The Canon EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 L IS ii is a lens that was a long time coming. It’s predecessor, the original push-pull EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS, was on the market for more than 14 years, and it was certainly a successful seller. In my line of work, leading photographic safaris, I have probably seen more nature photographers traveling with that lens, than any other.
Although the original lens combined a strong set of features, the steady improvements in Canon lenses over the years meant that the original 100-400L was being outperformed by a number of other Canon L-series lenses including most recently the EF 70-300L IS. Canon completely redesigned the new 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii, even though the main specifications of focal length and maximum aperture appear similar. Released worldwide in December 2014, the new EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii is well equipped to be an able successor to the lens it replaces. At the time of writing this review, I have already been using my copy of the new lens heavily for more than six months and am confident that I have a good idea of what this lens can do.
WHAT IS NEW?
Canon EF 100-400L f4-5.6 IS ii USM, mounted on a Canon 5Dmk3. Click for larger view
The EF 100-400L IS ii is really all-new. It is no longer a sliding, push/pull zoom, (or linear extension) as Canon call it. Instead it features a more conventional rotary zoom design, which is similar to the excellent Canon EF 70-300L IS. Both the inner and outer sections of the new EF 100-400L IS ii are made of metal, like the old lens. The new Zoom Touch Adjustment ring makes it quick and easy to set zoom friction.
Rotary zoom and the extending barrel of the EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii. Click for larger view
The lens mount is standard Canon EOS, now with a rubber weather-sealing ring to keep moisture away from the mount.
Lens mount with weather-sealing ring, Canon EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii. Click for larger view
The base of the lens is smooth, without any of the (grip-assisting) ridging found on some other Canon L-series lenses.
There is a single elongated switch panel that wraps around the lens barrel. This new panel houses switches controlling focus distance, AF/MF, the four-stop stabilizer and three IS modes. The switches are recessed and require firm pressure to move them. It is now more difficult to accidentally bump a switch and reset it. This is something that happened to me often with the older lens.
Switch panel, with recessed switches for focus and IS controls, EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii. Click for larger view
There is a focus distance indicator on top of the lens.
Focus distance indicator and stepped focus ring, EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii. Click for larger view
The new tripod collar is more like those found on Canon’s super tele lenses, in that it is fixed in place. This collar is not removable, although the tripod foot can be easily detached via a threaded collar. No tools are required to remove the foot. Obviously this new tripod collar comes as part of the lens, which is good news, and does not have to be bought separately.
EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii tripod collar, with knurled collar for removing the foot. Click for larger view
The stepped focus ring is positioned just ahead of the new tripod collar, and forms part of a step up in the diameter of the lens barrel.
Another new feature for Canon on a rotary zoom is a tensioning ring, located ahead of the focus ring. Canon call this collar the Zoom Touch Adjustment ring.
The EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii wide new zoom ring, with the tension collar. Click for larger view
The new zoom ring is wide and comfortable and easy to operate, with tension infinitely adjustable using the ring. The ring is wider even than the zoom ring found on the Canon EF 70-200L f.28 IS ii. The EF 100-400L 4.5-5.6 IS ii has the zoom ring in the same place as as its smaller stablemate, the EF70-300L IS.
Zoom ring with focal length indicators, EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii. Click for larger view
The focal lengths are marked on the zoom ring itself making it easy to see exactly what focal length the lens is set at.
The EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii changes size during zooming, with the inner barrel projecting to its maximum length when the lens is set to 400mm.
The EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii fully extended at 400mm. Click for larger view
At full extension, the lens becomes quite long.
The EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii completely retracted, at 100mm. Click for larger view
Fully retracted, the EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii is fairly compact in form.
Raised collar on the end of the EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii inner barrel. Click for larger view
At the end of the lens barrel there is a raised black collar that serves as a mount for the lens hood, smoothly attached by 3 flush-mount screws.
The flush-fitting barrel end of the EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii when fully retracted. Click for larger view
This collar forms a neat, flush fitting when the lens barrel is fully retracted. This fitting looks like it will make it harder for dirt to get inside.
The lens hood was problematic on the original EF 100-400L for me. With prolonged use, the mount threads would wear out and the hood would become rattly, loose and sometimes even fall off accidentally. The design of the brand-new ET-83D lens hood, shows that Canon have taken steps to address those problems.
The new ET-83D lens hood with locking tab. Click for larger view
The new hood has a sprung, locking tab to improve on it’s fit. It clicks into place when properly attached. This lens hood is most similar in design to the ET83-II found on the EF 70-200L f2.8 IS ii, perhaps just a little thinner. The lens hood is covered inside with a dark flocking material, to prevent stray light rays from causing unwanted reflections inside the lens itself.
ET-83D lens hood, with sliding panel closed. Click for larger view
New to this lens hood is a window that can be slid open, allowing access to a rotating filter element such as that found in a circular polarizing filter.
ET-83D lens hood, with sliding panel open for rotating filter access. Click for larger view
Clicking the access window open allows access to the filter, if there is one fitted.
Pinch-type lens cap, with ET-83D lens hood reversed. Click for larger view
The lens front element is protected by a pinch-type end cap, which is easy to attach or detach, even when the hood is mounted for use. The front element has a 77mm diameter, which is a common size amongst a host of Canon lenses.
