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Technical

“Photography is all about great glass”: inside the EF100-400mm

“Photography is all about great glass”: inside the EF100-400mm

© Jonathan and Angela Scott

March 2015

Wildlife, travel photographers and Canon Ambassadors Jonathan and Angela Scott are long-term users of Canon lenses and recently took the new EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM zoom on their first ever trip to Myanmar. In an exclusive CPN article they reveal their first impressions of working with the lens and how it performed in the field...

Jonathan and Angela’s history of working with Canon SLR cameras and lenses goes back some way, as Jonathan explains: “Photography is all about great glass. Lenses are the ‘eyes’ of your camera and, however sophisticated your camera might be, it won’t take great pictures if you put a second-rate lens in front of it. In 1974 I spent £175 on my first Canon camera body – the EF SLR – leaving me £30 to buy a lens. Bad mistake! Which lenses you decide to purchase depends a lot on the type of photographs you want to take. For sports and wildlife you really do need those long telephoto lenses. But what about zooms? There was a time when they were frowned on. Purchasing one meant compromising on sharpness and image quality for the sake of greater flexibility in composition. It marked you out as an ‘amateur’.”

Choosing zoom lenses


The EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM zoom lens has a redesigned optical system and includes a Zoom Touch Adjustment ring to allow photographers to customise the resistance of the zoom control to their style of shooting.

He adds: “Today most pros are only too happy to shoot with high quality zoom lenses. Canon’s revolutionary EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXTENDER 1.4x lens is as sharp as the new generation of Mark II telephoto lenses. So where does that leave you? Personally we love zoom lenses and have half-a-dozen of them, including the funky Canon 8-15mm Fisheye. With the recently launched Mark II 100-400mm zoom we can now happily set off on our travels with just zoom lenses – without fear of compromising the results.”

When Canon launched the original EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM zoom lens in 1998 it proved hugely popular with wildlife and travel photographers. Jonathan Scott recalls: “Certainly it ticked a lot of boxes – a great focal range, yet light enough to hand-hold with image stabilisation. IS, along with autofocus, revolutionised picture-taking outside the studio. And you could add a 1.4x extender to increase the long end of this lens from 400mm to 560mm on a full-frame camera. But we were disappointed by its performance in the field. The effect of rain, dust, bumps and vibrations quickly reveal any weaknesses in your equipment and, in this instance, the IS system was prone to break down and the lens wasn’t as critically sharp as we had hoped.”

He adds: “So, we were very excited when the Mark II model finally arrived at the end of 2014. All of the issues that we had found troublesome in the original model have been resolved – from the addition of a four-stop IS system to the abandonment of the dust-gathering push/pull zoom function. In the days of manual focusing, being able to zoom and focus in one movement was a real bonus but became obsolete with the advent of autofocus. The new lens has a dedicated tension ring for adjusting zoom torque; handy for keeping the barrel of the lens compact when you aren’t using it, and the barrel is weather-resistant – we know as we were out and about when it was raining!”

Outstanding image quality


© Jonathan and Angela Scott

An old lady watches the world go by from her wooden stilt house on Inle Lake, Myanmar. Jonathan Scott reveals: “The 100-400mm is great for candid shots when you don’t want your subject looking at you – you want to enter their world.” Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with an EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 220mm; the exposure was 1/100sec at f/5, ISO 250.

The Mark II version of the lens comes with fluorine coatings on the front and rear elements for protection against fingerprints and smudges. This is further enhanced by the addition of one fluorite element and one Super Ultra-low Dispersion (Super UD) element to help correct chromatic aberrations throughout the zoom range providing superb sharpness, clarity and colour accuracy.

Jonathan notes: “That is what the promotional literature says, but in this case it’s true. The image quality is really outstanding – pin-sharp with beautiful rich colours. We were particularly pleased to find that a new coating (Air Sphere Coating) has been applied to lens elements to reduce back-lit flaring and ghosting in strong lighting conditions, as we love to shoot side lit and back-lit images and that can be a problem with certain zoom lenses. Not this one.”

He adds: “Though the new lens looks very similar to the original model that is where the similarities end. Yes, it’s a tad heavier than its predecessor but it still feels very compact and well balanced. An awful lot of research has gone in to this lens and it shows in the detail. The tripod shoe fits snugly in the hand, allowing you to comfortably support the lens hand-held. You can unscrew the shoe if you don’t want it while leaving the collar in place, making it easy for your fingers to reach and rotate the zoom ring – and also the focus ring, in case you want to manually tweak the focus.”

With regard to the lens’ focusing capabilities Jonathan reveals: “We were amazed to find that the new lens focuses down to 0.9m – half the distance of the original – allowing for the kind of close-ups that you would normally require a macro lens to capture. And the new lens hood comes with a handy side window, making it possible to adjust specialist filters, such as polarisers and variable neutral density filters, without removing the hood. Plus the hood has a lock button to hold it securely in place – I dropped the lens hood of the original 100-400mm overboard in Antarctica because it wasn’t securely mounted!”

Quiet Image Stablisation system

He adds: “There are three IS modes: Standard, Panning, and ‘During Exposure Only’ modes. And the literature tells you that an Ultrasonic Motor (USM), along with an internal focusing system, high-speed CPU, and optimised AF algorithms, deliver fast, precise and near-silent autofocus performance. True again. The lens picks up focus quickly and the new IS system is quiet and allowed us to shoot static subjects in low light, while hand-holding down to a 1/60th of a second – and still delivering sharp images.”

