Anyone used one of these lenses?
How much cropping are you having to do with your Barn Owls Alan? You could consider the 200 f2.8 which is pretty cheap (£699 new) and then has lots of other uses (dragons for instance). With a 1.4 tc it becomes a 280 f4 so is still quite useful. Even if you have to crop a bit more, the picture quality should be better.
I still think you should perhaps try a tripod and shutter release cable (or self-timer) with live view focusing. :-)
The Owls aren’t jumping up and down on the posts so are keeping 'relatively' still. Looking at your exif data (ISO1600 at 1/100th sec) you could get the same exposure at ISO800 with a shutter speed of 1/50th sec or ISO400 at 1/25th sec. Using a tripod, these readings should be easily obtainable. If you were to shoot in RAW you could probably reduce the ISO a bit further and still get really good brightness recovery in post processing.
I would start off by using the viewfinder. Take a shot in aperture priority first with the aperture set at f/5.6 (at 400mm). Take note of the shutter speed and ISO setting then switch to shutter priority (Tv).
Set the shutter speed and ISO to half of both the readings from your test shot in Av. Then look at the aperture setting in the bottom in the viewfinder. If the aperture reading is flashing either slow the shutter speed a bit or up the ISO a bit.
I’ve found that you will still get a decent exposure even if the aperture reading is flashing (5.6 in your case at 400mm), although I’ll generally only adjust the settings so the aperture reading has only just started flashing with the last one or two tweaks I’ve made.
Switch to live view, use the magnifying glass button to zoom in, use the toggle switch to centre the focusing point on the head/eyes of the bird, focus the image and take the shot with a shutter release cable (or self-timer) and see what you’ve got.
A few tweaks either way with shutter speed and/or ISO will often get you surprisingly good results. I still use this method often (even with faster lenses) and I used it lots when I was shooting with the 400 f/5.6 prime. It was often the difference between getting a half decent shot in low light or not. It’s got to be worth a try in my opinion. You may surprise yourself with the results. :-)
Paul makes a good point. When stationary, it's surprising how low you can drop the shutter speed if you're on a good tripod. This was taken in the afternoon with bad weather on the way - it was really gloomy. Focal length 840mm. On the big Gitzo/Wimberley tripod, this was shot at a mere 1/30th sec. Yes, you'll get a lower success rate, but it means a lower ISO (500 in this case) and f/6.3. At 1/800th (following rule of thumb) and wide open (f/5.6) it would have been ISO6400
Not personally Alan but I have met a few people who use the 400 f4 - though I cant say whether it was mk1 or mk2. I have emailed one person and will get back to you if I get the right feedback as I know he is on Flickr so you could review his pics.
Certainly everyone I have met using them loves the f4 and the weight.
Cheers for that Bob there are a few mk1,s knocking about for under £1800 and wondered what they would be like in early morning light, I've been watching the Barn Owl this morning about 7:30 and my gear struggled to focus in the low light so wondered if the 400mm f4 would be better, and the weight would be ok for my walks.
I follow a guy called Grant Atkinson who is a South African wildlife photographer. He's done a review of the Canon 400mm f4 Mk1 which you might find useful, Alan. He also does YouTube videos on how to set up various Canon cameras. He's a funny little chap but I've learnt quite a lot of tips which I'm not sure I would have otherwise discovered.
Thanks for the links Tony I had seen Grant's blog the other day while I was doing a bit of googling, he is very thorough in his reviews.
I've found that even with faster lenses I can still struggle to lock onto moving birds in low light against noisy backgrounds. For static shots in low light (with your current set up)have you tried a shutter release cable, tripod, & live view focusing? You could slow things right down and get accurate focusing with much slower shutter speeds and lower ISO's.
I'm having the opposite problem Paul, with the Barn Owls for example my gear seems to pick them up in flight ok but this morning the bird was on a fence post (admittedly a long way off and against some trees) but it just wouldn't focus, also wondered if a 400 f4 would help me with ISO as shooting at 16,000 at sunrise.
I've not used one, but by reputation it seems to need a bit of work on the images, to boost contrast etc. The Mk2 is a major step up, probably why there are so many Mk1s available second hand. A 300/2.8 could be worth looking at, gives you 400+mm at f/4 with a 1.4x attached.
Definitely an attractive price though.
Cheers Joe the 300mm 2.8mk1 was another option, they are around £2600.
In theory, the bigger aperture would help AF, as it opens up access to more sensitive focus points. You need the same lens we all do, a 1200mm f/1.0 :-)
Have you got a spare one lol
What focus mode and focus points are you using Alan? I generally use mode 2 for Owls as they are fairly slow moving so are easy to keep in the focus points and mode 2 is the one that keeps focus longer for when birds pass poles etc. However I have found that in poor light and noisy background mode 2 takes forever to actually lock on. In such cases I have more success changing to mode 3 or 4 and use 9 points - I find it easier to keep the bird in the points and I find focus works more quickly - for sure it will jump off quickly if a pole or tree gets in the way but i find it finds the birds quicker. F4 will of course be a great help as its twice as much light.
Thanks Bob I was using mode 2 too with 9 points, I think it may have just been a combination of the distance, the bird on a fence post and dark trees behind it that I struggled with.
Even in low light the gear will pick the Barn Owl up in flight with it being white and generally are a bit closer, would be nice to get away from ISO 16000 though lol.
For photographing them I'm usually shooting in manual at ISO 16000 f5.6 and highest speed I can get away with is around 200th/sec without having to do much with them when I get back home.
I just need to train them to stop out longer, but as you say it wasn't that long ago I hadn't even seen one so can't complain too much lol.
When you eventually visit Leighton Moss Alan and I'll let you loan the 300mm f2.8 for the whole day LOL - although I may have to put a tag and add satellite tracking on it in case it flies off to Yorkshire as you'll not want to give it back !!
I would only have to follow you around Hazel I could probably pick it up for free.
LOL Alan .... no, that would be Mike you'd have to follow round but he's not allowed to go near the camera/lens after that "incident" and you'd have to mug me before I'd part with the gear ha ha !!