Canon Lenses

Canon EF 100-400 L f4.5-5.6 IS USM Field Review

 

INTRODUCTION

At the time of writing, the Canon EF 100-400 L F4.5-5.6 is one of the most popular of Canon’s L-series zoom telephoto lenses.

It is also one of the older L-series lenses in Canon’s line-up, having been introduced around 1998.  There have been persistent rumours that it will soon be replaced, but in it’s current form, it continues to sell very well.  It maintains high sales volumes for a number of reasons, not least of which are its wide range of focal lengths and good imaging performance, combined with relatively light weight.  The selling price also means that it costs less than most other Canon lenses that either have bigger maximum apertures or similar focal length, so it represents good value .  In recent times, many of Canon’s newer lenses have shifted their prices upwards, when compared to models that they replace.  This may be another reason why Canon have continued to make the EF 100-400L available for so long.

ABOUT THE LENS

Canon EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS USM lens mounted on Canon 1Dmk4. Click for larger view

Canon EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS USM lens mounted on 1Dmk4. Click for larger view

 

The EF 100-400L  is somewhat unusual in that it has a sliding zoom mechanism, or as Canon refer to it, linear extension type.  The outer barrel extends forward and retracts, with no rotation.  Both barrels are constructed entirely of metal, and the mechanism is a robust one, which is something that has been proven by some of the early examples of these lenses that are still in use many years later.

Linear extension zoom of the EF 100-400L f4.55-5.6 IS. Click for larger view

Linear extension zoom of the EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS. Click for larger view

 

The lens mount is standard Canon EOS, but with no rubber weather-sealing ring.  The lens barrel is smooth ahead of the mount, without any of the grip-assist ridging found on some other Canon white lenses.

Lens mount Canon EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS. Click for larger view

Lens mount Canon EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS. Click for larger view

 

There is a distance scale on top of the lens, and a panel with switches for AF/MF (to switch between autofocus and manual focus) as well as a distance limit switch.

Distance scale, and lens barrel with tripod collar removed. Click for larger view

Distance scale, and lens barrel with tripod collar removed. Click for larger view

 

The EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS is supplied with the tripod ring as standard which is a good value-add.

For some reason, Canon do not supply some of their other similarly priced lenses like the  EF 70-300L or the EF 70-200L f4 IS with their respective tripod rings, they have to be bought as costly accessories.  The EF 100-400L comes in its box fitted with Tripod Mount Ring B. The ring has a black line that marks its vertical alignment with the lens, and a knurled locking knob.  Unscrewing the locking knob, which is captive, allows the mount to be rotated and removed from the lens. 

Tripod ring B (W), supplied standard with the EF 100-400L

Tripod ring B (W), supplied standard with the EF 100-400L

 

The mount does not open completely and has to be slid backwards from its mounting grooves, and can only be removed entirely when there is no camera body mounted on the lens.

EF 100-400L switch panel for image stabilization controls

EF 100-400L switch panel for image stabilization controls

 

Ahead of the tripod mount is a switch panel that is home to the image stabilizer controls.  These switches protrude slightly from the panels that they are housed in, and can be quite easily shifted accidentally whilst handling the lens.  The IS system is one of Canon’s earliest, and is good for two stops of stabilization.

At the back end of the outer barrel, there is a rotating locking ring, which sets the tension on the sliding barrel.  The focus ring itself is quite narrow, made of rubber, with a fine texture to its ribbing, and easy to differentiate from the zoom control by feel alone.

Rotating collar for setting tension and locking the sliding zoom on the EF 100-400L

Rotating collar for setting tension and locking the sliding zoom

 

The front lens element and filter thread are 77mm  in diameter.  The lens is supplied with two end caps, one for the lens mount and the other a 77mm squeeze-on type.

Lens hood ET 83C in reversed position on the EF 100-400L

Lens hood ET 83C in reversed position on the EF 100-400L

 

A black plastic lens hood, ET-83C, is supplied with the lens.  It is of the type that screws into place.  There is enough room inside the lens hood to easily attach or remove the lens cap.  When these lens hoods are new, the attachment is firm and positive, but after lots of use the mounting wears and loses tension, and the fit can become rattly and loose.  This is an area that Canon have improved upon in newer lenses.  I make every effort to minimize how many times I mount and remove lens hoods, on all my lenses, to minimize this wear and tear.  The inside of this lens hood is covered in non-reflective flocking, which helps prevent any stray light rays from being reflected onto the front lens element. The ET-83C can be reversed and stored on the lens.

The EF 100-400L completely retracted, at 100mm focal length

The EF 100-400L completely retracted, at 100mm focal length

 

With the sliding barrel design, the zoom ring on the EF 100-400L does not rotate and is textured to assist grip when pushing or pulling the barrel to change focal length.

GrantAtkinson-Cape-Town_94A8416

The EF 100-400L fully extended, at 400mm focal length

 

The EF 100-400L changes it size considerably when zooming in or out, as can be expected from a 4 x zoom, with a compact, retracted form factor.  The lens is not weather-sealed.  I have seen complaints on the internet about the lens being susceptible to ingesting lots of dust.  In my experience I can say that I have not really noticed more dust ending up on my camera sensor when I use the EF 100-400L.  When I worked as a guide in Botswana, more than ten of my colleagues owned this lens, using them on a daily basis in hot and dusty conditions, and if they were taking in more dust, it was not something that clearly affected the lenses usefulness or function during that time.  Obviously, the EF 100-400L displaces a large amount of air when the outer barrel is moved from one end to the other of it’s range, and for that reason, there are other lenses which are better at staying free of dust.  The same goes for moisture, in that lenses that displace less air are typically better at staying clean.  At the same time there are EF 100-400L lenses doing their jobs on a daily basis  in marine environments where moist air is a concern.  I have seen a few EF 100-400L lenses eventually show some scuffing of the paint on the inner barrel after heavy and rough use, although the lenses all still functioned well.  The EF 100-400L feels well-built, and up to the rigours of wildlife or photojournalism use.

When this lens was designed, Canon had not yet developed some of the special optics coatings that are applied to their newer L-series lenses.

Front element, Canon EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS. Click for larger view

Front element, Canon EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS. Click for larger view

 

The EF 100-400L has an optic design made up of 17 elements, arranged in 14 groups, with a rear-focus system.  The design includes one flourite lens element (which is positioned just behind the front optic), and  one UD (Ultra Low Dispersion) element amongst the optical components.  The flourite element improves image quality and weighs less than other optics.  Flourite and UD elements are highly effective at combating chromatic aberrations amongst other things. Both of these materials are more costly than regular optic materials.

The lens comes with a zippered, padded nylon bag that can hold the lens with its hood reversed.

HOW WELL DOES IT WORK?

Handling

The EF 100-400L IS is not very heavy for what it does, weighing in 1360g.  How heavy it may seem to you will depend on what other lenses you use.  It is significantly lighter than any Canon 70-200 f2.8 lens.  For most people it is light enough that it can be handheld quite comfortably.  With the long outer barrel extending quite far at full zoom, the balance of the lens’ weight shifts. Fully extended at 400mm, the EF 100-400L IS can feel very light toward the front end. This is not typical of most telephoto lenses weight distribution, with heavy front ends being the norm.  Light is good with lenses, and getting accustomed to the balance of the EF 100-400L IS doesn’t take long.  If you are someone who has been shooting with 70-300mm consumer lenses, then the EF 100-400L will feel heavy enough.

Overall though, it is compact enough that it can be mounted on a camera and worn on the strop, hanging from neck or shoulder, at least for a while, in its retracted form.  It balances well on medium-sized bodies like the Canon 5Dmk3 and the 7D but works very well on the Rebel/T5i -sized body too, and feels quite light mounted on a 1D series body.

The zoom ring is situated quite far forward on the outer barrel, and has tranverse ridges for grip.  Zooming in is accomplished by simply sliding the outer barrel forward and  zooming out by pulling it back toward the camera. The action of the sliding zoom is very smooth on the EF 100-400L, and there is no play to be felt, even with lenses that have seen some use.  The rotating collar at the base of the outer barrel makes it possible to set the tension on the zoom.  I like to turn the ring until there is just enough resistance to prevent the outer barrel from sliding down even if I point the lens toward the ground.  I find it quite comfortable to use the linear zoom on the EF 100-400L  IS, as my left hand only has to move backward or forward to reframe my subject, and I find that I can easily do that whilst shooting even if the subject is coming directly towards me.  In some ways it can be easier than trying to twist my left wrist around whilst handholding which I may have to do with a rotating zoom. On the negative side, sometimes I find it a bit fiddly trying to get the tension set just right on the zoom, and end up with it too loose and shifting too easily, or too tight.  Whilst the zoom can be slid back and forth easily with one hand, I usually need to use two hands to adjust tension on the locking collar, just because it tends to turn with the focus ring unless I hold each one separately.  This can waste time in the field.

