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 Lens offers professional grade build quality, fast, accurate and quiet AF, very effective image stabilization and very impressive wide open image quality over the entire and very useful 100-400mm telephoto focal length range. Downsides? There are very few, but some may find the price high and the weight heavy. However, if the alternatives are compared, neither the price nor the weight are bad for what you get with the 100-400 L II.

The 100-400 L IS II may be the longest-rumored lens ever officially announced. Being rumored for such a long time (10 years or more?) certainly helps build anticipation for a lens and likely few lenses have been more highly anticipated than the 100-400 L IS II. With 16 years of technological improvements ready to be implemented, I have to admit to being among those anxious for the arrival of this lens. When the announcement was made, my preorder was immediately placed.

Canon EF 100-400mm L IS II USM Lens – Side View on EOS 1D X

Why did Canon wait until this time to release the 100-400 II? While I don't know if we will ever learn the true answer to that question, the first answer I would expect to hear from a Canon representative is that the lens was not ready until now. That answer may be true, but if I don my business cap, I see the Tamron 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD Lens capturing a very significant market share in the short period of time it has been available. I also see a pair of Sigma 150-600mm OS lenses announced and becoming available around the same time. If the Sigma lenses receive the same acclaim that the Tamron long telephoto zoom has garnered, where does that leave Canon's 16-year-old best-competing lens option? In addition, Nikon introduced their latest competitor, the Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G AF-S VR Lens only one year prior. I think that Canon needed the updated 100-400mm lens in its lineup and needed it to perform very well for competitive business reasons. Regardless of the reason, a new 100-400 L lens is a very welcomed addition.

Focal Length / Focal Length Range

The focal length or focal length range of a lens should be among your highest criterion for lens selection. The focal length determines a combination of perspective and framing. With a range that starts at 100mm and goes to 400mm (without extenders), this lens covers a lot of ground (albeit less than some of the third party options just mentioned).

The wide end has great portrait photography capabilities as illustrated by the 100mm f/4.5 full frame image shown here.

Canon EF 100-400mm L IS II USM Lens Portrait Sample Photo

Parents chasing kids can also find plenty of uses for this entire focal length range including for their at-the-park and at-the-beach needs.

This is an especially great focal length range for wildlife.

Canon EF 100-400mm L IS II USM Lens Wildlife Sample Photo

Sports photography needs can cover this entire focal length range, having the ability to track a continuously-properly-framed athlete from a distant location to a close position.

I use all of these focal lengths for landscape photography. Long focal lengths can make even a mediocre sunset look amazing.

Canon EF 100-400mm L IS II USM Lens Sunset Sample Photo

This lens will be extremely-well represented at air shows across the world. I expect this lens to be the ideal safari and zoo lens choice for many. The list of uses for this focal length range is simply huge.

Those using an ASP-C/1.6x FOVCF sensor format DSLR will see an angle of view similar to a full-frame-mounted 160-640mm lens. This shifted-narrower angle of view range moves the 100-400mm range deeper into the sports and wildlife uses with bird photography and big-field sports being especially good uses of the focal length range.

Here is an example of what this focal length range looks like on and APS-C format DSLR.

100-400mm Focal Length Range Example

Some have asked if the 100-400 L II's focal length is really 400mm on the upper end. This is a fair question because it seems that manufacturers sometimes take the liberty of rounding off/up the specified focal length numbers in zoom lenses. In this case, the lens set to 400mm frames a test chart from 42.86' (13.063m) while two of Canon's prime 400mm lenses (the 400 f/2.8L II and 400 f/5.6L) frame the chart at 44.87' (13.675m) and 44.54' (13.576m) respectively. If I take the average of those two comparables, I get 44.70' (13.625m) (using the metric numbers for calculating). Using that number, the 100-400 II's max focal length seems more like 383mm or just slightly wider. Especially with distortion potentially effecting this calculation, that number is close enough to 400mm that few will care about any actual difference. Canon has claimed to be within 5% of the specified focal length number, adding credance to the calculated figure's possibility.

Canon EF 100-400mm L IS II USM Lens – on EOS 5D Mark III on Tripod

Max Aperture

Creating a zoom lens with long focal lengths generally means a compromise in max aperture opening and lens size/weight/cost. For example, look at the Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Lens. While I consider f/4 to be only a medium-wide max aperture, this lens is on a different scale than the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens in terms of size, weight and price.

Capturing fast action in low light (such as indoors or after the sun sets) with an acceptably low ISO setting is a challenge for an f/4.5-5.6 max aperture lens. However, f/4.5-5.6 is very adequate for stopping action under reasonable light levels (such as full daylight through moderately cloudy skies). If the action is not moving fast (or is motionless), this lens will be able to serve very well into the low light hours of the day – especially with the help of IS. A very important point is that I'd much rather carry this lens for long periods of time than the referenced 200-400 f/4 L.

