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Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS USM

Review Date: Nov 18, 2007 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $5,500.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: This lens lives up to its billing.
Every one regrets not getting it sooner

I had been shooting with a 400/5.6 (which is still a favorite for BIF) and a Sigmonster (which has the best kill zone of any lens I know of; and great IQ to boot).

Not sure why, but when the 500 arrived I thought it would be bigger. Still it is not a hand holdable lens for me. Maybe I dont have the same definition of hand holding as some other folks. But to me hand holding means not just lugging a hunk of metal around. You have to be able to get the subject in the FOV and keep it in the FOV.

I use the RRS monopod head theory, e.g. a Bogen 3232 on the top of the monopod. I also use a rather long plate to mount it so the lens and camera is not front heavy. This allows me lots of rest time when I am not shooting. And when I carry the whole mess I can sorta fold up the monopod underneath the lens so it is not so bulky and carry the lens by the foot.

I also use it on a gimbal head and there does seem to be an increase in IQ unless I am shooting at say 1/2000 or above.

I wont boor you with link to my pix, cuz there are plenty of other links to images that are probably better than mine.

What I will say is the IQ I get frequently shocks me. The bokeh is always great. And post processing is less than with any of my other lens.

One reason I got this lens was I had had such good results with extension tubes on my 400/5.6. I feel safe saying this lens is now my favorite macro lens. The working distance is great and I get butterfly shots that others drool over.

Like I said the only regret I have about this lens is that I did not get it sooner. Sure it costs a bunch, is no fun to carry around, and there is a learning curve.

But on the plus side you will get shots with this lens you would miss with anything else. And it is also a real babe magnet.

Sigma 150mm f2.8 APO Macro DG EX HSM

Review Date: Oct 14, 2007 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

Pros: Consistently good IQ

I own a Sigma sd10, sd14, Canon 1d2, xti. I have modified two Sgima 1.4TCs by switching the rear plates so I can mount all my EF mount lens on my Sigmas and all my SA mount lens on my Canons. I have used this lens on both Canon and Sigma bodies. In all cases the IQ has been great. For my style of shooting the long working distance of this lens makes capturing images of insects in the wild much easier. It also takes a 1.4TC with no noticable IQ loss I can see.

After reading some of the other posts that nicked the lens for various reasons I will say 1) I have never dropped this lens or had it fall off a tripod, but I expect it would break if that happened. 2) I have used a couple of other macros and without exception they do not focus as fast as non macro lens. I do lots of wildlife stuff like BIF and expect to be able to capture sharp images of birds flying. But not using a macro lens which is designed to focus with great magnification, not with great speed.

What really impresses me most about this lens is not so much the IQ, but that I consistently get great IQ using this lens. I will often shoot 3-500 macros in a day of shooting, with no drop off in the IQ because I had to change a setting or technique while shooting.

I highly recommend this lens if you need a long working distance, long focal length, fast macro lens. In a pinch it can be used for portraits or as a medium long tele, but it will not AF as fast as a non macro lens. But it is much better for portraits than a portrait lens is for macros.

Acratech ballhead

Review Date: Jun 24, 2006 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

Pros: Light weight, big WOW factor.
Some creep, need to understand the limits of range of motion to use effectively.

I use mine on top of a Fesol CF tripod. It is a very inexpensive light weight solution to a field support system. Most of the time I use it with a Sidekick. On ocasion I remove the Sidekick and do close in macro work with a Sigma SD10 and 150 macro or a 1d2 with a 400 and extension tubes. Under some conditions there is down creep, especially when compared to my Gitzo 1410 and the big RRS ballhead.

The upside is I can slip one of the Feisol legs inside the belt of my Lowepro for a workable way to carry the tripod, ballhead, and Sidekick, or attach it to a pack for heavy duty hiking.

I have had this setup for a couple of years and have been very satisfied with it in the field. Does it compare to my Gitzo and RRS, no way. But there is no doubt which one I will carry on a long hike. And the rubber knob is a real lifesaver in the winter. Since I live in Florida I can only imagine what it must be like for you guys who have to deal with white stuff falling out of the sky.