I take care to keep the lens fully retracted whenever I am not shooting it fully extended, which means tightening up the tensioning ring firmly, to prevent the barrel sliding from sliding forward with force accidentally.  At full extension, the lens is quite long, and carrying it on a neck strap like that may put additional stress on the camera bayonet mount.

I have tried to describe as fully as possible, what using the linear zoom mechanism lens is like, in real-world use, because it is an aspect of the lens that makes it quite different to most other zooms.  I am quite comfortable using the sliding zoom but there are other photographers who are not able to get comfortable with it, and prefer to avoid the lens because of that.

Dragonfly at sunset, Botswana. Canon EF 100-400L IS and EOS 40D. Shutter speed 1/320sec at f8.0, Iso 320

Dragonfly at sunset, Botswana. Canon EF 100-400L IS and 40D. Shutter speed 1/320sec at f8.0, Iso 320, focal length 400mm. Click for larger view

 

Overall, the compact size resulting from the linear zoom design and the light weight mean that the EF 100-400L is an ideal lens for handheld use whilst walking around and photographing in places like botanical gardens, and nature parks.  Those same attributes make it a good choice for travelling, when space and weight are critical considerations.  With a minimum focus distance of 1.8m, the EF 100-400L provides enough magnification at a near enough distance, that it is possible to capture quite small subjects, like butterflies, dragonflies and other larger insects.

I mount an alloy lens plate made by Really Right Stuff onto the lens collar.  This allows me to mount it very quickly on my tripod, and makes for a larger handle for carrying the lens.  The extra size of the plate also makes an ideal place to rest the bottom of the lens on, when I am leaning it on something for support.

Using the lens on a tripod,  with a tripod mount and the accessory lens foot gives a fairly balanced feel to the setup, though the point of balance will change when zooming in or out as the lens length changes.  Extended, the EF 100-400L is too long to be used with the camera itself mounted on the tripod.  It is far better to connect the tripod to the lens mount itself.

The EF 100-400L IS has such a wide range of available focal lengths that it is very well suited to wildlife photography.  On the long end, 400mm of focal length is enough for some close-up portraits even of larger animals, or those that allow a close approach.  The maximum focal length is even just enough for some serious bird photography, though one will need to be quite close to the birds, or to stick to larger species.  The shorter end of the focal length range, which is 100mm, is useful for capturing scenes of animals in their environments.

With the image beneath this text I framed the desert-adapted elephant at 130mm, to include the rocky cliff and sand dunes for scale.

Desert adapted elephant, Namibia. Canon EF 100-400L Is and EOS 5Dmk3. 1/400sec at f/5.6, Iso 800. Focal length 130mm. Click for larger view

Desert adapted elephant, Namibia. Canon EF 100-400L IS and 5Dmk3. 1/400sec at f/5.6, Iso 800. Focal length 130mm. Click for larger view

 

Then, without changing my own location or position, I zoomed in to 400mm and framed a scene with the elephant taking up almost a quarter of the scene.

Desert adapted elephant, Namibia. Canon EF 100-400L Is and EOS 5Dmk3. 1/640sec at f/5.6, Iso 800. Focal length 400mm. Click for larger view

Desert adapted elephant, Namibia. Canon EF 100-400L IS and 5Dmk3. 1/640sec at f/5.6, Iso 800. Focal length 400mm. Click for larger view

 

Because of its wide focal length range, the EF 100-400L also serves well as a landscape lens that can frame multiple scenes from one place, and compress distant features of a landscape to good effect.  It is also light enough that it can be carried along in a hiking bag on long walks to get to those special views.

Damaraland, Namibia. Canon EF 100-400L and 5dmk3. Shutter speed 1/2500sec at f5.6, Iso 500. Click for larger view

Damaraland, Namibia. Canon EF 100-400L and 5dmk3. Shutter speed 1/2500sec at f5.6, Iso 500. Click for larger view

 

Overall, the EF 100-400L works well in a variety of roles, including use for wildlife, sport, airshows, landscape and travel photography, with some to-be-expected trade-offs.

Image stabilization

Due to its age, the EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS has one of Canon’s early image stabilization systems.  It is rated to be effective to two stops of shutter speed. What this means to the user is that using IS will significantly improve the chances of taking sharper images at lower shutter speeds, than with a lens that is not equipped with IS.  In use, this older IS system can be heard working, but is not overly loud.  The system has two IS Modes.  Mode 1 is best for general handholding, whilst Mode 2 is best suited to panning, which would include tripod use.  If you are going to be shooting from a tripod at very slow shutter speeds, for instance in very low light, then it is definitely best to turn IS off. Newer Canon IS systems are effective beyond 4 stops of shutter speed, and have tripod sensing capability.  Whilst the IS system in the EF 100-400L f4.5 IS is not quite so sophisticated, it is nonetheless effective, and a valuable feature in this lens’ specifications.

Auto Focus

The EF 100-400L  is a lens that  has somewhat variable autofocus performance, depending to some degree on what camera body it is mounted. When paired with a Canon 700D/Rebel type body, focus drive can be quite slow.  This is to be expected, in a lens with a wide range of focal lengths. Shooting with the lens on a 5Dmk3, or a 1D body, delivers much snappier autofocus response.  It is possible to speed up focus drive regardless of which camera body is being used, by means of the distance limiting switch on the side of the lens.  There are two settings, 1.8m to infinity and 6.5m to infinity.  If you shoot with the setting on 1.8m, then the lens will be able to focus on subjects as close as 1.8m.  However, this also means that the lens has a much wider range to work through when focusing on something distant, which can result in slow AF response.  If you are in a situation where you are certain that you won’t have need to focus closer than 6.5m, switching to the longer minimum focus distance setting results in much faster AF drive and performance.  I try to always remember which distance setting I am using, in order to maximize how well the lens focuses.

Canon EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS and 5Dmk2. Shutter speed 1/3200sec at f5.6, Iso 800. Focal length 100mm. Click for larger view

Common dolphins, South Africa. Canon EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS and 5Dmk2. Shutter speed 1/3200sec at f5.6, Iso 800. Focal length 100mm. Click for larger view

 

Initial pick-up of a subject is surprizingly fast, on all bodies, especially when the subject contrast is high.  At it’s maximum focal length, the EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS has quite a narrow field of view, and like any telephoto lens, good long lens technique will enable the autofocus to work at its best.  Keeping as still as possible becomes very important.  I also make sure to limit how far the EF 100-400L has to search for focus too, by trying to focus on or near my expected subject distance, even when I don’t have a clear view.  This can be invaluable when shooting moving subjects.  In other words, if I am waiting for an approaching bird to fly towards me, and I can see it way off in the distance, I will pre-focus the lens at a good distance where I may want to start tracking, before my subject gets there.  This can be accomplished by aiming and focusing on something big and high in contrast at a suitable distance, or by manually turning the focus ring until the lens is focused at the right distance.  Pre-focusing in such a manner soon becomes second nature, and it prevents time-wasting searching when the lens has to rack back and forth hunting for contrast or subject.

Skilled photographers take fantastic images of all variety of moving subjects with the EF 100-400L every day.  Given it’s wide range of focal lengths, it’s moderate maximum aperture of f5.6, and age of design, it does a good job at autofocus.  At the same time, many of Canon’s newer zoom lenses will focus faster and more accurately.  These would include all of the EF 70-200L models, the EF 70-300L f4-5.6 IS, the EF 200-400L f4 1.4x ext IS.  The difference in performance between these lenses and the EF 100-400L is less in bright light but becomes more pronounced when light is low.  Fixed focal length lenses, like the EF 400L f5.6 that cost a similar amount also focus faster and more accurately.

Blesbuck, South Africa.  Canon EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS and 60D. Shutter speed 1/800sec at f6.3, Iso 400. Click for larger view

Blesbuck, South Africa. Canon EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS and 60D. Shutter speed 1/800sec at f6.3, Iso 400. Focal length 400mm. Click for larger view

 

Bear in mind that my expectations of autofocus are based on photographing wildlife in natural light, and with moving subjects something that I try to concentrate on, and my discussion of the autofocus performance of the EF 100-400L is based on using it for that role.  For still or slow-moving subjects, autofocus works quickly and accurately.

Camera bodies used

Over time I have used the EF 100-400L on the following Canon EOS bodies: 350D, 30D, 40D, 50D, 60D, 7D, 6D, 5Dmk2, 5Dmk3, 1Dmk4 and 1DX.

Lion, Botswana. Canon EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS and 40D. Shutter speed 1/1000 sec at f5.6, Iso 640. Focal length 400mm. Click for larger view

Lion, Botswana. Canon EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS and 40D. Shutter speed 1/1000 sec at f5.6, Iso 640. Focal length 400mm. Click for larger view

 

On the Canon 70D/7D with its APS-C sized sensor, the field of view is roughly equivalent to 160mm-640mm.  This pairing makes for a compact combination with lots of resolution, reasonable autofocus, and at its best in bright light.

