Buying new Canon lens for bird and wildlife need advise!

Discussion in 'Canon EOS' started by leah_kushner, Oct 28, 2018.

  1. I am going to Costa Rica. I just started a birding class. My lens 70-200L is not strong enough. I am not sure how passionate I will be about wildlife photography but I want to purchase a lens. I have a Canon 7D. Some photographers in my class have suggested I switch to Nikon.

    Here is my situation.
    I would like a good lens but I have a hard time with a heavy lens.
    Should I buy one of the following or an extender 1.4 or 2.0. I do not like the idea of compromising sharpness. Will I be unhappy with the extender? I am not a professional photographer and this is not my occupation but I do enjoy sharp pictures.

    EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM
    EF 400mm f/5.6L USM
    EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II USM
    EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM
  2. I wonder why some photographers suggested you to change brand. Anyway, all the lenses you mentioned will definitely produce sharp images if used properly. I don't know your budget and how heavy of a lens you want to carry. These are all expensive and HEAVY. The cheapest of the four, EF 400mm f/5.6 USM, is the lightest at 2.8 pounds. But this one does not have IS.

    I am also into bird photography recently. I like to walk around looking for birds and taking pictures handheld. So IS and weight are very important to me. I used the EF 100-400mm on a full frame camera at first. It's heavy at 3 pounds. One major issue I found using this lens is the minimum focusing distant at 6 feet. This is the shortest of the four you mentioned. Sometimes birds just land in front of me or fly over my head and I cannot focus because it's too close. The second generation of this lens shortened the minimum focusing distant to just 3 feet. However it is way more expensive than the first version. Later I bought an APS-C camera to use with the 100-400mm lens hoping to reach further for taking pictures of birds.

    Then Tamron 18-400mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC HLD was introduced. The reviews were pretty good. It's light, has IS and the minimum focusing distance is only 1 foot. It's always out of stock and I waited over 6 months before I can get one. I used it for most of the time now. You can see samples of my bird pictures in the Nature and Canon forums. This is the alternative I recommend if you don't have to have Canon in your bag.
  3. Do ask them why they feel you should do this. To me (as a Nikon user!) this advice makes no sense whatsoever, but maybe they're thinking of something I overlook.

    Using teleconverters (extenders) with zoomlenses usually will leave you wanting. Teleconverters are no free lunch: you loose light (1 stop for a 1.4x TC, 2 stops for the 2x TC), so effectively a f/4 lens with a 2x TC becomes a f/8 lens. At this aperture, your AF will start to struggle a lot.
    For the very same reason, I would not easily recommend any lens that is slower than f/5.6. You want your AF to perform at its best for birds in flight, and slow aperture lenses achieve the exact opposite. The Tamron mentioned above sure is a lot lighter, but a do-everything lens involves compromises that many are not willing to take and for sure will not have the optical performance of the Canon lenses you mention.
    Other options would be the Sigma and Tamron 150-600 lenses, though those too suffer slower apertures (f/5-6.3).

    So, frankly, there are no real shortcuts: long, fast lenses are expensive and pretty heavy. Trying to make them light will usually mean a smaller aperture, which reduces AF performance, and trying to make them cheap will usually mean reduced optical performance and inferior construction quality. So ultimately, it's about the compromise that you find most acceptable.

    An option not on your list that could be worth considering is a 300 f/4, and a 1.4x TC. Personally (would I use Canon), that option or the 100-400 would attract me most (because of IS). The 400 f/4 and 400 f/2.8 are in a completely different priceclass. If you're willing to spend that kind of money, I'd actually look at the 500 f/4, and a 1.4xTC.
  4. You will not be unhappy with an EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II, with an EF 1.4x TC-III. Your 7D is a limiting factor, since getting its performance above ISO 800 is pretty limiting for wildlife and birds, where you need higher shutter speeds and resulting ISO that doesn't produce pasty, ugly noise. The 7D MkII is much better and the 5D MkIV is even better and has better AF. Buy used to avoid a depreciation hit.

    The image quality of the latest L-series blows away the Sigma/Tamron 150-600mm. I know several people that tried the 150-600s and ended up moving to Canon, or Nikon, depending on their preference. I wouldn't suggest switching brands. I just moved from the latest Canon equipment to Sony, BUT I'm selling images and shooting at a high level. No need for a beginner to make a very expensive switch.
  5. I shoot Nikon. I don't suggest switching to Nikon any more than I would switch to Canon for a particular task. I do like zoom lenses for photographing birds in flight--I find it easier to track birds at a wide setting before zooming in.
  6. EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM, should be fine.
    peggybair likes this.
  7. Of your options, I would go with the 100-400, as the most flexible.
    You may not always want to shoot at 400mm.

    But it also depends on the size of the bird, and how far away you are from the bird.
    A "small" bird at a distance will call for an even LONGER lens.

    Go outside with your 70-200
    Put it on 200mm.
    Aim at a bird at a distance that you think you might be shooting at.
    Visualize a vertical line splitting the frame in half, now visualize a horizontal line splitting the frame in half. You now have 4 quarters of the screen.
    One of those quarters is what you will see with a 400mm lens.
    Does the bird fill enough of the quarter of the screen for you?​

    In reality you have little/no idea of the distance that you will be from the birds.
    You might be lucky with a very close shot, or unlucky with a LONG shot.

