Is artie Nuts? Why Would He Spend $11,499 (plus 7% sales tax and shipping) On a Lens He Has Preached Against for More Than Two Decades? « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

Is artie Nuts? Why Would He Spend $11,499 (plus 7% sales tax and shipping) On a Lens He Has Preached Against for More Than Two Decades?

Is artie Nuts? Why Would He Spend $11,499 (plus 7% sales tax and shipping) On a Lens He Has Preached Against for More Than Two Decades?

Am I nuts? It very well could be but I do not think so. Here’s the story:

I am flying to Miami on 28 DEC and continuing on overnight to Buenos Aires, Argentina and then flying late afternoon on the 29th to Ushuaia, Argentina to meet the ship and the group for the Falklands/South Georgia/Antarctica voyage that I have signed up for (on my own dime). I had long been planning to purchase the Canon 500mm f/4L IS II lens (7.04 pounds) for this nearly month-long trip and have had one pre-ordered with B&H for many months. Then life intervened. The “sometime in December” release date for the 500 II (and the 600 II as well) was pushed back indefinitely:

Canon U.S.A. Provides Updates On EF Lens Availability

LAKE SUCCESS, N.Y., November 16, 2011 – Canon U.S.A., Inc., a leader in digital imaging solutions, today announced updated availability information for three of its EF lenses:

Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM lens availability yet to be determined
Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM lens availability yet to be determined

Additional information regarding the shipping date of each lens will be made available as soon as possible.

You can read the entire press release here.

Well, there went that idea. I would not have a 500 IS II for the trip. What are the options:

Take the 800mm f/5.6L IS (9.86 pounds). Too slow at f/5.6. And a bad idea with such tame birds…. Not enough focal length flexibility.

Borrow a 500 f/4 L IS (8.54 pounds) from Canon Professional Services. Great focal length flexibility (with both the 1.4X and the 2X TCs) but I really want to see how one of the new Series II Super-telephotos perform with the Series III teleconverters.

Borrow a 600 f/4L IS (11.83 pounds) from Canon Professional Services. What are you nuts? My shoulders are killing me!

Get my hands on a 300mm f/2.8L IS II (5.19 pounds). Relatively light in weight with lots of focal length flexibility. Long enough for most folks but not for me with a maximum reach of 300 times the 2X TC times the 1.3 MIV crop factor = 780mm.

Borrow a 400mm f/2.8L IS II (8.49 pounds)from Canon Professional Services. Sorry, too new. Not available for loan.

Borrow a 400mm f/2.8L IS II (8.49 pounds) through the B&H affiliate program. Sorry, that item exceeds the $10,000 limit on affiliate loans.

Buy a new 400mm f/2.8L IS II (8.49 pounds). Great focal length flexibility (with both the 1.4XIII and the 2XIII TCs) with a nice reach: 400 times the 2X III TC times the 1.3 MIV crop factor = 1040mm. Not shabby. And I would get to see how one of the new Series II lenses works with the Series III TCs. Did you say “buy”?

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Is the new Canon 400mm f/2.8L IS II Super-telephoto lens just what artie needs for his Southern Oceans trip?

But wait!

Yeah. I’m the guy who wrote, For bird photography it is always better to choose a longer slower lens than a shorter faster one. And wrote this too, The 400 f/2.8L lenses are simply not a good choice for most bird photographers unless you live out west, also do lots of big mammals in low light, and/or routinely photograph birds at very close range such as at a feeder or another type of set-up.”

But those things were written when the 400 f/2.8s weighed 13 or 14 pounds….

Consider: on a tripod it will give me 400mm, 560mm, and 800mm (all with the the Mark IV’s 1.3X crop factor in addition. It will be mesh perfectly with my 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS II. It weighs a fraction less than the old 500mm (that I was able to hand hold for short periods of time. And it weighs more than 1 1/4 pounds less than the 800 f/5.6. It features the amazing 4-stop Image Stabilization system so I should be able to hand hold it (at least for short periods) on Zodiac rides when I need the reach. And I should be able to hand hold it with the 1.4X III TC for flight photography from the ship.

After much thought, and realizing that you only live once, I ordered a brand new 400mm f/2.8L IS II lens through Canon’s Explorers of Light program. In all likelihood I will be selling it after the voyage. Unless I fall in love with it. Heck, it would be great on the Galapagos too….

20 comments to Is artie Nuts? Why Would He Spend $11,499 (plus 7% sales tax and shipping) On a Lens He Has Preached Against for More Than Two Decades?

  • I’ve never used the old or new 400 f/2.8 myself. Too heavy, too expensive, and too short for me. When I want 400mm there are cheaper, lighter lenses I can use (I own three in that range) and when I want more than 400mm there are longer lenses that give higher quality for less cost and weight (or at least no more cost and weight). If I want 500mm or more, then I’d rather start with a 500mm or 600mm lens rather than a 400mm + TC.

    Still I’ll be curious to see how the new lens performs. While the old 400mm f/2.8 wasn’t the majority choice for bird photographers, the photographers I know who did use it seemed to do just as well as the ones who used the 500-800mm supertelephotos. I can certainly agree with you about not wanting to drag a 12 pound lens around the field; but otherwise I could never square your preference against the old lens with the incredible shots I saw other photographers making with it.

  • With this combo you won’t need to autofocus at f/8, an ability I’ve noticed you’ve used heavily over the years. I’ll be curious to see how that works out for you, and how that affects your analysis of the 1D Mark IV vis-a-vis non f/8 cameras like the 7D and the EOS-1D X.