On the now discontinued Canon 1Dmk4, which has an APS-H sized sensor, the field of view is roughly equivalent to 130mm-520mm.  Autofocus is good, and this combination works well in a variety of conditions.

On the Canon 5Dmk3 and 1DX, full-frame sensors utilize the entire image circle projected by the EF 100-400L.  The wide end of the focal length range, 100mm becomes noticeably wider and more useful for capturing surroundings and environments on these bodies than with other smaller-sensor Canon dslrs. Both these camera bodies got the best out of the EF 100-400L, with their great high-iso performance balancing out the need for high iso settings to make up for the lenses  ‘slow’ maximum aperture of f5.6.  Their autofocus systems also drove the EF 100-400L more positively than any other Canon dslr bodies.  I also got decent results with the Canon 6D and this lens, although I used only the centre AF point for moving subjects.

Extenders

The EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS will work with a Canon 1.4x extender attached to it.  This combination effectively creates a 140mm-560mm f8 maximum aperture lens.  Autofocus will only be possible in this configuration if you are using a 1D-series body, or a 5Dmk3, to the best of my knowledge, and not all AF points may be available.  Such a combination will be best utilized in bright light, and won’t be ideal for fast-moving subjects.  The viewfinder of the camera will also darken quite a lot.  I have not used the lens with any extenders in the field.

It is also possible to mount a Canon EF 2.0 x extender to the EF 100-400L, but as far as I am aware, normal, through the viewfinder, autofocus will not work.  On the other hand, it may be possible to focus using Live View, with the 70D and it’s Dual Pixel Live View focus rated to function at a maximum aperture of f11.  Although I have spent time shooting with the 70D, I did not fit a 2x extender to the EF 100-400L and try this out for myself.

Image Quality

I always shoot in RAW and process my images in Adobe Camera Raw, which is very similar to Adobe Lightroom and its Develop Module, and then finish them off in Adobe Photoshop.  My evaluation of the lens performance with regard to image quality is based upon my normal workflow.

The only time I ever mount any kind of filter like a UV Haze or protective clear filter to the front of this lens is when I may be using it in extremely poor conditions, like ocean-salt spray or airborne dirt as found at motocross events. The optical performance can be easily degraded by filters.  The deep lens hood does an excellent job of keeping the front element safe most of the time.

Yellowbilled hornbill, Namibia. Canon EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS and 5Dmk3, Shutter speed 1/1600sec at f6.3, Iso 400. Focal length 400mm. Click for larger view

Yellowbilled hornbill, Namibia. Canon EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS and 5Dmk3, Shutter speed 1/1600sec at f6.3, Iso 400. Focal length 400mm. Click for larger view

 

The EF 100-400L is a zoom lens which delivers acceptable image quality at wide-open aperture settings.  Stopping it down, beyond 5.6 (at longer focal lengths), to apertures in the f6.3 – f8.0 range brings about noticeable improvements to sharpness.

I choose my aperture settings for creative reasons, depth of field and background blur being part of that, but still taking into account my shutter speed, and not allowing it to drop too low.  I shoot handheld most of the time.  I choose to shoot the EF 100-400L at its’ wide open aperture of f5.6 much of the time, because I am purposefully trying to blur the background, or because the low light I may be working in demands the biggest available aperture setting to give me more shutter speed.  When used in this way, the EF 100-400L gives up a little image quality, in sharpness, and contrast, when compared to the other Canon L-series lenses like the EF 70-300L, all three of the EF 70-200L lenses and the EF 400L f5.6.  It is important to remember though, that I am comparing the EF 100-400L with a collection of L-series lenses, all of which either do less when it comes to maximum focal length, have shorter working ranges, or cost a whole lot more.  Compare the EF 100-400L to most non-L series Canon lenses, and it will surpass them when it comes to image quality.

Black-backed jackal, Botswana. Canon EF100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS and 40D Shutter speed 1/1000sec at f7.1, Iso 400. Focal length 375mm. Cropped to 1.2mpixels from 10mpixels. Click for larger view

Black-backed jackal, Botswana. Canon EF100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS and 40D Shutter speed 1/1000sec at f7.1, Iso 400. Focal length 375mm. Cropped to 1.2mpixels from 10mpixels. Click for larger view

 

The image of the black-backed jackal above serves as a real-world example of the level of detail the lens can deliver, in good light and stopped down to f7.1. That image was cropped from a 10 megapixel original, to just 1.3mp, to represent an approximately 100 percent view, to illustrate fine detail.  I stopped down here to make sure I had enough depth of field to get both eyes and nose in focus and I had enough light to accomplish that.

Cape sparrow, Namibia. Canon EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS and 5Dmk3. Shutter speed 1/2500sec at 6.3, Iso 400. Focal length 400mm. Cropped from 22 mpixels to 1.3mp. Click for larger view

Cape sparrow, Namibia. Canon EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS and 5Dmk3. Shutter speed 1/2500sec at 6.3, Iso 400. Focal length 400mm. Cropped from 22 mpixels to 1.3mp. Click for larger view

 

The Cape sparrow image above is another example of the kind of detail I get from the lens.  This image was taken in good photographic light, and cropped from 22 megapixels to just 1.3megapixels, to illustrate what a 100 percent view looks like.  I stopped down one stop for this shot, to f6.3.  Images from the EF 100-400L have faithful colours.  Contrast is also good, more so in brighter light.

Elephant, Namibia. Canon EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS and 40D. Shutter speed 1/320sec at 5.6, Iso 640. Focal length 400mm. Cropped from 10 mpixels to 1.4mp. Click for larger view

Elephant, Botswana. Canon EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS and 40D. Shutter speed 1/320sec at 5.6, Iso 640. Focal length 400mm. Cropped from 10 mpixels to 1.4mp. Click for larger view

 

More real-world images, this elephant above, shot at 400mm focal length, for a close-up shot in good light, and with the aperture wide open at f5.6.  Taken in good light, this elephant image is nicely detailed. The image is cropped from 10 megapixels to just 1.4 megapixels to show a 100 percent view.

Elephant, Namibia. Canon EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS and 5Dmk3. Shutter speed 1/500sec at 5.6, Iso 800. Focal length 400mm. Cropped from 22 mpixels to 1.3mp. Click for larger view

Elephant, Namibia. Canon EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS and 5Dmk3. Shutter speed 1/500sec at 5.6, Iso 800. Focal length 400mm. Cropped from 22 mpixels to 1.3mp. Click for larger view

 

Close inspection of the elephant image above, taken after the sun had set, will reveal noticeably less detail than other sample images which were taken bright ambient light.

It is quite normal for zoom lenses to show some evidence of vignetting, or darkening of the edges of the frame.  I photographed four images of the blue sky, two at 100mm, and two more at 400mm, at different aperture settings,with the lens mounted on a Canon 5Dmk3 full frame dslr to illustrate the vignetting.

100mm Focal length

Canon EF100-400 f4.5-5.6 L IS, Canon 5Dmk3. Focal length 100mm aperture f4.5. Click for larger view

Canon EF100-400 f4.5-5.6 L IS, Canon 5Dmk3. Focal length 100mm aperture f4.5. Click for larger view

 

At 100mm, and aperture wide-open at f4.5, vignetting is quite pronounced in the corners, gradually fading toward the centre of the frame.

Canon EF100-400 f4.5-5.6 L IS, Canon 5Dmk3. Focal length 100mm aperture f6.3. Click for larger view

Canon EF100-400 f4.5-5.6 L IS, Canon 5Dmk3. Focal length 100mm aperture f6.3. Click for larger view

 

Staying at 100mm and stopping down to f6.3 clears away most of the vignetting, with only slight shading left in the very edges of the frame.

400mm Focal length

Canon EF100-400 f4.5-5.6 L IS, Canon 5Dmk3. Focal length 400mm aperture f5.6. Click for larger view

Canon EF100-400 f4.5-5.6 L IS, Canon 5Dmk3. Focal length 400mm aperture f5.6. Click for larger view

 

Zoomed all the way to 400mm, and wide open at f5.6, the 100-400L again shows quite pronounced vignetting, particularly in the corners, gradually fading toward the centre.

Canon EF100-400 f4.5-5.6 L IS, Canon 5Dmk3. Focal length 400mm aperture f7.1. Click for larger view

Canon EF100-400 f4.5-5.6 L IS, Canon 5Dmk3. Focal length 400mm aperture f7.1. Click for larger view

 

Still at 400mm, stopping down to f7.1 clears the vignetting quite significantly, with some shading remaining deep in the image corners.

