computer cleaning it all off in Photoshop. Joy of joys, what a great way to spend your time...not. Give me a Shakira concert anytime. Or a poster. Or a cuddly...what, uh ok I will get on with it.
When Canon first told me that the 200-400mm had an "internal converter" I was very skeptical. How would it work? Would it be a filter that flipped over the front? How quickly could I break it? The last is a valid point as I break / drop on average 2 x 1.4x teleconverters per year! When I finally got hold of the lens I was very pleasantly surprised, here is the mechanism:
Oh god that turns me on just looking at it. I might have to go down to the shed. To make it look less boring I let my arty side take over and applied a Silver FX Pro Art Noire filter, taken inspiration from the west bank of Paris on a rainy day. I felt the image coming from deep inside me, it grew to express itself as an image of post social economic decline in the world of the 70s....what a load of old bull monochrome photographers talk dont they? Anyway there you have it.
Whilst the mechanism looks rather bulky, when the lens is attached to the camera you do not notice it at all. The lever is firm yet very easy to flick across too, and stays firmly in place, there is no slipping. Flicking the lever whilst looking through the viewfinder gives a very noticeable transition but there is no jerkiness, it is relatively smooth.It makes a refreshing clunk too! It can be locked in place but I have never really seen a need for this as you cannot accidentally flip the teleconverter on, it needs a firm push.
You have seen already here that having the IN-BUILT converter was sooooooo useful...provided I remembered that it was there. That is an interesting point you know, I kept forgetting at the start that the converter was there because it was internal and hidden on the right hand side near to the camera. In the past I'd be attaching it and using it straight afterwards, before taking it off in a frantic hurry and throwing it in the dust as my subject came too close. With the in-built converter it is there all the time and its damn easy to forget that! I have really pushed the converter hard, using it a lot in the normal course of my work, and one time it really came into its own......
I was on safari and working with my favourite leopard Olive. Working with leopards is always such a pleasure, but it requires fast and precise lenswork as they are always moving. A 200-400mm lens is perfect for the job, especially with the new in-built converter. When I first saw Olive walking through a bush she was a little distant so I flicked on the converter to take the lens to 560mm. As she walked towards me, getting bigger in the frame, I waited and waited until she emerged from the light....
She had to cross two areas of dappled light and shade. I was able to nail the first image as she licked her tongue then zoomed slightly gently back to frame her emerging from the shadows before flicking off the converter to get the last two images emerging from the shadows.
I have no doubt that without the ability of the zoom I would have missed the second two shots, which I think are "killer" or whatever the street saying is this days. Judging by the choice language and profanities coming from next to me in the vehicle, my friends shooting with their 500mm and 600mm lenses had rapidly come to the same conclusion as Olive had walked too close for them to get her in the frame. The hidden benefit here of having an IN-BUILT converter is one of time. In the old days I would be faced with a mad scrabble for a shorter lens, missing everything in-between and causing myself stress. This time I just kept shooting......and smiling, flicking off the converter when I needed too without any loss of the sequence. I was able to set a really nice composition too, I was in control and could set it as I wanted it rather than having it all controlled for me. But then you know that by now right?
Canon 1DX, 200-400mm lens @ 560mm, ISO 6400, f5.6 @ 1/6400th second
A very difficult shot of Olives daughter Bahati jumping a river. I wanted to get this for years but have failed on 4 previous attempts, twice because my 600mm was too close, once because a bush was in the way (I still have dreams of a chainsaw when I think of that one) and the final time because I messed it up. This time it was perfect, totally open, and I had time to work out the setting. In the end I chose to use the IN-BUILT teleconverter and set the lens @ 560mm. Again the 600mm would have been too tight. Bang, nailed, job done. I discuss the reasons for my choice of ISO and everything, including how I managed to keep the AF locked on, in the new Inner Visions BLOG.
Canon 1DX, 200-400mm lens @ 400mm, ISO 8000, f4 @ 1/400th second
Canon 1DX, 200-400mm lens @ 320mm, ISO 8000, f4 @ 1/320th second
But it was not job done. After her jump we followed her hunting, always at a safe distance to minimise disturbance. As the light faded and the sun dipped below the horizon I cranked up the 1DX ISO until it reached the 8000 level that you see here. I know, ISO 8000, amazing. With the 200-400 I took a nice sequence of Bahati standing watching, then crawling low upto our vehicle (to shelter her from the suspicious eyes of her prey). A nice sequence, the power of the 1DX and 200-400 combined to allow my creativity to show just what a beautiful cat she is. God I cannot wait to see her again in August, sorry Shakira but that date is off, Bahati is the only girl for me. I know it will be hard to take, to be rejected by one so "proper ugly" (I believe that is current street speak) but you can get counseling....
