I got the idea of shooting a total moon eclipse with a long lens. I was thinking about the Canon EF 500mm, but all I could get was a massive Canon EF 800mm lens. The lens turned out to be too long for the eclipse photo I had in mind, but I got a great opportunity to shoot for a while with this long and heavy white beast.
I had it all planned out. A moon eclipse would appear low at the horizon, so I had the chance to shoot it with a nice castle in front of it. I checked Photopills, the weather app, and the availability of a really long lens. I could work with my own Canon EF 100-400mm lens and a 1.4x teleconverter if necessary, but I preferred a larger aperture to keep the shutter up to speed without the need of very high ISO values. I wanted to use a Canon EF 500mm f/4L lens, but it wasn’t in stock. The next best thing was a Canon EF 800mm f/5.6L lens. So, I chose that one, not realizing how long it really was.
When I got to the location, it became clear this wasn’t going to work. The angular width of the castle and eclipsed moon was larger than the angle of the lens. So, I skipped the idea and used my Canon EF 70-200mm f/2,8L lens for that.But now I had that amazing EF 800mm lens, and there were a few weeks available to try it out before I had to return it. I took it into nature, walked miles with it, and I learned how large and how heavy this lens really is. But I also shot a lot of photos and discovered how wonderful this piece of engineering really is.
It is the largest lens Canon has for sale – the Canon EF 1200mm f/5.6L doesn’t count – but not the most heaviest one. The lens weighs 4.5 kg and measures 46.1 cm without hood. The front lens has a diameter of 162 mms. It has 4- stop image stabilization, and thanks to that, you could shoot without a tripod. I have tried it and succeeded, but I wouldn’t recommend it unless you like power-lifting.
I tried to use the lens for some landscape photography, and although I like long lens landscapes, the EF 800mm is actually too long on most occasions. The problem is the lack of zoom capabilities; that would make it more versatile.
I used it also for some action photography, using the fast focus capabilities of the lens. But I discovered the focal length is often too long for this kind of photography. It is also too heavy for good tracking unless you have a proper gimbal setup. But when I photographed a dog running towards me, the necessary distances between camera and dog was too great to make it work. Before you have a series of shots, the dog is already too close.
I tried to shoot some birds. For this kind of photography, the lens is perfect. Well, almost perfect. As said, tracking flying birds is tricky, shooting moving birds in trees is difficult, and often the birds were too nearby. Again, the focal length is so long, and with a minimum focal distance of six meters, you often find yourself too close. Nevertheless, it was amazing using this lens for shooting birds and an occasional roe deer.
I even tried to shoot the International Space Station with this lens. I used the 1.6x crop EOS 7D mark II, together with a 2x teleconverter to have enough magnification. You end up with a whopping 2,560mm full frame equivalent. At first I tried it with a tripod, but I missed the flexibility because I did not had a gimbal head. So ,I took it off the tripod, and held it in my hand while tracking the fast moving Space Station. It was just for fun to try if it would be possible with this enormous focal length. And it worked out surprisingly well.
It was fun having this amazing EF 800mm f/5.6 lens in my possession for some weeks. I loved using it, and I shot some nice photos with it. But I never want to have this lens for my own. The focal length is too long, the lens is too heavy, and it needs a large lens bag of its own. All this makes it usefulness very limited. Although this lens only costs €9,000 second hand, it is way too expensive for those few occasions it will come at hand. I think a focal length of EF 500mm would be more versatile, although that lens also needs its own bag. To be honest, I think an EF 100-400mm lens is still the best choice.
Have you ever photographed with this kind of lens? If so, what do you use it for, and what is your experience with it? Or do you think the use of these kind of lenses is too limited? I'd love to read about it in the comments.