When shot at wide-open aperture settings, the EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS shows the most vignetting of any of the Canon L-series zoom lenses that I routinely shoot with.  I don’t consider this to be a major problem as it is very simple to get rid of such vignetting using Adobe Lightroom, Camera Raw and Photoshop, and Canon’s own Digital Photo Professional, that comes bundled with all Canon dslr’s.  If you shoot jpg images, then most modern Canon dslr bodies will have the option of taking care of the vignette in-camera, using the Peripheral Illumination Correction feature.

Slight vignetting can also help to draw attention to my subjects, which are typically not near the darker edges of the frame.

Corner shading or vignetting is much less noticeable when the EF 100-400L is used on cameras  with smaller sensors like the EOS 700D, 70D or 7D as these cameras utilize only the central part of the image circle.

With 400mm of focal length, the EF 100-400L can effectively blur out backgrounds when photographing wildlife, especially if the focused subject is close to the camera.

Canon EF 100-400Lf4.5-5.6 IS and 30D. Shutter speed 1/1000sec at f5.6, Iso 250. Focal length 400mm. Click for larger view

Cheetah, Botswana. Canon EF 100-400Lf4.5-5.6 IS and 30D. Shutter speed 1/1000sec at f5.6, Iso 250. Focal length 400mm. Click for larger view

 

The cheetah above was photographed with the EF 100-400L at 400mm of focal length, and the aperture wide-open at f5.6.  In my own shooting, I often choose to shoot with open apertures, to help blur backgrounds for creative purposes, and I typically end up shooting any telephoto lenses with a f5.6 maximum aperture, at that wide-open aperture much of the time.

Lion. Canon EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS and 40D. Shutter speed 1/250 sec at f7.1, iso 200. Focal length 350mm. Click for larger view

Lion, Botswana. Canon EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS and 40D. Shutter speed 1/250 sec at f7.1, iso 200. Focal length 350mm. Click for larger view

 

The lion portrait above, composed at 350mm, was taken with the aperture stopped down to f7.1, in order to get more detail from the subject, at the expense of a more structured background, with less blur.

In order to further evaluate the quality of the bokeh and background blur that the EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS produces, I shot it side by side with the lens that might be its closest Canon competitor, the EF 70-300L f4-5.6 IS.

100mm

Canon EF 70-300L f4-5.6 and 5Dmk3. 50 % Crop. Focal length 100mm at f4.5. Click for larger view

Canon EF 70-300L f4-5.6 and 5Dmk3. 50 % Crop. Focal length 100mm at f4.5. Click for larger view

 

Canon EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 and 5Dmk3. 50 % Crop. Focal length 100mm at f4.5. Click for larger view

Canon EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 and 5Dmk3. 50 % Crop. Focal length 100mm at f4.5. Click for larger view

 

I didn’t find a whole lot of difference between the two lenses when it came to the structure of the bokeh at 100mm focal length, though I don’t typically spend too much time looking at background highlights zoomed in to 100 percent when I am processing my images.  The EF 70-300L aperture circles may have smoother edges to them.  If there are bigger differences they are not relevant to my own imaging needs.

300mm

Canon EF 70-300L f4-5.6 and 5Dmk3.  Focal length 300mm at f5.6. Click for larger view

Canon EF 70-300L f4-5.6 and 5Dmk3. Focal length 300mm at f5.6. Click for larger view

 

Canon EF 100-3400L f4.5-5.6 and 5Dmk3.  Focal length 285mm at f5.6. Click for larger view

Canon EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 and 5Dmk3. Focal length 285mm at f5.6. Click for larger view

 

To me, there is not a whole lot of difference in the structure of the background blur from these two lenses when shot at similar settings.  I tried to get the two images as close to one another in terms of subject size, which meant a focal length of 285mm on the EF 100-400L and 300mm on the EF 70-300L.  The difference in focal length readings from Adobe Lightroom (285 compared to 300) may be ascribed to the close focus distance of the test subject when I took the images.

I have not picked up enough evidence of chromatic aberration, in my images taken with the EF 100-400L to warrant their removal using Lightroom or Photoshop.

Flare happens when stray light gets reflected off 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 100-400L doesn’t appear to be particularly susceptible to excessive flare effects, although like many other older Canon tele zoom lenses, it can struggle to focus on a backlit subject when there is a strong light source in the frame.  At such times I usually try to find focus using a single AF point, and on the edge of my subject.

Some internet posts I have read have recommended to potential buyers of a Canon mid-range telephoto zoom lens to choose the EF 70-300L over the EF100-400L and then deal with the lack of extra focal length in the 300mm zoom lens by cropping it’s images to match a 400mm perspective. I carried out this exercise and posted the images here for comparison.

I shot with the same camera body, from the same tripod mount position, with both lenses at their maximum focal length, which was 300mm and 400mm respectively. Those images are directly below.

EF 70-300L at 300mm

Canon EF 70-300L f4-.56 at 300mm focal length. Downsized for web. Click for larger view

Canon EF 70-300L f4-.56 at 300mm focal length. Downsized for web. Click for larger view

 

EF 100-400L at 400mm

Canon EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 at 400mm focal length. Downsized for web. Click for larger view

Canon EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 at 400mm focal length. Downsized for web. Click for larger view

 

It can be seen that 400mm gets you a lot closer to your subject, and also blurs the background more powerfully.  Whilst it is possible to crop the image taken with the shorter focal length lens ‘tighter’ you cannot make up for the more diffuse background that the EF 100-400L creates at this distance.

I then cropped the image from the EF 70-300L at 300mm focal length until it closely matched the size of the subject, in the image taken with the EF 100-400L.

Canon EF 70-300L f4-.56 and 5dmk3 at 300mm focal length. Cropped from 22mp to 14mp and downsized for web. Click for larger view

Canon EF 70-300L f4-.56 and 5dmk3 at 300mm focal length and f5.6. Cropped from 22mp to 14mp and downsized for web. Click for larger view

 

Canonc100-400at400_94A8538

Canon EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 and 5dmk3 at 400mm focal length and f5.6. Downsized from 22mp for web. Click for larger view

 

Cropping an image taken with the EF  70-300L at 300mm, on my Canon 5Dmk3, until the subject matched the subject size from the EF 100-400L at the same distance, left me with around 14 megapixels from an original file of 22 megapixels.  At pixel level, the image from the 70-300 enjoys a slight sharpness and contrast advantage, which may be negated somewhat by the loss of resolution resulting from the crop. The image taken with the EF 100-400L shows superior background blur. It may not be clear from this comparison which lens is superior, although I would suggest that if you are going to be shooting at 400mm most of the time, then the 100-400L holds the advantage. The EF 70-300L certainly has good enough image quality to withstand such a crop, but the background blur of the longer lens cannot be easily replicated. If you don’t need to blur backgrounds in your own shooting needs, like birds in the sky, then it becomes less of a factor.

Something that I learned from fellow guide and exceptional photographer Andy Biggs is that the EF 100-400L can be stopped down quite far, and on a 1Dmk4, it will close down to as small an aperture as f40. Such a small aperture setting allows for slow shutter speeds even in bright light, making the EF 100-400L an ideal lens for motion blur photography when slow shutter speeds are needed.

To sum up the image quality of the EF 100-400L, I find that I need to spend a little more time working on contrast, vignetting and sharpening to get the best results from raw images taken with this lens.

The EF 100-400L can and does take images that are good enough to be published in magazines, to win photo contests, and make fantastic fine art prints.

Options

When it comes to options, Canon offer several lenses that come close to the EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS.

One option is the EF 70-300L f4-5.6 IS.  This lens is lighter, shorter, offers slightly better image quality, faster autofocus, 30mm wider focal length, four- stop image stabilization and weather-sealing.  The EF 100-400L has an extra 100mm of focal length which can be significant for far-off subjects and can generate more background blur, and is competitively priced.

Another option is the EF 70-200L f2.8 IS ii, matched with an EF 2x Extender iii, to create a 140mm-400mm f5.6 zoom combination.  The 70-200 and 2x extender offers fairly similar performance to the EF 100-400L in optical performance, as well as autofocus drive.  On the plus side, this combination enjoys weather-sealing superiority, a constant physical size when zooming in or out, and Canon’s newest Image Stabilization system, good for up to 4 stops.  You also have the advantage of being able to remove the extender when subjects are nearby, and enjoy all the advantages of the f2.8 lens maximum aperture zoom. Disadvantages of the EF 70-200L f2.8 IS ii and 2x Extender iii are size, (it doesn’t retract), weight,  and cost.  In an earlier post I compared the EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS and EF 70-200L f2.8 IS ii plus 2x extender iii in some detail.

Yet another option in the Canon lens stable is the EF 28-300L f3.5-5.6, which has a much wider 28mm maximum focal length range, bigger wide-open aperture and three stop image stabilization.  In comparison, the EF 100-400L is significantly lighter, 100m longer on the far end, and costs a lot less.  I have yet to use the EF 28-300L in the field, and cannot at the time of writing offer a real opinion on it.

