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Researching a Wildlife System

StrayCat Plus
12 17.8k 3 Canada
19 Jan 2011 8:04PM
Over the next couple of months I will be doing research to come up with an affordable, quality system for wildlife photography. Some areas of particular interest to me are; Birds in Flight, birding in general, large mammels, and a bit of macro photography of insects and plants.

Right now I am interested in a particular system which I've been looking at that fits into my planned budget; this includes a used Canon 40D, Canon 300mm f4L USM lens, 1.4 teleconverter. I'm thinking the 300mm might be a bit easier, and more practical for me than the Canon 400mm f5.6L.

I would appreciate any input from anyone.


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19 Jan 2011 8:13PM
I have recently bought a canon 300 f4 & 1.4 converter to use with my 50D & 7D - although I am no great shakes in the photography world I have to say - I LIKE IT! I have been doing some bird shots and I find it pretty good for what I want. I'm not into the technical side too heavily but this seems OK for the money - budget certainly didn't run to one of the bigger players!Smile Good luck! Louise
StrayCat Plus
12 17.8k 3 Canada
19 Jan 2011 8:25PM
Thanks Louise; user information is very helpful. This is not a combination that I've seen mentioned a lot.
Overread Plus
8 4.1k 19 England
19 Jan 2011 8:34PM
Stay for the price point of the lenses you are looking at there are 3 popular choices:

1) 300mm L IS f4 + 1.4 TC - the bonus of this setup is that you get a very good quality 300mm lens and a good quality 420mm f5.6 lens which has IS (a great help for handholding in not only countering your handshake, but also in giving a smoother view to the viewfinder image). Its not too heavy and quite versatile.

2) 400mm f5.6 L - if you ever wander over to places like Birdforum many of the bird dedicated photographers consider this "the" lens for birding (in this price range). Its got the long focal length, high quality optics (for the 400mm range its the best in this price range) and fast auto focus. About its only downside is the lack of IS support; of course beanbags, tripods, monopods can all be used to give some support in this regard.

3) 100-400mm IS L - this lens offers a bit more versatility for the photography in being a zoom lens with IS. Overall its image quality is never up to the same standard at the primes listed above, but a good copy will still give you a very usable image quality. The bonus of the zoom lens is not to be overlooked, but if you feel that you'll always be at the 400mm mark then one of the prime options is far better.

I'm also not aware of the rest of your current setup, but just incase I'll also throw in that the new canon 70-200mm f2.8 IS L M2 + 2*TC (M2 work well - M3 give some advantage) is able to match the 100-400mm for image quality; its AF might not be quite so fast (guesswork I've never been able to compare this on the two and AF speed comparisons are sketchy at best most of the time). The bonus this gives is two fold - an outstanding 70-200mm f2.8 lens without the TC and also it does not suffer from the soft copy variation problem which can be an issue with the 100-400mm (my guess is that most are not bad copies, but that the tolerance zone is wider with the 100-400mm than with other lenses so it gives more chance of getting a copy that is not well tuned to your specific camera body)
StrayCat Plus
12 17.8k 3 Canada
19 Jan 2011 11:22PM
Right now I have no digital Canon equipment, so this will be a start from scratch project. I spent 4 + years using Nikon, but they don't seem to have a camera with the speed of the Canon 40D in that price range($500.00 used, with a warranty.), nor do they have a 400mm or 300mm to match the Canon equivalent for the same price. I have Pentax at the moment, and I like it, but I'm lacking what I need for birding, which is 300 - 400mm, fast focusing, within my budget. I tried Olympus, but lenses in that focal range, with fast focus, are beyond what I'm prepared to pay. Right now, so far, the Canon 40D looks like a great deal to me, with its used price tag.

I appreciate the comments, and btw, yes, I'm a member of the bird forum, and I've always wanted the 400mm f5.6. However, I seem to have talked myself out of it, thinking that the 300mm length would be more useable for me, but I'm not convinced yet.Tongue
Steve_S Plus
11 180 3 United Kingdom
20 Jan 2011 12:05AM
You will quickly realise that 300mm is too short for bird photography so you will always have the 1.4 TC attached (and that combo is too short tooWink ) AF speed will be reduced too. Having said that it is a good lens for mammals and the close focus makes for reasonable macro images. For BIF the 400mm is well regarded because of its fast AF. I went for the 300mm and TC combo to start with and on balance would say you should too. But....if you get hooked on birds like I did you will have to get a 500mm lens (and your 1.4 TC will come in useful with that).
strawman Plus
13 22.1k 16 United Kingdom
20 Jan 2011 12:58AM
Hi if I add my experience to the pot. So back from trip to Pub and I hope its honest and coherent.

