Canon 400 f2.8 IS vs 500 f4 IS

Discussion in 'Nature' started by todd_mahon, Jun 8, 2002.

  1. After saving for years I am going to be buying either a Canon 400
    f2.8 IS or a Canon 500 f/4 IS for use on an EOS 3 body. Right now I
    am leaning toward the 400/2.8 because I can get a 400mm f/2.8, a
    560mm f/4.0 and an 800mm f/5.6 using TCs. In addition, I live in NW
    British Columbia and I am frequently shooting under low light
    conditions (overcast and closed forest canopy) so the faster lens has
    obvious advantages. The flip side is that I am mostly shooting birds
    and will almost always be using TCs to get the required zoom and will
    therefore be at f4 or f5.6 anyway.

    My reasons for going with the 500 f4 are that it costs almost $3000
    cdn less and that it weighs 3 lbs less.

    So here are my specific questions, but I would also appreciate any
    other comments on the subject.
    Is the 500/4, at 3 lbs less, going to be noticeably easier to work
    How do people feel about the quality of 400/2.8 with the 2x TC?
    (From what I have heard about the 500 f4 the concensus seems to be
    that the 2x does not work that well with it)

  2. 2x doesn't work well with anything unless you stop down 1-2/f and event than it is compromise.
    Also Dan Heller using this lens almost exclusively use it with 1.4/2x TC's.
    400/2.8 is almost as heavy as 600/4 and almost the same price. Go with 600/4 if birds are your main subject, wide open it will be much better than 400/2.8 with TC wide open. Leave 400/2.8 to sport photographers :)
    My choice of lens would 500/4 due to weight/price/convenience of use issues, but beeing pro, I would rather take 600/4.
  3. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Moderator

    If you are into birds and you can deal with the weight (and price) of a 400mm/f2.8, then you are better off getting the 600mm/f4. 400mm is going to be too short for birds in most occasions and you might as well glue a TC onto the 400mm/f2.8 all the time, thus you lose the f2.8 advantage completely. (Acutally you can't glue it on, because you'll be switching between the 1.4x and 2x a lot.)
    Therefore, you are left with the classic 500mm/f4 vs. 600mm/f4 situation that has been discussed and debated over and over. If weight, size and price were not issues, the 600mm/f4 would be the clear choice for birds, but not everybody can handle its weight comfortably. For example, I understand that Mary Ann McDonald actually uses the older 500mm/f4.5 EOS lens because it is lighter than the current f4 IS version. I personally also prefer the lighter 500mm/f4 and it is also easier to travel with it by plane. But only you can decide which one fits you better (and whether any 3-lb difference is significant to you). Please read the existing threads (for example, this thread) on the pros and cons; there is absolutely no reason to repeat the discussion here.
    It may be diffciult to figure out which lens fits you best sitting in front of a computer. If possible, rent them or borrow them and try them out yourself.
  4. Shun summed it up pretty well. I will reiterate the advice of renting before buying. 3 lbs doesn't sound like much. But when you consider the weight of a heavier lens plus the needed support, the difference is NOT trivial. I'm in pretty good shape but I didn't feel comfortable handling a lens the size of a 400/2.8 or 600/4. No question for birds, even with TC's you'll always be wanting more length than the 400.
  5. if money isa big concern get the 400 2.8 you are right on about the different focal lenghts is allows you with teleconverters.

