One year with EF 400 DO IS II
It has nearly been a year since I published my review of the EF 400mm DO IS II, since then I have had many opportunities to use this lens in the field under different conditions, and with different camera bodies. The images below were all produced with the EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II with and without extenders with Canon EOS 1D-X, EOS 5DS R, EOS 5D Mark III and the EOS 7D Mark II.
Please click on each image to see it larger and sharper.
Shooting from a confined space:
I used the EF 400 DO II when shooting raptors in southern California with my friend Dave Salem. To avoid disturbing the skittish raptors, we shoot from Dave’s truck. It is quite difficult to work with my EF 600mm f/4 IS II in the confined space of the vehicle, especially when changing extenders. Sometimes it isn’t possible to swing the lens in order to track birds in flight given the large diameter of the lens thorough the relatively small rear seat window. With the EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II, however, it is much easier to maneuver the lens and also to add or remove extenders. Given the light weight of the rig, there is no need for a bean bag which will also frees up a bit more space.
This location in particular is very hard on the AF because of constant strong heat shimmers and dust (from vehicles driving on gravel road). The combination of the EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II and EF Extender 2X III performed very well on my 1D X. Below is another example where the hawk took off towards the camera, the AF has to drive really fast to keep up with the incoming bird for this kind of shot.
To take the photo below I had to point my lens downward as the hawk was initially perched on the ground. This would have been a difficult shot had I been using a bean bag. Again the AF had no trouble locking on the hawk.
While I haven’t had the opportunity to shoot with the 400mm f/4 DO II from a boat but I expect it to be equally effective in that situation as well.
Traveling with restrictions
Another situation where the EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II can save the day is when traveling in small aircraft. Many carriers now use smaller jets for US/Canada cross-border flights. The overhead bins in these aircraft cannot fit the larger super-telephoto lenses such as the EF 500mm f/4 IS II or the EF 600mm f/4 IS II. Some regional Alaska flights use propeller aircraft with even smaller bins. Previously I used to take my EF 300mm f/2.8 IS II for such trips but there were many occasions where I felt I could use more reach. The EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II now solves that problem. It can fit in a small back pack that fits in any overhead bin and even under the aircraft seat if needed.
I spend a few days photographing in Vancouver area, in a variety of situations. The skies were cloudy and the light was always low, you might expect that at 800mm f/8, the combination of the EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II and Extender 2X III may not be very useful. But, this combination proved very capable with the 1D X even capturing flight frames with varied backgrounds in very low light. What I learned while using this combination was that given the lens’s light weight you can get sharp flight shots at 800mm hand held down to 1/800sec (with proper technique). With my EF 600mm f/4 SI II plus extenders, to get the sharpest RAW files, I prefer to stay above 1/2500sec. In other words the lighter weight makes up for the smaller aperture when hand holding this lens.
From the shooting info. you can guess how low the light was at the time of shooting. At f/8, the AF is limited to center point only (plus four expansion points) so precise tracking becomes more critical, but at the same time the light weight of the rig makes it easier to track in-flight shots.
For perched shots the same combo produced tack sharp RAW files down to 1/200sec. The image below was shot at 1/320sec hand held. The bald eagles were photographed near a river, the terrain was very uneven with ice-covered rocks and soft snow. It would have been more difficult to navigate had I been using a heavier rig.
I spent a morning in Victoria, BC to shoot woodpeckers and song birds from a blind. It was a relatively dark morning so I had to lower the shutter speed. I quickly realized that I could consistently get sharp shots down to 1/200sec hand held with IS set to mode 1. The frames that weren’t quite sharp were almost all due to the bird movement. The EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II proved a powerful tool for shooting from a blind. Not being confined to a tripod is especially helpful when there is simultaneous activity on multiple perches, as you can rapidly point to different perches.
Below is the 100% crop from RAW, processed by DPP4.
Using EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II with other camera bodies
I also used the EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II with other (current) EOS bodies, including the EOS 7D Mark II, EOS 5D Mark III and the EOS 5DS R. As expected, unlike the EOS-1D X, with addition of an extender the servo drive speed reduces with these bodies. With the EF Extender 1.4X III, this decrease is not significant enough to affect AF field performance, in fact it’s hardly noticeable. With the EF Extender 2X III however, the AF does take a significant hit. It is still usable for tracking larger and slower birds such as a pelican flying parallel to the back of the camera but it’s not fast enough to keep up with a kingfisher or an oyster catcher in flight.
On several occasions I attempted to photograph a belted kingfisher in flight with the EOS 7D Mark II and the EF400mm f/4 DO IS II plus EF Extender 2X III, but I had to quickly switch back to Extender 1.4X III to gain the required AF speed.
With the Extender 2X III mounted the 7D Mark II felt “more at home” shooting the Kingfisher when he was perched.
The EOS 5D Mark III also performed similarly to the EOS 7D Mark II. That is, the the AF with Extender 2X III is adequate for perched, floating or slow flying birds but not quite fast enough for general in-flight photography, especially shooting raptors in flight.
I also had several opportunities photographing with the 55-Mega pixel EOS 5DS R. The first concern with the high-resolution sensor was image sharpness with the combination of the EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II and EF Extender 2X III combination. This combination proved to out-resolve the sensor at lower ISO’s (<=400) delivering tack sharp RAW files with a level of fine detail I had not seen before.
The image below (American Coot) shows the level of detail typically captured with the EOS 5DsR at a medium ISO. At higher ISO’s however, the images quickly become grainy impacting sharpness and micro-contrast at pixel level. Nevertheless, this is a limitation of the camera’s sensor rather than the lens’s optics.
Below is a 100% crop from RAW using DPP4 conversion as explained in the DPP4 Guide.
In terms of AF performance the EOS 5DS R proved somewhat slower than both EOS 5D Mark III and the EOS 7D Mark II. With the Extender 2X III I didn’t have much luck in capturing flight frames so I wouldn’t recommend it for flight shots. In addition to the slow servo drive the EOS 5Ds R seems to have much longer shutter lag than the other bodies. Most likely Canon had to slow down the mirror damping mechanism to reduce the motion blur at pixel level given the small pixels of the camera. Of course, with patience and good technique (e.g. pre-focus) you can capture ideal in-flight frames with the EOS 5DS R. It could be very frustrating however so I don’t recommend it for in-flight or action photography. Needless to say, the target audience of this camera primarily consists of landscape and studio shooters for whom AF/speed isn’t a factor.
Conclusion and Observations
Overall after using the EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II for about a year it remains an impressive and extremely capable piece of glass. Especially, when used with the EOS-1D X where there is little compromise when the lens is used with the EF Extender 2X III at 800mm f/8. With the newly announced EOS-1D X Mark II, I expect the AF to improve further by enabling all 61 AF sensors at f/8 (with current EOS-1D X only the center point and 4 expansion points are available at f/8). This lens really shines for travel and and shooting from confined spaces or in very low light conditions where using a tripod is not possible. It compliments my EF 600mm f/4 IS II very nicely, I’d go this far to say these two lenses serve all of my bird photography needs at the moment.
All images were processed with DPP4 and prepared for final presentation using the methods explained in detail in the DPP4 guide as well as the new Post Processing Guide coauthored by myself and Arthur Morris.