Canon EF 100-400mm Lens: First Impressions

I was going to write up another walk, but I’ve lost my mojo for another round of day-hiking. Instead, I’m giving you a transition post. Minimal walking (as in none) with a breezy write-up about a new camera lens I’ve acquired. If you’re not into cameras then this may be the worst post you’ll ever stumble across on the interwebs. Your choice is to either grab your ·38 and get it over with or log off and read something else. Mm… They’re both good choices. I’m glad I don’t have to make a selection.

In between my freestyle tourettes sessions in Lerderderg Gorge, I bought a new lens for the Canon 6D. I pondered this purchase for a while, as I weighed up options. I often see something in the distance that I want to photograph. It might be a bird, neighbours undressing, planes or other stuff (don’t you hate it when you run out of ideas after two?) In the past, I’ve made do by cropping the bejesus out of pictures or slipping into oversized ninja mode and sneaking up onto animals, with the hope they don’t take off. No more. Actually, maybe no more, but in theory no more.

In the end I decided I wanted a zoom with a bit of grunt. Yeah, there’s 18 – 200 mm type lenses around by the dozens, but I decided I needed over the top, rather than under the top. I wanted 400 mm and this was the only way to get it without spending a zillion dollars. So I ordered and duly it arrived. My first impression? It’s rather large and slightly heavy, which could be a problem as I’ve got arms like a bank teller who’s overdosed on lamingtons. On a positive note it’s in glowing white, which signals it’s one of the upper-end Canon ‘L’ series lenses. In the end all you need to know is I’m rocketing skywards towards stratospheric camera wankerism.

If you look at the opening photo, you’ll see the lens and camera in its standard storage position when attached. The keen observer will also note two other things. See the camera strap? I detest the ones issued with cameras. Being reasonably tall, I find the straps to be insanely too short. Around my neck it feels as if the camera is sitting on my upper lip.

I’ve dabbled with an after market one from Lowepro, but even that felt too tight. In the end, during a mental meltdown, I decided something monstrous was required. Where do you get them from though? Well, not in Australia of course. Actually, can we find anything decent in this joint? No, I ordered a made-to-measure strap from Wapiti Straps. I draped a tape measure around my neck and declared I needed 60 inches. Yes, you got that right. Five bloody feet of camera strap. Upon arrival I connected it up and the relief was palpable. The camera now sits at my hip and the soft leather is very comfortable. I’m such a Wapiti convert I may push the envelope next time and go for six feet of goodness.

The second part for the eagle eyed reader is I’ve got a new car. See it there in the picture? A 1968 Mercury Cougar in Dutch orange. As you can see, I’m very happy whilst standing next to this American muscle.

Okay, onwards. Remember one thing. This isn’t a lens review. There’s plenty of those online written by people who know what they’re talking about (or sound so convincing you’re positive they know what they’re talking about). My post is really a round-up of the few adventures I’ve managed to sneak in whilst lugging this behemoth around. There’s only been a handful of shots, so you’re going to get a mish-mash of photos.

You know what this lens signals for me? One peer through the viewfinder and suddenly I was overwhelmed with long buried geekdom, which rose up and sent me running for the car. Where was I going? I’m not even going to consider my pride, as I made a beeline for Tullamarine Airport. No, not near the terminals or any of that crap. I was going to the shady (not trees, the clientele) carpark next to the highway, which sits under the FLIGHTPATH. You couldn’t read that clearly? UNDER THE FLIGHTPATH. Is that better?

Yep, this place is so non-hip, it’s got its own stinkin’ ice-cream sugar truck dispensing dodgy looking salmonella dogs hot dogs to ruddy faced truckies, whilst surrounded by dads waiting to take their kids back to their mothers at the end of an access weekend. This ragtag collection of motley looking freaks would crane their necks skywards at an approaching rollicking jet. This was the result.

My god, is that Fokker F28-070, VH-JFB, which rolled out of Schiphol on May 25, 1994? Yes, of course it is…


…going and gone.


Whoa. That wouldn’t be Bombardier DHC-8-402NG, VH-LQB, would it…?


Yes, I believe it is and in my delirium I made a rookie, photographic propeller mistake. Remember, use a shutter speed, which allows some blurring of the props, otherwise it looks as if both engines have stopped and it’s about to plummet into the ground. Not such a problem though, as I had Big Bertha with me to capture any metal shredding, flaming disaster.


Really, I was only warming up, as I had a special weapon in my pocket. My phone. Surely you knew I was going to say phone? What sort of one-track mind do you have? I kid you not, but I have an app called ‘Flight Board’ and I was able to wait for my aircraft of choice to come along. Yes, I needed the Airbus A-380 like a pie needs its sauce. It did mean I had some downtime though, so in between ear-shredding jets and non-stop traffic I thought I’d investigate some of the surrounding ‘wildlife’. I’m sorry to say, but this is the best I could come up with in this urban wasteland of bitumen, weeds, rubbish and poor dental hygiene.

Firstly on a barbed wire fence, sat a little raven, waiting for some discarded hot dogs…


…and the most common of common? A eurasian tree sparrow.


