Canon Lenses

Canon EF 200-400 f4 L IS USM Extender 1.4x Field Review

INTRODUCTION

When Canon announced the development of this lens, I wasn’t too surprized.  The Nikon 200-400 f4 equivalent of this lens has long been a popular choice amongst many of the Nikon shooters that travel with me on photographic safaris, and Canon were certainly lacking representation in this segment of the market.  Canon took some time developing their own EF 200-400 f4L IS 1.4x ext IS USM and seemingly held nothing back when it came to the feature set of this lens.  In both physical size and cost it is most similar to Canon’s quartet of class-leading, version ii fixed telephoto lenses and with imaging performance that is of a similar standard.

 

Canon EF 200-400 f4L IS USM 1.4x extender.  Click for larger view

Canon EF 200-400 f4L IS USM extender 1.4x. Click for larger view

 

ABOUT THE LENS

As it is an all-new design for Canon, there is really no other zoom in the range to compare it to.  However, as this lens will likely be competing with Canon’s own range of super telephoto prime lenses for space in photographers gear bags, I have chosen to use some of those lenses as references where relevant in the review.

 

The back part of the Canon EF 200-400 f4L showing some of the features and controls

The back part of the Canon EF 200-400 f4L showing some of the features and controls.  Click for larger view

 

The lens barrel does not change size during zooming, and all moving parts are inside the barrel.  This type of design is usually better at keeping dust and moisture out of the lens for longer than lenses with extending barrels.

Starting at the rear of the lens, the lens mount is standard Canon EOS L, complete with the weather-sealing rubber ring.  The base of this lens barrel is not ridged, unlike many other L-series Canon lenses, likely due to the need for compact dimensions.

There is a small panel with recessed switches mounted close to the lens base, where it can easily be reached by the photographer’s left hand.  It houses switches controlling AF/PF/MF and also the focus distance limit selector.  All the panels and switches on the lens are closely contoured to the shape of the lens barrel, and all the switches are recessed.  They require quite firm pressure to move them, and they are difficult to bump accidentally, which is something that used to happen to me often with older Canon telephoto lenses.

Above the switch panel is a drop-in filter holder, which is standard 52mm Canon.  I have yet to find anybody using any filters in these slots, and for my own usage, would be quite happy to see the drop-in filters disappear in the interests of better sealing and simplification.  I am sure that there may still be users who need them.

 

The controls and housing for the built-in 1.4x extender.  Click for larger view

The controls and housing for the built-in 1.4x extender. Click for larger view

 

Ahead of this is the bulge in the lens barrel that houses the extender when it is removed from the optic path.  The extender is optimised for use in this particular lens, and building it into the lens adds an extra dimension to the EF 200-400 f4L’s capabilities.  Without the converter, the lens has a constant f4 aperture, focal length that ranges from 200mm to 400…  With the converter in place, it becomes an f5.6 aperture lens with 560mm of focal length.

The 1.4x extender is engaged or removed by means of a lever, with a sliding lock-switch to prevent moving it accidentally.

The tripod collar is an integral part of the lens and cannot be removed.  The tripod foot itself can be unbolted from the tripod ring, and Canon supply two different sized tripod foot fittings with the EF 200-400 f4L.  One is longer with more offset from the lens barrel, and is the one pictured in my test images.  The other tripod foot is a little shorter, and closer to the lens barrel.  I like having the two options.

 

Side view of the lens rotated in the tripod collar.  Click for larger view

Side view of the lens rotated in the tripod collar. Click for larger view

 

The tripod collar has a locking knob with a cover that can be opened to reveal a slot for a lock.  It is positioned high on the left side of the lens barrel, where it is easy to reach without having to remove your hand from supporting the lens.  There are two alloy mounts for a supplied lens strap that attaches to the tripod collar itself for carrying the lens.  An alloy plate with the lens designation sits on the top of the collar.

 

Close-up side view of the tripod collar,  switches and focus ring.  Click for larger view

Close-up side view of the tripod collar, switches and focus ring. Click for larger view

 

The second panel of switches is positioned ahead of the collar.  The uppermost switch is for selecting one of three IS modes, called Mode 1,2 and 3.  Below that is a switch to activate the IS, and then the set of switches and buttons for the focus preset feature which I have yet to use as a wildlife photographer.

A focus distance scale is located on the top of the lens.

The focus ring for manual focus is ridged, and turns very smoothly, with no play evident.  This focus ring is not as wide as those found on the EF 400 f2.8L IS ii, the EF 500 f4L IS ii or the EF 600 f4L IS ii.  I much prefer the narrower ring fitted to the EF 200-400 f4L.  I have to take extra care when shooting any of the three fixed lens mentioned above, to avoid accidentally shifting their oversized focus rings whilst holding them.

 

GrantAtkinson-Canon200400_H018725

Ahead of the focus ring is the zoom ring which is made of broadly textured rubber.  It is positioned in front of the focus ring, which is the same as the EF 70-300 f4/5.6L IS but opposite to the EF 70-200 f2.8L IS ii.

There is a knurled collar to activate the focus preset feature.  In front of that, are four rubber-covered buttons on the front collar of the lens.  They can be programmed to perform various functions, depending on which camera body you use.

 

The front end of the EF 200-400 f4L, without the lens hood.  Click for larger view

The front end of the EF 200-400 f4L, without the lens hood. Click for larger view

 

The collar on the EF 200-400L f4L is finished in black.  The black colour doesn’t show scuff marks where the lens hood tightens into place.

The new zoom shares its lens hood with the EF 300 f2.8L IS ii.  Designated ET -120 (WII), it is well made from either carbon fibre or a high quality plastic, with a rubber edging on the front, anti-reflective flocking within, and the new style Canon locking knob that protrudes a little less on the side.  The hood attaches firmly with the threaded locking knob and provides plenty of protection for the front element.  There is a padded nylon lens cover that fits over the hood once it is reversed, which attaches with a velcro tab.

Within the EF 200-400 f4L’s magnesium alloy barrel are 25 optical elements, arranged in 20 groups.  There are four UD (Ultra Low Dispersion) elements and one large diameter flourite element.  Flourite is highly effective at combating chromatic aberrations as well as flaring and ghosting.  Both of these materials are more costly than regular optic materials.  Canon also make use of Super Spectra coating, and Sub-Wavelength coatings, on some elements to help reduce flare, ghosting and unwanted reflection.  It is clear from this optical specification that there is a lot of high-quality material and technology behind the optical performance of the EF 200-400 f4L.

The built-in extender is made up of 8 optical elements, and when this is in place, the lens becomes a 33 element, 280mm – 560mm f5.6 focal length lens.

The front and rear elements have a Flourine coating which helps them stay clean and free of debris.  The coating also makes them easier to clean after use.

 

Canon Lens Case 200-400, open wide.  Click for larger view

Canon Lens Case 200-400, open wide. Click for larger view

 

The lens is supplied in a very robust hard plastic lens case (Lens Case 200-400) that is perfect for storing the lens and for transporting it if you have the room.  That would not be the case for flying.  The lens case is well made, with rubber feet on the sides to stand it on.  It has space within for storing two extenders, but not a dslr body.  It also comes with a carrying strap for the case itself but it was easier to use the handles.  The case can be locked.

 

HOW WELL DOES IT WORK?

 

Handheld shooting with the Canon EF 200-400 f4l IS 1.4x ext.  Click for larger view

Handheld shooting with the Canon EF 200-400 f4l IS 1.4x ext. Click for larger view

 

 Handling

The EF 200-400 f4L IS Ext 1.4x is solidly built, and all the controls just feel as they are of the highest quality.  The focus ring turns smoothly, with no play.  When handholding, I rested the bottom of the tripod foot on the palm of my left hand, and used my thumb and index finger to control the zoom fairly easily.  I am comfortable with the location of the zoom ring where it is.  The manual focus ring is closer to the camera body, but I seldom use that control when photographing wildlife anyway.

Engaging the 1.4x extender is simple, and the switch can be moved over with just one finger.  When handholding, you will likely work out the best way to hold the lens as you flick the switch.  I used my left arm as a cradle and then moved the switch with my right hand.  If the lens is on a mount or a rest, the extender can be engaged with the left hand without even looking up from the viewfinder.

The advantages of having the built-in extender available any time you may want to frame tighter, are many.  As a wildlife photographer, I have no control over my subjects proximity.  When I have moving subjects, I typically like to get quite far ahead of them, and then shoot as they approach my position.  With this lens and the extender engaged, I can start shooting when the subjects are further away than I can with a fixed 400mm lens. If they keep approaching, and get within 400mm range, I simply pause for a moment as I flick the switch to remove the extender, and I gain an f-stop, with 200mm of focal length range to work with.  Compared to trying to achieve the same thing with a fixed lens and a separate extender just takes so much longer.  Changing extenders on and off in the field wastes time, and also increases the risk of getting dust into the camera and lens.

There are a few things to keep in mind about engaging or removing the 1.4x extender whilst you are shooting. When used with a 1DX, a 5Dmk3, a 6D, a 650D or 700D, it is possible to move the extender switch whilst you are in Live View or taking videos.  This will hold good for all subsequent Canon dslr bodies going forward.

If you are shooting the EF 200-400 f4L IS 1.4x on a 1Dmk4, 7D, 60D or 600D, and most earlier models in those ranges, then you should NOT move the extender switch whilst the camera is in Live View or movie mode.

On all cameras, it is advisable to NOT move the extender switch while the camera is busy writing to the card. Looking through the viewfinder as the extender switch is moved from one position to the other revealed that the viewfinder readout goes blank momentarily during this operation.

Taking the small amount of time that may be needed for card writing to happen is still much preferable to switching everything off, and adding or removing a regular extender.  I did not have any trouble with this and used the lens on a 1Dmk4 and a 5Dmk3.

Using the new EF 200-400 f4L in the field,  I substantially increased the number of images that I could take, and keep, due entirely to its wide range of focal lengths, and the versatility brought about by the instantly accessible 1.4x extender.  I typically make use of a fixed focal length lens for shooting at 300mm and beyond in these situations.  In the real-world conditions that I used the EF 200-400 f4L, I found that approximately 20 % of my images were taken at 200mm, 60 % at 400mm and just 10% at focal lengths beyond 400mm, with the extender.  Remainder of the images were shot at focal lengths between 200 and 400mm.  It was interesting to break down the captures by focal length.

I shot the series of three images below at 200mm, 400mm and at 560mm with the 1.4x extender engaged from the same position.  With such a wide range of focal lengths available, it becomes effortless to go from photographing an animal in its habitat to a portrait within a few seconds.

 

Canon EF 200-400 f4L and Canon 5Dmk3.  Focal length 200mm.  1/2000sec at f4, Iso  400.  Click for larger view

Lion.  Canon EF 200-400 f4L and Canon 5Dmk3. Focal length 200mm. 1/2000sec at f4, Iso 400. Click for larger view

 

Canon EF 200-400 f4L and Canon 5Dmk3. Focal length 400mm. 1/2000sec at f4, Iso 400

Lion.  Canon EF 200-400 f4L and Canon 5Dmk3. Focal length 400mm. 1/2000sec at f4, Iso 400

 

Canon EF 200-400 f4L and Canon 5Dmk3 with 1.4x extender in place. Focal length 560mm. 1/800sec at f5.6, Iso 400

Lion.  Canon EF 200-400 f4L and Canon 5Dmk3 with 1.4x extender in place. Focal length 560mm. 1/800sec at f5.6, Iso 400

 

The three images give a real-world idea of just how versatile an imaging tool the EF 200-400 f4L IS 1.4x is.

