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Thread: 400 mm prime for birding?

  1. #1

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    400 mm prime for birding?

    The more I get into this, the more I see myself setting up a fixed distance, usually too far away, from whatever bird or wildlife I want to shoot. I usually keep my zoom maxed at 250mm for almost every shot. And it still doesn't have the reach I would like. I have been reading some good things about prime for sharpness and speed.

    I recently purchased NeatImage for noise reduction, and this seems to allow me to push the ISO, so I am wondering if I might be able to get by with a slower lens, and get the sharpness by shooting at a higher aperture, and the speed through ISO?

    Will a 400 mm prime, that is not super fast, be light enough for hand held?

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    Moderator Dave Humphries's Avatar
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    Re: 400 mm prime for birding?

    Quote Originally Posted by tameigh View Post
    The more I get into this, the more I see myself setting up a fixed distance, usually too far away, from whatever bird or wildlife I want to shoot. I usually keep my zoom maxed at 250mm for almost every shot. And it still doesn't have the reach I would like. I have been reading some good things about prime for sharpness and speed.

    I recently purchased NeatImage for noise reduction, and this seems to allow me to push the ISO, so I am wondering if I might be able to get by with a slower lens, and get the sharpness by shooting at a higher aperture, and the speed through ISO?

    Will a 400 mm prime, that is not super fast, be light enough for hand held?
    Hi Tim,

    Hmmm, I have no experience of them (decided I couldn't justify > 1000 for a Nikon one), but there are a few '400' owners here, I think Raylee (Camellia) just got one.

    The weight is going to depend what the max. aperture is; f/4, f/5.6, etc. - the lower the number, the fatter your wallet, and the stronger your arms, needs to be

    You may need a monopod, but I never use one, don't think it would be feasible for the sort of birds in flight shots I take - the angle of presntation is too wide, but I guess if you are a long way away (possibly in a hide) and know that all the action is in one direction only, then a monopod or even a tripod, might be workable.

    Cheers,

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    Re: 400 mm prime for birding?

    Hi Tim,

    With a 1.5x crop sensor your 400m lens has a field of view akin to a 600m and you will need at least 1000th/sec shutter speed to hand hold. You can increase the ISO to get a faster shutter (if in aperture priority) but you are then trading off for image quality, which may be acceptable in print but if you crop your image you will accentuate the noise when you blow up the image on screen/print. Noise reduction programs do work but they also reduce the sharpness of the whole image, including your subject.

    If you shoot in RAW you can sharpen in ACR. You need to increase the image size to 100% to see any effect in ACR. I suggest you increase the amount to no more than 40 and leave the Radius at the default 1. You can effectively mask areas you do not want sharpened by holding the ALT key and shifting the Mask slider. When you press the alt key the image goes white indicating everything is being sharpened. When you move it to the right areas of black appear indicating area that will not be sharpened. Move it to the right until just the edges of the subject are white and this will sharpen just the edges but the blurred background and all smooth surfaces which show noise will not be sharpened.

    When you open in PS you can resharpen for final output but in this way you are only doing very minor sharpening and in most instances it is only sharpening many areas in the image once because of the previous masking.

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    Re: 400 mm prime for birding?

    Tim, my suggestion is the 300 f/4L + 1.4TC . In my oppinion the 400 can't touch this combination. You get 2 lenses in one ( 300mm/420mm) and image stabilization.

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    Re: 400 mm prime for birding?

    Dave, I do expect to shoot from a "hide", which on this side of the pond, we call a blind One of the reasons that I think the long lens would work.

    Peter, Thank you for that tip in ACR. I will try that this evening. I don't find that Neat Image reduces the detail noticeably, it operates on a statistical pattern of noise as it has detected it from the camera, and does not operate on the image patterns, the way Photoshop sharpening does. But still, the less the better. I think it may come down to money though

    BTW, I just had a look at your album. I spent six months in Australia, and see all kinds of pics from there, Opera House, Harbor Bridges, etc. But nothing took me back there like that picture of rainbow parakeets.

    Steve, Thanks for the suggestion, I will look into that.

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    Re: 400 mm prime for birding?

    Did I read something about Canon producing a new 400 mm with IS, or was it just wishful thinking?

    Whatever you try, Tim, you will come back to the same answer. For flying birds you really need a fast shutter speed, 1/1000 or more. You may manage to get good results while hand holding a 400 mm but, as always, a tripod is best.

    But, yes, I know all too well that shooting fliers from a tripod isn't easy. I use the Manfrotto ball head (pistol grip) which I have reversed so that I can easily control the lens position with my left hand while my right index finger is always on the shutter.

    For moving targets, I don't release the handle (which then grips the ball head) so I just keep panning. It isn't absolutely solid and totally movement free, but almost so, and is perfectly sufficient if you have a reasonable shutter speed.