I highly recomend this ballhead for field work. Matched with a CF tripod and a Wimberely it works well for me tracking birds in flight and for macro work. Even without the Wimberely I have been satisfied with it using a DSLR and a 150 macor lens.

Sigma 300-800mm f5.6 EX IF APO HSM

Review Date: Jun 23, 2006 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

Pros: Best kill area of any lens I know of
Requires great disipline to get good images.

This review is only after one week of using my 300-800 and it may require an update.

My negatives seem a little different than those other folks put in. Anyone who has read the specs for this lens should know how much it weighs, how big it is physically, and that it does not have IS. IMHO those are not negatives, they are specs of the lens. Also keep in mind that the review of the Canon 400 5.6 has heavy, bulky, and no IS as negatives for that lens.

This is not an easy lens to use. It requires a good tripod and a gimbal head to really take advantage of its capabilities. And it probably helps to shoot MLU and use a remote shutter release, or delay. I have a Gitzo 1410 and the Bogen gimbal head and this is the level of support this lens needs for me to get good results. I have seen claims that you can shoot with a monopod and I have never tired using one. Yet I feel comfortable saying IQ would suffer if you tried based on the results of my use with a good tripod and gimbal mount.

I do have a Sigma 120-300 that I have used with a tripod and Sidekick and find that combination works very well. One problem with this lens is unless you have a tripod you would get tired very quickly just holding and ballancing it on a monopod.

To a large extent that means you are very immobile with this lens. You can shoot from a blind or a good location that lots of birds go by, but forget about running after them. I have a couple of spots where I know birds congegrate and it is a wonderful tool there however.

If you do have a good support system the IQ is quite good. Others have run tests if you are interested in that sort of thing and it takes a 1.4 or even a 2X TC and still produces nice images. So when you see posts about using a 400 2.8 with a TC to match the FL of this lens keep in mind nothing comes close to it with no TC, and if you start putting TC on other lens nothing comes close to it with a TC on it.

Which brings me to the reason most folks will consider this lens. It has a monster kill area. You really can get usable images of birds in the 50-100 yard range. And at a reasonably fast fstop. Would you really want the primary to be twice the diameter so you could get faster than 5.6?

But keep in mind that this is a very specialized lens. You will be shooting from very few locations and moving is a big deal. You have to plan how you will set the tripod/lens/camera (and maybe TC) up, where you will set it up, what mode you will be shooting in (stuff like MLU and delay or remote shutter release), the order you will take stuff apart, how you will move everything (like in one trip or two), where you will move it to, and how to reassemble it. So when I say photographer disipline it is in a sense like almost no other lens.

While my primary goal for this lens is wildlife (mostly birds) I also do astrophotography. Some of the best results I have from this lens is not using the tripod and gimbal head, but an astronomical tripod and mount. I have an Atlas mount and tripod described at this link

that does a great job of supporting the lens and camera.

My history of astrophotography has helped me develope the disipline I think is required to use this lens. When you have a tripod and head that weighs over 75 pounds you dont consider moving it lightly. Nevertheless it took me a couple of tests at local parks before I got down the procedures I now use most of the time.

I would suggest anyone who gets this lens do the same thing. Take it to a local park and capture some images of pigeons there. It is great pratice. You will get some idea of how you want to set things up, how to use MLU and delay or remote shutter release, or just put it in burst mode and snap away.

Then take the images home and look at them. See how things affect the IQ. See what level of IQ you are satisfied with, and how much or little you are willing to sacrafice for ease of use.

This lens in a way reminds me of the old ditty "It is not suprising that elephants dance well, but that elephants dance at all". You are probably going to wind up with a tripod, head, camera, and lens that weigh at least 25 pounds and is at least four feet off the ground (probably closer to five feet).

But once you get a little experience under your belt you will have a kill zone that beats anything but a few other 800mm lens. And this one has zoom so you can easily crop with out moving, and find stuff in the view finder at 300 and then zero in to 800. Did I mention it took me a couple of hours to figure that one out?

As for my ratings I gave it straight 10 because there is nothing else like it. Not to mention that the IQ with good disipline is really quite exceptional.

I highly recomend this lens to anyone who understands you will be shooting the same way I did with my old 4X5 view camera, very tedious and slow. And the results are of the same quality if you can deal with this type of shooting.