  • avatar Chris

    Good luck Artie. I am sure the combo will be great for that trip.
    With Canon seeming to be moving towards full frame sensors, I am not sure how shorter lenses will fare longer term.
    But at $10k+ for the genII supertele’s, I am still thinking Canon might haved price themselves out of reach of many consumers.
    I am still waiting for a Canon zoom to compete with the Nikon 200-400 f4. More and more, I am seeing those black lenses sitting on tripods next to me.

  • avatar JPR

    Okay, two hints about “amazing news”. Will an announcement be made on Wed? Looking forward to whatever it is.

    Coming soon but not sure when. 🙂 artie

  • I’ve made many wonderful bird images through the years with my old 400/2.8 – and mostly when teamed with the 2X II. But I upgraded to the new 400/2.8 II about 3 weeks ago, and a thorough test at a pond containing 200+ wintering trumpeter swans proved its worth. The new 400/2.8 II w/2X III images are as sharp as the old 400/2.8 was with the 1.4X II…and it was one sharp lens! The new 400/2.8 II lens/TC III combination mounted on the Mk IV is the most accurate and responsive auto-focus I’ve experienced with a big tele. When I examined the hundreds of flight shots afterwards, I found it nearly never missed…and quality checks (at 100%) of a swan’s head usually looked like the bird had been motionless and sitting on the ice instead of on the wing. A minimum focus of approx 9ft, and lens/TC combinations creating focal lengths of 400, 560, and 800 provide incredible flexability. As you pointed out, when utilized with the 2X III, it yields an effective 1040mm combination when mounted on the Mk IV, and provides a 1280mm combination when teamed with a 7D. My guess is you will love this lens.

    Hi Ty, Thanks for sharing your experience. And thanks for sending along a copy of your Iowa eagle book; it is quite an accomplishment and I have been enjoying it. You would enjoy a trip to Homer with me in late March 2013…. artie

  • Hi, Arthur. The new 400 is a lens I’m coveting for my rainforest work in Costa Rica. I’ll be interested to read your impressions of it in the weeks to come. Congrats on the purchase and good luck down there. Cheers, Greg Basco

    You could actually put your name on the B&H list right now. If you do, be sure to use our link :). I can understand the desire for an f/2.8 lens for the rain forest! artie

  • I have this combo and used it for polar bears on Hudson Bay recently. The lens is very sharp, focuses very fast and the IS is noticeably better than the previous generation. It is also the sharpest super tele I have with BOTH the 1.4x and 2x generation III. I have found it to be unacceptably slow to track fast flying birds with the t/c’s. mike

    Hi Mike, Thanks for sharing your experience. As far as slow tracking for BIF, the only thing that I can think of is that you did not have the distance range set to far…. I completely expect initial AF acquisition to be plenty fast enough for flying birds with the 1.4X III TC and would expect it to be fine with the 2X. artie

  • avatar Steve Feingold

    Old 2X TC’s gave decent results at close focusing distances, but became problematic at long distances. I hope this situation has improved with the new designs. Looking forward to your report.

    Hey Steve, Hope that all is well. Sharpness problems with images made at great distances are often a result of atmospheric interference… I found the 2X II to be very sharp; the 2XIII however is a bit sharper. artie

  • avatar JPR

    I had the older 400 and upgraded to the new 400 and absolutely love the difference in weight and have even shot with it hand held which is something I never did with the older one. I shoot mostly sports but I am planning to do some birding in the beginning of the new year and have purchased the 2xIII as well. So far I have been very pleased with the new lens other than the price.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. They really put that lens on a diet. And I expect it to be scary-sharp even with the 2X III. artie

  • Artie, I am betting that you will fall head over heels in love with this new lens and make it a permanent part of your lens arsenal from now on !!

    I think that I will take that bet. But I have some insider knowledge. 🙂 artie

  • avatar Charles Scheffold

    I’m sure it will work fine for you. I bet with the new IS it will be a pretty decent handheld lens. I still find it hard to believe you are traveling without the 800 though! I can’t wait for the review 😉

  • avatar Arla

    For that dream trip you need the perfect lens. You can’t go back next month! You made the right call.

  • avatar George Cottay

    Like C G Gustavsson I look forward to the pictures and a review.

  • avatar Vern Denman

    With your talent and knowledge you could take my Brownie reflex and come back with beautiful shots. Best of luck.

  • avatar lowell dickson

    Woops. What I meant by “cheap fixed focal length lenses” are those off brand mirror lenses that sell for hundreds of $$$$. In no way, did I mean Canon. Just to clarify.

  • Why not the Canon 400mm DO f/4.0? Half the price, half the weight. Surely not half the quality?

    One stop slower and maybe 3/4 of the quality. And in addition, I wanted to see how the Series III TCs work with a Series II super-telephoto. Stay tuned however for some amazing news in two days…. artie

  • avatar lowell dickson

    Mishuganess is only in the eyes of how others see you (or sometimes the beholder). Only YOU could use one of those cheap fixed focal length lenses, do your editing magic, and still come up with images better than 92.64% of the rest of us. Of course, we DO expect you to be 99.99785% better. Safe travels and looking forward to your shared images. Lowell

    Lowell, I am confused by the “cheap fixed focal length lenses” comment…. And as far as editing magic, JIJO. Junk in equals junk out….. Thanks for your good wishes and have a great holiday and a great 2012.artie

  • avatar Vern Denman

    Stay home and wait for the 500 f4.

    Ah, a comedian. artie

  • avatar harvey tabin

    I do not think he is nuts. This is his business, not a hobby. If it helps him make a buck, it is worth it.

  • avatar C G Gustavsson

    I am looking forward to hear about your experience with this 400 mm lens, its autofocus performance, its stabilizer, its resolution etc. Maybe in due time also a head-to-head comparison with the 200-400/4.