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RF 100-400mm for birding

keenanbare
Apprentice

I'm wanting to get into bird photography (specifically photographing ducks and waterfowl) and given my budget, have been recommended the Canon R10 with the RF 100-400mm.

My only concern is that the RF 100-400mm won't have enough reach to get some of the pictures that I'm hoping to get of ducks because many times wild ducks can be very far away. Although, having this lens on an APS-C sensor will up the max reach to 640mm which will help.

If anyone has shot pictures of birds or waterfowl with a lens of this focal length on an APS-C sensor and has insight into whether it had sufficient reach or not I'd love to hear down below.

12 REPLIES 12

FloridaDrafter
Authority
Authority

My wife shoots with the RF 100-400mm on an R6 (20mp) and R6 mark II (24mp), both are FF cameras, but hasn't had the opportunity to shoot ducks. She mostly shoots smaller birds and the occasional hawk or crow. That particular lens on a 20-24mp FF camera does OK for small birds out to 100', but some detail is lost at that distance (would be better on ducks) and cropping is tough at those distances. It does much better under 60'.

Now, I've shot lots of ducks in the past with the 20mp EOS 7D mark II (cropper) and EF 100-400mm L out past 150' and with some cropping, it did quite well. This would more closely match the R10 and RF 100-400. Even though the RF 100-400mm is not an L series lens, it's quite impressive on all of our R cameras (R5, R6, and R62), so it just depends on the R10, which I haven't used yet.

Here are some shots from the 7D mark II APS-C at 400mm from roughly 150-200 feet. Just to show that 400mm can be acceptable at these distances. These are 50% crops, but still made good 8x10 prints. BTW, wild ducks, as you know are quite spooky, so they stayed on the other side of this pond. Please keep in mind that these images have been reduced to 1280px from the original crop and stepped on by the forum 🙂

Northern Pintail.Northern Pintail.Gadwall and Mottled Ducks.Gadwall and Mottled Ducks.

Newton

HarborPictures
Enthusiast

I’ve enjoyed using my EF 100-400 for birds, and wildlife for many years. I’ve paired it with FF bodies though. If you are looking for a cost effective lens, this is a great one. 400 would be on the lower end of length that pro birders use, but for us “civilians” willing to use frame cropping, and maybe a teleconverter to get the tighter shots it’s a great choice.

One tip I’ll offer is to get a comfy chair, and a camo net. Any hunting store has them. Set up in a spot along the shore of your favorite spot and wait patiently. The ducks will likely float right by close at hand as they cruise for munchies. I’ve had some fun in local parks doing that for birds. Passers by give you odd looks. But hey, we all get a laugh… and some great pics too. This is how the pro wildlife shooters work too. Many will sit without a shot for hours waiting for a close pass.

Good luck and enjoy!


@HarborPictures wrote:

I’ve enjoyed using my EF 100-400 for birds, and wildlife for many years. I’ve paired it with FF bodies though. If you are looking for a cost effective lens, this is a great one. 400 would be on the lower end of length that pro birders use, but for us “civilians” willing to use frame cropping, and maybe a teleconverter to get the tighter shots it’s a great choice.


I am a birder primarily, and I used my EF 100-400mm L II on the 7D mark II and the 5D mark IV with excellent results, then when my wife and I went to MILC a few years back, used it on the R5 and R6, and the EF 100-400 L II transitioned nicely via adapter. She is disabled, so she opted for the very light RF 100-400 and I went to the RF 100-500mm L.

Newton

ebiggs1
Legend
Legend

People that tell you a 100-400mm will or will not do a good job simply don't know anything about photography.

Shooting birds or any small creature depend on how far you are from the subject. A 50mm lens could be the best one if you are close enough. But a 1000mm isn't enough if you are a mile away.

IMHO, a 100-400mm zoom would not be my first choice as a general statement. But then again that is me and how I shoot knowing what distance I can deal with. I think 600mm is better even as a general birder lens.

EB
EOS 1DX and 1D Mk IV and less lenses then before!

ebiggs1
Legend
Legend

"Although, having this lens on an APS-C sensor will up the max reach to 640mm which will help."