Front view of the EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii. Click for larger view
On the inside, the EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 L IS ii is all new optical design too. There are 21 elements contained in 16 groups, making it a more complex design than the lens it replaces. One Flourite and a single Super UD lens element are incorporated in the make-up of the optics. Flourite and Super UD elements are highly effective at combating chromatic aberrations and improve overall image quality. Canon also claim that flare and ghosting is further enhanced by the use of their latest Super Spectra and Air Sphere Coating technologies. Modern lens coatings have played a role in helping optimize image quality for digital sensor cameras, in ways that were not imagined when older lenses were designed for non-digital cameras.
Flourine-coated front element, EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii. Click for larger view
The front and rear elements of the lens are also coated with flourine, which makes them super slippery, meaning they stay clean for longer, and clean up easier.
The lens comes with a zippered, padded nylon bag that can be used to store the lens alone, with its hood reversed.
HOW WELL DOES IT WORK?
Handling this lens is an enjoyable experience, and it imparts an impression of high-quality. The new switch panel, with it’s recessed sliders, is easy enough to get to with my left hand, and the switches are stiff enough that they no longer get bumped accidentally onto wrong settings. That used to happen to me a lot with the old lens.
The zoom ring has a smooth, controlled feel to it, with just enough resistance, even with the tension ring backed right off. The inner barrel, even fully extended, exhibits no play at all. This is still true for my own lens which already has six months of hard use on it. I am comfortable with the location and function of the zoom ring, located as it is ahead of the focus ring.
Rotating the focus ring, Canon EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii, with a lens plate attached to the tripod foot. Click for larger view
I usually mount a Really Right Stuff (or equivalent) lens plate on all my telephoto lenses. It makes the lens foot longer and easier to grip when carrying the lens this way, and it also makes a good place for me to hold onto and support the lens when handholding. I rest the bottom of the tripod foot/lens plate on the palm of my left hand. I then control the zoom ring using my left thumb and two fingers. If you handhold a lens like this with the tripod foot removed, be sure that your grip is not inadvertantly shifting the zoom ring or focus ring whilst shooting.
Rotating the focus ring, partially extended, Canon EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii, with a lens plate attached to the tripod foot. Click for larger view
If I am using a bean bag or similar for support, I rest the tripod foot/lens plate on the bean bag and not the lens barrel. That prevents the focus or zoom rings being accidentally shifted by contact with the bean bag.
The section of the lens barrel where the main controls are located, has quite a large diameter. It’s a little bigger than either the old 100-400L or any of the EF70-200L f2.8 lenses. Photographers with small hands may find they need to adapt how they grip and control the zoom ring because of this. To go from 100mm to 400mm, requires a twist of around 100 degrees which I can achieve with two twists. In other words I need to let go and re-grip. I shoot my EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii with the zoom tension ring backed right off, making the zoom function as light as possible. This allows me to make those zoom pulls using only my left thumb, with a little help from my index finger. Being able to adjust focal length as quickly and easily as possible is a big plus for me and the way I shoot. I am finding that the handling of the new EF 100-400 is making it easy for me to come away with several different compositions from one shooting scenario.
Canon EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii in retracted form, on the left, with a Canon EF 70-200L f2.8 IS ii alongside, for size comparison purposes. Note opposite location of zoom and focus rings. Both lenses fitted with lens plates by me. Click for larger view.
After six months of reasonably hard use, the zoom action of my EF 100-400L 4.5-5.6 IS ii has loosened up ever so slightly. With the tension ring set to its softest setting, the lens barrel extends very slowly when held vertically downwards, and not quite all the way to 400mm. Tightening the tension ring just a fraction instantly firms that up.
Setting the tension ring is quick and easy, and allows me to lock the lens at any focal length I might select should I wish to maintain that focal length. I can also tighten up the lens in its retracted position for travel. I back the tension ring off for shooting as I like the zoom action to be as light as possible.
I prefer the new tension ring design over the lock switch found on some other lenses for a number of reasons. With the ring, you can set the zoom friction so that it stays firmly where you leave it, but can still zoom it out or in quickly if the need arises. With a locking switch, it is all too easy to forget that it is locked when you need to shoot in a hurry. Beyond that, the new tension ring design means that even if the zoom action loosens up over time, simply dialing in a little more tension will maintain friction control perfectly well.
The manual focus ring is located closer to the camera body, and turns very smoothly. I only rarely use manual focus and hardly ever when photographing wildlife. Some photographers like to make use of the manual focus ring to bring a subject partially into focus, before making their final adjustment with autofocus. The focus ring rotates with such a smooth action it almost feels hydraulic.
Canon EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii in retracted form, on the left, with a Canon EF 70-300L f4-5.6 IS also retracted, alongside, for size comparison purposes. Note similar location of zoom and focus rings. Both lenses fitted with lens plates by me. Click for larger view.
It is worth noting that the location of the zoom ring and focus ring on the new EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii are the same as on the Canon EF 70-300L f4-5.6 IS. This orientation of the control rings is opposite to that found on the Canon EF 70-200L f2.8 IS ii.
