Saturday, February 4, 2017

The Sony A7R2 And Canon 400 f/4 DO IS USM

Dale Matson

Click On Photographs To Enlarge

I am primarily a landscape photographer but also photograph the endangered Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep. I have only photographed the sheep at closer distances on two occasions. Generally it takes binoculars or a spotting scope to find them and they are beyond the range of any native A7R2 lens. I have tried several adapted lenses including the Canon 100-400, Canon 400 5.6, Sony 70-400 and the Canon version of the Tamron 150-600. I have learned a few things along the way and can tell you that none of these lenses are suitable for backpacking in the high Sierra where these sheep live. I can also say that none have worked for me. I think the prime reason is that the apertures of these lenses are simply not wide enough for the Sony autofocus to be dependable or accurate. I have rarely had sharp results.
I recently rented a Canon 300 2.8 and discovered that the results were often sharp and the autofocus worked well. I set the camera for Contrast Detection not Phase Detection as Brian Smith recommended in his article on Canon Lenses and adapters for the A7R2. The problem with the Canon 2.8 is that it is way too heavy and too short a range without teleconverters/extenders added too. And we all know how teleconverters degrade the quality of the light and photos.
I finally realized that the crucial issue for Sony and adapted lenses is the need for a large aperture lens. That is why I rented the often dismissed Canon 400 f/4 IS USM version I. The lens has an undeserved reputation for not being sharp. It is sharp. Because it uses diffractive optics, the lens is shorter and lighter than even the 300 2.8. It is not considered an “L” lens but it is a sturdy well-built lens.
  Someone reminded me lately that the A7 cameras have a “Clear Zoom” feature that is a kind of middle ground quality between digital and optical zoom. By using this feature, I am able to double the 400mm to 800mm. How does this stand up to scrutiny? I think quite well especially when compared to the quality of a 400mm lens with a 2x extender where one would absolutely lose autofocus and IQ.
I found that autofocus was good in auto mode. However when I set the camera mode dial to “auto” the camera set the iso to 100-200, f4 or f4.5 and 1/400. Using this lens wide open is difficult when shooting things close up since the zone of focus is too limited. Photographing hummingbirds at about 15 feet is a good example of this. What worked for me was to set the lens to manual focus, to set the mode dial to aperture priority, set auto iso and 1/400 for shutter speed. In manual mode, I also used “focus zoom” which helps fine tune the focus.
I rented the lens from and was so excited about the results I was getting; I offered them a purchase price for this lens before I had to ship it back. They have a policy of allowing renters to buy the lenses they rent. We negotiated and I bought the lens. I know, I have had honeymoon periods before and written about the other lenses I mentioned. This lens is expensive even as used older model but it gives me hope that the next time you see bighorn sheep photographs they will be stunning.
If you are only a landscape photographer, Sony has all the e-mount lenses you need. If you also photograph wildlife, maybe this lens is your solution. It is not a “bird in flight” lens but it is sharp, dependable and has a longer reach.

 800mm  (clear zoom)
800mm Crop
 400mm Book At 15 Feet
400mm 1/500 4.5 iso 100 3.5mb

I took this photograph yesterday (02-26-17) using a rented 1.4 extender (560mm)
I don't have the best vision but it seems plenty sharp to me.

And here is a crop of my Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep located via a spotting scope. They are sharp and probably a half mile away. This photo is with a rented 1.4 extender. F8, 1/1000, ISO 2,000. There are two mature rams in the group of four rams. This time of year they drop down on the eastern Sierra Nevada slopes to get out of the snow. This has been a difficult winter for them with snowpack at 200% of normal and the endangered sheep total has been diminished by mountain lion predation because they are more vulnerable at low altitudes.

At 400mm f6.3 1/1000 ISO 320
Here is a shot I took yesterday (04-04-17) on a clear air day. This is Banner Ritter at 400mm 45 miles north from my location near Pineridge CA


  1. 1. I found that while one f stop is lost using the 1.4X extender, it is superior to the clear zoom with no real loss of sharpness.
    2. I cannot say enough good about the superior performance of the Metabones IV (.41 firmware) T adapter with excellent autofocus in phase detection. There is some hunting when using the 1.4 extender and it is useful to 'prefocus' first.
    I also have the Canon 70-200 2.8 lens (version 1) with excellent autofocus using the Metabones adapter and no autofocus using the Viltrox adapter. Brian Smith has a superb article on using the Canon lenses on the Sony A7r2 and the performance with the Viltrox, Metabones and Photodiox adapters. It is clear from his article that the Metabones is superior with almost every Canon lens and worth the extra cost.

  2. Sony has now come out with an fe 100-400mm 4.5-5.6 lens. I don't see myself trading in my Canon lens toward this new Sony lens primarily because the new lens is not well suited to using the 1.4X and 2X teleconverters on the A7R2 and I don't need the lower part of the magnification range for wildlife. I believe Sony will come out with an fe prime lens or variable lens at or above 400mm and can wait. I understand the new A9 would work well with the 100-400mm lens and 2X teleconverter because it can autofocus to f11. The problem is the cost of the new A9 and it is only 24mp so there is no room for cropping and a lesser quality photograph than the A7R2. If Sony comes out with an A9R, that may change my thinking about changing for the 100-400 and A9R. Time will tell.

  3. I always prefer the Sony Binoculars to capture the stuff at a distance.

  4. Neha, video binoculars are an Interesting concept. I had never heard of this product before. It looks like Sony no longer makes the video binoculars. There are other manufacturers but the reviews are mixed. I believe the zoom feature is digital not optical which means the photographs will not be optimal. Thanks for your response that was also enlightening.