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Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens Review

Gary Wolstenholme reviews this eagerly awaited telephoto zoom lens, the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM.

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Handling and Features

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens Review: Canon EF 100 400mm F4

This eagerly awaited telephoto zoom lens replaces the old 100-400mm lens in Canon's lineup of professional lenses. Its predecessor was popular due to its relative compact size, light weight and good value for money. It sports a zoom range of just 4x and a maximum aperture of f/4.5-5.6 and differs to the old lens by not using a push-pull zoom mechanism, which was often criticised for sucking dust into the camera and offering poor weather sealing. This lens is sealed and Canon state that you can confidently shoot in poor weather conditions as a result. It also includes a four-stop image stabiliser, and costs around £2000. In this review we'll take a look at how the lens performs.

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Handling and Features

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens Review: Canon EF 100 400mm F4

The design and build of this lens is typical of Canon's L series, with tough off-white painted metal and plastics used throughout its construction. The lens is dust and moisture resistant, and built tough enough to withstand the rigours of daily professional use. Even with the excellent build quality, this lens isn't overly heavy, weighing 1640g with the removable tripod mount attached, and it balances well with the Canon EOS 5D Mark III used for testing.

Autofocus is powered by an Ultrasonic motor, that allows manual focus adjustments to be made at any time, and AF speeds are very fast as a result. Applying manual focus adjustments is a pleasure, thanks to the smooth, precise and well-damped focus ring. Closest focus is 98cm throughout the zoom range, which is actually quite close for a 400mm lens, providing a maximum magnification of 0.31x at 400mm. Despite the modest maximum aperture, this lens can be used with Canon teleconverters on some of their latest bodies also.

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens Review: Canon EF 100 400mm F4

As focusing is performed internally, the 77mm filter ring does not rotate, which makes the lens ideal for use with graduated and polarising filters. A hood is supplied with the lens, which attaches via a bayonet fitting. The zoom ring sports a novel feature, which allows you to control the amount of resistance in the zoom mechanism. This is great if you need to use the lens on a tripod, without the zoom mechanism creeping forward when pointed down, and is also good for quick adjustments, as the zoom mechanism can be loosened right up, making it move freely through the range.

The image stabilisation system fitted to this lens promises to allow sharp images to be taken at shutter speeds four stops slower than would be possible without the system enabled. So long as care is taken, and a pause left for the stabiliser to catch up, sharp images can be produced around half the time with shutter speeds as low as 1/25sec at 400mm, which is roughly four stops slower than the usual rule of thumb would allow for handheld shooting.

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens Review: Canon EF 100 400mm F4

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Performance

At 100mm, sharpness is already excellent in the centre of the frame at maximum aperture. Peak performance across the frame is achieved at f/5.6. Here sharpness in the centre is excellent and very good towards the edges of the frame.

At 200mm, sharpness increases to outstanding levels in the centre at maximum aperture, with peak performance across the frame being realised at f/5.6 again with outstanding sharpness in the centre and performance that falls just short of excellent towards the edges of the frame.

Finally, at 400mm the lens still performs well, with good sharpness across the frame at maximum aperture. Peak sharpness is achieved at f/8 where sharpness is excellent across the frame.

How to read our charts

The blue column represents readings from the centre of the picture frame at the various apertures and the green is from the edges. Averaging them out gives the red weighted column.

The scale on the left side is an indication of actual image resolution. The taller the column, the better the lens performance. Simple.

For this review, the lens was tested on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III using Imatest.

Chromatic aberrations are extremely well controlled for a telephoto zoom lens, just exceeding half a pixel width at 400mm. This low level should cause virtually no issues, even in large prints and harsh crops from the edges of the frame.

How to read our charts

Chromatic aberration is the lens' inability to focus on the sensor or film all colours of visible light at the same point. Severe chromatic aberration gives a noticeable fringing or a halo effect around sharp edges within the picture. It can be cured in software.

Apochromatic lenses have special lens elements (aspheric, extra-low dispersion etc) to minimize the problem, hence they usually cost more.

For this review, the lens was tested on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III using Imatest.

Falloff of illumination towards the corners of the frame is well controlled with the corners only being 0.92 stops darker than the image centre at 100mm and 1.6 stops darker than the centre at 400mm. Visually uniform illumination is achieved with the aperture stopped down by one full stop from maximum aperture throughout the zoom range.

Distortion is very well controlled for a 4x zoom lens. At 100mm 0.94% barrel distortion is present, which is replaced by 0.94% pincushion distortion at 400mm. The distortion pattern is uniform across the frame which should ensure that applying corrections in image editing software afterwards is straightforward.

Even without the supplied hood, resistance to flare is high and contrast is excellent, even when shooting into the light.