    With regard to lenses. A little while ago, I was in the same position over lenses and finally, after much deliberation, I bought the Sigma 150-500 OS and have been amazed at the results; even hand held, although with a decent shutter speed.

    My thinking was that a zoom with OS which went to 500 would give about the same performance as a 400 mm plus converter. And it would be more versatile. The long minimum focusing length of the Canon 400 is one thing that swayed me for general wildlife work, which also includes closer butterflies, etc.

    But like all similar big lenses it does need good light. I find that to get the best from this lens you need to work at F8 or F11 which may be a struggle for some of the poor light that you encounter.

    Anyhow here is a quick hand held shot (but with arms resting on railings) with the 150-500 at 500 mm. But it was a bit closer than many of your targets.

    400 mm prime for birding?

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    Re: 400 mm prime for birding?

    I have the Canon 100-400mm . . . and I rarely use it for anything less than 400mm. I think I should have kept saving and gotten the prime.

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    Re: 400 mm prime for birding?

    I found this review of the 400 http://www.luminous-landscape.com/re...tten-400.shtml

    It is kind of interesting, with pictures taken with the different lenses. It makes a pretty strong case for the 400. And I am thinking that I am going to be in Elise's position, of rarely using less that 400. It is not that much more expensive that the zoom. I have shorter lenses for closer stuff. I also have a small boat that is worth about what the thing costs... But then I was going to use that boat to get into some areas for wildlife shooting.... So it begins. I guess I will set up a little savings acct then. that will give me plenty of time to change my mind.

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    Re: 400 mm prime for birding?

    Tim, another lens that is just now comming out...........the canon 200-400mm L zoom/ with integrated TC. It has a built in teleconverter(1.4X) that you can change back and forth with the switch of a button. I don't know what it will cost or how good it is, but it sounds very interesting. A 200-400 f/4 L IS lens, and at the flip of a switch, a 280-560 f/5.6 L IS lens.

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    Re: 400 mm prime for birding?

    Tim,
    A few pointers about the 400 F5.6 L – a lens I own and use. You may wish to take a look at my entries in MinComps #250, #253, and MonoMiniComp #144 for examples.

    On IS – or the lack of: Now don't get me wrong – I love Image Stabilisation and wish all my lens had it. That said, the 400 has no IS, but don't let that put you off. For Bif (Bird in flight) and for small stuff on the ground I find the issue of subject motion dictates a shutter speed high enough to render IS irrelevant (1/1000th +). At lower speeds the 400 is very easy to hand hold with good results. In the range of speeds where IS makes a difference, image blur due to camera motion is a random event. You can compensate by taking bursts of pics to give yourself a chance of a sharp one. Oh .. and practice makes a BIG difference. BTW #144 (the helicopter shot) was taken at 1/160th . I regularly go much slower when needed.

    On f5.6, High ISO and Noise: Don't hesitate to boost ISO if you need it to get an appropriate shutter speed. Minimise noise by ensuring exposure to the right and shooting RAW. A well exposed, sharp image with some noise is much better than a clean blur!

    On reach: We can never have too much reach. In fact we never have enough with birds! I use the 400 on a 5D. Sadly that only gives about x8 magnification – much the same as an ordinary pair of binoculars. I've found that good images can take heavy cropping – which can be a big help. In my experience forget using an extender / converter – which looses AF. Also forget putting tape on pins to get the AF back again – resulting AF is way too slow and hunts badly. Frankly, your field craft is, and will always be, paramount in getting yourself close enough to get the shot.

    On hand holding the 400: By all means - for a restricted movement or static subject – use a tripod or monopod. For anything else teach yourself to hand hold.

    HTH

    Regards,

    Nick.

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    Re: 400 mm prime for birding?

    Nick,
    I remember both of those pictures. I think they were both great. I think that a decent lens would have helped a great deal with this shot. I had been shooting migratory ducks in low light, and had the camera on ISO 800 when I was driving home and saw these turkeys. Now wild turkeys are very common around here, but I don't often see them like this with the sun at my back, showing off their plumage. It is a shame about the noise. I have to work on the excitement aspect

    400 mm prime for birding?

    Anyway, I feel like if I could have filled the frame more with that shot, I would really have had something. I think you are right about field craft too. That is all part of the fun of it. Having an excuse to get outside is half the reason I like doing this.
    - Tim

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    Re: 400 mm prime for birding?

    Since I do not have a decent long lens or telephoto, I can't add much to this discussion but yesterday, when I was out shooting the herons, I ran across a birding couple with big old lenses, one of which was a Sigma, 100-500 zoom. she showed me some images she'd taken earlier and I was not overly impressed with the sharness of that lens. I would be willing to say I got a sharper image off the 50mm than she did on that honker of a lens...my opinion was it was way too big for hand-holding.