Canon EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii and 1Dmk4, mounted on a Gimpro gimbal mount, using a lens plate. Click for larger view
For tripod use, the EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii should be set up with the tripod foot attached to the tripod (rather than attaching the camera to the tripod and having the lens dangle off it). The integral tripod collar works much more smoothly than any other Canon mid-series zoom lens before. In fact it’s silky rotation and locking function feel almost like those on the much more expensive super telephoto fixed lenses. The tripod collar on the new 100-400L is marked with a black line that helps with alignment. There are no detent clicks in the collar’s rotation like those found on Canon’s high-end super telephoto lenses.
When fully extended, the balance point of the lens and camera combination changes slightly on the gimbal. Moving it back a few mm in the mount was enough to get it balanced at 400mm. Click for larger view
When suspended on a gimbal mount, zooming in or out changes the balance point of the lens very slightly. I usually set it up to balance best at the focal length I expect to be using the most.
The EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii is 5 mm longer and 2 mm wider overall, compared to the old lens. It is also a little heavier than the original EF 1oo-400L. In this, it follows the EF 70-200L f2.8 IS ii, which was also a little heavier than its predecessor. Whilst I am not overly excited about lenses getting heavier, the new EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii seems an even better-built lens than the older model. This assumption is borne out by Lensrentals’ teardown of the new zoom. In this post, Roger Cicala describes the new lens to be one of the most robust and well-engineered zoom lenses he has ever seen. Bigger bearings, shims, fittings and other components should make this lens tougher and longer-lasting, and justifies the weight increase of around 280 grams over the old lens. The new lens also has significantly improved weather-sealing, according to Canon, when paired with a similarly resistant body, and a front filter element in place. Any improvement that helps keep dust and moisture out for longer, is something that I need. Right now, after six months of hard outdoor use in conditions ranging from Kenyan dust to Indian Ocean spray, my own EF 100-40L f4.5-5.6IS ii is not showing any sign of dirt or moisture getting between the elements.
The new lens hood has a locking tab which clicks into place when attached, and is overall, a much better design than the same part on the original EF 100-400L. On the older lens, the lens hood used to become so loose and rattly, that it could even fall off when in use. That appears to be a problem of the past. My new lens has show no sign of wear so far. The sliding access window on the new hood might be a useful feature for those who use filters on the end of the lens that need adjusting (like a polarizer) but I am not one of those. Instead, I found the access window to be very easy to nudge into an open position whilst shooting, so I have taped mine in place to prevent this happening. The new lens hood provides good protection for the front element, helps prevent flare very well, and is something I keep in place all the time when carrying this lens.
Despite the weight increase, the new 100-400 still feels and handles like a mid-size telephoto zoom. In this it is differentiated from the much bigger and heavier Canon EF 200-400L f4 1.4x IS. It is also smaller and lighter than any of the new Tamron or Sigma 150-600mm zoom lenses.
WHAT DO I USE THE LENS FOR
I put the EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii to work in a wide range of wildlife photography situations. It has quickly become my first choice zoom lens on the photographic safaris I lead all over Africa. I like to pair it with an EF 500L f4 IS ii. For those trips where space is limited, or weight of equipment a critical factor, then I am happy to travel just with the 100-400L and a wide angle lens. I still have an EF 70-200L f2.8 IS ii but I don’t carry that together with the 100-400, rather choosing only one of those two. The only time I prefer the 70-200L f2.8 IS ii over the longer zoom lens is when I am expecting to be shooting in very low ambient light. I find that the focal length range of the EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii to be sufficient to deal with most of the mammal photography that I do. Of course, the wide zoom range means that multiple images can be created from one position just by changing focal length.
African wild dog, Timbavati, South Africa. Canon EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii and 5Dmk3. Shutter speed 1/400sec at f5.6, Iso 1600. Handheld. Click for larger view
It also means that careful framing minimizes how much cropping I may need to do. For bird photography, the focal length range of 100-400mm is enough for very big birds, or those that are easily approachable. I often find that I need more than 400mm for smaller birds or those that are further away. That is one reason why I pair my EF 100-400L with a fixed 500mm lens on many of my excursions.
With its 98cm minimum focus distance, the new EF 100-400L IS ii is the best lens I have used yet, for handheld. up-close photography. I am always on the lookout for the chance to get close, or low with wildlife subjects that will tolerate such proximity. This would include approachable birds, reptiles and large insects like butterflies and dragonflies, as well as mammals. Sometimes when I am very close, it can be important to make no noise at all, and limit my own movements, so as not to startle off my subject. In such instances the new EF 100-400 is most effective, with its light weight, quiet focus and unobtrusive zoom action making it very ‘stealthy.” I am finding that the very short (0.98cm) minimum focus distance is helping me come away with close-up images that are cropped much less than ever before and some not at all. When you can avoid cropping, it really makes the most of the image quality.
