Time for some more travel technology – this week, looking at a lens that I’ve fallen for – the Canon 100mm-400mm F4.5-5.6 IS L Series lens.
Ok. Let me translate some of that into something resembling English
- Canon – That’s the brand of the lens.
- 100mm – that’s the shortest focal length this lens starts at
- 400mm – that’s the longest focal length this lens can work at
- f4.5-5.6 – The light can be let in. Read Wikipeda to understand what an F-stop is.
- IS – Image Stabilisation which reduces the shake factor
- L Series – Canon’s Luxury Series
There are two versions of this lens, the Mark I and the Mark II. I’m looking at the classic Mark I version (namely, as my budget didn’t allow for a Mark II…. unless someone wants to donate one to the cause and has a spare $2000 in their pocket).
Before I go on, this is by no means an exhaustive lens review – rather its a review of a lens from someone who has used it for actual photography. If you want a fuller more camera geek friendly review, head to The Digital Picture for reviews on the Mark I and Mark II lenses
Let’s look the lens mounted on a Canon 6D
Now lets look at the lens when it’s fully extended using the push-pull lens pump action.
And for comedy – on a Canon 100D 😉
It still looks comedic on this camera.
What do I use this lens for?
Rather simply: I use it for taking pictures of planes. I’ve used it to do portraiture, but it’s a little uncontrollable for that purpose. People who I’ve let use this lens say this feels like a “paparazzi lens”
Make no mistake, this lens is a beast. It weighs in a 1.38kg plus whatever your camera weighs. There’s a tripod mount on the lens which makes life a little easier when mounting the lens up for work.
Make no mistake, this thing is built like a tank.
If you’re working with this lens for any length of time, you’ll need decent should muscles to carry the thing. And build up muscles to use it constantly.
Zooming and Focusing
This lens is unlike a lot of Canon lenses I’ve used – namely it has a push-pull-pumpy-action zooming mechanism. I suppose this is where I should put a DigitalRev video in so Kai can explain it better than I every could…
You can adjust the firmness of the zoom. Focusing is the usual Canon Full-Time Manual Focus, allowing you to control the lens… although at 400mm, that can be a challenge…
Focusing can limited too from 1.8m to Infinity, and 6.5m to Infinity. This is useful for speeding up focusing times – especially if you’re shooting from far away.
Focusing speed itself isn’t fast – so account for it when you’re shooting.
The image stabilisation is pretty good – it should get you out of a lot of scrapes whilst allowing you to shoot.
Ok. Enough of the chat. Lets get onto the photos.
From the tower at Heathrow
Let’s start with a non moving target. A BA 747-400 at rest.
British Airways Boeing 747-400 – 160mm 1/400 @ f8, ISO500.
Let’s stretch the lens a bit with a Singapore Airlines A380 that’s pootling along a taxiway at Heathrow
Singapore Airlines Airbus A380 – 310mm 1/500 @ f8, ISO500.
And at full stretch with a Jet Airways Boeing 777 going for take off.
Jet Airways Boeing 777-300ER – 400mm, 1/500 @ f8, ISO500.
As you can see – there’s a fair amount of throw in this lens – and sometimes its too much of a lens if you’re close to an item.
Once you get a grip of it – things improve.
On the ground at Heathrow
American Airlines Boeing 777 – 400mm, 1/1000 @ f11, ISO1600
British Airways A319 – 320mm, 1/640 @ f9, ISO400
Qatar Airways Airbus A380 – 220mm, 1/800 @ f10, ISO400
So it works well on the ground and in a tower – but how about 9 floors up in a Hotel? I took it with me to the Hyatt Regency O’Hare and tried to get what I could…
From a balcony at they Hyatt
Delta Airbus A320 – 400mm, 1/500 @ f8, ISO100
Shooting in to the sun is always tough – Atlas Air Boeing 747-8F – 1/800, f10, 400mm ISO100
In the grey, the lens works pretty well too…
Delta 717 -400mm, 1/500 @ f8, ISO100
And can you use this Canon 100-400 lens at night? It’s tough. VERY TOUGH.
But not impossible.
Unidentified United Airbus Aircraft – 400mm 1/60 @ f5.6, ISO6400
I brought this lens second hand… and I don’t regret it in the least. It is a beast to use, and a lens you need to practice with before using it in anger.
But the results you get from it are impressive providing you spend a little time learning how to use this lens.
The Canon 100-400L lens set me back £649 second hand from London Camera Exchange – the up to date version of it is an eye watering , £1795.00 from Jessops or $2000 from B&H – making a lens like this a considered purchase.
But I can’t see myself without this lens if I’m going spotting, or to an airport any more. It’s a stellar bit of kit.
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