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Lens for Birds

Discussion in 'Lens Matters' started by willie45, Jul 10, 2018.

  1. willie45

    willie45 Well-Known Member

    Unusually, I have a photography-related post to make on here.

    After a break of 3 years, I have decided to get into bird photography. I have a 7d mk1 which is in good enough condition and ought to be up to the job, but I have no lens.

    I used to own a Canon 100-400 which was all right( though always seemed a bit soft at the 400mm end - maybe needed calibration or maybe just me). I'm not going to spend the best part o £2k on a mkII version but I would buy a used Mk1 again as long as it behaved at 400mm which is really the end that would probably get the most use for my purposes. However, I'm wondering if there are better options.

    I don't want: a Sigma 150-600 is too heavy as is the Tamron zoom of same length, so IQ aside these are out. In addition, I am unlikely to feel happy sticking a 100-400 on my Fuji unless it would be an amazing option which I suspect it wouldn't.

    My shortlist:

    Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 L IS USM
    Canon EF 400mm f5.6L USM Lens
    Tamron 100-400mm F/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD
    Sigma 100-400mm f5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary

    The Canons used or the others new are around my budget. Obviously IQ is important but so is AF speed and reliability. The 400mm is the end I'm most likely to use and weight is an issue.

    So what say all you knowledgeable people on here?
  2. PeteRob

    PeteRob Well-Known Member

    I'd go for the 400 F5.6 L. When I first got into bird photography this was the most recommended lens on many forums, especially for birds in flight. It is (relatively) light, quick focussing and sharp wide open. It does not have stabilisation which imposes some limitations on usable exposure times but birds tend not to stay still so that's not as much a handicap that it may seem. I use it with a 1D iv, so slightly less effective reach than you'd have with a 7D. It does have a longish miniumum focus distance. If you frequent a hide where there is a feeder bang in front of your nose (happened to me once, but I don't often take shots of birds on feeders) then you may need an extension tube. Otherwise it's great. I went a bit mad when I retired and bought myself a 500 F4. I don't regret it, but a 7Dii to use with the 400 would have been a lot cheaper and more portable. There is an equipment blog on Mike Atkinson's website http://mikeatkinson.net/Tutorial-3-Equipment.htm. I did a tutorial day with Mike to see if I was kidding myself wanting to get a 500. I could see a side by side difference between results from the 400 and a 500 IS (mk 1) but it was very small, the specific example from the day out was (the very) edge detail in the back-lit tail feathers of a buzzard in flight which we both got shots of as it went overhead. The comparison was between 400 on a 1D iv vs 500 on a 5D ii.

    The tripod foot on the 400 F5.6 detaches and fits the 70-200 F4 which ships without a foot. This has been useful sometimes.
    Benchista and Craig20264 like this.
  3. Benchista

    Benchista Which Tyler

    Yeah, I think Pete's probably right. The original 100-400 is slightly soft at 400 IMHO, and I believe it to be one of the lenses most susceptible to sample variation from what I've seen and read about it over the years, so it might be a challenge to find a good one. I have to say I thoroughly love the Mk II version and am glad I upgraded, but it is pretty expensive, for sure. The 400mm f5.6 I haven't used, but I've never seen less than complimentary remarks and reviews on it. The slightly wider maximum aperture compared to the Tamron and Sigma might be an advantage with the original 7D to keep ISO as low as possible, or for a marginally shorter shutter speed - it might just make the difference between a good shot and a not so good one. There's precious little to go wrong with the lens, it's small and light - for a 400 - and sharper than anything else for the money. So if you're going to be shooting primarily at 400, seems a pretty simple choice to me.
  4. EightBitTony

    EightBitTony Well-Known Member

    Depending on why the weight is an issue, I wouldn't discount the 150-600's straight away. If the desire is to handhold all the shots, sure, but if the intent is to use a tripod then the 150-600's might be a consideration surely?
  5. nimbus

    nimbus Well-Known Member

    Apparently the Sigma 100-400 is better at the long end than the Tamron, from what I have read anyway.

