Canon EF 200–400 f/4L: One King for Many

 

Canon’s armoury consists of some fantastic telephoto primes. The EF 200–400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4X is the first lens that covers multiple focal lengths, all the way from 200 to 560mm. Shridhar Kunte finds out.

 

Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4X

Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4X

Nikon has had a constant aperture super telephoto zoom for a long time, in the form of the recently updated 200–400mm f/4G VR II. In comparison, Canon didn’t have a lens that was directly competing, but in 2013, they announced that a similar lens was being developed. Only, this was special.

It was the world’s first ever lens that has a built-in 1.4x teleconverter inside.

 Features
The focal length along with the built-in converter make this a rather exotic lens, especially for sports and wildlife photographers. Imagine you are photographing an important sporting event and you have to cover two different ends of the field. 200mm is good enough to cover the side that you are on, and if you wish to quickly switch between the closer subject and one that’s further away, you may want to switch to the 560mm field of view that the teleconverter helps provide. No other lens that has this level of build quality and optics offers this amount of convenience. The lens has a minimum focusing distance of 2 meters. At this working distance the lens offers a magnification of 1:5.

The lens is filled up with plenty of glass. It contains 33 elements in 24 groups when used with 1.4x converter. The converter incorporates one fluorite and four UD lens elements.

Canon also makes use of Super Spectra coating and Sub-Wavelength coatings, on some elements to reduce flare, ghosting and any unwanted reflections.

For autofocus operation, Canon has used ring type Ultrasonic Silent Motor to achieve fast, accurate and noiseless focus. There is a separate CPU built into the lens, preprogrammed with  AF algorithms for fast and accurate autofocus.

The power Focus mode allows to shift focus with virtually no noise, which is essential while capturing video. There are three image stabilisation modes (standard, panning, and during capturing). The image stabilisation is effective up to four stops. This means you can use shutterspeeds of approximately 1/35sec at 560mm focal length, without getting visible shake.

Handling
I used this lens on the EOS 6D as well as the EOS 1D X. Both combinations are pretty hefty and difficult to handle without any kind of external support. But as I spent more time with the lens, I was able to capture some good images while handholding the lens. The lens itself weighs 3620g, which is lighter than the Canon 600mm prime but a bit heavier than the 400mm. This lens utilises 52mm drop-in filters.

The teleconverter switch can be easily accessed with left hand with a quick movement straight back from the zoom ring. There is a locking mechanism for the teleconverter but I never had any trouble with the mechanism. My personal preference, though, was to use this lens without locking. But here, one needs to remember to open up the aperture to f/4 when disengaging the extender.

Performance
When it comes to pro-grade lenses such as this, it is all about optics and focusing speed. In both of these departments, the lens did exceptionally well. I found the lens tack sharp throughout the entire focal length, even with the 1.4x extender. In fact, the quality is so good that I find no reason to stop down the lens, either at the maximum aperture of f/4 at 200–400mm or f/5.6 at 280–560mm.

The AF operation is snappy and silent. That said, it is a tad behind prime lenses with similar focal lengths. Even while using the converter, the focusing speed barely drops. For instance, while shooting field hockey, I was able to capture action in front of both the goal mouths by switching on the 1.4x teleconverter. After inspecting all the images captured, I was not able to find any kind of distortion or chromatic aberration!

Even with the 1.4x converter, the lens exhibits very good image quality. Exposure: 1/1000 sec; f/8; ISO 640. Photograph/Shridhar Kunte

Even with the 1.4x converter, the lens exhibits very good image quality. Exposure: 1/1000 sec; f/8; ISO 640. Photograph/Shridhar Kunte

 Conclusion
A majority of the photographers in India will think whether the cost of Rs. 7,35,000 is justifiable? For professional sports and wildlife photographers, yes, it’s absolutely worth it. This lens has an impressive range of focal length and the performance is close to prime lenses with similar focal lengths in this class. With the built in teleconverter, I see a few advantages it saves time as it can be call in to service with a flick of lever, it keeps the dust away and the most important matches the lens’ optics, thus enabling best possible sharpness.  Canon has truly made a groundbreaking product!

Final Ratings
Features
Built-in converter, 4-stops IS advantage
19/20

Performance
Good AF speed, Excellent optical performance
33/35

Build Quality
Built like a tank, Weather sealed
23/25

Ergonomics
Wide zoom ring, Full time manual focus override
13/15

Warranty & Support
Large number of service centres

4/5

Overall
92/100

MRP Rs. 7,35,000/-

Value for Money
4/5

Who should buy it?
High-end action and wildlife pros who want the best possible quality without budget constraints.

Why?
This one lens reduces the bulk of carrying multiple telephotos without compromising on image quality.

Photograph/Shridhar Kunte

Photograph/Shridhar Kunte

Tags: Shridhar Kunte, Lens, canon lens, Reviews, 200 - 400, canon telephoto lens, canon 200-400