Can you use an external teleconverter with the 200-400mm?
Since I knew I would get asked this I tested it just for you!
1) With a 1.4x teleconverter attached and with the in-built teleconverter OFF, autofocus works fine and all focussing points work as normal, i.e you can select them with the joystick.
2) With a 1.4x teleconverter attached and with the in-built teleconverter ON, autofocus works fine but you can only use the centre focussing point
3) If you are totally desperate, like on a desert island and need to focus the suns rays through the lens to light a fire, then you may attach the 2x teleconverter. With the in-built teleconverter OFF, autofocus works slow but you can only use the centre focussing point. With the in-built teleconverter ON you are limited to the joys of manual focus.
To be truthful, a better method here is to take the 2x converter, place it gently on the ground so that it is bathed in lovely soft, evening light. Then paint your teeth red and smash it violently to pieces with a large baseball bat, cackling maniacally all the time at passers by. Go on do it, it will feel so good. Now before you think I have an issue against Canon 2x converters I don't! I hate ALL 2x teleconverters equally!!! I consider them a complete waste of space and money, it is always better to use a 1.4x teleconverter and crop. Of course that is just my view!
Personally I would forget using an external converter at all. With the Canon 200-400mm you have a beautiful lens that focusses really fast and true, why would you spoil it? I think that using any external teleconverters with the 200-400mm is pointless. You already have an internal teleconverter that gives you 560mm, personally speaking that has always been enough for me and you can always try this new thing in Photoshop called...cropping.
A word about dust
I have to say, in all honesty, that my time cleaning dust spots after the safari has been noticeably reduced. When I shot Nikon I actually stopped taking the 200-400mm on safari as my constant habit of adding / removing teleconverters just gave me too many dust issues on the sensor. And of course I kept breaking all the converters!
This time, with the integral converter of the Canon jobbie, there was no access for dust other than when I changed lens and camera combination. Since I had two 1DX bodies and the 200-400mm was my prime long lens for the trip, I never changed it once. A lesson for us all. Remember I have better things to do than to clean dust from images, especially when it is so easy to prevent.
A word about composition
I have said many times that the 200-400mm really helped with my composition and that is totally true. The ability to fiddle with the zoom to get exactly the composition that I want in-camera is vital, check these out....
This Capercaillie was intent on doing me some actual bodily harm, you can see that look in its eye! Its an awesome bird by the way, we should do everything that we can to ensure that it continues to survive, such a plucky character. Anyway as it was constantly changing position around me to get a better attack angle, one minute being at 500mm, the next at 200mm. Other photographers with me were using fixed 500mm lenses and getting frustrated, I just stood my ground and let the 200-400 do the talking. I think it is a lovely portrait in very very low light, a testament not only to the high ISO capabilities of the 1DX but the low light performance of this lens. Oh yes and I hand-held it, but we will come onto that in a minute....
I worked this encounter very well, taking a variety of shots with the zoom throughout the whole 200-560mm range. In the end I settled for this one shot @ 200mm that I like the most as it showed the whole window. Another example where shooting with a fixed focal length 500/600mm lens would greatly limit the shot choice and actually cause you not to make the best of the situation.
Simple composition @ 330mm but made perfect by the fact that I could control it from the lens and not by constantly starting up the vehicle and moving it to another spot. That would just disturb the cheetah, which is hardly the point. The cheetah was involved in a spot of eco-tourist watching and I did not want to disturb it!
I know, it gives hope to all us ugly blokes on the planet, a Marabou Stork. We were very close to a fresh kill and after a few minutes the storks and vultures started to appear, pirouetting down out of the blue sky. With the 200-400 I could lock on to each bird in turn and follow it all the way in to the kill, zooming back as they came closer. I still on picked one from each sequence in my edit, but I had a range to pick from that I chose, not what the lens dictated for me.
I really enjoy photographing all kinds of things and apart from wildlife, planes are one of my favourites. Now I may be a professional wildlife photographer and a reasonable snapper of things with legs, but when it comes to things with man-made wings / rotors I am a complete novice. I just enjoy it, but I did find that the 200-400mm was ace for it and I will be using it at several air shows this year. I have found that the combination of the f4 aperture, fast AF, in-built teleconverter and flexible zoom has been invaluable for my aircraft photography. Yes of course it is not a light lens and some may prefer to use a monopod with it, personally speaking though I much prefer to carry the lens on a sling by my side and handhold it for all my shots. Anyway check these out that I did with it....