    I have one and use it routinely
    ART MORRISS A well known bird photographer has done shots with stacked converters and converters and exstension tubes and his shots routinely show up in Audobon, sibleys, and other famous bird magazines. He is a working pro and does this for a living. He takes good shots with teleconverters. Mind you he uses canon teleconverters not cheap no name brands. So yes use 400 2.8 and a 1.4 and 2x teleconverter and with the new sereies II converters you can stack them and get even more range.
    I routinely print 16x20 pics with no problem that turn out sharp. Mind you Art and me both have really good tripods and tripod heads.
    Thanks and good luck Mike :0
  6. A lot depends on your subject. As stated, for birds 600 f/4 IS is the king of the hill. The 500 f/4 IS is by far the most prevelant choice for general wildlife photography. The 400 f 2.8 is used by some wildlife photographers, but is mostly a professional sports photographer's lens. Personally, I would go with either the 500 f/4, or 600 f/4. At roughly the same weight and cost as the 400 2.8, the 600 gives you a lot more coverage.
    The 3 lbs of weight is significant. With any of these lenses you are going to want a Wimberly head or a very sturdy ball head, and a very good tripod. with the 400 2.8, a wimberly head and a Gitzo 410 tripod, you're around 20lbs, which is a fair amount to hike with.
    Another question is what lenses you already have? If you have a good 300mm lens, IMO, the 400 isn't enough of a step up in coverage to justify $8,000.
  7. Todd,
    I reread your post and noted you are mostly shooting birds. I think you really should consider the 600 f/4 IS, or at least the 500 f/4. I have the 600 f/4, and shoot mostly birds. At 600mm, I still use the 1.4tc more often than not, and often use the 2x tc. 400mm is really going to be too short for most bird photography, and you're going to be using the 2x a lot to get to 800mm. If you're willing to spend the money and carry the weight, the 600 f/4 is a much better choice for birds than the 400 2.8. One caveot would be if you are going to fly a lot, and want to carry the lens on the plane, the 400 2.8 will be easier to carry on than the 600 f/4. A good bird set up would be the 600 f/4, and either a 300f/4 IS, or the 100-400IS, for flight shots.
    I think if you look at published photo credits of succesful bird photographers you're going to see that a lot of them were done with the 600 f/4, and you're going to have to look awhile to find many done with a 400 2.8.
  8. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Moderator

    It is reaching the point that we are repeating a lot of the argument in the 500mm vs. 600mm threads. Please take a look at the latest installment of those threads for additional information.
    Concerning tripods, with the introduction of many carbon fiber tripods by Gitzo and others, most big lens owners use the much lighter and much more expensive Gitzo 1548 or 13xx, etc. instead of the heavy aluminm 410, etc.
  9. Given the difference in weight (and price !!) I would favour the 500/4 unless you definately knew you would be using the 400/2.8 at least some of the time on it's own.

    I chose an EF500/4.5 over the 600/4 simply on the weight. I take a lot of birds myself, but the 500 is more than heavy enough for me to lug around. I feel that if I had the 600, it would not get used very much. The 500/4's are a very reasonable compromise between size, weight and reach. Also I do use it a lot without the TC for other wildlife and so enjoy that 'shorter' focal length as well.

    The 500/4 is still a reasonably fast lens. Another stop is often always nice to have but you have to draw the line somewhere.

    You better hurry up and decide soon, else Canon will have their 500/2.8 IS out. !!!! :)
  10. I started a recent thread on the 500 vs 600 issue and after taking advice and considering the issue I purchased the 500 f4 IS. I am fairly big but would not want to take anything larger while travelling or even local to home. These are big lenses. I have used the 500 with 1.4 and 2x teleconverters separately and together on a Gitzo 1349 with B1 and Sidekick and the results are very good. Without TCs the lense is superb. I would consider the 400 too short for wildlife and especially birds. A 300 with TC would more than fill the 400 gap in focal lengths. Good luck with your decision. Darrill
  11. Consider me a spoil-sport but consider the 400 f/4 DO. Maneuverability over fire-power.
  12. The 400/2.8 isn't very popular with wildlife photographers. Except maybe in Africa for shooting the larger mammals. There 400mm is an ideal focal length and the F2.8 gives great images with selective sharpness. If you need more focal length now and then, you can ad a 1.4x or 2x converter. Since wildlife photography in Africa is nearly always done from a car, weigth and size are not such big problems. Only for those who live outside Africa and have to fly in.

    If you shoot wildlife and lots of birds too, the longer focal length of the 500mm is great to have. And of course for travelling (both by air and on foot) the 500mm is far better.
  13. I would vote for the 500mm, as well. I don't own it (or the 400/2.8, either) but I have lusted after this lens for some time.