Yellowbilled hornbill, South Africa. Canon EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii and 5Dmk3. Shutter speed 1/1000sec at f5.6, Iso 1000. Handheld. Click for larger view
The EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii has become my first choice lens for taking photographs of marine wildlife, from boats. The easy handling of the lens, combined with its fast autofocus, make it a natural choice for this kind of photography. The extra focal length of the new zoom is a significant advantage when compared to the two lenses I used previously for this kind of shooting, the EF 70-200L f4 IS and the EF 70-300L f4-5.6 IS. The short minimum focus distance also comes in handy if subjects make a close approach. It should be noted though that for prolonged marine work, lenses with extending barrels may be more susceptible to salty moist ocean air getting inside over time, when compared to zoom lenses with internal workings only (like the Canon EF 70-200L f2.8 IS ii) and fixed telephoto lenses.
Shy albatross, Cape, South Africa. Canon EF 100-400Lf4.5-5.6 and 5Dmk3. Shutter speed 1/5000sec at f8, iso 800. Handheld. Click for larger view
The minimum aperture of the EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii is f40 on a Canon 5Dmk3. This can be quite useful when I am trying to get a very slow shutter speed, in bright conditions. I use the small apertures for motion blur shooting.
The close focus distance, high magnification ratio and wide range of focal lengths have made the new EF100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii an ideal tool for my own product photography, which consists chiefly of photographing camera gear at close range for review purposes.
Other uses that spring to mind, if not my own photographic genre, are daylight sports or well-lit sports, air shows, outdoor action activity and landscapes.
This lens has Canon’s latest iteration of their IS system, effective for 4 stops, and with three different user modes, making it basically identical to those found in the version two super telephoto lenses.
This means it is quieter, quicker and more effective than before.
The new IS start-up time is just 0.5 sec, compared to 1.0 sec in the old lens. The only sound it makes is a very soft whirring, and it is so quiet that I have to concentrate to hear it. With four stops of assistance, I find that I am getting sharp shots at much lower shutter speeds than I would expect to.
Male cheetah, Tanzania. Canon Ef 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii at 400mm. Shutter speed 1/30sec at f5.6, Iso 1600, handheld. Click for larger view
The cheetah image above was taken at just 1/30 second, whilst handholding the EF 100-400L ii with a 5Dmk3 attached at 400mm of focal length. It is just one real world example of how good new generation IS systems are. I was pleasantly surprized to come away with this image, given how slow the shutter speed was.
With the new IS system, Mode 1 detects and counters movement in two planes, horizontal and vertical. I use this mode a lot of the time.
Mode 2 has new algorithms that reduce problems when panning. In this mode, the IS detects and counters movement in one plane only, which is ideal for panning. This mode is meant to be used when you don’t expect any up or down movement of your camera and lens, for instance when on a tripod or fixed mount.
Mode 3 is like Mode 1, in that it counters both horizontal and vertical movement, but where it differs, is that it is not active all the time. In this mode, activation only takes places just before the image is taken. According to Canon, this is especially useful for wildlife photography or sport photography, where one may be moving between subjects quickly. I use Mode 3 often when handholding, and have found that I am comfortable with the results I get with Mode 1 and Mode 3. Which one works best for you might come down to personal preference. Mode 3 is meant to prevent instances of the image shifting around in the viewfinder during IS operation, but this is not something that I encounter much.
The IS system in the EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii is tripod-sensing, which means that when it is mounted on a tripod, it will automatically de-activate stabilization. On the older generation of IS lenses you had to remember to turn off IS yourself, if you did not want it active at the time.
Male leopard, Kenya. Canon EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii and Canon 7Dmk2. Focal length 400mm. Shutter speed 1/250sec at f5.6, Iso 3200. Handheld. Click for larger view
When it comes to image stabilization, my opinion is formed from my experience shooting mostly with Canon L-series lenses and Canon dslr bodies. Image stabilization is an invaluable feature for me. Much of my shooting is done handheld, and often in a bit of a hurry, and Canon IS helps me get more sharp shots. New generation stabilization units like that found in the new EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii take effectiveness to a new level. I keep IS on all the time when handholding, and I use the modes as outlined above.
Whilst there are some folk who insist that IS can affect image quality and autofocus performance negatively, I am not one of those. Even in bright light, when I may be shooting with shutter speeds that are faster than 1/2500sec, I keep it engaged. I firmly believe that the modern, sophisticated IS systems help smooth out what I see in the viewfinder, correct my own handholding shake, and also help with dampening camera vibration.
Canon EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii image stabilizer switch panel. Click for larger view
Autofocus is a strong point of this lens. This is an aspect of lens performance that matters a whole lot to me. As a wildlife shooter with a liking for moving subjects, and one who uses autofocus all the time, I need it to be accurate, and fast. Whilst lots of modern lenses will focus quickly and accurately on stationery subjects in good light, moving subjects present a much more difficult challenge for autofocus. I can say that the EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii is easily good enough at autofocusing wildlife subjects, even fast-moving ones!
Spotted hyaena, Masai Mara. Canon EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii and 5Dmk3. Shutter speed 1/1250sec at f5.6, Iso 1600. Handheld. Click for larger view
At the time of writing, I find the EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii to be best-focusing, maximum aperture f5.6 lens I have used. It has far exceeded my expectations in this regard and I have full confidence in using it for any wildlife action I may be photographing. I also shoot in low light a lot, and whilst I would prefer to have a lens with a larger maximum aperture in those situations, the EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii can do the job.
