Review: Canon 800mm f/5.6 L IS USM

Gerry van der Walt All Authors Leave a Comment

This last weekend I had the pleasure of shooting with the amazing Canon 800mm f/5.6 and believe me when I say it is nothing short of spectacular!


Before I share a few images, and to get an idea and some technical specs on this lens, check out this video.



So, with that all said here are a few images I was able to capture during two days in Madikwe.



 Canon 1D Mark IV, 800mm, 1/2000, f/5.6, ISO 1250


For portraits of wildlife subjects this lens is perfect.  The ability to get in tight, without having to intrude on your subject’s personal space and making them look tense, combined with the stunning backgrounds is priceless.


The above image was shot at f/5.6 and is pin sharp and as you can see by being able to get a full frame portrait the catch light in the female lion’s eye makes the image come alive.



Canon 1D Mark IV, 800mm, 1/250, f/5.6, ISO 800


As you can see from the above image the 4-stop IS system on this lens makes it possible to shoot as slower shutter speeds and still get sharp images.  The above image was shot handheld and the traditional theory of always keeping your shutter speed at 1/focal length falls away due to the amazing stabilizing system.


Also, the bokeh on this lens is spectacular.  The bokeh refers to the ‘quality’ of the out of focus areas of an images and you can see from the above image that the smooth background and the out of focus lion is nice and smooth and does not contain the circles or lines which is sometimes present in other lenses.


 Canon 1D Mark IV, 1/250, f/5.6, ISO 800


The minimum focus distance of the Canon 800mm f/5.6 is 6 meters and this image was literally on that point.


Even at this distance the autofocus system was very fast and accurate and tracked the lion’s nose as it walked diagonally across my field of view.  If you are after close ups of wildlife subjects this lens will form a great part of your photographic arsenal.


Again, notice how sharp the image is considering the shutter speed that was used.  Amazing!



Canon 1D Mark IV, 1/1000, f/8, ISO 500

The sharpness of the Canon 800mm hits perfect when you shoot it at f/8.  It is faultless.

When I shot the above image I followed the ‘rules’ and used a shutter speed that was faster than 1/focal length.  Still handheld, the image is as sharp as even the most obsessive pixel peeper would be proud of and when zooming in you can see the flies, perfectly sharp, around the Springbuck.  And that at a distance of about 200 meters!



Canon 1D Mark IV, 1/500, f/5.6, ISO 1600

Shooting into the sun this lens did not show the slightest bit of flaring or ghosting.  Even when I framed this image as a portrait the image was clean. 

The above image did cause the lens to hunt a little bit but it was not a major concern as my subject was standing still.

All in all, as mentioned in the above video, the Canon 800mm f/5.6 is one of the most exciting wildlife lenses I have used.  The possibilities are endless and what I enjoyed most – more than the huge focal length – is the artistic ability of the lens and how it can affect your images. 

The backgrounds are beautiful.  The focus is fast and sharp.  The quality if phenomenal!

I cannot wait to shoot with this lens again especially when we head to places like the Kgalagdi and Masai Mara later this year.

A big shout out to Roger Machin and Canon South Africa for the opportunity of shooting and reviewing this lens – thanks so much!

So, to sum up – true quality.  As good as it gets!

Until next time.

Gerry van der Walt

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Comments 0

  1. Gary

    Yes I have had one of these lens for 2 odd years now and it is one of my favourites. I use it also for aviation photography and it does not let me down there either. Only problem is travelling by air, it is BIG along with the other kit I take along.

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