    The instructor should be able to give you a decent idea of the distances to expect.

    gud luk
  8. 100-400 on 7D, works like 150-600 on full frame, should be more than enough in Costa Rica.
    Costa Rica 5.jpg Costa Rica 4.jpg
  9. And have a fun.

    Costa Rica 9.jpg

    Costa Rica3.jpg
  10. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    Which 70 - 200L? There are several and identifying which one may be integral to reaping good advice.

  11. I'm "expert" at BIF, commonly shooting handheld at 800mm and 1000mm. The FAST way to capture a bird in flight is to look at the bird, raise the camera while looking at the bird and then put you eye to the viewfinder. Practice it over and over and you'll soon be a pro at it. Really. Basketball players may take 1,000+ practice shots per day. Investing in a little training will pay off. Generally, you'll get better IQ with a prime lens, but I'm not against zooms. (I own and regularly use a 100-400mm). However, this wide to zoom technique will cause you to miss way more shots than simply raising the rig and locking on.

    800mm handheld. Simply raise the camera to the eye, while watching the bird, lock-on and shoot:

    [​IMG]Pelican Landing by David Stephens, on Flickr
  12. If there were some unique lens that you needed and it was only available in one mount, then maybe switching would make sense.

    This is manifestly NOT the case for long telephotos for birding. Your friends, I conclude, are more "fanboys" than helpful.

    I have the older mark 1 of the 100-400mm and it is a fine lens, but it is very heavy. It's good if you are strong enough.
  13. I only do a little bird photography, but from what little experience I have, I would say that what Gary said is the key. First, his suggestion will tell you exactly what you would see with a 400mm lens. you can do the same thing with any other focal length. Second, it all depends on distance.

    I shoot with a 100-400II. I do what little birding I do in a refuge where you usually can't get very close, and in that setting, I find even 400mm generally isn't enough, particularly for small birds. (And the 100-400 won't focus at the long end with a converter attached on a 7D generation 1--too little light.)

    I looked at the Sigma and Tamron 150-600 lenses, and I am not entirely sure I made the right choice. Reviews agree with dcstep that the optical quality isn't as high as the100-400 II, and for my purposes, I wanted the closer-focusing Canon, but the Sigma and Tamron lenses are a lot cheaper, and if you are too far away for the 400, you might get a better image with the 150-600 than by using the 400 and cropping more. Perhaps someone has done that comparison; I haven't.
  14. Since the OP mentioned about the concern of the weight of the lenses, I just want to add that I played with the Tamron 150-600mm lens at Photo Expo last week. It is also BIG and HEAVY, at 4.5 pound. As a beginner of bird photography myself, I found the pictures taken with both Tamron 18-400mm and the Canon 100-400mm (V.1) are "Acceptable". I really wish I have the Canon 500mm or 600mm prime lens. But then I have to upgrade my tripod system and a new extender.

    EOS 80D 18-400_.jpg
    80D + Tamron 18-400mm at 400mm, f/11, ISO 200.

    EOS 80D 100-400 ex_.jpg
    80D + Canon 100-400mm at 400mm + 1.4 II, f/8, ISO 200.

    p.s. Great pictures, Nick and Dave.
  15. Andy
    If you are serious about birding, you better plan and budget to upgrade your tripod and lens.
    The farther and/or smaller the bird, the longer the lens you need.

    Although there is a smaller/lighter alternative.
    Micro 4/3, a 300mm lens on a m4/3 = 12x magnification.
    You would need a 600mm lens on a FF to get the same 12x magnification.
    andy_szeto likes this.
  16. This is a fair point, as the Tamron and Sigma 150-600 s both outweigh the 70-200/2.8 Ls and the 100-400Ls... however, with the added reach (+200mm) , there is little in terms of wildlife/birding they are incapable of on a crop camera. They also both come w/ mounts (and IS) which, when added to a lightweight monopod make them easy to manage despite the extra half kg (or so) of weight.

    One of them is on my shortlist, as 400mm is simply too short for anything approaching serious birding or even much in the wildlife range. I've been using a 2x TC w/ my 70-200/2.8 on FF and while, if the subject fills the frame, the quality is fine, if I have to crop significantly, I find myself dissatisfied (especially compared to the 70-200/2.8's normal output). And even though switching to a crop body would help with reach, the output of the 150-600mm s from Tamron AND Sigma is impressive enough to me to (I expect) satisfy me - unless I decide to try for a career change ;) .
  17. If you can afford the £/$ and the weight/bulk, the new Sigma 60-600mm 4.5/6.3 is worth a look, esp. as it's pretty sharp at the long end.
  18. Also be sure to consider the Tamron and Sigma 100-400mms. They are reasonably priced and optically good. If you want to change system then be sure to consider m4/3 cameras as they have impressive teles at much keener prices and they are much smaller.
  19. I have stopped my DX kit at 200mm (similar to a 300mm on FF), because of size and weight.
    For anything longer, I switch to m4/3. A relatively small 300mm on a m4/3 camera is like a 600mm lens on a FF camera. This makes for much easier logistics.
    peggybair likes this.

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