300mm f/4L IS + 1.4X TC vs. 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L


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fWord

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Greetings!

Zoo photography and bird photographs have intrigued me greatly in recent days, and though the current 70-200mm f/4L does a great job at zooming in, it sometimes falls short. In search for a longer lens, I came up with the Bigma and the Canon 100-400mmL. The Bigma had great range at a great price, and there were talks about how good its build was. But since I preferred to shoot handheld and IS is really important to me, the Bigma, and also Canon's 400mm f/5.6L were not for me.

Just today, something hinted me to take a look at the Canon 300mm f/4L IS and now I'm utterly confused. This prime is a lot cheaper than the 100-400mmL zoom, and with a 1.4X TC, I'd be able to achieve the same range and get the same max aperture. As it turns out, the 300mm prime is no slouch, and highly rated as well. The magnification factor is slightly better than the zoom and it seems quite nice for closeup shots as well.

The prime is lighter than the zoom, and at the same focal length (300mm), the prime may be anything between 3/4 to a whole stop faster than the zoom. Plus, the MTF graphs (funnily enough), even seemed to show that image quality of the prime improved with a 1.4X TC. Of course, the zoom still wins in its own way because of the flexibility.

Any suggestions? Should I save and splurge more on the zoom, or should I go for the prime + TC combo? I don't have a clear idea at this time on how much each choice would cost, though I am actively considering upgrading from my 70-200mm lens very soon in the future. At any rate, I'm only thinking of buying second-hand because cost is somewhat an issue.
 

Stoned

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I'd actually venture to say that the prime and TC combo for bird/wildlife photographs as the quality is somewhat better.

To quote some bird photographer's most commonly given advice about equipment, "Buy the longest lens you can afford." Personally, for animals/birds, I would pick the 400/5.6L. The 300/4 and TC combo is a pretty decent choice too though. Handholding the 400/5.6 is not as difficult as you think. Anyway, if you do decide to go for serious wildlife photography, a good monopod or tripod and ball head would be on your want list pretty soon.
 

fWord

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Stoned said:
I'd actually venture to say that the prime and TC combo for bird/wildlife photographs as the quality is somewhat better.

To quote some bird photographer's most commonly given advice about equipment, "Buy the longest lens you can afford." Personally, for animals/birds, I would pick the 400/5.6L. The 300/4 and TC combo is a pretty decent choice too though. Handholding the 400/5.6 is not as difficult as you think. Anyway, if you do decide to go for serious wildlife photography, a good monopod or tripod and ball head would be on your want list pretty soon.
Thank you, and good advice. Getting blurred photos even on a 70-200mm lens made me yearn for something with IS. Either it's the coffee, or that the conditions are just a little dim. To be frank, I don't think that my photos are sharp even at 1/200s at 200mm. In the zoo, especially for indoor displays, it's worse as I wind up with disastrous combinations like 1/80s at f/4 ISO 1600.

Although I'm interested with telephoto work, there probably isn't a lot of wildlife photography to be done in Singapore, per se. But in places like Australia, it is possible to see some dolphins making a splash in the sea some distance from the pier. It's those times that I wish for something longer.

Speaking of a want-list, there's plenty of things on there. :bsmilie: But I'll work at amassing some good knowledge before tackling them. Thanks for your response!
 

user111

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i also have a hard time deciding between 400/5.6L and 100-400/5.6L

image quality i dont really care to split hairs...main diff for me now is whether i want IS or not, since both max out at 400mm
 

USM

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Before you purchase any of the lens, you must understand why did you need to buy such a lens?

If you go for the 100-400mm, why did you buy? Simply it's focal length is 400mm? or? :think: If you always shoot at 400mm by using this lens, then might as well go for the 400mm f5.6L prime.

On the other hand, if you are always using at 100-300mm range, then just by a 1.4x TC and use it on your 70-200mm, and you will get around 280mm.

Lastly, for 300mm f4L IS USM, it in between the above 2, so you can actually give it a miss. The reason being if you use a 1.4x TC on it to give 380mm, you rather get a 100-400 or 400mm f5.6L. If just 300mm alone, then might as well as get a 1.4x TC and use it on your 70-200mm.
 

user111

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the problem is that half the time i shoot in 100-200mm range, and the other half the time i shoot in 300-400mm range
so i have to get 2 lenses: 70-200/2.8L which i already have since last time, and another 400mm. so now the toss is between 100-400 or 400 prime

or..i buy both ;) :cool: :cool: :cool:
 

fWord

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user111 said:
i also have a hard time deciding between 400/5.6L and 100-400/5.6L

image quality i dont really care to split hairs...main diff for me now is whether i want IS or not, since both max out at 400mm
Yes, that's true. Although my problem lies with the selection of a 300mm IS or a 100-400mm IS. Both have the same IS system in this case, and with the TC on the prime, it'd reach as far as the zoom.
 

fWord

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USM said:
Before you purchase any of the lens, you must understand why did you need to buy such a lens?