Not bad for a muppet!
A Word about Usability
I have mentioned before that the 200-400, although well balanced, is not as light as you might think. It weighs 3620g, compared with 3190g for the 500mm and 3920g for the 600mm. Right in the middle, which is where I would expect it. It has a 4 stop IS capability though and for a lot of my work I hand-held this lens. I am well known for this but even regular followers might be surprised to see me using it whilst hanging out of a Cessna taking pictures of flamingos...
I seem to be smiling although on closer inspection you might wonder why. I am facing backwards in the Cessna with the door off, held in by a single belt and two pieces of rope attached to the ceiling! Gulp! I decided to take the 200-400 along for this as I knew that we would have to be quite high to avoid disturbance to the flamingos. I knew that I could easily hand-hold it, as that is what I had been doing for weeks and its very much my style. Usually I would take a 70-200 f2.8, perhaps with a 1.4x teleconverter on a job like this as it is smaller and lighter to handle, but I figured that the 200-400 deserved a shot and I knew that the in-built 1.4x converter might come in useful. So off we took and the results, well here are some of them.....
Now I am not saying it was easy to use the lens in this situation, but it worked out well, I was able to use the zoom to compose the shots and the 1.4x did come in useful several times when we were quite high. Again it was sooooo cool to have the IN-BUILT 1.4x teleconverter otherwise I would have been fiddling trying to fit an external one whilst hanging out the door....that is only going to end one way and thats badly.
I am going to be honest with you, the 200-400 is not a light lens, you should not expect it to be. It weighs in between the 500mm series II and the 600mm series II. Its the addition of the teleconverter that probably causes this and I feel its about right. If you are a tripod beardie then you will have no issues, using it on a beanbag is simple too but I have tended to hand-hold it quite a lot for much of the time I have been using it. The zoom ring is well placed and responsive, the teleconverter switch though requires a slightly less intuitive action although its quick a quick movement straight back from the zoom ring with the left hand to find it.
A Word about Video
Over the past year I have been shooting more and more wildlife video on the 1DX. To be honest its very difficult to do this with a fixed 500mm or 600mm lens. You frame it up in the viewfinder all nice and dandy, flick on the rear screen and then find that important bits (such as the head) have been chopped off by the HD crop. Naff. So I have started using the 200-400 and its great for video work on a tripod, I can set the composition as I want it, not as the lens dictates.
A Word about quality
Of course there will be some photographers who are concerned about the quality of a zoom lens when compared to a fixed focus lens. I can understand that totally, I get where you are coming from. In my experience, and I frankly cannot be arsed to do a pointless side by side comparison, the 200-400 produces images that are perfectly good enough for publication. I have published many images with it already, from high class A3 calendars to an advertising campaign ( all with the EXIF removed by the way ), and not once has the quality been questioned. Not once. Check these out, you can see every hair on them....
In both cases I shot with the 1.4x teleconverter on. Beautiful light but there is no margin for error when it comes to focus, it has to be precise as the detail is vital here. The facial features of the cheetah are so arresting that any lack of lens sharpness will be picked up. Like you see here, they are dead sharp.
Of course there will be comparisons to sharpness of 400,500 and 600mm fixed lenses. It's difficult for me to comment really as you are dealing with a different animal. I am sure that if you analyse pixel by pixel then these ultra high quality fixed focus lenses might come out slightly better, although personally I don't think that there is much in it. I am sure that over the coming weeks we will get the usual plethora of focus graphs and all that jazz, comparing this lens with the fixed ones. What I will say, from the perspective of someone who takes pictures and publishes them, that the quality of the 200-400 is great and is perfectly good enough for me. And that's all I can say really, it does the job it is meant to, which is DIFFERENT from the one that these fixed focal length lenses do. Its a mindset change.
It is no secret that I am in the Shakira fan club, you know that by now. Its even less of a secret that I am in the 200-400 fan club, in fact I am a fully paid up lifetime member. I just love this lens. As you have seen above, I have really used it hard in a variety of situations during the 6 months I have had it, and it has simply done everything that I have asked. No failures. Nothing to complain about. I have inspected all of the images that I have taken for any distortion, chromatic aberration or lick marks and I can say, hand on one of my two Vulcan hearts, that I did not find any. And remember I have been using a prototype, your production ones will be mint.