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Sample Photos

Value For Money

Being priced at around £2000, this lens costs a fair amount more than its predecessor ever did, which will have an impact on the perceived value for money this lens provides. This is especially true as the older version of this lens is still available to buy new from some retailers, priced at around £1070, which is a significant saving.

If you're shopping for a lens covering this range, Sigma's 120-400mm f/4.5-5.6 DG OS may also be on your list of considerations being priced significantly lower at around £650. This lens does sport silent focusing but lacks weather sealing.

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Verdict

With the popularity of this lens' predecessor, Canon's new 100-400mm lens has a lot to live up to. As far as the performance of the lens is concerned, it has no problems living up to the reputation created by the old lens. Images are sharp, it focuses fast and handles well, especially thanks to the novel resistance adjustment on the zoom.

Where this lens my struggle is with how much it costs. Continuing the trend for new versions of lenses to be a fair bit more expensive, this lens is priced at a level higher than its predecessor ever was. Even so, for some people, the differences will be worth it. It's credit to the old version of this lens that it is so hard to beat in terms of quality and value.

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Pros

Good sharpness
Excellent build quality
Novel zoom ring resistance adjustment
Relatively lightweight
Reasonably low distortion
Weather and dust resistant
Low CA
Image stabilisation
Fast autofocus

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Cons

More expensive than the old 100-400mm ever was, but differences may be worth it to some


Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens Review:

The Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM delivers excellent sharpness and fast focusing.


Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Specifications

Lens Mounts
  • Canon EF
Focal Length100mm - 400mm
Angle of View6.1° - 24°
Max Aperturef/4.5 - f/5.6
Min Aperturef/32 - f/38
Filter Size77mm
35mm equivalentNo Data
Internal focusingYes
Maximum magnificationNo Data
Min Focus98cm
Box Contents
Box ContentsHood, Lens cap (front), Lens cap (rear), Case

View Full Product Details

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NeilSchofield Plus
16 1.8k 1 United Kingdom
2 Feb 2015 2:50PM
Anyone sat on the fence with this lens, then please don't if you can afford it

Its well sharp and takes a 1.4 tc producing good results, and I am normally a long prime shooter, but this is my new walkabout lens
chrisbryan 9 122 United Kingdom
2 Feb 2015 7:10PM
Being an owner of the old 100-400 I must say that this does not tempt me to upgrade just for the sake of it. The old one is still superb and now should be available at a bargain price compared to this updated one.
tomcat 17 6.4k 15 United Kingdom
2 Feb 2015 7:43PM
Give me a 400mm 5.6 anytime and only half the price + the fact you aren't playing a trombone
jm1 10 6 United Kingdom
4 Feb 2015 8:02PM
Try getting pin sharp shots at 1/60 handheld with the 400mm f5.6 prime, since getting the 100-400mm II I haven't used my 400mm f5.6 Grin
allan47 15 1 United Kingdom
16 Feb 2015 5:53PM
I've had the old 100-400 for years and it was good but the new one blows it out of the water. It is incredibly sharp, very fast in focusing, the IS is really incredible. The lens feels well balanced, even in full extension. The images are sharper even than my f2.8 70-200 II lens and easily as quick to use.
tonyb6122 9 1
15 Mar 2015 12:33AM
Much as I am a Canon fan I have had 100-400s in the past & found them ordinary in poor light. I was almost always shooting at 400 having the 70-200 for shorter distances.
My 70-200 vII is superior from 70 to 200 FLs @ f2.8 to f11 & a better portrait lens & a f2.8. After testing in the field 100-400 against Sigma 150-600 Sport I plan to purchase the Sigma Sport for nature at $600 less.
I have had 300 f2.8 IS & 500 f4 IS (the much better lens for nature/birds) but physically the 500 is not an option these days.
The 300+TCs are not as good a bang for buck as the Sigma. My opinion & findings only for use from 300-550 where I shall be 90% of the time so feel free to differ.
cuffit Plus
16 361 8 England
31 May 2015 2:47PM
I am not sure it is a good idea to compare the new 100-400 zoom lens with prime lenses. I won't argue with just about any comment made above, but practicality isn't mentioned. I have a prime 300mm lens, but, at national motorsports events, which are invariably busy theses days, the prime is often relegated to the camera bag as moving 10 feet to the right or left, backward or forward will not get the shot. The 300 (2.8) is the choice of many a photographer but I suspect that most have better access within the tracks than the average spectator. I also have a 70-200 lens plus a 1.4 extender but that is often underpowered as with the odd exception, you are a fair way from the track as it is. Therefore, rather than carry two cameras and lenses and a combination of kit to try and match the spot I might find myself, the 100-400 is a compromise, for me, worth considering. The new one is more expensive but the design also makes it more attractive. There are many fabulous photos taken with the older version (aircraft particularly) which are really sharp so the new one ought to be a t least as good. Our use of lenses is almost as variable as the number to choose from.

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