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Thorsten Milse shoots with Canon’s new telephoto zoom

Thorsten Milse shoots with Canon’s new telephoto zoom

© Thorsten Milse

May 2013

Testing a new lens is an extreme business. Before it goes on sale, it often undergoes a variety of rigorous challenges in the hands of some of the world’s most demanding photographers. So when Canon decided to produce its groundbreaking EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXTENDER 1.4x, a zoom lens that is likely to be popular with sports and wildlife photographers, one of the first people chosen to put it through its paces was wildlife specialist, and Canon Ambassador, Thorsten Milse. CPN Editor David Corfield spoke to Thorsten Milse about his experiences shooting with Canon's latest telephoto zoom lens.

Thorsten Milse lives life on the edge. Quite literally, in this case. He chose the mountains of Chamonix as his test location and decided to climb 2,000 metres up the French Alps to photograph Ibex, a unique goat found throughout Europe’s highest mountain ranges.

© Thorsten Milse

Shooting into the sky can produce focusing problems, but not with the EF200-400mm zoom lens. Thorsten Milse shot this curious Ibex, looking over the rocks, with an EOS-1D X using the EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXTENDER 1.4x lens, at a focal length of 560mm. The exposure was 1/80sec at f/14, ISO 200.

“When you are climbing mountains you need to travel as light as possible,” he advises. “Therefore deciding what lenses to take, and what to leave behind, is very important. In my backpack I had an EOS-1D X and EOS 5D Mark III body, plus EF16-35 and EF70-200mm zoom lenses. I am not Arnold Schwarzenegger, and so didn’t want to weight myself down too much, which is why this EF200-400mm lens, weighing about 3.5kg, was perfect for the job. It is really compact and handles incredibly well. I didn’t even need to use it with a tripod; it’s so quick to use, especially when the Ibex were jumping from rock to rock.”

Thorsten Milse was soon put to the test as the goats were incredibly fast movers, challenging both his reaction times as a photographer and the lens’ focusing system. Although the EF200-400mm zoom has a very sturdy tripod collar built in to the lens barrel, he found it easier to shoot handheld.

He explains: “You can take so many photographs in quick succession, from 200mm to 560mm, thanks to the handling. It’s so easy – in a matter of seconds you can take shoot landscapes in the distance and then zoom right into a subject 200 metres away without even changing lenses. And for me, that’s one of the biggest advantages.”

He recalls past assignments where lens changes proved very stressful. “The time spent changing lenses, and adding extenders to get you closer to the subject, could lose you a crucial shot. But not with this zoom. With one finger you can activate the 1.4x extender and almost instantly you are ready to take another picture. And it’s pin sharp too; I checked the images on my computer later and, both with and without the extender, the photographs are perfect.”

“I can say quite honestly this lens has allowed me to achieve up to 30% more shots. And when you are in extreme situations this is unbelievable,” adds Milse.

He shot the Ibex using both the EOS-1D X and EOS 5D Mark III DSLRs. For many, this is the optimum combination of camera bodies. “When you are in an extreme position, like on the edge of a mountain, you can’t move very much,” he recalls. “And the Ibex are very timid creatures so you have to stay exactly where you are. This presents a problem sometimes for photographers because the slightest movement in changing lenses could scare them away.”

© Thorsten Milse

A dark subject and a dark background can cause exposure as well as focusing issues, but thanks to careful metering Thorsten Milse had no problems. Shot with an EOS 5D Mark III using the EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXTENDER 1.4x lens set to 212mm, exposure was 1/50sec at f/4, ISO 1600.

Milse reveals: “I took both cameras to see if there was any difference in quality or performance but they were both perfect, as was the autofocus. Plus the Image Stabilizer worked really well on both bodies,” he recalls. “The lens is quiet and the IS system works really fast – this is important when working at high altitude because your heart is working harder and beating faster and that could cause extra vibrations to transmit through your body to the camera when you are holding it close.”

For Thorsten Milse, and for many in similar shooting situations where lens changes need to be kept to a minimum, the biggest advantage of the EF200-400mm is the built-in 1.4x extender. He recalls a particularly challenging assignment in India last year, when he wished he had the new lens with him. “I was riding on an elephant looking for tigers and shooting with an EOS 5D Mark II and EF70-200mm [lens] in one hand, in 40 degree temperatures, with a 600mm lens held between my legs. I suddenly needed to swap lenses and very nearly fell off the elephant! With this one lens all those problems are gone…”

If you plan to invest in the new EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXTENDER 1.4x lens it’s the engineers at Canon along with photographers like Thorsten Milse you can thank for its testing and development. And as Milse admits: “Now that the lens has gone, I want it back! I have had a taste of the future and I can’t wait to have one of my own.”

Biografie: Thorsten Milse

Thorsten Milse

Born in Germany, nature photographer Thorsten Milse trained as a graphics designer, but then decided to pursue a photographic career. Thorsten specialises in landscape and wildlife photography with a strong focus on conservation and endangered species. His images have been published in 25 countries in prestigious nature magazines including GEO, BBC Wildlife, Illustreret Videnskab and Nature’s Best Photography. His pictures have won several international prizes, including BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year (animal behaviour) and the Grand Prize Winner at Nature’s Best Photo Competition. In late 2011 his coffee table book 'Polar World', the result of over six years of work in the Arctic and Antarctic regions, was published.


Thorsten Milse found using the EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXTENDER 1.4x very easy thanks to its relatively compact dimensions and finger-touch controls.