More Thoughts on the Canon 200-400 f/4L IS and the Series II Super-telephoto Lenses « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

More Thoughts on the Canon 200-400 f/4L IS and the Series II Super-telephoto Lenses

More Thoughts on the Canon 200-400 f/4L IS and the Series II Super-telephoto Lenses

In the blog post that noted the announcement of the long awaited Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Lens with Internal 1.4x Extender, I wrote, “It promises to be a great lens for wildlife and for trips to places like Africa, the Southern Ocean, and the Galapagos. At $11,799, it is quite pricey. I will surely try to borrow one before I buy one.”

So here I am at my Mom’s in Holbrook, Long Island, NY, getting ready to fly back to Florida on Monday morning. I will be leaving for my two-week Galapagos Photo-Cruise on June 30, and then heading to Africa departing on August 1. I currently own the 300mm f/2.8L IS II, the 500mm f/4L IS II, and the 600mm f/4L IS II. Along with the 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II and two set of Series III teleconverters (2 @ 1.4x EF Extender III and 2x EF Extender III).

I used the 500mm f/4L IS II only a bit before I received my 600mm f/4L IS II. Since that time I have rarely used it and never traveled with it always opting for the greater reach of the 600 with my three full frame bodies–2 EOS-1D X bodies and my 5D Mark III.

I had always assumed that I would be bringing the 500 II to the Galapagos and still might go that route. But, there are at least three others on the trip who will be bringing their 600 IIs. And I just hate to be short man on the totem pole. In any case, the 300 II will be invaluable on the cruise for flight photography and for our panga (zodiac) cruises. And the 70-200 II is a necessity. So here is the problem: even if I could borrow a 200-400 for the trip to the archipelago there is simply no way that I could get it all there along with the three camera bodies, the 24-105, and the 15mm fish eye lens.

One must consider the option of making the trip with a 200-400 and without the 500 or 600mm. The 200-400 with the internal 1.4X TC in place and a second 1.4X TC added externally would yield an equivalent focal length of 784mm. This would be well on the short side as compared to either the 500 II or the 600 II with the 2X TC. Those work out to 1000 and 1200mm equivalent focal lengths respectively.

Another possibility would be to travel with the 200-400 and either the 500 or 600 II while leaving the 300 II at home. I have one very big problem with that. The 300 II is a superb flight lens, one that I can easily hand hold. The 200-400 does of course offer greater flexibility than the 300 II but, and this is a very big but: the 300 II weighs only 5.19 pounds while the 200-400 comes in at a relatively whopping 7.98 pounds, almost three pounds heavier than the new 300. The 200-400 weighs more than the 500 II at 7.04 pounds but less than the 600 II that weighs 8.65 pounds. Call me a wimp if you will, but I can hand hold the 500 II for short periods of time for both flight and routine bird photography. I can hand hold the 600 II only for a few seconds at most for flight photography and barely at all for routine photography. So ix-nay on that idea at least for me.

After getting my thoughts down here in writing I am thinking of taking the 500 II as my big lens to the Galapagos along with the 300 II and the other lenses mentioned above. But I still might go with the 600 as my big lens for the cruise. I am pretty sure that Denise Ippolito is going with the 300 II as her big lens for the trip.

That brings us to Africa. I know that Todd Gustafson travels routinely to Africa with his Nikon 600, a Nikon 200-400, a Nikon 28-300, a 10.5mm fish eye, and only two Nikon D4 camera bodies. But Todd is much younger and stronger than I am and can easily hand hold his Nikon 200-400 for flight. He absolutely loves, kills with, and swears by his 200-400 in Africa. I just got off the phone with him and have pretty much decided to sell my 500 II–heck, I rarely use it anymore, and purchase the 200-400. I am pretty sure that I can make it to Africa with the 600 II and the 200-400 while leaving the 300 at home. Or not. Yikes!

A final thought on a Southern Ocean trip (aka The Falklands, South Georgia, and possibly Antarctica): the Canon 200-400mm with the internal TC is pretty much perfect for that trip as the birds are both tame and curious. Though I would leave the 600 II at home I would surely have the 300 II along for flight photography and, with the 2X II TC, as a back-up big lens.

As soon as I order my 200-400 I will likely be offering my 500 II for sale….

You can find complete Canon telephoto lens specs here; be sure to bookmark this page for quick reference. The chart now includes data for the new Canon 200-400.


If you have a question or a suggestion on anything above please leave a comment; I will reply asap.

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44 comments to More Thoughts on the Canon 200-400 f/4L IS and the Series II Super-telephoto Lenses

  • avatar David

    Arthur, I own the 200-400 and am very happy with it. However, it is heavy to handhold, but manageable. I have an opportunity to purchase a 300 2.8 ii at a very good price. Do you think that would be a ridiculous purchase since I have the 200-400 already. I was thinking the 200-400 would be better for birds in flight. Thanks.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Hi David. I own both:). I can hand hold the 200-400 for flight for a limited amount of time. Then I either need to get it on a tripod where it is not as easy to follow the birds especially in erratic flight or switch to the 300 II which then seems light as a feather….

