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Author Topic: Nature Photography - Canon 100-400mm vs 400mm vs 300mm  (Read 15833 times)

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« on: March 26, 2009, 05:48 »
I am looking for a wildlife lens.

I currently have a 70-200 2.8 IS USM as my longest lens.

I am considering the 100-400 4.5-5.6 IS USM which would give me a nice zoom range.  The 100-200 would be a bit repetative as I have it on the 70-200 allready at 2.8.

Then I found the 400mm 5.6 USM which is cheaper and lighter.  I would miss out on the 200-400 range but would have sharper images.  I would also loose image stablization :(

Then I found the 300 f/4 IS USM  A good price and it also has the Image stablization.  I wouldn't get as much reach as 400mm but I could put on a 1.4 converter.  With the converter the quality would be less than the 100-400 lens. 

Any thoughts on the 'best buy'?

« Reply #1 on: March 26, 2009, 06:09 »
Im in the same boat , especially because I moved to FF so that 200mm is not enough anymore.

I like the option to frame without walking too much so I think I would go for 100-400 ,  it also cover almost the whole range of my 70-200 so I wouldnt need that one exept in low light conditions.

The question is how good is it , cause if it comes anywhere near 70-200 that would be great cause that's far best and sharpest lens I used , but my problem is that over here they don't allow you to try the lens before you buy it , and I took the risk with 24-105 and I don't intend to do that once more cause my copy of 24-105 sucks big time.

I didn't read the reviews and I didn't try those lenses so I cant talk about quality, but I think I will get 100-400 when the time comes.


« Reply #2 on: March 26, 2009, 06:27 »
I have the 400 f5.6 and it is very sharp and lightweight. Cant tell anything about the others

« Reply #3 on: March 26, 2009, 06:31 »
after some searching and reading I have heard than the 70-200 is considerably sharper than the 100-400.  it is also faster and has IS.  The 100-400 seems quite sharp between 100-300mm then drops off a bit towards 300-400mm

With some more thought I wondered if perhaps either the 400mm or 300mm would be the better choice.  If i really find I need zoom I could put a 2x or 1.4x extender on the 70-200.  If the subject is a distance away I can use the 300 or 400 lens, or if I need extra reach I have the extenders to use on the fixed lens.  You could use the 1.4 extender on the 100-400mm but with the 2x EC it gets pretty blurry.

Here is a nice lens comparison site

But I did like your thought of being able to leave the 70-200 at home on a wildlife shoot if you had the 100-400 ... hmmm.

« Reply #4 on: March 26, 2009, 07:46 »
I have owned or tried all the lenses mentioned above. For wildlife the 100-400 is the best choice. Here are my findings:

70-200 /2.8 non-IS is sharper than the IS version, especially wide open @ 200mm (I have not upgraded to the IS version for this reason). While I own the 70-200 /2.8 I do not use it for wildlife.

The 100-400 IS is not as sharp as the 70-200 (but close). With the 1.4x on the 70-200 the 100-400 is marginally sharper. I will never recommend the 2x TC on the 70-200. Compared to the 100-400 that combination is very soft. The prime 400 /5.6 is marginally sharper than the 100-400, but in the real world I obtained more sharp images with the 100-400 because of IS.

My current wildlife setup comprises three camera bodies: 1Dmk3 with 500 /4L IS, 1Dsmk2 with 100-400 IS and 50D + 1.4X TC for extra reach on the 500 /f4 IS.

« Reply #5 on: March 26, 2009, 07:56 »
Thanks for posting Eco.  I was actually considering sending you a private message as I know you do lots of wildlife photography (and do it well).

I dream of buying something like the 500mm f/4 some day but it will be a while before I can rationalize that I think :)

« Reply #6 on: March 26, 2009, 08:07 »
I dream of buying something like the 500mm f/4 some day but it will be a while before I can rationalize that I think :)

Yes, that is a huge investment, but probably one the best investments that can be made. Compared to camera bodies those types of lenses keep their value extremely well.

In any event, you cannot go wrong with the 100-400. It is one of my most used lenses and a large part of my MS portfolio was shot with that lens. It works equally well on a crop or full frame digital body.
« Last Edit: March 26, 2009, 08:09 by Eco »


« Reply #7 on: March 26, 2009, 09:19 »
Maybe you would like more reviews


« Reply #8 on: March 26, 2009, 09:56 »
ouch I just deleted a lengthy reply.

so a shorter one:

I'm using 400mm f5.6L and I'm very happy with it. A 1.4x kenko pro teleconverter is practically glued to the lens (taped contacts) except for fancy birds in flight shots -that I suck at anyways- when I take it off for faster autofocus.