The focal length range of this lens (200mm to 400mm) is virtually ideal for the kind of wildlife photography that I do most, with mammals being the main subject matter as well as birds that allow close approaches.  The extender adds something extra, at no cost to the image quality of the focal lengths below 400mm when it is not engaged.  In many ways the EF 200-400 F4L can do the job of several other lenses.

The tripod ring locking knob tightens and loosens quickly and easily.  Rotation of the lens in the tripod ring is silky.  There are four, very positive, click detents at right angles in the action, making it simple and intuitive to align the lens accurately, without even having to look.  The bigger of the two supplied tripod foot fittings also provides a padded handle when used for carrying the lens.

The EF 200-400L IS Ext 1.4x weighs 3620g.  That places it in between the Canon EF 500 f4L IS ii (3190g) and the EF 400 f2.8L IS ii (3850g) in weight.  It is longer than the EF 400 f2.8L IS ii and a little shorter than the EF 500 f4L IS ii.  The weight in the EF 200-400 f4L IS 1.4x Ext is distributed evenly throughout the lens barrel, unlike the new Canon fixed telephoto lenses, which have most of their weight toward the camera.  What this means is that the EF 200-400 f4L IS 1.4x takes a little more strength to handhold for long periods than the longer but lighter EF 500 f4L IS ii.

Bigger and/or stronger photographers will be able to handhold it for long periods, whilst smaller or less strong photographers may only be able to shoot for short periods in this way.  Using a tripod mount, a monopod or a beanbag will make handling the lens for long periods easier.  When used on a mount, it also becomes much easier to control the zoom ring with the left hand whilst looking through the viewfinder and shooting.

Minimum focus distance on the EF 200-400 f4L is just 2.0m.  This is pretty good in comparison to the EF 400 f2.8L IS ii at 2.7m, the EF 400 f4 DO at 3.5m but not as good as the EF 100-400 f4.5/5.6L at 1.8m.  Once the 1.4x extender is engaged, the EF 200-400 becomes a 560mm lens, with an increase in magnifying power with no change in minimum focus distance, which then takes it just past the EF 100-400 f4.5/5.6L.  Although it isn’t a true macro lens, the E 200-400 f4L is quite effective for photographing flowers, small birds and large insects at close range.

 

Image Stabilization

The IS system is very effective on this lens.  Most of the shooting that I did with the EF 200-400 f4L  was handheld, and I kept the IS switched on all the time, regardless of my shutter speeds.  Mode 1 is for regular, handheld shooting situations.  Mode 2 is for panning, which you are most likely to do from a tripod or mount.  Mode 3 is a new mode, first introduced on the Canon EF 300 f2.8 IS ii in 2011, and is specifically geared towards photographing action.  Wildlife and sports photographers stand to benefit the most from it.  In mode 3, stabilization is carried out for both horizontal and vertical motion (the same as Mode 1) but instead of it being active all the time, it only activates when the shutter button is completely depressed.  This is meant to counter the possibility of the image jumping in the viewfinder in Mode 1 which may occur when trying to follow fast or erratic subject movement whilst handholding.

Although I cannot say that I have actually noticed the image jumping in my viewfinder on any of the more recent (2006 and newer) Canon lenses whilst using Mode 1, I decided to switch to Mode 3 with the EF 200-400 f4L.  It is of course quite difficult to quantify which mode worked better for me in the field as there are so many variables to take into account.  I can definitely say that after several thousand frames, at both fast and slow shutter speeds, that I was very impressed with the IS, and Mode 3 in particular.

The EF 200-400 f4L has an IS system that is tripod-sensitive, and will shut down if necessary when mounted on a tripod.

Going forward, I will be using Mode 3 as my default setting on all lenses so equipped, when shooting handheld.

Autofocus 

Autofocus is a big deal for me in a wildlife lens.  Most modern lenses will autofocus quickly and accurately in good light and with stationery subjects, but not all lenses focus well in more challenging conditions.  I target action whenever I can, and I often shoot moving subjects in complex, busy backgrounds.  I also shoot these same moving subjects in low light.  In my experience, the very best lenses hold a clear advantage in such demanding autofocus situations.

 

Canon EF 200-400 f4L and Canon 5Dmk3.  Focal length 362mm.  Shutter speed 1/1250sec at f4, Iso 1250. Click for larger view

Canon EF 200-400 f4L and Canon 5Dmk3. Focal length 362mm. Shutter speed 1/1250sec at f4, Iso 1250. Click for larger view

 

There are always things that I take into account when I am evaluating autofocus performance, and my own expectations.

I expect that lenses with longer focal length will focus a little slower than lenses with shorter focal length, all other things being equal.

I usually find that lenses with larger maximum apertures, like f2.8, will focus faster than lenses with smaller maximum apertures, like 5.6.

The newest generations of Canon lenses,from 2006 onwards, whatever their maximum aperture, feel as if they are getting a little faster at autofocusing.  This is more noticeable with lenses that have f4 and f5.6 maximum apertures and less noticeable with the f2.8 fixed lenses.

Given that the EF 200-400 f4L is a complex zoom of short-to-medium focal length, with a medium-sized f4 maximum aperture, I can say that I was not expecting it to focus nearly as well as it did for me.

Focus speed was very, very good, with both the 5Dmk3 and the 1Dmk4 bodies.  If you are coming to this lens from an EF 100-400 f4.5/5.6L lens, then you will find the focus fast.  If you are coming to it from an EF 300 f2.8L IS ii then you may find it just a touch slower to lock.  To me, it felt at least as fast as a Canon EF 500 f4L IS ii.

 

Canon EF 200-400 f4L and Canon 5Dmk3. Focal length 320mm.  Shutter speed 1/1000sec at f4, Iso 1250.  Click for larger view

Leopard.  Canon EF 200-400 f4L and Canon 5Dmk3. Focal length 320mm. Shutter speed 1/1000sec at f4, Iso 1250. Click for larger view

 

Focus accuracy was exceptional, and I got my best results pairing the lens with my 5Dmk3.  I found myself getting shot after shot in sharp focus, even in very low light.  One particular example really illustrates my experience very well.  We had located a pride of lions on the move, long before sunrise.  As the sky slowly began to lighten, a couple of the big cats chased and tackled one another.  It was still way too dark to photograph.  We stayed with the cats though, as it got a little lighter.  The sun was still not risen over the trees, but it was light enough to shoot when the two lions once again interacted.  They leaped straight up, then landed and raced towards us before breaking apart as they passed by.  The jump and chase had only lasted seconds before it was over.  In anticipation, I had set up with a wide-open aperture, and 400mm focal length.  An iso setting of 3200 only gave me a shutter speed of 1/800 sec.  I tracked and fired continuously as the action went down, not even expecting to have one sharp shot, due to the lack of direct light for the autofocus to work with, and the speed and direction of the subjects.  But I tried anyway.  I was totally astonished to find that out of 20 frames, I had 13 that were properly focused.  I have not done any better with any other lens or camera combinations before, in conditions such as this.

 

Lions At Play.  Canon EF 200-400 f4L and Canon 5Dmk3.  Focal length 400mm.  Shutter speed 1/800sec at f4, Iso 3200

Lions At Play. Canon EF 200-400 f4L and Canon 5Dmk3. Focal length 400mm. Shutter speed 1/800sec at f4, Iso 3200.  Click for larger view

 

The lions were also too far away when I shot this image and I had to crop it to 5 megapixels to frame it as it shows above.  They ran closer after this, and got closer for each subsequent frame.

 

Lions chasing.  Canon EF 200-400 f4L and Canon 5Dmk3.  Focal length 400mm. Shutter speed 1/1000sec at f4, Iso 3200.   Click for larger view

Lions chasing. Canon EF 200-400 f4L and Canon 5Dmk3. Focal length 400mm. Shutter speed 1/1000sec at f4, Iso 3200. Click for larger view

 

The EF 200-400 f4L also focuses very well when shooting against the light, which is again something that lesser zooms sometimes don’t do well.  I was able to lock focus quickly even when I had the sun in the frame, although it was filtered by atmospherics.  In extremely low contrast situations the autofocus slows down, but still locked on accurately.

The EF 200-400 f4L is only significantly bettered in AF performance by the 300mm and 400mm Canon f2.8 telephoto lenses.

Autofocus with the 1.4x extender engaged

Engaging the 1.4x extender narrows the field of view, and takes the maximum aperture to f5.6.  Autofocus is still accurate and reasonably fast, especially in direct light and for slow-moving or static subjects.  With the extender in place, my ratio of critically sharp images dropped quite steeply when photographing fast-moving subjects, or when shooting a subject amongst busy surroundings. The lens was more likely to drop focus lock.  It also struggled a little in strongly backlit conditions.  I was still able to effectively capture some sharp images of fast-flying birds with the extender engaged in good light and I am sure that many users will do even better.

 

Canon EF 200-400 f4L with 1.4x extender.  Focal length 560mm.  Shutter speed 1/4000sec at f5.6, Iso 640.  Click for larger view

Meyer’s parrot.  Canon EF 200-400 f4L with 1.4x extender. Focal length 560mm. Shutter speed 1/4000sec at f5.6, Iso 640. Click for larger view

 

For extreme action photography, or when light was less than ideal,  I opted to use the EF 200-400 f4L without the extender in place.

Camera Bodies Used

I used the EF 200-400 f4 L on only two camera bodies during the time that I had it.

On the Canon 1Dmk4, now discontinued, the field of view is roughly equivalent to 260mm-520mm.  With the extender engaged, the field of view becomes roughly equivalent to 364mm-728mm.  Autofocus was fast, and accurate and the bigger size of the body balanced well on the EF 200-400 f4 L.

I mostly used the lens on my Canon 5Dmk3, with it’s full-frame sensor.  As I used the combination in the field, I found that having a real 200mm on the wide side of the focal length range was coming in very useful.   I was also very happy with the way this lens and the 5dmk3 worked together, in terms of autofocus accuracy, and image quality.  A battery grip would help to add some ballast to the 5Dmk3 to help balance this combination physically though I shot without one.

I did not have  any Canon APS-C sensor bodies like the 7D or 60D on  hand to test the lens with.  I may add to this field review in the months ahead.

On a Canon 7D, with its APS-C sized sensor, the field of view would be roughly equivalent to 320mm-640mm. With the extender engaged, the field of view becomes roughly equivalent to 448mm-896mm.

Extenders

I have already discussed the built-in extender’s performance with regard to autofocus, and will describe my experience with the extender and image quality deeper into this review.

The EF 200-400 f4L IS 1.4x, with it’s extender engaged, is a 280mm-560mm f5.6 lens.  It is also able to work with a second, external extender attached.  I mounted a 1.4xiii extender onto the EF 200-400, with extender enabled.  This gave me a zoom lens with a maximum aperture of f8 and a focal length of 784mm.  The centre focus point worked reasonably quickly, sometimes requiring a second focus shift before locking on properly, on my 5Dmk3 (firmware 1.2.1) and 1Dmk4 (firmware 1.1.4) in bright light.  I did not try to use this combination in poor light.  I was able to use autofocus and capture some images purely for testing purposes.

 

Arrowmarked babbler.  Canon EF 200-400 f4L with 1.4x extender plus external EF 1.4xiii extender and Canon 5Dmk3.  Shutter speed 1/200sec, aperture f8, Iso 400.  A 3 mp crop from a 22mp original file. Click for larger view

Arrowmarked babbler. Canon EF 200-400 f4L with 1.4x extender plus external EF 1.4xiii extender and Canon 5Dmk3. Shutter speed 1/200sec, aperture f8, Iso 400. A 3 mp crop from a 22mp original file. Click for larger view

 

With both converters on, images lose a lot of fine detail.  There is also quite prominent vignetting around the outer half of the frame.  In my opinion if you are going to need such long focal lengths regularly, then there are better ways to get there, most notably the EF 500 f4L IS ii, the EF 600 f4L IS ii and EF 800 f5.6L IS plus extenders.

