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Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM

ef400mmf_56_1_
Review Date: Apr 25, 2012 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $1,100.00 | Rating: 9 

 
Pros: Light, sharp, very fast focus, great for handheld shots of birds.
Cons:

The lack of IS is not much of a drawback for bird photography. Because of its light weight and lightning fast focussing, this is the best lens for birds in flight where you have to turn off IS if you have it. For other bird shots, fast shutter speeds are usually necessary anyway and these eliminate the effects of shake. If you are in a hide, you can steady your elbows or the lens on a ledge for slow shutter speeds. For a fraction of the price of one of the big Canon lenses, you get a hand holdable lens you can walk around with all day, and you can move it around quickly for unexpected shots, unlike those guys with their f/2.8s and the necessary hefty tripods. This lens is sharp wide open at f/5.6 and there is no point in going to smaller apertures unless you want greater depth of field.

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

ef100_400l_1_
Review Date: Apr 25, 2012 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $1,300.00 | Rating: 9 

 
Pros: Good copies are very sharp, very good zoom range, not too heavy, IS quite good.
Cons:
Bad copies are soft

I tested a new lens and it was too soft for bird photography where you need to crop. So, I bought a 400mm f/5.6 L which is excellent. Then a 2-year old used 100-400mm came up locally and I tested it against the 400mm: the IQs were indistinguishable, just as the MTF data on Photozone show. So, you have to test this lens before buying. The reason for the mixed reports on this lens is because the quality control is poor and there bad copies. Both the 400mm f/5.6 and the 100-400mm L IS are great lenses for the money and are easy to use hand held if you are sensible and use high speeds or lean against something for slow shots.