 

CONCLUSION

Pros

Wide range of focal lengths

Effective IS

Relatively light weight for focal length range

Compact size retracted

Value for money

Cons

Lack of weather-sealing

Raw images require extra processing

 

The EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS is a good overall performer, and one that has for a long time been a favourite amongst many Canon photographers looking for a one-lens solution to multiple photographic applications .  It is likely that a new version of this lens from  Canon would be able to improve both its low-light image quality and light light autofocus, but right now, the EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS gets the job done. No other single Canon lens L-series lens is nearly as versatile, in the same price, weight or size category and this makes the EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS a very useful piece of equipment to own.

 

 

 

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.

66 Responses to “Canon EF 100-400 L f4.5-5.6 IS USM Field Review”

  1. Scott Says: April 23, 2014 at 7:29 am

    Great post, Grant. I have used one for several years, and agree with your review. One thing – after a lot of use of my lens, the locking mechanism “jammed”, stopping the easy sliding of the lens. I had to send the lens in for service so the internal veld material that “grips” the lens could be replaced. But it’s otherwise a good lens – especially great for multi-day hiking trails, because it is light, strong and versatile in its focal length.

    • Grant Atkinson Says: April 23, 2014 at 1:23 pm

      Thanks Scott, for the feedback, and extra user information too…definitely the 100-400L is compact enough that somebody as active as you are, can get to incredible places with it in your backpack!
      I did read your recent review of the new 500f4LIS ii and enjoyed it
      Thanks also for the heads-up about the friction material in the collar. I have also seen one 100-400L tension collar lose its inner bearings, but it was still usable until it got to the service centre. Overall, given how many are in use and the abuse they take as wildlife working lenses, they seem pretty robust..
      Thanks again for the response
      cheers
      Grant

  2. Nancy Lewis Says: April 23, 2014 at 7:43 am

    I can’t believe I read the whole thing! Glad to know you think this lens is still worth using. I can attest to the fact that it does suck in dust. I had it attached to my 70D on my last trip and never removed it. However, I did notice dust spots although they did not show up on the downloaded photos.. at least not that I’ve noticed.

    • Grant Atkinson Says: April 23, 2014 at 2:19 pm

      Ha ha Nancy 🙂
      Glad I got you to read an entire review. Usually dust spots on the sensor only show up when you are shooting against a clear sky, and also typically only when the aperture is closed down somewhat…
      Definitely worth using the EF 100-400L, especially when light weight, portability and a single, do-it-all telephoto zoom are your main priorities.
      Thanks for the feedback and your experiences
      Cheers
      Grant

  3. Grant Atkinson Says: April 23, 2014 at 2:21 pm

    Thanks to Neuro from Canon Rumours, who pointed out elsewhere that the lens was first introduced in 1998, (not 1999) as I wrote, and that switch panels are weather-sealed on the lens. He also reminded me that it wii autofocus with a 2x extender attached if one uses Live View, and not just 1 D series, with the new Canon 70D having excellent Live View performance..
    Thanks again Neuro
    cheers
    Grant

  4. DaveT Says: April 24, 2014 at 11:30 am

    Hi Grant,
    Great review. I agree that for versatility the lens has many redeeming features. I had one for over two years and shot a wide variety of subjects but mainly used it for wildlife. But my experience of the lens supports the posts on the internet that there are variations in quality between lenses. My own copy would perform less reliably in terms of focusing than another copy borrowed from a friend.

    True also, is the fact that given the right lighting conditions the lens can produce some great images. However, when I found myself shooting in poor light and conditions where there is little contrast the lens would struggle. I too, experienced that back-lit subjects could cause problems for focusing. On one memorable occasion trying to shoot some cheetahs in the late afternoon, the lens would not focus at all in backlighting but using my wife’s 70-300L allowed me to get focus and get the shot.

    I have waited for a replacement to the 100-400L for a while, and there are rumors that a replacement is due soon, but there is also a suggestion that due to the lens selling well that Canon are in no hurry to do that.

    In the end, whilst I enjoyed the lens versatility, the unpredictable results was something that I couldn’t live with anymore and so I part exchanged it for a 300L MkII prime and 1.4 extender. I have a shorter 70-200L F4 (cracking lens) that i can use for the shorter focal lengths.

    • Grant Atkinson Says: May 1, 2014 at 5:18 am

      Hi Dave, thanks for sharing your experience here, which adds extra information to what is already in the review. As far as the inconsistent results that some 100-400L owners experience, I think it may be a lens that benefits from some careful AFMA set-up (calibration), and I also think that some older copies might benefit from the odd service, as with all lenses there is wear and tear.
      For sure the EF 300 f2l8 L IS is a big step forward and one that many wildlife photographers choose as their next step up.
      I am also hoping that Canon will release a new 100-400L that performs at least as well as the current EF 70-300L, but who knows when or how much it wlll cost 🙂
      Thanks again 🙂
      Cheers
      Grant

  5. Tommy Thompson Says: April 24, 2014 at 2:53 pm

    Hi Grant,
    Excellent review. I have only recently become interested in bird photography and have obtained a used Canon 100-400L lens. With some birds in shadow on a cloudy day and shooting at 400mm at 5,6 with iso set at 400 I only get a speed of 60-80th of a second. What settings would you use? Sorry I forgot…….I am using a 650D. I also have a 40D as a backup…..which is the right camera for this lens?. Your comments will be appreciated.
    Tommy

    • Grant Atkinson Says: May 1, 2014 at 5:30 am

      Hi Tommy
      There shouldn’t be a whole lot of difference between the focus systems of the 650D and the 40D, I think they are both the same 9 point cross-type array. For my own use, I would shoot with whichever one felt most comfortable to me. The 40D can still take great images and is a very capable camera for wildlife.
      From your description it would seem that the light was very, very low, to get such a slow shutter speed. I would put up the iso to 800 or even higher if necessary, to get more speed, although noise might become a problem. I might try to visit again in brighter light conditions, as you will struggle to get sharp shots at 1/80sec.
      Make sure to remove any filters from the front of the EF 100-400L to help with sharpness and AF accuracy.
      Hope that helps
      Cheers
      Grant

  6. Francois Malherbe Says: April 25, 2014 at 2:28 pm

    Grant

    Thanks for the very comprehensive review. I have been using my 100 – 400 for the past 6 years on a 30 D body. On acquisition I fitted a Circular -PL filter for use in harsh-light areas like Kalahari and Namibia. For many years had a problem in that I could not get sharp focus at 400mm in either IS or manual even looked blurry thru the viewfinder. Spoke to many boffins including Canon repair shops and the best I could get was bring it in for a service and checkup. On trolling thru Google I eventually found a blog about the same problem. Suggestion remove the filter and “hey presto” problem solved. It has worked beautifully since. It seems as if the lens does not like this filter at long zooms.

    • Grant Atkinson Says: May 1, 2014 at 5:52 am

      Hi Francois, thanks for sharing your experience here. I never use polarizing filters for the kind of wildlife photography that I do, on any of my lenses, although they can be useful when photographing with wide-angles and over reflective water.
      I did make sure to mention in the review, that the EF 100-400L doesn’t really like filters 🙂
      Cheers
      Grant

  7. Chiggy Patel Says: May 4, 2014 at 10:34 pm

    Great review, Grant. As an amateur, I am glad I still have this lens with me. When I gave the lens for general maintenance after my birding trip in India (lot of dust on dry trek), the gentleman on the other side of counter said that if you zoom in & out in a dusty place, the dust enters the lens more easily via metal tube due the push-pull zoom type, compared to other zoom lenses. From then on, I cleaned the metal tube several times a day when on a trip. Hope this helps to some reading this.

    Cheers,
    -Chiggy

    • Grant Atkinson Says: May 5, 2014 at 10:47 am

      HI Chiggy
      Thanks for that useful piece of advice…I am sure that keeping the inner barrel clean as possible will help to reduce dust entry into the lens.
      Appreciate your contribution here
      Cheers
      Grant

  8. Sanjeev Says: May 13, 2014 at 7:56 am

    Hi Grant. Another very nice & informative, high quality review. I have used the lens extensively with very good results for over 3 years but sold the 100-400 recently. As you know, now I am using the 500 II & 70-200 f/2.8 II lenses and extenders. But, there are times I miss the ease and flexibility of the 100-400. It was such a convenient lens to use! I am eagerly waiting for the Vr II of the lens to come out (don’t know if that ever will happen) but if it does I am surly buying it for the times when I want to travel light and easy 🙂
    For someone who is into birding & wildlife it is a great first lens for serious photography. Though the 70-300 L is newer with better IQ, I still think for wildlife and birds the 100-400 is a good one lens solution on crop bodies.
    Cheers
    Sanjeev

    • Grant Atkinson Says: May 13, 2014 at 11:00 am

      Hi Sanjeev
      Thanks for your feedback here on the lens, and using it. I agree with you completely about how easy the 100-400L is to use..and travel with. I do hope that even if Canon bring out a new version, that they do continue with this model for a while longer at least, to continue to provide the reasonably priced, one lens solution that this lens represents 🙂
      Cheers
      Grant

  9. Lars Says: May 18, 2014 at 2:21 pm

    Hi Grant,
    Thank you for a very good review. While the current 100-400L is a very practical lens, it is going to be very interesting to see the new version of the 100-400L when/if it comes out from Canon. How do you see a new version of the 100-400 potentially competing with the current 200-400L?

