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Here Be Dragons: Vic Berardi on the Virtues of the Canon EF 100-400mm F4.5-5.6L IS II USM as a Macro Lens

By Jeff Wignall   Thursday July 21, 2016

Snapshot: 

Full name: Canon EF 100-400mm F4.5-5.6L IS II USM

Focal Length & Maximum Aperture:  100-400mm 1:4.5-5.6

Lens Construction:  21 elements in 16 groups

Diagonal Angle of View:  24°-6°10’

Focus Adjustment:  Inner focus system / USM

Closest Focusing Distance:  3.2 ft. / 0.98m

Zoom System:  Rotation Type

Filter Size:  77mm

Max. Diameter x Length:  Approx: 3.7" x 7.6" / 94 x 193mm

Weight (without tripod mount):  Approx. 3.46 lbs./1570g 

Weight (with tripod mount):  Approx. 3.62 lbs./1640g (with tripod mount)

Vic Berardi: Photographer & Naturalist

For much of his life as both photographer and naturalist, Vic Berardi has had a passion for observing and photographing one thing: raptors. Most of his spare time, in fact, has been spent almost exclusively following and photographing the hawks and other flying predators that live near (or migrate over) his Illinois home.

It was a desire to photograph raptors that really drew him into photography. My interest in nature began in childhood and my interest in photography began in my late teen years,” he says. “I continued my overall interest in nature as I got older but put photography on hold for close to 30 years. It was many years later that my primary interest in raptors began to develop, a little over twenty years ago.”  

Berardi says he first attempted to photograph raptors in the mid 90’s with a surprise gift from his wife Ann, a new Canon A2E camera body coupled with a Canon 400mm f5.6 EF L lens. “But I just couldn’t get the results I wanted and shelved the camera and lens for several years,” he says. “Then in the mid 2000’s I started noticing the quality of images produced by the latest DSLR’s.  “What I noticed most were small details in raptor images I didn’t notice in the field through binoculars. So soon afterword I bought a Canon Rebel XT (8.2 megapixel) and put that 10 year old 400mm lens on it. I was astounded by the results and haven’t looked back since.”

Berardi has since has gained considerable notoriety as a photographer, naturalist and protector of wilderness. He has served on the Board of Directors for the Hawk Migration Association of North America (HMANA) and as the Central Continental Flyway editorfor Hawk Migration Studies, their biannual publication. He has won numerous awards including the HMANA’s Appreciation Award for outstanding service to further hawk migration studies, the Grassroots Conservation Leadership Award for his leadership in raptor education and research and the Service to Chicago Area Birders by the Chicago Audubon Society. 

Berardi’s  raptor photos have been published in several magazines, including Outdoor Illinois, Hawk Migration Studies and BirdWatching Magazine along with two new guide books, Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America by Donald & Lillian Stokes and Hawks At A Distance by Jerry Liguori. 

Recently though, Berardi has begun spending more and more time photographing wild creatures flying at somewhat lower altitudes—namely the dragonflies and butterflies that populate the meadows and marshes of the midwest. “My primary specialty is photographing raptors,” says Berardi, “I also have a keen interest in photographing dragonflies, butterflies and wildflowers.”

And that’s the part that I wanted to know more about. After seeing his beautiful raptor photos posted on Facebook and elsewhere online, suddenly he reinvented his photography with splendid macro photos. Even more interestingly, he credited much of the success of his close-up work with his newly acquired Canon 100-400 IS II USM lens. I recently had the chance to ask him about why he’s chosen a lens that most people would regard primarily as a birder’s and wildlife lens for macro work and here’s that interesting conversation:

ST:  You’ve spent much of your photography career photographing raptors, what got you started in photographing dragonflies and butterflies?

VB: What got me started was my desire to capture more of nature than I was experiencing with raptors alone during the warm summer months when raptors are either nesting or very hard to find where I live in Illinois. I generally avoid photographing nesting raptors unless I feel it is totally safe to do so. But butterflies and dragonflies were active everywhere and I soon started pointing that 400mm lens downwards and adding extension tubes to get closer to my subjects. What I saw through that lens was beauty I never had experienced before.

ST: Where do you do most of your dragonfly/butterfly shooting? 

VB: I generally stay close to home in Illinois but do occasionally travel to Wisconsin and Michigan where dragonflies are more plentiful. I’ve also photographed butterflies in several other Great Plains states. 


ST: When you are out shooting dragonflies and butterflies, do you cover a lot of ground or do you tend to stay in one area?

VB: Both, it mostly depends on what my instincts tell me when I first start to explore a site. Some places are so alive with activity you might spend an entire day in an area only a few hundred square feet while on other days you may have to cover several miles on foot until you come upon a pocket of activity.

ST: Why did you choose the 100–400mm f/4.5–5.6L IS II lens to shoot dragonflies and butterflies?

VB:I chose Canon 100-400 IS II lens for several reasons. First I liked the initial reviews discussing the sharpness the lens produced. Sharpness is always my number one criteria when selecting a lens.  I was lucky I had a friend who recently purchased this lens and let me try it out. I was so impressed with what I saw on my computer screen later that evening I immediately purchased one. Secondly, I really liked the close focus capabilities of this lens. Prior to using the new 100-400 I was using the Canon 300mm f4 EF L lens with a 1.4X teleconverter. It close-focuses to 4.9 feet, which is incredible, but the new 100-400 close-focuses 3.2 feet.  And in closeup photography that is a ton of difference. And lastly I liked the fact that I could frame the subject better with a zoom than a fixed focal length lens. 

