Nigel Atkinson Photography

Equipment review: Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L

 

Before reading this review please read my general introduction to reviews here

 

Crocodile, Goa, India

The 100-400mm is a King of compromise. Some lenses, such as the 85L, are a joy to use and seem to add magic to your images. This isn't one of them. The push-pull zoom is outdated; the zoom locking collar is an ergonomic nightmare, and when extended to 400mm the lens looks plain stupid. That said it is incredibly versatile, build like a tank, easy to carry on an aeroplane, and produces image quality well above anything cheaper. This is probably the most expensive lens I've bought (I bought it new (with a Canon rebate) whereas most of my expensive lenses came from eBay). It doesn't fill me with enthusiasm, and I don't take it out much, but it does do what it promises.

In Spring of 2007 I came to the end of frequent business flying to Goa, India. The industrial site I had worked at (and will be visiting again) is also a haven for nature including wild birds and crocodiles. I had tried to capture these many times but as my longest lens was 135mm this had proven difficult. I therefore splashed out on the 100-400mm to make the most of my last visit for a while.

My first discovery is that 400mm is long, but with wildlife you always want more! Using the lens on my 5D didn't get me close enough, and I therefore used it most on the 350D. This got me closer but with less capable autofocus. (I was reminded of my efforts many years ago using a Zenit B with a 350mm f5.6 that had a manually set aperture. It was awful to use but I took a cricket photo around 1981 that I'm still proud of.) As with the Zenit, using the 100-400mm isn't easy but once you get the technique right the photos come out well.

Good points for the lens are the quality and its relatively small size when slid to the 100mm end of its range. It is easy to get into hand luggage and not too heavy. I was also surprised at how close it can focus. The crab above is very small, and I also managed good shots of lizards in Brittany.

I have taken good photos with it, and may even buy a 40D so that I can have the reach and decent autofocus. If the Canon 400mm f4 was half its current price I might have bought it; but at the moment the 100-400mm zoom is the best long-range compromise out there!

 

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Nigel Atkinson