My Learning Curve - Part 1

2 (ii) Equipment - Lenses

For each lens I have detailed my own personal reasons for purchase, general thoughts and particular likes/dislikes. I have also included a link to the FredMiranda review site for each lens.

Image of most used telephoto lenses. Left to right - Canon 100-400mm L IS, Canon 300mm F4 L IS plus 1.4x converter and EF II Extemsion Tube (my butterfly/drgaonfly kit), Canon 180mm L Macro plus 1.4x converter, Canon 70-200mm F2.8 L IS

Canon EF 100-400mm F4.5-5.6 L IS

Canon 100-400mm L IS, with camouflage tape, 100mm, without hood.

I purchased this lens due to its focal length range and specifically its 400mm capability, it can be used with extenders and converters (though you loose the auto focus capability with all canon cameras except the 1D series), tank like build (weight is not too much of an issue for me), image quality, Image Stabilisation, comparative value for money and wide second hand availability.

Canon 100-400mm L IS, with camouflage tape, 400mm, without hood.

If I had to have just one lens for wildlife photography, this would be it. My particular copy is a little soft wide open (the image quality suffers a little at f5.6) and so my ideal minimum f stop is 7.1. Its auto focus is not the quickest but it’s OK. The IS really pays dividends and I really appreciate its rugged design. I have not had dust suction problems due to the push/pull design in the 3 years I have owned mine and it has been used in some dusty environments, though I have heard this can be an issue. Speaking of the push/pull focal length arrangement, many hate this but I found I got used to it within hours.

Some people have reported problems when adding skylight protection filters to this lens. In certain circumstances a background image distortion can occur. I believe this may have occurred on two occasions in my 3 years of experience with this lens, though I am not 100% sure as the distortion does not exactly match examples I have seen on the web. My distortions may be noise related.

If this does occur people have recommended removing the skylight and using the lens naked. I think it is fair to say that some who report this may not be using top grade skylights so perhaps changing to a top Hoya or similar could be an option if you encounter this and you are not using a top grade skylight.

I considered Canon’s L series 28-300mm IS but after reading many reviews decided against it for image quality reasons. However I have reviewed this decision on many occasions and considering its focal range it definitely deserves serious consideration. My final decision was also swayed by the fact that the 28-300mmm lens does not tend to figure in ‘Professional’s’ lens bags.

Link To - Fredmiranda review

Link To - Photonet review of Canon 100-400mm L IS, Canon 70-300mm DO IS and 75-300mm IS

Canon EF 180mm f3.5 L Macro

Image of Canon 180mm L Macro and Canon 1.4x Extemder (with camouflage tape) without hood.

I purchased this lens for its focal length (and therefore ability to take macro pictures from a greater subject distance), image quality and rugged build. It accepts all Canons extenders and converters. It also makes an excellent medium telephoto lens.

It took me a long time to find a good second hand example of this lens at a sensible price, however it was worth the wait. The image quality is excellent. Macro auto focus is on the slow side, but I usually use manual focus when taking macro pictures. The auto focus speed improves greatly, as you would expect, when used as a medium telephoto. It is a long comparatively heavy lens. All in all It really is a quality piece of kit with a robust feel and excellent image quality. I considered the Sigma alternative and would have chosen that route if I could not have found a good second hand example.

Link To - Fredmiranda review

Canon EF 100mm f2.8 Macro

Image of Canon 100mm Macro, without hood.

I purchased this lens before I purchased the 180mm macro above. My original purchase decision was based on the need for an affordable Macro lens for butterflies and insects with top quality optics. It is also compatible with Canons extenders and converters.

I have a particular fond spot for this lens. It opened my eyes to the quality of prime lenses as opposed to a zoom lens. This lens is excellent value for money from an image quality point of view, is a reasonable weight and (according to others) makes an excellent portrait lens. My partner Jackie is more camera/lens weight conscious than I and now this lens goes everywhere with Jackie, teamed with a Cannon 70-300mm IS DO.

Link To - Fredmiranda review

Canon EF-S 17-85mm f4-5.6 IS USM

This lens was my first lens purchase for my first Digital SLR. My main reasons for purchase were focal length range, IS and price.

I must admit this lens, with hind sight, was quite disappointing; though on balance it was relatively inexpensive. The image quality was not great, though stopping down did improve this (i.e. using lens at around F8). At the time I thought the image quality was OK and it was the Camera and that was what digital images were like unless you bought a Canon 1D. However I now know better. I would say it is an OK lens for the money and the IS and focal length range are very useful, but for top quality images !!!.