If you go for the 100-400mm, why did you buy? Simply it's focal length is 400mm? or? :think: If you always shoot at 400mm by using this lens, then might as well go for the 400mm f5.6L prime.

On the other hand, if you are always using at 100-300mm range, then just by a 1.4x TC and use it on your 70-200mm, and you will get around 280mm.

Lastly, for 300mm f4L IS USM, it in between the above 2, so you can actually give it a miss. The reason being if you use a 1.4x TC on it to give 380mm, you rather get a 100-400 or 400mm f5.6L. If just 300mm alone, then might as well as get a 1.4x TC and use it on your 70-200mm.
Good question. :) Again, I must stress that I do not 'need' to buy the lens. As with some other things I dream of, they are only 'wants'.

Currently, it's very hard for me to say exactly what focal length I'm going to need, because frankly, I have not used a focal length longer than 200mm. On the 350D, this equates to 320mm. The 70-200mm f/4 is a great lens that has its place in a photographer's arsenal, especially with its weight and pricing.

However, experience has suggested to me that the short end of this lens is too long for my purposes, and the long end is too short...not sure if it makes sense. :sweatsm: In Singapore, I've even tried taking this lens out for street shoots, and here, it's a little long and crops in too tightly for my liking, even at the 70mm end. And it draws a heck of a lot of attention. Although I did managed to get one or two keepers on the streets, I finally decided to leave that in my bag and shoot with the kit lens.

The kit lens itself covers 95% of the shots for me, and the 70-200mm comes out for the rest. But when it does, wow...the ratio of keepers to junk shots becomes excellent. At the zoo and at events, the 200mm end is still short, even for some of the big cats. And many a time, especially when I'm strolling on a beach, I'd see a pretty little bird sitting on a stone some distance away. I mount the 70-200mm lens, zoom in and find that it's still not a frame-filling shot...I move closer, and the bird is gone. :bsmilie:

Initially I considered going cheap and lean...to mount a 1.4X TC over my lens. That might do the trick for some cases, though not for birding. And with the aperture at f/5.6, unsteady hands and a bad habit of drinking coffee in the morning, I'm not able to get steady shots in lower light.

Hence my desire was for something with IS, longer reach, great image quality (L-quality, to use a cliche term), build and good resale value. Not many choices left on the list...all that was left was the 100-400mmL. The 400mmL is out because of lack of IS. It also appears the least flexible to me. With a 300mmL and a 1.4X TC, I have the choice of a 480mm f/4 or 672mm f/5.6 (effective) prime and still have AF on my camera.

Maybe I'm thinking too much. :dunno: Thank you for the reply...great advice, and really good, thought-provoking questions. I think that's the thing that should always be on a buyer's mind: what do I want the lens for and what do I expect it to do for me?
 

fWord

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user111 said:
the problem is that half the time i shoot in 100-200mm range, and the other half the time i shoot in 300-400mm range
so i have to get 2 lenses: 70-200/2.8L which i already have since last time, and another 400mm. so now the toss is between 100-400 or 400 prime

or..i buy both ;) :cool: :cool: :cool:
:bsmilie: Hahaha...precisely my worry as well. Currently I only have the kit lens. If I were to trade off the 70-200 and upgrade to the 100-400mm or 300mm prime, there'd be a huge gap in the focal length coverage. I tell myself now that I can probably make do with a bit of walking, but that might change when I'm actually in that position.

Still, I reckon that if I were to buy second-hand lenses, there is less of a worry. Assuming I get myself a good copy, I wouldn't lose too much if I find the lens wrong for my purposes and need to sell it off. Plus, it's a good learning experience. Renting the lenses to try for a day or two is an option, but I feel that a lens must have time to grow on you. I'd need to use a lens for weeks to months to know if it's really right for me.
 