Um… That’s it for the feathered fliers. Now, how about mechanical version? There’s no mistaking the A-380 lumbering off the runway. It’s one big bastard.


Yes, of course that’s the Airbus A380-842, VH-OQA, which rolled off the Toulouse production line in 2008. You know what else? It’s not just any old Airbus. This plane was the actual Qantas Flight 32 whose engine detonated back in 2010. If it wasn’t for the handy luck of five pilots (yes, count them. Five) on the flight-deck, the entire jet may have speared in. It seems to be flying okay now though…


…even though both port-side engines seem to be venting some sort of fluid. It was probably just fuel. Who needs fuel in a plane anyway?


One more for the road.


Look, I won’t bore you anymore with my aircraft. I’ve got dozens more, but I can only push the friendship so far. You think it’s hard reading this? How about having some sympathy for me, as I have to write it.


What else have I taken shots of? Well, I did a walk up at Kinglake (yes, I must get around to writing it up) and I was lucky with the setting sun on the Macedonian Church. I raised my hands to the sky and praised the lord for creating photography nirvana with this heavenly shaft of light upon the cross, whilst I also threw in a side-prayer for breakfast. The following morning the good lord came through with my request. Porridge. Amazing.


Now, where else could I take this lens? It was a silly question, as the answer was obvious. I needed ships, so it was down to the Point Lonsdale Lighthouse for yet another visit. This of course, is the perfect spot to watch ships at close distance passing through Port Phillip Heads. I loaded the lens into my trailer and in no time I was in sight of the Rip, setting up.

I do like nautical things. Maybe it’s a return to childhood when I went to England and back by passenger ship? Yes, I’m so old I sailed to Europe when it was still a form of transport. It seems a little surreal, but I’ve many fond memories of those ocean liners. Getting up early and watching the sun rise above the horizon… propellers stirring water into green and white churning balls of foam… the occasional albatross gliding into a headwind… uncontrollable vomiting… pods of dolphins alongside the ship, leaping effortlessly through the wake… someone else’s vomit… on your shoes. That’s just a few of the highlights.

I didn’t want to hold the camera, so I set-up the tripod for free and easy photography. If you do that though, be prepared to talk, as tripods attract weirdos. No sooner had I peered through the viewfinder than I was bailed up by a bloke from the actual lighthouse. He informed me I’d missed most ships as they tend to leave early or in the evening and I should hunt down some bloke who’s there every day and has catalogued 1400 different ships through the heads and taken photos of all of them. Who is this mad ship-spotting freak? I’d love to meet him.

Anyway, although lighthouse-man broke my balls by informing me I’d see nothing, the odd ship did pass through.


That’s an oil products tanker called ‘Future Prosperity’. What’s interesting is there’s also an app for marine traffic. Huh? Damn, I better finish this post, so I can get onto that app pronto.

Oh yeah, the ship continued on into Port Phillip Bay…


…and as it faded from view I was left with, well, not much to do. Goddamned lighthouse-man was correct. I was hoping for some action, but instead I was stuck like a chump enduring a slow traffic day. In the end I decided to take photos of seagulls. They’re not the rarest of birds, but I think this one is looking good. How does he keep his feathers so white…?


A bit more waiting and I admitted defeat. I’d cracked the ships and decided to go for a wander, lugging the tripod with me. Luckily for me there was some magic to come. I often see hovering birds of prey, but have never been able to capture one as a close-up. Eyeing off some fluttering feathers I shot some photos at the following bird. It wasn’t really in range, so these are crops, but at last I’ve got an idea about what’s going on.

Above the coastal trees there was (I think) a black-shouldered kite…


…and if you need to see the perfect design for flight, then all you have to do is admire this shape.


It was getting late in the day, so there was plenty of feathered excitement, with the best sighting to come. I was looking at the top of the lighthouse and spotted a bird sitting on a wooden support arm…

What bird is that on the Point Lonsdale Lighthouse?

What bird is that on the Point Lonsdale Lighthouse?

Moving closer with the tripod, I aimed the camera at the heavens. Don’t tell me 400mm can’t produce the goods. What was the bird? I do believe it’s a brown falcon keeping an eye on me from his lofty perch…


That alone makes the lens worth it. What else was left? Not much, but as the light began to fade I cheated a little. I put on another lens and as I’ll never fit the next two pictures into another post, I might as well leave them here.

Point Lonsdale Lighthouse under a cloudy sky of fading light…


…and the nearby pier after dusk.


I reckon that’s about it for now. I can’t see myself lugging this monster on any extended walks, but there are a few where I’ve seen plenty of birds before, which I may re-walk with the hope I’ll spot some feathered friends. Then again, I could go completely insane and take two cameras with the 100-400mm permanently on one and my standard 24-105 mm on the other. I’m not sure I’ve reached that level of mental illness just yet, but the fact I’ve already considered it is a worry.

How to end the post off? I was going to finish with another shot of the brown falcon on the yardarm…


…but instead, I’m going for my long-standing nemesis, the moon. At times, it’s a tricky prospect to expose properly, but with the thumping reach of the Canon 100-400mm lens I was able to snare it in the way I’ve always wanted…