Thoughts on the Canon 800mm f5.6L

September 05, 2012  •  1 Comment

As people have maybe surmised, the reason for selling my 500mm f4 lens was that I had invested in something longer - an 800mm. I rarely used the 500mm without a 1.4x teleconverter, so it was a choice between 700 f5.6 and 800 f5.6. With bird photography focal length is king. 700 vs 800 may not sound like much, but it's a noticeable difference. Add to that the fact that the 800 would take the 1.4 teleconverter just as well as the 500 did, and retain autofocus with my camera, and it was a persuasive argument. The newer lens had better AF speed vs the 500 + converter, better IS, and was newer. Not that there was anything wrong with the eight year old 500mm - indeed my oldest lens dates from 1992 and operates flawlessly - but it's always nice to know that your kit is relatively fresh. The cons are half as much light, more weight (though this in fact a mere 400g), physically larger, and a longer mfd. I can get around most of these things.

- Half the light. Not ideal, but high ISO performance on the 5D3 and 1D4 are amazing. I will happily shoot at 3200 on the 5D3, and 1250 on the 1D4. This would have been unthinkable a couple of years ago. Winter, however, will be the true test.

- +400g. Any extra weight is bad, I already carry too much. But I no longer need a TC, and that reduces the difference to about 100g. I can live with that at the moment.

- MFD 6m vs 4.5m. Not great, but rarely am I too close to a bird. I have extension tubes if it ever happens. I've had the lens for two months and used an extension tube once for about half an hour on a particularly obliging Little Grebe. 

- Longer. Nothing I can do about this, and this is the biggest downside by far. The lens is difficult to pack in hand luggage, it requires a much larger bag. With various pirates like Ryanair and Flybe imposing absurd limits on hand luggage for one reason and one reason only, I face a difficult choice when travelling. 98% of my photography occurs without recourse to a plane - easy really.

The price for the 800 was right, and I felt that the 500mm would sell at a good price, probably at a peak whilst stocks of the new mk II lens continue to dribble in. This proved to be the case, and I was able to sell the 500 for considerably more than I bought it for - three years of 'free' telephoto happiness.

So, what's it like to use? My first outing was very difficult, and I wondered if I hadn't made a big mistake. My keeper rate was down hugely. Despondent, I wondered what I should do. Easy, go out again. Gradually I'm getting used to it, and the results are proving - to my jaundiced standards at least - wonderful. There is truly no substitute for focal length. I've been getting shots that just wouldn't have been possible with the 500mm. I'm no pro, but I've been getting shots with the converter, using only a monopod for support, that are blowing me away. I've yet to use it with the tripod and Wimberley, I can only imagine that the step-up in quality will be sensational. Unfortunately that's not really my style as a roving birder, but no doubt I will test it out one day. I love the freedom of a monopod, it's easily the best of both worlds, the ideal compromise. Hand-held would be useless, but a monopod is discreet, easy, light, quick and versatile. Tripods are cumbersome, slow, heavy....

So, the photos. Well, all photos recently posted have been with the 800mm. I didn't even pick up the 500mm once I bought the 800mm....and last week I handed it over to a new owner. Pangs of regret certainly, it was the lens that changed everything, but I've got a great replacement. Winter may be a different story, but I'll cross that bridge when I come to it. The new 500 mk II is still in my thoughts, especially for travel, but the focal length advantage of the 800mm is a boon.

Heron: 800mm, 1/500s at f5.6, ISO 800, monopod

Sandpiper: 800mm, 1/800s at f5.6. ISO 400, monopod

Whinchat: 1120mm, 1/1600 at f8, ISO 640, monopod

 

1/500 at f5.6, ISO 800, monopod

 

 

with 1.4x converter, 1/1600 at f8, ISO 640, monopod


Comments

Thanks you helped me make a decision:(non-registered)
Still this shows a lack of resourcefulness. with my 500 and 1.4, I still have to crawl a decent distance to get photos. With that 800, you don't even have to leave the parking lot. Where's the honor in that?
Seriously, my company just rented an 800 plux a 1Dx for the baseball playoffs. I got aroused. I fired it indoors around the office. The burst rate, sharpness and reach of the lens even at 10,000 iso, was unbelievable. I have a neurological tremor that screws up handheld shots unless I shoot with a burst of three or four photos -- which is why I use a 32 gb cf for raw. I handheld this and it looked like stuff from my monopod.
They forced me to give it back, and I had a cigarette and dozed off.
But there's still a factor that even for pros without corporate support or a magazine contract, those things are really out of reach.
So for the time being, and some hints to my bretheren who are salivating over this post: I'm using my 500, 1.4, and 7D rather than my 5dii which gives me a nice reach, and less weight. The 3 mp difference is undetectible. As for that other equipment ... *sigh*, must be nice.
As for traveling, I now carry my lenses and bodies on the airplane and put my clothes in luggage and hope for the best. It's better to have to buy new underwear for a day or two. I drive within 900 miles and I travel southwest. I've never had a problem with lost luggage, although all that hardware has attracted airline security more than once.
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