IMAGE QUALITY

I always shoot in RAW and process my images in Adobe Camera Raw (or the Lightroom Develop module) which are almost identical, and finish them off in Adobe Photoshop CS6.  My evaluation of this lens’ performance with regard to image quality is based upon that workflow.

I have included more images than normal, taken in the field in this review, in order to show just how good the image quality of the EF 200-400 f4L actually is.

Canon EF 200-400 f4L and Canon 5Dmk3. Focal length 400mm.  Shutter speed 1/1250sec at f5.6, Iso 400.  22mp original. Click for larger view

Lion.  Canon EF 200-400 f4L and Canon 5Dmk3. Focal length 400mm. Shutter speed 1/1250sec at f5.6, Iso 400. 22mp original. Click for larger view

 

A 1.1 megapixel crop is shown below this image to illustrate the level of detail available.

 

Canon EF 200-400 f4L and Canon 5Dmk3. Focal length 400mm.  Shutter speed 1/1250sec at f5.6, Iso 400.    Cropped from a 22mp original to 1.1mp. Click for larger view

Lion.  Canon EF 200-400 f4L and Canon 5Dmk3. Focal length 400mm. Shutter speed 1/1250sec at f5.6, Iso 400. Cropped from a 22mp original to 1.1mp. Click for larger view

 

Up until now, I considered the Canon EF 70-200 f2.8 L IS ii to be the best zoom lens that I have used, when it comes to image quality.  After quite extensive use of the new EF 200-400 f4L, my feeling is that it is every bit as good as the shorter zoom.  I am hard pressed to tell the differences between images taken with these two lenses.

I found that the results that I obtained from the EF 200-400 f4L were pretty much on par with what my EF 300 f2.8 IS gives me when comparing detail, contrast and colour.

Just as important for my use, is that the EF 200-400 f4L is very sharp even wide-open at f4.  I had no need to stop down the lens for sharpness when shooting.  I was able to choose my aperture setting based on creative reasons, depth of field and background blur being most important of those.  The maximum aperture of f4 is one that I typically select a lot, even when I am shooting f2.8 lenses of similar focal length.  At f4, it is often possible to get enough depth of field to get nose, eyes and ears sharp when African wildlife is the subject, depending of course on subject distance.

 

Canon EF 200-400 f4L and Canon 5Dmk3. Focal length 200mm.  Shutter speed 1/8000sec at f4.5, Iso 800.  Cropped from22mp original to 21mp. Click for larger view

Ground hornbill.  Canon EF 200-400 f4L and Canon 5Dmk3. Focal length 200mm. Shutter speed 1/8000sec at f4.5, Iso 800. Cropped from22mp original to 21mp. Click for larger view

 

A 1.1 megapixel crop (roughly 100 percent) is shown below to illustrate the level of available detail in this image.

 

Canon EF 200-400 f4L and Canon 5Dmk3. Focal length 200mm.  Shutter speed 1/8000sec at f4.5, Iso 800.  Cropped from a 22mp original to 1.1mp. Click for larger view

Ground hornbill.  Canon EF 200-400 f4L and Canon 5Dmk3. Focal length 200mm. Shutter speed 1/8000sec at f4.5, Iso 800. Cropped from a 22mp original to 1.1mp. Click for larger view

 

Of course, a zoom lens needs to provide constant image quality throughout its focal length range, and the EF 200-400 f4L doesn’t disappoint in that regard.

Images taken with the EF 200-400 f4L and the 5Dmk3 also benefitted from the ultra-accurate autofocus that this combination delivered.  Properly focused images are usually higher in detail, and in fine contrast than those that are even slightly out of focus.

Image quality was also very good when shooting against the light.  This is typically not something that zoom lenses with their complexity of elements excel at but the EF 200-400 f4L delivered surprizingly good results again.

 

Canon EF 200-400 f4L and Canon 5Dmk3. Focal length 400mm.  Shutter speed 1/2000sec at f4, Iso 800.  22mp original cropped to 16mp. Click for larger view

Leopard.  Canon EF 200-400 f4L and Canon 5Dmk3. Focal length 400mm. Shutter speed 1/2000sec at f4, Iso 800. 22mp original cropped to 16mp. Click for larger view

 

There is some vignetting to be seen around the edges of the frame.  I found it most pronounced at 400mm and f4.  Stopping down to f7.1 or f8 cleared up the vignetting.

At 200mm it is less noticeable, even at f4.  Stopping down just one stop virtually clears it right away at 200mm.

In real-world use, it is only noticeable when photographing a clear and bright background.  Slight vignetting can actually help to draw attention to my subjects which are not typically  positioned anywhere right against the edges of the frame.  It is also very simple to get rid of slight vignetting such as this using Adobe Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop.  Canon’s own Digital Photo Professional software also takes care of it.  If you like shooting jpgs, many Canon dslry deal with vignetting, or peripheral illumination correction in-camera.

The image of the hooded vulture below this text is included purely to show the extent of vignetting at 400mm focal length, stopped down one stop to f5.6.

 

Canon EF 200-400 f4L and Canon 5Dmk3. Focal length 400mm.  Shutter speed 1/3200sec at f5.6, Iso 500.  22mp original. Click for larger view

Hooded vulture.  Canon EF 200-400 f4L and Canon 5Dmk3. Focal length 400mm. Shutter speed 1/3200sec at f5.6, Iso 500. 22mp original. Click for larger view

 

Overall, I felt the vignetting was moderate and similar or just a fraction darker than the Canon EF 70-200 f4L IS zoom.

Using a camera with an APS-C sensor will virtually eliminate any vignetting, as those sensors use only the central portion of the frame.

Bokeh was good.  With it’s maximum aperture of f4, this lens can blur backgrounds very effectively, even from a distance.  The ‘shape’ of the bokeh was more pleasing than the EF100-400 f4.5/5.6 sometimes produces.  Obviously the EF 200-400 f4L is not as good as the fixed telephoto EF 400 f2.8L IS ii for background blurring capability.  Shooting the EF 200-400 f4L with the extender engaged, at 560mm and f5.6 will blur the background more completely than when shooting at 400mm and f4.

 

Canon EF 200-400 f4L and Canon 5Dmk3.  Focal length 366mm.  Shutter speed 1/200sec at f4, Iso 3200

Lion.  Canon EF 200-400 f4L and Canon 5Dmk3. Focal length 366mm. Shutter speed 1/200sec at f4, Iso 3200

 

I found no evidence at all of chromatic aberrations whilst examining and processing images that I have taken with this lens so far when shooting between 200mm and 400mm.

With the extender in place, at 560mm, I found that I had to zoom in to around 200 percent to just find the tiniest strip of magenta colour edge on a test shot with a black shaded subject against a bright sky.  So nothing really to worry about.

Flare happens when stray light gets reflected off of surfaces inside the lens and either shows up in the image as small, circular, bright patches or even sometimes as large areas of low contrast.  The EF 200-400 f4L did not appear to be very susceptible to flare, and during the course of two weeks of field use, I only once experienced flare when tracking a vulture across some very dark sky, shooting in the direction of the sun.  On that occasion the effects of the flare were visible on two consecutive images, and it was strong enough to interfere with the autofocus, meaning I lost focus on the subject.

On several other occasions, even when I was fully expecting to be dealing with lens flare, the EF 200-400 f4L surprized me by showing no signs of it.  The image below was taken directly toward the sun, in just such an instance. Clouds of dust, generated by elephants, were layered horizontally and backlit by a setting sun, making for a pretty scene, but usually tough to photograph.

 

Canon EF 200-400 f4L and Canon 5Dmk3.  Focal length 286mm.  Shutter speed 1/2000sec at f6.3, Iso 800.  Cropped from a 22mp original to 16mp.  Click for larger view

African elephant.  Canon EF 200-400 f4L and Canon 5Dmk3. Focal length 286mm. Shutter speed 1/2000sec at f6.3, Iso 800. Cropped from a 22mp original to 16mp. Click for larger view

 

Image Quality With The 1.4 Extender Engaged

Once the 1.4x extender is engaged, there is an inevitable quality loss, which mostly comes about in the form of lowered detail in textured areas.  Contrast and colour still remain pretty good.  Fine edges with high contrast can look a little softer.  In good light, image quality was affected less.  Switching over to extender use blurs the background more strongly due to shallower depth of field, if you remain in the same relationship and distance with the subject.  I have shown three crops of around 100 percent zoom level of images taken with the EF 200-400 f4L at 200mm, 400mm and 560mm.  All images were taken on the same camera, from the same position, in similar light.

 

Canon EF 200-400 f4L and Canon 5Dmk3.  Focal length 200mm.  Shutter speed 1/2000sec at f4, Iso 400.  Cropped from a 22mp original to 1.1mp.  Click for larger view

Lion.  Canon EF 200-400 f4L and Canon 5Dmk3. Focal length 200mm. Shutter speed 1/2000sec at f4, Iso 400. Cropped from a 22mp original to 1.1mp. Click for larger view

 

A 100 percent crop of an image taken at 200mm and f4, no extender.

 

GrantAtkinson-Selinda_94A4884crop

Lion.  Canon EF 200-400 f4L and Canon 5Dmk3. Focal length 00mm. Shutter speed 1/2000sec at f4, Iso 400. Cropped from a 22mp original to 1.1mp. Click for larger view

 

A 100 percent crop of an image taken at 400mm and f4, no extender.

 

GrantAtkinson-Selinda_94A4904crop

Lion.  Canon EF 200-400 f4L with 1.4x extender engaged and Canon 5Dmk3. Focal length 5600mm. Shutter speed 1/800sec at f5.6, Iso 400. Cropped from a 22mp original to 1.1mp. Click for larger view

 

A 100 percent crop of an image taken at 560mm and f5.6 with extender.

When image quality is being compared between this lens and some of the fixed Canon super telephotos, it becomes important to take into account cropping of the images in processing.  I found that I did much, much less cropping with the flexibility that the EF 200-400 f4L allowed me as I could often compose with more accuracy than a fixed telephoto might allow.  This means I spend less time on changing my own position to suit my lens, and more time capturing the subject.  It also means that I end up with more images that are framed better straight out of the camera that need minimal cropping, which maximizes the resolution and ultimately the final image quality I can get.

When using fixed telephoto lenses for wildlife photography, it also happens that a subject comes closer faster than I can change cameras, and I end up shooting too tight or even cutting off parts of the subject.  That doesn’t happen nearly as often when using the zoom lens.

Still staying with image quality at differing focal lengths,  I purposefully shot the EF 200-400 f4L IS 1.4x ext at some very far-off birds in flight.   I did this to be able to compare how well the lens resolved distant subjects as opposed to nearby subjects.  At 400mm of focal length and wide-open at f4, the results were about what I would expect from any of the fixed telephoto Canon lenses that I use.

I also did the same, distant subject test with the 1.4x extender in place.  Some loss of detail results from using the extender, but the lens still resolves well.  I have included one such image in the review as an example of what may be expected.  I took the photo in hard, late-morning light purely for testing purposes, not for its aesthetic value.

 

Brown snake eagle. Canon EF 200-400 f4L with 1.4x extender engaged and Canon 5Dmk3.  Focal length 560mm.  Shutter speed 1/5000sec at f5.6, Iso 500.  Cropped from a 22mp original to 2mp.  Click for larger view

Brown snake eagle. Canon EF 200-400 f4L with 1.4x extender engaged and Canon 5Dmk3. Focal length 560mm. Shutter speed 1/5000sec at f5.6, Iso 500. Cropped from a 22mp original to 2mp. Click for larger view

 

OPTIONS

The only other  Canon zoom lens that has a somewhat similar focal length range is the Canon EF 100-400 f4.5/5.6 L IS.  The EF 100-400 f4.5/5.6 L cost much, much less.  It is also much lighter, and easier to manage.  It has a 100mm focal length advantage on the wide end of the zoom range.  What you get if you choose the EF 200-400 f4L over this lens is significantly better image quality, faster and more accurate autofocus, much better low-light performance as well as a one-stop maximum aperture advantage throughout, better image stabilization, weather-sealing and an extra 160mm of focal length.