Link To - Fredmiranda review

Canon EF-S 10-22mm f3.5-4.5 USM

I purchased this as a landscape lens for my 20D.

This is a lovely lens, very light with the widest angle image as you can get for a Canon 20D’s cropped sensor. Mine produces excellent quality images and I can’t say enough good things about it, though the price seems quite high compared to other EFS lenses.

Link To - Fredmiranda review

Canon EF 70-300mm f4-5.6 DO IS USM

I bought this as a ‘light weight’ alternative for my EF 100-400mm F4.5-5.6 L IS.

I used this for only a few months before it was ‘hijacked’ by Jackie :-). It is a little soft wide open but the images are very good from f6.3 and above. Compared to the Canon L 100-400mm it is very much lighter in weight, smaller in size and the auto focus appears to be slightly quicker. This is not a cheap lens, but it’s a definite class winner. If I had to choose just one wildlife lens and I couldn’t have the Cannon L 100 – 400mm IS lens (or weight was an issue) this would be my choice - If I could steal it back from Jackie.

My Wife Jackie :-), with her favourite lens the Canon EF 70-300mm f4-5.6 DO IS USM

Link To - Fredmiranda review

Link To - Luminous Landscape review

Link To - Official US Canon Site With Specifications for Canon 70-300mm DO IS

Canon EF 300mm f4 L IS

My reasons for this lens were image quality, F4, value for money, second hand choice and weight.

This lens, often mated with a 1.4x Extender, has turned out to be my most used lens. It has superb image quality, is lighter than my Canon L 100-400mm and I love the built in hood. The auto focus is medium paced but I can live with that most of the time. It also has the advantage of a relatively close minimum focus distance. Many of my butterfly pictures are taken with this lens on a Canon 20D with a 1.4x Extender plus a little cropping. I believe from a telephoto/image quality/value for money point of view this is one of Canon's best.

Link To - Fredmiranda review

Link To - Digital Picture review

Link To - Castleman review

Link To - Ephotzine review

Canon EF 300mm f2.8 L IS

Canon EF 300mm f2.8 L IS plus Canon 2x Extender on Canon 7D body with Battery Grip and Wildlife Watching Supplies Protective Covering

Update - October 2011 - For my needs this lens does almost everything. If I had one lens this would be it. Add a 2x Extender and you have 600mm with autofocus and excellent image quality (on a 1.6 crop body, in 35mm speak, thats 960mm or nearly 20x), add an extension tube and you can take quality close-ups of insects as small as Orange-tip butterflues and Green Hairstreaks. In lower light levels you can take flight shots at f2.8 and the light gathering capability makes it ideal for large mammal images at first or last light. For image quality it's one of Canons best L lenses. The weight is not an issue once you get used to it. If you're wondering if you should get one.. don't.. just get it.

The image quality of this lens is astounding, it certainly surpasses the 300mm F4 and nudges just ahead of the 500mm F4 in my book. Due to this superb image quality it's the only lens I feel comfortable using a 2x Extender with giving a very portable combination of 600mm F5.6 that will still autofocus.

Canon EF 300mm f2.8 L IS plus Canon 2x Extender against Canon EF 500mm f4 L IS plus Canon 1.4x Extender. Both on Canon 7D bodies with Battery Grips and Wildlife Watching Supplies Protective Coverings

All wrapped up snug and ready for Walkabout - Canon EF 300mm f2.8 L IS plus Canon 2x Extender against Canon EF 500mm f4 L IS plus Canon 1.4x Extender. Both on Canon 7D bodies with Battery Grips and Wildlife Watching Supplies Protective Coverings. For interst I have included a bag of Silica gel many of which I use to keep all my lenses and gear dry and free from fungus. These can be obtained from ebay or made yourself from Silica gel from ebay. The great thing about this gel is that it turns from orange to green when all its moisture absorption ability has ceased, you then simply remove the gel from the bag, place on a tray in the oven and heat at medium heat until it goes orange again, rebag it and its ready to go again.

For a number of years I agonised over the benefit of a 300mm f2.8, I already had a 300mm f4 and 500mm f4 but the f2.8 aperture and the legendary image quality of this lens lead me to summoning up all available resources and taking the plunge. I have not regretted a single aspect of this acquisition. As with the 180mm macro it took me quite a while to source a good reasonably priced second-hand version, these lenses are very much in demand and hold their resale value extremely well.

I also agonized over this lens and the 400mm IS F4 DO, but the 300mm f2.8 won out due to consistently higher reported image quality and the lower aperture rating (plus I already had long F4 lens).

