Thursday, November 4, 2010

Lens review on Canon 400 mm published in Smart Photography, November 2010

Dr Caesar – it seems you have got a new Canon 400 mm f/5.6 - I would love to hear your views on the lens.

In one word - awesome. I had taken hundreds of feedback from seniors and contemporaries before buying this lens and I thank all those who advised me to go for it. I don’t think I could get anything better than this for my needs and in my budget.

What do you like most in the lens?

Canon 400 mm f/5.6 is known as a birding lens. My basic genre is bird photography and the lens is of great use for me. It is the lens made by Canon for birds in flight. The best part of the lens is the amazing clarity and sharpness of the pictures. I had a dilemma between Canon 400 f/5.6 and Canon 100 – 400 mm zoom before I actually went for this one. Today, after using both - I would rate 400 mm f/5.6 far ahead over Canon 100 – 400 mm in terms of sharpness.

I also like the sturdiness of the lens… its lightweight,, sleekly designed and very solidly built. Infact I banged it against the jeep rod during my last trip in Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve… and all was well.

It is a relatively fast lens… although many would not agree to it. For my needs, I find it quite fast and the fast focusing is due to the ring USM (Ultra Sonic Motor) that it has in it.

I haven’t noticed any chromatic aberration or vignette. Color, saturation and contrast output are just excellent. The background blurring is simply superb. I am really feeling the difference a prime lens can create.

What do you dislike about the lens if any?

Many said this doesn’t have IS and hence is not advisable. I have clicked animals from a distance of 70 feet handheld and have got razor sharp pictures. So if the light condition is good, I don’t think lack of IS is a minus point from any angle. Yes – one disadvantage that any prime lens would have is lack of the flexibility that a zoom lens has. Especially when you are in field shooting mammals, you may land up shooting all close-ups when you would actually have preferred to shoot a few habitat shots. For me it didn’t make much difference though.

What was the long lens you were using earlier and how does the new one compare against the old lens?

I have been using Sigma 170 – 500 mm. I don’t think it is wise to compare it with this lens as they are not in the same bracket. Yes… I have used Canon 100 – 400 mm and I was simply surprised with the quality improvement it brought to my images. So, when I was planning for a new lens, I was confused between these two. Canon 100 – 400 mm comes for a higher price, for the IS that it comes with. I think I took a wise decision by choosing Canon 400 mm f/5.6.

Is hand-holding possible?

Very much. Take a look at my image of the Sambar in Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve – that was shot handheld from a distance of 70 feet… the picture says it all.

How sharp is it wide open?

Look at the same image of the Sambar - this image is shot at f/5.6 at 1/800s shutter speed and ISO 400. I think the lens rocks !!!

Do you look back and feel that an IS lens would have been better?

Absolutely no. This is just perfect. Handheld pictures are absolutely fantastic if the light conditions are good. Even in low light conditions, using a stable tripod can give simply great images using the lens. I am happy without the IS and I wouldn’t prefer to pay some bucks more for an IS to it.

Do you feel that a filter (UV, Skylight) degrades its sharpness?

No – I don’t think so… I use a UV / Skylight filter and I don’t think it has hampered any of my images. Using a good quality UV / Skylight filter is rather advisable at least as a protective measure from any accidental damage.

Do you feel that the collar base is strong enough or is that its weak spot?

It is strong enough but yes it could be stronger… you are right

Is the lens equally sharp at close distance, mid-distance and far away distance?

I think yes.

Would you recommend the lens to your best friend?

Ofcourse (I would have gifted if lenses were a bit cheaper – ha ha)

How does it stand up in flare causing situations?

Quite good in handling flares. I have encountered situations in my last trip to Tadoba with direct sunlight hitting the lens with very minor reduction in contrast

Do you find any difference in image quality in similar shots taken with and without the lens hood

I believe you are referring to pictures takes in overcast / soft lighting, where many people don't bother to attach the lens hood. It wouldn’t matter according to me.

Overall a fantastic buy… value for money. The lack of IS didn’t matter for me. The sharpness I got using the lens is simply amazing. It has given a tremendous improvement in my images – a great buy any day.

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