Monday, June 8, 2009

Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS USM

Alert! This post is more camera gear nerd-talk. So if you don't want to read about that stuff you can skip this one.

Over the weekend I laid down the big bucks and bought the last bit of kit I will be buying for a while. I got the Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS USM and a Canon 430 EX II Speedlight flash. As regular readers know I had been weighing my options on which long lens to buy for several weeks, and on the last SF Photo Tours walk I had decided to take another look at this lens. Long story short I bought it, and since it was the lens I wanted in the first place I made the right decision.

The lens itself is not much bigger than my Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG HSM II when it is no extended, which is nice because this means I don't have to struggle to pack it in either of my big bags. I actually think the Canon weighs a bit less than the Sigma as well, because it seems lighter when mounted than I had expected. This does not mean that the lens feels cheap. On the contrary the lens displays the standard Canon attention to detail and quality. This lens can stand some serious bangin' around and will probably still work just fine.

Kneel before Zod!

So over the weekend I went to zoo to get familiar with the lens, and did a little light birding in the backyard. I learned that I still have some learning to do to be able to use the lens effectively, since I had to do post processing on all the shots I got at the zoo. But that is just user error rather than the fault of the lens. The lens, on the other hand is sharp as a tack; the auto-focus is fast, accurate, and quiet. Check out this Flamingo.

Flamingo Detail

That is why I bought this lens.

I was a bit uncertain about the push/pull zoom method, but once I used it for a few minutes it became as natural as breathing. I need to find just the right tension level on the zoom mechanism, but that is not a big problem. It will just take some practice. The most important thing I learned about using the lens was in my backyard, shooting some American Scrub Jays that live in my tree. The best shooting mode to use the lens in appears to be Program mode.

American Scrub Jay

Since the lens is a variable aperture lens Program mode allows the camera to choose the best shutter speed and aperture, based on the metering through the lens, while I still have control over ISO, White Balance, etc. I got some good pictures of the jays using this method after I got a several crappy ones while trying to adjust the aperture to accommodate the shady and sunny yard.

Overall I'm quite happy with the decision to go with this lens, instead of settling for the Sigma I also was considering. This week I hope to be able to head down to Linda Mar beach in Pacifica and practice shooting some surfers with the lens. Keep an eye on my Flicker feed for those pictures.

I'm still working my way through the manual for the new flash, so I'm not sure what-all it will do yet. I'll figure it out soon.

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