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.


  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ With 400mm+TC, you're not losing any stops compared to the primes - the 600mm is f/4 and 800mm f/5.6 \$\endgroup\$
    – Imre
    Oct 18, 2012 at 4:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ 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. \$\endgroup\$
    – Bill
    Oct 18, 2012 at 5:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ There have been a couple of new lenses (as opposed to updated version of old ones) introduced since the time this question was introduced, as well as most of the Canon Super Telephoto series having received upgrades (and higher prices!). Scroll down for an answer that looks at these new options. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Mar 13, 2016 at 17:10

7 Answers 7


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.

  • \$\begingroup\$ 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. \$\endgroup\$
    – Phil
    Oct 18, 2012 at 2:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ 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. \$\endgroup\$
    – Itai
    Oct 18, 2012 at 2:30
  • 10
    \$\begingroup\$ A trip like this, combined with the very steep prices for big, long, fast lenses says "rent, don't buy" to me. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 18, 2012 at 3:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ Most 400mm f/2.8 lenses are really, really good. You don't lose any stops of light when comparing a 400/2.8 + 1.4X = 560/4 to a 600/4. Likewise for 400/2.8 + 2X = 800/5.6 compared to an 800/5.6. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Jun 6, 2019 at 1:50

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.)


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



  • \$\begingroup\$ 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. \$\endgroup\$
    – jrista
    Oct 18, 2012 at 16:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ @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. \$\endgroup\$
    – Matt Grum
    Oct 18, 2012 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.


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.


There have been quite a few lenses introduced since this question first appeared in late 2012.

Almost the entire Super Telephoto Series from Canon has been updated. In most cases the optical performance of the new lenses is noticeably better than the older versions.

The EF 400mm f/2.8 L IS II is one of the world's best telephoto lenses and takes the newer Canon EF 1.4X III and EF 2X III extenders particularly well. Image quality is better than the older 400mm f/2.8 plus the older extenders by a significant amount. And as good as the new EF 500mm f/4 L IS II and EF 600mm f/4 L IS II are, they are not a whole lot better than the EF 400mm f/2.8 L IS II + EF 1.4X III that yields a 560mm f/4 lens. The same is true of the EF 800mm f/5.6 L IS II. It's a little better than the 400mmf/2.8 + EF 2X III, but not by a lot.

The most versatile lens that can reach out and catch animals at a distance is the Canon EF 200-400mm f/4 L IS USM 1.4X. It has a constant aperture zoom lens with a built in 1.4X teleconverter that makes it a 280-560mm f/5.6 lens. It is a very expensive lens ($11,000 USD), and just renting it for a few weeks may exceed the purchase price of some other very capable lenses. It's also a stop slower than some of the less versatile options in terms of focal length.

The Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Sports Lens is gaining a reputation as being a lot of lens value for "only" $3,600 USD. That's quite a bit cheaper than the EF 300mm f/2.8 L IS II Prime lens from Canon. In fact, it is significantly cheaper than any other option in the EF mount beyond 200mm with an aperture of f/2.8. The lens is compatible with Sigma's EX DG 1.4X and 2.0X teleconverters as well as Canon's EF 1.4X III and EF2X III extenders.

Most of the comparisons I have seen show that the Canon extenders produce better IQ with the Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Sports than the Sigma TCs do. The Sigma 2X TC doesn't seem to be good at all if the results of Bryan Carnathan's testing for The-Digital-Picture are typical. Notice that both of those lenses do much better with the Sigma 1.4X or bare than they do with the Sigma 2X TC. A 1.4X makes the 120-300mm f/2.8 a 168-420mm f/4 lens and a 2X makes it a 240-600mm f/5.6. So in terms of focal length and aperture it competes with the Canon EF 200-400mm at a fraction of the price. The image quality of the latest Sigma 120-300/2.8 with the Canon extenders is very good, but not as good as the EF 200-400mm f/4 IS 1.4x.

As always, when needing a lens that costs as much as most of the ones discussed here for only a specific event it makes sense to consider renting rather than buying.


When I went on Safari to Kenya (middle of the Massai Mara, tented camp with daily Land Rover trips) I was stunned at how close I was to the animals, and how little notice they took of us.

I took my Pentax K10D (1.5x crop body if you're not familiar with it) with a 16-45 and 55-300mm lenses, and actually swapped to the 16-45 more often than I wanted more than 300. The only time I could have used a longer lens was when we went looking for Cheatah near the edge of the Mara. There the animals are spooked a bit by the flocks of tourists in minibusses and you don't get as close.

In the middle of the mara we had more Lions, Zebra, Giraffe, Hyena, Elephants and all the rest than we could photograph, very often at distances that filled the frame at 55mm. I was quite glad I was in a closed sided Land Rover, I didn't fancy some of the animals that close with nothing between me and them!

I may just have been lucky, but a 600mm would have stayed in my bag except for the one cheatah excursion. Even a 300 prime would have been too long most of the time.

Also keep in mind how you're getting there, our flight to the middle of the Mara had a very small baggage weight limit (15kg), and you'll probably want some clothes as well as camera kit!

If I was going again tomorrow, I'd rent a DA* 60-250 F4 (sorry, I don't know the Canon equivalent, something with an L in the name probably!). Given the number of answers with a near opposite experience to mine, I might take something longer as well, but don't leave yourself with no options below 300mm, you may end up with a lot of head-and-shoulder portraits!


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.