Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Canon EF 200-400mm F/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x Lens Preview

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Canon announced the development of the EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x lens over two years ago. Ever since then, I have been longing for the release of this lens. When the official announcement finally came right after the midnight hour of May 13, 2013, I immediately placed my order even though the weight and price are higher than I have expected - 7.98 pounds and $11,799. My equipment supplier informed me I am in the top 5 of the waiting list and as soon as the first shipment arrives, the lens will be shipped out to me without delay.
I am a wildlife photographer and have been using Canon equipment for almost twenty five years. My subjects range from tiny Hummingbirds to Blue Whales, the largest animal on Planet Earth, ever. Over the decades, I have used and owned many 'L' series prime, zoom and Super Telephoto lenses. When the Series II versions of the Super Telephoto lenses came out in 2011, I refrained from upgrading until I have a chance to use the EF 200-400mm lens. Generally I am not overly excited by any new piece of Canon equipment, the EOS-1D X camera was the last exception but this new lens carries all the promise of a zoom lens with a built-in extender, all packed into a Super Telephoto lens barrel. I cannot emphasis the advantages of having a top quality super telephoto zoom lens. For years, I have suffered through missed opportunity when using prime telephoto lens on wildlife. Once the animal comes too close, there is a mad scramble to back up or try and grab another camera with a shorter focal length. Inevitably, I would end up missing crucial shots.
The EF 200-400mm is a large but manageable lens. It measures 5 inch in diameter and 14.4 inch in length without the lens hood. The front and rear lens elements are fluorine-coated to repel water, dust and dirt. When used with the Canon EOS-1D X camera, it will make cleaning much easier out in the field. It has a built-in 1.4x extender (see bulge in photo) specifically designed for the lens and three IS modes, like all the other Series II Super Telephoto lenses. Mode 1 is for stationary subjects. Mode 2 is for panning subjects, like bird in flight. Mode 3 is available only on Series II super telephoto lenses. In Mode 3, IS sound can be detected when the shutter release is half-pressed, but the image is not stabilized until the precise moment when the shot is taken. When I use an IS equipped lens, I always leave the IS on and set to Mode 1. To be honest, most of the time, I find there is a difference without a distinction between Mode 1 and 2. After panning for so many fast moving wildlife shots over the years, I have developed a rather good technique for myself already.
Up to now, no Canon Super Telephoto lens comes in a zoom. Adding a built-in 1.4x extender and a fixed f/4 aperture over the entire zoom range is a game changer for me. By the way, the minimum focusing distance over the entire zoom range is only 6.6 feet. Although this lens is revolutionary for a 'L' design, Canon actually experimented with the FDn 1200mm f/5.6 lens with a built-in 1.4x extender back in 1984 during the Olympic Games in Los Angeles.
To say the EF 200-400mm lens' zoom range is flexible is an understatement. In addition to the built-in 1.4x extender, the lens also accepts the EF 1.4x and 2.0x III extenders. This means it can have a possible zoom range of 200mm to 1,792mm, when used with a combination of full frame, APS-H and APS-C cameras. EOS-5D Mk III and the EOS-1 bodies will allow AF down to f/8. Auto-focusing with apertures smaller than f/8 is not possible but this lens is well designed for that with FTM (full time manual) focusing built-in. This immense focal length range encourages creativity and open up many possibilities for long lens photography.
I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of my EF 200-400mm lens and have a few wildlife photo shoots coming up this summer, including Svalbard, Alaska and Africa. It should deliver photos with excellent image quality providing I have good luck with the wildlife sightings. Once I have given this lens a good workout in the field, I will write a detailed review of it as soon as possible.

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