    So, I guess my contribution would be to stand in the camera store and really get a feel for how well you can hold that lens and for how long. Walking around with that much weight strapped around your neck gets tiring. Many moons ago, I shot racing events with a Pentax 6x7 and a (I think) 500mm lens (it was a huge chunk of glass and that was in 1968-69) and by day's end, I was thoroughly trashed. It's a thought.

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    Re: 400 mm prime for birding?

    I have the 400mm f/5.6L and that lens has several advantages
    1. It is sharp as a tack - even wide open...
    2. The autofocus is fast and accurate - I use it with a 40D and can only imagine what it would be like on a 7D (next on my wish list)...
    3. It is relatively light in weight...

    Many photographers are able to hand hold this lens but, being 70+ years old, I cannot with any confidence...

    I will use a monopod or tripod if possible. I like the Manfrotto Gimbal Head rather than a ball head or pan-tilt head. The Manfrotto Gimbal can be used on both a sturdy tripod and on a Manfrotto 681(B) or similar monopod. The camera/lens balances nicely on this gimbal and you are able to follow motion rather easily...

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    Re: 400 mm prime for birding?

    Richard,
    Which current model is the 40D equivalent to? I kind of decided on camera body from this thread (Canon), and I have to return my daughter's camera at some point; EOS Rebel XS with kit lenses. Would you recommend a camera like your 40D?

    Chris,
    I plan to be hiding in blinds most of the time that I would be using this lens, but it is a good point about hiking, etc.

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    Re: 400 mm prime for birding?

    Tim, a friend is considering upgrading his equipment after several 'false starts' so I have been recently checking out this same camera body issue.

    The 40D is generally well liked and clean secondhand copies are fetching a good price, around 500 for body only.

    The 50D wasn't initially as popular as the 40D but the few remaining on supplier's shelves are now attracting a premium price, nearly 1,000 which is considerably more than the newer 60D.

    The 60D had a slow start and seems to be selling at somewhat discounted prices. I think it is around 700 in the UK. Press reviews seem fairly keen on this body but I don't know anybody who has purchased one.

    The 7D is well liked by bird photographers because of the fast and accurate auto focus; but some people appear to find it excessively complicated to use. I think it currently sells around 1,200 here.

    I would certainly recommend a 40D if you can find one. After using one for several years I wouldn't want to use one of the XXXD range. But, as Chris said, the XXD range is a bit heavy and some people, mostly with small hands, find them difficult to hold.

    The 60D is slightly smaller and lighter, but not much. I suspect my friend may be tempted to buy one of these.

    However, when walking any distance, I put everything into a Lowenpro Mini Trekker backpack which makes things easier. Typically, 40D with 180 macro lens, 150-500 lens, speedlite flash and a Manfrotto tripod lashed outside.

    And at 63 with a dodgy back and creaking knees, I still manage to walk a couple of miles. But I do it a bit slower now; and if I slip on muddy ground, getting back upright can be a bit of a struggle.

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    Re: 400 mm prime for birding?

    Geoff,
    I am sort of a "buy it once, buy it for life" guy. Usually it is cheaper in the long run. Is the 7D that kind of camera? This would put off any fancy lenses for a while. But it could still take the kit lenses from the Rebel until I get my breath back after a purchase like that, or would a used 40D suit as well? What really intrigues me about the 7D is the AF, is it that big of a difference? Bird photography right now is all that really interests me, it seems, and fast sharp focus is everything, as you know.
    -Tim

    I take it you took the picture of the egret upthread with the 40D? It is very nice.
    Last edited by tameigh; 18th March 2011 at 09:47 PM.

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    Re: 400 mm prime for birding?

    Quote Originally Posted by Steve S View Post
    Tim, another lens that is just now comming out...........the canon 200-400mm L zoom/ with integrated TC. It has a built in teleconverter(1.4X) that you can change back and forth with the switch of a button. I don't know what it will cost or how good it is, but it sounds very interesting. A 200-400 f/4 L IS lens, and at the flip of a switch, a 280-560 f/5.6 L IS lens.
    Where? When? With a built in TC? where did u read abuot it? can be fantastic!

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    Re: 400 mm prime for birding?

    Quote Originally Posted by eribeiro View Post
    Where? When? With a built in TC? where did u read abuot it? can be fantastic!
    Right from the horses mouth ...

    http://www.canon.com/news/2011/feb07e.html

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    Re: 400 mm prime for birding?

    Quote Originally Posted by Colin Southern View Post
    Right from the horses mouth ...

    http://www.canon.com/news/2011/feb07e.html
    any idea on prices? Although it will probably be way out of my league...

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    Re: 400 mm prime for birding?

    For a very good off brand 400 mm...oh, say $4,000-6,000 (Sigma)...
    $9,500 AF-S NIKKOR 400mm f/2.8G ED VR
    EF 400mm f/2.8L IS USM $7,999.00 Canon

    A lot of scheckel!

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