As it stands, I have 53 772 images in my Lightroom catalogue that have been captured with my Canon 400mm F2.8 IS L.
Yes it’s official – I love my 400!
In the month of May 2012, I took the next step and bought my 400. It was a dream come true, something I had only dreamed of at the time. I am not kidding, I literally had dreams about it.
I have never looked back & I have never had the need for another super-telephoto lens quite like I have for the 400.
This is a lens favored by many professional sports photographers. Its got just the right focal length & its ability to deal with low-light is exceptional.
When I bought my 400 all those years ago, very few wildlife photographers were interested in it. In fact, a good friend & reputable photographic guide insisted I sell the lens within the sports photographers circuit, and get my hands on a 500. Boy am I glad I never did that. The funny thing is, this friend of mine recently sold his 600 and yes you guessed it, he is now the proud owner of a 400.
Many wildlife photographers have made the shift to the 400 as their prime long lens over the last couple of years. Why would you not? There are a ridiculous amount of benefits, most of which I will share with you below.
I know that the topic of what the best lens is, can be rather sensitive. I am by no means suggesting that other lenses are not as good, but I am merely wanting the showcase the beauty, versatility and incredible image quality that the 400 does produce.
The 400 in Low Light
The ability of this lens to perform when the light starts to fade, is unbelievable. It sucks out every little ray of remaining light & provides you with images that not only have enough light on your subject, but also oozes with contract & beautiful tones.
Typically you would be shooting at f2.8 to gain as much light as possible, and this gives you a beautiful bokeh to add.
In some instances, similar to the above images, if you can hold it steady enough you’ll be able to photograph in situations you’d never imagine.
For this elephant image above, it was so dark that everyone else had already started with their sundowners. I spotted this elephant bull and the temptation was just too much.
This lens allows you to shoot scene’s that nobody else can, especially when coupled with a camera body able to cope with higher ISO. The 300mm is capable of sharp images under poor light, but that additional 100mm makes a huge difference, especially when looking for closer portraits – like the lion above.
The 400 for environment imagery
A lens with as much focal length as the 400mm would rarely be considered for landscapes. In fact, to shoot as scene such as the above, you would far more likely reach for your 700-200 or 24-70. That would change the entire feel of the image – not necessarily in a bad way, but I love what a super telephoto such as the 400 brings to the table in terms of capturing scenes filled with more environment.
All is required from you, is to take a few steps back and creating a little more distance. The results are staggering. The lens has the ability to deal with potential flare from shooting into the sun, and provides you with ample contrast & sharpness.
As you can see, by allowing yourself a little more distance between you & the scene you intend to capture, you’re able to take stunning images not often expected for a lens with this much focal length.
I have also taken many panoramas with the 400, and stitched them together in Lightroom – a very easy process & something no doubt worth exploring.
The result are always beautiful, and I actually find myself looking for opportunities to capture more such pano’s with the 400mm. Once again, it’s just a matter of creating that distance.
The image below was created with 11 images – later cropped to about 8 or 9 images in total.
The 400 & that oh-so-beautiful bokeh
Now I know there are many lenses out there with the ability to create beautiful bokeh. Not disputing that.
But, are there many lenses out there with the variety of the 400, AND still has the ability to produce an images such as the above one? I can’t think of many.
You also need not always shoot at f/2.8 in order to blur that back & foreground. By positioning yourself with enough distance between your subject and the next solid piece of background, you are creating your own bokeh. That means you can still shoot at apertures to allow enough detail on your subject, yet that background is still as smooth as butter.
The cheetah above was photographed at F/5.6
As you can see, even with a huge amount of “clutter” surrounding the leopard above, I was still able to emphasize the beauty of the cats face & focus by using a wider aperture. Even on the image above, I have not yet opened this lens up as wide as it could go. It was shot at f/4
You need to be very careful though – shooting with so much focal length, combined with the small amount of focal area produced by the wide aperture, you can easily end up with key areas of your image not in focus. You need to make 110% sure that your focal point is aimed at the exact area you intend to have sharp & in focus.