As indicated by the aperture specification range (f/4.5-5.6), this is a variable max aperture lens. As you zoom to a longer focal length, the max aperture available is reduced. While I love fixed max aperture lenses (such as the just-discussed 200-400 f/4) and especially appreciate that they allow a specific wide open aperture exposure setting to be locked in over the entire zoom range, I also appreciate the more-compact/lighter design the variable max aperture allows. If I am carrying a longer-than-200mm telephoto lens any significant distance, I probably am carrying a variable max aperture zoom lens model.

The 100-400 II's specific max aperture step down focal lengths are shown in the chart below:

Modelf/4.0f/4.5f/5.0f/5.6f/6.3
Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM Lens55-63mm64-99mm100-154mm155-250mm 
Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS II Lens55-73mm74-95mm96-153mm154-250mm 
Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 ISL USM Lens70-103mm104-154mm155-228mm229-300mm 
Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM Lens70-84mm85-134mm135-224mm225-300mm 
Canon EF 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 DO IS USM Lens 70-94mm95-184mm185-300mm 
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM Lens 100-129mm130-259mm260-400mm 
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM 100-134mm135-311mm312-400mm 
Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G AF-S VR Lens 80-134mm135-249mm250-400mm 
Sigma 150-500mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Lens  150-173mm174-312mm313-500mm
Tamron 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD Lens  150-225mm226-427mm428-600mm

Interesting and very positive is that the 100-400 L II holds a wider aperture deeper into the focal length range than any other lens shown here including the 100-400 L I. Also interesting is that Canon and Nikon have no zoom lenses longer than 400mm and have no lenses with max apertures narrower than f/5.6. Most of the third party lenses with focal lengths longer than 400mm reach f/6.3 just beyond 400mm if not before. Many Canon and Nikon DSLR cameras require a minimum max aperture opening of f/5.6 for auto focus to work, but they do auto focus in the f/6.3 max aperture range of these other-branded lenses.

Canon EF 100-400mm L IS II USM Lens – Top View with Hood

Image Stabilization

A lens designed to be (relatively) very small and light invites handholding and handholding of a telephoto lens is greatly aided by image stabilization. The Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens is equipped with a best-available-at-review-time 4-stop-rated image stabilizer system. The first Canon 100-400 IS had one of the earliest optical lens image stabilization implementations and was rated at only 2 stops of assistance, so the II's IS system alone is a huge upgrade. Another IS upgrade is the addition of Mode 3 stabilization.

Mode 1 is the standard IS mode and is designed for use with stationary subjects. Not only does IS help deliver a sharper image, but you will also find the Mode 1 stabilized viewfinder extremely helpful for obtaining ideal subject framing while handholding this lens. A stabilized image also aids in auto focus accuracy.

Mode 2 IS is used for panning with a subject. In this mode, only 1 axis of stabilization is provided – allowing a linearly-moving subject to be tracked. Note that people tend to move up and down in addition to forward when running, making successful running people panning shots difficult. Put those people on wheels and you have a much more success-likely scenario. Think bicycles, motorcycles, race cars, etc.

Canon's newest IS mode, previously provided only on super telephoto lenses, is the designed-for-tracking-action Mode 3 IS. In Mode 3, image stabilization is active and ready for use the moment the shutter releases, but actual stabilization is not in effect until that precise time. The view seen through the viewfinder is not stabilized, and you are able to follow your erratically-moving subjects without fighting against image stabilization designed to prevent you from doing the same. IS Mode 3 is designed to detect panning motion and, when detected, will only apply stabilization at right angles to the direction of the detected movement (like IS Mode 2).

Mode 3 IS debuted with the Canon 300mm and 400mm f/2.8L IS II Lenses. I gave Mode 3 a significant amount of workout with those lenses and subsequently made Mode 3 my standard action photography IS mode setting. Off was my previous choice – I usually need a faster-than-minimum hand-holdable shutter speed to stop the action I am shooting. But, I did sometimes see benefits to using IS Mode 3 for action. I welcome this addition to a smaller telephoto lens.

When the shutter release is half-press, IS goes into action. Some clicking is heard when IS starts and again when it stops and in quiet environments, whirring is heard while IS is active on this lens. The IS sounds are not be loud enough to be a problem unless perhaps you are shooting in a dead silent environment, in which case your shutter release may cause much more of an issue. Expect an in-camera mic to pick up IS noise from this lens during video recording.

Note that in Mode 3, IS sound is heard when the shutter release is half-pressed, but the image is not stabilized (including in the viewfinder) until the precise moment that the shot is taken.