Subadult lions, Masai Mara. Canon EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii and 7Dmk2. Shutter speed 1/1250sec at f5, iso 1600. Handheld. Click for larger view
In comparison with other Canon lenses I use for wildlife, it focuses at least as fast as the Canon EF 70-300L IS, despite the bigger, heavier elements and the extra distance that these optics need to be moved on the bigger lens. Perhaps only the EF 200-400L f4 IS 1.4x and the EF 70-200L f2.8 IS ii focus faster amongst the Canon zoom lenses I use for wildlife. It is obviously still bested by the fixed super telephoto lenses like the EF 300L f2.8 IS ii in absolute focus speed and accuracy.
When it comes to autofocus accuracy, I have found that I get my best results using a manually-selected, Single AF point. On the 1DX, 5Dmk3 and 7D mk2, which are the three camera bodies that I have used the most with this lens, I have found that I can use any of the AF points on the grid for static or slow-moving subjects.
Wildebeest, Masai Mara. Canon EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii and 5Dmk3. Single AF point on outer row of AF points selected by myself, static subjects. Ai Servo. Shutter speed 1/1600sec at f7.1, iso 160.
The wildebeest above were standing still, and the outermost AF point worked perfectly well.
For fast-moving subject matter, I am finding that I get my best results using a Single AF point, with best results from the inner core of points.
Lion, Masai Mara. Canon EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii and 5Dmk3. Single AF point not on outermost perimeter of AF points selected by myself, fast-moving subject. I stopped down to f7.1 to give myself more depth of field, to allow for my own inaccuracy with AF placement, which was meant to be on the lion’s eye. Ai Servo. Shutter speed 1/3200sec at f7.1, iso 800.
With this lion approaching me quite rapidly, I wanted one of the upper AF points in the grid, so as to allow more room for his legs. In my experience I get higher levels of accuracy with this lens, from any of the AF points except those in the outermost row, when I am photographing fast-moving subject matter.
Autofocus is not only fast on this lens, but also exceptionally quiet.
There is a focus distance limiter switch, with settings from 3m to infinity, and from 1m to infinity. Using this limiter can speed up autofocus even more, if you are certain your subject matter won’t approach closer than 3m. I keep my lens on the Full setting, which allows it to focus from 0.98m (minimum focus distance) out to infinity. As I use my gear for a wide range of subject matter, and do sometimes get closer than 3m, I prefer to keep my options open. The last thing I want to have happen to me is to have my lens stop focusing because the subject may be too close, and I end up missing the shot because of that setting. I find the EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii to focus fast enough even with the full focus range enabled.
Camera Bodies Used
I used the EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii on a variety of Canon camera bodies, with different sensor sizes.
On the Canon 7Dmk2, with its APS-C sized sensor, the field of view is roughly equivalent to 160mm to 640mm This pairing performed at its best when the ambient light was at moderate to bright levels, with very fast and accurate autofocus, and good resolution. For bird photography the extra fine resolution of the 7Dmk2 sensor was advantageous if the subjects were smaller in the frame or far away.
On the Canon 5Dmk3, with its 35mm full-frame sensor, the 100-400mm focal length range was noticeably wider and more useful for capturing surroundings and environments than on the 7Dmk2 or even the 1Dmk4 (1.3x field of view crop). The good low-light image quality from the 5Dmk3, even at higher iso settings, meant that I feel comfortable using this camera on the new EF100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii whenever the light levels were low.
Mounted on the Canon 1DX, the full-frame field of view was identical to that of the 5Dmk3. It was my feeling that the 1DX drove the lens autofocus very quickly and positively. It was also the most capable combination for very low light shooting.
I also used the new lens on the Canon 7D and 1Dmk4, both discontinued now, with good results.
I always shoot in RAW and process my images using Adobe Camera Raw 9 (CC) or Lightroom CC, and I finish them off in Adobe Photoshop CC. My evaluation of this len’s image quality is based upon this, my standard workflow. I do also have Canon’s excellent Digital Photo Professional software, but find that its lack of selective editing is a drawback for my workflow and subject matter.
I am finding that images taken with the EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii are of high quality, both in terms of sharpness, colour, and contrast and are almost as good as those produced by the EF 70-200L f2.8 IS ii. I find it quite difficult to actually tell images from those two lenses apart until I read the metadata, on my 23-inch editing screen.
Lioness, Grumeti, Tanzania. Canon EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii and 5Dmk3. Shutter speed 1/1250sec at f5.6, iso 1600. Focal length 360mm. Handheld. Click for larger view
The new lens is so sharp that there is no need to close down the aperture in order to improve sharpness. In fact, I shoot my copy of this lens at the wide-open aperture setting around 80 percent of the time. This is a necessity due to the low levels of ambient light that I often shoot in, as well as a desire to blur distracting backgrounds. The fact that I can shoot it wide-open with no penalty in image quality is a big plus for me. The lens also produces sharp images throughout the zoom range. Images at 400mm focal length appear equally sharp to those from the middle of the focal length range.
What further improves image quality from this lens is the accurate focus it achieves when paired with the 1DX bodies, the 5Dmk3, 5DSR and 7Dmk2. Properly-focused images are higher in contrast, and show fine details so much better. I used to find that at times with the older EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS, I needed to take several images of a subject when shooting wide open, just to be sure that I would get at least one sharp image from the sequence. With the new lens, that is no longer the case..and the image quality benefits are clear to see.
