I am often
asked if it is possible to make quality images with older,
manual focus lenses, or with non-IS Canon super-telephotos. My
short answer is, "Yes! Of course. Nearly all of the images in
"The Art of Bird Photography" were made with either manual focus
lenses or with the "old" (non-IS) EF (electronic focus) Canon
600mm f/4 L lens." Surely everyone would love to own the latest
greatest lenses and camera bodies that feature the most recent
technological advances, and I am most fortunate in being able to
purchase just about any equipment that I would like to own and
use. But the fact is that good photographers make good images
with whatever equipment they have in their hands.
brand manual focus lenses like the Canon 800mm f/5.6 L and the
Nikor 800mm f/5.6 or 500 f/4 P lenses are
perfectly adequate for making great wildlife images. And there
are a host of other manual focus lenses that fit into that group
as well. And most can be had for a relative song, for thousands
of dollars less than the equivalent AF and/or IS lenses of
today. The lenses in this category may be ideal investments for
beginning or intermediate photographers wishing to move up to
longer focal lengths.
And the same is true for the Canon non-IS autofocus
lenses, more specifically the 600mm f/4 L, and the 500mm f/4.5
L. Here are my answers to a recent e-mail regarding the latter
>Dear Art, I am
looking at some of the older Canon telephoto lenses. I
noticed one listed in only a few places -the EF 500 mm
f/4.5L. It's is an autofocus (USM) lens and will fit all
Canon EOS cameras. The price is attractive - about half the
price of the 500 mm f/4.0 L IS lens. I can get this lens
brand new for $3,700.
AM: That seems a bit high.... I think that
they go for about $3200 in perfect condition, about $3200.
You need to check some of the on-line sites and see what they
are going for. I came up with this one (for $3200) in thirty
> 1)In your opinion does this lens focus fast.
> 2)Does it focus fast with a Canon 1.4 converter
AM: It will focus with a 1.4X only with an EOS 3, or 1v. I am
not sure about what would happen with the two digital
bodies. With earlier generation Canon bodies it will not AF
with any TC. Do understand that all AF lenses will focus
somewhat slower when a 1.4X TC is added...
>Will it focus at all with the Canon 2x converter.
AM: No, not that lens. That is one of the big advantages of
the f/4.0 lenses (as opposed to f/4.5 lenses); the f/4
lenses will AF with the 2X TCs with either an EOS 3 or a 1v.
>Is the 500mm
f/4.5 L an older lens that has been phased out?
AM: I am not sure if it is still
being manufactured... You would need to get in touch with
Canon to ascertain that.
>I'm thinking this could be a good "starter" lens, but I don't
want to buy junk!
AM: It is far from junk.
>Do you know if it's at least an acceptable lens for bird
AM: Very much so. I even made some sharp images with it by
manually focusing with the 2X TC. The huge advantage of the
500 mm f/4 L IS (and the 600mm f/4 L IS as well) is that you
can routinely make sharp images with a 2X TC even at slow
If you are looking to move up in focal length despite a
limited budget, do consider some of these older lenses. They
are all capable of making truly wonderful, technically perfect
images in the hands of the right photographer!