The 100-400 L II's IS system auto-senses a tripod in use. Canon recommends turning IS off when shooting tripod-based (primarily to save a small amount of battery life) and leaving IS on when shooting from a less-stable support such as a monopod.

As with similar Canon IS systems, the 100-400 II's IS system is very well implemented. By this I mean that, in part, the image in the viewfinder does not bounce around when the system activates or during subject framing adjustment.

The 1/focal length (or 1/focal length * 1.6 for APS-C cameras) rule to determine the longest exposure that can be used while hand-holding a lens typically holds up well for me. In the case of the 100-400mm lens, I would typically expect sharp images at 1/100 - 1/400 second or faster exposures.

Shooting completely freehand at 100mm using a full frame 5D Mark III, most of my images are sharp at a 1/5 second exposure, equating to 4 1/3 stops of assistance for me. The keeper rate is still very good at 1/4 second and slowly trails off through .5 seconds where the sharp results become sparse.

The longest focal length of a lens is typically the most important focal length to be stabilized, since that focal length typically requires the fastest shutter speed to be handheld. At 400mm, I am getting nearly 100% sharp results at 1/20 second exposures from this lens, equating to an easy, above-rated 4 1/3 stops of assistance for me. Keeper rates at 1/13 and 1/10 second remain quite strong (for over 5 stops of assistance) and as usual, sharp results can be obtained at even much longer exposures (as long as 1/4 second) if very low keeper rates can be tolerated.

Testing the assistance level of IS in this lens was complicated by the arrival of a nasty virus that made its rounds in our household. I waited until I was significantly recovered before completing this testing, but ... I do not feel that I was quite as stable as when in full health. Still, the 100-400 L II impressed me. The image stabilization feature in this lens is very significantly improved over its predecessor and the versatility added to this lens by IS is big.

Your subjects may not be still enough for you to make full use of this lens' IS capabilities, but there are plenty of situations remaining to make IS invaluable. For example, an alert animal will often remain motionless while checking out a situation. Another example: many wish to photograph a musical or a speaker event with subjects that are moving only slightly.

Also note that, in the field with unstable footing, wind and/or other complications, you may not be able to replicate my results. Still, IS will provide a very significant and likely similar advantage over an unstabilized alternative in these situations. Brace yourself and/or the lens against something stable and you can likely exceed my exposure times.

Canon EF 100-400mm L IS II USM Lens – Sample Picture from an Event

While an f/5.6 lens is not my preference for indoor events, the 100-400mm focal length is awesome to have, especially when you don't have full control over your shooting position. If the lighting is good, this lens will deliver very nicely for you in these scenarios.

Canon EF 100-400mm L IS II USM Lens – Top View Extended with Hood

Image Quality

The original 100-400 was a good-performer and, with 16 years of technological advances, an easy conjecture to make is that the new lens is going to perform noticeably better. Our first glimpse of the image quality expected from the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens is provided by Canon's theoretical MTF charts. Below are these charts along with comparisons to the original 100-400 L IS Lens, to another more recently introduced Canon telephoto zoom lens option, the EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM Lens and to Canon's longest focal length prime lens that is still relatively small, the EF 400mm f/5.6L USM Lens.

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

EF 100-400 L 100mm | 400mm
EF 70-300 L   70mm | 300mm
EF 400 f/5.6 L 400mm

The thick lines show contrast while the thin lines show resolution. The solid lines show sagittal (lines radiating from center to outer image circle) results while the dashed lines show meridional (lines perpendicular to the sagittal lines) results. The black lines indicate a wide open aperture while the blue lines show results at f/8. The left side of the chart shows center-of-the-image-circle measurement and the right side shows peripheral measurement. The higher the lines, the better the lens performs. When all of the lines get crushed into the top of the chart, the lens promises to be amazing.

As one would expect, the 100-400 II was planned to perform significantly better than the 100-400 I. Even with a 1.4x extender mounted behind it, the 100-400 II chart's lines remain higher than the original 100-400's results and the with-2x-extender chart does not appear dramatically different than the original lens with no extender behind it.

The 70-300 L has been my personal telephoto zoom lens choice since it became available. It is a great lens. That the 100-400 L II's theoretical performance is similar to or slightly worse than the 70-300 L at the wide end was not a concern for me. At the long end of the focal length range, the 100-400 L II appeared to be a slightly better performer. My guess was that the choice between these two lenses would be best made on differentiators other than image quality.

That is what the MTF charts said. We also knew up front that the new 100-400 II lens design includes one fluorite element and one super UD element that promise superior overall image quality.

