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Canon EF 800mm f/5.6L IS USM

 
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Drawing Info

Lab Test Results

  • Blur
  • Chromatic Aberration
  • Vignetting
  • Geometric Distortion
  • Blur
  • Chromatic Aberration
  • Vignetting
  • Geometric Distortion
800mm $12,999
average price
image of Canon EF 800mm f/5.6L IS USM

(From Canon lens literature) This is the longest telephoto lens among Canon's lineup, and a terrific choice for any long-distance application-outdoor sports, wildlife, news photojournalism, and so on. It's actually lighter than Canon's EF 600mm ƒ/4L IS lens, weighing just under 10 lbs.

SLRgear Review
November 6, 2008
by Andrew Alexander

The Canon 800mm ƒ/5.6L IS USM super telephoto lens is the longest production lens made by Canon. Canon did produce a 1200mm ƒ/5.6 lens, which was discontinued in 2005, leaving the 800mm to inherit the crown. Like Canon's other L-class super telephoto lenses, the 800mm ƒ/5.6L packs in as much technology as possible.

The lens bears a traditional EF mount, making it compatible with full-frame and reduced frame sensors; on a cropped-frame sensor body (ie., the 50D) the lens will have an equivalent field of view of a whopping 1,280mm. The lens can mount 1.4x and 2.0x tele-extenders, giving the following equivalencies:

Focal length Subframe (1.6x) equiv. Largest aperture
No extender 800mm 1,280mm ƒ/5.6
1.4x extender 1,120mm 1,792mm ƒ/8
2.0x extender 1,600mm 2,560mm (!) ƒ/11

As you can see, with a tele-extender mounted on a sub-frame sensor, this lens puts the ''super'' in super telephoto lens. Of course this level of reach doesn't come without a steep price: the lens retails for approximately $12,000. For the money, the lens comes with all the trimmings: a front leather cap, a detachable lens hood, and a special locking hard case.

Sharpness
The Canon 800mm ƒ/5.6L is the longest lens we've ever tested in the lab, and doing so tested our system to the extreme. That said, there aren't exciting results concerning the sharpness profile of the 800mm ƒ/5.6L, but neither will it disappoint. It's a sharp lens, but not tack-sharp: approximately 2 blur units between ƒ/5.6 and ƒ/11, and between 2-3 blur units at ƒ/16 or ƒ/22. At ƒ/32 it becomes a bit soft and slightly uneven, at around 5 blur units.

On the full-frame 5D, we noted the same performance: 2 blur units between ƒ/5.6 and ƒ/11, 2-3 blur units at ƒ/16 and ƒ/22, and around 5 blur units at ƒ/32.

Chromatic Aberration
With eighteen individual glass lens elements, the 800mm ƒ/5.6L has the potential to show some chromatic aberration. With its hefty price tag, one has to imagine that intensive research has gone into reducing this possibility, and indeed, our testing bears this out. Chromatic aberration isn't a remarkable factor, with just 3/100ths of a percent of frame height showing on average throughout the image, and 6/100ths showing in the corners. On the full-frame 5D we see even better performance, at just 2/100ths on average and 3/100ths in the corners.

Shading (''Vignetting'')
On the subframe 20D, corner shading isn't a factor when using the 800mm lens, with just a quarter-EV difference in the corners when used at ƒ/5.6. At any other aperture, corner shading is non-existent. On the full-frame 5D however, light falloff is just slightly more substantial; the corners are 2/3 EV darker than the center at ƒ/5.6, and just over 1/4 EV at ƒ/8.

Distortion
The 800mm is optimized for distortion-free shooting, showing negligible distortion on either the 20D or 5D.

Autofocus Operation
With its USM focusing system, the 800mm focuses almost instantly, and makes almost no noise in doing so. Autofocus results can be overridden by just turning the focus ring at any time. The lens features a variety of features to augment regular autofocus operation, including focus hold buttons, and a focus preset system. The focus preset system allows the lens to ''memorize'' a given focus distance, and return to that focus distance when the dedicated preset ring is tapped. Finally, the lens is equipped with a focus limiter switch, enabling the focus performance to be improved by limiting the range of distance being focused upon. Focus limiting options are 6m to 20m, 6m to infinity, and 20m to infinity.

Macro
With a minimum close-focus distance of 19.7 feet (6 meters) and a magnification ratio of 0.14x, macro users should look elsewhere.

Build Quality and Handling
The 800mm ƒ/5.6L IS epitomizes the saying of something being ''built like a tank''. Like all L-series glass, the 800mm is dust- and weather-resistant, built with great attention to detail. The lens ships in a hard case with a protective interior, and given the price of this lens, it is indeed a welcome part of the kit. In addition, there's no front cap for this lens - rather, there is a leather-like lens hood to protect the whole front half of the lens.

The lens offers a recessed and windowed distance scale marked in feet and meters. There are an impressive amount of switches and buttons at the disposal of the shooter, the majority of which are inset into a command panel along the left side of the lens barrel. From top to bottom, we have a 3-stage focus limiter switch (6m-infinity, 6m-20m, 20m-infinity), Autofocus/Manual Focus selector, Image stabilizer selector (both activation and mode selection), and finally the focus preset system.

The focus ring on the lens is compose of raised rubber ribs, and is about 2 7/8 inches wide. It has very nice feel, and with a travel of almost 110 degrees through the focus range, its smooth operation makes manual focusing very easy.

