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Currently I have the 70-300mm L lens from Canon.

I would like to go on a Safari trip, and was wondering, does it make sense to pick up the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II with the 1.4X and 2X Teleconverters which effectively allows me to reach up to 560mm + 1 stop and 800mm + 2 stops or just pick up the 600mm or 800mm prime lens from the beginning?

I know I am loosing a couple of stops, and image quality with the Teleconverters, but it allows me to have some what of a zoom function with a smaller package.


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With 400mm+TC, you're not losing any stops compared to the primes - the 600mm is f/4 and 800mm f/5.6 –  Imre Oct 18 '12 at 4:29
I meant with respect to the 2.8 lens itself, so yeah, I'm not really losing anything compared to the 600mm and 800mm prime. –  Bill Oct 18 '12 at 5:08

5 Answers 5

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Go for the long lenses if you can. On Safari, you will be taken out when animals are most active which is at dawn and around dusk. Given the lack of artificial light, it will be dimmer than those times in the city. Meaning you will be shooting wide-open and as wide as possible to get shutter-speeds fast enough to freeze the animals.

Otherwise, the 400mm F/2.8L will still do and be a very useful and worthy upgrade to the lens you already have. A 1.4X extender will get you close enough to pretty much all mammals you will see on safari.

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What I was thinking. I see the shorter lens being used in more future activities, but the longer lens will be more useful on the trip, and have image stabilization that is better tuned to that focal length. –  Phil Oct 18 '12 at 2:22
Not to mention the optical demands on the lens. A teleconverter basically crops the middle and magnifies it, meaning that the center has to be able to resolve more lp/mm. That's why you have to start with a really good lens to begin with. –  Itai Oct 18 '12 at 2:30
A trip like this, combined with the very steep prices for big, long, fast lenses says "rent, don't buy" to me. –  Pat Farrell Oct 18 '12 at 3:10

If you are going on a safari, then you will really want to get the longest lens you can get your hands on. It won't be all that often that you are close enough to photograph frame-filling animals at 400mm, and generally speaking the farther you can stay from the wildlife the better (for both you and them.) In this respect, I highly recommend you rent, rather than buy (unless you have the money, in which case, I'd still buy a longer lens).

The cream of the crop today for wildlife on safari is the EF 600mm f/4 L II IS lens. Technologically, and probably optically, nothing on the planet is superior to this lens. It combines some of the lightest optical elements, a very light weight lens tube, with the most advanced nano-technology anti-reflection coating (SWC, SubWavelength Structure Coating, rather than SuperSpectra Multicoating) to produce flare- and ghost-free images that are as crisp, clear, and sharp as money can buy. It also weighs less than 8.4 pounds (vs. the nearly 12 pounds of the original EF 600mm f/4 L IS), which means if you need to, you can use it for hand-held photography for short periods of time (might be useful for photographing a hunt, or of you see any larger birds in flight.)

This lens is so sharp that even when paired with the EF 1.4x TC III that brings it up to an 840mm f/5.6 lens, its IQ still surpasses that of the original EF 800mm f/5.6 L IS. You'll really want the reach, especially if you have the chance to photograph lions or elephants. The fairly wide aperture at 840mm will really help isolate your subjects, and you'll be able to do so at a safe distance.

If you are renting, you might as well just rent a Canon 1D X as well, and ask that it be upgraded to the latest v1.1.1 firmaware so you get center point f/8 AF with expansion mode capability. That will give you the five center AF points at f/8, with the center being a cross-type. You could then slap on the EF 2x TC III, and make that lens a 1200mm f/8. That should be good enough for some portrait shots of the wildlife. Combined with the great high ISO capabilities of the 1D X, you would be about as set as you could get for morning and evening safari outings, with usable ISO up to 16000 or more.

For the rest, in the event you do want some wider-angle shots, you already have the EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 L IS lens, which should cover you for everything else. If you rent a 1D X, then you could also use that lens with a 1.4x TC, giving you a 98-420mm f/5.6-8 lens (in the event you actually wanted/needed to shoot at 420mm.)

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I think the most flexibility is found with the 600 f/4 and 1.4X (2X would be good too if you can). If anything is too close for the 600 then you can use your existing 70-300L.

The 600 + 1.4X is comparable in quality/speed to the bare 800 f/5.6L



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It should be noted that the 600 f/4 L II with the 1.4x TC III actually surpasses the original 800mm f/5.6 L in terms of IQ. –  jrista Oct 18 '12 at 16:41
@jrista it depends on who you ask with regards to if it's actually better, but certainly the 600 II + 1.4x II is a very highly rated combo, and you've got the option to go wide. –  Matt Grum Oct 18 '12 at 21:46

There is no difference between the setups speed-wise - the longer primes are the same speed as the 400mm combined with TC. And while a bit shorter in length, it's actually even slightly heavier.

Around 800mm, the 600mm on a 1.4×TC will result in better image quality than the 400mm on 2×TC, so it might be a better choice. That's also what Nathan Myhrvold has been using on several safaris and suggests, along with a number of other safari tips on equipment to bring along.

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I was in Kenya last month and used the 70-300L and 500m with 1.4x and 2x converters. I think this combination worked quite well. I used the zoom for environmental shots and the prime for close-ups. The new 600 will work well if you like to take bird pictures also. It is light enough to handle on the vehicle with a beanbag.

The best lens for Africa will be the Canon 200-400 with the built-in 1.4x converter. However, no one knows when Canon will release it to the general public.

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