    You mention the Fuji 100-400, I have one of these, it is at odds with the concept of the camera! Performance wise, really good up to around 200, beyond there the edge definition dips and is really not very good at 400, although the centre is still pin-sharp. This was noted in the Photozone ( now Optical Limits) test of the lens. Knowing what I know now would I buy one? The answer is no, indeed I am tempted to sell the one I have.
  6. Benchista

    Benchista Which Tyler

    Willie would still have to carry it. ;)
  7. PeteRob

    PeteRob Well-Known Member

    .... and the tripod.
  8. willie45

    willie45 Well-Known Member

    Thank you gents for the good advice. Nick, the softness of the 100-400 at the long end is certainly something my old mk1 seemed to exhibit and I'm likely to favour the 400 prime between these two.

    Tony, my arthritic hands don't cope too well with holding weight although I guess the tripod thing is a good point. I would sling one over mystery shoulder without too much difficulty but really the Canon is as heavy as I'd want to go.

    Actually, having slept on it, I was wondering if the Fuji might be worth more thought than I've given it. As you say, Nimbus I'm pretty sure it would feel unbalanced with the camera but maybe all right on a tripod. I was telling myself that using one camera system was a good thing, the AF in the XT-2 was adequate, the burst speed good, and the ISO invariance very useful. I had read some good things about it's optical quality but your experience is obviously not great. If the optical performance is disappointing it's unlikely to please as it's by no means a cheap lens! .It's a real shame and disappointing from Fuji. I wonder if yours is a below average one?

    Anyway, it seems that I either go with DSLR and if so, it will be the 400mm f5.6 or else stick with Fuji and try the 100-400. More often than not, I buy from WEX who as you know have a generous return policy and I wonder if it's worth a punt on the Fuji with the option to swap it for the 400mm f5.6 if it isn't up to standard. I notice in the review you linked he still highly recommends it and also I'm likely to mainly concentrate on the centre performance. Maybe worth a try at least.
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2018
  9. PeteRob

    PeteRob Well-Known Member

    I think Tony meant the Sigma on your list. I wrote a reply before realising that no-one had mentioned Fuji. I nearly bought a Fuji 100-400 but have seen reviews that it isn't as good as the Canon and there was a cash back on that made the Canon mk II more or less the same price. The Canon mk ii zoom is very good but pretty heavy. I'll keep the prime.
  10. willie45

    willie45 Well-Known Member

    Hi Pete. Yes I got that was what Tony meant but I had also wondered about the Fuji. I'm prevaricating here but I suspect that on balance it might not satisfy me despite the allure of the XT-2 with it. I would always feel I'd gone for an inferior lens. Its even now almost the same price as the Canon 100-400 ( well not quite but ... ) and more expensive than the 400mm f5.6L while being inferior optically to both. Hmmmm... Canon in either guise is most likely to be my choice
  11. EightBitTony

    EightBitTony Well-Known Member

    I'd sell you my 100-400 L except Wex tell me it needs £380 worth of repairs, despite being fine before I sent it to them ...
    willie45 likes this.
  12. willie45

    willie45 Well-Known Member

    Well I hope they're better with the used one I just bought from them a minute ago :)

    I decided if this was the only lens I would use on my 7D then a single 400mm length would be limiting. The new one is heavy and expensive but the mark 1 is cheap-ish used, lighter, and has the versatility I'd prefer in my only lens.

    I had a hunt around today and found a dearth of these lenses in the used market but WEX had one for sale with a 12 month warranty. It is reasonable in performance, and according to the tests on Optical Limits site, it still should give good results at 400mm especially at the centre and middle area. I'm mostly interested in the centre and the last time I used this lens, it was with a 5D mk3 and I hope the 7D crop will also concentrate on the sweet spot of this lens.

    It will arrive on Friday and a weekend of testing will determine if it's a keeper or not.

    Thanks again everyone for your help
    Done_rundleCams and EightBitTony like this.
  13. willie45

    willie45 Well-Known Member

    What an afternoon. spent a couple of hours trying out the 100-400 which arrived at 1pm and compared a few then deleted them!! I must be losing the plot :eek:

    Anyway, from what I saw, it seemed to me that at f5.6 @400m the lens was just all right. stopped down to f8 it improved radically. I hadn't expected such a change from the reports I'd seen, I thought this lens was pretty good wide open and didn't get much better stopped down. Have I made a mistake somewhere would you say, or is this as you would expect? I will do some more pictures this weekend and post results if you feel it would help. Mind you, testing to the nth degree can be counter-productive and operator error can so easily key results I'm not sure how useful it is. Maybe I should just give it a general go.
  14. PeteRob

    PeteRob Well-Known Member

    I've never used one but it is said to be soft wide open. If I remember correctly the reviews of the mk ii seemed to show surprise at the improvement.
  15. willie45

    willie45 Well-Known Member

    Yes, I thought that was the case, but then, when I checked on this site it seemed to perform quite well, pretty much excellently actually, and there certainly doesn't seem to be the great difference I perceived between f5.6 and f8 at the 400mm end.

