Photography.SE, hello there, this is my first question, hence please pardon my inexperience of phrasing the question.

I am about to go to Yosemite and Yellowstone for 3 weeks next month, and exhilarated to do some wildlife shooting. I currently have an EF 70-200mm F4L which is the entry level Canon telephoto lens.

Now I wonder either to buy an extender or to buy a new lens(supposedly the entry level supertelephoto lens EF 100-400mm F4.5-5.6L)? also I am somewhat concerning with the performance of these two choices performing on my 6 years old 30D, how about the focusing speed of each?

Or there are other greater lens choices of wildlife shooting for my 2k budget?

  • \$\begingroup\$ @drewbenn Thanks! How about the focusing? \$\endgroup\$
    – user9650
    Commented May 3, 2012 at 19:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ @drewbenn I deeply appreciate your kind advice. \$\endgroup\$
    – user9650
    Commented May 3, 2012 at 20:26

3 Answers 3


This is going to depend very much on what camera body you are using. Canon cameras do not focus past f/5.6 unless you are using a 1-series body (or are willing to do some warranty-voiding pin taping to force f/8 AF on unsupported bodies...which is usually a moot exercise anyway). Slapping a 2x TC onto a 70-200 f/4 is going to give you an f/8 aperture, and you are most definitely going to lose AF on anything other than a 1D something. Given that you are on a 30D, the AF speed will be a perfect zilch with the 70-200 f/4 + 2x TC combination, which is pretty much a no-go for wildlife and birds.

I'm a die-hard bird/bif/wildlife shooter myself, and I currently use the 100-400 f/4.5-5.6 L IS. Its a great lens, has decent IS, and is pretty easy to carry around for a few hours at a time (or pretty much all day with the right kind of strap, such as a BlackRapid R-Strap...or better yet, a more durable home-made version of the same.) The IQ of the 100-400 is great. The lens is definitely getting a bit dated...the IS mechanism is good up to about 2 stops at most, however when it comes to birds, its maybe good for 1 to 1.5 stops at best. Canon is rumored to be working on an f/4-5.6 replacement with 4-stop IS, which would be a significant improvement to any replacement...however expect it to come with a heftier price tag ($2000+ vs. the current f/4.5-5.6 $1600 street price).

For wildlife shooting, the 100-400L is superb in pretty much every respect. You don't need as much IS for hand-held shooting of wildlife as you do for birds/bif. It offers good reach with a modern high-res cropped sensor (it offers an FoV effective 160-640mm), however with the 30D's 8.2mp sensor, the benefit of extra reach is not really going to be as great as if you were using a 600D/60D/7D with their 18mp sensors (roughly 75lp/mm vs. 113lp/mm spatial resolution.)

You could certainly try to manually focus for wildlife...and so long as what your photographing is fairly slow-moving, you could probably get away with that on a 30D. Its lower spatial resolution means its not going to be capturing fine detail to start with, so it will be more forgiving of less precise focus. For anything that is moving that you will want to track, AF is pretty much essential. To that end, the 70-200 f/4 + 2x TC is a non-starter, especially if you were considering the non-IS version. For hand-held tracking, both IS and AF are pretty much given essentials for wildlife and birds, so the 100-400 f/4.5-5.6 L IS is really the only option here.

There are also other options you could look into if you can expand your budget a bit. A 300mm f/2.8 L or 400mm f/2.8 L, IS or non-IS, with a gimbal-type tripod head and a sturdy tripod, offer a LOT of flexibility with TC's. An f/2.8 lens can take a 2x TC and still be only an f/5.6 aperture, so it will still AF on any Canon body. These are certainly more expensive than the $1800 100-400 L, but older used ones can often be found on eBay and Craigs List for around $3000 to $3500 (original non-IS versions), and starting around $3500 to as much as $6000 (IS versions). A 300mm with 1.4x TC is 420mm, while with a 2x TC is 600mm. The 600mm reach is pretty much the ideal sweet spot for a LOT of birding, as it lets you frame birds pretty tightly without encroaching their comfort zones. A 400mm with 1.4x TC is 560mm, and with a 2x TC is 800mm. At 560mm you have some great reach and excellent IQ to frame wildlife at a safe/non-intrusive distance. At 800mm you can frame wildlife and bird portraits without intruding into safe/comfort zones. All the while, any of these focal lengths would be at an f/5.6 or f/4 aperture, and plenty capable of supporting AF on any Canon body.

