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Canon EF 400mm f2.8 L IS II USM advice (1 Viewer)


Well-known member
400mm 2.8 DO is a rather light lens. I guy I met a few weeks ago who bought one for this very reason - "the heaviest lens I can realistically carry around with the best reach (with convertors)" However it is discontinued and often goes for prices well in excess of £3000 on the used market.

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George London

Well-known member
Rob no they didn't... And I wasn't actually buying I didn't really push. I'm going back there next week and will get a better idea and let you know.

On the 300mm, understand they are v different lenses but my 100 to 400 covers this range handheld and would be too much crossover and do feel I need more reach than 600mm, and when I am using a tripod just feel I would kick myself.

Thanks again all, George


Registered User
How can anyone realistically advise you on lenses when you have not stated what you hope to photograph or where and when and under what lighting conditions and under what other relevant circumstances?

In your original post you indicate that you wander around a lot but do not want to use a tripod...and now you have bought a tripod head! The current batch of new super telephoto lenses can achieve 4 stops of image stabilisation. Respectfully I think you need to think this all through and given your limited knowledge of birds or photography perhaps you need a mentor to assist you before chucking loads of cash at equipment which, no matter how good it is, may not in the end serve your purpose for a multitude of reasons.

George London

Well-known member
Mr Dancy,
My apologies perhaps I was naive thinking folks would know what I intend to use the lens for on a forum called 'Bird Forum', with a user name 'George London'. And huge congratulations to the others who managed to work exactly what I was after ALL by themselves!
Given everyone else's responses I must admit I am now ashamed to admit a really cynical part of me thought I would either just not receive any responses or would just get a really belittling one... Never underestimate the power of human generosity and patience! I understand I can contribute nothing at the moment hence she mildly boorish repetitive thank yous!
As mentioned in post 4, I use a tripod 40% of the time. I find it tedious but understand its just something I need to use. Forgive my ignorance but what point are you making with the 4 stops of IS? Are you saying I don't need to use a tripod at all?
I don't intend to use the lens for a specific species of bird or for use at a particular time of day. I work and as such just try to get out and about whenever I get the spare time.
No, I'm not a photography expert but do love seeing and photographing all the wonderful species we are lucky enough to have one these Islands. Its my one passion and i don't need to be a photography expert to know its very difficult to get close to birds in the UK, and as we're having this discussion now, i won't ever be able to afford a lens like this because next year i buy a flat (in London thats end of life!).
I have been birdwatching all my life though and would therefore (respectfully, of course) suggest it is unwise to make such comments as 'given your limited knowledge of birds'. First you could have private messaged me and second it could appear you're not reading the thread properly before responding, because I for one can't find any in depth discussion of birds per se.

Kettles boiled and I'm off to Minsmere now... Hoping to get my first Cress TiD TyTT!!!! (sorry, couldn't resist tee hee).

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Well-known member
Hi again George, it's quite easy to get close to birds in the UK, thats the secret of good bird photography... and is no longer a secret now I have told you ;)

I think about fifty per cent of successful wild life photography is good field craft, forty per cent photographic skills, and the remaining ten per cent luck ! By the time you set up a heavy lens on a tripod, most shots of a lifetime can be gone forever, unless you are playing the waiting game in a hide etc. If you have the money, a 300mm F2.8 MKII and a 2x TC MKIII with a non full frame camera like a 7D will give you an equivalent reach of 960mm, almost a Metre, and you can hand hold it or stick it on a tripod. Also this combination is pin sharp.
I have a 100-400mm lens and a 7D, great combination, and now have a 300mm f2.8 MK II with the MK III TC's. A lot of bird photographers who walk about use a non full frame camera because of the crop factor

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Registered User

You have seemingly decided to take offence when I am trying to help you.

I disagree that everyone else has been able to work out what you need'... ALL by themselves'. In fact I still don't know enough, though you have given some clues but it is still no where near enough. Do the same people know if you are going to be travelling abroad, walking the Penines or going to say Scotland , Wales or visiting the UK islands etc,etc. Do they know if you may have access to farmland, private set up hides or wish to visit the coast for waders or if you will have a desire or the resourse to create your own set ups for woodland and farmland birds. Do they know if you will be specialising in London's birds (there are several photographers who do)? Did they advise you that you might have some physical/practical restrictions on using large lenses at RSPB or WWT hides. May I have the crystal ball please;)Some people have simply referred you to other sites for comparisons but I presumed by your original post that you have already done this and that you are struggling to make a choice. Nothing wrong with that...I'm in a similar position. Others have pointed out that there are considerations to be made in regard to weight and 'moments' (the ability for a force to twist or turn an object) , I prefer to use the term inertia but the point raised was valid and I have often raised the issue of inertia myself since it may have a bearing on say flight photography which is another area of specialty previously not discussed in your thread.