The Canon EF 300 f2.8L IS ii has a one-stop light gathering advantage, slightly faster autofocus, and image quality that is just ever so slightly better, although that may only be true at 300mm, which is the only focal length range where the two lenses overlap.  It weighs 1270g less, and is shorter, and easier to manage.  It also costs significantly less, although if one intends to use it with extenders, the extra cost, size and weight need to be taken into account.  In its turn, the advantages that the EF 200-400 f4L holds over the fixed telephoto 300 f2.8 are mainly its much wider focal length range, which brings with it flexibility of composition.  Both lenses have equivalent image stabilization.  It is also much more comfortable and effective using the zoom ring and built-in extender on the EF 200-400 f4L than it is trying to manage the EF 300 f2.8 IS ii L and two extenders, and changing them in the field whilst shooting.

The Canon EF 400 f2.8L IS ii has a one-stop light gathering advantage, slightly faster autofocus, and image quality that is just ever so slightly better, although that may only be true at 400mm, which is the only focal length range where the two lenses overlap.  The EF 400 f2.8L IS ii can also blur backgrounds more effectively when shot wide open. The two lenses are similarly priced, although if one intends to use it with extenders, the extra cost, size and weight need to be taken into account.  Adding a 1.4x extender to the fixed 400 will result in a lens that will outperform the EF 200-400 f4L when it is being used with the extender, at similar focal lengths.  In its turn, the advantages that the EF 200-400 f4L holds over the fixed telephoto 400 f2.8 are mainly its much wider focal length range, which brings with it flexibility of composition.  Both lenses have equivalent image stabilization.  It is also much more comfortable and effective using the zoom ring and built-in extender on the EF 200-400 f4L than it is trying to manage the EF 400 f2.8 IS ii L and two extenders, and changing them in the field whilst shooting.  The zoom lens is also a little smaller and lighter (230g) than the big fixed 400.

I did not think that the EF 200-400 f4L really warranted direct comparison with the Canon EF 500 f4L IS ii.  If you are going to be needing 500mm of focal length for the majority of your shooting needs, then the fixed lens 500 is a far better choice.

CONCLUSION

Pros

Best available image quality at the time of writing from a zoom lens

Accurate and fast autofocus

Wide range of focal lengths, with the bonus and convenience of the built-in extender

Very effective, quiet and fast image stabilization

Excellent build quality

 Cons

High cost

Slightly heavy

 

GrantAtkinson-Chitabe_64U9217

 

The Canon EF 200-400 f4L IS 1.4x extender is one of the best zoom lenses, if not the best, that I have ever used.  Although I fully understand that much is made of the built-in extender from a marketing perspective, my own feeling is that the real strength of this lies in its exceptional image quality (virtually as good as an equivalent prime lens) and it’s very accurate autofocus, between the focal length ranges of 200mm and 400mm.  It is an expensive piece of equipment, but it delivers some of the best available image-making performance in its class. Using this lens enabled me to increase the number and quality of the kind of images that I take for a living, and it is hard to put a price on that.

 

About the Author:

I am a guide and a photographer, with a deep interest in all things to do with nature. I am based in Cape Town, South Africa, but travel often to wild places whilst leading photographic safaris, and enjoying the outdoors.

81 Responses to “Canon EF 200-400 f4 L IS USM Extender 1.4x Field Review”

  1. Nick Says: July 31, 2013 at 11:37 am

    Thanks for the comprehensive review, pity about the price tag!

    • Grant Atkinson Says: July 31, 2013 at 6:57 pm

      Thanks for the feedback Nick, appreciated!

  2. Kevin McDonald Says: July 31, 2013 at 6:19 pm

    An excellent and comprehensive review, I now have serious lens-envy!

    • Grant Atkinson Says: July 31, 2013 at 6:58 pm

      Thanks for your feedback Kevin
      Definitely a lens worthy of desire 🙂
      Cheers
      Grant

  3. Ed Raubenheimer Says: July 31, 2013 at 6:33 pm

    Must say seem very impressive pity about the price tag mainly due to the Rand exchange rate. Can’t see myself buying one getting a little old to spend so much just got a 300 f2.8 and still swetting. Grant must say it an very good review well done

  4. Grant Atkinson Says: July 31, 2013 at 7:00 pm

    Hi Ed
    Nothing wrong with the EF 300 f2.8, it shares lots of tech with this lens, and is also one of the most exciting telephoto lenses to use.
    Glad you enjoyed reading the review and thanks for letting me know
    cheers
    Grant

  5. Alan Says: July 31, 2013 at 8:04 pm

    Hello Grant! I hope this finds you well…sweet review of the 200-400, thank you for sharing your detailed impressions and thoughts regarding the attributes of this lens. It looks to be an acceptable and applicable solution within the 200-400 dynamic. A question for you regarding the field kit for southern Africa, when going into the bush with the 200-400, would you recommend to partner this lens with the 70-200 2.8 or the 24-70 2.8?

    Kind Regards, Alan

    • Grant Atkinson Says: July 31, 2013 at 8:48 pm

      Hi Alan
      Glad you found the review useful. As for your question, I would usually pair whichever long lens I have with me, whether 200-400 or the fixed 300, with a 70-200 f2.8, and then a 16-35 f2.8. If weight is an issue, then the 17-40f4L is my go-to option, and I also sometimes take the EF 70-200 f4L IS instead of the f2.8 if weight is a critical factor. You could take both the 24-70 and the 70-200 f2.8 which would give you good coverage but would be quite heavy. I also like having something on the ultra-wide side in case of proximal elephants 🙂 which is why I choose the 17-40 or 16-28 over the 24-70 or the 24-105…
      I would not wish to travel with the 200-400, and only one of either the 24-70 or 70-200…too big a gap for my own preference..
      Hope that makes some sense
      Regards
      Grant

  6. Alan Says: July 31, 2013 at 9:31 pm

    Hello Grant,
    Thank you for a quick, informative, and, as usual, complete reply! Ah, yes, proximal elephants…yikes, up close and personal :)! I did enjoy reading your recap of sitting in the bunker while getting some really nice captures, wide is good, so is ducking occasionally, super!

    Cheers!
    Alan

  7. Nancy Lewis Says: August 1, 2013 at 2:08 am

    I can’t believe I read the whole thing! Even though I won’t ever be able to own something like this, it’s great to be able to read these reviews… and understand most of the technological talk. 🙂 You’re the best at this!

  8. Ryan Viljoen Says: August 1, 2013 at 3:34 am

    Hey Grant,

    Excellent review, particularly the comparison of image quality & autofocus speed with the primes in that range. I am thoroughly enjoying my 300mm f2.8 II which still has impressive performance with a 2x extender on it – apart from the need to remove the lens add the extender reattached and such.

    It has taken awhile to get used to framing with a fixed focal length lens especially when the subject is closer and overlaps the frame – granted that was with and APS-C sensor however for me the two biggest selling points as you stated is image quality and autofocus at a constant f4 that is comparable to primes and offers the ability to zoom and then flick a switch for some extra reach… Just a pity you have to pay for those features 😛

    Cheers
    Ryan

    • Grant Atkinson Says: August 1, 2013 at 7:41 am

      Hi Ryan
      You summed it up pretty well. Actually, the EF 300 f2.8L IS ii with a 1.4x iii extender attached will outperform the EF 200-400 f4L at 420mm (which would need the extender engaged to get to 420mm f5.6) in both light gathering and image quality. Comparing the EF 300 f2.8 L IS ii and the 2x iii extender, at 600mm f5.6, to the EF 200-400 f4L IS with 1.4x extender engaged at maximum focal length of 560mm at f5.6, results quite similar, maybe the EF 200-400L would have a slight edge but I did not carry that out with those lenses side by side.
      Glad you enjoyed the review, and thanks for the feedback
      Cheers
      Grant

  9. Tinus Lamprecht Says: August 2, 2013 at 12:24 pm

    Read your review with great interest ! Very comprehensive and interesting.

    I’m a great fan of the 300 f/2.8 and with the 1.4x it produces stunning IQ, and BG. I found the IQ and tracking not that good with a 2.0x and therefore will stick with the 1.4x only. The focal range of this lens makes it attractive, but the price is a bit steep (IMHO).

    Cheers

    Tinus

  10. Patrick Landers Says: August 2, 2013 at 1:42 pm

    Hey Grant–I’m pretty sure I’ve read most if not all of the the online 200-400 reviews. Yours is the most detailed I’ve come across–thanks so much. Trying to decide between it and the 300 f2.8 is ii plus extenders. Those walks in airport terminals can be quite long, if you know what I mean. Hopefully I’ll own one of those babies next time I see you in Southern Africa. 🙂

    Pat

  11. Lars Says: August 3, 2013 at 5:28 am

    Great review! Thank you very much for sharing. How do you see the EF 200-400 f4L compared to the EF 500 f4L? I see you mention it briefly, but hope you will elaborate and shed a bit more light on this. Thank you. Lars

    • Grant Atkinson Says: August 11, 2013 at 11:03 am

      Hi Lars, I think that if you do most of your shooting at 500mm or upwards, then the EF 500f4ii is a better lens. At 500mm, it has a one stop aperture advantage, faster and more accurate AF, and better image quality, with more powerful background-blurring ability than the EF200-400f4L. The EF 500 f4Lii is also lighter, and noticeably easier to handhold due to its weight distribution being different to that of the zoom lens.
      I have been doing some shooting with the EF 500 f4L ii and will be spending some serious field time with it in September, with thoughts of a full field review soon after that.
      Hope that helps
      cheers
      Grant

      • Lars Says: August 15, 2013 at 3:31 pm

        Dear Grant,
        Thank you very much for your feedback. I am wondering whether to go for the EF500 f4L or the EF200-400 f4L. I mostly hear that at 500mm, the EF500 is naturally superior, but I am at the same time tempted by the flexibility of the 200-400. The use will primarily be wildlife including birds. The lens will be used for travelling, so have to carry it around as well as most of my trips includes walking around in nature on foot. While I have been considering other and lighter Canon zooms, I am intrigued by the superior quality and low-light capabilities of the 500mm and the 200-400mm. For travelling and shooting wildlife on foot (handholding the lens), do you have some personal experience you can share in regards to the 500mm versus the 200-400mm? I am further looking much forward for a review of the 500mm in the case you should decide to do such.

        Thank you very much.

        Brgds
        Lars

        • Grant Atkinson Says: August 15, 2013 at 10:13 pm

          Hi Lars
          I can tell you that when handholding, the EF 500 f4L IS ii is lighter in the front end than the EF 200-400f4L, That may not make too much difference, depending on how strong you may be. I can handhold the 500, and move it faster in response, quite a bit easier than the 200-400f4L, but I am one of the smaller wildlife photographers out there. Photographers bigger and stronger than I am will handle both of these lenses quite comfortably by hand, including walking with them.
          Both the 200-400 and the 500f4 will give you fantastic image quality, quite similar to one another (but at different focal lengths.)
          The EF 200-400 f4L can focus quite a bit closer when it comes to minimum focus distance, and it is a lot more versatile.
          I think that only you will know whether you will be shooting at 500mm focal lengths more often than you will between 200-400mm….
          I am busy with a full length field review of the EF 500f4 which I hope to complete sometime toward the end of September.
          I hope that helps 🙂 with a tough decision
          Cheers
          Grant

          • Lars Says: August 25, 2013 at 1:34 pm

            Hi Grant,

            Thank you for your answer. No doubt I will be looking forward for your review and opinion of the 500mm in comparison to the 200-400 and such review will contribute to my decision-making of which lens to go for in the end. THank you very much and looking forward.
            Brgds
            lars

  12. Zac Says: August 3, 2013 at 6:07 am

    Great review, thanks! One question: will you trade your 300mm f/2.8 II for the 200-400mm lens?