The flexibility of having an effective range of 200-560mm is a wonderful tool for the creative photographer. It has helped me get shots that otherwise I would have missed. It puts me in control of the composition, it makes me think about it. Having an IN-BUILT 1.4x teleconverter has not only helped me get more range, but I would warrant that the AF speed suffers very little slowdown compared to a normal converter. Of course this is all subjective, but it comes from someone who uses (and destroys) converters on a regular basis. Its certainly had an effect on my workflow, less time cleaning damn sensor dust in Photoshop means more time for spying from the shed.
The only problem with this lens is getting used to the fact that a) you can zoom it and b) there is a 1.4x teleconverter built in. Of course these are not really problems but benefits, but since I encountered them at the beginning I thought it only fair that I mention them here. And since we are on the subject I just wanted to talk briefly about the weight again. As I mentioned before the weight is in between the series II 500mm and 600mm lenses. When you first pick it up its heavier than you might think for its size, but it is very well balanced. Of course a few photographers will bitch about the weight, but then again they probably dont like Shakira either, preferring posters of robots. I am not built like Alfred SchwarzerKnickers, I do not have Iron Man muscles, I am more lean than mean. I only have a tattoo on my a....BUT I have no
trouble using the 200-400 for hours at airshows or in the field, so nor should anyone else. It is all about technique. It packs down well into my travel bags, certainly it is a huge improvement over taking a 600mm lens and a 300mm f2.8 lens. Packing this guy is like taking both of them, as 560mm is not that much different than 600mm between friends. Its made a huge difference to my cabin baggage, gone are the huge rucksacks, to be replaced by a slim, businessman style briefcase. Perfect for getting extra smaller lenses on board, plus my copies of Hot Dock Worker Monthly, a rivetting read.
My final words. The Canon 200-400mm lens is the first in a generation, ground breaking, and how often have we been able to say that in the past few years. Who knows whether we will get IN-BUILT teleconverters in other Canon lenses, I am sorry but I am not party to that information! Its my view that the new Canon 200-400mm is just great, thats all I can say. In fact you know what, we should start calling it the 200-560mm lens because that is really what it is. Using the teleconverter is so seamless now that I dont even think about it, in fact most of the time I have it engaged and am using a 280mm - 560mm lens, perfect for wildlife, sports and aviation photography. Thats if you have a full-frame sensor of course, if you have a cropped sensor then you are effectively using a 300-840mm lens!!! Wowwwwsers!
Of course the size and weight of the 200-400, and the price, means that it is not a lens for everyone. I think that for wildlife, some sports and aviation photographers, it will become an invaluable tool. Of course there will be the photographers who dismiss it, saying that a 500 / 600mm is the only way ahead. It is a shame that some photographers wear blinkers like this but that is no problem, it is a free world. If you are a fill the frame style of photographer working with small birds or shy animals, then a 600mm is probably for you as you will want to put on a converter and get to 840mm or more. If however you want a little bit more latitude to be creative and to take your photography forward, then the 200-400mm becomes a serious option. I am not sure if you can really compare it to the 500mm Series II, it is more expensive yes and heavier, but the flexibility is much greater for approximately the same range so for me it is an obvious choice. But it is all personal choice really, and all I can do is show you how I used it, how it affected my photography and the cracking results that I managed to get.
This Summer the 200-400 will have a real baptism of fire with two trips to Svalbard to see polar bears, one to Kenya for the migration and several airshows (including one just for photographers). Plus a week photographing ospreys grabbing fish and it will be perfect for that. So on all of these the 200-400mm will probably be my no1 long lens, and I know that it will never let me down. Just like the 1DX I trust it completely, and as a photographer you cannot surely ask for more than that.....
Buying your 200-400
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South Georgia / Antarctica Expedition 2014
In October 2014
I have chartered the M/S Ushuaia and will be taking 80 lucky people on an early season 20 day adventure to these amazing wilderness areas. We will land in the best light, at the best places, often for extended periods of time and you will be supported and mentored by two excellent photo leaders (myself and the editor of Practical Photography magazine). There will be mentoring, critiques, competitions and help for all levels. It will be an incredible adventure....
The idea of going so early in the season is that we should get a snow covering on South Georgia, which means the awesome sight of penguins on snow (as opposed to penguins on rock). There will be lots of fun stuff to do on board and we are booking right now, in fact 25% of the cabins have already been reserved. Perfect for all levels of photographer, non photographer penguin huggers are most welcome too!!
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