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Shooting Birds with the Canon RF 800mm F11 Lens

Updated: Mar 1, 2022

Is the Canon RF 800mm F11 a good choice to take pictures of birds?

Image below taken with Canon R6, RF 800mm lens. Camera settings: ISO 400, Aperture F11 and shutter speed 1/500.

My husband Tom and I own and operate and As small business owners we do not often have the opportunity to go out and take pictures for ourselves, so when we had a few hours of free time we jumped at the chance.

The Canon RF 800 mm F11 lens is a very affordable lens and when Tom and I decided to take a trip to Alaska this last fall I wanted a lens with more reach than what we currently had (Canon 35-350mm). We were already spending quite a bit on the trip and did not want to spend a fortune on a new lens also.

We had booked a trip to Brooks Falls to photograph the bears and I thought we needed a little longer lens than what we had. Note: We did not use the 800mm at Brooks Falls the 350mm was plenty long enough!

This last weekend Tom and I decided to go out and look for some birds to photograph, so we grabbed our camera bags and the 800mm and we were off!


Here is a list of the equipment that we took.

Tom's Equipment:

Canon R5

Canon 100-400mm 4.5-5.6L

Canon 70-200mm 2.8L

Canon 24-105mm 4.0

Various filters

My Equipment:

Canon R6

Canon 35-350mm 3.5-5.6L

Canon 70-200mm 2.8L

Canon 24-105mm 4.0

Various filters

Extra Bag:

Canon RF 800mm F11

Here is what we should have taken:

Tripod! In reality we would have taken it and probably never pulled it out. I often fail to utilize a tripod mainly because I like the freedom of movement that you get by hand held shooting. Honestly with the 800mm lens I could probably get much sharper images if I used one.

Finding our Subject

I would like to say we had this great plan of where we were going to go to find our subject but we didn't. We decided to drive down through our local state park (the campground to be exact) and see what we could find.

As we drove down the road through the state park I was keeping an eye out for any wildlife we might want to stop and photograph. At that point, I had not seen any wildlife and was hoping as we got closer to the lake that would change.

As we turned into the campground I saw an armadillo and as we drove further in there were some deer laying down in the sun. However, that was not really what we were looking for so we kept driving. As we got down by the lake we noticed several birds down on the lake bed. There were some Ring-billed Gulls and two Canadian Geese.

We pulled off into a parking space and were very quiet getting our gear ready trying not to scare the birds away. Just then two hikers walked down the beach past the birds and shortly after the Canadian Geese flew away. Which if I would have been ready would have been a great photo, however I was not!

Once we got our stuff ready we quietly shut the door and walked down towards the beach. Once closer we noticed there were two more of the Canadian Geese up the lake bed a little ways. We found a nice spot on the beach where there were some big rocks and a stump to sit and photograph the birds.

"In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks." – John Muir

Setting up to Photograph

Because we did not bring a tripod we chose to sit down to be a little more stable when shooting. I started out shooting with the 800mm. It was a nice sunny day the F11 of the lens was not too much of a hinderance. I started out with my settings at F11, ISO 400 and shutter speed 1/500 shown in the picture at the top of the page.

To minimize camera shake (the softness introduced when not able to hold the camera steady) when shooting with a telephoto lens the rule of thumb is to make sure the shutter speed used is faster than the focal length you are using.

For example, to minimize camera shake with an 800mm lens when hand held your shutter speed should be greater than 1/800. This changes also if you are using a crop sensor camera. For example, if you are using a crop sensor camera with a 1.5x crop factor then to get the focal length you would take 800 x 1.5 = 1200 so you really need a shutter speed that is more than 1/1200.

Thinking about this I changed my settings to F11, ISO 400 and shutter speed 1/800 shown in the picture below.

Image below taken with Canon R6, RF 800mm lens. Camera settings: Aperture F11, ISO 400 and shutter speed 1/800.

However, looking at my image and thinking about everything I have learned over the years I decided that I wanted to expose more to the right (brighter). So I boosted my ISO to 640 and left the other settings as they were. F11 and shutter speed 1/800.

When exposing to the right (brighter) you should end up with an image with less noise. When you expose to the left (darker) you end up with more shadows which is were we find lots of noise in images when we lighten during post processing.

The histogram is the best tool to use check your exposure and while I do look at it occasionally I do not leave up all the time because I find it distracting when finding my composition. I usually use my meter on my camera to see how far to the left or right I am exposing for my subject. Tom always has his on and encourages me to do the same, I have tried to use it more but it is hard to get into the habit. One of the many things I continue to work on in my journey as a photographer.

Images below taken with Canon R6, RF 800mm lens. Camera settings: Aperture F11, ISO 640 and shutter speed 1/800.

Next Time

The next time we go out with the 800mm lens I will be taking a tripod and making myself use it so I can see how much difference it makes in the sharpness of my images. Which I have no doubt will be noticeable.

In Conclusion

The RF 800mm F11 lens is a great lens for the money. It is light and easy to transport and takes good photos. While our L lenses take much sharper images they are much more expensive and a lot heavier to pack around with you.

There is a trade off, while the L lenses are sharper and have a better aperture RF 800 mm 5.6L will run you about $17,000.00 where as the RF 800mm F11 will run around $1000.00, so if you are not ready to drop $17,000 but still want a good 800mm lens to go shoot some great images this lens is a great option.

If you have any questions or would like to suggest a subject for our next blog please leave a comment below.


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