      • avatar David

        Thanks for the quick reply Arthur. I did mean to write that I thought the 300 would be better for birds in flight than the 200-400. I appreciate your thoughts on owning both – a very nice luxury. I probably need to decide it I’d rather own the 300 or the 600 to go along with my 200-400. Any thoughts if you could only buy 1 of them?

        • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

          That is one of the easiest no-brainers ever. If you like birds, you need the 600 II. I will send the two links via e-mail later. If you are strong enough to hold it, the 2-4 is better for flight in nearly all cases as it gives you much greater flexibility; being able to zoom out as the bird gets closer is a great benefit. artie

  • avatar Larry Shaw

    Right now the longest setup I have is the 70-200 with 2x, and I’m in the market for a longer lens. I was leaning towards the 400 2.8, and having the option of a full frame 400 or a crop sensor 640, plus the 2x options on both because of the wide aperature. After seeing reviews on the 200-400 with 1.4TC, and seeing the price on both, I’m really torn. Having that great a range vs. the crisp prime and wide aperature is a hard one. Primary use would be adventure sports and safaris. Any thoughts on the two lenses? or thoughts on the 400 2.8 vs 500 or 600?

  • avatar Swaranjeet Singh

    It is so very interesting to read this post not least because it is absolutely spot on about the dilemmas that face those lucky enough to be in such a multi-choice situation. Of course, for most it is not a question of which lens to leave at home and which to take but of which to keep and which to sell. Thank you Arthur for the candour and admitting that this is a genuine issue with no perfect solutions. The net is chic-a-bloc with opinions that just pretend and claim that the gear combination they use is ideal and the only perfect one. There isn’t one such.

  • avatar Sasha

    Hi Arthur,

    I am an enthusiast setting out to purchase my first long lens and I was wondering if you had already sold your 500 II? I am in the market for a 500mm II lens and would appreciate if you could email me with price and condition of the lens. sashasud(@)



  • It’s a tough call on what lenses to take on some of these trips. I did a safari in Kenya in March, and kept the 500 f4 on my 1DX, and a 70-200 f2.8 on my 1D Mk4 for situations where I was too close to use the other rig. I found that I missed a few shots because I was too long at 500mm, but I also added a 1.4x extender to the 500 for birds. I found myself adding and subtracting the extender too often and I needed a thorough dust cleaning after the trip. Avoiding that is a clear advantage of the 200-400, but at a cost of one stop of light on the long end, plus the hefty price tag. I used the 1DX and 500 f4 for about 85% of my images, and the 70-200 on the ID Mk4 for about 15%. I only used the 24-105 to photograph the accommodations and for some people shots in our group. I personally have not traveled to enough of the destinations mentioned her to get a good feel for what focal lengths are best for many of them.

  • Weight restrictions for travel and lenses ideal for African photography were discussed earlier this year with Tim Rucci who made a trip to Kenya in March. Tim and I have discussed Artie’s work many times. After first reading about Artie in a magazine on a plane flight years ago (he was of course pictured in one image presented on his belly), it was a surprise to have him offer a free camera sensor cleaning at the Florida Camera Club Council Photography Convention in 2010. It’s of course of no surprise to have Artie tell it like he sees it. I hope Tim chimes in to offer a comment about his experience in Africa with his selected images presented here . . .
    Tim allows his EXIF data to be viewed for possible questions to be answered readily.

  • After using the 500 and 1.4x for a month, I was not happy with its focus on BIF. A lot of missed shots as it went after a white cap or other distraction. The weight and length made it very uncomfortable for handholding and I don’t use a tripod anywhere. When it was stolen in Miami I decided to replace it with the 300 2.8 and 2X (on 7D) and am quite pleased with the results at 600 and of course 300. Very easy to hold and carry in my Tamrac 5793 backpack.
    Unless I know my exact needs for the day, I will also carry my 70-200 2.8 with 1.4X or 2X,
    or my faithful 100-400 on another 7D. I was lusting for the 200-400 until I saw the weight and size. I would rather use two lenses/bodies than spend any time suffering with 8 lbs that only goes to 560mm. I am quite sure we get better photos when comfortably holding a lens rather than struggling with a heavy one no matter how sharp it can be on a tripod. The 2X on the 300 2.8 and 70-200 2.8 works a lot better than many claim. AF on either of these lenses is good enough for me for BIF if I need more than 300 or 420mm.

  • avatar Ted Willcox

    Have a read of what Andy Rouse has to say about the Canon 200-400. It’s is all good and then some.

  • avatar Loi Nguyen

    I just retread Todd’s “Safari Exoerience” guide book on East Africa. He said he used the 600mm 95% of the time. Given the difficulty of transporting two big lens to Africa, I wonder about the cost-benefit trade offs. I’m going to East Africa this week and I’m taking the 500f4 II, 70-300L, 24-70L II, 1DX, 5D3, 1.4x and 2x. Internal flight restriction on weight makes it tough to carry more. Loi

  • avatar Charles Scheffold

    I think it is a good move to sell the 500 and get the 200-400. Lots of versatility there. Personally I’m loving the combination of the 600 II and the 1DX – haven’t yet had a problem with being “too close” that the 500 would have solved, at least in my photography. The 200-400 would be awesome for Africa.