    Could the new version of the Canon 100-400L be able to challenge the 200-400 due to a wider spread in focal area at the same image quality?

    Brgds
    Lars

    • Grant Atkinson Says: May 18, 2014 at 2:41 pm

      Hi Lars
      I think you raise a good point to consider. It could be a factor in Canon’s marketing strategy perhaps, to let the initial demand for the recently released EF 200-400L F4 IS 1.4x ext to be met, before releasing an improved EF 100-400L. If a new EF 100-400L were to be released, with image quality, AF response on par with the current EF 70-300L, then for sure some folk who might not have been happy with the current EF 100-400L, might settle for that new ‘imaginary’ lens. The way I see it though, the EF 200-400L f4 1.4x is really a 200-560mm lens, and I see it as a natural ‘competitor’ for other Canon lenses like the EF 300L f2.8 IS ii, EF 400L f2.8 IS ii and perhaps the EF 500L f4 IS ii. Just the price alone, and its f-stop advantage at 400mm f4, plus the extra focal length on the long side with extender engaged…differentiate it from the lighter, variable-aperture 100-400L.
      I hope that Canon do bring a replacement for the EF 100-400L to market soon, as it would make for a great widlife lens for a travelling photographer like me.

      Thanks for the feedback and discussion.
      Cheers
      Grant

  10. Byron Says: May 18, 2014 at 2:56 pm

    Hi Grant,

    What is you opinion in the Canon EF 100-400mm vs the new Tamron SP 150-600mm would be awesome for you to do a side by side review on the two.

    Byron

    • Grant Atkinson Says: May 18, 2014 at 8:48 pm

      Hi Byron
      Thanks for your suggestion. Unfortunately to date I have not handled or used one of the new Tamron 150-600mm lenses yet. From what I have heard, most folk that have bought them seem pretty happy with the performance. I owned a Tamron 90mm macro lens for a while and it made nice images.
      At this stage I don’t have any plans to compare them….although it would certainly be an interesting comparison.
      I will keep it in mind but hopefully somebody who has access to one of the Tamrons does it before me :-).
      Thanks again
      Cheers
      Grant

  11. Lars Says: May 19, 2014 at 4:20 am

    Hi Grant,

    Thank you very much for your thoughts on the 100-400 versus 200-400 question. I can see that you compare the 200-400 to the other Big Whites, while you consider the 100-400 more of a lightweight alternative, and potentially on a quality level with the 70-300L. While we will of course not know yet what a new verison of the 100-400 will be like, it is still going to be interesting to see if it can compete with the 200-400 in image quality.

    I will be looking forward for your review of the 500F4LII.

    Brgds
    Lars

    • Grant Atkinson Says: May 19, 2014 at 5:52 am

      HI Lars
      I certainly do hope that Canon bring out a new replacement for the EF 100-400L, with performance at least as good as the EF70-300L, as I will be one buyer for sure. That makes a great focal length to pair with a longer fixed lens for the kind of photography that my wife and I do. I am sure you are right that such a lens may take some sales from the EF 200-400L 1.4x lens. On a similar note, several of the folk that I travel with for photography have recently bought the new Nikon AF-S 80-400VR, and strangely enough, about half of them at least already own the Nikon 200-400f4 VR. So far nobody I know has replaced their Nikon 200-400f4VR with the lighter lens, but it may well happen.
      I need to apologize for taking so long with the EF 500L f4 IS ii lens, I have actually replaced my version 1 300L f2.8 IS with the new 500. So I have already racked up many hours with the new 500f4. Life and photography just keep getting in the way of my writing up the review :-). I am getting fantastic results from the 500 and writing up the review will be fun 🙂
      Regards
      Grant

  12. Lars Says: May 19, 2014 at 7:54 am

    Hi Grant,
    Thank you very much for your answer. I am indeed looking very much forward for your 500LISII review. To be honest, I am currently considering either the 200-400 (especially due to its zoom capabilities which gives flexibility) or the 500LISII due to high image quality and slightly lower weight compared to the 200-400. At this point in time, I am leaning towards the 200-400, but your review of the 500LISII may well indeed become the tipping point in either direction.

  13. Malcolm Hare Says: May 20, 2014 at 6:06 pm

    Hi Grant,

    All I can add to all that has been said is this lens is seriously versatile. I have used it for everything from small birds to portraits to insects….etc etc. I appreciate that a 400mm 2.8 or 600mm f4 would help in lots of ways and improve certain areas of my work but this lens will always have a place in my rucksack. I read with interest your review of the 600mm f4 as this is my next choice of lens when the budgets agree!

    All the best

    • Grant Atkinson Says: May 20, 2014 at 7:43 pm

      Thanks for the feedback Malcolm, and good to hear that the 100-400 still does the job for you 🙂
      Cheers
      Grant

  14. Rodney Says: May 26, 2014 at 7:50 am

    Hi Grant. I have been using an old 35-350 (f3.5-f5.6) canon lens for years and am now considering trading this in for the 100-400. My main cause for doing this is that theold lens does not have IS. The versatility of the old lens still makes me think twice even though I have the 25-105 f4 lens

    • Grant Atkinson Says: June 23, 2014 at 11:02 am

      Hi Rodney, I have never used the old 35-350 though I know a lot of folk who rate it very highly. Of course the 100-400L is equally versatile, but doesnt really match the older lens very closely on the wide side of focal lengths. However, if you need the extra reach, then that added 100mm will make a big difference to your captures…
      cheers
      Grant

  15. Scott Says: May 26, 2014 at 8:33 am

    Hi Grant

    I have been using the 100-400mm from a helicopter recently, and noticed that when I shoot directly or almost directly downwards, my images are not sharp at all, even though my camera settings are identical to when I shoot horizontally or slightly downwards from the chooper (when I get sharp images). I am conscious of shutter speed, so using at least 1/2000 of a second for shooting aerials, and would think this is fast enough for a sharp image?

    Should I be switching Image Stablisisation modes when shooting from a chopper? Or is there something else going on?

    Thanks again,
    Scott

    • Grant Atkinson Says: May 26, 2014 at 12:16 pm

      Hi Scott, all I can think of to try there is to shoot at an even faster shutter speed. When you are shooting to the side of the chopper, the distance is further, and movement perhaps more moderate. When shooting vertically downwards, perhaps the camera is moving faster relative to the subject…at least if you do try some images at 1/3200sec or 1/4000sec you will be able to eliminate shutter speed if nothing changes. On a 100-400L, which has the first generation stabilization, Mode 1 will be the best option in a helicopter.
      Focal lengths longer than 200mm from a helicopter might be adding to the challenge. Also, which camera body are you shooting from the chopper and 100-400L with?
      Cheers
      Grant

  16. Scott Says: May 26, 2014 at 12:45 pm

    Thanks Grant. Will try faster shutter. Yes, maybe when I am shooting 300mm plus the wind is buffeting the lens. I am using 5d mark II.

    • Grant Atkinson Says: May 27, 2014 at 12:30 pm

      Hi Scott, it may just be a case of the choppers inherent vibration and motion, plus greater relative speed coming from shooting downwards, as well as wind/shake affecting stability of the lens, all magnified a little with long focal lengths…?
      Might also be reaching the upper limits of how fast and accurate the 5Dmk2 Ai Servo performance is combined with the EF 100-400L?
      Just my thoughts?
      Cheers
      Grant

  17. Arindam Says: May 26, 2014 at 4:46 pm

    Hi Grant,
    Your review is really outstanding. Recently I purchase this lens and now using it with my Canon 1100D body. What I noticed is that the performance of this lens is not so good with 1100 D body.
    I want to change the camera body. Could you please suggest me that which will be the best camera body for this lens? my choices are 7D / 70D.
    Also I want to know that if I use f5.6 at 400mm focal length the sharpness of the image is not as expected (Specifically on bird photography).

    • Grant Atkinson Says: May 27, 2014 at 12:40 pm

      Hi Arindam, glad you found the review useful. I typically choose the 70D over the 7D unless one has a specific need for the 7D larger body and more extensive control surfaces. I have compared the two cameras very closely in a post here: https://www.grantatkinson.com/blog/canon-eos-70d-and-canon-eos-7d-compared

      Hopefully the comparison there will help you decide which one you might prefer. Some copies of the EF 100-400L show softer images at 400mm than others. The lens definitely gets sharper at 400mm if you close down the aperture from f5.6 to 7.1 or so. However it is not always possible to have enough ambient light to do this.
      Try test the focus and the image quality of your lens at 400mm by shooting it from a tripod at a static target using Live View…
      Hope that helps
      Cheers
      Grant

  18. Scott Says: May 27, 2014 at 12:45 pm

    Thanks Grant. I’m going to try using my 1Dx with the lens and see what results I get with that.

