Canon 100-400mm review
I first got the Canon EF 100-400mm lens in around 2007. I had previously been using the excellent Canon 70-200 f4 lens for my wildlife shots. Although this 70-200 was a great lens, fast and sharp, I needed the extra reach for my wildlife photography. I always liked the versatility of having a zoom though, so that pointed my towards the Canon 100-400mm rather than a prime. This Canon has the longest focal length found in a Canon zoom lens. The other options would have been the Canon 400mm f5.6, but although this prime lens is sharper than a zoom and around the same price, it just isn’t as useful in the field and doesn’t have the all important image stabilization. I never have been a photographer who likes being restricted by setting up tripods for wildlife shots. I think you miss many opportunities and angles faffing around with tripods. Personally I found the massive zoom range 100mm – 400mm (160-640mm on APS-C sensors) very useful for all kinds of photographic situations. You dont miss a shot with the Canon 100-400mm, as you can quickly zoom to the required focal length almost instantly, whilst the fixed prime lot would be stuck at one length missing the opportunity. This happens alot when shooting wildlife or sports. The quality is lower yes, but a worthwhile trade IMO. In these reviews I will try and give you my personal feelings and results, instead of technical results and charts.
Canon 100-400mm build
The Canon 100-400mm lens is a very sturdy well built lens. It is mainly weather sealed, with just partial sealing on the zoom and focus rings and the front element. To complete the sealing on the front a filter can be used. Although I have never had any problem with moisture in the lens. It is said that the pull-push mechanism invites dust into the lens, I can only say that my lens does have a few more dust particles within it. This can be cleaned by a Canon authorized dealer should you need. the Canon 100-400mm lens is around 1,380g and measures 3.6″ x 7.4″ (not extended). It isn’t going to be the lightest lens in your bag, but comparing this to the other long focal length primes, it is manageable.
The Canon 100-400mm features a 1st generation Image stabilization, which is said to allow and extra 2 stops handhold-ability. It come with two modes. The first corrects for both horizontal and vertical axis movement and shake and the second for just vertical movement only. The 2nd mode is for panning shots and shots that include moving targets. The Canon 100-400mm also has a focus limiter switch to choose the target distance, helping with the speed of autofocus. You can choose 1.8m – infinity or 6m – infinity. This does help as the lens can hunt otherwise. The lens works with a push pull mechanism which might seem strange to those used to zoom rings. I personally love this and wish more lens had it. It just seems faster and more accurate. You can set the stickyness/friction of the push pull with a ring near the zoom ring.
Review of the image quality and autofocus
With a 8-blade aperture the Canon 100-400mm has nice bokeh and blurs the background away nicely. Although not up to the high image standards of the other Canon primes, this lens has produced some great quality shots for me. Many of which made excellent prints and are sold through reputable stock agencies like National Geographic and Gettyimages. Of course with f/4.5-5.6 the bokeh isn’t amazing like a 400mm 2.8 would be. It does have a relatively small amount of CA and vignetting on full frame bodies but overall this lens has great colour and contrast rendition.
Sharpness is pretty good on this lens. With great sharpness wide open at 400mm. The quality degrades slightly at lower focal lengths, but once you stop down it improves.
The autofocus on this lens has never been a problem either for me, although I am sure compared to the primes it would seem slightly sluggish. I don’t remember ever moaning about it missing focus.
Canon 100-400mm in the field
I found that when paired with the newer cameras like the Canon 5D MKiii, which have great ISO abilities, the slow f/4.5-5.6 apertures weren’t much of a problem. You can just crank up the ISO and you can have you faster shutter speeds. I suppose the purists out there would scoff at having lower quality files, but I found it a worthwhile trade off, especially concerning price and versatility of this lens. I more than often add a Kenko 1.4x teleconverter to my Canon 100-400mm lens. This gives me 140-560mm zoom and a aperture of f8 a 400mm. This might seems very slow, but as explained I just hike the ISO up and if need be clean with software in post. the Kenko 1.4x teleconverter allows autofocus on the Canon 5d mkiii, albeit only centre focus point. Quality of the files is affected by the converter, but not substantially so with the 1.4x. With 2x teleconverters I hear the quality is seriously affected and worth staying clear of this combination.
Overall the Canon 100-400mm lens is a brilliant, well priced, versatile lens. Great for sports, wildlife and even compressed landscape shots. I have used it for the vast majority of my wildlife and nature shots overs the years and it certainly did serve me well.
Sample photos from this lens
Here are a couple of examples of shots taken with the Canon 100-400mm. Please click them to enlarge.