canon 500 f/4L IS II // field review

I have been itching to get my hands on the new Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM(US $10,499).

I’ve shot several times with the version one 500 f/4 and 600 f/4, and loved them, but I must admit, I was excited to feel the improvements in weight, sharpness, and features firsthand.

And what better time to put a super-tele to the test than on a trip to Rocky Mountain National Park!?

So, thankfully, a few days before my road trip, I received a huge 22 lb. box from Canon… woo hoo!!

Below are a few examples of photographs I made on the trip with the new lens.  All technical info is also listed below each photo.

Overall, what I noticed most was the amazing reduction in weight.  I hiked dozens of miles with this lens (along with all my other equipment), and let me tell you… it was leaps and bounds better than hiking with its predecessor.

They were able to shave off over 1.5 lbs thanks to magnesium and titanium construction elements.

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Photo courtesy Canon

The difference in weight was so noticeable, in fact, that it wasn’t even too difficult to hand hold.  Though I did prefer using this lens with a monopod :)

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The sharpness and clarity are better than any other super tele I’ve evaluated so far.  And in my opinion, I would have found it hard to improve on the original version.  But somehow, Canon did.

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Rocky Mountain Bull Elk, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM, Canon 5D MKII, 1/160 @ f/8, ISO 100, with Canon Extender EF 2x III

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Fly Fishing Dream Lake, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM, Canon 5D MKII, 1/200 @ f/4, ISO 400

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unidentified bird (please help if you know!), Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM, Canon 5D MKII, 1/200 @ f/16, ISO 250

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Rocky Mountain Bull Elk Silhouette, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM, Canon 5D MKII, 1/2000 @ f/6.3, ISO 500

I wasn’t able to play around much with the 3 different IS (Image Stabilization) settings, but I have found an excellent review that will certainly fill in some of the blanks that I’ve missed, from the good folks at the-digital-picture.com.

They also have a very helpful side-by-side review function that I have included, if you like looking at specs… Canon 500 f/4L vs. Canon 500 f/4L II

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Cow Moose, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM, Canon 5D MKII, 1/200 @ f/8, ISO 800, with Canon Extender EF 2x III

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Moose Calf, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM, Canon 5D MKII, 1/200 @ f/8, ISO 800, with Canon Extender EF 2x III

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Cow Moose with Calf, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM, Canon 5D MKII, 1/125 @ f/8, ISO 800, with Canon Extender EF 2x III

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Sparring Marmots, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM, Canon 5D MKII, 1/640 @ f/4, ISO 640

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Rocky Mountain Bull Elk, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM, Canon 5D MKII, 1/40 @ f/4, ISO 3200

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White-Tailed Doe Deer, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM, Canon 5D MKII, 1/200 @ f/4, ISO 400

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Mountain Bluebird Pouncing, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM, Canon 5D MKII, 1/500 @ f/8, ISO 200, with Canon Extender EF 2x III

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Mountain Bluebird Flight, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM, Canon 5D MKII, 1/500 @ f/8, ISO 200, with Canon Extender EF 2x III

This new version also significantly reduces the minimum focusing distance, thereby making it way less difficult to shoot wildflowers while on the trail.

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Dual Columbines, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM, Canon 5D MKII, 1/200 @ f/4, ISO 400

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White Tailed Ptarmigan, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM, Canon 5D MKII, 1/200 @ f/4, ISO 400

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Bighorn Ram, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM, Canon 5D MKII, 1/1600 @ f/8, ISO 400, with Canon Extender EF 2x III

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Three Bighorn Rams In A Row, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM, Canon 5D MKII, 1/400 @ f/8, ISO 400, with Canon Extender EF 2x III

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Cow Moose In A Creek, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM, Canon 5D MKII, 1/100 @ f/8, ISO 800, with Canon Extender EF 2x III

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American Robin, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM, Canon 5D MKII, 1/800 @ f/4, ISO 500

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Alpine Wildflowers, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM, Canon 5D MKII, 1/640 @ f/4, ISO 500

I was really happy with the overall construction and performance of this lens.  It held up against foul weather… when hiking, I was rained on several times, and I truly didn’t worry about the moisture affecting this lens.  The image quality is outstanding, even with the Extender EF 2x III.  The weight and size are more manageable than other huge lenses.

And though my biggest complaint (always) with super telephoto lenses is that the AF is slow and difficult, the 500 f/4L II performed far better than any other lens of this magnitude.

There are only 2 real downsides to this lens, and for someone like me, who hikes a lot, the first is its sheer size and (though much lighter) weight.  But considering any alternative of which I’m aware, the 500 f/4L II is the best option.  The second con is the expense.  At just over $10k, it is not an easy purchase to make.  Unless your primary source of income is shooting wildlife or sports, it is not necessary… it’s a luxury.  I will admit, I’m not a lavish living or spending kind of man… but I sincerely want this lens :)

andrew

all content © andrew r. slaton | photographer 2013