Given the weight of the lens (almost 10 pounds) one must wonder about the usefulness of image stabilization; there is only so long that any of us is going to hand-hold such a lens. The image stabilization system on the 800mm ƒ/5.6L is designed to work with tripods as well, especially useful as even on a tripod camera shake can be a problem with such a long focal length. Image stabilization comes in two flavors, mode 1 and 2, which allows stabilization to be introduced to counteract movement in both directions (mode 1) or just in the vertical, for panning actions (mode 2).

It has been noted by some shooters of this lens that the preset ring can be too easily depressed, leading to an inopportune re-focusing to the memory setting. Apparently it is possible to increase the friction of the switch to increase the pressure required to activate the system, but you'll have to take apart the panel to do so. As well, if you don't want to use the focus preset system, it can be turned off.

The 800mm ƒ/5.6 doesn't use a forward filter ring system, as the front element is huge. Instead, it employs a 52mm drop-in filter system, which can accept an internal polarizer as well as gelatin filters. The lens hood for the 800mm ƒ/5.6, the massive ET-155, is a plastic cylinder, adds 5 3/8 additional inches to the lens length. The hood is 7 inches wide. Our technician Rob compares it in size to a 1-gallon paint can. It attaches by means of a rotating locking knob. You wouldn't want to lose this: a new one costs almost $600!

The lens comes equipped with a rotating tripod mount, which can easily be removed. Unfortunately there are no click-stops at 90 degrees for easy transitions between portrait and landscape-style shooting. However given the weight of this lens, you may be better off buying a Wimberly lens mount to allow for optimum support, and provides a better method for going between portrait and landscape shooting. You'll also need some serious tripod legs to support the whole package. This is the high-class problem with owning anything expensive of high quality; the accessories to use them properly also expensive, as well, but are almost required to get optimum performance.

Speaking of accessories, some allow you to get closer to your subject in a variety of ways: the 800mm ƒ/5.6L is compatible with Canon's EF12 and EF25 extension tubes, as well as 1.4x and 2x tele-extenders.

Alternatives

Sigma 800mm ƒ/5.6 EX DG HSM APO ~$6,000
Sigma has had an 800mm ƒ/5.6 lens available for some time now, but unfortunately we haven't had the opportunity to test one. At almost half the price, it is a option that's slightly easier on the pocket book. However it may not reach the same level of optical performance, with fewer lens elements. It offers 9 diaphragm blades instead of 8, but a longer close-focusing distance (7m instead of 6m).

Sigma 300-800mm ƒ/5.6 EX DG HSM ~$7,300
An impressive zoom lens from Sigma, we haven't tested this lens, but its user reviews are quite positive. It's significantly heavier than the Canon 800mm, but offers the same close-focusing distance.

Conclusion
Given that there are so few choices available in this category of super telephoto lenses in the Canon mount, the decision is almost made for you if you need to produce images at distance. At that point, it's just a matter of whether you want to spend $6,000 for the Sigma 800mm or $12,000 for the Canon 800mm. The price tag may be high, but for some shots, there is no other way to get this combination of focal length and aperture (with the possible exception of combining a 400mm ƒ/2.8 with a 2x tele-extender).

Sample Photos

A note about our sample photos: you'll find that still life sample photos are only available for the 5D. We tried to take some for the 20D, but found we couldn't back up far enough!

The VFA target should give you a good idea of sharpness in the center and corners, as well as some idea of the extent of barrel or pincushion distortion and chromatic aberration, while the Still Life subject may help in judging contrast and color. We shoot both images using the default JPEG settings and manual white balance of our test bodies, so the images should be quite consistent from lens to lens.

As appropriate, we shoot these with both full-frame and sub-frame bodies, at a range of focal lengths, and at both maximum aperture and ƒ/8. For the ''VFA'' target (the viewfinder accuracy target from Imaging Resource), we also provide sample crops from the center and upper-left corner of each shot, so you can quickly get a sense of relative sharpness, without having to download and inspect the full-res images. To avoid space limitations with the layout of our review pages, indexes to the test shots launch in separate windows.

Canon EF 800mm f/5.6L IS USM User Reviews

10.0/10 average of 2 reviews Build Quality 10.0/10 Image Quality 9.5/10
  • 10 out of 10 points and recommended by (12 reviews)
    Everything
    Nitpicking a bit but CA

    It's an excellent lens in every regard. Compared to the 200 f2L IS (which I have) it falls a bit short in the CA performance. But if you've used the 200L IS this is something you'll fuss about with every lens you use and unfortunately the 800L IS isn't immune to it. It won't upset your photography at all but I expected a bit less CA from this lens since it has not one but _two_ expensive fluorite elements.

    If the IS and the AF isn't a concern, I'd also look in to fluorite or ED telescopes for clinical-IQ-critical work. For everything else, there's no match for this lens.

    reviewed June 16th, 2010
  • 10 out of 10 points and recommended by (1 reviews)
    SUPERB LENS,VERY LIGHT,VERY SHARP AND EXQUISITE CONSTRUCTION
    None really,F4 would be sweet but it would then weigh a tonne..

    the pros of this lens are well documented in various on line reviews,all i will say is that its not cheap but its worth the money. you really do get what you pay for.its easy to manage thanks to its relative lightweight and it produces very sharp images for a super telephoto lens,F5.6 and F8 are the sweet spots,after F8 it starts to lose contrast,you will quickly get over the high price you will pay for it when you start using it.

    reviewed July 20th, 2009 (purchased for $13,000)