ST: What body are you using it with?

VB: I currently use the Canon 80D body with this lens because I like having the articulating screen for any awkward positioning I find myself in such as lying on the ground. The 80D also allows autofocus when I attach a 1.4X teleconverter to the lens resulting in f8 at full zoom length of 560mm.

ST: You seem to encounter a great number of dragonflies and butterflies. How are you able to find them and are there better times of year, day, etc.?

VB: I do a lot of research on sites before visiting them and it usually pays off.  Also friends interested in the same pursuits share sites with me from time to time. Most dragonflies and butterflies are more active on warm sunny than cool overcast days and mostly in the midday hours.

ST: Are you using a tele extender with it and, if so, which one? Do you use it all of the time?

VB: Yes, I use a Canon 1.4X III teleconverter with this lens and the results are just amazing. There is a slight drop off in autofocusing speed but sharpness degradation is very minimal. I do leave it on most of time.

ST: What is the toughest part about shooting dragonflies and butterflies?

VG: I think the hardest part is finding cooperative subjects. Most dragonflies are always airborne but some land more predictably and eventually all of them land and perch for some time. Butterflies on the other hand also are constantly airborne. Once you spot one, the hardest part is getting in position quickly before it flies off. You generally need to learn how to get on your subject and get off several shots within seconds. But sometimes you get lucky and find a subject that stays put for minutes and if that subject is also in a favorable scene then consider yourself very lucky. But all in all, it takes a lot of perseverance and pursuit, not to mention quick accurate photographic skills.

ST: Do you see parallels between shooting raptors and dragonflies and butterflies?

VB: Not really, behavior between raptors and dragonflies/butterflies are totally different. And a full understanding of their behavior is the key to photographing them. But the one thing photographing them has in common is the little amount of time you generally have to capture an acceptable image of them.


ST: Shooting with such a long zoom lens must limit depth of field even more, how do you overcome this problem with dragonflies and other close-up subjects.

VB: The very limited depth of field does present some real problems  and getting the entire subject sharp is difficult. But there are a couple of things you can do to overcome this. To maximize depth of field and the lens’s sharpest apertures I try to shoot no lower than f8 but generally need to go to f11 or even f16. I also pay very close attention to the angle the dragonfly or butterfly’s body (and/or wings) is to the plane of the camera. The more parallel they are to each other the more sharpness you’ll achieve over the span of the subject. The problem is learning to adjust for this as quickly as possible. The other consideration is how you want the background to look, blurred or having some degree of detail.  Keep in mind, too much detail in the background can be distracting.

ST: Canon says the image stabilization is four stops. Are you doing any of the macro work handheld and does image stabilization come into play in your work?

VB: For dragonflies and butterflies I almost exclusively use a tripod and turn the image stabilization off. But, on occasion I do handhold the camera and lens with the IS turned on and find I can get acceptable sharpness at 1/200 second, even with the 1.4X teleconverter on.

ST:Overall, are you pleased with the performance of the lens?

VB: I have found the new Canon 100-400 IS II lens to be one of my best purchases ever from Canon. For dragonflies, butterflies and even wildflowers I don’t know of a better lens to use.  Highly recommended!

New Product News: 

Fujifilm X-T2.Fujifilm has announced that they will soon be releasing a new X Series flagship SLR-style camera, the Fujifilm X-T2. The camera, which is modeled after the very popular X-T1, features a 24.3MP X-Trans™ CMOS III (APS-C) sensor with no low-pass filter. The compact body is lightweight, water-resistant, dust-resistant and has “freeze resistance” down to temps as low as -10°C (14°F, which oddly enough is when my personal freeze resistance reaches its limit). Importantly, this is also the first X Series camera that supports full 4k (3840x2160 30P/25P/24P shooting) video recording. The body has a very classic looks to it and features dial controls for things like shutter speed (up to 1/8000 second), ISO and compensation. Can’t wait to test this new camera!

Phase One/Schneider Kreuznach lenses.Phase One has introduced two new Schneider Kreuznach zoom lenses for its medium format camera systems. The new lenses are a part of their Blue Ring series and include a 40-80mm LS f/4-5.6 zoom lens and a 75-150m LS f/4-5.6 zoom. Both lenses offer full-frame coverage of the 645 format. The Schneider Kreuznach 40-80mm LS f/4.0-5.6 Zoom lens covers a wide-angle to normal focal length range while the 75-150mm LS f/4.0-5.6 Zoom offers a range from normal to telephoto. The lenses feature a zoom-lock function that is designed to maintain focus position while zooming and both support flash synchronization up to 1/1600s. They are compatible with the Phase One XF, Phase One 645DF+ and Mamiya 645DF+ or DF camera systems and both are available and shipping now.

Aputure Amaran AL-M9 LED Panel.Aputure has introduced a cute new pocket-sized LED panel (about the size of a credit card) that uses uses nine high-efficiency SMD bulbs (TLCI 95+, CRI 95+), an integrated rechargeable Li-ion battery (you can charge it via USB), offers a nine-step brightness adjustment and 120-degree light beam angle. It’s ultra-thin and weighs just 140g (a hair under five ounces). Aputure says the panel is aimed at both “run and gun” video shooters as well as still macro shooters. I’m going to try and get a sample to test as a macro light for an upcoming newsletter. 

1 Comments

  1. Gavin Zau commented on: July 21, 2016 at 5:42 p.m.
    Nice shots. I will get the 1.4x and try it out for macros.

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