JuzaPhoto’s Super-tele test

The Canon Superteles 

The Canon Superteles

As with all the other manufacturers, the pride and joy and “flagship” lenses of a lens manufacturer are its supertelephotos.  Say what you will about the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 or Canon’s 50mm f/1.2 – when it comes down to it, it’s the 300 f/2.8 IS’s or 400 f/2.8 VR’s of the world (or maybe the 200-500 f/2.8’s in Sigma’s case) that companies tout and wear on their chests like badges of honor.

A dpreview forum member, Juza_EA, who runs www.juzaphoto.com, a fantastic site with great technical insights and some sweet nature photography, recently posted up a lens test comparing the great Canon telephotos extended to the ultra-telephoto range (he tests 800mm, 1200mm, and 1600mm on a Canon 1Ds Mark III).

Direct test link here.

Lenses tested:

Canon 200 f/1.8
Canon 300 f/2.8 IS
Canon 400 f/2.8 IS
Canon 400 f/4 DO IS
Canon 600 f/4 IS
Canon 800 f/5.6 IS 

The lenses were combined with appropriate mix of 1.4x and 2x teleconverters to come up with the 800, 1200, and 1600mm focal lengths.

It’s not quite a surprise who wins.  As the native lens without attached teleconverters, the 800 f/5.6 easily takes the cake, with the additional teleconverters really making the images softer.

Interestingly enough, at 800mm the 400 f/2.8 + 2x extender combo is slightly outresolving the 600 f/4 + 1.4x extender combo.  And both don’t lag too far behind the 800 f/5.6.  If that’s the maximum extent you plan to go, the 400mm seems to offer a slightly lower price and definitely greater all-around versatility.

The 300 f2.8 (with 1.4x and 2x) and 200 f1.8 (with two 2x) really don’t fare well at all, although the 300 combo does get more acceptable stopped to f/11.

It should be noted that Canon has introduced a newer 200 f/2 IS design to replace the 200 f/1.8, so results could be even better with the newer lens.

The truly abysmal performance here comes from the 400 f/4 DO (diffractive optics) lens.  While some might argue that the idea behind DO is really about compactness, rather than absolute image quality, at more than 5 grand you’d expect something much much better than the result here, which looks as bad as the 200 f1.8 with two stacked 2x teleconverters.  This is probably the reason why DO stopped after the 400 f/4 and 70-300 – customers really need two out of three of compactness, cheapness, and quality, and all the DO lenses were only providing one.

The 400 vs. 600 performance debate reverses beyond 800mm, however, once the 400 begins stacking on multiple teleconverters.

If I knew I was going to be shooting exclusively at 800mm+, it seems clear that the 800mm f/5.6 is the lens to get, in spite of early detractors who kept pointing to 600mm with an extender providing a 840mm f/5.6 equivalent.

The Canon 800mm f/5.6

The Canon 800mm f/5.6

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