Canon 400mm L lens

400mm L lensAfter realizing the 400mm equivalent focal length of my Canon 55-250mm IS lens isn’t always long enough for wildlife photography, I rented the Canon 400mm L lens. At a cost of over $1200, I figured it was worth renting and trying  before buying.

With a focal lens multiplier of 1.6, the 400mm L gives me a 640mm equivalent when mounted on my Canon XSi.

It’s big and heavvvvvvvvvy!

I wasn’t prepared for using a lens with a weight of 2.8 lbs and 10.1 inches in length! This isn’t a concern for those who use a tripod or monopod, but I like to hand hold a camera when taking photos. To reduce the weight slightly, I removed the tripod collar mount.

First days out with the 400mm L lens

The lens, unfortunately, has no Image Stabilization so holding it without shaking it was solely up to me. The first few days out with the lens, I just plain couldn’t hold it steady. Looking through the viewfinder was dizzying. Every photo was blurred.

My back and hands ached for a few days carrying the lens. But I suppose that was more an indictment on me being out of shape and not the lens. 😉

I became discouraged but wasn’t about to give up either. After all, I was holding one of the finest and respected lenses used by seasoned birder and wildlife photographers.

Getting better

Gradually, I learned to hold the lens steadier. I steadied myself by leaning against a tree or by crouching or sitting down and bracing both elbows against my thighs.

I soon learned that to capture sharper images, I needed to use very fast shutter speeds even if it meant upping the ISO. The lens has a fixed aperture of f/5.6 so taking hand-held shots on well-lit days is important.

Finally I was able to get some keepers. When I got a decent shot, I was utterly amazed at the quality of the images produced by the Canon 400mm L lens. The accuracy and blazing focus speed of this lens are amazing too.

Before I knew it, my two week rental period was up.

Heavenly vs. Heavily

The lens, as one forum participant put it, is “heavenly.” It is also, “heavily” and is one of the main reasons I decided not to buy it. It costs over $1200 as of this writing and I’m just not sure I want to spend this amount of money for a lens. It also doesn’t have zoom, which can be helpful when photographing birds in flight.

Still, I think of this lens every time I go out for a walk with my camera. I know the 400mm focal length is great for photographing wildlife. But I need to answer some questions before purchasing a lens of this type:

  • Will I get enough use out of the lens to justify the high cost?
  • Am I willing to build up arm strength, or forgo some spontaneity and begin using a tripod or monopod?
  • Will I be satisfied using a lens with a shorter focal length that produces fine images, but does not have the same quality of an L lens?

Right now, the answers allude me. I need more time to decide!

Visit our Canon 400mm L Photo Gallery for sample images taken with this lens.

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