Great Egret

Great Egret

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

A great day to play with a new toy

Today was a relatively nice day to be out. Bright sunshine, winds that were tolerable from the ENE, and temperatures...well they were still well below normal, reaching a high of only -11C, but that is a lot better than most days!

Part of my goal today was to try out a new lens. I had been planning on getting the long-awaited Canon 100-400mm L MK II lens for awhile. I thought I might not get it until the spring, but when I got a whiff of a reasonable sale price a few weeks ago, I jumped at it. Who knows the way the dollar is going what it might increase to in a couple of months. And maybe there will be another earthquake in Japan that will seriously hinder production, and I would have to wait another year. It all sounds like pretty reasonable rationale, doesn't it?

As versatile, practical and amazing as the initial version of this lens has been, and I have enjoyed it for almost 8 years, the design and technology of it goes back to 1993. Needless to say there have been some fabulous increases in technology since that era. This lens had been rumoured to be in the upgrade mill for more than a decade, and that upgrade was often dubbed a unicorn, since it never came to light.

Fast forward to the early fall of 2014, and Canon announced it! And what amazing improvements in the features: better optics, Image Stabilizing good for 4 stops, faster auto-focus, ability to maintain auto-focus with a teleconverter (on my 5D MK III, not the 7D), an even more rugged build and, what was really a major upgrade, a minimum focus distance even at 400mm of only 3.2 feet! That is insane. The first version had excellent minimum focus of 5.9 feet, which was very useful when photographing butterflies and even flowers. But 3.2 feet!!!!!

So this new lens arrived via Canada Post a couple of days ago, and I could hardly wait to put it to the test. My first task was to do some tests and make adjustments via the Auto-Focus Micro Adjustment feature, an absolute necessity for today's photographic equipment. So I got that looked after, and true to form, the lens, when matched with my 7D, needed a bit of tweaking.

Today I decided to do some field tests with it, even if there wasn't anything too exciting to photograph. I mean it wouldn't do to really need it for something exciting and not know how it was going to perform!

I headed to Rondeau since I thought at least the bird feeders would have some action. Besides, I hadn't been to the park for at least two weeks, and I desperately needed my Rondeau fix! On the way, I noticed about 8 Wild Turkeys in a field by a busy road. I find that normally when a vehicle stops along the road, turkeys leave in a hurry. This particular group did not seem to be very concerned, however, and didn't appear to move any more than they had before I stopped the car. The conditions were not great for attempting to photograph them: a black bird, backlit by a bright sun, against a snowy background, so it was a good test for this new lens. In addition, there was enough traffic that I couldn't get out of the car, so I shot the turkeys from inside, which is a no-no.....the temperature difference and the heat escaping out the window can play havoc with the auto-focus. But one of the shots was reasonably acceptable.

I got to Rondeau, and only saw two other hikers. My kind of day.

Kudos to the staff at the Visitor Centre.....the feeders have been well-stocked for the past few weeks, so birds are able to survive this cold, snowy winter. I saw or heard 18 species of birds, just while I was standing there: three Wild Turkeys were skulking just outside the feeder area; I heard a Pileated Woodpecker drumming not far off; there was the usual Red-bellied Woodpecker (1), Downy (2) and Hairy (1) Woodpeckers, American Goldfinch (4), Dark-eyed Junco (6), Black-capped Chickadee (3), Red-winged Blackbird (2), Brown-headed Cowbird (2), House Sparrow (2), White-throated Sparrow (1) and White-crowned Sparrow (1). In addition I got shots of:

American Tree Sparrow (35)

Common Redpoll (7)

Northern Cardinal male (1)

Northern Cardinal female (1)

White-breasted Nuthatch (2)

Eastern Towhee (1)

Interestingly there were no Blue Jays or Mourning Doves observed.

There is usually one or two Gray Squirrels around. Hopefully it won't be too long until Eastern Chipmunks emerge from hibernation!
Gray Squirrel

All of these photos were cropped, some quite a bit. The bottom line is that I was quite pleased with the results of my first time with this new lens. It is definitely a keeper, and I can hardly wait to take it with me along the trails, and in the kayak exploring those out-of-the-way places around Rondeau Bay. That latter activity will have to wait awhile....there is at least 2-3 feet of snow-covered ice...but hopefully by late May when lots of shorebirds and gulls are using those out-of-the-way places.

And in case you are wondering, my original Canon 100-400mm L lens will likely be on the market before long. It is still a great lens, and is especially handy for hiking. But with my new one, chances are the original one that has been so faithful since I first purchased it in 2006 will not be needed. I have taken more bird and butterfly shots with it than any other lens, and it is capable of lots more. If you are interested, let me know.


  1. Congrats on the new lens Al. I have heard lots of good reviews on it. Not sure if I am ready to hang up my 400mm prime yet but if I ever did I would be checking out the 100-400mm, so versatile. Denise Charbonneau-Dykema

    1. Hi Denise....thanks! And optically, your 400 5.6 is noted to be very good, as well as not super expensive and light weight. It has some limitations, but not many for what it is designed to do.

  2. I particularly like the Common Redpoll photo!
    It is always exciting to get a new toy and I am sure you will have fun with it.
    No new toys on my immediate list!

    1. Thanks Blake. It was nice to see a few of these CORE around.
      It is often a bit dangerous to look at new stuff, especially if one is susceptible to GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome). I confess to being a bit that way, but I always weigh pros and cons carefully, I think :-).