In your original post you stated :-

'I wander a lot and ideally would like to be able to just about hand hold, often take photos of birds quite far away and end up cropping in aperture too.' (Bald italics for emphasis). I'm not sure what you mean by 'cropping in aperture too"?

In pane 4 you indicate sufficient cause for me to think that you would still like to just handhold and that the tripod was a bore to lug around. You stated that you use a tripod about 40% of the time. (This is with your current lens that has about 2 stops of image stabilisation. It is not therefore unreasonable for me to think that because the new lenses having 4 stops of image stabilisation that hand holding would feature prominently in your thoughts?). In post 14 you indicate a conditional decision to purchase the new 500f4 lens. There are a few folk out there who regularly use the older (and still excellent) 500f4 lens hand held and I know of a guy in the northwest who only uses his old heavy 600f4 lens hand held. When Andy Rouse used his Canon 500f4 he did so hand held and he is ,or was then only slightly built. Lenses are lighter now. Perhaps now you can understand why I am just a little confused as indeed you were on the 28th March indicated in pane 4?

In your reply to me you ask me what 4 f stops of IS means (nothing wrong with that but it is possibly central to the whole point of your decision making and I respectfully think that it is something that you should think about before buying lenses and tripods).

Whilst I appreciate that you have come to the forum asking in regard to the purchase of just one lens type I would urge you to consider whether just one lens is going to cover all your needs and I urge you to consider other camera and lens options. Like you, I live in a big city but possibly unlike you I have no car. When I was deciding on what lenses to get I had the option of getting an expensive Canon 500f4 and nothing else or getting a Sigma 500f4, Sigma 300f2.8 with converters together with a Canon 100-400.I chose the latter because it suited more purposes and conditions. I never regretted that decision. Like you I worked and had to consider a number of factors because of time limitations and limitations on light especially since I do a lot of urban birds and often in low light.

Folk have different desires regarding photography, they have different abilities, types of bird they want to photograph and have different styles, some are fortunate having bird rich locations they can get to and others not. Some are happy to photograph in in bright light and others want the saturated light that comes with the evening or the morning. Some want simply good record shots while others want artistic type shots. Some photographers start out casually photographing and then decide they want to step up to the mark of professional quality work. Some are desperate to get a shot everytime they leave the house some are patient. Without knowing your desires aspirations and ambitions, physical attributes , strengths weaknesses it is impossible to advise. We are all different.

I did not know whether you had any knowledge of birds which is why I used the word 'or' and not 'and' in the phrase where you have chosen to misquote me. I did read all the posts and I did so carefully, I hope. I thought long and hard second guessing what you might want or need but found it was impossible. My motivation was to assist you and save you from making a very expensive decision that you may one day come to regret. Entire books (or the major part of them) are written in order to help folk in their decision making and respectfully I don't think that you should make a decision based on a few replies from a thread on a forum especially without exploring all the alternatives and considering the future as well. In the end if you go for the 500f4 it may be that it is just the job for you...but your decision will not be an informed one.

There was no need for me to contact you privately save that I do not know what you mean when you say you can find no in depth discussion on bird's per se.

Whilst I agree with Pigeon Pete (Chas) that the Canon 300F2.8 with a 2X converter is likely a a sharp combination (MTF charts for the MkII lens and MkIII converter suggesting that the conbination is sharper than the 400 prime, so not to be sniffed at) and there is a great convenience for the combination, I have to disagree with his focal length evaluation. Focal 'reach' is a product of the real focal length of the lens and the pixel pitch of the camera's sensor. The cropped sensor just changes field of view (See Clarkvision.com). It is unfortunate that some leading camera manufactures pedal out this myth and it is also unfortunate that some leading photographers do so as well, even to this day.

I will reply to your question on what is meant by 4 f stops of Image Stabilisation in another pane later, that is, if someone else has not done so already.




Registered User
One of the main reasons image stabilisation is used is to enable the lens user to hand hold a lens and not have to use a tripod. It might also be used to reduce vibration caused by mirror slap in very low light conditions...but there are other ways to avoid this.

In order for you to understand the benefits of Image Stabilisation fully it will assist if you understand the concept of what a stop of light means but understanding this is not absolutely necessary.

