Review: Canon 100-400mm II lens

I am extremely impressed with this lens. There is plenty of sharpness, and the IS and lightweight to make it a formidable handholding tool.  I started using it more and more over the last few weeks, mainly in response to getting the new 1DX2. As I acquainted myself with the new body, I wanted to use something reasonably sized.  Otherwise, I would look like a major creep walking around Mountain View parks while toting my big 600mm. I’m sure I still look like a creep either way.
Assuming 400mm is adequate for your needs, you cannot go wrong with it. As is true for many others, the first edition of this lens was my gateway into the super tele world. It was a workhorse that yielded  stunning results. Only when I began my “affair” with the 600mm II, did the honeymoon with the 100-400 end.
Over the last couple years I have been holding down a 3 body kit for wildlife: super tele; mid range zoom; ultra wide. I’d stick the 600mm on the 1DX, constantly swapping 1.4x TCs. The 70-200mm on the 1D4, occasionally with 1.4x TC. And my sidearm was 14mm/11-24mm on the 6D.  This had me covered well for most of the situations I put myself in, and there wasn’t any real demand for anything in that 350-500mm range. That all began to change after getting the 7D2.  This body immediately replaced the 1D4 in my kit for use with the midrange zoom. With the crop, a 70-200 became 320mm equivalent, and I was reminded of how useful those focal lengths were.
The 100-400II with 7D2 is a natural pairing, sacrificing the wide end, its 640mm equivalent reach was great. I found it too prohibitive with a 1.4x extender, locked to the center AF points at f/8. This is where the 1DX2 comes into the picture, as it has 61 AF pts at f/8.
As for how the 100-400 compares, I would argue it is quite similar to 70-200 in sharpness. Sometimes I think 100-400 is better, other times I am back to the 70-200. The IS is about the same as 70-200.  When using extenders on the 100-400, I have found that on the 1DX and 1DX2, I can easily use the 1.4x TC with minimal degradation. I do not use extenders with the 7D; I think the pixel density is to high.
As long as there is sufficient light, I am comfortable using the 1.4x on 100-400 at f/8.  In fact, it performs much better than I ever expected. To be honest, I didn’t have much faith it would, and it wasn’t the reason I bought. However, had I known it was this good, I would have bought the lens much sooner, and now I have to figure out how I wrangle it away from Jenna 😉

Back to Alaska: Pre-Salmon Spawn Preparation in Katmai

While sitting in my Mountain View office counting down the days/hours, it is difficult to contain the excitement I feel before my return to the Alaska Peninsula and the coastal brown bears that live there. 

July is all about the falls. Brooks Falls.  In the pre-salmon spawn days, this fall line acts like a speed bump, and delays the salmon’s arrival at its spawning ground.  This bottleneck also happens to be the spot where the bears are at their highest concentration. In some years 70 bears have been recorded in the river at one time, jockeying for prime fishing spots. The falls typically feature the largest and most dominant males, but at times there are some bold (or starving) females+cubs. It is at the falls that I will spend the bulk of my time on this trip.

In preparation, I have been viewing the webcam, scouting the behavior trends of the bears. Based on the behavior of the last week, as the salmon run started to ramp up, most of the activity was early to late afternoon, and continued long into the evening and after midnight (sunset is after 23:30).  Another good sign is the salmon have really started jumping today, with much higher frequency than in previous days. This is an important consideration because, like the bears on the falls, we humans may have to share time on the platform. So it will be good to know when the best times to be on the falls platform is. 

As such, the photography may take a slightly different focus than other wildlife trips.  First, the bears are going to be close. So close that my 600mm may not be the most practical focal length.  Of course, I am still planning to bring that behemoth and will use that predominantly with the 1D-X, but lets see what my secondary lens on the 6D will be.  Most likely will keep the 70-200mm at the ready, but am planning to bring my 300mm F/2.8 and give that a bit of a workout. At the moment, my plan is to be a “normal” person and only have two cameras strapped on, but this concept will be cancelled upon arrival and you will be able to see me with three massive body+lens combos (if I decide to re-activate the 1D-IV and use it with the 300.)

Only time will tell….

In the mean time, I finalize my trip preparations and read “The Beast that walks like Man: The Story of the Grizzly Bear” by Harold McCracken (1955)….see you in Alaska..

Memorial Day Road Trip: Alabama Hills

2014 Memorial Day Road Trip: Alabama Hills
May 26, 2014

As far as the meteor shower went, it was a bit of a bust.  Not as great as some astronomers predicted. But also there were some clouds in Death Valley on the days the shower was scheduled to peak. The presence of these clouds, however, improved the sunrise lighting conditions. Hence, the reason I switched my focus. I did  have an opportunity to do some astro landscape photography in the Alabama Hills on Monday morning. And while waiting for the first glimpse of morning twilight over Mount Whitney, I did happen to capture some fairly bright Camelopardalis meteors. This was also my first time using my new 24mm F/1.4, boy is it light sucking monster of a lens. That lens is so fast it turns night into day. I had to adjust my entire approach to night photography with that thing…eager to use it again on the night sky.

Despite this new ‘astro’ lens, the sunrise was king at the Alabama Hills.  I spent almost all of my energy preparing for my sunrise spot.  And it didn’t come easy. For sunrise, I had the objectives I hoped to accomplish in mind. A higher vantage point facing Mount Whitney and Lone Pine Peak with two or three “layers” of Alabama Hills in the foreground. I wanted to shoot across the morning light from a vantage point contrasty with canyons and ridgelines on the Sierra eastern front. I access the geodetic situation at the day before at sunset, knowing that the position of the sun would be mirrored in the morning.  In the dark, I hiked up to the top of the hill and began shooting at 04:00 (halfway through Astronomical twilight) with a two camera setup using a 24mm and 70-200mm as the glass. By around 05:15 the light went from blue to red, as it inched its way down the eastern face. By 05:35, the best part of the sunrise was finished and I sat there, quietly taking in the landscape before me.  

The important message here is that the best part of the sunrise, happens before the sun actually rises. You need to hike in the dark.

Final note: the pano shot of the Sierra Nevadas from Alabama Hills was taken with my phone after the morning light was finished.  I took it so I could study how the shadows lay on the mountains relative to the sun. I will use this information for the next trip, so I am able to better position myself for more dramatic contrasts.  But I ended up really liking the shot…especially the two cameras up there. 

By 06:30 I was back to my car, gear an all, and heading out of the Alabama Hills by 06:45. On my way back home to Mountain View, via a little park called Yosemite National Park. 

Alaskan Arrival

SF to Anchorage flight was this evening, now I am in hotel in midtown Anchorage, preparing for my great bear adventure.  Tomorrow I fly on two more planes:  Anchorage -> King Salmon, and King Salmon -> Brooks Camp (float plane) to reach Katmai National Park out on the Alaskan Peninsula.  All in pursuit of the massive coastal brown bears that live there… I will camp in the NPS campground there and maximize my time seeking out the bears.

I have cleaned my sensors and lenses, formatted 400GB worth of memory cards, charged 11 camera batteries, and re-activated 5 Pelican desiccants (this Peninsula is wet).  Lets puts this 500mm to work.

Check out the following link from time to time, you will see some bears, maybe you will see me.  This camera pans quite a lot, but there is a gated bridge that I will be crossing when it opens each day at 07:00 Alaska time.!/live-cams/player/brown-bear-salmon-cam-lower-river

Bear Hunter
Bear Hunter