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This image was made near Homer, AK with the Canon EF 800mm f/5.6L IS lens with the 1.4X III TC and the EOS-1D Mark IV. ISO 400. Evaluative metering +1 stop: 1/320 sec. at f/8 in Manual mode. The key to a successful composition here was placing the bird high enough in the frame to include the lower breast and show off the bird’s full crop.
The Canon EF 800mm f/5.6L IS with or without the 1.4X III TC is obviously superb tool for nature and wildlife photographers, especially those who love birds. Read on to learn what the future may hold for this lens.
Will the EF 800mm f/5.6L Soon Become Obsolete?
When I first heard that Canon would be releasing an 800 f/5.6L IS lens I stated that it was a stupid lens. Then I borrowed one to try out at Bosque and purchased one the next week. It quickly became my everyday workhorse super-telephoto lens. I went nowhere without it. I use it about half the time with the 1.4X III TC and on occasion, with the 2X III TC using Live View to focus accurately. It is the sharpest super-telephoto lens that I have ever used and the new 4-stop Image Stabilizer system performs amazingly well; I have created sharp images at shutter speeds as low as 1/6 sec. Absurd!
The playing field, however, is about to change. On September 23, 2010 I posted news of the four new Series II Canon Super-telephotos and the two new Series III tele-converters along with my comments here. On February 3, 2011 I posted Series III 2X TC Gut Reaction. And on February 7 I followed that up with Worth the Weight? The Skinny on the Two New Canon Super-telephoto Lenses. It seems that in this last post that most folks failed to read between the lines…. (See my explanation below.)
About two months ago I pre-ordered both the Canon 500mm F/4L IS II and the Canon 600mm f/4L IS II lenses. I had been hoping to get my hands on a 500II in May and on the 600II sometime in June but with the recent natural disasters that struck Japan those hopes are in no way realistic. I have no clue as to when these lenses will be available but would not be surprised if they were delayed a full year.
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This image was created at Lake Kerkini, Greece with the Canon EF 800mm f/5.6L IS lens and the EOS-1D Mark IV. ISO 400. Evaluative metering +2 1/3 stops of the white sky: 1/800 sec. at f/6.3 in Manual mode. This somewhat serendipitous capture includes an adult Dalmatian Pelican and an immature Herring Gull (yellow-footed race).
The Canon EF 800mm f/5.6L IS is and always will be a superb flight lens. The new lens coating make it the fastest autofocusing telephoto lens that I have ever used. The new Series II super-telephotos should be even quicker….
Now lets get on to the question of the day, “Will the EF 800mm f/5.6L Soon Become Obsolete?” Well, one answer is that it if it ever becomes obsolete it will not be soon! Here, adapted from my February 7 comments, is where folks failed to read between the lines:
“The new 600 will weigh only 8.8 pounds. The 800mm f/5.6L IS lens weighs 9.9 pounds. The relatively new 800mm f/5.6 lens was the first to offer the amazingly revolutionary 4-stop Image Stabilization system. All four of the Series II super-telephoto lenses offer 4-stop IS. The new 600 IS II offers far greater versatility than the 800mm and offers a longer effective focal length with functioning central sensor-only autofocus (1200mm with the 2X for the 600 IS II as compared to 1120mm with the 1.4X for the 800). In addition, the new 600 weighs 1.1 pounds less than the 800. And it should be mentioned at this time that the Series III teleconverters will offer improved AI Servo tracking accuracy only with the Series II Super-telephoto lenses. The micro-chips in the Series III TCs cannot communicate with the older super-telephoto lenses. Do note however that early reports indicate that the EF 2X Extender III is noticeably sharper than the EF 2X Extender II.” (For more on the new TCs, check out Series III EF Teleconverter Misconceptions…
Expanding on my “greater versatility” comments: with the 800 you have only two useful focal lengths when using a pro body: 800 and 1120 (the 800 + the 1.4X TC). With a pro-sumer body like the 50D or the 7D, you have only one: 800mm. (An f/5.6 lens will not autofocus with the 1.4X TC). In either case, 800mm is often too long a focal length. An example would be at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm where many of the nests are this close. And there would be a huge gap between the minimum available focal length of 800mm (800mm) and the maximum available focal length of the rig on my shoulder, 400mm (the 70-200 f/2.8L IS II and the 2X III TC).
With the new 600 II and a pro-body you will have three useful focal lengths: 600mm, 840mm (the lens plus the 1.4X III TC), and 1200mm (the lens plus the 2X III TC). You will enjoy a considerably closer minimum focusing distance with the new 600. And the gap between the minimum available focal length of the prime lens alone (600) and the the maximum available focal length of the rig on my shoulder, 400mm (the 70-200 f/2.8L IS II and the 2X III TC), is greatly reduced.
And this greater versatility will be provided by a lens that weighs 1.1 pounds less than the 800…. For serious photographers with adequate budgets, the choice between the 800 and the 600 II seems to me to be an easy one.
So where does this leave me? As I was always able to make sharp images with my old 600 IS and the 2X II TC at shutter speeds as low as 1/60 sec., I will–with the 600 II’s 4-stop IS–have no problem at all doing that quite consistently with the new lens (when I get it) :). So the very great likelihood is that I will be selling the 800 f/5.6 at some point down the road.
So why did I also pre-order the 500 IS II? On some trips, say Antarctica, South Georgia, the Falklands, and the Galapagos, I will bring the 500 because the birds are tame, the 500 II will weigh nearly two full pounds less than the 600 II, and–with its smaller physical size, be easier to travel with. The 500 II will be imminently more hand holdable than the 600 II, great for photographing seabirds off of a large ship. And with the 500 II I will still have a nice maximum focal length of 1000 mm (with the 2X II TC). In addition, I will be able to rent either the 500 II or the 600 II to participants on (most) IPTs.
I am positive that the 800 will always be a great lens for bird photography, and that it will always be in high demand. The price of used 800s will surely come down a bit as some folks will switch from the 800 to the 600 II. So will the 800 f/5.6L IS lens become obsolete? Not in my lifetime!
Below is a list of the gear that I used to create the images above. Thanks a stack to all who have used the Shopper’s Guide links to purchase their gear as a thank you for all the free information that we bring you on the Blog and in the Bulletins. Before you purchase anything be sure to check out the advice in our Shopper’s Guide.
Canon 800mm f/5.L IS lens. Right now this is my all time favorite super-telephoto lens.
Canon 600mm f/4L IS II. This one will surely replace my 800 f/5.6L IS….
Canon 500mm f/4L IS II. I cannot wait for this lightweight beauty.
Canon EF 1.4X III TC. This new TC is designed to work best with the new Series II super-telephoto lenses.
Canon EF 2X III teleconverter. The 2X III is a bit sharper than the 2X II.
Canon EOS-1D Mark IV professional digital camera body. The very best professional digital camera body that I have ever used.
And from the BAA On-line Store:
Gitzo 3530 LS Tripod. This quality tripod will last you a lifetime.
Mongoose M3.6 Tripod Head. Right now this is the best tripod head around for use with lenses that weigh less than 9 pounds. For heavier lenses, check out the Wimberley V2 head.
Double Bubble Leve.l You will find one in my camera’s hot shoe whenever I am on a tripod and not using flash.
Delkin 32gb e-Film Pro Compact Flash Card. These high capacity cards are fast and dependable.