Nerd

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I have the same problem as you of shaky hands. What I did was get a monopod to go along with the combo of 70-200 on my D70. Sure it look weird walking around during dusk with a monopod, but when you are actually able to take shots that do not show handshake, 200mm @ 1/60, wow... the photo opportunities increase.
 

majere2sg

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I used to have the 100-400mm IS f/4.5-5.6 before I got the 300mm f4 IS and sold off it.
You might like to refer to this http://majere2sg.clubsnap.org/gallery/telephototest for a small test on the comparison on the sharpness between the 100-400mm and the 300mm f4 IS + Kenko pro 1.4TC.
The 100-400 is a more versatile lens and is relatively sharp but of course not as sharp compared to a prime but it is still usable. I usually shoot at 400mm with the 100-400 so I trade off the 100-400 for a sharper 300mm f4 IS. I did not regret in my decision for the change as the 300mm f/4 IS is worth the penny. As advised, if you shoot mainly at the telephoto end, get the 300mm f4 IS, else get the more versatile 100-400mm IS and if you dun mind the push-pull design too. :cool:

An example of the 100-400mm at 400mm, 1/13s, hand held
 

fWord

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Nerd said:
I have the same problem as you of shaky hands. What I did was get a monopod to go along with the combo of 70-200 on my D70. Sure it look weird walking around during dusk with a monopod, but when you are actually able to take shots that do not show handshake, 200mm @ 1/60, wow... the photo opportunities increase.
Hahaha! :bsmilie: Butter-finger shakey-hand people unite! Camera shake is a terrible thing. A monopod would be the cheap and effective way to solve these issues, even if a little inconvenient. It takes me ages to set up a tripod...not sure about a monopod. But at the zoo, I'm sure the shot will be gone by the time I get everything ready. :embrass:

Of course, if you had the dough, VR would be a great help! I've heard of Nikon's 18-200mm VR...any good?
 

fWord

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majere2sg said:
I used to have the 100-400mm IS f/4.5-5.6 before I got the 300mm f4 IS and sold off it.
You might like to refer to this http://majere2sg.clubsnap.org/gallery/telephototest for a small test on the comparison on the sharpness between the 100-400mm and the 300mm f4 IS + Kenko pro 1.4TC.
The 100-400 is a more versatile lens and is relatively sharp but of course not as sharp compared to a prime but it is still usable. I usually shoot at 400mm with the 100-400 so I trade off the 100-400 for a sharper 300mm f4 IS. I did not regret in my decision for the change as the 300mm f/4 IS is worth the penny. As advised, if you shoot mainly at the telephoto end, get the 300mm f4 IS, else get the more versatile 100-400mm IS and if you dun mind the push-pull design too. :cool:

An example of the 100-400mm at 400mm, 1/13s, hand held
Holy...! 1/13s handheld at 400mm?! Wow...and that IS is supposed to only be effective for 2 stops. I can only imagine what the newer generation would do at a 3 stop compensation. Maybe it's the compression that killed the image, but it doesn't look very sharp from here.

Thank you for the link as well, however, I couldn't access the page. I'd be interested to see the results of your testing. There's been comparisons between the 70-200mm f/2.8 + 2X TC and the 100-400mm at the 400mm end. That one has been clear enough, and the 100-400mm definitely won.

In this case, I'm still not sure of exact costs involved. But I wish to compare 2nd-hand prices between:

300mm f/4 IS + 1.4X TC
and
100-400mm f/4.5-5.6

If the price difference isn't great enough, I might be happy to just bite the bullet, shell out a little more and get used to the push-pull. Even read that the 100-400mm is a dust sucker, but how true is that? Or is it something that's just been overly publicized without proof...like oils in a lens drying out when humidity is too low?
 

eng_keow

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I've used the 300mm f4 is with 1.4TC compared with the 400mm f5.6. I must say that the 400mm is pretty good. In fact, in terms of weight, it is lighter than the 300 + tc combo. I was able to pan bird in flight shots and they turned out pretty reasonable. With the 300 +tc combo, I need the tripod but it turns out tack sharp with it. I have tried 400 + tc combo but that limits me to f8 which is a little problem if the lighting is poor. If you are looking for a birding lens, both these lenses may still not give enough reach.

For me at the moment, I am going with the 400mm, hand held in good lighting conditions, like shooting sunbirds, etc but will stick to my 300 +tc for poor light conditions when the subject is in the shade.
 

majere2sg

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fWord said:
Holy...! 1/13s handheld at 400mm?! Wow...and that IS is supposed to only be effective for 2 stops. I can only imagine what the newer generation would do at a 3 stop compensation. Maybe it's the compression that killed the image, but it doesn't look very sharp from here.