We also knew that a new Air Sphere Coating (ASC) had been introduced on this lens. According to Canon: "The new Air Sphere Coating has been developed by Canon to minimise reflections and flare. It consists of tiny nano particles of air trapped in a film above the conventional multi-layer coatings. These Air Sphere particles form a super low reflective coating on the surface of the lens element to reduce reflection and act as a ‘crash mat’ to reduce the speed that light travels through the layer so there is not such a large change in speed when the light enters through the glass of the lens element. The major cause of reflections is the sudden change in the speed of light as it passes from air to glass, and this new technology prevents the cause of visible ghosting and flare."

The 100-400 II's front and rear lens surfaces are fluorine coated to reduce water droplet, dust and fingerprint adhesion and to ease the cleaning effort required. This coating works great – the difference is noticeable.

Canon EF 100-400mm L IS II USM Lens – Side View with Hood

With two retail copies of the 100-400 L II lens in hand, the image quality outcome becomes "clear" (pun intended).

Succinctly describing the sharpness of a zoom lens can be a very challenging endeavor, but this one ... is simply excellent. The Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens is extremely sharp across the entire full frame image circle, even with a wide open aperture. Stopping down makes negligible difference in contrast and resolution. Stopping down primarily effects depth of field and that is the primary reason for using apertures narrower than wide open with this lens.

Another reason to stop down is to reduce vignetting. Vignetting from this lens is a bit harder to describe than sharpness, but it is not significant at any focal length or aperture. At the wide end of the focal length range, up to about 1 stop of peripheral shading will be (barely) seen when a wide open aperture is used. As the focal length is increased, wide open aperture corner shading begins to slowly increase. At 200mm, vignetting increases to 1.2 stops and to about 1.6 stops from 300mm through 400mm. Stopping down 1 stop removes about 1/2 of the vignetting, making it not usually noticeable, and the second stop completely eliminates it.

APS-C format DSLRs, with their smaller sensors, do not utilize the outer portion of the image circle and completely avoid peripheral shading with this lens, regardless of aperture and focal length used.

While I can see a touch of CA (Chromatic Aberration) in the full frame corners at both ends of the focal length range, the amount is very minor. CA in the out of focus foreground and background is minor at 100mm and negligible at 400mm. The overall amount of CA is especially small for a zoom lens. Here is a worst-case example:

Canon EF 100-400mm L IS II USM Lens – Worst Case CA

This 100% crop was taken from near the top-right corner of a 100mm full frame 5D Mark III image. Strongly contrasting diagonal lines near the corner of the frame best show the slight color focusing misalignment.

Another defect that this lens has only a touch of is distortion. There is a small amount of barrel distortion at the wide end that slowly transitions to no distortion around 135mm and then to pincushion distortion that remains present but relatively minor over the rest of the focal length range.

Put 21 lens elements in 16 groups (up from 17/14) into a telephoto lens design and it is not surprising to see noticeable flaring with a very bright light source (such as the sun) in the frame. Putting the full mid-day sun in the frame while using a long focal length is a good way to permanently impair your vision.

That a 400mm lens will produce a strong background blur when used with close subjects is certain, but the 100-400 L II has a 9-blade circular type aperture that delivers a beautiful, soft quality to that blurred background. That quality is similar over the entire focal length range. Here are some f/8 examples:

In the above crops, the 100-400 renders out of focus specular highlights as smoothly-filled, nicely-rounded circles (with the typical concentric rings found near the perimeter). In the full frame example (reduced - not cropped), Christmas tree lights were photographed at approximately 15' (5m) with the lens manually focused at its minimum focus distance. The result was a handful of the blurred little lights filling the frame.

While the 100-400 L I's 8-blade aperture produced 8-point stars from specular highlights captured at a narrow aperture, the 100-400 L II's 9-blade aperture will produce 18-point stars in the same situation (an odd aperture blade count results in 2x as many points).

Explore the 100-400 L II's image quality and compare it to other lenses using the links on this page. I think that you are going to like what you see.

Canon EF 100-400mm L IS II USM Lens – Top View on EOS 5D Mark III

Focusing

Like the original 100-400 L, the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens features Ring USM (Ultrasonic Motor) driven AF. Also like the original 100-400 L, 100-400 L II was released with the latest-available-at-design-time CPU installed and the latest AF algorithms applied. However, the difference that 16 years makes on these latter two features is big. In addition, a completely new inner-focusing system has been implemented in this lens.

AF accuracy is critically important (unless using manual focus) for a lens to realize its full image quality capability. Extensive focus testing has proven that the 100-400 L IS II consistently focuses very accurately. The auto focus speed is extremely fast and there is very little sound heard during the process.

This lens focuses internally and FTM (Full Time Manual) focusing is available. The front element does not rotate, allowing circular polarizer filters to easily be used.

