to nature with the new EF100-400mm
© Danny Green
Top wildlife photographer and Canon Explorer Danny Green has long been a fan of Canon’s big zooms, and recently put the new EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens through its paces. CPN Editor David Corfield discovers how he got on...
Getting close to nature is what all wildlife photographers will tell you as their main motivation. Danny Green is no exception. As one of the UK’s finest natural history lensmen, his work is beyond compare when it comes to understanding the wild world around us.
Of course, in this business the tools help, and as a loyal Canon user Danny has based his business – and won his reputation – around the EF system of incredible lenses. And for the new EF100-400mm zoom, he has nothing but praise...
“They’ve gone and done it again, haven’t they?” he laughs. “The 100-400mm lens is probably the most important piece of glass anyone interested in wildlife photography needs to have if they are to take their photography seriously, and Canon has taken the original and much loved 100-400mm and brought it bang up to date with some fantastic new features.”
Usability and performance
Danny’s the first to tell you that the art of being a good wildlife photographer is in keeping as still and as quiet as possible. And an assignment to photograph red deer near his Leicestershire home was to give the lens a proper test. While it’s important to have lenses that perform well and have the necessary focal length for impact, sometimes their design can hinder the chances of getting a successful image. Why?
“It’s quite simple really,” Danny explains. “Some telephoto zoom lens designs, including the old EF100-400, featured a push-pull lens barrel so you had to physically move your arm to get the desired focal length. When you are in close proximity to a nervous subject, and using a bean bag to rest your lens on – as I often do – even that slight movement can sometimes lose you a picture.”
“That’s why the first thing I noticed with the new EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM was the new twist-ring zoom with variable torque. This is excellent because I can zoom in or out simply by moving my thumb and forefinger, keeping my arm still and so reducing the risk of disturbing the subject. It sounds like a small thing really, but it’s so important in real-life situations. And to be able to control the zoom at the desired setting is excellent.”
He continues: “In terms of weight and size, it doesn’t take up much room in the camera bag; it’s beautifully compact and lightweight and focuses very quickly. In fact on the subject of AF speed, because I’m used to the speed of the big primes I normally use – like the EF500mm f/4L IS II USM, for example – I wasn’t expecting this one to focus as fast, but I was really surprised that it did.”
You can put that down to how closely Canon listens to feedback given to them from their end users. Danny, like all Canon Explorers and Ambassadors, regularly gives feedback to Canon product engineers at ‘round table’ meetings and they have certainly listened to pro opinion with the new EF100-400mm. Ergonomics and how it operates in the hand are high on his list, as he explains.
“What I like about this new lens is that you have the Image Stabilizer now giving you four stops of stabilisation over three settings. I shot a deer at 1/60sec at f/5.6 handheld and the frames were all really useable. I took a burst and in the middle of the sequence, when the Image Stabilizer had properly kicked in, it was absolutely razor sharp. I was stunned.”
Sharpness with speed and flexibility
Danny used the EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM with his EOS-1D X and found the lens performed faultlessly. A stickler for sharpness, he was delighted to find that focusing was fast, accurate and reliable.
“Sometimes you get an animal that appears out of nowhere and you need to react quickly,” he advises. “So it’s good to have a lens that can react at the drop of a hat. When you work with primes you miss the flexibility you get with a zoom, but the trade-off is you accept that with the prime you’re going to get a sharper result. That’s not the case with this lens.”
He continues: “It works with an EF1.4x converter too. With this new lens you can use AF no problem with the central focusing point* too. Another big step forward.”
“I love the flexibility of this focal length range too,” Danny reveals. Sometimes I like to place an animal very small in the frame, especially when in the context of a landscape, and this new EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM allows me to do that easily and zoom in for a closer shot with more detail. It’s really nice to have that option.”
Handling and design
The original EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 IS USM was such a revered lens in the Canon line-up that its replacement would have a hard act to follow, as Danny reflects. “It’s taken Canon engineers a few years to bring us the Mark II version, but it’s been worth the wait. I love the little detail touches; that shows me that Canon has paid close attention to everything. Even the lens hood.”
You might think that something as humble as a lens hood wouldn’t be something to get Danny all excited, but nothing could be further than the truth...
“I was delighted when I noticed that Canon had put a window in the hood!” he laughs. “Finally I can now use a polariser without having to reach inside the lens to adjust it. This is a brilliant innovation, and such a simple fix too!” he laughs.
“The controls are all beautifully positioned on the lens barrel as well,” he reveals, “So I can select IS modes and go from AF to Manual Focus without even taking my eye off the subject. That’s such a fantastic advantage because it helps me to maintain creativity without the risk of losing the subject.”
“It’s also great that the tripod mount is removable, too,” he continues, “As that helps flexibility when handholding. When on a tripod, however, the mount – although small and neat – is exceptionally well engineered and very strong. It sits closer to the lens so there is less of a risk of vibration.”
New lens coatings and a new optical design
Danny often works early in the morning or at dusk, so dimly lit shooting situations are conditions he is well used to. But working at either end of the day presents not only difficulties in focusing but recording a subject with sufficient contrast, too. That’s where Canon lens coatings show their pedigree, as he explains.
“This EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM uses Fluorite and Super Ultra-low Dispersion (Super UD) lens elements which really do make a difference, not just in low contrast conditions but even where there are loads of reflective surfaces, such as snow where a lens is plagued by the risk of internal reflections,” Danny says. “The Fluorite coatings on the front and rear elements give it unbeatable protection, too, with less risk of scratches and dust sticking to the glass.”
He continues: “This EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens has the new, special Air Sphere Coating (ASC) technology that incorporates what Canon calls a low refractive index layer. It took me a while to get my head around this, but it’s fascinating. Basically, when light enters a lens, it slows down as it passes from the air through the glass. This rapid slowing down in speed is what causes reflections and flare, causing problems such as ghosting and contrast degradation. This new coating gradually slows the light down so the reflections are not created.”
“There are now 21 elements in this new lens, as opposed to 17 in the old one. And yet this lens is almost the same size! That’s brilliant; it takes up no more room in my camera bag yet it’s more technologically advanced. That’s what I admire and respect about Canon,” he affirms.
“Plus the lens focuses closer now than ever before, which really does make it even more flexible and versatile. To now be able to focus under a metre is fantastic and that’s been made possible by a new optical layout inside the barrel.”
The ideal nature and landscape lens
Danny is full of praise for the new Canon EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM superzoom and is already itching to shoot more wildlife images with it – along with landscapes, too. “That’s the real beauty of this focal length range,” he concludes. “It offers you total flexibility and sacrifices very little in terms of image sharpness over a prime lens. If you’re looking for just one lens that can cover a multitude of shooting situations, then you really don’t have to look further than the one right here. It offers an unbelievable degree of flexibility that is going to be impossible to beat.”
EF100-400MM F/4.5-5.6L IS II USM – KEY FEATURES
- 100-400mm focal length with zoom torque adjustment
- Shoot in low light with 4-stop Image Stabilizer
- High image quality thanks to Fluorite and Super UD elements
- New ASC coating to prevent ghosting flare
- Highly weather resistant for use in the toughest of conditions
* AF with Extender is only possible with EOS-1 series cameras, EOS 7D Mark II and EOS 5D Mark III (with firmware update).
Biography: Danny Green
© Danny Green
Danny Green is a multiple award-winning wildlife photographer, based in the UK. He became interested in nature from a young age and was very rarely at home, always wandering the woods and rivers looking for wildlife. Danny's late grandfather was a big influence in his childhood; always showing him signs of nature and pointing out different aspects of life from habitats and seasons, day and night. Some 30 years on he is still as restless and keen to learn more about the natural world. He has been photographing the natural world for over 20 years and has always been a dedicated Canon shooter, mainly working with film in the early years and later fully embracing digital technology. His approach to photographing nature is a long process and he can sometimes spend months, if not years, working on subjects and projects.