Having attended the MotoGP at Valalencia last week, and using my 7d with a 70-200mm with 1.4 extender. I have realised I need a longer lens for such events. I was wondering what lens would be better, ie sharpness. I know the 100-400mm has the benefit of the zoom, but I don't want to lose image quality if I can help it.
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This topic has been debated many times at both Photography on the Net (POTN) and Fred Miranda (FM) for years with no clear winner. I suggest you forget about choosing one or the other based only on IQ under ideal circumstances. You're not going to see the difference doing what you do unless you have extremely good panning skills. The prime is marginally sharper but so what? It limits what you can shoot because you can't keep changing position so you'll miss opportunities, some of which may be that "money shot". I shoot a different form of action, and based on the expectations of those viewing motorsports photos I strongly suspect the ideal photos will have slow enough shutter speeds for blurred wheels (or spokes) & background but a rider & bike that very crisp. Meeting those requirements will cancel any difference between the 2 lenses IQ wise 99% of the time.
For my needs the prime (just about ANY prime) would be useless, even if I got them free, and I rely on lenses considered to be less than ideal by most because they're superzooms, BUT they do the job, & well. They may not have the very best IQ but they do get the shot, and do it consistantly. Just remember it's not just the lens that captures the shot, it's the combination of the lens, the body, knowing how to set the variables in the body, and your ability to either pan perfectly or hold it steady enough. Blow one of those a tiny bit & the IQ is now less than what was possible when exacuted perfectly. You're not shooting stationary riders from a tripod from a fixed distance all day long so consider all the variables from your previous trips to the track before buying.
Just an FYI . this topic is being discussed again here
And once again there won't be a decisive winner. It seems they are so close in IQ in real world use that any difference is very hard to extract often enough to really be why you choose the prime over the zoom.
I have both and, I agree with @cicopo, the hands down choice is the 100-400. The difference in sharpness is marginal and are you kidding if you are hand holding it? If you like me have both you won't pick up the prime 400 any more.
You are right the difference in sharpness is marginal, but marginally better for the prime. The differnce in AF acquistion is at least twice as fast for the prime. For bird in flights the prime is the choice. The primes works great with a 2x, with the zoom it's a disaster, BTW I've owned both and elected to keep the prime. The prime coupled with the 70/300L Is a great combo.
Image taken with 7D and 400ƒ5.6 and Canon 2X
I've read a lot of great things about the 70-300 L IS & am tempted to buy one for my use, but since I have the 28-300 L IS and it's doing everything I need it too I can't justify the extra expense. Your dragonfly looks GREAT, but I'm guessing it was shot from a tripod and using Live view or manual focus since you're past F8 plus it's a stationary target. All of that does bring out the best a lens has to offer. I rarely shoot from a tripod but a few years ago when it was time to decide what to keep & what to sell I did a very simple but effective comparison between the 300 F4 L IS, 100-400 L IS & Sigma 80-400 OS & Sigma 50-500 NON OS. I later realized others may be interested in my test so uploaded the full files to an album and the photos can be downloaded to compare (with a photo on screen select ACTIONS > DOWNLOAD PHOTO). This of course isn't an equal comparison to your shot because you've degraded what your lens can do by adding the TC but this crop from the 100-400 at f5.6 is still a very crisp photo, especially at 100%
For anyone interested the album is here & has notes as the settings used.
Sharpness is important, but technique is far more important. Your example of BIF is nice & it applies to many sports too because you're allowed to freeze the action with very high shutter speeds. HOWEVER many other fields of action require slower shutter speeds to only freeze a moving object while blurring the background & things like the propeller or wheels etc. I shoot radio control events & I can use high shutter speeds for the jets but I still try for a bit of background blur so I limit myself to 1/1000. For prop planes (models) I limit it to a max of 1/800 but prefer to use slower than that in good light. Real prop planes need 1/250-1/400 MAX, but slower works better. These examples should show that technique is more important than having the sharpest lens available because they are with lowly superzooms which are bad mouthed on a regular basis when talking IQ. The jets are shot with a Canon 1Ds2 / 35-350 L which has been out of production for years. The first one is a slow pass (flaps are down) at about 120 MPH, shutter speed is 1/1000
The tight crops should display at very close to 100%
And this pass is at full speed, which was clocked earlier at being in the 320 MPH area, and my shot is at 1/800
And this R/C Spitfire is at 1/500 (1D mark 4 / 28-300 L IS)
Now that I'm back from my grandson's birthday I'll get to the motorsports side of it. Again it's not about freezing the entire scene if the cars, motorcycles or bikes are to look like they are in a race. Years ago I went to the track on practice day to test all my gear to see which lenses & bodies worked best AF wise knowing I would be back 1 week later for a special event that I wanted to shoot. This shot is at 1/1000 and shows the Mustang nicely parked on the track, no evidence it's moving based on the photo, but in actual fact it's going at over 100 MPH & accelerating HARD.
Even at 1/500 it doesn't seem to look like a race car at full song.
And now for the correct way of doing it, at the Vintage Race run to commemorate the 40 year anniversary of the first Can Am race held at Mosport, a race I attended. These are shot at 1/60 sec, and have lots of background blur, and the wheels & tires are spinning fast.