A 2-position focus limiter switch is provided, allowing focusing distances to be limited to a specific distance range (9.84'/3m - 8)– or to be unlimited (Full). Limiting the focus distance range can improve focus lock times and reduce focus hunting.

The 100-400 IS II Lens' manual focus ring is nicely-sized, is properly damped, and with the lens diameter transition occurring in the middle of it, is very easy to locate even in the dark or with your eye at the viewfinder. As expected for a lens of this grade, the focus ring is very smooth. The rate of focus adjustment is ideal in the 100-300mm range, but it is somewhat fast by 400mm. There is a tiny amount of play felt as the gears reverse direction in this ring.

As with all of Canon's higher grade auto focus lenses, a focus distance window is provided. This lens is not parfocal, meaning that refocusing is required after zooming. This is especially true at short focus distances where the subjects very obviously go into and out of focus during zooming. However, if focusing at 400mm at longer focus distances, subjects remain in very good focus over the majority of the focal length range when zooming out, and under 135mm, the f/5.6 depth of field covers much of the focus distance change needed.

Using the near-parfocal feature of this lens (as just described) is helpful for video recording while adjusting focal lengths. Video shooters will definitely appreciate the fact that subjects do not significantly change in size as they go in and out of focus.

A huge focus-related improvement the 100-400 L II enjoys over its predecessor is the dramatically shorter MFD (Minimum Focus Distance) and the related significantly-increased MM (Maximum Magnification) spec. The 100-400 II focuses down to 38.4" (980mm) by factory spec and testing shows that this lens can focus as close as 30.3" (769mm) at 100mm. This distance is just slightly over half the distance of the old lens' close focus spec and the II can produce subject details just over 50% larger than the previous lens. With the relation between the decreased MFD with the increased MM not being linear, we can expect that the version II lens is giving up some focal length as the subject becomes very close.

ModelMFDMM
Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM Lens33.5"(850mm)0.31x
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS II USM Lens47.2"(1200mm)0.21x
Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM Lens47.2"(1200mm)0.21x
Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM Lens59.1"(1500mm)0.25x
Canon EF 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 DO IS USM Lens55.1"(1400mm)0.25x
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens38.4"(980mm)0.31x
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM Lens70.9"(1800mm)0.20x
Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Ext 1.4x Lens78.7"(2000mm)0.15, 0.21x
Canon EF 300mm f/4L IS USM Lens59.1"(1500mm)0.24x
Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM Lens137.8"(3500mm)0.12x
Canon EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II USM Lens129.9"(3300mm)0.13x
Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G AF-S VR Lens68.9"(1750mm)0.20x
Tamron 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD Lens106.3"(2700mm)0.20x

Very few non-macro lenses have MM specs as high as the 100-400 L II. The feature is especially welcomed by nature and wildlife photographers trying to fill the frame with small subjects including small birds.

Further reduction in minimum focus distance and increase in maximum magnification is accomplishable using extension tubes, though infinity focusing is sacrificed. With a 12mm Extension Tube behind it, the 100-400 II has a 0.38-0.03x MM range and 0.46-0.03x with a 25mm Extension Tube behind it.

Even greater magnification increase, at any distance, can be accomplished using extenders (tele-converters). The Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens is compatible with the Canon EF 1.4x III and EF 2x III Extenders.

As is often the case, the focal length range of the with-extenders combinations is quite impressive with relatively little increase in size and weight. Adding the 1.4x creates a 140-560mm lens and adding the 2x creates an eye-popping 200-800mm lens. The big downside to using extenders is the reduction in max aperture and the image quality degradation that generally accompanies their use. With the 1.4x mounted behind the 100-400, the max aperture range narrows to f/6.3-f/8 and with the 2x mounted, the max aperture range is reduced to f/9-f/11. Note that an f/8 max aperture lens plus extender combo will only auto focus using native through-the-viewfinder phase detection AF when mounted to 1-Series and select other EOS cameras including the 5D Mark III and the 7D Mark II. Only Live view AF on the latest EOS DSLRs will AF using the f/9-f/11 max aperture combo.

Extenders can be used over the entire focal length range, but I feel that the longest focal length is the most important to test since the reason to use an extender is to gain a longer focal length than the lens natively has. Use the bare lens for the rest (unless there is no time available for removing the extender). At 560mm with the 1.4x in place and a wide open f/8.0 aperture selected, image sharpness takes a hit that is noticeable, but not dramatic. A slight improvement is seen at f/11.0. The 1.4x adds a slight amount of barrel distortion that essentially corrects this lens' native 400mm pincushion distortion. A slight amount of CA is added by the 1.4x III. Decreased AF speed is a concern with using extenders, but I have a difficult time seeing any difference with the 1.4x in place.