With a moving subject – like the leopard above – you need to be continuously focusing to ensure absolute sharpness.
As you can see, my intended area of focus – the eye – is perfectly sharp!
Even is bright daylight this lens performs beautifully. These hyenas were squabbling over a carcass in the Masai Mara, and the light was already rather harsh. The bokeh I was able to produce was fantastic & isolated my subjects perfectly, and the detail in the darker areas still remain intact.
This shot was taken at f/6.3, yet that beautiful smooth background is still very evident!
In a type of image where you intend to blur the background & foreground in order to enhance your subject, this lens can simply not go wrong.
It has the ability to provide you with a decent focal length, and also provides you with a wide-enough aperture range allowing you the creativity to isolate your subject in exactly the way that you intend to.
The 400 & night-time photography
It’s a ridiculously good lens for capturing subjects after dark whilst making use of artificial light.
Wether the light is produced from the back, the front or the side, this lens sucks up all of that light provided & consistently provides you with incredible results.
As with any low-light photographic opportunities, you need to keep your lens stable & steady, a kind of no-brainer really but worth mentioning again.
You will absolutely not be dissapoiunted by this lens after dark.
The long focal length also means you need not be right on top of your subject in order to get the shot. It also means that you don’t have to have a huge amount of light falling on a predator – making the experience alot easier on your subject.
The 400 & teleconverters
Photographers often shy away from converters. They argue that there’s almost always a significant loss of quality and they would rather not take the risk.
Out of the over 50 000 images I have in my library taken with my 400, over 16000 were taken using a 1.4x converter.
Yip, pretty big number hey?
I never use a 2x converter. I have done so in the past but have noticed a drop in quality during low-lit situations, a time of day that I really enjoy photographing in.
With a 1.4x converter I get 560mm on a full frame body, and that all at a widest aperture of f/4. How awesome is that? This still allows me to shoot in low light, even WITH the converter attached.
As you can see, there’s hardly any drop in quality – at least not enough for my eye to notice – and you get a great 560mm of focal length at your disposal.
A popular lens for many wildlife photographers is the 500 f/4. Now again, don’t get my wrong here as this is all based on my experience with the 400mm.
The 500mm lens is fixed at a widest aperture of f/4. My 400 has the ability to reach a focal length of 560mm, and all that at an aperture of f/4. This allows me to shoot in LOWER light, at a LONGER focal length and with perfect image quality. May I dare ask the question – why bother getting a 500mm? 😉
All three of the above images were captured using my trusted 1.4x converter. I am super happy with the clarity, sharpness, contract & quality. You’ll never notice the difference had I not told you so.
The 400 & bird photography
We have spoken of many great aspects of this lens, all able to deliver to you images you’ve only ever dreamed of.
Now what about one of the trickiest forms of nature photography? Well, perhaps its just me, but getting great bird photographs is no easy task. My 4oo though – and especially coupled with a 1.4 converter – has provided me with stunning shots.
Now I also don’t claim to be the best at photographing the feathery subjects, but the images that I have produced have been very pleasing indeed.
The beautiful bokeh produced by this lens, and the added focal length from the converter, puts me in a position to capture quality images of birds should the opportunity arise.
This just adds to the incredible versatility of this magnificent piece of glass!
What about birds in flight? No problem at all…
As you can see – beautiful results! Absolutely nothing wrong with using this lens to capture stunning, mood-filled images of birds.
As you can clearly see from everything that I have mentioned, the 400mm f/2.8 is a winning lens in every regard! There’s very little fault to find.
It allows you the variety you would expect from a zoom lens, yet with quality you only see in top magazines. I have used mine for over 4 years and have no intentions of changing lenses at any point in time. There’s simply no need to.
If you are looking to change prime lenses and you have the budget for a super-telephoto, why not consider this beauty.
Thanks so much for reading along!
Till next time,