    Much appreciated.

    Scott

  19. Arindam Says: May 27, 2014 at 1:13 pm

    Hi Grant,
    I review your post regarding the comparison between 70D and 7D and I already purchased 70D. I noticed that the 100-400 giving quick AF @ 70D body rather than 1100D body. Also I found that if I use UV filter then there is a major performance hit in this lens.
    While taking bird picture I am using only one AF point in my 70D. This is helpful or I should go for AF Point Zone selection?

    • Grant Atkinson Says: May 27, 2014 at 6:57 pm

      Hi Arindam,
      Glad to hear that the 70D is driving AF quicker on your lens. I prefer to use no filter on the EF 100-400L unless very harsh atmospheric conditions force me too.
      For pictures of birds, it is best for you to try both Single Point AF as well as Zone AF, and see which options you are getting more sharper images…then you can make the best decision for your style of shooting.
      On the 70D I use Single AF point for birds.
      Cheers
      Grant

  20. Madhu Jagdhish Says: June 23, 2014 at 6:28 am

    I own Canon 650D and interested in Nature / Bird Photography. I am planning to purchase a new Zoom lens. I have short listed the age old Canon 100-400L and the new Tamron 150-600.
    Though I am inclined towards canon for its excellent optics, an additional reach tempts me towards Tamron.
    I also came to know about the auto focus issues in Tamron.
    Which lens suits me best? Is it advisable to go for a Canon 100-400L now, as there are rumours about a new version.
    Your early advice will be very much appreciated.
    Thanks in advance.

    • Grant Atkinson Says: June 23, 2014 at 11:09 am

      Hi Madhu, I am afraid that I have not used the Tamron in the field at all, nor worked with anybody yet using one. I remain in the dark as to my own opinion on it. However, it does seem to be getting good feedback on the internet from its owners and other reviewers.

      As for the current EF 100-400L, it will work well on a 650D, and give you a good, lightweight, easy to carry combination. For sure a new version of the EF 100-400L would be great, perhaps with optical performance close to the newer smaller cousin EF 70-300L, but given the price differences showing up with many new lenses, it may end up selling for a lot more than the current lens..which may or may not be important to your decision making process.

      Where I am from, it is fairly easy to sell a medium priced lens like the EF 100-400L, and I would rather get something I can start getting the shots I need to develop my craft, and sell it later if need be, than wait too long for something which may or may not materialize. Gear is after all, just the tools that we need to get our images 🙂

      So I am not able to be of much help to you with your choice I am afraid 🙂
      Cheers
      Grant

  21. Madhu Jagdhish Says: June 24, 2014 at 2:00 am

    Thank you Mr.Grant for your reply.
    Based on your field review and reply I am now inclined towards Canon 100-400L even though the price is higher.
    Whether the lens is hand holdable all the time ?
    How fast auto focus and AI Servo performance will function on 650d with 100-400L combination ?
    I am also curious about auto focus performance with an 1.4x TC.

    Thanks in Advance.
    Madhu.J

    • Grant Atkinson Says: June 24, 2014 at 1:02 pm

      Hi Madhu
      It is fairly easy to handhold the 100-400L for most people..The lens is not overly heavy, and furthermore, once the zoom is extended, there is little weight on the far end of the lens barrel, making it lighter on the extended wrist and hand than one would expect.
      Autofocus will be only moderately fast. By that I would expect it to lock on quickly with a 650D if you are shooting with a single point active, say the centre one, and in good light.
      In very low light, then AF speed with slow down. How fast you consider it will also depend on which lenses you are used to already and which focal lengths. Longer focal lengths typically take longer to focus.
      With a 1.4x extender, I do not think you will have functioning viewfinder AF..with a 650D. You will need to then make use of the Live View autofocus, which should work quite well in static situations, when the 1.4x is mounted on this lens and a 650D.
      Hope that helps
      Cheers
      Grant

  22. Raja Says: June 24, 2014 at 1:07 pm

    Hi Grant,
    100-400L with 7D will work well for wild life and birding …? e.g. Flight shot of Birds / Wild life in action?

    • Grant Atkinson Says: June 24, 2014 at 6:29 pm

      Hi Arindam, it will work, at its best in good light (as in brighter light, like that found after sunrise and before sunset), for birds in flight, and for wildlife in action. In low light, (such as on heavily overcast days, or just after sunset) the combination you have mentioned will show a bit of a fall-off in performance and results.
      Cheers
      Grant

  23. Lucky Jaiswal Says: July 13, 2014 at 6:04 am

    Hi Grant,
    That’s a nice post and definitely useful. I have recently purchased a 100-400 and am wondering if I should go for a 2x extendor that is available in the market to get an effective and working focal length of around 200-600 for my wildlife photography..

    I would like to know if u have ever tried using this extendor and share any useful guidance for me to take my decision.

    Thanks,
    Lucky Jaiswal

    • Grant Atkinson Says: July 13, 2014 at 7:10 am

      Hi Lucky
      I have not used an extender on the 100-400L myself, but have been with folk doing so. If you mount the 1.4x extender, and you use any Canon 1D body, or 5Dmk3 body, then the camera/lens combination (with the 1.4x extender) will still be able to autofocus, although likely just with the central AF points. Other Canon cameras, lower in the range than the newest 5D and 1D bodies are not likely to autofocus, with the 1.4x extender. To get around this some folk tape up the pins on the extender, but I have not tried it myself. You should still be able to get autofocus to work using Live View, and best results might be with newer models like the 70D, but again I have not tried it. Other Canon bodies without DPAF Live View are a lot slower than the 70D. Image quality will be affected, a little softer, less contrast. The camera viewfinder will also become a bit darker.

      If I remember properly attaching the 2x extender will stop autofocus entirely but there may still be an option to AF using Live View. The 2x extender will make the viewfinder very dark, and will affect the image quality quite a bit.
      If I had to do this I think I would stick to the 1.4x extender.
      There are also some 100-400L users that have made use of 3rd party extenders, like from Kenko, which may allow focus to continue working (the 1.4x only I believe) but i have no experience of the results…
      Hope that helps
      cheers
      Grant

  24. Veikko Saksi Says: August 10, 2014 at 10:44 pm

    Hi, Grant.

    Thank you very much for extremely detailed and good presentation of Canon EF 100-400 with different cameras. I’m a full amateur and your explanation gave me much good information for shooting with long distance lenses and camera (I have Canon 5D Mk3). Thanks!

    Veikko

  25. Richard Says: September 1, 2014 at 5:55 am

    Hi
    Retiring end Feb next year and looking at guided self drive namiba,botswana and zim with bhejane tours
    Checking nikon and canon
    At this stage canon 70d with 15_85 and 100-400 lenses favourite
    Would buy Feb so still time to check out options before trip in August
    If keep 100-400 clean but dust still gets on sensor how do you then clean the sensor ?
    Blow, vacuum ?

    Back in 70,s in UK did full photo/darkroom etc mainly black and white with pentax 42 mm screw system but on return to RSA dark room in Durban to hot lost interest which has recently been revived on taking up scuba diving and fuji exr 600
    Used to be able with 2x converter on tamron 85-210 by pushing film to 400 hand hold wildlife and motor racing so interested to see how IS and 40 years lens advances help

  26. Arindam Says: September 10, 2014 at 7:25 am

    Hi Grant,
    I am facing and issue with my 100-400L and 70D. All my images are blurred / not sharp. I am using the following settings :-
    1. AI Servo
    2. Continuous Shoot / High Speed
    3. Spot Metering
    4. Sp : 1/500 (or more)
    5. ISO : 100/200
    6. F:6.3 / 7.1
    7. AF Method : 🙂 + Tracking
    6. Picture Style : Standard (sharpness 4)
    7. File Format : RAW
    But with all this settings my older 1100D giving me sharp images. So I am confused.
    Please suggest how to resolve this issue. Do I need a MFA ?

  27. Arindam Says: February 13, 2015 at 10:56 am

    Hi Grant,

    Hope you are doing well…I need a review from you about the new version on 100-400 USM L IS 2.

    • Grant Atkinson Says: February 13, 2015 at 12:48 pm

      Hullo Arindam, expect a full review of the new version 100-400 ISii in the next week 🙂
      Cheers
      Grant

  28. Arindam Says: February 13, 2015 at 1:02 pm

    Hi Grant,

    Thank you . Please start a new link in your blog. Like this one.