© Jonathan and Angela Scott

A Kayan woman takes a break from her work at a weaving loom in a shop on Inle Lake, Myanmar. Jonathan Scott explains: “Women of the Kayan Lahwi tribe identify themselves by wearing brass coils around their necks from the age of five. As more coils are added they gradually push the collarbone down and compress the rib cage appearing to lengthen the neck, hence the name ‘giraffe women’ known to tourists. The new 100-400mm is perfect for portraits and landscapes and allows for close focusing too. It is incredibly versatile.” Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with an EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 200mm; the exposure was 1/250sec at f/5, ISO 4000.

In comparison to other Canon telephoto zooms Jonathan notes: “As wonderful as the EF70-300mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM zoom is – and it is one of Angie’s favourites due to its versatility and pin-sharp images – she misses that extra reach at the long end: shooting at 400mm is so different to the look obtained with a 300mm lens. And unlike the 70-300mm, you can add a 1.4x extender to the 100-400mm (be sure to use the Mark III extender for the best quality); giving you a 140-560mm zoom range on a full-frame sensor camera. Add the new EOS 7D Mark II body with its cropped 1.6x [APS-C] sensor and the 100-400mm becomes an impressive 160-640mm… and if you add the 1.4x extender then you’ll be shooting with a whopping 224-896mm lens!”

So how has the arrival of this lens altered the way the Scotts shoot? Jonathan explains: “At home in Kenya, photographing from our own safari vehicle in the Masai Mara, Angie and I use the 200-400mm with built-in 1.4x extender and the 600mm f/4L IS II USM telephoto; at times adding the 1.4x extender to the 600mm to make it a 840mm lens. These two lenses make a great combination and, in addition to this, we have the 800mm f/5.6L IS USM for extreme close-ups and if we really want to reach out into the landscape. With the addition of the new zoom to our kitbag we are now able to travel overseas more efficiently. We can leave the 200-400mm at home and take the 100-400mm and the 600mm (plus a 1.4x extender), as we just did on our visit to Myanmar over Christmas and New Year.”

Gaining a creative edge

Of the trip to Myanmar, Jonathan reveals: “We did most of our shooting with the 100-400mm and 70-300mm – plus the 8-15mm and 24-70mm wide-angle zooms – and dispensed with the 600mm for virtually the entire trip. We travelled by road and boat and at times on foot, so the IS was vital in getting sharp images. You cannot underestimate the creative edge you gain when shooting with a zoom lens, plus less lens changes lessens the risk of getting dust on the camera’s sensor. The reach of the 100-400mm allows you to be more discreet when taking candid portraits as you can be further away from your subject, plus the lens isn’t so large that it feels intrusive when wandering the streets and villages.”

He adds: “Prior to the launch of the new 100-400mm there were rumours that it would be f/4 throughout [the zoom range] and feature internal zooming. If that had been the case the price would have put it well beyond the budget of many enthusiasts. When you consider that you are buying the equivalent of four lenses – a 135mm, 200mm, 300mm and 400mm telephoto – in one product, Canon has managed to produce an amazingly versatile lens at a very reasonable price. Add a wide-angle lens to your kit bag – a 24-105mm (we might be tempted to tuck the 16-35mm in our pocket too!) – and a 1.4x series III extender, and you are ready to travel anywhere in the world with the prospect of capturing eye-catching images.”

And talking of travel Jonathan reveals: “Next up for us is a safari to Japan during the Cherry Blossom Season in March and April. We will be taking a 24-105mm mounted on an EOS 5D Mark III, a 70-300mm on a second EOS 5D Mark III, the 100-400mm mounted on the new EOS 7D Mark II with its 1.6x cropped sensor, plus the 600mm on the EOS-1D X. That means we can carry everything on to the aeroplane in our Lowepro rucksac and camera jacket, including the 8-15mm Fisheye, 16-35mm zoom and 1.4x Extender. Ready to rumble!”

EF100-400MM F/4.5-5.6L IS II USM – KEY FEATURES

  • 100-400mm focal length with Zoom Touch Adjustment.
  • Shoot in low light with 4-stop Image Stabilizer; three IS modes.
  • High image quality thanks to Fluorite and Super UD elements.
  • New ASC coating to prevent ghosting and flare.
  • Highly weather resistant for use in the toughest of conditions.
  • Ring USM drive, high-speed CPU and optimised AF algorithms for quiet, fast AF.
  • Fluorine coating on lens surfaces reduces dirt clinging to the lens elements and prevents smearing.

Biography: Jonathan and Angela Scott

Jonathan and Angela Scott

Jonathan and Angela Scott are multi award-winning wildlife photographers based in Kenya. They are the only couple to have won, individually, the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Award. They write, illustrate, teach and are TV presenters, most famously known for the ‘Big Cat Diary’ series for BBC television. They have also written numerous bestselling books including Jonathan’s ‘The Marsh Lions’ (1982) and their co-authored, ‘Antarctica: Exploring a Fragile Eden’. Their book, ‘Stars of Big Cat Diary’, was published in 2009. Jonathan has been taking pictures with Canon cameras since the mid-1970s and he was Wildlife Photographer of the Year back in 1987. Angela was born in Egypt and was named Wildlife Photographer of the Year in 2002.



Showcase

A boat on Inle Lake, Myanmar. Jonathan Scott reveals: “Some of the boats and canoes on Inle Lake are brightly painted with colourful awnings creating beautiful reflections in the water. Sometimes the simplest of subject matter can provide interesting images. You need to constantly be looking for the shot – it isn’t always the most obvious element in a scene such as the people or wildlife.” Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with an EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens at 110mm; the exposure was 1/250sec at f/4.5, ISO 250.