As usual, the 2x extender has a noticeably greater effect on image sharpness. Stopping down 1 stop makes a noticeable improvement in 800mm image quality, but that means a narrow f/16 aperture. Positive is that the 2x nearly matches the w/1.4x's distortion pattern, but not positive is that the 2x adds more-pronounced CA. As expected, the 5D Mark III does not AF with the 2x in place and the viewfinder is dark, but having an f/81.0 aperture available at the narrow end of the range is ... interesting. Truth is, my 2x will not likely be found behind my 100-400 L II in real applications as I feel that this combo gives up too much.

One more option for increasing MM is the Canon 500D Closeup Lens which provides a 0.78-0.2x MM range.

Canon EF 100-400mm L IS II USM Lens – Side View

Build Quality & Features

It is a modern Canon L Series Lens targeted at enthusiasts and professionals shooting in an outdoor environment. I would have been disappointed by anything short of high end from the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens' build quality and I have not been let down. This is a very solidly built lens. Roger Cicala of LensRentals.com stated "It's by far the most heavily engineered zoom lens Aaron and I have ever seen; and we've seen the insides of dozens of lenses in this range."

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

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The 100-400 L II sports a much-improved exterior design over its predecessor. With a single shallow-mounted switch panel and a mostly smooth/straight overall diameter, this design is attractive and is very comfortable to carry and use. Narrower diameters toward the mount end are gently tapered into the primary lens diameter.

I seldom prefer a rear-positioned focus ring, but on a lens of this size and weight, the center of gravity is far enough forward on the lens to make the rear focus ring position work fine. That farther-forward balanced position places the left hand under the zoom ring as desired and the focus ring is positioned far enough away from the focus ring that there is no in danger of it being inadvertently moved after auto focus lock and while recomposing.

Both rings are nicely sized and as I mentioned before, the focus ring is especially easy to find. It is hard to miss the huge, easy to find zoom ring even in the heat of the moment.

As expected for a relatively-compact zoom telephoto lens and as with the original 100-400 L IS, the 100-400 L II extends significantly (3.04"/77.3mm) when zoomed to its longest focal length. You will not get a 100-400mm focal length range into the retracted size of this lens and as expected, long extension occurs as 400mm is reached. What is very different from the first version of this lens is how 400mm is reached. The ribbing on the zoom ring provides the major clue to the change while the zoom torque adjustment ring belies the change.

The big change from the older 100-400mm L lens is that the push-pull zoom design has been replaced by a standard rotational zoom ring design. Photographers seem to be polarized with their preference between these two designs, but apparently more preferred the rotational option. I am among those who prefer the rotational zoom and really like the new feature, but I didn't completely dislike the push/pull design and the old design does have some advantages. The biggest advantage was the very fast focal length adjustment. My least favorite attribute of the push/pull design was that the camera wanted to pull away from (or push into) your eye during zooming. That focus could easily be adjusted while zooming this lens could be viewed as either a blessing or a curse. I know that some are using the 100-400 II as a push/pull zoom by gripping the lens hood and extending or retracting the lens.

Zoom Touch Adjustment Ring

Retained from the push/pull zoom design is the Zoom Touch Adjustment Ring (I'll call it the ZTAR). Positioned between the zoom and focus rings, the ZTAR allows the zoom friction to be set as desired. While many lenses provide a zoom lock switch that is usable only with the lens in its most-retracted position, the ZTAR provides far more flexibility.

The ring is labeled SMOOTH and TIGHT. In this case, smooth is the opposite of tight, but the zoom ring remains smooth even when tight (though some slip-stick action is present at the tight setting). Why not loose and tight? Or maybe easy and tight? Probably because smooth sounds better.

The ZTAR rotates about 15 degrees with a detent position at the normal/light rotational force setting. With max friction dialed in, the lens requires noticeably more force to turn the zoom ring, but it does move. That the lens is not completely locked is probably a good safety measure.

Gravity zooming is not bad at the "smooth" setting, but auto-zooming fully ceases at a slightly tighter than the detent-indicated fully smooth position. Set to smooth, the zoom ring has ideal rotational pressure needed for quick focal length changes. Prefer a tighter zoom ring? Or, want to lock in a zoom setting? Simply tighten the ZTAR as desired.

I don't remember seeing this feature on any rotational zoom ring lens before. Being able to dial in the ideal-for-you zoom ring resistance is a nice feature. The ZTAR finish is mostly smooth (like the lens barrel) and stays out of the way until needed. With a series of 5 recessed grooves evenly positioned a 8 locations around the ring, tactile locating of the ring is not hard. The ring itself has sufficient friction to prevent accidental adjustment.

While a lens extending via gravity while being carried can be annoying, a lens extending or retracting while being used can be problematic (and maddening). Think about the lens being tripod mounted for hands-off use and directed upward or downward. You don't want gravity adjusting the focal length after the ideal framing is setup.