    • Grant Atkinson Says: August 11, 2013 at 11:06 am

      Hi Zac
      That is a tough question for me right now. I have sold my EF 300 f2.8L IS version 1, and not quite sure what I will replace it with. Due to the compact areas that I frequently work from, and due to the airline restrictions on baggage weight, it may well be that I end up with the EF 300f2.8 L IS ii and the 1.4x iii. When compared to the EF 200-400, both have their clear advantages….a tough decision to make – 🙂
      cheers
      Grant

  13. John Says: August 4, 2013 at 4:34 pm

    Thank you for this review. I have had my name on the list for the lens at a local store for a while with no delivery date given. I have a few events over the next couple of weeks that I could have used the lens and with no date in sight, I was about to cancel the order until I read your review. Keep enjoying the lens and thank you for your detailed review.

  14. Johan Badenhorst Says: August 6, 2013 at 8:27 am

    Hey Grant

    Thanks for another very good review of this lens. It really looks like a wonderful piece of kit. I must start playing the lotto…

  15. Christopher Hahn (Chris) Says: August 6, 2013 at 9:02 am

    Hi Grant,
    first of all, for us travellers from Europe or the States to Africa, it´s important to consider the weight restrictions of the airlines for handlugage, Wilderness Air or other bush flyers included. From this practical point of view this lens is not very useful, except you renounce of a second body and one or two other important lenses (for example 24-70/2.8 II and/or 70-200/2.8 II) or other gear. Weight and size of this lens, both are far above average for travellers. Besides of these, from a focal point of view, this lens could be interesting, but I share the opinion of different debaters here, to use rather the prime lens 300/2.8 II (with only 2,35 kgs) and the 1.4 x III-Teleconverter. So you cover a focal length from 300 and 420 mm. 420 mm is in the most cases enough for handheld shoots, especially, if you use a crop-camera too. The range of 200 mm is coverered by a zoom lens 70 – 200 mm. I think this is the best gear for those, who have to travel from far. What do you think about these facts? Hope, this message will find you in good health! Regards from Chris

    • Grant Atkinson Says: August 8, 2013 at 6:01 pm

      Hi Chris, great to hear from you as always. No arguing with the facts of the lighter weight advantage of the EF300f2.8II and the 1.4x extender, when compared to the EF 200-400 f4L. And I travel a lot too, as you do, so I also have to deal with the weight restrictions, and the difficulties of having a heavy pack. When I am travelling with a lens as heavy as the EF 200-400 f4L by air, I typically switch out my EF 70-200 f2.8ii, and my EF 16-35 f2.8II for the EF 17-40 f4L, and either the EF 70-300L f4/5.6, or the EF 70-200 f4L. That still doesnt quite make up the weight difference, but it does help a little. I don’t usually travel with a 24-70f2.8 for wildlife as it is a heavy lens. The other area where the EF 300 f2.8ii lens has an advantage is that it is quite a bit shorter, and the camera bag I carry mine in allows me to keep the hood in place, extended, for safety, and still fit under the seat of most airliners. The EF 200-400 f4L fitted into the same bag, but only just, and i had to remove the lens hood and place it in my checked baggage. The net weight difference between the EF 300-f2.8ii and the 1..4x iii extender, and the EF 200-400 f4L is only about a kilogram but the zoom lens is significantly longer and bulkier. Either way, both lenses offer excellent solutions for shooting in their focal length ranges…no losers between the two 🙂
      Hope you and Anne are well and thanks for writing with your valuable input, especially from the view of international travel
      Cheers
      Grant

  16. Tommy Says: August 6, 2013 at 3:34 pm

    Great review.

    I also got this lens and am very impressed with the results possible with it. And the flexibility of having either 200-400 or 280 to 560 mm is briliant.

    Next week I am going to Kruger National park for 2 weeks and can’t wait to shoot with this lens. I will b e shooting it on a 1DX.

    Best Regards Tommy

    • Grant Atkinson Says: August 8, 2013 at 5:49 pm

      Good to hear that Tommy, I am sure you are going to get some good results
      Thanks for the feeback
      Cheers
      Grant

  17. Wayne Marinovich Says: August 13, 2013 at 5:35 pm

    Grant. Simply a quality and detailed review that I have come to expect from you. Nice one.

    I so could have used this in Mana and Kruger this year as having constant proximity issues, meant constant changing of camera set-ups. I am at a dilemma though as I find myself more focused on birds and I am looking to upgrade my 500 (mk1) to a new 600mm. I do love the look of this lens, but am worried about having 2 large lenses on trips.
    Might stick with the 70-200 mkII plus 1.4x converter on my back up camera

    Good job here mate

    • Grant Atkinson Says: August 13, 2013 at 7:59 pm

      Thanks Wayne, reviewing the lens hardly a tough job 🙂
      I can emphathise with you about the gear…trying to manage too many lenses and bodies becomes a challenge in itself, and sometimes having to shift around and move one to get hold of another can make enough noise that the subject disappear or move off!
      Think you are going to really enjoy the 600 ii …i am looking forward to the images from the Mana and Kruger trips
      cheers
      Grant

  18. Roxanne Richardson Says: August 14, 2013 at 11:47 am

    Hi Grant,
    I found your evaluation to be very helpful and now I have my sights set on this lens, but once thing I noticed is that you did not compare this to the EF 100-400 1:4.5-5.6 L IS. I was wondering if there would be much of a difference in the quality and performance. I find the 100-400 a tad slow on focus, but unless I’m trying to catch a bird at full focal length, the sharpness does not disappoint.
    Thank you,
    Roxanne

    • Grant Atkinson Says: August 14, 2013 at 4:17 pm

      Hi Roxanne
      Between the best Canon zoom lenses that I use frequently for wildlife, there is a difference in detail and to a lesser extent, contrast when comparing the images that I get from them. All of them, that is the EF 70-200 f4L IS, the EF 70-200 f2.8 IS ii, the EF 70-300 f4/5.6L IS and the EF 100-400 f4.5.5.6L IS can produce images that are well detailed, and just about suitable for anything that I wish to use them for. My ranking of their image quality is as follows? The EF 200-400f4L and EF 70-200f2.8 IS ii are the two best, then the EF 70-200 f4L IS, just followed by the EF 70-300f4/5.6L IS and then the EF 100-400 f4.5/5.6L IS. The difference between the lens I consider sharpest, and the one that produces the least detailed image, in this group, is significant when viewed at a high magnification, or if the image is deeply cropped. But of course sharpness and image quality are somewhat subjective, and each user has their own judgement. The differences will also be less noticeable when viewed at a ‘normal’ computer screen type size.
      Notwithstanding the above, I find that the images that come out of the EF 200-400 are more finely detailed than those produced by the EF 100-400L. The difference also seems greater when using them in low light. The EF 200-400 f4L can also be shot wide-open at f4 with virtually no sharpness penalty, allowing more control of background blur, and it focused more accurately, and faster, all of which contributed to a greater overall number of ‘keeper’ images when used in the field conditions that I typically work in. The EF 200-400L also has lower levels of vignetting. The advantages that the EF 200-400 f4L held for me might not be quite as great for somebody photographing static subjects in bright light…
      Hope that helps to explain things. If you wish, I can also email you a couple of high-resolution jpg images taken from the same location with the EF 200-400 and the EF 100-400, of the same subject and from the same camera body for comparison.
      Cheers 🙂
      Grant

  19. Roxanne Richardson Says: August 14, 2013 at 6:42 pm

    Thank you so much for the detailed information. I had carefully researched out the lens I felt would give me the reach I would need at something a little easier to financially handle and still have quality. This lens fit the bill, but now I am starting to obsess with the new lens; lol. I will be going on an African photographic safari in a month and am hoping for great images. I would love to see the differences between the quality of the two lens. I looked up the cost and while right now it’s not doable, it may be for my next planned trip. My email address is eap34@juno.com. I got this earlier this year and spent summer getting to know my lens using it in a variety of situations so that I could know it’s quirks and it’s strengths. I look forward to hearing from you! Thank you again for your help.

  20. Swaranjeet Singh Says: August 21, 2013 at 6:53 am

    Hi
    Nice review . Thanks.

    I am currently using, for similar usage, EF 300 f/2.8 mk ii and the EF 500 f/4 mk ii Needless to say, they are absolutely outstanding lenses and produce great results. Incidentally , I use the 5d mk iii, 5d mk ii and 7d as the cameras.

    I have waited, like everyone else for this camera to be launched and then hoped that it would be good enough to allow me to replace the above two lenses that I currently carry for wildlife photography with two bodies with just one camera and lens set. Do you think, now that you have used this lens a fair bit, that this will be a fair transition – replacing this one set with the two I was carrying earlier. Of course I may carry other bodies and lenses but here we are talking just the focal length covered by my 300 and 500 lenses.

    If yes, what about replacing the possible combination I have currently of using the mk iii version of the TC with the 500 giving me 700 on a full frame. I understand, at least from some reviews, that after adding an external TC, the 200-400 gives pretty good results. What do you think of this?

    I must admit that I find the 500 short at times for birding , particularly, and have thought more than once of waiting for an upgraded version (overdue I think) of the 800 f/5.6 and use that and the 200-400 in combination to cover all exigencies. Would you take that option and leave out the 300, 500 and the possible 600 mm mk ii primes.

    Please do not include the price as a determining factor in your reply for those depend upon the individual circumstances and do not reflect on the lens-utility per se. The weight of course is an issue but compared to the 600 (which I don’t have) the 200-400 is lighter and compared to the 500 mk ii it is about 250 gms heavier. For me the differences are less of a problem in actual usage since ai would use at least a monopod for all these lenses. The 300 mk ii is the only one I feel comfortable to use quite often handheld but I find its utility more when photographing birds in flight where I spite of having the Wimberley , I still prefer hand holding where possible.

    Best regards

    Swaranjeet

    • Grant Atkinson Says: August 26, 2013 at 12:09 pm

      Hi Swaranjeet, thanks for your feedback on the review, and for describing your current lens usage and requirements so comprehensively. In short, I would definitely consider the EF 200-400f4L to be a very versatile replacement for the Canon EF 300 f2.8L IS ii and even perhaps the EF 400f2.8L IS ii, given certain shooting situations. However, I would be less certain of replacing the EF 500 f4L IS ii that you currently have with the EF 200-400f4L, not for any quality reasons, but only if you are constantly finding that your EF 500f4L IS ii is too much lens for your favoured subjects and scenarios. I found the EF 200-400 f4L to produce images and autofocus performance between 200mm and 400mm even wide-open at f4 that is very, very close to that of the EF 500f4L IS ii. However when one wishes to shoot at focal lengths beyond 400mm and the extender is in place then the EF 500f4L IS ii holds a small but real image quality advantage, as well as an autofocus speed and accuracy advantage, along with the flexibility of having an extra f-stop to play with. It does give up 60mm of focal length to the EF 200-400 f4L though. So I would not necessarily consider the EF 200-400f4L a suitable replacement for both your current lenses….given the usage scenario that you described above..
      Hope that helps, and please excuse my late response, I am in the field with limited and fragile internet connection and little time as well.
      Cheers
      Grant

  21. Swaranjeet Singh Says: September 7, 2013 at 6:30 am

    Hi Grant
    Pleased to inform that my 200-400 arrived yesterday. Thrilled beyond words :-). I have sold my 500 mk ii and am looking for a buyer for the 300 mk ii. I see your point regarding the need for quality at 500 and beyond. I find that for birds, which is where these focal lengths are needed in my case, 500 is not long enough. To use the TC all the time makes less sense than actually buying something longer. So I think I need to look at the 600 mk ii at least. Although, I suspect, 800 would be an option as well. I have seen friends using a combination of 400 f2.8 and 800 for birds. With the 200-400 that I now have would you, personally, have chosen the 600 f/4 or the 800 f/5.6.