It goes without saying that the build quality and robustness of this piece of kit is superb. The autofocus is lightning fast and the whole setup is quite manageable from a hand holding perspective.

One of my many reasons for purchase was the f2.8 facility, mainly for mammal photography but also for bird flight photography. Aperture of f2.8 coupled with my comfortable ISO level of 640 on a 7D meaning I could attain good speeds in poorer light conditions for these subjects.

Canon 7D, Canon 300mm F2.8 IS, 1/800, F2.8,ISO 640,Handheld, Manual Exposure

Though the 300mm F4 probably gets more outings in a year due to my obsession with dragonflies and butterflies the f2.8 version is certainly my weapon of choice for all other photographic outings were all day walking is involved. My kit bag with this lens typically includes 1.4x and 2x Extenders plus a Canon Extension Tube EF 25 II and Cannon 580EX flash with Better Beamer all packed into a Scopac Link To - Scopac Site strapped to a medium sized carbon Gitzo tripod with Markins ballhead.

Canon 7D and Battery Grip on Canon EF 300mm f2.8 L IS plus 2x Extender, 3 Series Medium Gitzo Carbon Tripod with Markins Ballhead all strapped to Scopac

On a recent visit to Yala Park in Sri Lanka photographing Leopards the f2.8 aperture allowed me to take what was one of my favourite images of the trip, below.

The sun had set and we had spent 4 days with fingers crossed trying to take an iconic "Leopard on a rock" image. Our guide got word of a leopard sighting 5 minutes drive away so we set off (with the usual gusto) to find it. As we approached the predictable group of 4 or so jeeps, all parked with lenses pointing into the brush, our guide decided to simply park perhaps 500 metres away near what was a usual spot for Leopards to survey the area. Sure enough his hunch turned out to be correct, the Leopard slinked away from its entourage and gracefully made its way to the top of the rock not more than 30 metres from our spot. The light levels by this time were very low, at f2.8 and ISO640 with under exposure of -1 (I would be forced to manipulate on the PC later) I had 1/60th. Luckily I had a comfortable position to shot from resting on a bean bag and the guide and tracker understood well they must not move (or even breath!) in order that I could get a long series of sharp images of this majestic creature.

In summary this lens is stunning, that's why it's pretty much standard pro wildlife gear. Its ability to actually make use of a 2x Extender but still maintain good image quality is a real boon and the f2.8 aperture is a must for lower light levels or when extra speed is needed without undue reliance on high ISO and associated noise. If you aren't used to super telephoto lenses your first impression will be that its big and heavy, but you soon get used to it and its very manageable compared to its bigger brothers.

Link To - Fredmiranda review

Link To - The-Digital-Picture review

Link To - Luminous-Landscape review

Canon EF 70-200mm f2.8 L IS

Image of Canon 70-200mm F2.8 IS (with camouflage covers), without hood.

I bought this lens for its Image quality, focal length range and F2.8.

The images produced by this lens are amazingly sharp. This is probably accentuated by the fact that it stays mated to a Canon 5D, but each time I use it I tell myself I should use it more often, the trouble is the focal length is quite limiting for my current wildlife opportunities. The auto focus is super fast and it just oozes quality build.

Note to self – use this lens camera combo more often, work on ways to get closer to the subject.

Link To - Fredmiranda review

Link To - Luminous Landscape review

Link To - Photozone review

Link To - Castleman review

Canon EF 500mm f4 L IS

Image Canon 500mm F4 L IS and Canon 300mm F4 IS on Canon 50D's with Battery Grips. Both protected by Wildlife Watching Supplies Lens Covers and Lens Coats.

My reasons for purchase were focal length, F4, Image quality, IS and build quality, dimensions and weight compared to Canon 600mm F4, compatibility with Canon 1.4x Extender to give 700mm F5.6, auto focus speed and comparative value for money. It can also be used hand held for short amounts of time.

Image Canon 500mm F4 L IS and Canon 300mm F4 IS on Canon 50D's with Battery Grips. Both protected by Wildlife Watching Supplies Lens Covers Link To - Wildlife Watching Supplies Lens Covers and Lens Coats Link To - Wildlife Watching Supplies Lens Coats, Neoprene Covers . Plus Protective lens lids for Canon 500mm F4 from Classic Kitchens, I have covered one side in camouflage tape. Link To - Classic Kitchens

Close-up image showing Classic Kitchens Lens Cover (lid) in place, I have added camouflage tape to the white lid.

