The Perfect Lens for Safari: The Canon 600mm II f/4 IS vs. The Canon 200-400mm f/r IS w/ Internal 1.4x
I have finished a successful trip to India to photograph tigers as well as many other mammals, birds and a few reptiles. I wanted to post some stats that may help others.
I see people post on internet forums what lenses should I take to (insert destination)? And I am no different, having options is great, but it can create a great internal conflict on what you should take.
On this trip the main target was tigers, but I also wanted to photograph birds and from my experience in Africa I learned that if a mammal is far away the 600 ii + 2x is the best option.
I decided to take both the 600mm II and 200-400 with me on my trip. Just how would I pack those two lenses so I could carry them on without hassle? Here is how I packed:
A. Gura Gear Bataflae 32L & Gura Gear Chobe 19-24L Shoulder Bag (insert removed).
B. The Gura Gear Bataflae 32L and contents:
1. Giottos Rocket Air Blower
2. 82mm Filter set (uv haze, CPL, ND2) – Did not use
3. Charger for G15 – did not use
4.. XL Storm Jacket (will fit 200-400 and 600) – Did not use, but almost once did when it rained
5. Extra batteries for 1D X – only used 1 battery.
6. Sensor Swab
7. Canon 5D III Battery Charger
8. Canon 5D III
9. Canon 1D X
10. Canon 1D X battery charger
11. Canon 24-70mm II
12. Polarizing Drop In Filter
13. Canon 1.4x iii tele
14. Canon 2x iii tele
15. Canon 1.4x iii tele
16. cleaning cloths
17. Fox Gloves
18. Extra Canon 5D III batteries
19. Canon 70-200mm 2.8 IS II
20. Canon 600ex rt flash – did not use
21. external hd for backing up images in clase laptop is stolen or cards go bad.
22. extra memory cards
23. Better Beamer (not pictured)
24. Bataflae 32L
25. Canon 600mm II
C. The Gura Gear Chobe 19-24L Shoulder Bag (insert removed):
1. Birds of India Field Guide
2. Charging cords for Ipad retina and Iphone 4
3. Sandisk USB 3.0 Memory Card Reader
5. TSA approved combo lock
7. Ipad a/c adapter
8. International Plugin adapter
10. Hand Sanitizer
11. Eclipse cleaning solution
13. Back up power supply for iphone/ipad
14. Ipad 4 128gb
15. 13″ macbook air
16. Cygolite usb rechargable flashlight
17. pentax waterproof 8 x 25 binoculars
18. Gura Gear Chobe
19. Canon 200-400mm
I took a total of 1501 keepers (that will be narrowed down to about 400 shots), so I wondered just how many shots did I take w/ each lens and what was the subject/goal.
So let’s break it down. Here is basically what I took with me: 24-70mm 2.8 ii, 70-200mm 2.8 IS II, 200-400 w/ int ext, 600 f/4 II, 1.4x iii, 1.4x iii, 2x iii, 1D X, 5D iii.
The two main lenses were the 200-400 and the 600 ii. I just left the 200-400 w/o an external 1.4x and paired the 600 ii w/ the 2x iii for the majority of shots taken with that lens. I also took my Canon G15, but that was mainly for habitat shots, towns/villages, etc. I preferred the 1dx paired with the 200-400 and the 5d iii w/ the 600mm. I did learn from here on out i will be taking a grip for the 5d iii as shooting portrait mode w/ a big white is a pain in the neck without the grip.
Here are the numbers for the 1501 photos***:
24-70 ii – 2 photos
70-200 2.8 IS ii – 8 photos
200-400 – 226 photos, out of those 4 were birds, the other 222 shots were mammals
200-400 w int 1.4x engaged – 360 photos with 98 of those being birds.
600 w/ 1.4x – 33 total photos with 26 of those being mammals (also note i could get close to this focal length w/ a 1.4x ext added to the 200-400)
600 w/ 2x – 872 total photos with 346 mammals and 526 being birds.
****many of the photos are duplicates so it’s a matter of just picking out the best of the best***
These stats are probably not a surprise to anyone. Both lenses proved to be valuable for both of my goals of cats/mammals and birds.
Images taken with the Canon 600mm f/4 IS II w/ the canon 2x iii:
Images taken with the Canon 200-400mm f/4 IS w/ Internal 1.4x:
An overview of the parks visited and what was seen:
Ranthombore 8 total game drives – 2 tigers. zones 1-5 are best. some people saw 8 tigers over that time as well as sloth bear.
Khana – 6 total game drives – 1 tiger, 1 leopard, high endangered swamp deer. Khana Jones area is the best in theory although tigers were spotted in other areas by others, including 7 at one watering hole, as well as 2 sloth bears.
Pench – 6 total game drives – 1 tiger and this was my best encounter as my vehicle was the only one in the area. Also just missed two leopards, i.e. i was looking one way out of the jeep and they ran behind the opposite way…
This was actually the 1st time packing the 200-400 into the Chobe. It worked well, everything added up was pretty heavy, but the setup worked quite well.
The smallest plane that I had was on my connection from Louisville to Chicago/Chicago to Louisville. It was a tight fit getting the 32L in the overhead but I did it. I took a photo on my G15. The plane was one of these:
My route was going to india: Louisville –> Chicago –> Newark –> New Delhi
In India I had one flight, Nagpur –> New Delhi. I was initially worried about this plane as they said only 1 bag allowed. But I and many others walked on w/ a carry on bag (32L for me) and a smaller bag (the Chobe), and the plane was pretty big. It had more than enough room to fit everyone’s stuff.
Coming home was was the exact opposite of going there: New Delhi –> Neward –> Chicago –> Louisville
Back to the lenses at hand. If I could only chose one lens to take, it would have been the Canon 200-400mm f/4 IS. In addition to being less weight and bulk, I also like the zoom flexibility and the flip of the switch extender. That is the main reason I would pick the 200-400 over the 600 is that on this trip, the tigers were the main focus. and at most times they do not stop for you, so that is why i would chose the lens for this situation, as taking a teleconverter off and on reduces shooting time vs just flipping a switch and/or zooming. In this situation for large mammals on the move like a tiger, the Canon 200-400mm f/4 IS wins hands down.
Canon has released the new 100-400mm version II and it is a spectacular lens. Updated Image Stablizer, autofocus seems faster with the 1DX, 7D II and 5D III. Does it replace the 200-400mm? Not exactly (the extra stop of light is worth something), but at 1/5 the cost, it is a worthwhile substitute and companion for the 600 II when traveling with both big whites is not an option.