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Danny Green shoots with Canon’s new telephoto zoom

Danny Green shoots with Canon’s new telephoto zoom

© Danny Green

July 2013

The new EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXTENDER 1.4x zoom has given wildlife photographer and Canon Explorer Danny Green more creative flexibility, less kit to carry, and the superb image quality he is used to from his prime lenses, as CPN writer Ian Farrell discovers…

Danny Green is a man on the move. His work as a professional wildlife photographer takes him all over the world, photographing in locations from Africa to the Arctic Circle, and many places in between. He also has a great fondness for the wildlife of the UK and specialises in sea birds like puffins and gannets that live on remote bird colonies such as St. Kilda and the Flannan Isles in Scotland. “It’s challenging and rewarding work,” he says. “Some of these island locations haven’t been visited by too many people, yet alone photographers. Being there by myself, carrying my own food and water for the trip, is a very special experience.”

© Danny Green

A sequence of four images of a kestrel, demonstrating the pleasing out-of-focus bokeh, which can be achieved working at the lens’ widest aperture. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with an EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXTENDER 1.4x at 500mm; the exposures were 1/1000sec at f/4, ISO 400.

Danny set up a tour company, which has enabled him to go further into northern Europe – a special place for him because of the species located there. “With my tour groups I’ve been to places like Norway, Sweden, Finland and Iceland and I’m intrigued with the animals that live there. Polar bears, brown bears, and birds like the great grey owl – I’ve been fascinated with them ever since I was a kid.”

This fondness for travel and harsh environments means that Danny places some tough demands on his camera gear. He shoots with a brace of EOS-1D series cameras: an EOS-1D X, which he describes as his “main DSLR”, and an EOS-1D Mark IV that he says will always have a special place in his bag.

When it comes to lenses you’ll find the traditional tools of any wildlife photographer’s trade in Danny’s kit – long focal length primes, specifically an EF300mm f/2.8L IS II USM and EF500mm f/4L IS II USM, accompanied by an EF1.4x Extender. But with space and weight a huge consideration, Danny was eager to see if the new EF200-400mm zoom could do the job of the prime optics he usually packs.

“I’ve used it for about three weeks, working around the UK with it, photographing subjects like little owls and kestrels,” he says. “It was a good test for the lens, and first impressions were great. What I really like is the flexibility it gives me to quickly reframe shots and swap between views. This is so important when I’m working in a hide, which is often the case. When I’m using my EF500mm f/4L IS II USM it’s not unusual to find myself in the situation where a bird or animal has come too close and is now too big for the frame. Because I’m in a fixed position I can’t just pull back, but with the EF200-400, I can.”

Designed for creativity

Danny recalls a recent experience photographing a kestrel where such flexibility gave him the shot he was after. “It was hovering right over the top of the hide,” he says. “Since I was working with the zoom lens I could frame up accurately, not cropping off any of the bird’s wing tips, or having to sacrifice resolution later by cropping in. I’ve missed so many opportunities like that while I’m fiddling around trying to remove or attach an EF1.4x Extender, but flicking the switch on the new zoom is so fast and simple. It’s a genius design.”

Danny says that the flexibility afforded by the EF200-400mm has resulted in him being more creative, too. “I’m not just shooting loads of images that are all from the same angle with the subject at the same size in the frame. I can move about and try new compositions; from frame-filling portraits to pictures that show a bird’s behaviour and habitat.”

The EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXTENDER 1.4x offers fantastic versatility and faster changes between focal lengths thanks in part to a ‘one-touch’ 1.4x Extender that, when engaged, which helps you get closer to a subject.

Flexibility is certainly important to photographers working in Danny’s field, but so is performance, both in terms of image quality and focusing speed. How does the EF200-400mm compare to his much loved prime lenses? “In the past I always thought that zooms never gave the image quality of primes, but I have to say that this one does,” he answers. “It’s pin sharp. It gives me the same biting sharpness as the 500mm and 300mm lenses I’m used to and the same lovely, out-of-focus [bokeh] regions too.”

To maximise sharpness Danny uses the EF200-400mm on a tripod or beanbag, but comments that the Image Stabilizer (IS) technology has often come in useful. “The species I like to photograph are often active at either end of the day, so it’s good that the lens performs well in low light conditions. The IS function is excellent and does a really good job. I’ve used it mostly with the EOS-1D X, and the speed of focusing is really astonishing, too.“

“And I have to say, I don’t notice any difference in AF speed when I’m using the Extender function, either. I can’t wait to try capturing puffins in flight; it’s one of the most difficult subjects in the whole of wildlife photography, and needs good performance from the camera and the lens, with fast shutter speeds, high ISO and quick AF,” he cautions.

Extending the possibilities

Danny says that the built-in 1.4x Extender also helps keep dust out of the camera, reducing sensor-dirt problems that can impact on quality and productivity. “When you are working in locations such as Africa or India, which tend to be very dusty places, taking an extender on and off the 300mm and 500mm lenses is a sure-fire way of introducing dust into the camera – and that’s a problem. But I’d be happy to just leave the 200-400mm on the EOS-1D X all the time, as it would virtually eliminate those concerns.”

“This is a really first rate choice for safari work,” Green comments. “I do a trip each year to go and photograph tigers, and this would be great for that. Nine times out of ten a tiger will catch you unawares, when you’ve got the wrong lens on. But with a flick of the teleconverter switch and a turn of the zoom ring I could go from a relatively wide 200mm right up to 560mm.”

For those thinking of taking the plunge in wildlife photography, Danny’s advice is to consider the EF200-400mm as an alternative to the more traditional prime optics used by those in the trade. “These are large pieces of glass and a big buying decision, not an investment to be taken lightly. As for whether you should go for the new zoom or separate 300mm and 500mm lenses, I’ve always thought that you need something to bridge that gap, and the EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXTENDER 1.4x certainly does that very nicely.”

Biografie: 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 has been photographing the natural world for over 20 years, originally with Canon film cameras and now with DSLRs. His approach to photographing nature is a long process and he can spend months, if not years, working on subjects and projects.