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  Reviews by: stanj  

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Canon EF 400mm f/4 DO IS USM

ef400_4dois_1_
Review Date: Mar 5, 2006 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $5,000.00 | Rating: 8 

 
Pros: Great performer optically. It's light and short. Has excellent IS. You definitely can take it on a hike with you, and you can hand hold it for hours on.
Cons:
Very expensive given the focal length and speed. Somewhat low contrast in flat light. Not quite as sharp as the 300/2.8LIS with a 1.4x TC. This lens is not something for pixel peepers.

I've had a long, mixed relationship with this lens. I first encountered it in November 2002 when it was handed to me on a 1D body. Maybe you know the feeling: you are about to grab something that has a familiarity to you. Your muscles instinctively prepare for a certain mass, but surprisingly the object is much lighter or heavier than expected. In my case, the 400DO+1D pretty much flew into the air, it was so much lighter than I anticipated. That moment I knew I needed to have one.

I shoot wildlife occasionally. I don't really care for birds except for owls, so I don't need extremely long lenses. I have found a 300mm lens to be too short for my needs, as I used to own the 300/4LIS, and I rented the 300/2.8L quite often. On the other hand, I found the 300/2.8 to be too heavy, esp. with the 1.4x TC attached. Once I knew about the DO lens, I knew it was right for me. It had the right focal length, aperture, IS, and size/weight - like no other lens out there.

I managed to borrow one and found it to be a wee bit less sharp than a 300/2.8 + 1.4x TC, but it was better with the 1.4x TC than the 300 with the 2.0x, and it's a better 800 than the 300/2.8 ever will be. I bought a "demo" copy of the lens, but displayed buyer's remorse and reluctantly returned it for a full refund a week later.

After that I rented the 300/2.8 a few more times, but found that it stayed behind too often because of its size and weight. Eventually I bought a new one, and been in love with it ever since. I don't really have a reason to justify owning such an expensive lens since I use it only occasionally, but it's about as big as I am willing ever to carry around, and you can't rent it anywhere.

http://rescomp.stanford.edu/~stanj/Travel/Owls/0008.html

To illustrate the usefulness of this lens: in December 04 I went shoot Great Grey owls with a birder friend. He came equipped with the 600/4LIS, while I came with the 400DO + 1.4x TC. There's no doubt that by the end of the day, he had the superior images, in part because of his lens and in part due to experience. However, I had at least an order of magnitude more pictures than he did, simply because I could point the lens out of the car when I needed to, while he had to set up a big tripod before firing a single shot - by that time, the owl was often gone. In this respect, I'd rather take a handful of excellent images over one razor sharp one. Your mileage may vary.

I have used three different copies of the lens over the years and personally haven't seen much of a variation, but there are reports to the contrary.