California Dreamin’ with a Canon 100-400mm II Lens – Guest Article by Steve Russell
This is neither a paid product endorsement nor a comparison between Canon’s 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens and other telephoto lenses with similar focal ranges, such as Tamron’s and Sigma’s 150-600mm and Nikon’s 80-400mm lenses. This is, however, a firsthand testament as to the versatility of Canon’s version, which I happen to own. And here’s why.
I just spent six days with seven like-minded nature photographer friends on the central California coast from Monterey to Morro Bay and filled my camera frame with everything from Monarch butterflies to two-ton, 13-foot-long elephant seals all with the same precision and sharpness using the Canon telephoto lens. With the help of a tripod and Wimberley Sidekick gimble head I also shot flying pelicans, exploding waves, baby sea otters and a dolphin at a distance. The lens’ wide focal range was perfect for capturing both skittish shore birds that were hard to sneak upon and some coastal landscapes.
The higher-rated and faster super telephoto prime lenses likely would have performed superbly in many situations. But at 3.5 lbs. the 100-400 was more portable, easier to pack and travel with, capable of shooting up close, and was faster to set up at a moment’s notice when seconds made all the difference when hurrying to take advantage of spontaneous opportunities. THAT is versatile.
Of course, lenses do not operate in a vacuum and the quality of one’s images depends as much or more on the camera, the settings, the user’s skill and experience, and the lighting conditions. In my case, the lens was attached to my Canon 7D Mark II and my “keepers” were almost all shot in the morning and evening golden hours (with the exception of the Monarch butterflies, which were shot in mid-day but under filtered sunlight through the surrounding trees).
In terms of skill, I am still learning how to best balance the “photographic triangle” of aperture, shutter speed and ISO for different situations. I have no idea how this stacks up against my own history or others’, but when it came time to post the best of my best images in a gallery on my website, I chose what ended up to be about 1.5% of the total shots I’d taken on the trip. If this was baseball I’d be on the bench, but I’m happy with my keepers no matter how many tries it took to get them.
The Big Sur area of California was a shot-in-the-arm photographically and climate-wise as the Puget Sound region where I’m from is in the midst of a record-breaking winter rainfall. If I had to choose one lens for such travel, one that would handle the widest range of nature photography imaginable and do it well, hands down it would be my Canon 100-400 lens. And I swear I’m not getting paid to say that.