    In the case of the 800, one keeps hearing that an upgrade is around the corner. If so, it could be worth waiting for. It’s a bit of a dilemma 🙂

    • Grant Atkinson Says: September 7, 2013 at 8:58 pm

      Hi Swaranjeet, thanks for your news…always good to share in ‘new lens’ excitement 🙂
      I would agree wholeheartedly with you that if birds are a photographic goal, that the EF 600 f4ii is the way to go. It is lighter and easier to use than the EF 800L f5.6. It is also a little sharper, and has less vignetting than the 800. With the 1.4x iii extender in place, the EF 600f4ii is about even with the EF 800L f5.6 in most aspects of performance and actually exceeds it slightly in focal length. I would probably choose the EF 600 f4L ii over the current EF 800 L f5.6, both for its manageability, as well as the versatility that comes with the faster f4 lens. On those occasions when 600mm is enough focal length, and that will happen some of the time, you can then take full advantage of the bare lens excellent AF performance and image quality.
      The lighter weight and superior weight distribution of the new EF 600f4ii also mean that there will be times when you can handhold it. I find that handholding, even for short periods, gives me freedom of movement for tracking birds in flight that I struggle to match when shooting from a tripod.
      I too have read the rumours of the replacement EF 800L f5.6, but one cannot take pictures of wildlife with lenses that havent been announced yet 🙂

  22. Amin Khalifa Says: September 11, 2013 at 6:20 pm

    Grant,

    Your reviews on Canon equipment and tips (how to set up focus on 5d3) have been very helpful. Thank you, I very much appreciate it. I have a trip next March (from S. California) to SA, Botswana and Zimbabwe and the itinerary has us visiting Cape Town & Hermanus the first week and then onto Entabeni Consevancy, Vic Falls, Chobe in week two. Do you recommend that we tack on some days to see Sabi Sands? Other parks? Also I’m taking my 5d3, and thinking of having my wife use the 7d with old 5d for back-up. Lenses I own include the 500f4, 70-200 II and 24-105 with new 1.4 and 2.0 TC’s ( I also own the 100-400), but i can afford to upgrade bodies and/or lenses and am intrigued by the 200-400. My interests are in birds, and of course the mammals. Final question is what is the preferred mount system for the 500 since I assume we’ll be in open vehicles during the drives (monopod, Wimberly and G clamp?). Thanks in advance for your suggestions, I only wish that I could spend a month or two doing safaris all over Africa!

    • Grant Atkinson Says: September 24, 2013 at 5:26 pm

      Hi Amin
      Apologies for my late response. If I were going to be in southern Africa, I would most definitely visit the Sabi Sands…it is one of the best places where one might get a chance to see and perhaps photograph leopards up close, as well as lions and other charismatic wildlife. Most of the regular safari vehicles in southern Africa are open sided, with no windows, and some of them have cross bars that run in front of each row of seats, at waist height. You might be able to attach a C-clamp to that crossbar, and then attach a Wimberley to that clamp if that is how you like to shoot the 500 f4. One can also use a monopod, although it tends to wobble around a bit, and usually works better if using a specialized clamp that locks around the upper part of the monopod, then you attach a wimberley to the top of the monopod…
      As for your gear, it sounds like a pretty good set-up, and it would be a fair question whether or not to replace the 500f4 with the 200-400f4 but I think it would depend on whether mammals or birds are your main priority?
      Hope that helps
      Cheers
      Grant

  23. Dr. Matthias Schmid Says: October 4, 2013 at 9:11 pm

    Hi Grant !

    Thanks for this full, complete and very interesting review. I’m totally satisfied user of the 200-400 1.4x since I got it by mid June. Shooting wildlife and air shows, I’m astonished every time I use it about the perfection and quality of the pics !!

    Best regards from Switzerland

    Matthias

  24. Rick Hogben Says: October 11, 2013 at 8:41 am

    Hi Grant
    I’m a first time visitor to your website, it is all is very impressive. i read your comments on the Canon 200-400 F4 with interest, and thought it was very good. I held out for this for a long time before giving in to impatience and buying a 500 f4. Maybe not such a bad outcome!

    • Grant Atkinson Says: October 19, 2013 at 9:40 am

      Hi Rick, glad you found some useful information on the website. The 200-400 f4 is an excellent lens, but the EF 500 f4L IS ii is equally so, with the advantage of light weight as a bonus…..
      I am currently shooting with the 500 f4L IS ii and enjoying it immensely.
      Cheers
      Grant

  25. John Says: October 19, 2013 at 12:09 pm

    Hi Grant,

    I finally got the lens (wrote you beginning of August) and I have to say that it is all that you said and more. I truly enjoy using it. Once again thank you for the time you took to evaluate the lens and for putting your impressions down in writing.

    • Grant Atkinson Says: October 21, 2013 at 8:30 am

      Hi John, glad to hear that you are enjoying the EF 200-400 f4L, I found it to be one of those items of gear that just keeps on surprizing me with its outstanding quality of results, every time I use it.
      Cheers
      Grant

  26. Kevin Hutchinson Says: October 23, 2013 at 7:33 pm

    Hi Grant

    I really enjoyed your review on this lens! As a novice wildlife photographer I have been shooting with the EF 100-400 f4.5/5.6 L IS which at that stage was, like many others, within an acceptable price range. Although I have had some decent results from this lens I suppose we all, at some stage, start looking for something sharper, longer & faster. The EF 200-400 f4L IS 1.4x ext IS USM has to be the ideal lens, however, the price is a bit of a shock to the system. What, in your opinion, would be the next best option at a better price range?
    Rgds
    Kevin Hutch

    • Grant Atkinson Says: October 24, 2013 at 1:37 pm

      Hi there Kevin
      This is a tough question that many wildlife photographers face as they look to get more focal length, or bigger aperture, or better image quality. There is currently a massive jump in price from a whole cluster of medium-priced Canon lenses like the EF 300f4L IS, the 100-400L f4.5-5.6L IS, the EF 400L f5.6 to the upper price echelons of all the fixed Canon super telephoto lenses. Some current options are a new EF 300 f2.8L IS ii, plus 1.4x and 2x extenders…which will give you a variety of advantages over the 100-400L (bigger max apertures at 300mm and 420mm, reach advantage at 420mm and 560mm) although flexibility in a hurry is not one of them.
      Another option might be a used EF 300 f2.8L IS version 1 (plus extenders) or a used EF 500f4L IS version 1. Both of those lenses are exceptionally sharp, focus very fast and accurately and are exciting to use.

      There are also continuous rumours of a new Canon eF 100-400L sometime next year that might offer sharper images, faster autofocus and superior image stabilization. This is a reasonable expectation to have if one takes into account the good performance provided by the EF 70-300 L IS. The fact that Nikon have also released their new 80-400 may also spur Canon on to bring out the new, rumoured 100-400L.
      Hope that helps
      cheers
      Grant

  27. Roxanne Richardson Says: October 24, 2013 at 7:02 pm

    Hi Grant,
    I had been to Africa on a photo safari and as I’m going over my images, I noticed a rainbow effect when I shot in extremely low light. I shot with a 5D MarkII. My settings were on ISO 6400, shutter speed of 100 and aperture at 5.6. I used my 100-400L IS lens. I wasn’t the only one with this problem, but mine were most noticeable. I have talked with Canon and was basically told that when using that high of an ISO under those lighting conditions, it’s normal. They made recommendations to try to work with it post-production and as for shooting, the suggestions were just that, ‘you could try. . .’ They couldn’t say with certainty that switching from landscape to neutral or setting the Auto Lighting to low would help, but worth trying. The tech I spoke with also said for me to shoot in the afternoon light using each of the ISO’s to see if I still get that effect when I hit the high ISO. As a wildlife photographer, have you seen this problem and how do you work with it? I will admit that I am not the most technical which is probably part of the problem, but I would be grateful for any insight. Thank you for even taking the time to read this.

    • Grant Atkinson Says: October 25, 2013 at 6:23 am

      Hi Roxanne, although I did own a 5DmkII for a long time, I don’t recall ever shooting it at iso 6400 outdoors in natural light. I have shot my 5Dmk3 and 1Dmk4 at iso 6400 in natural light several times, but not noticed anything unusual apart from some noise which may show up almost as a pattern. It would help if you sent me one of the images to see. I do shoot in raw only though. Noise, or its effects, typically show up most visible when you have large parts of your frame representing low contrast areas. In other words, I expect noise to show up more in images where I have large areas of dark, soft-contrast background as opposed to images shot in the same light at the same iso but where the frame is mostly filled with high-contrast subject. If your rainbow pattern is showing up most strongly in low contrast areas, perhaps it is just a result of strong processing techniques being applied to high-iso noise?
      Feel free to send me an example or two to my email address, which you can access via the Contact section on the website
      Cheers
      Grant

  28. Kevin Hutch Says: October 24, 2013 at 9:45 pm

    Thanks for the info Grant, most certainly helped. All I require now are the correct numbers for that all elusive lotto!!

    Rgds.
    Kevin Hutch

    • Grant Atkinson Says: October 25, 2013 at 6:32 am

      Hi Kevin, perhaps the rumoured new 100-400L will provide a good option. Alternatively getting used gear can be an option and the L-series lenses hold up really well.
      Cheers
      Grant

  29. Pradeep Says: October 31, 2013 at 3:24 am

    Dear Grant:

    Thank you so much for such an exhaustive review and even more so, the painstakingly detailed responses to all the questions. That to me has been much more useful in some ways. This is my first visit to your blog and I am very glad I found it.

    I have the 600 Mk II and used it with the 1DX on a trip to Tanzania earlier this year, before the 200-400 F4 became freely available. It is a stellar lens, just as good as my old 300 f2.8 Mk I was. Now I have a huge dilemma. Get the 200-400 and/ or keep the 600. Cannot carry both on a trip even if I could own them. In Africa I used the 600 on the 1DX and the 70-200 f2.8 on a 1D4 body, and the Nex7 with a 24mm for scenics. I did carry the 24-105 as my third lens but hardly used it (didn’t want to change lenses in the open).

    In fact the biggest problem in Africa I believe is just that – too risky to keep changing lenses or adding/removing extenders in the field – there is just too much dust and sometimes you don’t realize you’ve got a dirty sensor until you’ve shot all day with it. Just for that alone I think the 200-400 would be a great ‘all round’ wildlife lens. For birding though the 600 with added potential for even greater reach is the king. And in Africa the birds are sometimes even better than the mammals.

    A happy problem of sorts to have. Don’t know that there is a simple solution to it.

    Best wishes and thank you for being so generous with your time

    Pradeep

  30. Rajiv Welikala Says: November 27, 2013 at 11:55 am

    Dear Grant,

    Really enjoyed your detailed review.

    I have ordered this lens, and I am patiently awaiting its arrival in Sri Lanka.

    I travel alot within the country, and have been using the 100-400mm for over 4 years, and used this little lens to the maximum possible, but I was eternally frustrated how much I had to strain to get a decent quality sharp image. When I did get one it was awesome, but I have to try really really hard and waste so many shots to get one.

