Canon EF 800 f/5.6 L IS lens: A Personal Field Perspective

Started Oct 19, 2010 | Discussions thread
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NRich Senior Member • Posts: 1,931
Canon EF 800 f/5.6 L IS lens: A Personal Field Perspective

This is a personal field assessment of Canon’s telephoto lens, the 800.0 mm 5/6 L IS lens in combination with the 1DMkIV. I have been photographing wildlife and birds with the canon 500 f/4 L IS for the past six years. To achieve the desired reach most of this time a Canon 1.4 tele-converter has been attached to the 500 lens. The weight of Canon’s 800 is 9.9 pounds. This is nearly two pounds less than the 600.

My impression is that the 800 produces sharper raw files, than the 500, especially in a comparison where the 1.4 tele-converter is attached to the 500. Also my sense is that there is an improvement in the 800 compared to the 500 in contrast and nuance of color tonalities, possibly the result of improved lens coating. My sense is that the 800 A1 servo AF is quicker and more accurate overall than the 500mm.

The four-stop image stabilization on the 800 is IMO significant. I shoot on a Wimberley head and use the heavier 1525 gitzo legs, getting tack sharp images comfortably down to 100/ sec. My heavy duty Gitzo monopod in combination with the 800 is capable of producing tack sharp files in the range of 200/ sec. with the IS on. The 500 is an f/4, the 800 is 5.6. The 800 when combined with the 1Dmk4, IMO produces notably higher quality files than with, say the relatively iso restricted 1DmKII N.

One might notice a small amount of vignetting shot wide open. To achieve desired DOF I often shot at f/8 where the lens is sharpest, and vignetting is a non-factor. I use a Kata waist bag. The 800 which is slightly less than 2” longer than the 500, now comfortably rests on this rear back pack when the equipment is carried over one shoulder, reducing apparent weight by approximately 20%.

On the minus side with 1D bodies the 1.4 tel-converter uses center dot focus only. In use with the 2x tele-converter is manual focus only. I find I can work with this. The minimum focusing distance is 19.7 feet. This limitation can be addressed to an extent by adding an extension tube, for say small birds closer up.

There are a few times when I have had the need to move back, but with relatively few exceptions for the most part the extra reach is highly valued. Shooting with the 800 for me means both an image quality upgrade, while at the same time a more intimate revealing of wild nature while keeping a greater distance away from disturbing the bird or animal.

In all this is now my go-to wildlife lens, and to say the least, I am very fond of it. It is indeed pricey at approximately $11,000, though to me worth every cent. It is simply the single most treasured wildlife photographic tool I have encountered. If you are a working pro or an avid bird photography enthusiast, I recommend having a closer look at this lens. My enthusiasm for the 800, originates from routinely producing 24”x36”wildlife prints on archival canvas.

Below is a sample from my Dowitcher shorebird pbase gallery shot exclusively with the 800mm 5.6. Full exif is in the gallery. If you have comments or questions of this lens, I am pleased to share.

Below: Canon 800.0mm with 1.4 teleconverter attached: 1120mm.

Below: Canon 800.0mm with canon 2x tele-converter attached: 1600mm.

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Canon 800.0mm Dowitcher shorebird gallery linked below:

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