Thank you for the link as well, however, I couldn't access the page. I'd be interested to see the results of your testing. There's been comparisons between the 70-200mm f/2.8 + 2X TC and the 100-400mm at the 400mm end. That one has been clear enough, and the 100-400mm definitely won.

In this case, I'm still not sure of exact costs involved. But I wish to compare 2nd-hand prices between:

300mm f/4 IS + 1.4X TC
and
100-400mm f/4.5-5.6

If the price difference isn't great enough, I might be happy to just bite the bullet, shell out a little more and get used to the push-pull. Even read that the 100-400mm is a dust sucker, but how true is that? Or is it something that's just been overly publicized without proof...like oils in a lens drying out when humidity is too low?
Just opened up the permission to the page, forgot i set it to for my own viewing only.. hee
a 300mm f4 IS think sell for around 1.8k to 2k for 2nd hand.. a 100-400 perhaps around 2k to 2.2k+
As for the 1.4X TC, depends on what you are looking for... I think a kenko pro 300 1.4 TC should be enough.. I find the push pull design quite ok.. didn't really suck in a lot of dust.. think have to depends on each individual use and where u use the lens and how often and how fast u push-pull the lens.
 

fWord

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eng_keow said:
I've used the 300mm f4 is with 1.4TC compared with the 400mm f5.6. I must say that the 400mm is pretty good. In fact, in terms of weight, it is lighter than the 300 + tc combo. I was able to pan bird in flight shots and they turned out pretty reasonable. With the 300 +tc combo, I need the tripod but it turns out tack sharp with it. I have tried 400 + tc combo but that limits me to f8 which is a little problem if the lighting is poor. If you are looking for a birding lens, both these lenses may still not give enough reach.

For me at the moment, I am going with the 400mm, hand held in good lighting conditions, like shooting sunbirds, etc but will stick to my 300 +tc for poor light conditions when the subject is in the shade.
It'll require a lot of skill to pan a non-IS long lens successfully though, something I don't yet have. :sweatsm:

Oh gee...if 400mm is not enough for the birds, then it looks like this is going out of the window for me. :cry: However, 400mm on a 350D is 640mm effective! Is the Bigma 50-500 the only solution? Wide angle is something else I wish to tackle as well, but thought to try tele first since I've often yearned for a longer reach more often than wanting something wider.
 

fWord

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majere2sg said:
Just opened up the permission to the page, forgot i set it to for my own viewing only.. hee
a 300mm f4 IS think sell for around 1.8k to 2k for 2nd hand.. a 100-400 perhaps around 2k to 2.2k+
As for the 1.4X TC, depends on what you are looking for... I think a kenko pro 300 1.4 TC should be enough.. I find the push pull design quite ok.. didn't really suck in a lot of dust.. think have to depends on each individual use and where u use the lens and how often and how fast u push-pull the lens.
Thanks. :) But I still have difficulty viewing the page. I need to leave soon, so I'd probably try again tomorrow.

According to your prices, the difference isn't huge at all. A 1.4X TC would probably make up that difference as well. In a search, the prices of 300mm f/4 IS in the B&S were around $1500-1600 but I couldn't tell if it's changed.
 

Stoned

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200mm at 1/60s isn't impossible for the 70-200/4 because it's very light. If you were to take a look at the concert photos(Vivace 06) that I posted under the Performances photo gallery, those were mostly shot from 1/80-1/125 at ISO 3200.

I think perhaps working on your handholding techniques might help much more than IS. Good breathing always helps quite a bit.
 

user111

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there is a 300 f4 IS USM L "limited edition black collar" version going for $12++ at CamX. it looks rather used, hence the low price. u can check it out
 

fWord

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Stoned said:
200mm at 1/60s isn't impossible for the 70-200/4 because it's very light. If you were to take a look at the concert photos(Vivace 06) that I posted under the Performances photo gallery, those were mostly shot from 1/80-1/125 at ISO 3200.

I think perhaps working on your handholding techniques might help much more than IS. Good breathing always helps quite a bit.
I see...it's true, but I've honestly had little success handholding at such speeds. To date, I've only managed one truly sharp shot at 200mm at 1/60s and another that's decently sharp from the zoo at about 1/80s. The breathing technique that I attempt to apply to photography is the same as the one I was taught to use at rifle range in NS.

Again, maybe my whole technique is wrong. I missed marksmanship by one or two shots during the recent ATP...not to mention that I had lost two rounds in an IA during that test. :angry: Grr...
 

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