Help me rationalize a telephoto lens purchase

Started Apr 27, 2011 | Discussions thread
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Gus Smedstad Forum Member • Posts: 61
Help me rationalize a telephoto lens purchase

I'm traveling to Turkey for two weeks at the end of May, and I'm considering upgrading my telephoto lens. My current kit is a EF-S 10-22, EF-S 17-55 f/2.8 IS, and a EF 70-300 f/4-5.6 IS.

Generally speaking, I mostly do architectural photography (i.e. ruins and the like), often interior, so my 10-22 and 17-55 get much more use than my telephoto lens. Of the 1000 or so images I consider "good" from my India trip, only 120 are longer than 70mm.

And yet, I found I really enjoyed taking wildlife photos when the opportunity arose. One reason I even started thinking about replacing the 70-300 was one morning I had a great opportunity to shoot some really large raptors that were swooping down on our hotel roof - but not one of those images came out. The lens insisted on hunting for focus despite the bright light, and my attempts at manual focus didn't turn out too well. As you can probably imagine, I was disappointed that I couldn't get a better image of these:

I'd toyed with the idea for a while, but what really solidified it for me was looking at an image comparison between the L and non-L versions of the 70-300 f/4-5.6. The L images were significantly sharper. As well they should for 3x the price, but still, I was impressed by the difference.

So I've been looking at the alternatives, and I really can't make up my mind. I'm mostly concerned about image quality and, after my experience with the raptors, autofocus speed. I could also use some extra reach - of the telephoto images I took, about half could definitely have used more focal length. The image above is a crop, at 300mm it didn't come anywhere close to filling the frame.

I'm considering:
EF 70-300 f/4-5.6L IS.
(+) Much sharper than my current lens.
(+) Better IS.
(+) Better autofocus.

(+) Lighter than the alternatives. Not so much during actual shooting, as lugging it around on my belt for 2 weeks.
(-) Big chunk of cash for no increase in aperture or focal length.

EF 100-400 f/4-5.6 IS.
(+) Shaper than my current lens.
(+) 30% longer focal length.
(-) Older IS, not as good as my current lens.
(-) Test photos don't look as sharp to my eyes as the alternatives.

EF 70-200 f/2.8L IS II + 2x TC III.
(+) Really, really sharp without the teleconverter.

(+) Looks to be as sharp or sharper than the others even with the TC. This surprised me.

(+) f/2.8 without the TC. Should be excellent in low light, particularly with the new IS.
(+) 400mm with the TC.
(-) Not sure how inconvenient switching a TC on / off in the field is.
(-) Tremendously expensive, nearly twice the total price of the other choices.

(-) Heaviest solution, and bulky. Camera probably won't fit in my Toploader 75 with the lens and TC attached.

I really can't make up my mind. The safest route is to just go with the 70-300 f/4-5.6L. I'm a big fan of IS, so losing a stop or so with the older system in the 100-400 isn't appealing, but it is a popular lens for a reason. I can afford the 70-200, but it feels wasteful to spend an extra $1300 if it's not really my primary lens and I'm not entirely certain the advantages are worth it.

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