What can I say, this lens does not disappoint. It does everything I hoped and more. I am in awe of this instrument. The image quality is stunning, the auto focus is lightning quick (even on a 30D so must be frightening on a 1D). The only down side is its size, which can limit its use, it also leaves you open to many comments from the public and I always feel a little more vulnerable to theft but that’s the same for any super telephoto. On the positive side, with some planning and willingness to lug it around, It really does give you the opportunities to take images that you just would not be able to take with anything less. It can be used in a considered fashion with a mono pod but really shines with a good Gitzo tripod, good ball head and Wimberley side kick.

Image of Canon 500mm F4 L IS mounted on Canon 50D, battery grip, Wildlife Watching Supplies lens covers, Gitzo carbon tripod, Wimberley Sidekick on Markins Ball head. Insulating foam added to tripod legs and covered with camouflage tape to improve comfort while carrying rig over the shoulder.

Image of Wimberley Sidekick mounted on Markins Ballhead and Gitzo carbon tripod.

Image of Wimbeley Sidekick.

Link To - Moose Peterson on Long Lens Technique

Link To - Naturephotographers Long Lens Technique and Also Use of Extenders

Link To - Fredmiranda review

Link To - Review of Cannon 500mm F4 Vs Sigma 500mm f/4.5 EX HSM

Link To - Review of Sigma 500mm f/4.5 by Stefan Ekernas

Link To - Luminous Landscape Review Canon 500mm Vs 600mm

Link To - Official US Canon Site for 500mm Lens Specifications and Accesories

Link To - General Comments Site For Canon 500mm

Canon EF 16-35mm f2.8 L

Image of Canon 16-35mm f2.8 and Canon 15mm f2.8 "Fish Eye".

This lens was purchased as a quality wide angle landscape lens.

It does just that. Matched with a Canon 5D the images are truly stunning. Enough said.

Link To - Fredmiranda review

Canon EF 24-70mm f2.8 L

This lens was purchased as a quality Landscape and general purpose lens. F2.8 being a bonus.

Image quality is stunning; I also love the weight and dimensions of this lens. It’s definitely one of my favourites.

Link To - Fredmiranda review

Link To - Castleman review

Canon EF 15mm f2.8 "Fish Eye"

I purchased this lens because I thought I needed a fish eye lens and this had a reputation for excellent image quality.

Sadly, at this point in time, I have not been able to make to much use of this lens and so cannot pass on many comments other than the auto focus is quite slow.

Note to self – Work on making more opportunities to use this lens.

Link To - Fredmiranda review

Canon MP-E 65mm f2.8 1-5x

Canon MP-E 65mm f2.8 1-5x at 1x

Canon MP-E 65mm f2.8 1-5x at 5x

This lens is a "dedicated" macro lens. By that I mean it can take big magnification macro images filling a full frame camera sensor with a grain of rice for example. BUT, because you have that macro capability it has to be used in a carefully considered fashion. You have to be able to get very close to your subject (inches away!) and it is extremely difficult to get good results (especially at magnifications greater than 1) without a macro focusing rail. You will also want to think seriously about artificial lighting (e.g. flash - will have to be a twin light or ring flash rather than speedlite) to achieve any sort of depth of field via F stops above 8 and ideally 13 (and perhaps more).

This lens really shines when used in a very predetermined manner, and for high magnification work almost exclusively inside, with artifical lighting and a macro focusing rack like the Novoflex Castel Cross Q below.

I kept this lens for a while and produced some great wild flower extreme macros but found my 180mm macro with extender or extension tubes as required was more of a practical solution for my macro needs - mainly insects and wild flowers outside.

In summary this is a superbly engineered lens for close macro work and is capable of stunning images. So if extreme macro work is your bag then you'll love this lens once you get used to it.

If you are using this, or any other macro gear, outside then the Wimberley Plamp below is quite a useful piece of kit. You use it to hold suitable subjects steady without hopefully damaging them eg Flowers, or you can use it to hold a reflector or diffuser in place. I also made a version of this myself from a metal stake, croccodile clip and bendable extension e.g. microphone extension or even just thick wire would probably work.

Link To - Fredmiranda review

Examples Of Images Taken With Above Canon Lenses

The link below will take you to my Redbubble area, the gallery images contain details of equipment used, F stops, ISO and shutter speeds. Please bear in mind these images are low resolution web images, fine detail will therefore suffer.

- Link to my Redbubble area

The link below is a superb site which allows you to compare the image quality of lenses 'side by side', with and without extenders. Most Canon lenses are detailed here as well as some of the more popular Sigma and Tamron lenses.