Sharp shooting
African Birdlife|January/February 2022
Canon’s RF 100–500mm zoom lens

I heaped praise on Canon for its two new mirrorless camera bodies, the R5 and R6 (African Birdlife 9(3): 56-60). The main attraction for birders is the cameras’ excellent autofocus, which manages to track birds against complex backgrounds appreciably better than Canon’s SLR cameras. The mirrorless cameras also enable you to take advantage of the budget RF 600mm and 800mm f11 lenses, which are not available for use with SLR bodies. However, these lenses do have their drawbacks. Most serious photographers will want a lens with the option of having a wider aperture and where the active focus zone covers the full field of view.

You can use existing EF lenses with a small adapter, but Canon is also in the process of releasing mirrorless versions of many of its popular EF-series lenses. So far, the most useful of these for bird photography is the RF 100 500mm zoom. Canon will soon release RF versions of its top prime telephoto lenses: the 300mm and 400mm f2.8 lenses and the 500mm and 600mm f4 lenses, but at prices that are likely to make them unattainable for most southern African birders.

The new RF 100-500mm closely resembles the very popular EF 100-400mm lens. It is a compact zoom with a fairly modest 77-millimetre objective diameter. The lens telescopes out as you zoom in on the subject, which has the advantage of keeping the lens nice and small when set to 100mm and allows much closer focus than a lens with a fully internal zoom. Interestingly, it also makes the zoom more effective for subjects close to the camera. Sony has a 200-600mm lens with an internal zoom mechanism, but when photographing birds five meters away it gives little more magnification at 600mm than Canon’s 100-500mm at 500mm.

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