Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS USM digital camera lens review

I acquired this Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS USM lens for the same reason most other people do: we seek the convenience of a zoom and want to avoid the expense of a 400mm prime lens.

Or, for me, I wanted to avoid facing reality that I really needed a 500mm or 600mm prime lens.

We got this lens to photograph

  • Birds (wading birds, water birds; in Guatemala: Mayan ethno-zoology)
  • Animals (in situations where it might be impossible, or dangerous, to get close)
  • Plants (flowers high up in a tree)

When you use a tripod the results are more predictable. When you don’t use a tripod the IS helps but you really need a tripod.

White Heron Canon EF 100-400mm

White Heron, Monterrico Guatemala 2010

 

Black Vulture Canon EF 100-400mm

Black Vultures standing on a tree, Sayaxché Petén Guatemala 2010.

 

White Heron standing on the river Canon EF 100-400mm

Withe Heron shooting with a Canon EF 100-400mm, Monterrico Guatemala 2010

 

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS USM telephoto zoom lens

When I see reviews saying how tack-sharp this lens is while photographing a flying bird, I am dubious about what standards they have.

And shooting anything moving, especially with no tripod, at 125th of a second: forget it unless you just want a cute snapshot at Internet size.

Why do none of the dozens of commercial reviews mention the downsides?

Hmmm, I wonder why? I wonder why all the web sites say everything good about this lens. Not many web sites mention serious faults (other than that the results are not sharp at f/5.6 at 400mm).

All these same web sites send you to resellers.  Hmmm, is this conflict of interest? Is this ethical? Is this even legal?

Of course we received this lens from a camera source (Parrot Digigraphic). But we don’t get a kickback on every sale. You don’t get hit with blinking advertisements and blatant commercialism at every corner of each web page. On too many sites the text is only to snare you into buying from favored resellers; the main reason for the “review” is to get kickback from sales commission or click-through fees.

Plus the FLAAR Reports openly mention what is weak about Canon lenses (their cheap lens shades). And we mention what is weak about Nikon lenses (their low-bid lenses made in Thailand).

I am content with this lens, but it needs to be used on a tripod. The image stabilization is better than nothing, but if you are out in a boat, the bird is flying, the photo is not going to be flawlessly sharp.

Canon MarkIII EF 100-400mm telephoto zoom lens

Canon MarkIII EF 100-400mm telephoto zoom lens

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS USM telephoto zoom lens

To learn more about bird photography, look at

Birder’s World Magazine (birdersworld.com)

Bird Watcher’s Digest magazine (web site is too commercial and too interested in your money)

Art of Bird Photography (seem to be two volumes)

The North American Nature Photography Association

  • Creative Bird Photography: Essential Tips and Techniques by Bill Coster (2010), $12.21
  • National Audubon Society Guide to Nature Photography: Digital Edition by Tim Fitzharris
  • Digital Nature Photography: The Art and the Science by John Gerlach
  • Photographing Wild Birds by Chris Gomersall, (2005), expensive.
  • Bird Photography: Pure and Simple by Arthur Morris
  • Art of Bird Photography: The Complete Guide to Professional Field Techniques (Practical Photography Books) by Arthur Morris
  • Photographing Wild Birds by Chris Gomersall
  • Bird by Andrew Zuckerman (2009)
  • Digital Nature Photography: The Art and the Science by John Gerlach
  • Creative Bird Photography: Essential Tips and Techniques by Bill Coster
  • National Geographic Photographing Birds by Rulon Simmons and Bates Littlehales (2006), $15.70
  • Bird Photography: Choosing the Best Destinations-Planning a Trip-Taking Great Photographs by David Tipling
  • Digital Wildlife Photography by David Tipling
  • The Birdwatcher's Guide to Digital Photography by David Tipling (2006), $3.69
  • The Bird Photography Field Guide by David Tipling (2011), $10.85
  • National Audubon Society Guide to Nature Photography: Digital Edition by Tim Fitzharris
  • Bird by Andrew Zuckerman (2009), $37.80

Additional books of interest to Mayanists and iconographers
ETTLINGER, Richard
  2008  On feathered Wings: Birds in flight. Abrams. 192 pages.

Photographs by Rob Palmer, Miguel Lasa and KK Hui. $26.40

HENDERSON, Carrol L.
2008  Birds in Flight: The art and science of how birds fly. Voyageur Press. 160 pages, $16.17

 

First posted, January 13, 2011.

 

 

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