In 2009 I finally made the switch from film to digital; by that time I had been shooting film for fifty-five years. It was a big step for me, I was sixty-two years old. That same year I turned professional and founded my company Indochine Photography, checkout my website at www.IndochinePhotography.me.
It was finally time to retire my venerable Nikons, Leicas and Rolleiflexs (my friends were put out to pasture). Now the question was: what camera system to replace them with? I did a lot of research, and after much thought I decided on Canon. The driving force behind that decision was Canon’s great lens selection. At this point in time Nikon had not surpassed Canon relative to sensor sensitivity (my decision might be different today).
Nonetheless, Canon still leads the field in lens selection and image quality in my opinion. If they can ever match Nikon’s new sensors they will definitely be back on top. In 2009 I purchased the relatively new Canon EOS 5D Mark II full-frame (22 MP) digital camera. It boggled my mind with its complexity, and the learning curve was steep for this old film guy.
Canon has since come out with the 5D Mark III, and recent announcements indicate that the new 5D Mark IV will be released soon. My 5D Mark II has some limitations relative to these newer versions, primarily: slow continuous shooting at only 3 fps, only a 9-point autofocus system, it only takes a single memory card and has limited auto-ISO in Manual Mode. But it’s still one helluva a camera, and I’ve learned to work around its limitations.
However, the purpose of this post is to talk about two of Canon’s L-lenses: the EF 400mm f/5.6L USM super-telephoto and the EF 70-200mm f/4L USM zoom telephoto. The “L” stands for luxury, and they are Canon’s pro-level lenses. Why these two lenses in particular? Because they are great values, hence the bang for the bucks title of this post. The build quality is amazing (they are built like a tank); the optics (image quality) are superb and the price is right.
Both of these lenses are older, and they have been in the lineup for a long time. They have modest speed at f/5.6 and f/4 respectively, and neither sports Image Stabilization (IS). The 400mm is the only pro-level lens in its class, Nikon has nothing like it. It has the reputation of being the best birds-in-flight lens available today. Light weight, fast AF and spot on optics all make this a favorite with wildlife photographers. Priced at only $1,250 USD it is a steal when compared to the 500mm, 600mm and 800mm at $10,000 to $20,000 USD.
Canon’s 70-200mm zoom lens comes in four different versions: two in f/2.8 and two in f/4. My version, the f/4 without IS, is the most affordable at just $600 USD. This is a great value when compared to the top of the line f/2.8 at $2,000 USD. The optics are virtually the same (with the nod possibly going to the f/4), with the f/2.8 you are paying for the wider aperture and IS (with its substantially larger size and heavier weight). A wedding photographer will appreciate these features, the wildlife photographer not so much.
I am not shilling for Canon, I receive no compensation or consideration from Canon whatsoever. These are my opinions based on my own personal experience. Given the choice I would much rather spend my money on eyes (lenses) than brains (cameras). Canon will eventually catch up to Nikon in sensor sensitivity (I think), and until then their 5D-series and 1D-series cameras compete well. Heck, I’m still shooting with my six-year-old 5D Mark II, and I’m pretty darn satisfied with the results. For the past four years I’ve packing it around the world and shooting: in tropical rainforests, jungles, on rivers, on beaches and high-up in the Andes mountains at altitudes in excess of 12,000 feet.
If you’re serious about your photography, and you need some reach, these two lenses are tremendous values and you won’t be disappointed. They are quality through-and-through. The optics are unbeatable, and unless you do a lot of low light photography (or need the bokeh of f/2.8) the modest f/4 aperture and lack of IS shouldn’t be hindrance. I find the bokeh of the 400mm f/5.6 and 70-200mm f/4 to be pleasing and totally satisfactory. Wedding photographers and portrait photographers might find the f/2.8 more to their liking, but I think it’s a matter of personal preference. I can’t get away from $600 USD compared to $2,000 USD ($1,400 is a lot to pay for a little extra bokeh and IS).
Stephen F. Dennstedt
Photographer, Writer and World Traveler