    I tried out my friends 70-200 f2.8 last weekend and I clearly noticed the difference in sharpness and clarity.

    Once I get the 200-400 I hope to invest in the 70-200 as well, especially because I go on foot to photograph elephants, I dont think carrying a big lens would be the most advisable, especially because of the pickly situations I normally end up in among the pachyderms. So best would be to carry a lightweight 70-200 f2.8

    I also hope to buy the proposed Canon 7D Mark II body which is rumored to come out next year. The rumored specs look amazing and I am mainly looking forward to the 10 frames per second and great iso performance.

  31. Greg Ness Says: January 5, 2014 at 3:53 pm

    Grant, thank you for such a great review on the 200-400. I bought this lens this summer and have been really happy with it, though I do find a poor hit rate on in-focus shots when I attempt to hand hold it. I suspect that this is by far limitations on the part of this shooter rather than on the lens itself. I use this lens mostly with my 5D III.

    I do have a question for you based on your review. If you are shooting moving wildlife hand held or on a tripod are you usually using the new Mode 3 image stabilization on this lens. Also, are you pairing this with AI Servo using all the autofocus points?

    Thank you,
    Greg Ness

    • Grant Atkinson Says: January 6, 2014 at 6:32 am

      Hi Greg
      Glad you are enjoying the lens, it is such a versatile piece of gear…really ideal for wildlife shooting. I shoot almost entirely handheld when using the 500f4L IS ii or the EF 200-400f4L IS 1.4x.

      I have been using Mode 3 extensively for the last three months, with good results it seems. I also get pretty good results using Mode 1, which is the other mode that I typically use. The newest IS system is so fast, so quiet and so effective on these new super teles that I cannot really say that one mode is too much different from the other at this stage for my style of shooting. Whether I am on Mode 1 or 3, the new lenses with the latest IS are enabling me to come away from shooting in very low light with sharp shots handheld that I struggled to match when using the older IS Canon lenses.

      I keep my cameras in Ai Servo all the time, and I typically keep either all 61 points available, or sometimes switch to just the 41 cross type points when using the 5d3 or the 1DX. Although I keep all or 41 point available, I never use the fully automatic, 61 point AF selection option. I prefer to either use a single AF point, manually selected by myself from either 61 or 41 available, or I also make use of AF Zone, which is the cluster of points that is very easy to move around the grid very quickly when I am dealing with subjects that change their position rapidly in my frame. These AF settings and approach are working for me with the 1DX and the 5Dmk3.
      Hope that helps
      Cheers
      Grant

  32. Matt McKean Says: January 18, 2014 at 3:14 pm

    Grant, fantastic review on a lens I hold great interest in.. I do have a question, with the internal tc engaged, does this just make the centre focus point active on a 7d, would the likes of a 5dmk3 or 1dx remain with all af points active.. I realise that putting this lens on such a body as a 7d isn’t the best of pairing, I’m just waiting to see if a mk2 of the 7d comes before I make a body decision.. Many thanks Matt

    • Grant Atkinson Says: January 19, 2014 at 8:15 pm

      Hi Matt, thanks for your feedback here. Using the EF200-400f4L IS with the internal extender engaged, results in a 560mm f5.6 combination. All focus points work just fine in this configuration with any reasonably modern Canon DSLR, including the 7D (all 19 points work). If you then attach a separate and additional 1.4x Canon extender to this 560mm f5.6 lens, then I don’t think that any of the 7D autofocus points will work. You will then need to use a 5d3 or 1DX, or 1Dmk4 or 1Dmk3, to have working AF, either from centre point only, or centre point plus a few more. Hope that helps.
      cheers
      Grant

  33. Matt McKean Says: January 21, 2014 at 2:18 pm

    Thanks Grant for the response, very helpful.

    Many thanks

    Regards

    Matt

  34. Franz Zihlmann Says: March 3, 2014 at 11:56 pm

    When I was researching the Canon 200-400 1.4 for a possible purchase, your review of the product was by far the most useful. In fact, your review pushed me over to purchase the lens and I never looked back. Like you, I am using the EOS 5D MK3 with the lens. I do have a question about Camera Autofocus Settings that yield the best images in wildlife shooting. Specifically, which AF Area Selection are you mostly using? I started out with mostly using Single-Point Spot AF because I like to be precise with where I am focusing but had some sharpness issues when I was shooting a Panda Bear at the Zoo. Canon told me that that this mode can result in focusing issues when focusing on an area with uniform color on the object. Also, for wildlife shooting, which AI Servo AF “Fine Tune” option (Case 1-6) works best for you?
    Thanks for the effort you put into this review and sharing your experience.
    Franz Zihlmann

    • Grant Atkinson Says: March 4, 2014 at 7:17 am

      Hi Franz
      Thanks for letting me know about your findings. When it comes to AF Area Selection, I tend to use the Single Point (not Spot) most of the time. I seldom have issues with accuracy or sharpness when I get the AF point in the right place. However, a panda bear might be problematic as it has a dark face and dark eyes, which don’t provide too much contrast. This lack of differential contrast can be exacerbated in low light for the AF but I still find that the Single Point AF or Spot AF to work the best, even more so then. In such cases I usually pick a place on the subject that is an equal distance to me as the eyes would be (given that I want the eyes to be in focus), such as the chin, or maybe the neck, depending on the animal, that shows more contrast, and then perhaps dial in a tiny bit more depth of field if feasible.
      I mostly just use Single point AF, but I do find that moving the point around on the 61 point grid quickly with a Single Point can be a bit slow, specially when I have a subject that is changing its position in my frame often and quickly. In such instances I usually switch to the mode AF Zone, which is 9 points and in clusters, and can be moved in just two clicks from one side to the other. I find AF Zone to be accurate most of the time, although I don’t have exact control over which point finds AF lock first in the cluster. It does give me best results when I can work with a little extra depth of field. Another option when I am struggling to move around the AF point grid quick enough to compose with a subject moving about quickly, and using Single Point, is to then reduce the number of available AF points to 41 or even less if needed. This option is available on the 5Dmk3 in the pink AF menu.
      When it comes to the Ai Servo AF Cases, I have found that I prefer to work with the individual AF parameters, rather than taking hit or miss guesses with the Cases. I have written up a fairly detailed description of how I do this here:
      http://www.grantatkinson.com/blog/making-the-most-of-canons-new-autofocus-5dmk3-and-1dx

      I am also working on a new autofocus setup text, that will be more relevant on the 1DX with it’s new firmware but will still have relevance to the 5Dmk3
      Hope that helps
      cheers
      Grant

  35. Franz Zihlmann Says: March 6, 2014 at 3:35 am

    Thanks Grant for your feedback. When I look at the series of Panda images that are out of focus I can see a possible lack of differential contrast on the bear’s grey/white face and there certainly was a relatively low light condition. What motivated me to post my first message is that the out of focus images where the best compositions of the entire series of images I took from the bear…..

    I had missed your blog on “Making the most of Canon’s new autofocus – 5Dmk3 and 1DX” and it actually answers all my questions. In fact I faced the same issues with the “Six Cases” and find your approach of simply setting the three parameters (Tracking sensitivity, Accelerate/Decelerate tracking, AF Point Auto Switching) much more practical. I love the “My Menu Settings” and actually use all six of them for settings I frequently use. With your suggestion I may have to further prioritize the list and make room for the AF Configuration settings.

  36. Greg Ness Says: March 13, 2014 at 5:42 am

    Grant, thanks again for your review of the Canon EF 200-400 f4 L IS USM Extender 1.4x. Because of your review, as well as positive things I was seeing from others, I bought this lens late in the summer of 2013. Now that I have had several months to use this lens, I must say I am blown away by the quality and versatility of this lens. I have used it extensively on trips in the U.S., South America and also to Easter Island. I was hopeful that it would have the quality I wanted, but now that I have had so many occasions to use it, it has far exceeded my expectations. This is an expensive lens, so reviews like yours are such an important step in the decision-making process for people like me. Your review was extremely helpful, and in my opinion completely accurate. So again – thank you.

    • Grant Atkinson Says: March 13, 2014 at 3:11 pm

      Hi Greg
      Thanks for the feedback here, especially after months of use. Always a bit easier to make the best judgements after some longer periods of use, then when using brand new gear for a few days or a week, I find. I also found the image quality to be of the best I have obtained from a zoom lens. That is pretty liberating for me, as it combines the accuracy of composition that the zoom brings, with highest-order image quality, and the freedom to shoot wide open, which is after all why one pays so much, not only in monetary terms but also the burden of carrying and using such bulky gear items. I am busy right now on an autofocus post as well as the field reviews of the EF 500f4L IS ii.
      Thanks for staying in touch
      cheers
      Grant

  37. Dave Keay Says: April 16, 2014 at 12:41 pm

    Grant, great real world review of the new Canon EF 200-400 F4.0 lens I am a serious amateur and soon to pull the plug on a 1Dx and either the 200-400 F4.0 or the 500 F4.0 getting back into nature and wildlife photography. The last DSLR long lens combo I used was the Nikon D3s and 300 F2.8 VR11 with both 1.4x and 2.0x convertors. I shoot Leica for landscape and people but want to expand into nature and wildlife again also Canon options for macro and studio more flexible than Leica. The choice of Canon this time is more driven by their lens selection than the body but I think both systems are great.

    I made the decision that the 300 F2.8 is just not long enough if most cases I usually shot with one of the TC’s engaged I initially intended to go for a 500 F4.0 but the 200-400 intrigues me the flexibility it has with the zoom giving 200-560 with the TC engaged. Although I don’t in ten to shoot exclusively birds locally they are the most common in Ontario Canada if I look back at all my D3/300 files I am probably ~40% birds and do hope to do quite bit of travelling with the new gear shooting lots of wildlife and birds…the joys of early retirement.

    ironically now the 500 F4.0 is lighter than the 200-400 and less expensive is the 200-400 the way to go if you consider weight and available focal length I can live with the ~$1500 price difference in either case.I saw a review but can’t find it again that suggests the 200-400 can also be used with the 2.0xTC giving good results as a 400-800 lens without the internal TC engaged have you had any experience with this. Any thoughts or comments you might have on all of this would be greatly appreciated

    Thanks

    Dave

    • Grant Atkinson Says: April 16, 2014 at 1:20 pm

      Hi Dave, thanks for your feedback on the review, and to read about your gear plans and current setup. I agree with you that at the moment, little to choose from in camera bodies when it comes to the Canon 1DX or the Nikon D4/S. Lenses are definitely a bigger factor.
      I own the EF 500f4L IS ii and find it significantly lighter and easier to handhold for long periods, when compared to the EF 200-400f4L IS extender, although it is worth noting that I am on the diminutive side when it comes to physical build.

      Whilst I have shot the EF 200-400 with its own internal 1.4x extender engaged, and a 1.4x extender attached, I did not try it with a 2x extender. I realize that in many instances 800mm of focal length is advantageous, but if I were going to be shooting a lot at that focal length, I would rather go with the EF 600 plus 1.4x, or the EF 500f4L and 1.4x or 2x extender. As good as the EF 200-400f4L is optically, when shot with no extender engaged or attached, I found that it bled away some performance when one extender, and even more so when the second extender was brought into play. It is a complex zoom lens, after all, perhaps one of the best of its kind ever, but it cannot quite match the latest fixed focal length super teles when extenders are added to the mix.
      That said, I found that the 200-400 plus two of 1.4x extenders delivered suprizingly decent image quality for distant subjects, in good light. I found trying to focus on fast-moving subjects quite difficult, which is to be expected.
      Usually when i am trying to work out what lens to get, I will take some big folders of images that I like shooting, and then use Lightroom Filter to check by focal length. It quickly clarifies for me which focal lengths are most important to me. My own choice between 200-400 and 500f4 was influenced to some degree in this way, by noting that the majority of keeper shots that I took with the 200-400f4 were at 400mm, and often still cropped afterwards, hence the 500 fitting the bill.
      I do miss the flexibility of the zoom a whole lot though especially with mammal photography at close distances.