Superb lens, sharp wide open even with the tele. I wish it had IS thou - I need 1/1250s or faster to get reliable results when handholding.

A note about taped contacts on the teleconverter - obviously not necessary for 1 series bodies, because those can autofocus at f8. 5d, 5dmk2, 30d, 20d, rebels - no problems using center point autofocus with taped teleconverter. 40d and 50d - center point very unreliable - the other af points seem to work fine thou.

There is supposed to be some variety between copies of 100-400mm zoom, so if you go that route you might want to compare a couple different ones.

300mm imho is too short. 400 is too short. I want the 500 f4is :)

Here is a comparison (not mine) between 70-200mm with 2x tele, 100-400mm, 300mm with 1.4x tele and 400mm prime:

and one of my recent ones - white breasted nuthatch - 400mm with 1.4x tele, 5dmk2, iso 1600, f8 (wide open), 1/400s, crop from full frame to about 9.5MP

I'm cheating here because focus is actually on the belly not on the head, but at web resolution that doesn't show  ;) It's a lucky one because of 15 or so frames this is the only one that's sharp at all - 1/400s is too slow.
« Last Edit: March 26, 2009, 10:04 by j2k »

« Reply #9 on: March 26, 2009, 10:08 »
thanks, that was a nice test to see.  It is a fairly drastic reduction in sharpness and contrast when the 70-200 has a 2x extender on it.

The 400mm sure is a lot sharper than the 100-400mm though, however the IS, like Eco said would probably improve quite a few shots.

Do you find you miss the 100-300 range j2k?

« Reply #10 on: March 26, 2009, 10:26 »
I don't know much about the Canons, but I would say at least consider the "weather tightness" as well.  Shooting nature you may find yourself sitting in a foggy marsh for hours waiting for the toads to come out and well... that might lead to mildew.  Wind = dust inside.  My good Nikon lenses are TIGHT, amazing that in the wind dust gets under a screw-on filtre on the front but not in the lens.  With my Nikon lenses I don't really worry if I need a few minutes to run for shelter, but my new Sigma would be in a whole lotta trouble with just a little bit of rain.  

« Reply #11 on: March 26, 2009, 10:28 »
 Leaf I think you would find that the 300 2.8 will do a great job it is faster and is incredibly sharp. I would go rent both and do a comparison to see what you think. Out of your above choices I think you are better off with the fixed lenses like the 300 2.8 or the 300 f4 or the 400 f5.6. I think you will find them much sharper with zero barrel effect. Just how fast do you need the lens. I find when shooting people for instance that unless they are full length in the shot you are going to be shooting at f4 or 5 anyway to make sure you carry focus. If you are shooting wildlife that's another thing. One more option would be to add a new software to the slower lenses to add more fall off and the look of a faster lens here is the link. 
 I haven't used it but PDN gave it excellent reviews.


« Reply #12 on: March 26, 2009, 11:12 »
Do you find you miss the 100-300 range j2k?

Nope! Not even a bit. What I miss is the 401-600mm range. And sometimes the 800mm too ;)

I'm mainly interested in birds. If I was looking for a lens to take on an african safari the 100-400 zoom would be a clear choice.

As far as I know you can find a 100-400 just as sharp as the prime. It might not be the first copy thou. I don't know how much can these lenses be improved with AF microadjustments and other calibration procedures.

I chose the 400mm mainly because it was available used locally, the price was low, and pretty much you never hear of a 400mm f5.6 being a dog :)

Here are a couple of threads from fredmiranda showcasing the zoom:

And an interesting thread called "EF 100-400mm - chances of getting a good copy?"


« Reply #13 on: March 26, 2009, 11:21 »
A few more things that I thought about after reading other comments-

- my 400mm f5.6L is not weather sealed. I don't know about the 100-400 zoom.
- the reports on the net say that the zoom is in fact a little bit shorter than 400mm
- 300 f2.8L is a sweeeeet monster and takes teleconverters well. It is quite a lot bigger and more expensive than the 100-400 or 400mm lenses.