Canon EF 100-400mm L IS II USM Lens – Top View Extended with Hood

Designed for outdoor use, the 100-400 L II features a weather sealed design. This lens is not waterproof, but it is made to be used in wet and dusty conditions. Specifically, the manual states "Tight seal structure provides excellent dustproof and drip-proof performance" but then disclaims that sentence somewhat by stating "However, it is unable to provide complete protection from dust and moisture." Chuck Westfall of Canon USA has confirmed that a filter is required for full sealing of this lens.

The Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens has gained a little size and weight over its predecessor. The 100-400 II's weight increased by 6.7 oz (190g), the length increase was .2" (4mm) and the girth is .1" (2mm) wider. I would take that minor change just to get the improved physical design of the lens.

ModelWeightDimensions w/o HoodFilterYear 
Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM Lens13.2 oz(375g)2.8 x 4.4"(70 x 111.2mm)58mm2013
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS II USM Lens52.6 oz(1490g)3.5 x 7.8"(88.8 x 199mm)77mm2010
Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM Lens37.1 oz(1050g)3.5 x 5.6"(89 x 143mm)67mm2010
Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM Lens22.2 oz(630g)3.0 x 5.6"(76.5 x 142.8mm)58mm2005
Canon EF 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 DO IS USM Lens25.4 oz(720g)3.2 x 3.9"(82 x 100mm)58mm2004
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM55.4 oz(1570g)3.7 x 7.6"(94 x 193mm)77mm2014
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM Lens48.7 oz(1380g)3.6 x 7.4"(92 x 189mm)77mm1998
Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Ext 1.4x Lens127.8 oz(3620g)5.0 x 14.4"(128 x 366mm)DI 52mm2013
Canon EF 300mm f/4L IS USM Lens42.0 oz(1190g)3.5 x 8.7"(90 x 221mm)77mm1997
Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM Lens44.1 oz(1250g)3.5 x 10.1"(90 x 257mm)77mm1993
Canon EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II USM Lens74.1 oz(2100g)5.0 x 9.2"(128 x 232.7mm)DI 52mm2014
Nikon 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G AF-S VR Lens55.4 oz(1570g)3.8 x 8.0"(95.5 x 203mm)77mm2013
Tamron 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD Lens68.8 oz(1950g)4.2 x 10.1"(105.6 x 257.8mm)95mm2013

For many more comparisons, review the complete Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens Specifications using the site's Lens Spec tool.

Wider apertures and longer focal lengths increase a lens' size (and cost, especially when featured together). Here is a visual comparison of of the 100-400 L II beside two of Canon's other telephoto zoom lenses:

Canon EF 100-400mm L IS USM Lens Compared to Similar Lenses

Positioned above from left to right in their fully retracted positions are the following lenses:

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS II USM Lens
Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM Lens
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens

The same lenses are shown below in their fully extended states with their lens hoods in place.

Canon EF 100-400mm L IS USM Lens Compared to Similar Lenses with Hoods

Retracted, the 70-300 appears very small relative to its bookends above. Extended, the 100-400 L II shows itself the largest.

Getting a not-seen-before design is the 100-400 L II's tripod mount ring. The ring itself appears normal and is well-integrated into the lens shape, but not normal is how smooth this ring is. The 100-400 L II's tripod ring is unusually smooth for a lens of this size.

Unlike Canon's other small-lens tripod rings, this one is not removable. However, the mount/foot itself has a tool-less detachable design. The mount can be removed without removing the lens from the camera and removed, the ring on the camera maintains a low profile including the small rotation lock knob and the mount attachment point.

To remove the mount, put some pressure on the mount (press toward the lens to make removal slightly easier). With the other hand, pull the large thumb screw housed inside the mount away from the lens and turn in the normal (righty-tighty/lefty-loosy) directions. Enough effort is required by the removal process that inadvertently loosening the mount is unlikely (as it should be). The screw inside the mount is spring-loaded, presumably to make reinstallation easier.

As can be seen in the photo below, there are two alignment/anti-rotation nubs protruding from the mount. These are an important prevention of the lens being twisting over the mount. There are also four rubber-like squares that press into the ring when the mount is tightened down.

I don't generally remove my tripod rings, and have not changed my practice with this design. Overall, even with the mount tightened as much as possible, this tripod ring has a bit more flex than some of Canon's other designs.

Canon EF 100-400mm L IS II USM Lens – Tripod Foot

When using a lens with a tripod ring on a tripod or monopod, I mount using the tripod mount ring 100% of the time (vs. using the camera's tripod mount). The biggest benefit is the better balance of the setup, but the ability to rotate the camera in the ring is also a great benefit. I am using a Wimberley P30 Lens Plate (the P20 also works great) on my 100-400 II (as shown in many photos on this page). The plate, in conjunction with the Arca-Swiss compatible clamps on my ball head, monopod and other accessories, makes attaching the lens very fast and easy.