    • avatar Mike Vanecek

      One of the problems I had on a long international trip was size and weight limitations of the carry on bag. Taking two big and heavy lenses is not impossible, but does add a dimension that must be considered when configuring the carry on.

      • avatar Graham Hedrick

        How did you solve this problem?

        • avatar Mike Vanecek

          I took an 800 & 70-200. Key items in the carry on and the rest in checked bag. I now pack 600/300/70-200/24-205/1.4/2.0 and 2 bodies. I have an AquaTech collapsible hood for the 600. No dividers in the bag, use Lenscoat covers and travel coats. A tight fit, but I can get it in an overhead bin on most aircraft. I tried to see if a 200-400 could take the place of the 300 — no way without putting something else in checked bag. I also have a small computer bag with my electronics.

          Artie has previously posted several items on how to pack. He is an expert on the topic.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      It seems like an ideal lens for Africa. Then you find yourself wondering why not one of the good Sigma zooms–a zillion times lighter and a zillion times cheaper…. Again traveling with the 200-400 and the 600 will be a bear… There will be sacrifices that have to be made, probably the 70-200. But, leaving that home does not leave too much of a focal length range hole: you’d only be missing 105-200mm as long as you have the 24-105 along….

  • avatar Graham Hedrick

    Art, an off topic question if I may.

    I am planning for the first part of 2014. Last year I was caught off quard with vacation time, when you announced your Canon Everglades week end work shop. Do you if you are doing this again in 2014? When wouuld dates be finalized?

  • avatar Mike Vanecek

    Like you, I find the 300/600 II to be a very flexible combination. Packable, nice weight, nice reach. I thought I would jump on the 200-400 when it came out; however, it’s size and weight turned me off compared to the 300/600. It will be interesting to see how it works out for you.

    Todd also used his 600 a lot in Africa.

  • avatar Graham Hedrick

    I am looking forward to the day I too have this problem! It’s kind of like should I drive my Ferrari, Bently, Rolls or Rangerover.

  • avatar Graham Hedrick

    Your posts are always jam packed with great information. So much so, that I find my self having to read them at least twice. The first time just to see what you are talking about, the second time for really absorbing your advice. Thanks Art!

  • avatar Mark

    In the final line of the post (and apologies for not emailing but clicking on that link doesn’t work for me), you say you will sell your 500mm I. I believe you mean the II.

    And I love your reasoning through these things. It always helps me make decisions.

  • Hi Artie, With limited resources, I would not consider purchasing any 400mm or 500mm lens while currently using a 600mm f/4L IS and 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II. In Florida, with such “ridiculously tame birds,” I have typically found that an extender is rarely needed with the 600mm although I routinely crop and sometimes heavily. Going after wildlife on a limited basis with the 70-200, it required the 2X extender completely inadequate on a recent pelagic trip 90 plus miles off Ponce De Leon Inlet into the Gulf Stream. When ready for further travel and interest in landscape photography, I will certainly be looking at something like the 24-105mm as a necessity. I have two questions for you. Considering that Canon Prime lenses hold their value well, is the 600mm f/4L IS II worth spending what was paid for the first version (new) while having to sell version I applying its value to the version II (new) cost? Also, I have not seen any reports of trinkets coming out of Japan with a concern of health. Should we be concerned about irradiated gear coming out of Japan at all these days?

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Even when I used a crop factor body I often added either the 1.4X or the 2X TC. It is my belief and the belief of many others that you are far better off using a TC than cropping. Not sure what you are talking about in reference to the pelagic trip. I use the 24-105 a lot in bird photography. As I have said here often and written a zillion times in e-mails, I have no idea if something is “worth it” to someone else…. How could I? I have never thought for one second about irradiated gear.

      • There are several attempted pelagic trips out of Ponce de Leon Inlet (just south of Fort Lauderdale) to benefit the Marine Science Center there each year. One about a year ago was canceled due to weather. Addition information about them may be seen here . . .
        Michael Brothers is the contact.

        • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

          Thanks Bob. I am trying to understand what you meant by this, ” Going after wildlife on a limited basis with the 70-200, it required the 2X extender completely inadequate on a recent pelagic trip 90 plus miles off Ponce De Leon Inlet into the Gulf Stream.”


  • avatar Bill Richardson

    I was about to order the 200-400 but did not. Still cannot decide if it is a tweener that will be left home.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      It surely is an amazing lens. The problem is getting it there when traveling or even lugging it into the field when you also have a big lens with you. That’s a lot poundage for an on your shoulder lens….

  • avatar David Policansky

    Artie: Do you ever find that having several options makes things harder occasionally? I have only the “toy” 400 f/5.6L that I use for birds and so I find either I can make the shot or not, but I never have to decide what lens to use. Obviously, I’d prefer more options…

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Sure. If you only have one lens there is not a whole lotta of heavy duty thinking as to which lens to use. I have not been there in several decades.

  • First-world photographer problems. 🙂

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      You are correct David. I forgot to mention that I am very, very blessed to have such problems. But heck, I am gonna bite the bullet and sell my 500 II!