If you are photographing on a sunny bright day in light that is hopefully not harsh you will have reasonably high shutter speeds and provided your arms are reasonably stable you will not get image blur. As the day progresses or if dark clouds appear you will find that your shutter speed for any given ISO reduces and then at some critical point your images become less sharp or blurry because of hand induced shake. Image stabilisation (IS) will correct this. To illustrate , if you use a 400mm lens you might find that images start to get blurry at about 1/400th second without IS. This figure may vary with different folk and vary significantly. If you had IS that worked for 2 stops of light it would mean that you should , in theory, be able to take sharp images at 1/100 sec. With IS working at 4 stops of light you would be able to take images which are sharp at 1/25th sec when normally you would require 1/400 sec. Keith Reeder on the Sigma 120-300 f2.8 OS thread recently demonstrated a superbly sharp image of a robin taken at 420mm focal length with a shutter speed of only 1/50th sec S/S!

Of course the benefit of IS is that you can also use lower ISO as an option to maximise image quality. What IS will not do is reduce blur caused by subject movement.

It therefore follows that having 4 stops of IS means that there is a great bonus to be had from the new breed of Canon lenses (I know nothing about Nikon, which I will be considering myself). The reduced weight and increased portability and the suggested increased sharpness from the new lenses and the new converters will make these lenses game changers for sure and without doubt the number of folk using the longer lenses hand held will increase. I may be one of them.

Of course working hand held all the time is a bit of a falsehood for most because very often we are in hides using bean bags , or in cars where the open window affords support with the aid of a bean bag or lying on a beach or moorland using a camera bag. So being without a tripod is not the end of the world and I have often used my Sigma 300 with 2X converter and Sigma 500 without any support or the benefit of IS.

More generally though photography is often about making compromises. There is no 'one lens suits all' and personally I hate the phrase that the 500 lens is 'the birding lens'. What suites many does not necessarily suit you. If you have an 800 lens you will still find it ain't long enough for that bird just beyond. Often when doing birds a long way off you can miss the one under your nose ...believe me!

Getting close to birds is sometimes easy sometimes hard, fieldcraft can help, sometimes it makes no difference because of where you are. The most important thing to remember when trying to get quality images is to understand light and the limitations of your gear, once you understand light and your gear you will be on your way and importantly you will know when not to click which is just as important as knowing when to click.

I remain by my original advice that I think you would benefit from getting to know a photographer who can truely assist you and assess your needs. Failing that, rent a lens and see how you get on. The problem with the latter is that you may not know how to make the best use of it. I do not say that in a condescending way I am simply trying to help you since I have not seen any of your images in order to judge your ability.

I hope this helps...it is only my humble opinion.


Well-known member
adrian has given some really good advise here.
i had a similar problem when i wanted to upgrade my kit(though im a nikon user)
so i rented a 300, 200-400 zoom,and the 500, and put them through two weeks each of different trials.
i came to the conclusion the 500 outshone all of them and now have this lens, but also have a 300 for a good walkabout lens, with a selection of convertor.
only trouble is my misses wants to strangle me for the money i've spent!!!!

George London

Well-known member
Dear Adrian,

Thank you for your very gracious and helpful responses. I apologise for an over sensitive and churlish reply. Please forgive the delayed response, it has been a lot to take in and I have finally had a moment to sit down.

I am confused. I guess I am a generalist... as I have never really been with other photographers I'm not quite sure how little I know. What I do know is that from seeing photos on the internet I have a long way to go.

It's all of the above bird and location wise, but not one in particular a great deal more than another (apart from Woodland in general, so often low light seeing mainly small birds - regular haunts are Hockley, Tudeley Woods, New Forest). My recent birding outings include Mull and West Coast mainland in February - a full day on Mull, otherwise a few hours here and then (i tried to go to Shetland last summer but couldn't find anywhere to stay). Eagles and most seabirds were far away. Highlands and area around Loch Garten for a few days instead. Old Hall RSPB on Blackwater estuary - most of the birds were simply too far away although the nearest flew within 25 yards. It was probably a 4 mile walk and i took the tripod with camera attached. Leighton Moss, brilliant weather (and I'm from near Garstang on the edge of the Pennines, and still go back regularly so can sympathise with any weather related gripes you experience!), Marsh Harriers pretty far away and goldcrests in the canopy, tripod in the hides. Parents of gf (bird watching & photography is a never ending compromise) are from near Minsmere with all its varied habitats. Heaths like Thursley and Frensham Commons for Great Grey Shrike. Trips abroad would present similar challenges other than perhaps better weather. On all these outings I will try and catch whatever I see flying or perching.

I need to 'crop in aperture'... sorry, that's apple mac photo software - the subject is usually too small and i have to crop the image on the computer).

