I took some time today to try out what I hope will be an excellent addition to the small collection of lenses for my SLR cameras: Canon’s EF 400mm f/5.6L, USM. The super telephoto is a medium-weight (some would say heavy-) beauty, solidly-built with an attached, retracting lens shade, and ample manual-focus grips. A “prime focus” optic, it features a minimum number of high-quality glass elements, only two electronic switches, and no image stabilization; those reduced features help keep weight, complexity, and price down. I wondered whether I could use the big new glass handheld for wildlife photography. I found the answer is a definite maybe! The lens and my EOS D50 camera make for a hefty load though that, in itself, doesn’t prohibit handheld shooting. What I’m not used to, however, is the lens’s rather distant close-focus distance of about 3.9 meters and its very shallow depth of focus (a function of focal length and aperture, of course). The distant close-focus can be a problem since I’m used to my 70 – 200mm lens’s ability to focus to about 1.2 meters. On nature hikes, I’ll either need to carry two cameras or be prepared to swap lenses a lot more frequently than I do now though 400mm is an awful lot of lens for most of our hikes. Of course, a long lens is a tool you use for specific shots so, if I’m to go out birding, I’ll probably want and need to start carrying the lens and camera combo mounted to a tripod. The lens comes with a tripod mount collar (Canon didn’t include that on my pricey 70 – 200mm zoom) and I did find that, even with my steady hand and high shutter speeds, I could have used a bit more physical stability today. Image quality appears to be very good to excellent (as expected), auto-focus is generally quick and silent. Shots at f/8 have very shallow depth of focus which I’m not used to but which can be really wonderful for isolating a subject from background clutter. The down side of shallow focus is that you’d better be bang-on target or the subject won’t be sharp as you would like. It will be fun to try this glass out in astrophotography, piggybacked to a telescope as a guide during long exposures! (The optical elements of this telephoto are much better than those of my telescope.) My test shots today included a nuthatch (that took flight as I fired the shutter), some Canada geese, a squirrel, a few spring wildflowers, etc. No wading birds at the lake today. My favorite, however, was my final shot of the session at Hinckley Lake: I heard a Cardinal singing and spotted it high in a tree. I walked to a point almost directly under the bird, adjusted the camera a bit, and made two exposures before he took off. Likely to get that one printed and framed: it’s a nice shot!
It’s a nice shot!