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| p.9 #15 · Hands-on: EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4X |
I met up with Peter for some BIF lessons and he promptly took my lens and stuck me with his 400 IS II. Seriously, it was great to finally meet Peter in person and have a chance to swap gears. Having been a long-time 400 IS v1 user, the new model was surprisingly light for its size. And I got some OK terns-in-flight with it too.
And I gained a much better understanding of bird photographers' rationale for equipment choices. While we were there, another photographer joined us with a 400/5.6. After a couple hours of super-tele hand holding, I was getting envious about the size/weight of a lens like the 400/5.6, especially since I was shooting stopped down a fair amount.
Compared to Peter's 400 IS II, the 200-400 was easier to use for this application primarily because it felt lighter and I think I was better able to track the birds with it for longer periods of time. Hopefully Peter can comment on his impression of the zoom vs. the 500 IS versions, which might be the super-tele most buy for birds.
I didn't really use the zoom much. The lens was either parked at 400, 560 or for a period at 784 (with an external 1.4x TC) when the terns were farther out from shore. Time will tell if this is just a matter of remembering that the zoom is available. Surprisingly, AF (on a 1DX) was decent with the external TC combo. In fact, the AF felt calmer, perhaps because it didn't have a bunch of other AF points from which to select. I shot a lot with the 61 point auto selection, where you start with a selected point and then let the camera take over as the bird floats around the frame. It worked better than I expected, but I also had problems with it. Sometimes the camera just wouldn't pick up anything if the defocus was too great after missing a flyby. Or, if the bird was near the water's surface, it would move to that instead. After a while I decided to try single point with expansion. Normally for sports I use the 8-point expansion, but here ended up liking 4-point expansion better.
In this kind of shooting scenario, my gut feeling is that technique will be a greater determinator of keeper percentage than the differences between the lenses with regards to image quality. I do think the 400 IS II is a sharper lens than the zoom, but not dramatically so. Maybe after a couple hours my technique improved, but after reviewing the shoot, I definitely got more interesting shots with the 200-400. While I didn't use the zoom function constantly, there were times when I did back off because the framing was getting too tight. Or zoomed out all the way when a flock of Canada geese flew by. I think the internal TC though was a bigger benefit. Standing on rocks at the edge of the water, it was one less variable to have to contend with, or worry about dropping. Very convenient as the flight patterns of the birds ebbed and flowed towards and away from shore. When my technique allowed, I got some very nice, sharp images from the zoom with very good feather detail. The best was at 400mm, though with the internal TC I would estimate the drop-off was minimal. And the same slight step down with the external TC attached.
Anyway, here's what I got with the 200-400 that I liked best. BTW Peter, I stuck around until sunset (though not all of it was BIF photography by that point).
My only decent bird-with-fish image:
I also liked this three-frame sequence, though the first, and best image, is a bit soft (though looks OK at 1000 pixels on the web )
What I didn't get is a decent shot just as the tern transitions from flying to diving by momentarily hovering, such as Peter nicely illustrated with one of his images earlier in the thread.
Also, all of these images have been cropped to some degree, and some more than others. The first and third diving images in particular. The vertical is a full height crop out of a horizontal frame while the third of the bird just entering the water is about 1/4 of the frame. The head-on shot at 784mm is about the closest to full frame, otherwise the rest probably average around 30-40% crops.