      I am currently working on a review of the EF 500f4L IS ii and hope to have it published within the next week or two.
      Hope something in there is helpful
      Cheers
      Grant

  38. shashidhar Says: June 29, 2014 at 5:00 am

    Thanx Grant Atkinson… thank you very much for detailed review. I’m using Nikon from the past 10 years and after reading many reviews, I decided to change over to Canon. I want to gor fot Canon 5D Mark III with Canon EF 200-400 f4 L IS USM Extender 1.4x. Earlier I preferred Nikon 300 f2.8 wit 1.4 x converter. Please guide me about my decision rearding changeover to Canon.
    Shashi

  39. Martin Feldman Says: July 11, 2014 at 7:14 pm

    (Very sorry, but this is a duplicate of an email I sent to you earlier.) Thank you for this outstanding and comprehensive review. I have a photo safari in Kenya planned for later this year. I own both a 200-400 and 500 f/4 (version 1). Is there really any need to bring both lenses? Yes, i like birds, but my primary focus will be on mammals. Thank you.

    • Grant Atkinson Says: July 12, 2014 at 9:07 am

      Hi Shashidar, the EF 200-400L 1.4x combined with the 5dmk3 is a very powerful tool for wildlife photography. I think you will find it much more versatile than your earlier 300mm lens, with converters. You will not waste any time changing converters in the field, and you will also find that the 200-400 zoom range allows you to easily change compositions as animals move closer or further from you. On top of that, the 200-400L image quality, between 200mm and 400mm at f4, will be better image quality than the 300mm lens with a converter attached.
      If there are more specific things you wish to ask, go ahead..
      Cheers
      Grant

  40. Shashidhar Says: July 12, 2014 at 10:44 am

    Thank you sir

  41. Brett Halk Says: August 28, 2014 at 1:28 pm

    Hi Grant,

    Thanks for the amazing review !!

    What should one expect to pay locally in SA for this lense ?

    Regards,
    Brett

  42. Amit Says: September 3, 2014 at 6:01 am

    Hi Grant,

    Thank for sharing this comprehensive review on this gem of a lens from Canon. I really admire and appreciate the level of detail provided in this review. I’m a big fan of your photography.

    I’m in a similar boat, as some other folks on this forum, torn between getting the 200-400 vs 500 IS II. My interests lie in making images of Mammals , water birds (flamingos, storks, pelicans, etc) and some raptors. I have not developed a strong interest into small birds yet. My places of interest include typical Indian national parks such as Ranthambore, Kazirangha, Kabini, Kanha, Corbett,Bharathpur, Bandhavgarh and an occasional African park. The light in these Indian parks is not as good as the parks in Africa. Having said that, I don’t believe low light conditions are the best for creating dramatic images including wildlife action, so I’m open to getting a f4 lens was purely buying f2.8 lenses.

    My current canon equipment includes a 5d Mk III and a 100mm-400mm. I would highly appreciate any inputs on getting a 200-400 vs 400 f2.8 IS II vs 500 f4 IS II.

    Thanks
    Amit

  43. Greg Ness Says: September 4, 2014 at 5:40 pm

    Having now used the Canon 200-400 + 1.4x for over a year, I cannot imagine being without this lens to shoot mammals if you can handle the price and plan to use a gimbal head for most shots. Amazing quality plus the versatility of having 200mm – 560mm INSTANTLY available is a potent and versatile combination.

    This was clearly reaffirmed on a recent trip to photograph brown bears in the wilds of Alaska (this also included many photos of other mammals, smaller birds and raptors). I used every focal length available on the 200-400 + 1.4x on this trip.

    I don’t own the 600mm or 500mm, but will soon be ordering the 600mm. This will mostly be for having an even more powerful lens for shooting small to medium size birds or small or far-off animals. My main preference is photographing larger mammals and if I was going to take one super telephoto on a trip that requires airline travel (with all the accompanying hassles of weight and size restrictions regarding luggage ) it would, without a doubt, be the 200-400 + 1.4x. I shoot this lens with both a 5D Mark III and a 1DX. If your interest is mostly birds, then a good argument can be made for taking a 600 or 500 instead of the 200-400.

  44. Amit Says: September 14, 2014 at 6:10 pm

    Thank you so much Grant for sharing your experience with the 200-400. Since mammals are a priority for me, the 200-400 would be a better fit. I’m going to try and rent the 200-400 for my next trip to get some hands on time with the lens. Btw did you feel any IQ difference with the extender engaged for focal lengths greater than 400mm?

    • Grant Atkinson Says: September 20, 2014 at 3:46 am

      Hi Amit, I preferred to shoot the EF 200-400 without the extender engaged, any time that I was within the 200-400mm focal length range…however, using the extender still provided very good image quality, just not quite as exceptionally good as when shooting the lens without the extender in place. This is to be expected of course.
      In good light the differences were smallest, and what is so great about the lens is that you can just switch between extender and no extender use whilst shooting the same subject.
      Hope it works out well for you, but I am sure you will. This lens is fast becoming THE standard wildlife lens with many of the photographers that I work with in my photo safari business 🙂
      Cheers
      Grant

  45. Kevin Says: November 10, 2014 at 6:51 am

    Hi Grant…excellent-comprehensive article……I shoot 70percent junior sports and soccer in particular whilst doing the odd amateur wildlife expedition and need to upgrade…….would you go with canon 200-400 f4 or use the fast and most commonly used sports lens – 400mm f2.8 11 prime and switch into the converter when required for the wildlife… I already have 70-200 mm 2.8 11……what would be your thoughts-advice….very greatly appreciated Kevin

    • Grant Atkinson Says: December 6, 2014 at 2:09 pm

      Hi Kevin, apologies for my late response, I have been away in the field for the last month and just trying to catch up now! If you already have the 70-200f2.8 ii, then choosing the fixed EF 400L f2.8 IS ii would give you the best possible AF speed, best low light capability and also background blurring power for distracting backgrounds. The negative would be that you lose flexibility and the ability to frame as carefully as possible. However, you still have the 70-200 on hand for things that move very close.
      The 200-400L would offer greater accuracy with framing, limiting how much cropping you might need to do, both though the lens or afterwards. It doesn’t give up much to the fixed lenses in terms of AF speed and image quailty. On the downside, the 200-400 cannot shoot at f.28 for the lowest of light, nor can it blur backgrounds quite as strongly as the fixed 400L f2.8 IS ii with its larger max aperture.

      Whichever of those things is most important to you might play a role in which lens I would choose?
      Hope that helps
      cheers
      Grant

  46. Franz Zihlmann Says: March 14, 2015 at 12:08 am

    Based on your Canon EF 200-400 f4 L IS USM Extender 1.4x Field Review I bought this lens and it is way beyond my expectations. I use my full frame EOS 5D MK III with this lens and I have enough reach in about 70 to 80% of my shooting. There are bird photo scenarios where I wish I had a little longer reach and buying another longer lens is not an option. I am looking at two options to extend the reach. I could buy an EOS 7D Mark II (1.6 crop) or an EF 1.4X III Extender. The problem I foresee with the Extender is that I loose one full Stop, which concerns me because I am always on the edge of having enough light when I do not use a Mono/Tri Pod. I also do not know what the “second” 1.4 Extender would do to quality of the images. I love the image quality of my 5D MK III and I have not found any combined 7D MK II and EF 200-400 f4 L IS USM Extender 1.4x tests.
    I wonder if you have any experience/opinion with the options I describe above?
    Thanks for your help.
    Franz

    • Grant Atkinson Says: March 15, 2015 at 5:17 am

      Hi Franz, I have taken the route of using the 7Dmk2 in those instances where I need finer resolution and deeper crops for small subjects. I am using it with great success on the EF 70-300L, the EF 100-400L Mk ii, the EF 400 DO Mk ii, and the EF 500 f4 Mk ii. I pair the 7Dmk2 with my 5Dmk3, and when the light is good, and subjects small, I use the 7DMk2. In very low light, I prefer to switch to full-frame (the 5Dmk3). I have found this to be less degrading to image quality and autofocus performance than adding on the 1.4xiii extender, which I also own. I do have great success with the 1.4x iii on the EF 500L f4 IS ii, but it has more of a degrading impact when added to zoom lenses. I am finding the fine resolution of the 7Dmk2 to be very useful for getting me more pixels on my subjects. Hope that helps
      Cheers
      Grant

  47. Franz Zihlmann Says: March 15, 2015 at 10:26 pm

    Thank you grant for the quick reply and taking the time to respond to my question. I very much value you sharing your experience with the 7Dmk2. It certainly answers my question how I will move forward adding deeper crops for small subjects with my EF 200-400 f4 L IS USM Extender 1.4x.
    Best,
    Franz

  48. Syed Tajgeer Says: May 27, 2015 at 4:58 pm

    Thank Grant for detailed review. From your review it is so clear hobbyist like me can buy this expensive lens and justify its cost as it can do the job of more then one lens.
    Talking about tours. Grant your tours are very luxurious with nice accommodations and great food. I understand lot of people love your tours as they get a great guide and value for their money.
    My question is: can you recommend a tour with guide half as good as you for lower budget people like me. I don’t mind roughing it out and eat what locals eat. Objective being wild animals in their natural habitat and locals living around them. Just a wild idea.
    Thanks for this great review. Syed

    • Grant Atkinson Says: May 28, 2015 at 4:03 pm

      Hi Syed, for sure the EF 200-400L 1.4x does do the job of more than one lens, and very well too. It is pretty much “THE’ lens of choice for most African safaris. I think it would do very well for you.
      As for tours that cost less, there are literally hundreds of less costly options, but I am not famiiar enough with any/all of them to be able to recommend one. East Africa (Kenya and Tanzania) both have loads of opportunities of getting very good wildlife viewing in fantastic wild surroundings. South Africa has a wonderful collection of National Parks that offer good photo opportunities for low costs, places like the Kalahari Transfrontier Park perhaps first and foremost. In Botswana, the Central Kalahari Game Reserve is a great place, only a few lodges, you have to go camping there to do it economically. Also Savuti, Moremi Game Reserve are other Botswana highlights. Things to take into consideration when planning a safari around photo opportunities for wild animals include how relaxed are the animals, how much vegetation will get in the way of your picture-making, how many other vehicles/people will be around the sightings, how many people in a vehicle if you are with a commercial operator and whether or not any off-road driving is permitted?
      Cheers
      Grant

      • Syed Tajgeer Says: May 29, 2015 at 1:12 am

        Thanks Grant for a quick reply. Also, discussing several choices for wildlife opportunities. In 2014 I was in south Africa with my family and visited few parks. Most tours are designed for families but not for serious photographers. Thanks for taking time and answering my mail. Best wishes
        Syed

        • Grant Atkinson Says: May 29, 2015 at 11:51 am

          Hi Syed, the more time you can spend, the better when it comes to getting to good places for high-quality images, specially if you are looking to spend less on accommodation. The Mara reserve itself in Kenya remains a great place to take photographs in, lots of subjects, great surroundings to compose in. Difficulties may come in the number of other vehicles present at sightings (and the impact that might have on the wildlife) as well as no off-roading. You might do well to post some questions on a forum like Safaritalk to find out about reliable operators that don’t price themselves too highly. The SA Kalahari Transfrontier Park also produces award-winning images from photographers traveling alone and independently each year. Time will be your biggest asset when going about a trip like this.
          Hope that is of help
          Cheers
          Grant

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