I do use a hide a couple of times a year and have access to farmland in Northumberland and Norfolk - so I'd like to have option of tripod but you have certainly made me think more about the possibilities of handholding more of the time. I suspect I am able to handhold but need to know more about how to take the photographs. I do understand the meaning of the basics -ISO, shutter speed, aperture and shake but putting them into practice smoothly in the field is maybe the problem. I am photographing a bird with woodland behind and by the time I have focussed on the kite flying past and taken the photo the ISO is still too high and the shutter speed too slow. Even so, I still regularly find myself just too far away and I really appreciate Chas' thoughts on fieldcraft thank you, I'm forever trying to improve but forever failing! Having said that I do totally understand that 800 might not be enough sometimes because the bird doesn't always play ball!! I know I'm looking for a major compromise given broad varied requirements/wishes.

Thank you for your suggestions re time limitations - i"m quite often lucky to get a day a week usually saturday I'm allowed out! I am now going to try and start considering other lens combinations - I am not sure what would be best for me. I currently have the 100 - 400 and mk III converters.

That is unbelievable on the the shutter speeds with IS... I wasn't aware it had so much effect for me, switching between flying and stationary I sometimes miss changing the mode from 1 to 2. Perhaps I have been using way too fast a shutter speed. I usually shoot on shutter speed priority just because I'm always fighting low light slowing the shutter speed down and I worry about shake, so just ensure I hit my max f5.6 on the 100 - 400mm. How high can I go on the ISO and remain sharp, I now realise all the questions can't really be answered without help and understanding of exactly what I'm getting into.

I do know I need to get to know someone experienced although not sure how to make this happen and often due work it's last minute. I'm organising a weekend course for starters.

You have really got me to thinking about purpose, and I suppose I love birds and want to record them wherever I go, but I really want to do it in the best possible way I can. I'm not particularly creative but want to take pictures that do justice to the bird in its surroundings.

Finally, I'm going to rent a 500mm for Leighton Moss over Easter weekend and see how I get on, and thank you such a huge amount for all your immense generosity of wisdom and knowledge in the face of adversity, Ironically human generosity and patience springs to mind!

Best regards,


Well-known member
Hi George, I always use manual settings to achieve the best quality photos, this way you are always in control. If you know your subject you will know what shutter speed to use to give a sharp image etc. You will have to be able to change settings quickly with the camera at your eye, so it might be good to practice this. Good luck, and enjoy !
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Registered User
That's a good response and now we are in a position to move on!

Unfortunately I cannot reply substantivley since I am off out. I will however send you a PM. There is even just a small possibility that I will go to Leighton Moss at the week end so I may even meet you. If you do go then take some sunflower hearts. There is a brilliant spot where you can get Marsh Tit away from the feeding station.



Well-known member
I'll just chirp in with a little advice for George .
You can take or leave the following George it's entirely up to you , I mean no offence or condescension , and i will take no offence if you tell me to **** off .

I only have a lowly 550d , and a 70-200 f4 , and a 400mm f5.6 on order (still!) .

The last bit of kit I got was some army surplus camo kit , £80 including boots .

I have been into photography for a few years on and off , and am learning lots along the way from friends and forums .
Still have an awful lot to learn about field craft and with luck may get some instruction from a gamekeeper friend .
It's not easy at all when starting out .

IMHO you have some very capable kit already (better than mine !) , I would spend some time learning this kit , the knowledge gained will give you MUCH MORE perspective about what new kit you will need and what any new kit can do for you .

Perhaps break down the parts you need to understand first , and people can address them individually .
You need to understand shutter speed , aperture , depth of field , ISO , noise , AF sensors and system , exposure metering .....
There is an awful lot that interact .
It's possible that some can be set up in advance , for instance I use , centre AF sensor and AI servo .
I like to stay below ISO 800 (1600 at a push) , your camera is better and you might say 1600 max (3200 at a push) .
Two things you can "box off" , that might help .

Then go with a minimum shutter speed of 1/1000th or faster .
Then its a case of balancing the aperture and the ISO .
Keep the shutter =1/1000 or faster
Aperture 5.6 to 8
ISO 100 to 1600

It's a case of manual mode and take a spot measure of some grass in the mid tone light .
Take some snaps and see if the exposure needs adjusting .
Then if you see a bird , you can shoot straight away if you have to , as you are already in the ball park settings , or if enough time , you may take a meter reading and adjust only one setting (aperture or shutter) .

The more you change these setting and see how they interact , it will become second nature , then you will know what a big lens or fast lens will bring to you .....
....then it's looking at field craft and you may then decide that lugging around a giant lens and tripod is not for you .

I myself love the cutting edge of these big lenses , but they are not for me , I like to wander around the countryside , handheld shooting (I don't have the money either !) .

Again , sorry if it is too basic information , I don't intend to patronise .
If the camera is second nature to you , and you can concentrate on the birds , you will realise what may help you , or what may hinder you in your endeavours .

Wow that was a bit of a meander !
Good luck George !

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