    • Grant Atkinson Says: February 13, 2015 at 2:14 pm

      It will be on the home page of the website for a while Arindam 🙂
      Cheers
      Grant

  29. Prasanna Says: March 27, 2015 at 6:12 pm

    Great Review i ever read about len,
    now i really have full understanding about the 100-400 lens.

    betweej what you say about the new released of 100-400 len sir,

    Thanks

    • Grant Atkinson Says: March 28, 2015 at 10:59 am

      Hi Prasanna, I am busy finishing the review for the new EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii, and should have it written up in early April sometimes. In summary, the new 100-400 focuses faster, is a bit sharper, better background and better image stabilization….all of these factors make the new lens a very complete and effective tool for wildlife 🙂

      • Prasanna Says: March 28, 2015 at 12:32 pm

        Thanks for your quick reply Grant.

        i love to be in wildlife photography, but i am not afford to a 400mm/500mm F4 Lens, so i wish to buy new version of 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS ii len.

        what would be your suggestion to of buying 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS ii len as start up for wildlife photography.

        thanks

        • Grant Atkinson Says: March 28, 2015 at 1:02 pm

          Hi Prasanna, I think that the EF 100-400 IS ii makes an excellent lens for wildlife photography, and it has already become my first choice zoom lens for the wildlife trips that I do all the time. On my last trip, which was 18 days long, I took almost 70 percent of the images with the new 100-400 IS ii, and the remaining 30 percent with my EF 17-40L f4 and EF 500L f4 IS ii. In the past I used to carry the EF 70-200L f2.8 IS ii or the EF 70-300L f4-5.6 IS along with a longer lens. I see the new 100-400 IS ii as a replacement entirely for the fixed EF 400L f5.6, as the new zoom is just as sharp, and so much more versatile than the fixed lens. It also benefits from the latest image stabiization tech. And you can always use it with a 1.4x extender to get you closer to subjects when the light is good.
          Cheers
          Grant

  30. Rose Says: April 15, 2015 at 3:30 pm

    Very much looking forward to reading your review of the MKii ! I’ve had mine a couple of months but haven’t had much opportunity to really test it out yet as I broke my wrist the same week it was delivered ! Am out of plaster now but the wrist is still weak and lacking some mobility which is frustrating – and I really hope that improves, or using the 100-400 is going to continue to be a bit of a challenge 🙁

  31. wil wouters Says: April 28, 2015 at 1:22 pm

    Hello Grant,

    After the Sigma 120-400 gave up on me, I was in the market for a new telephoto zoomlens.
    As a landscape- / macro- and architecture photographer I use a telephoto lens mostly on vacations, mostly to Afrika 🙂
    I looked for the 100-400 L version II, but the price is to high for me for a few weeks use a year. Then I read your review on the 100-400 L., and for the first time I read a whole review 🙂 (most of the time I only read conclusions) Your review was easy to read and understand for someone whose native language isn’t english. Thanks for that.
    To cut a few corners; after reading your review, and after a week testing, I bought a used lense … and the testresults are very promissing. Hope to bring it to the “ultimate test” next week in Namibia.
    Thanks for making my choise a bit easier.

    grtz, Wil / Netherlands

    • Grant Atkinson Says: April 29, 2015 at 9:15 pm

      Thanks for the feedback, Wil
      And I hope that your Namibia trip goes well, and that you come away with some good images taken with your 100-400L IS.
      Cheers
      Grant

  32. Arindam Saha Says: April 30, 2015 at 6:40 am

    Hi Grant,

    Waiting for your new 100-400 IS 2 review. Meanwhile can you please suggest me that I have old version of 100-400 and if I will change it with 100-400 IS 2 version it will be more meaningful and cost effective?

    Looking for comparison type of review with IS 1 and 2 version 🙂

    • Grant Atkinson Says: May 3, 2015 at 7:25 pm

      Hi Arindam
      I am just one week from being finished with the review of the new 100-400L. I should have it online by 12 May.
      Thanks for writing 🙂
      cheers
      Grant

  33. Jo Fankhauser Says: May 3, 2015 at 12:39 pm

    Hi Grant
    Thanks a million for your great reviews and especially your advice for setting up my 7D provided elsewhere on your blog. The simply formulated and effective instructions I was able to put to good effect.

    My experiences with the EF 100-400 L have been a bit of a mixed bag. Have had some awesome results in the Kruger, especially at focal lengths between 250 and 350 mm using both my 7D and 5DMkII. I just feel this lens is a bit soft (mushy) between 350 and 400mm focal length focused at infinity, even at f8 to f11, resting on a bean bag, even at shutter speeds of 1/1500 plus. Maybe it’s just that I’m a bit of a pixel freak ….
    This softness was also repeated with this lens coupled to my new 1Dx. In fact, my subjective opinion is that the 1Dx provided sharper detail with my EF 70-300 L and a Kenco 1.4X converter (again on a benbag, focused at infinity, at the long end of the lens etc.) than the EF 100-400 L on its own.

    I have now sold on my my old 100-400 to a keen young photographer who does not pixel-peep, and have replaced it with the EF 100-400 L MkII.

    I’m totally blown away by the difference! Birds in flight, hand held, I get 85% keepers – something that I would never have dreamed about using the old lens. The softness at the long end is now a long forgotten bad dream. Grant – you’ve summarized it well in your posting to Prasanna on 28 March 2015.

    I finally feel I have the equipment mix to handle just about every photographic situation I’m contemplating for the future (other than the EF 600L, but that’s something else entirely)
    1Dx with EF 100-400L MkII
    7D with EF 70-300L IS (my missus rides shotgun when we go out together)
    5DMkII with EF 24-105L (also EF 16-35L f4)

    In summary, my advice to anyone out there contemplating upgrading to the 100-400MkII: if you can spare the cash, go for it – you won’t be sorry. I can only agree with you Grant, its the wildlife zoom lens of choice for Canon bodies.

    BTW – thanks for the 1Dx tips and tricks – these made my life very easy setting up my new “best friend” for the field straight out of the box.

    Cheers
    Jo Fankhauser
    Switzerland

    • Grant Atkinson Says: May 3, 2015 at 7:24 pm

      Hi Jo
      Thanks for the interesting feedback, some good reading in there. Also good to hear your gear experiences, which are similar to what I am experiencing. I am trying to get more fresh gear content onto my website but spending lots of time in the field doesn’t leave me much time for writing. However, I am just a few hours work away from completing the full review of the new EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii, and hope to it completed by next week.
      I have been putting the new 100-400L to hard use, and it is continuing to impress me.
      Thanks again 🙂
      Cheers
      Grant

  34. Arvind Says: September 13, 2015 at 1:16 pm

    Hi Grant,
    I am facing and issue with my 100-400L version 1 and 70D. All my images are blurred / not sharp. Similar to the older post;
    1. AI Servo
    2. Continuous Shoot / High Speed
    3. Spot Metering
    4. Auto ISO
    5. Av mode
    6. F:6.3 / 7.1
    7. AF Method : Zone AF + Tracking
    6. Picture Style : Faithful
    7. File Format : RAW + JPG

    Will Micro Adjustment help getting sharper images ? Please advice. Not sure whether its a body issue or a lens issue. (tried both hand held & Tripod – With and Without IS)

  35. RyanH Says: November 22, 2015 at 3:13 pm

    Grant, very useful review of the lens, thanks. I’m thinking about buying one second hand as the prices have dropped since the release of the MkII.
    I do most of my photography from a saloon vehicle in parks like Kruger, shooting from the drivers seat. Do you think that this lens will work ok in that situation, I usually have a beanbag type rest on the door, would that inhibit the zoom, or is handheld best?
    Ryan

    • Grant Atkinson Says: November 23, 2015 at 2:58 pm

      Hi Ryan, shooting the original EF 100-400L from a beanbag works just fine, as the part of the barrel that moves during zooming is on the furthest end of the lens. The lens also comes with a tripod foot mount as standard, and I always find that the tripod foot makes for a great place to rest the lens on a beanbag, that way keeping the manual focus ring and any other parts of the zoom lens away from direct contact with the beanbag. Fitting the rather small tripod foot with an aftermarket lens plate makes it longer and better able to support such use.

      Hope that helps answer your question?
      Cheers
      Grant

  36. Just Bill Says: April 17, 2016 at 6:30 pm

    I really enjoyed reading your very well done article. I am retired from hunting, and moving onto photography which I am finding much harder. I am waiting for the above lens, and at the very least, you have made me comfortable with my choice. I focus on wildlife only, of North America. Money flow is always a concern, and this surely will be my best lens ever. Again, th

    • Grant Atkinson Says: April 17, 2016 at 7:49 pm

      Hi Bill
      Thanks for the feedback. The 100-400L IS is a great value for money, and remains an excellent performer. Newer camera bodies with better autofocus systems and higher capabilities for shooting at high iso settings without quality loss are also able to make even more of it than before…
      Cheers
      Grant

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *