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

Review Date: Mar 30, 2003 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $1,200.00 | Rating: 8 

Pros: Flexible zoom range, sharp, durability
f5.6 max aperture, push pull zoom

Zoom lenses have long had a bad rap in the photography world. Admittingly, many zooms do suffer in sharpness and contrast when compared to their prime counterparts. The main draw advantage of zoom lenses of course is the flexibility inherent in their range of focal lengths. Many of the current “pro” level zooms are breaking new ground in terms of sharpness and image quality. One such lens that has received considerable attention is Canon’s EF 100-400L IS. With its wide zoom range and image stabilization capabilities this lens offers an enormous amount of flexibility in a relatively small package.


The EF 100-400L is one of Canon’s “L” (for Luxury) series of professional lenses. This means that it is features rugged construction, the highest quality optics, and the famous Canon white paint (reduces the heat absorption of the lens in the sun). The lens feels very sturdy and is built like a tank out of a metal material instead of the plastic materials found in the consumer level lenses. Depending on your past experience, this lens may seem obnoxiously large or quite small. Before I got my 500mm prime, I thought this lens was huge, but now it seems much smaller. Regardless, other people you run into in the field will think it is large. Be prepared for questions like “what magazine do you shoot for?” or “can you see Saturn with that thing?” The lens weighs in at 3.1lbs and features a push-pull zoom design that is about a foot or so long extended. The maximum aperture is f/4.5 at 100mm and f/5.6 at 400mm. The autofocus motor is a rear focusing USM type and has a minimum focusing distance of 5.9ft. Canon has incorporated their Image Stabilization system into this lens, providing a reported 2-3 stops of “hand-hold ability” (is that a word?) . The IS features two mode: mode 1 stabilizes in both the horizontal and vertical axis while mode 2 only stabilizes in the vertical axis and is thus designed for panning. The front lens element has threads to take a 77mm filter. The lens ships with both lens caps, and a nice rotating tripod collar.


When I go afield, I take with me a tripod mounted Canon 500mm/F4.5 and bring the 100-400L in my front vest pocket (Campco vest)for those times when I need a little less focal length or when I want to handhold flight shots. The lens also is much more practical for events such as baseball games and zoo visits where the larger primes are too big. The lens does weight down the front of my vest a bit, but it is worth it to have this lens with me. Before I purchased the 500mm, I used this lens as my primary lens for birding and other nature shots.
The 100-400L performs well in the field and is very easy to use. The IS makes getting sharp handheld images at 400mm very simple, even in non-ideal lighting conditions. The autofocus (on my 1D) is fast, but not lightning fast. With the 1D’s autofocus system in AI Servo mode, the 100-400’s AF works very well for tracking birds or other animals on the move. The push-pull zoom design takes some getting used to and is not as convenient to use as a ring type zooming mechanism would be. Some users have suggested that the push-pull mechanism may suck dust into the lens and into the camera body, which is of particular concern to us dust conscious digital users. The lens features a ring which can be tightened to lock the zoom at a certain focal length or to increase the resistance to zooming.
I have used this lens extensively with Canon’s 1.4X teleconverter with excellent results. Due to the lenses already slow maximum aperture of f5.6 adding the teleconverter really requires decent light or faster film speed (or bumping up the ISO speed digitally) if you want to hand-hold the lens. I would recommend using the lens, especially with the TC, on a stable tripod with a solid head for maximum sharpness. Canon recommends turning the IS off when the lens is tripod mounted but I tend to leave it on except when I mount it on a very stable tripod. For a long time I used a Gitzo 1201 with a Kirk BH-3 and even with good technique there was some shake visible through the viewfinder. In that case, I would leave the IS on to minimize any effects from wind or lens vibration. With my Gitzo 1325 and Kirk BH-1, which is substantially more robust, I disable the IS. With the 1D/1V/EOS3, the 100-400 and 1.4X TC will autofocus, although only with the center focus point being active (which makes for much decreased AI servo tracking function).


As with all lenses, the images that it produces are the key element. After making thousands of images with this lens, I still find myself impressed with the photographs it allows me to produce. Images are sharp, have good contrast, and great color. Bokeh (the out of focus background area) is smooth and uniform, just as it should be. The IS really does produce a noticeable difference in my percentage of sharp images. The lens is good wide open, with a small improvement noticeable by stopping down to f8 or above. With the TC, the loss of sharpness is almost imperceptible in real world situations, which is amazing for a zoom. In short, the image quality from this lens is deserving of the L designation.


The bottom line is this: if I could have only one lens in my bag, the Canon EF 100-400L IS would be that lens. The enormous flexibility offered by the 100-400mm zoom range and the image stabilization really make this lens a phenomenal tool for the nature photographer. Although there are less expensive and smaller alternatives (namely the 400/f5.6L), I feel that this is the ideal lens for the bird photographer interested in taking a shorter, hand-holdable lens into the field with the larger super-telephotos. In addition, it is a great option for the nature photographer that can’t justify the size or cost of the larger and much more expensive primes lenses. The great image quality, rugged build, and ease of use make this one of my favorite tools to use in the field.

Canon EOS 10D

Review Date: Mar 30, 2003 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $1,499.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Superb image quality, inexpensive, 1.6X multiplier
Slow buffer write time, 3fps, 8 shot buffer

Just thought some of you might be interested in my initial impressions with the 10D, especially given that we haven't heard too many opinions from 1D owners. I've been shooting with the 1D for about 10 months and used the D60/30 for a brief period before that. I shoot mainly birds and my primary lenses are the Canon 500 F4 IS and the 100-400 IS. I spent two days shooting last weekend and was very impressed with the results, although I do have a few nits.
My initial impression is that the camera is very well made... it feels solid in the hand and a little more well made than the D60, but its not night and day. It certainly doesn't have the 1D feel to it despite the magnesium body. For instance, my 1D survived a 4 foot fall onto rock a few months ago.... I'm not sure my 10D would fare so well. The viewfinder is surprisingly bright and does not seem overly small even after getting used to the 1D.... in the field, I never even thought about it. The LCD on the top is bright and very easy to read given the large aperture and SS numbers. This is particularly useful for me, as I often shoot in manual mode using an incident meter and seeing the numbers is key. The LCD on the back is bright, but seems a bit smaller than the 1D (I haven't checked the numbers). The large dial does feel a bit flimsy as mentioned before. The controls are all well placed on the camera, although I'm still getting used to them. The menu is similar to the D60 and is easy to navigate.
The speed of the AF is very good. I shot osprey in flight with both the 500 and 100-400, the former even with a 1.4X TC, and the vast majority of the shots were sharp and well focused. It seems to track very well. I did try shooting gulls in flight in very low light at the end of the day and it didn't fare as well as the 1D... but that is to be expected. I didn't buy the camera for flight shooting or fast action shots, so this are wasn't critical for me, but the performance I see thus far is a nice bonus. I do wish it focused at f8, because I frequently shoot with the 500 and 2x. Manual focusing is somewhat difficult on moving subjects, but I managed to even get a few sharp flight shots with this combo. I did find that on stopping down to f11 gave me a much higher percentage of sharp manually focused shots, likely due to the increased DOF.
The speed of the camera in image review and writing to the CD card does leave something to be desired. Although the 3fps is reasonably fast, once the buffer fills it seems to take ages to clear. I missed a ton of shots waiting for the buffer to clear. The 1D is FAR FAR superior in this regard, but that was to be expected. Another nit is that when the camera is writing to the CF card, it takes forever to pull up an image for review. This is problematic if you shoot a series of shots and want to pull up the histogram to check your exposure before shooting any more.
The image quality is superb. Like the D60, the images are pretty soft out of the camera and greatly benefit from some USM in Photoshop. After getting used to the sharp out of the camera shots the 1D produces, this has been a major area of complaint for many 1D owners. I have found that selectively sharpening the subject with a setting of 300/1/0 in PS will bring a 10D file to about 1D sharpness, but I am still playing with these numbers. Another shot of 100/.6/0 or so generally makes for a very sharp shot. In my opinion, the CMOS sensor produces an image that exceeds the quality of the CCD in the 1D. The backgrounds are so smooth, buttery soft, and noise free it amazes me. I do believe that you can approximate this look by using Neat Image on low ISO 1D images. The noise levels at ISO100, 200, and 400 are VERY VERY low. In my initial comparisons, I actually prefer ISO400 on the 10D to the 1D. I have yet to shoot at anything above ISO400.
All in all, it seems to be a cool camera that will work well in my rig with the 1D. Will I grab the 10D for all my action shots? Probably not. Would I hesitate to shoot flight shots with it. Nope. For $1500, it is a steal.
Here are some images: