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Ambassadors Programme

Explorer

Franco Banfi

Aug15

Using the EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXTENDER 1.4x

By Franco Banfi, Friday August 15, 2014
Polar bear (Ursus maritimus) eating a walrus carcass in the Svalbard archipelago. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D Mark IV with an EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXTENDER 1.4x lens; the exposure was 1/3200sec at f/4, ISO 640.

Polar bear (Ursus maritimus) eating a walrus carcass in the Svalbard archipelago. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D Mark IV with an EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXTENDER 1.4x lens; the exposure was 1/3200sec at f/4, ISO 640. © Franco Banfi

On my recent photo expedition to the Svalbard archipelago in Norway, I had the chance to use Canon's EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXTENDER 1.4x - a top-end telephoto zoom with built-in switchable teleconverter. Simply flicking a lever at the rear of the barrel converts it to a 280-560mm f/5.6 lens.

Svalbard is located between 76° and 80°N, well into the Arctic Circle. During the summertime, the sun doesn't set, and provides many hours of shooting every day. The main goals were to photograph ice and wildlife, in particular polar bears, walruses and seals. Polar bears are the world’s largest land carnivores and it’s estimated that there are almost 3000 of them around Svalbard, particularly on the north-east coast of Spitsbergen. The fur of a polar bear tends to be yellowish in summer, whereas it is whiter in winter.

In Longyearbyen we got settled on a sailing boat and headed for the north-east part of Spitsbergen. After three days of sailing, we arrived at Lagoya where we were supposed to see a colony of walruses. There were only a few so we decided to continue to the ice floe in the hope of finding some polar bears and there we found one, busy eating the carcass of a walrus. The 200-400mm was already on my EOS-1D Mark IV and with the Extender engaged I had focal length of up to 520mm. Autofocus was fast, and accurate even at that range.

I was confident the lens would be sharp and perform well as I had already read early reviews and now I had the right scenario to test it. We stayed there for a few days and in that time we saw three more bears eating the walrus carcass at different times of the day and under different light and weather conditions.

Throughout this whole scenario I was able to appreciate the quality of the lens. Of course it is heavy at 3,620kg, but I used it with a monopod. Handholding was also very good thanks to the Image Stabilizer which, from my point of view, works very well. Of course the bear doesn’t move very fast but anyway the IS is a good help.

I expected that this long focal length would focus a little slower than a regular lens but the focus was very good and silent.
I always shoot in RAW and process my images in Adobe Camera Raw later. And when I saw the images I had shot with this lens I said “wow!” The quality is amazing. I could almost feel the fur of the polar bear just looking at the pictures.

I was very happy to have used this lens; I liked the flexibility of having an effective range of 200-560mm – it is a wonderful tool for the creative photographer.

Polar bear (Ursus maritimus) walking carefully on frozen sea in the Svalbard archipelago. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D Mark IV with an EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXTENDER 1.4x lens; the exposure was 1/1250sec at f/8, ISO 640.

Polar bear (Ursus maritimus) walking carefully on frozen sea in the Svalbard archipelago. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D Mark IV with an EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXTENDER 1.4x lens; the exposure was 1/1250sec at f/8, ISO 640. © Franco Banfi

Polar bear (Ursus maritimus) detail of fur in the Svalbard archipelago. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D Mark IV with an EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXTENDER 1.4x lens; the exposure was 1/640sec at f/5.6, ISO 320.

Polar bear (Ursus maritimus) detail of fur in the Svalbard archipelago. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D Mark IV with an EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXTENDER 1.4x lens; the exposure was 1/640sec at f/5.6, ISO 320. © Franco Banfi