My New 100-400mm Lens and a Better Beamer

Peggy Farren 2014-07-28

Practice session at Dog Beach. by Peggy Farren

I've been a portrait photographer for over 16 years. I know a LOT about posing, lighting and managing people. However, until recently I had never been all that interested in nature photography. As the owner of Understand Photography, I tend to take almost every class. I've learned a lot about nature and bird photography over the past few years and it's become more interesting to me. I finally bought a lens specifically designed for this type of work.

I purchased a used Canon 100-400 mm lens. I actually bought this in April or May but last night was the first chance I had to actually use it!

Understand Photography hosted a free photowalk at Dog Beach. I brought my new lens on my crop frame camera, the Canon 60D. I brought my tripod, Canon 580ex flash and borrowed a Better Beamer. I now had the look of a true nature photographer!!

Canon 60D with Canon 100-400mm lens and Better Beamer Flash extender attached to a Canon 580ex.

Joe Fitzpatrick, as always was super helpful. He is one of those rare technical people who can explain things simply, which is why he is the lead instructor at Understand Photography! He also reads the instructions when he gets something new. Who does that?

He instructed me to put my flash's zoom manually on to 50mm to work with the Better Beamer. The Better Beamer is ingenious! It uses the same technology as a lighthouse's light (called a Fresnel lens) to really shoot the light a great distance. It was easy to attach to the flash.

flash zoom manual
To manually zoom on a Canon 580ex, press the Zoom button then turn the dial.

I tried to use my tripod but it was too difficult to capture the running dogs. Joe suggested keeping the tripod lever loose so it could move more easily. That helped a little but not enough. I really need a Gimbal tripod head., which is designed to move more freely for this type of photography. Fortunately, a Facebook friend let me know about the knockoff brands. Cowboy Studio offers a Gimbal tripod head for only about $110.00.

But since I don't have one yet, I took the camera off the tripod.

If you know basic exposure (and if you don't, please take our Four Weeks to Proficiency in Photography course), you know that you need a fast shutter speed when hand holding a long lens. The rule of thumb is that your shutter speed should be the same number as what you are zoomed in to or faster. So if I am zoomed all the way to 400mm with my lens, my shutter speed should be 1/400 or faster. If I am zoomed to 200, the shutter speed should be 1/200 or faster.

So here I am using a 400mm lens without a tripod, photographing running dogs. Movement also requires a fast shutter speed. I felt I needed a shutter speed of at least 1/800. I really wanted to use that Better Beamer but my flash only synchronizes up to 1/250th of a second (also in our Four Weeks class). Joe suggested using high speed sync. I usually don't care for high speed sync since you lose power. But with the Better Beamer I gained light so I gave it a shot.

Press the high speed sync button.  You'll see the icon up by the ETTL when it's activated.
Press the high speed sync button. You'll see the icon up by the ETTL when it's activated.

That Better Beamer really goes a long distance. It says on its website that it increases your flash by two stops. I found that it would overexpose the dogs when I was too close. When the dogs were out playing in the water or chasing each other on the beach, the Better Beamer shot out the right amount of light.

Overexposed Picture
Better Beamer overexposed the dog.

Thank goodness I was testing everything on a photowalk. I couldn't figure out how to unlock the lens to allow it to zoom! One of the other participants came over and taught me. You need to hold the lens with both hands, holding the white part where it says “smooth tight” while turning the dark part right next to it.

To unlock the lens, twist here.
To unlock the lens, twist here.

I also learned from another photographer a good way to hold a long lens without a tripod if you are doing a lot of panning. You rest the lens in the crook of your left arm. Your left hand holds your right arm for stability. It's not as good as a tripod but it did help keep the lens steady.

Peggy holding lens in crook of arm
I rested the lens on my left arm while grabbing my right arm for stability.

Photo by Joe Fitzpatrick

This lens has two Image Stabilization modes; Mode one corrects for both vertical and horizontal movement. Mode 2 is only for panning. I read a bit on this on the forums and most seem to think Mode 1 is the best way to go for stabilization. Since I was working without a tripod, I put it in Mode 1.

Image Stabilization on Canon 100-400mm

The lens is a push-pull type of zoom lens, which really took some getting used to. You can loosen it so it pushes and pulls more smoothly. I did okay but I'll definitely need more practice.

When zoomed all the way to 400mm, it's really tough to compose the picture, especially with the dogs running around so much. I shot a little wide so I can crop to “fix” my composition errors later in post processing.

Uncropped dog photograph
Original photo as shot

cropped dog photograph
Cropped and edited

It was a fun learning experience! Please join us on our next photowalk to practice something new and hang out with other photographers! You'll stretch your creativity, probably learn something technical, have a lot of fun and come back with great photographs!!

Check our CALENDAR for the next free photowalk.

silhouette of dog at beach
Flash turned off for a silhouette.

dog at beach
Look at how much light the Better Beamer put out!

Dog in Water

Dog at beach

Dogs at beach
Dog at beach
Dog at beach
Dog at beach

Peggy Farren has been a professional photographer for over 16 years. She is the founder of Understand Photography Training Center.

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Peggy Farren is an award winning, professional photographer, instructor, writer and speaker.

With over 17 years as a full-time professional photographer, Peggy offers photography training through her training center, “Understand Photography”.

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