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Canon EF 400mm f/2.8 IS III Lens Review

John Riley has put the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8 IS III through its paces to find out how it performs and if the promise of a 'lightweight' lens means you can use this long reaching optic hand-held for longer.


|  Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM in Lenses and Optical Items
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Canon EF 400mm F2.8L IS III USM Front Oblique View
 

Whichever way we look at it, a 400mm f/2.8 lens for full frame cameras is going to be a large proposition. Canon has now lightened that load by producing what they claim to be currently the world's lightest 400mm f/2.8 optic, and it is in fact only about 73% of the weight of its immediate predecessor. Does this make enough of a difference to enable hand holding for any length of time and is the new lens still the same optical quality that we have come to expect? Let's have a close look at see if some of these questions can be answered.

 

Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM Handling and Features

Canon EF 400mm F2.8L IS III USM On Canon 5DSR Top View

The IS II version of this lens weighs in at 3850g, so the new IS III version at 2840g, representing a considerable saving in weight. As such, it is hand-holdable, although not for long as holding up almost three bags of sugar in weight can quickly become tiring. It certainly needs the 5 stops advantage that the IS (Image Stabilisation) system claims to offer.

Overall, construction quality is superb, the finish is of a very high order and the lens has the considerable advantage of being weather sealed against dust and moisture. The front element has a fluorine coating that repels dirt, water and grease, thus helping to keep the very large surface area clean.

The supplied lens hood is a generously sized tube that slips over the front of the lens and is locked securely into place. This is a simple and efficient arrangement. There is no provision for filters at the front element as these are loaded in the rear filter drawer instead.

The four buttons around the front of the lens barrel are the AF stop buttons and they can be used to lock focus during AF operation. This can be useful to lock a particular distance whilst using AF.

There is another ring just behind; the playback ring. This enables the focus preset positions that are set using the focus preset switch. One or two focus positions can be stored and in the former case the preset distance is engaged rotating the ring right or left. In the latter case, right or left selects which distance of two presets is required. This ring can also be used to operate a power focus mode, something that could be very useful in videography.

The manual focus ring is wide, rubberised and operates electronically. Manual focusing tweaks can be made during AF operation. Focusing is down to 2.5m, or 8.2 feet, a maximum magnification of 0.17x. Greater magnifications can be obtained using extension tubes and the Canon extenders.

  • With extension tube EF12 II Magnification 0.22-0.03x
  • With extension tube EF25 II Magnification 0.3-0.07x
  • With Extender EF 1.4x III Focal length 560mm f/4-f/25, 0.25x
  • With Extender EF 2x III Focal length 800m f/5.6-f/64, 0.36x

 

Canon EF 400mm F2.8L IS III USM Rear Oblique View
 

The distance scales are found under a plastic window, clearly marked in metres and rather less clearly marked in feet. At the same point around the lens there are various function switches.

The stabiliser mode has three options. Mode 1 is for still subjects, Mode 2 for panning and Mode 3 for irregular movement such as sports. The system may work on a tripod or monopod, but the instructions suggest that it may sometimes be better to switch it off during such shooting. In any event, using the stabiliser mode on a tripod makes precise composition more difficult as the image tends to wander slightly. There is also a Stabiliser on/off switch.

Canon EF 400mm F2.8L IS III USM Lens Controls

The set button relates to the Focus Preset option, which can be off/on/on with a beep. Finally, there is a manual Focus Speed button, also with three options. This relates to the speed of manual focus, 1 being the fastest and 2 and 3 being progressively slower, although also easier to be more precise with if necessary.

The next ring is where the tripod foot is attached and a large knurled knob enables the ring to be loosened so that the lens can be rotated to landscape or portrait format, or anywhere in between.

The features continue and we find two more switches closest to the lens mount. The AF selector switches between AF, PF (Power Focus) and MF. The focus limiter switch enables full focusing range, 2.5m-7m or 7m-infinity. At the same point on the barrel there is the filter draw and here 52mm conventional filters can be inserted. A Protect filter is supplied with the lens and as this is part of the optical design it is essential that either it or another filter is always in place. Finally, the sturdy metal mount is secured by no less than six screws, no doubt reflecting the considerable weight of the lens.

The use of fluorite elements will reduce the weight and also is intended to control lens aberrations more effectively. In particular, CA is a potential hazard with telephoto lenses. The optical construction is 17 elements in 13 groups, with the 9 bladed diaphragm designed to improve the bokeh, the smoothness of gradation in the out of focus areas of an image. With the potential for selective focus that a 400mm lens offers this is an important feature.

Canon EF 400mm F2.8L IS III USM Filter Drawer

Handling the lens is always going to be harder work than, say a 300mm, especially with such a large, bright maximum aperture. However, this is claimed to be the lightest option in full frame 400mm f/2.8 lenses, and it is definitely possible to hand hold for a while. The control layout is logical and easy to access and there are a vast number of options so that the lens can satisfy a multitude of uses.

 



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