I only ever mount any kind of screw-in filter to this lens like a UV Haze or protective clear filter, to the front of this lens when I am shooting in extremely adverse conditions that might be damaging to the lens. An example of this would be when photographing on or near the ocean, when the filter would be keeping airborne salt-laden spray off the front lens element. I find that filters can have a negative effect on overall image quality. Usually the deep lens hood does a good enough job of keeping the front element safe and clean.
It is quite normal for zoom lenses to show some evidence of vignetting, or darkening of the edges of the frame. It is typically most pronounced at the extreme ends of the zoom lens range, and at wide-open apertures. I photographed a blue sky on a clear day, using a full-frame Canon 5Dmk3 to illustrate the vignetting.
100mm Focal length
Canon EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii and Canon 5Dmk3. Focal length 100mm Aperture f4.5. Click for larger view
At 100mm focal length, and aperture wide-open at f4.5, vignetting is mild, and only apparent in the corners of the full-frame image.
Canon EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii and Canon 5Dmk3. Focal length 100mm Aperture f5.6. Click for larger view
At 100mm focal length, and aperture stopped down to f5.6, vignetting is almost all cleared away from the corners.
Canon EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii and Canon 5Dmk3. Focal length 100mm Aperture f7.1. Click for larger view
At 100mm focal length, and aperture stopped down to f7.1, no signs of any vignetting at all are visible.
Changing the focal length to the other extreme of the zoom range, 400mm, shows more vignetting.
Canon EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii and Canon 5Dmk3. Focal length 400mm Aperture f5.6. Click for larger view
At 400mm focal length, and aperture wide-open at f5.6, there is moderate vignetting in the corners of the full-frame image.
Canon EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii and Canon 5Dmk3. Focal length 400mm Aperture f6.3. Click for larger view
At 400mm focal length and aperture stopped down to f6.3, clears away some of the vignetting from the corners of the image.
Canon EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii and Canon 5Dmk3. Focal length 400mm Aperture f7.1. Click for larger view
At 400mm focal length, with the aperture stopped down to f7.1, vignetting is further reduced in the corners of the image. This trend continues until at f8 to f11 the vignetting is hard to discern at all.
When used at wide-open aperture settings, the EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii shows some moderate corner shading. The shading is mild at 100mm, and moderate at 400mm, when it is noticeable in blue sky or bright background images. Stopping down even one stop clears it significantly. By comparison with the original EF 100-400L, the new EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii shows less vignetting at every focal length and aperture setting. This is a contributing factor to the improved image quality over the old lens.
In real world use, the vignetting at 100mm is hard to notice. At 400mm and f5.6, it is noticeable when photographing against bright or clear backgrounds. Slight vignetting such as this can actually help to draw attention to my wildlife subjects which are not typically positioned anywhere near the very edges of the frame. It is also very simple to get rid of the vignetting using Adobe Lightroom (Lens Corrections tab), or Adobe Camera Raw, Photoshop or Canon DPP. If you like shooting jpg images, many Canon dslr bodies deal with vignetting, via the Peripheral Illumination Correction feature, in camera.
When used on a camera with an APS-C (crop sensor) like the 7Dmk2, the vignetting is barely noticeable, even at 400mm and wide open. This is because the outer edges of the image circle, where the vignetting is most pronounced, are not captured on the smaller sensor.
Bokeh and Blur
Bokeh on the new lens is improved, compared to the original EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS. It has a less busy look to it.
Male cheetah, South Africa. Canon Ef 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii at 400mm. Shutter speed 1/400sec at f5.6, Iso 3200, handheld. Click for larger view
Shot at wide-open aperture settings, the EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii can blur out background details quite effectively. It helps if you can get quite close to the subject, and distant backgrounds blur easier than close backgrounds. For subjects that are near enough to be approaching the lens minimum focus distance, background blur is strong, especially at the maximum focal length. There are quite often times, especially when subjects are further away, or the background cluttered, that I do miss not having a maximum aperture of f4.0 at 400mm, but of course, that requirement is met by a different lens, the EF 200-400 f4 L IS 1.4x. The EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii is also a little brighter than its predecessor, as it holds an f5.0 aperture right up until 305mm, whereas the old push-pull lens at f5.0 only went to 230mm.
After taking thousands of images with the lens in the field, I am not finding chromatic aberrations are something that I need to worry about at all in normal use. There is one exception though, with chromatic aberrations being evident when I am shooting marine mammals in very bright light. In these images the common dolphin has just leaped out of the ocean, and has a layer of water over its body. The water acts as a mirror, and in those places where the reflections are brightest, creates overexposed areas with chromatic aberrations (mostly purple) around the edges.
Long-beaked common dolphin, Cape, South Africa. Canon EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii and 7Dmk2. Focal length 100mm. Shutter speed 1/1600sec at f7.1, iso 400. Chromatic aberrations visible as purple fringing on the white highlight areas. Click for larger view
In the image above the purple fringing is visible around edges of the highlight areas on the dolphins pectoral fin.
In the image below, the fringing has been removed, using Adobe Lightroom Lens Correction tab.
Long-beaked common dolphin, Cape, South Africa. Canon EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii and 7Dmk2. Focal length 100mm. Shutter speed 1/1600sec at f7.1, iso 400. Chromatic aberrations with purple fringing removed after using Adobe Lightroom Lens Correction tab. Click for larger view
These chromatic aberrations are only something I encounter when shooting in this extreme high-contrast scenario. I get similar chromatic aberrations in these conditions with the EF 70-200L f4 IS, and the EF 70-300L f4-5.6 IS, my other marine mammal lenses). That said, the chromatic aberration is easily cleared away using software. I also prefer to shoot in conditions with less harsh light, when the ultra-bright reflections are not a problem at all.
Whilst it is possible to make the EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii show flare when shooting with the sun in the frame, it resists flare very well, especially for a zoom. You can shoot towards the sun, so long as there is some form of filter or obstruction (in this case some thin cloud and a giraffe) to block the most intense sun rays. Like most lenses, there may be a slight loss of contrast in images taken in such a fashion. The new 100-400 performs similarly to Canon’s other recent L-series telephoto zooms, with actual lens flares being greatly reduced. This is an area of big improvement over the older lens. It seems likely that at least some of the improvement in the new lens ability to shoot better with back lighting comes from the lens coatings used in the optics.
Giraffe, Masai Mara, Kenya. Canon EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii and 5Dmk3. Shutter speed 1/8000sec at f9, iso 640. Handheld. This image showing no strong flare, or major loss of contrast, and the lens ability to focus backlit subjects. Click for larger view
As a general comment here, I remember how difficult I used to find shooting backlit subjects with my old (discontinued) EF 70-200L f2.8 IS (which was a good lens for the most part). The image in the viewfinder would get hazy, the autofocus would rack back and forth, and if I did manage to get it focused, the images usually had a major loss of contrast, and often unsightly flares all over. Modern Canon L-series lenses like the new 100-400L have made it much easier today.
This lens is designed to be able to accept EF extenders. I chose to test it with the EF 1.4x iii extender only, and not with the EF 2x iii.
With the 1.4x extender in place, the maximum aperture at 560mm becomes f8.
At the time of writing, regular autofocus (through the viewfinder) is only available on the 7Dmk2, 5Dmk3, 5Ds, 1DX and most older 1D bodies.
The lens and extender performs much better than i expected, and can certainly be useful when photographing in good light, and for distant subjects.
Canon EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS with EF 1.4x Ext iii, and 5Dmk3. Shutter speed 1/30sec at f8, iso 800. Focal length 560mm. 22 Megapixel frame downsized to web size. Click for larger view
Canon EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS with EF 1.4x Ext iii, and 5Dmk3. Shutter speed 1/30sec at f8, iso 800. Focal length 560mm. 1.5 megapixel crop 22 megapixel frame above. Click for larger view
On the 1DX, the 5Dmk3, and the 7Dmk2, autofocus is limited (through the viewfinder) to only three AF Modes : Single Point AF, Spot AF and Expanded AF (1 Pt + 4 surrounding). Also, the focus point/s are locked, and you cannot move the AF point around. If you switch to Live View, you can move the AF point wherever you want. Earlier 1D Canon bodies perform in a similar way to the three bodies listed here.
I also tested the lens and extender combination with a 7D (mk 1) attached, and viewfinder autofocus did not function. However, it was possible to use Live View on the 7D to achieve focus.
I was quite surprized by the image quality delivered by this combination. The test images of my static subject, were easily sharp enough for print. I also compared the image quality from the 560mm f8 zoom lens and extender, to that from my EF 500L f4 IS ii in the same light, with the same camera body. I was quite startled at how close the zoom lens and extender was. Of course, my subject distance was short here, and shooting at such short distances, and from a tripod always seems to minimize differences between lenses and cameras. I usually find that the smallest differences in tripod-shooting testing tend to become bigger when using the gear in the field. Nonetheless, using the EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii with the EF 1.4x extender is a viable option when the light is good enough.
I usually expect moving subject photography to be more challenging with an extender in place. I have not, as yet done much of that kind of shooting with this combination. I have seen some pretty decent images of birds in flight, (mostly bigger, slower species) showing up on the web, from other photographers using this outfit, so the lens and extender combination seems quite capable.
I may expand the information on extender use the coming months.
Within the Canon L-series range there are a number of options.
Perhaps the lens most similar to the new EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS is the Canon EF 70-300L f4-5.6 IS. Image quality, autofocus speed and accuracy are very similar, as is the level of weather-sealing. The EF 70-300L is noticeably lighter, at 1050g (without tripod ring), and a lot more compact, especially when in retracted form. It also costs less, but the tripod ring is not supplied as standard. The 70-300L has a 30mm wider focal length, but gives up 100mm on the long end. The EF 100-400L has a magnification advantage with its 0.98 minimum focus distance. Both lenses have excellent image stabilization systems, though the EF 100-400L is slightly more sophisticated in this regard. The EF 70-300L costs a lot less, at approximately USD 1350.
Another lens that may be considered an option is the EF 70-200L f2.8 IS ii. It enjoys a wide-open aperture advantage that can help a lot when shooting in low light. The barrel does not change shape during zooming, which should mean a more robust design, with perhaps superior resistance to dust and moisture. It may focus a fraction faster. Image quality and autofocus accuracy are very similar and not necessarily a differentiator. Image stabilization is similar in the two lenses, though the new EF 100-400L has a slight advantage in its system. At 1490g with tripod ring, the EF 70-200L f2.8 IS ii is a little lighter than the EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii at 1640g. It cannot focus as closely as the new 100-400L, and at 200mm, is clearly an entirely different lens for different requirements with only half the focal length. However, many photographers fit the EF 70-200L f2.8 IS with a Canon EF 2.0 extender, which turns it into a 140-400 f5.6, a focal length comparable to the new 100-400L. Whilst this extender and lens combination does a good job, I believe that the EF 70-200L f2.8 IS ii and EF 2x iii will be outperformed in focus speed and accuracy, in image quality, in size and weight and general handling by the new EF 100-400L ff4.5-5.6 IS ii. Cost of these two lenses is about the same, approximately 2200 USD, without the added cost required of the EF 2x Extender iii at USD 500.
The EF 28-300L f3.5-5.6 IS is another Canon L-series zoom lens that might be taken into consideration. It’s main advantage over the new EF 100-400L is it’s much wider focal length of 28mm, which gives it some ‘one lens to do it all’ appeal. It works with a sliding zoom mechanism (like the original EF 100-400L IS), and weighs about the same as the new EF 100-400L IS ii. In comparison, the EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii focuses much faster and with greater accuracy, can focus much closer, has superior image quality over the shared focal length range and has superior image stabilization. Cost is quite high for this lens, at approximately USD 2500.
I also compared the new EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS to what I consider the very best Canon L-series zoom lens for wildlife, the s EF 200-400L f4 IS 1.4x Ext zoom. The EF 200-400L f4 1.4x produces slightly better quality images when it comes to sharpness and contrast, by a small but noticeable margin. It also holds a significant maximum aperture advantage at 400mm and f4.0, which can help in low light and for blurring backgrounds. Autofocus speed and accuracy are pretty close, perhaps the EF 200-400L is a fraction quicker (without the extender in place). The EF 200-400L holds a 160mm focal length advantage at full zoom, with extender engaged, which is significant. With internal zooming, it is most likely also a little more resistant to dust and moisture entry. Image stabilization systems are very similar between the two lenses. In comparison, the new EF 100-400L f4.5-.56 IS ii is much lighter, much more compact, and way easier to manage. It has a wider field of view, at 100mm, and it can focus closer at all focal lengths than the bigger lens. If you need that extra f-stop at 400mm, and the extra 160mm of lens, along with the very best zoom-lens quality that Canon can produce, then the EF 200-400L f4 1.4x IS is the lens for you. It costs significantly more, at approximately USD 11 000.
The original EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS has similar specifications and focal length and as at mid-2015, can still be bought new for approximately USD 1500. Throughout this review I have used the older lens as a reference for comparison, so reading the full review should help decide which one suits you better.
The EF 400L f5.6 is a fixed telephoto lens that offers yet another choice. It is lighter than the new EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii. They only overlap focal lengths at 400mm, and share maximum apertures of f5.6. Image quality between the two is very similar, with the new zoom looking every bit as sharp to me. The new EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii focus is more accurate, and maybe faster. The image stabilizer allows the zoom lens to outperform the fixed lens, which lacks image stabilization, in most handholding scenarios. The zoom is obviously more versatile with regard to focal length than any fixed lens, and it can focus much, much closer than the fixed 400mm lens can. Cost of the EF 400L f5.6 is attractive though, at approximately USD 1350.
A couple of non-Canon options are also worth mentioning. I have had several readers write to ask me how the recently released super-zooms from Tamron and Sigma perform, especially in comparison to the new Canon EF 100-400L. Unfortunately, I am unable to answer those questions properly. My testing regime usually involves months of shooting in the field, and the Tamron 150-600 as well as both Sigma 150-600mm zooms have maximum apertures of f6.3. For my use which involves lots of handholding, I find those apertures too slow for the kind of shutter speeds I know I need. I photograph a lot of mammals in very low light, sometimes after sunset, and with current sensor technology, f5.6 is as slow a maximum aperture as I can afford to go. So I won’t be using them in the field right now. From the little I have seen all of the Sigmas and Tamron look capable of producing very nice images.
Very good image quality wide open
Fast and accurate autofocus
Fast, effective and silent IS
Close minimum focus distance
Wide focal length range
Effective with EF 1.4x extender, and certain Canon dslr bodies
Compact size retracted
Heavier than outgoing model
In use, the EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii has moved itself significantly upward in my estimation, compared to the lens that it replaces. With such an array of advances, performance is improved significantly in virtually every aspect of performance, and especially those that matter most to my shooting style. This lens has definitely closed some of the gap that exists between zoom lenses and fixed lenses in image quality. Of course, as good as it is, the moderate maximum aperture obviously does place some limits on what it can achieve. That needs to be offset against it’s compact and relatively lightweight form, which may be one of its most important attributes for some photographers.
As a package it does much more than I had hoped it would. It has fast become one of those pieces of gear that I am excited to use, as I have full confidence that it will get me the shot.