 

This is the thought of a new photographer that has read articles on the ole inner web. Yes, it is true there is an equivalent FL difference between the two sensor types but how much does it help or hurt?  There again you need to know all the circumstances and conditions. Most of the time it is difficult to tell the difference between a photo shot with a 400mm lens on a cropper and a photo shot with a 600mm lens on a FF when both are sized to the same view in post.. This makes any advantage null. You would need to test it out for yourself using your gear.

EB
EOS 1DX and 1D Mk IV and less lenses then before!

HarborPictures
Enthusiast

One other thought. Canon does have a couple other low cost super telephoto options - the RF 800 and 600 f11 lenses. If you are shooting in bright daylight, either might be worth a look. 

shadowsports
Legend
Legend

Good Morning Everyone,

@keenanbare has 2 threads.  The other was hijacked with a debate regarding the viability and future of EF-M.  Its over 55 posts as of today and a long read.    

In that thread he posited his budget and more specifically the type of photography he planned to do.

Many agreed the RF 100-400 would be a good choice due primarily to his budget.  I also pointed out he would need another lens with a shorter focal length.  Ernie also mentioned that in a subsequent post.  So did Alan.

Would I like to see him in a 150-600, yes.  Unfortunately Canon doesn't have an option here that fits his budget.  We all know about the performance with Sigma and Tamron lenses when adapted,  the best overall experience would be with Canon glass.  Youtube videos from professional and amature wildlife photographers demonstrate the tracking issues for flying birds, and pulsing issues even on stationary subjects when shooting through branches, reeds or when there is a "busy" background.  While it can be done, the keeper rate is not a high as when you use native glass.  I do not believe someone who is new to photography will be as well equipped to overcome these challenges when starting out.  Thus he was pointed in the RF 100-400 direction with a 2nd shorter lens for shots around his blind, the boat, dogs, hunting companions, etc.  Again with his budget (size and weight of gear) in mind.  

I also mentioned the effect of using a full frame lens on an APS-C body and the additional "reach", more narrow FOV and perspective differences it would offer on a APS-C sensor.  It looks like he's decided on the R10.  He has options.  

@keenanbare, you can rent lenses (and cameras too) which might be a good idea.  This will give you first hand experience before you buy.

~Rick
Bay Area - CA


~R5 C (1.0.6.1) ~RF Trinity, ~RF 100 Macro, ~RF 100~400, ~RF 100~500, +RF 1.4x TC, +Canon Control Ring, BG-R10, 430EX III-RT ~DxO PhotoLab Elite ~DaVinci Resolve ~Windows11 Pro ~ImageClass MF644Cdw/MF656Cdw ~Pixel 8
~CarePaks Are Worth It

amfoto1
Authority

You might find the images at this link helpful, too.  

I don't care how long a telephoto lens you get, there will always be times when birds are just out of reach... a little too far away for a good shot. 400mm is a great starting point. You can always a longer focal length later... such as the RF 600mm f/11 or even the 800mm f/11.

Be careful, though... the farther away from the subject, the more atmosphere you'll be shooting through and that often takes a toll on image quality. And there's not much you can do about it. Better to just practice your stalking skills and get closer.

Not only is the RF 100-400mm very affordable, it also is half the weight of the EF 100-400mm lenses or the RF 100-500mm. It's 1/3 the weight of lenses like the Tamron and Sigma 150-600mm zooms (neither of which is made in RF mount, so can only be used via an adapter which adds some size and weight).

A very thorough and detailed review of the RF 100-400mm can be found here.

The RF 100-400mm also appears to be usable with the RF 1.4X teleconverter. I don't know how well the combo works. You can get some idea of the image quality potential from the test shots done here (keep in mind that this is a magnified portion of the original images... the full test target is shown here). Judging from that, obviously the 560mm achieved with the RF 100-400mm + RF 1.4X isn't as sharp as the RF 100-500mm alone at 500mm... so you might want to upgrade to that lens eventually. But that lens will be bigger, more than 2X the weight and about 2.5X the price of the 100-400 & 1.4X!

***********


Alan Myers
San Jose, Calif., USA
"Walk softly and carry a big lens."
GEAR: 5DII, 7DII (x2), 7D(x2), EOS M5, some other cameras, various lenses & accessories
FLICKR

 

DonnyQ
Contributor

I would look into Canon’s teleconverters. You lose a stop of light but you’ll get extra reach but maybe keep your quality better than cropping.

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