Review Canon 500mm f/4L IS

grumpybadger

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Paul Beastall
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#1
As some of you know, I invested in a Canon 500mm f/4L IS lens earlier this year as a replacement for my 400mm f/4DO IS. The primary reason for the swap was that I wanted a bit more reach for bird photography and also for more distant stuff on the plains of East Africa.

Well, it has now been on a number of trips with me and I have a library of just over 2000 shots that I have deemed to be worthy of keeping hold of so now seems like a good time for a review.

Firstly, this is a heavy lens. Coupled with a 1D Mk II, it is close to 6 kilos all up. To, although handheld is possible, I can't cope for very long at all. So, a good tripod and or mounting solution is essential in my opinion.

I use the lens with a Kirk BH-1 ballhead (or sometimes the smaller BH-3 if I am trying to travel light) and a Wimberley Sidekick. I've used the lens on a Kirk window mount in Africa and a Manfrotto Magfibre tripod in the UK. Each has worked fine. The IS seems to work well even when on a tripod and I keep it switched on almost all of the time.

I also seem to have had good success with the lens resting on a bean bag.

Now for the main issue - image quality. When I had the 400DO, I rated it as a pretty good lens (it stood up well against my 70-200 and 24-70) but the quality from the 500 has just blown me away. It is so sharp and has a fabulous bokeh. The image below is a 100% crop.



Depth of field is very shallow wide open and so you do have to be careful of focus.

It also takes both the 1.4x and 2x Canon Extenders very well and I do have a few shots taken at 1000mm equivalent that I am more than happy with.

I do miss the 400 as it was half the weight. If money was no object, I would have both and use the 400 as a walkaround lens. However, that isn't possible and if I could have only one, it would be the 500 f/4 for the picture quality. It isn't cheap and you have to be seriously keen (or wealthy) to justify one but for me, it is worth the money.

Paul
 
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Mark
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#2
Nice informative review of the 500L, I would agree with everything said about it.

Hand hold-ability is a personal thing, but as said above it is very possible with this lens.

I regret selling mine, but getting the 600L made up for it. If I could afford both I would have them.
 
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#3
Great to see a good review, but...

500mm, 600mm, .... bahh :sulk:





grumble grumble ....
 

CT

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#4
Good review. I've had the 500mm f4L about a year now - the best bit of kit I've bought and certainly the most expensive! It's marginally lighter than the 600mm f4L and just that bit easier to cart around, but it's still no minor undertaking- It's not a lens for casual use.

Mine is pretty well only used on a tripod with a gimbal head, and occasionally on a monopod with the gimbal head. I don't consider it hand-holdable not for what I do anyway, there's no chance of keeping the AF spot on the head of a bird while supporting that weight. With larger subjects, then you could probably hand hold it in short bursts, I'd say 30 or 40 seconds - tops, and it's very fatiguing.

I initially thought the focus stop buttons near the front of the lens were a waste of time, but I have now taken to using them on occasions, to obtain focus and then recompose the shot.

It performs remarkably well with both converters, which makes it a very flexible lens indeed.

Highly recommended, but undeniably - expensive!
 
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Tim
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#5
Good review. I've had the 500mm f4L about a year now - the best bit of kit I've bought and certainly the most expensive! It's marginally lighter than the 600mm f4L and just that bit easier to cart around, but it's still no minor undertaking- It's not a lens for casual use.

Mine is pretty well only used on a tripod with a gimbal head, and occasionally on a monopod with the gimbal head. I don't consider it hand-holdable not for what I do anyway, there's no chance of keeping the AF spot on the head of a bird while supporting that weight. With larger subjects, then you could probably hand hold it in short bursts, I'd say 30 or 40 seconds - tops, and it's very fatiguing.

I initially thought the focus stop buttons near the front of the lens were a waste of time, but I have now taken to using them on occasions, to obtain focus and then recompose the shot.

It performs remarkably well with both converters, which makes it a very flexible lens indeed.

Highly recommended, but undeniably - expensive!
Ditto CT.. love my 500mm too..(y)
 
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