Good luck with the selection!

« Reply #14 on: March 26, 2009, 11:23 »
500mm f/4 IS is my vote :p

I have one, and its fantastic.  Its by far my favourite lens.  And I wouldn't sell it for anything.  Except maybe an 800mm f/5.6 and another 500 :p

Its super sharp even with the 1.4x tele, and it almost never comes off.  its almost songbird migration time and I'm very excited.  I've had the lens for less than a year and it took me a while to get used to it, but now that I have, its sharp and amazing.  

My recommendation is to go 300 2.8 and put a 2x on it, yes, its not super 600mm quality, but its better than what you'd expect because the 300 is so good, and you have a 2.8 lens that works wonders in other situations.

« Reply #15 on: March 26, 2009, 12:42 »
yes, the 300mm f/2.8 would be nice but I am afraid I don't have the budget for a lens that requires a $400 carrying trunk :)

I will be shooting larger animals I am guessing as I am not that interested in birds :) ...

I also read another good post in this thread
Landscape Shooter , Dec 23, 2008; 01:36 a.m.

I went through this decision also. I did a ton of research here in the old forums and came up with this conclusion: The 400mm 5.6 I decided no to because it lacks IS and IS is a big advantage. The 100-400 is very close in IQ to the 300+1.4. The 100-400 is much more versatile. When shooting photos of birds, you may come across a bigger bird right in front of you. With a 300+1.4 you have one choice of focal lenghts. You could try to change, but you will probably spook it. What are you going to be photographing? I would think about the range you will be using the most. Will you really be using it at 300 alot to justify the claimed better IQ? OR would you be using it at 400 most of the time anyway? Also the lens is designed with a push pull for a reason. The lens weighs 3 pounds so when holding it you are really HOLDING it. How would you have one hand using the camera controls and the other holding the bulk of your 4 lb plus lens/camera weight and then turning a ring to zoom all the way from 100-400? I think this is a good design by Canon. I think alot of people put it down without thinking it through or trying it. Anyway, it's just push or pull, how hard can it be?

and another interesting test here.  That test was interesting because he compared images from a 100-400mm with a 1.4 TC and a 2.0 TC.  He was curious to know if it was better to upsize the image taken from the 1.4TC compared to the soft image of the 2.0 TC (it is at the bottom of the page).  Anyhow, from his images it looks like it is better to just stick with the 1.4TC, which would be 560mm and upsize if you have to, than go with the 2.0 TC and get 800mm

-thanks for all the opinions and suggestions.


« Reply #16 on: March 26, 2009, 12:58 »
Cool, show us some shots when you get it :)

« Reply #17 on: March 26, 2009, 13:31 »
Cool, show us some shots when you get it :)

i haven't made my choice yet :)

soon though!.. I am leaning towards the 100-400 though

« Reply #18 on: March 26, 2009, 15:23 »
Cool, show us some shots when you get it :)

i haven't made my choice yet :)

soon though!.. I am leaning towards the 100-400 though

I have that lens! Great one.  Usually much better in good lighting.  Crap lighting is pushing it in terms of getting sharp images

« Reply #19 on: March 26, 2009, 16:04 »
I do quite a bit of wildlife photography ( and have had some good experiences with a variety of lenses.  In addition to travel, I am a photographer for the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle and my default lens for there unless something really special is going on is to use my 70-200 f/2.8L IS with a 2X converter.  I have the newest version of the converter and find my images for the most part to be very sharp.  I know a lot of people have strong opinions that the 1.4 is better but from what I understand most of the negative impressions were a result of the older version of the converter.  I had a candid conversation with a Canon rep who agreed. 

That being said, I have a good friend who is also a photographer at the Zoo that uses the 100-400 and loves it.  6 in one, 1/2 dozen in the other when we are comparing apples to apples (same subject, same time shot) so I would save the money on a new lens and just get the converter.

When I have something special to shoot I rent the 400 f/2.8L IS which is by far my favorite lens ever.  I'm sorely tempted to buy one but it is so hard to justify the expense.  For long trips I rent from Lens Pro Togo and for day jobs I just rent from the local camera store.  I've also used the 300 f/2.8L IS which is much more reasonably priced and could become a 600 f/5.6 with the converter.  I've only used that for sports but I know it would be very excellent for wildlife too.

Good luck!



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