    Here's the mk1 showing little between f5.6 and f8


    And here's the mk2 which is clearly testing better but too heavy for me to feel happy with it.


    And both seem a lot better than the Fuji which is here


    Although the Fuji seems to have been tested with a lower resolution sensor I thought the smaller sensor size on the XT-1 it was tested on would have made better use of the sweet spot rather than the FF the Canon was tested on and so I assumed that the Canon would do a fair bit better on my 7D than in their test.

    As I said I'm suspecting operator error and I will try again tomorrow. I might even forget about trying rigorous tests and just rely on real-world examples. It might be a more valid comparison - especially as my patience runs out after a little while of photographing shots just for comparison :)
    Last edited: Jul 14, 2018
  16. nimbus

    nimbus Well-Known Member

    You are comparing tests between systems, which are not 100% valid as comparisons, also between cropped sensor in the case of the Fuji and FF with the Canon lenses. For a more genuine result you would need a test with a Canon sensor with a greater resolution than the 8mp that Optical Limits had conducted their test with. On their tests cropped sensors do deliver lower resolution than FF. The Fuji 100-400 is also built as an APS-C sensor lens and does rely on a degree of in-camera correction, so the sweet spot doesn't quite apply.
  17. Benchista

    Benchista Which Tyler

    Very few lenses polarise opinions like the 100-400 Mk I. Quite a bit of that is down to the design, but over the years there have been very many mixed messages about its performance. That's why I'm convinced it's particularly susceptible to sample variation, because I actually think they're all telling the truth. It's also why I didn't recommend it and suggested it might take you a while to find a good one.
    Mine was pretty good, but was a bit soft wide open and at 400mm. Certainly not unusably so, but enough to knock my confidence in the lens for low light work a little.
    Andrew Flannigan likes this.
  18. willie45

    willie45 Well-Known Member

    I suspect you're right Nick. The difficulty is that it's not easy to sample a lot of these now that they are not being made and most sellers ( other than shops ) aren't keen on accepting returns. The one I have is really good at f8 but not so good at 5.6. In real life shooting I believe it would probably be acceptable at that aperture, though and I'm tempted to hang onto it. I am off to Oare tomorrow to give it a real try out which will probably determine what I end up doing.

    The question I'm asking myself is whether it will give me better performance than the Fuji 100-400. According to the reviews this is a well regarded optic and it is the only other lens that ticks the boxes of variable focal length and weight for me. Nimbus has pointed out it's defects in edge performance at 400mm, but I feel the centre is where my interests will lie, and I also have a feeling that the Fuji is probably less prone to variation between individual lenses than the older designed Canon. I might be talking mince of course.

    Nimbus I take your point re the sweet spot. I believe the Canon was tested with 21mp not 8mp though.

    I'm assuming that the Canon with 21mp will be a good comparison for my 7D with 18 and that the results will give a good indication of how well I can expect performance to be between the Canon system or Fuji system which I will be using. As I'm typing I'm wondering if the Fuji might not suit my needs better than the Canon. I make a decision after I try this lens tomorrow in real life situations.
  19. peterba

    peterba Well-Known Member

    Willie, I have the 400mm f/5.6 (prime), and TBH, the image quality is good at f/8, but discernibly reduced at f/5.6. I've no idea whether my example is representative of the norm for this lens.

    However, if it is then (FWIW) its performance would appear to parallel that of the 100-400mm, in this regard. Beyond that, I can't comment as I've never used the 100-400mm.
  20. PeteRob

    PeteRob Well-Known Member

    Mine is good wide open although I'd use F8 in preference for the minuscule increase in dof.

    This is a heavy crop - about 4:1 on frame width - at F5.6 [​IMG]274A2614.jpg by Pete, on Flickr

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