Canon EF 100–400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM: Revision of an Icon

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

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

After 16 years, Canon decided to upgrade a legend. Shridhar Kunte shares his experiences with the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM.

When Canon launched the first 100-400mm lens, it was equipped with an early version of IS and offered excellent image quality throughout its range. In 16 years, technology moved quite a long way ahead. When the upgrade was announced, I was burning with curiosity to see the difference that Canon’s engineers had made to the ergonomics, quality and stabilisation of the new lens.

The new 100–400mm is encased in a magnesium alloy housing, and offers excellent weather resistance. It comes with Canon’s newly developed Air Sphere Coating (ASC) that helps reduce flare and ghosting while shooting backlit subjects. It contains 21 elements in 16 groups (up from 17/14 in earlier version). Out of these, one element is Fluorite coated, and the other is a Super UD element, to suppress chromatic aberration and deliver sharp images with high resolution and contrast.

The aperture features an electromagnetic diaphragm with 9 blades. An internal focusing system keeps the length of the lens constant. The minimum focusing distance sees a marked improvement over its predecessor. The new lens can focuses down to 1 meter (an improved maximum magnification of 1:3.2 from 1:5).

The biggest change in this lens is how the zooming takes place. The older design required a user to push and pull the barrel to zoom in or out. Many users and reviewers felt that this caused air to be sucked in while zooming, along with fine particles of dust. This new version has a rotary zoom.

I tried this lens three different Canon bodies—EOS 7D Mark II, EOS 6D and EOS 5D Mark III. The lens balances well on all three bodies. The rotary zooming action positions the centre of gravity at one fixed point, allowing better balance and much better handling, especially with larger bodies. It loses the advantage of the zooming speed possible with the push-pull design, but gains the advantage of holding the camera against the eye for support. The push-pull zooming action is more prone to camera shake, and the camera tends to move away from the eye when you zoom.

The zoom and the focus rings are broad, spaced well apart and hard to miss, even in the dark. Between the two rings, there is a third narrower ring that lets you adjust the amount of damping in the zooming action or as a zoom lock to avoid creep.

The tripod collar is redesigned. It can be removed from the lens even with the lens still mounted on a body. Canon has equipped the lenshood with a window through which a CPL can be rotated.

This is a professional L series lens and the build, combined with excellent performance clearly proved it! The AF speed and accuracy is impressive, as good as the far more expensive L series optics. I tested the lens with birds in flight, and discovered that both AF acquisition, and speed were remarkably good. In low light, the AF is spot on in speed and accuracy too.

Even at 400mm, the lens exhibits an exemplary level of sharpness and detail. The IS worked well enough to shoot handheld. Exposure: 1/320 sec at f/8 (ISO 125). Photograph/Shridhar Kunte

Even at 400mm, the lens exhibits an exemplary level of sharpness and detail. The IS worked well enough to shoot handheld. Exposure: 1/320 sec at f/8 (ISO 125). Photograph/Shridhar Kunte

Sharpness at the widest apertures is very good, and this improves as one stops down. The special lens elements did a wonderful job in correcting chromatic aberration, wit just a very slight hint of fringing in very high contrast scenes, especially at the telephoto end. The 9 blade aperture provides a pleasing out of focus background, but is a limited by a maximum aperture of f/5.6 at the telephoto end. I also tried some panning shots while using the panning IS mode and it worked extremely well.

The old 100–400mm was close to the hearts of many wildlife photographers, for many years. With the new upgraded version, Canon has clearly put their best foot forward and has silenced the critics of the old lens.

The lens is priced at Rs. 1,57,995 and faces serious competition primarily from the Sigma 150–600mm f/5-6.3 Sport, which is similarly priced and is as yet untested by Better Photography. There are other less expensive options from both Tamron and Sigma. While they may be cost effective, they lose out on critical features such as the minimum focusing distance and magnification ratio, and they are also optically slower. Canon’s new beast surpasses them all!

To sum things up… if you want a fantastic wildlife, sports and action setup that won’t break your back (but your bank balance), the new Canon EF 100–400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens, mounted on the new Canon EOS 7D MK II with a Canon Extender EF1.4X III is the way to go.

 Features: Fast focusing speed, Good close focusing range, rotary zoom  18/20
 Performance: Excellent optical and IS performance  34/35
 Build Quality: Metal construction, weather sealing  24/25
 Ergonomics: Large zoom ring, new tripod collar  13/15
 Warranty & Support: Large service network  4/5

MRP: Rs. 1,57,995

Who should buy it? Canon users who enjoy wildlife, sports and action photography

Why? The new version of this lens shows significant advancement in terms of design, optics, zoom, IS and speed, all of which are extremely useful for these genres.

Tags: Canon, Canon Lenses, Canon EF 100–400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM, Canon 100-400 review, Canon new 100-400, Canon 100-400 price India