    Three pounds difference in weight is LOT of weight in the field. I recently changed from an almost 4 pound Bogen/Manfrotto tripod head to a Gitzo ballhead weighing a little under 2 pounds and found that I could now carry my regular Gitzo tripod a lot further with less fatigue. Don't underestimate how a heavier weight can get heavier and heavier during the day.

    I wouldn't worry much about the optical loss with either of the lenses with the 2x extender. While the combination is highly limited, I have used the Canon 2x II extender on my Canon 400/5.6L lens and have some amazingly sharp photos shot wide open. I have seen some excellent work done with Canon and Nikon lenses using stacked extenders. I realize there is a loss in optical quality when extenders are used but, if the optics in the original lens and in the extender are of the highest quality to begin with, the final results can be quite satisfactory.

    Most people who do bird photography use 600mm lenses and often attach extenders. There are many photographers who use the lighter weight 500mm lenses and do outstanding work. My opinion is to go for the lighter weight 500mm lens and use the savings to upgrade your tripod and your tripod head and buy the Canon extenders.
  14. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Moderator

    Hi Todd (Mahon, who asked the initial question), are you reading these answers? Do you have any comments or responses?
  15. I have a setup similar to Darrill. I have the 500/4IS, wimb
    sidekick, gitzo 1349, and BH1 ballhead. It is heavy enough and I
    agree while a few pounds does not seem like alot in the end
    when you are walking any additional weight makes a difference.
    I got the long tenba LL600 bagand when walking from the car to
    my shooting location, carry the lens attached to the camera.
  16. Shun asked if I was reading these answers - indeed I am and I appeciate everyones comments and advice. I have also received some comments from some wildlife 'pros' who are 60-40 split on the 500 over the 400.

    Initially I was primed to make a quick purchase to use at a couple of great gray owl nests and goshawk nests that I've found this spring. I've now decided that I am going to hold off until I can handle the two lenses to get a better sense of the weight issue.

    I appreciate everyone's comments about the 600 being more appropriate for birds. At this point the larger size of the 600 isn't going to work for me given the air travel and field situations I will be in.

    Again, thanks for your advice. I appreciate any other points someone might have.

    Cheers, Todd
  17. Todd, if this is any help. The last years I have been photographing mainly with Canon's MF 500/4.5 and 300/2.8 lenses. I have travelled through Africa quite a lot for my photography. So I do have lots of experience with a 500mm and air travel.

    I have been wishing, dreaming and saving to make the switch to EOS and such a lens for many years too. The 600 being better for birds and the 500 being more transportable. The 500 still was my favourite since I am have been bitten by the "Africa virus". So I do have to travel by plane to photograph over there. It's an ideal lens when photographing both birds and larger mammals, when you need air travel.

    I almost bought a used 600/4 (without IS) rather cheap last week but the seller came back on the agreement and sold the lens to someone else the day before I had agreed to pick it up. At the moment I was very much pissed off, but now I am glad about it. (Found out afterwards the seller indeed wasn't trustworthy and the lens also wasn't new as described.)

    Anyway, last friday I finally took the big step and ordered a new 500/4.0 IS from Isarfoto. (They have many new Canon lenses discounted this month and the 500/4.0 was at an almost 1000 euro discount!)

    I do have some experience with both the 600/4.0 (non IS) and the 500/4.0 IS lenses as Canon lended them both to me (on sperate occaisions) for several weeks. The 500/4.0 was wonderfull for birds with the 1.4x converter and I could bring it aboard the plane in my Pro Trekker, where it fitted very well. The 600/4.0 is very big (so is the 400/2.8) and hardly fits in the Pro Trekker. Taking it onboard an aircraft as handluggage may become impossible as it weighs 6 kg (the IS version is 5.3 kg). Many US airlines still allow such weights, but on most european and intercontinental flights handluggage is limited to 1 piece and 7kgs. So if you intend to fly with the lens, this might be a very good reason to choose for the 500. I did.
  18. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Moderator

    Todd, in this type of threads, if the person who asked the original question doesn't post some responses, sometimes I wonder whether they are still reading the answers or not.