First off the Body, I think the 40D and 50D are quite comparable. At ISO400 and below I would give the 50D the slight advantage, but above ISO800 I think the 40D has a slight advantage. when it comes to the 7D, then I found no area where the 7D was not at least equal if not better. Certainly @ ISO1600 and above I felt the 7D has an advantage over the 40D. But ISO 800 and lower and A3 prints could you spot the difference? I could not. the 7D AF system is more sophisticated and given time I am confident you can get better results, but it requires a bit more thought in set up. I am confident that if you spent a few weeks with the camera and a lens set up to configure it the 7D would give more repeatable results. Where does that leave us, the 40D is in my eyes a good match for me, I have found it an easy to use camera that is capable of good results but I think for wildlife the number of keepers in difficult situations will be higher with a 7D that has been set up to match he lens. Out of the box I think the 40D will do just as well. I have not tried the 60D. Also note a number of 40D 's have experienced shutter failures @ 15K images. Mine did, but after a Canon repair it has taken far more no issue. Is this significant??? I think a batch had an issue as Canon service turned it round quickly just outside warranty no questions for free.

On lenses I think Canon has a strong set of options, and the lenses make more of a difference than the bodies. First off the 400 f5.6 is sharp wide open and fast to focus. But no IS and fixed focal length is an issue. For birds in flight brilliant.

The 300 F4 IS works well as a prime and with a 1.4x converter it is a 420mm lens and it has IS. But I found with the TC it turned in the same performance as the 100-400, similar AF, similar sharpness. So not as good wide open on a TC as a 400mm prime ,but IS.

Some people rate the 70-20 F2.8 plus a 2x converter. In my eyes every time I have tried the canon 2x converter it has not been a good result. the 1.4x fine but the 2x times tends to show soft wide open results till you stop the lens down. Luminous landscape also tried it and found it inferior. So my view is for wildlife it is the worst of the Canon options. Perhaps I was unlucky.

Next the Marmite lens in the Canon range. the 100-400. Some love it some hate it. I fall into the find a good version and love it camp. The lenses vary a lot copy to copy, I tried some 2nd hand versions that were not good. My version is excellent 100-350mm but looses a bit of contrast wide open @400mm. It is easy to add contrast at image process so I do that..Stop down to f8 and all is well. In my eyes it is ahead of the Sigma 150-500. As an all round do everything lens it is great for sports or landscapes or wildlife, so jack of all trades, not the master of any, and not as bad as some reports would have you believe.

And so to conclusions, for birds in flight I would get the 400mm f5.6, but for general do everything the 100-400 is the compromise I would recommend and in fact took. As for bodies I find the 40D a good competent companion, but if you can afford it, get the 7D.

I hope this helps and is honest. I like and enjoy my 40D, it suits me when matched to a 100-400. would it be better to recommend a newer camera?????? Tricky. I like my set up.
Overread Plus
8 4.1k 19 England
20 Jan 2011 1:56AM
strawman - I fully agree with your view on the 70-200mm f2.8 IS L and a 2*TC not being up to the same standard as the 100-400mm - however the new M2 version of the 70-200mm f2.8 IS L is. It is a dramatic improvement over the original (I have owned and used both) and produces very capable 400mm results and is very much on par with the 100-400mm at the 400mm mark. The 100-400mm has a slight edge with things like chromatic aberrations, but overall telling shots from the two apart would be very hard.

However the M2 is far more in cost than these other options and I only threw it in here just in case Stray had a canon setup and one of the pre existing (or was considering one of) the other 70-200mm lenses - at which point a sell and upgrade would have fitted into the rough budget area he is looking at.
StrayCat Plus
12 17.8k 3 Canada
20 Jan 2011 3:56AM
Thanks again guys. I have 4 years experience with the Nikon VR 80-400mm, which is much slower to focus than the Canon 100-400mm, but I am quite familiar with the focal range for birds and wildlife. However, one of my main goals here is to put together a fairly economical, high quality system that will handle both stills and flight shots. The kit to handle birds in flight has always been my biggest regret, but I can't justify the kind of cash requred for the 500mm or 600mm, or, God forbid, the 800mm.Tongue One thing I keep thinking about is the image in the viewfinder when shooting birds on the wing; I keep imagining that it would be extremely difficult the longer the focal length. What do you think? I'd love to have both the Canon 300mm f4, and the 400mm f5.6. The price is right on both lenses, when considering the lenses by themselves, with no TC. John, for me, I really think the 40D is the body to go with; I did quite a bit of research on this camera when it was first released, and I've followed several of you guys on here who use it. I like the look of everything about it.