If you have the funds, a older 300mm f/2.8 with a 2x TC could offer a lot more than the 100-400, greater reach with better IQ.

PhotoSE is currently running a "lending library" of sorts that allows our members to try out gear rentals and be reimbursed for it, at the cost of having to ask questions related to the gear or write a few blog entries on the PhotoSE blog about your experiences with the gear you rent. You could use this offering to try out the 100-400 to see if would work for you, and if you were willing to chip in a little money and some extra time writing more blogs, you might even be able to try out a 300mm f/2.8.

  • \$\begingroup\$ 1+, love it your detailed reply jrista \$\endgroup\$
    – peter_budo
    Commented May 4, 2012 at 9:52

I shot for a number of years with the 100-400. Very nice lens. I retired it in favor of the 300F4 with a 1.4x tele. That's about the same cost as the 100-400 (maybe a bit less), and it's sharper, with faster AF. All in all, a much superior wildlife/bird lens around 400mm at a good price.

I did some experimentation with the 2X tele and the 70-200 F2.8 IS, and found it simply too soft to be usable. The 70-200 F4 will be slower, so you'll lose autofocus completely, and I don't think the images will be sharp enough. Art Morris now swears by the 70-200 F2.8 IS2 and the 2x tele, but that's the latest, most expensive version of the 70-200, and I wouldn't put a 2X on any of the earlier models.

With the 70-200 already in hand (and the F4 is a nice lens), much of the lens range of the 100-400 overlaps it, so to some degree, you're wasting money with it. I have generally seen poor results using the 2X tele on anything other than prime lenses (and I actually sold mine), so I don't recommend that. The 300F4 and the 1.4x Tele give you good images that supplement the 70-200 without overlapping it, and the combo is a lot sharper than the 100-400 at 400mm. To me, if I were going to go in that direction, that's what I'd do.

(and to be honest, it's what I actually did. My only semi-regret is that buying the 70-200 F2.8 is probably overkill, and if I'd bought the F4, I'd have saved some money AND some weight in the camera bag, but then, I've been in a couple of situations where having the F2.8 let me shoot much later into twilight than I could have otherwise. But I'd really love having both the F2.8 and F4, so I could carry the lighter lens around most of the time..)

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for the nice advice! But I just bid a 100-400mm lens on ebay and already paid haha. \$\endgroup\$
    – user9650
    Commented May 4, 2012 at 1:45

Depending on how much experience you do have with wildlife photography you might realise that longer is often better.

I have been looking at the 100-400 myself, but recently I tried the Sigma 150-500 DG OS HSM and was impressed. It's longer and cheaper, but since I haven't tried the Canon 100-400 myself, I can't really compare them. You might want to look into the Sigma as an option.

The image quality is probably noticeably better with the Canon, but the extra reach with the Sigma can make up for some of that.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Keep in mind, the Sigma has a much worse aperture range, with f/6.3 on the long end. That is going to have a pretty significant impact on AF speed, and it will also affect stabilization and handholdability. \$\endgroup\$
    – jrista
    Commented May 3, 2012 at 20:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure I would call one third of a stop "much worse" though. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 3, 2012 at 21:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ Its "much worse" in that you go past the rated f-stop for AF, which usually has a fairly significant detrimental effect on the speed of AF. You can AF fine at f/5.6, but not so fine at f/6.3. In terms of exposure, no, its not all that much of a difference. \$\endgroup\$
    – jrista
    Commented May 3, 2012 at 21:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ I have a feeling the Sigma-lens reports the wrong aperture to the camera, since the AF seems to work OK with a 7D and a 60D. I might test that a bit more this weekend. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 3, 2012 at 21:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ Canon cameras can AF with f/6.3 (technically speaking they are able to AF at apertures up to but not including f/8 (which makes it kind of sketchy to start with past f/5.6). The low-light AF strips in most of Canon cameras are specifically "rated" for f/5.6 operation. The only time you actually have to tape pins or report incorrect info is when you want to AF at f/8 itself on a non-1D series body. \$\endgroup\$
    – jrista
    Commented May 3, 2012 at 21:51

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