    Again, there is no "right" answer to this question. It is very much an individual decision. If you are a big person, always shoot from near your vehicle and don't travel with the big lens, a 600mm/f4 may be perfect for you. I am 6'1", not exactly a very small person, but I still prefer the lighter 500mm/f4 which I can carry during short hikes and on overseas travel. You can read a lot of opinions sitting in front of your computer; we can tell you what the pros and cons are to help you understand the potential problems, but eventually, IMO you have to try the lenses out to make a decision.
  19. I have own both EF 400mmf/2.8 and EF 600mmf/4. I my opinion, the 400mm f.28 is a great lens if you do night football (as many sport photographer prefer) but if you want to do small birds or mammal then this lens is too short. I regularly use my EF 600mm f/4 for most of my birds photography, but I use my EF 400mm f/2.8 for big game such as elk, and deer in the low light. You might want to think twice about using a 400mm f/2.8 rountinely with a EF 2X because with this combination will slowed down AF a lot! And you may suffer image quality a little. I use my EF 2X with my 600mm f/4 regularly and have very sharp, to slightly soft due to the movement (I don't own IS). 400mm, 500mm, 600mm, for me I choose 600mm without a doubt..
  20. Dear All,
    I am in a similar situation like Todd, but i would be interested in knowing how would the answers change when I say:
    1. I shoot 50% of mammals, 30% of birds and 20% macro -Also I already have a 100-400 4.5-5.6 which is good enough for large mammals at decent light.
    I was really wondering if I should buy a 500f4 (500 f4 is much better than 100-400 5.6 i already have. OR Should I pick up the 400 2.8
    I have had to really miss getting good shots of many tiger encounters on late evenings. So I thought - I'd use 100-400 (easy to use for mammals in good light) + when it is dark, i'd switch to a 400 2.8 on another body.
    When i have to shoot a bird like a pied kingfisher at a decent distance, I can stack it with 1.4 and it would be 560 at f4
    and when its a very small bird like a sunbird for instance i'd need to use a 2x with 800 at 5.6 (I know these are funny examples, but giving them to relate the sizes from the same distance)

    I know 400 2.8 would be much heavier, but i wouldnt be hand holding it either and i dont think i'd travel much on air or even if I do it would be once a year or twice maximum.

    So for someone who does shoot mammals too and would shoot even birds occassionally - is 400mm 2.8 really not a better choice than a 500mm f4? I am not considering 600 f4 at all as I dont think I am ready for an investment of that much for small birds alone.

    Thank a ton in advance.
  21. I'd go with the 500/4. One stop of light might be critical for dimly-lit scenes, but if you
    shoot digital you can partially compensate by boosting ISO. The advantage of additional
    focal length for most wildlife is considerable, and especially for birds (large or small).
    Then there's the additional savings in weight and cost, and the fact that you already have a
    lens that gets you to 400 mm. I have a 500/4, and even with big mammals I'm most
    often at 1000 mm on a sub-frame DSLR and very frequently wish for more focal length.
    Of course, there's a caveat: the places I normally shoot are much more open than a
    typical forest.

    If you get interested in small birds, you'll probably need an extension tube. None of the
    big teles by Nikon or Canon -- 400/2.8, 500/4, 600/4 -- focus close enough for tight
    images of small birds or mouse-sized mammals.
  22. Thanks :)
    I'll consider all these and come to a conslusion. Unfortunately in india, I cant experience these lenses before buying a I have never seen anyone having a 400 2.8
    The dealers have to smuggle it for us :(
  23. I have never seen anyone having a 400 2.8
    Neither have I, and I've seen more 500/4 and 600/4 lenses than I can remember (one can probably count 100 of them at once on a November morning at the Flight Deck in Bosque del Apache wildlife refuge). I think the 400/2.8 is more in vogue with sports photographers than nature nuts.

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