I'm kind of nervous; this will be my first white lens, and I don't know what to wear to the camera shop.Wink Seriously though, the way I feel right now, it's between those two lenses, the 300mm and the 400mm. Maybe I'll get the 400 and see what it's like, and if I find I need the shorter focal length also, I'll get the 300 or the 70-200mm later, and not use a TC; they're very pricey. I've read quite a bit on the 100-400mm over the years also, and I think it's a good versatile lens, but is not highly recommended for birds in flight.Grin
20 Jan 2011 5:46PM
One further consideration perhaps, it will take a 1.4 Kenko TC I believe
20 Jan 2011 5:55PM

Quote:Over the next couple of months I will be doing research to come up with an affordable, quality system for wildlife photography. Some areas of particular interest to me are; Birds in Flight, birding in general, large mammels, and a bit of macro photography of insects and plants.

Right now I am interested in a particular system which I've been looking at that fits into my planned budget; this includes a used Canon 40D, Canon 300mm f4L USM lens, 1.4 teleconverter. I'm thinking the 300mm might be a bit easier, and more practical for me than the Canon 400mm f5.6L.

I would appreciate any input from anyone.


This is exactly the set-up I've used for several years now. The f4 IS USM is a brilliant lens and makes an easy "carry around" set up with the 40D. I have found that I got excellent sharpness even with the 1.4extender on as well.

Love the setup!

Just sold the 40D as I've managed to save for a 7D but still use the same lens setup.

You'll love itGrin
Overread Plus
8 4.1k 19 England
20 Jan 2011 6:00PM
If you are doing walk around shooting I'll strongly bet that 400mm will trump the 300mm for wildlife grabshots and stalking based approaches. In such situations the chances of getting closer are far smaller so more reach is a great benefit.

If you are doing hide work on the other hand you can certainly use something like a 400mm and support it with a 70-200mm for closer shots. A 1.4TC would be an ideal addition so that the jump in focal range is not too great between the two (look at the 2*TC M2 rather than the new M3 which are very expensive. From what I gather, esp on crop sensor, the optical quality of these two is very similar).
Another trick photographers use for closer work is to put an extension tube (I forget which is the most popular length) into the 400mm setup so that, whilst you've lost infinity focus, you've still got a respectable long reach and a reduced minimum focusing distance.
Kenko AF tube are about the best for price vs quality and I've spoken to people who own both canon and kenko and say that they are almost totally identical in terms of build quality (one even said that he suspected the canon could even just be rebranded kenko)
20 Jan 2011 8:22PM
I would still say for pure portabiliy the 300mm f4 with a 1.4X extender is the lightest and the IS on the lens makes it a doddle to use under hand held situations. Just about every shot on my website as taken with the 300 f4, sometimes with the 1.4X.

brian1208 Plus
13 11.2k 12 United Kingdom
20 Jan 2011 8:53PM

Quote:One further consideration perhaps, it will take a 1.4 Kenko TC I believe

I made the switch from the 300 F4LIS + 70-200 LIS to the 70-300 LIS and can confirm that the latter is usable for BIF work (very much so). I can also confirm that it does work well with the Kenko pro300 DGX 1.4 (much to my suprise it keeps the AF function and works pretty well in good light - not too sure about using it for small BIF at 420mm though)

Wide open the 300 F4LIS produces a nicer Bokeh against a busy background but for open sky shots I really can't see a difference.

Some big plusses for me with the 70-300 vs 300 F4 LIS:

- the IS function and speed of focus are superb,, I would say the focus is faster and more accurate than the 300 LIS (my copies only of course) and that really takes some doing as the 300 LIS is already first rate

- having the full zoom range from 70 to 300mm is a real joy for the sort of field shooting I do, no more carting two bodies + lenses about or missing shots whilst I switch the TC on / off

- its very well balanced on my 7D and I can hand-hold it all day (something I was finding difficult with the 300). The weight difference is only a few hundred grammes so I think it must be a balance thing

- it fits nicely into a small shoulder bag and my wife no longers moans at me when I take it "walk-about" Smile

You really can't go wrong with with either combo, its a great time to be looking
StrayCat Plus
12 17.8k 3 Canada
20 Jan 2011 9:09PM
Thanks for that link Neil, I had looked at a few reviews of that lens, but didn't take it seriously enough. I've bookmarked it, and for the price difference, it's not a big deal. Brian, that's very helpful, seeing as I was thinking all along that I was going to end up with at least 2 longish lenses. As far as TCs go, I have never used one, so commenting on them wouldn't mean much from me, but I can see where that little extra can come in handy, and let's face it, no matter how long the focal length we have, we still want more; Arthur Morris uses the Canon 800mm f5.6L with 2X and 1.4X TCs.

Thanks to everybody for your comments; it gives me lots of food for thought.

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