The Canon EF 500mm f4L IS USM ended up being the most flexible lens during my trip to Florida, and the most fun to use. It was sufficiently long to grab detailed shots of water sports and distant wildlife, while also delivering satisfyingly big solar images, especially when mounted on a cropped frame body and working at an equivalent of 800mm. I was surprised how little I yearned for anything longer or shorter, or the ability to zoom – the coverage always seemed surprisingly ideal.
With the aperture opened to f4, the depth-of-field becomes razor-thin, allowing you to achieve beautiful effects where anything immediately behind or in front of the subject becomes rendered into a silky smooth blurred effect. Coupled with the flattened perspective of a super-telephoto lens, the effect is both pleasing and flattering.
The quality, even with the aperture opened to f4 is excellent across the frame, and the build feels like it can handle anything. My combination of the 500mm mounted on an EOS 7D certainly received some punishment on the beach with sand blowing around, but it never became an issue.
In terms of handling, the lens is obviously pretty big and heavy, but in super-telephoto terms, it’s actually considered fairly portable. Certainly, it’s the largest lens most of us would be willing to walk around with for any length of time, and it’s also possible to take some handheld shots for brief periods – neither of which can be said for the significantly heftier 600mm f4. This ‘portability’ means you’ll end up taking the 500mm to locations where you simply wouldn’t lug the 600mm or 800mm lenses.
The bottom line is I loved shooting with the EF 500mm f4L IS USM and can recommend it in a heartbeat. Sure there is a Mark II version on its way, but it’s quite a bit more expensive and only makes a modest weight-saving; I can’t imagine how the optical or build quality are significantly better.
As mentioned on the previous page, the Mark I 500mm f4L is actually the ‘bargain’ in Canon’s super-telephoto range, but while it’s comfortably cheaper than the bigger or newer models, it still remains a significant chunk of change which renders it out of reach for most of us. But don’t despair: do as I did and rent it for the desired period. Much as I enjoyed using the lens, I’d only really need it for a couple of weeks a year when travelling to specific destinations for specific shots, such as a sporting event or a wildlife trip. This is when renting really makes sense as it allows you to enjoy the power and quality of high-end professional lenses at a price that’s affordable to most. I’d certainly much sooner spend a few hundred dollars a year on short rentals of a super-telephoto lens than buy a basic zoom which would be compromised for the shots I had in mind.
As for renting, I remained impressed by the service offered by Borrow Lenses and can recommend them to anyone wanting to rent equipment in the USA – and remember if you don’t have a domestic US address for deliveries, you can collect and return your order in-store at various locations in California. I’m already looking forward to trying out another premium lens on my next trip, and much as I’m curious to try the 600 or 800mm models, I think the 500mm may end up in my bag once again – at least I know it fits.