Notable is how small this lens' tripod mount is. It is probably Canon's smallest EF lens tripod ring mount to date. With a rounded back that almost fits between the anti-twist nubs on the Wimberley P30, care must be taken to install this plate. My tactic is to tighten the lens plate screw nearly fully, carefully slide the plate so that the nubs are barely touching the back of the mount and then full tighten the plate's screw. Installed, the P30 makes a nice carrying handle and I like how this plate can rest in my palm while I use my fingers to fine tune the zoom ring.

While most other lenses still fit with in their Canon-provided cases with lens plates attached, note that this lens does not.

Canon EF 100-400mm L IS II USM Lens – Top View with Hood

As usual for an L lens, the hood is included and as usual for a 100-400mm focal length range lens, the hood is large. This one measures 4.7"W x 3.2"D (113.6 x 86.8mm). Large lens hoods are very protective, but adjusting a circular polarizer filter inside of a large hood is ... extremely difficult to state the issue mildly. Taking the hood off while adjusting the filter is generally the option. Canon has addressed this issue with the ET-83D Lens Hood included with the 100-400 L II. This is not a design we have seen from Canon before.

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens – Hood ET-83D

A sliding window at the base of the ET-83D provides a 1.25 x .785" (318 x 19.9mm) (WxD) opening into the base of the lens hood, allowing a finger to reach the filter without removal of the hood. Here is a closer look at the access window:

Lens Hood Adjustment Window

The window lightly clicks into the fully opened and fully closed positions, but can remain at any position. This is a simple design change that attempts to impart a large usability improvement.

The filter access window can be positioned at the top or bottom of the lens. The bottom is my preference for two reasons. One is that rain and other contaminants do not fall into the hood and the other is so my left hand can be under the lens in a support position. If shooting from a tripod, the second reason is not relevant.

In reality, I'm not so enamored with this change. The window does allow easy access to the filter and facilitates small adjustments, but it is somewhat maddening to adjust a filter the 90 degrees needed when switching from horizontal to vertical shooting orientation. Because a finger takes up roughly half of the window opening, a filter can only be rotated by half of the opening width. With my B+W CP filters, I find it difficult to get a good enough single-finger grasp on the ring to make it turn (two opposing fingers are definitely optimal) and at best, it is a slow turn. Putting uneven pressure on a filter (from one point on the side in this case) can increase the effort required to turn the filter. Compounding the issue is that my finger gets sore and I probably will not even attempt this with cold fingers. The window detracts from the hood aesthetically and I don't care for the feel of it when installing and removing the hood. Sliding into and out of a case frequently leaves the window door out of position. After working with this feature for many months, I opted to epoxy it closed.

The ET-83D is flocked on the inside to eliminate all reflections and has the now-standard release button (instead of being a friction-fit design). While I see no indications that this lens hood will fail, the hood easily deforms with pressure. It does not exude confidence or a quality feel, but sometimes a part being flexible/sacrificial on impact can be beneficial. Hoods such as the metal Zeiss and Sigma Sports models remain my favorites (metal of course comes with the downside of being heavier).

Most are going to be happy to hear that the 100-400 L II retains the 77mm filter thread size of its predecessor. This filter size, although somewhat large, is very common. While it is great to have a complete set of filters for every lens, this is not always practical – especially when traveling. A common size facilitates the sharing of filters for a more economical and/or a more compact kit when desired.

Canon Lens Case LZ1326

Canon lenses of this size and quality generally include a nice zippered, padded case and the 100-400 L II follows this standard with a Canon Lens Case LZ1326 included in the box. This is the same case included with the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens.

Canon EF 100-400mm L IS II USM Lens – Side View on Tripod

Price

I don't remember a new Canon lens ever being introduced at a lower or even equal price to the lens it was replacing. More often, the new lens costs considerably more than the predecessor and that is the case in this instance. The Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens was introduced with a street price $500 USD higher than the 100-400 L (without any rebates in place). The scenario that generally holds true with new Canon lens introductions is that the older lens retains it value (and sometimes increases in value), preserving that investment and reducing any remorse about owning a lens that is being replaced.

The 100-400 L II definitely does not qualify as an economy lens, but the introductory street price for the 100-400 L II is not unreasonable – especially considering that the Nikon version is priced $500 USD higher.

Being an "EF" lens, this lens is compatible with all Canon EOS DSLR Cameras. This review was completed using a pair of retail-sourced lenses of this model. One will remain in my kit long term.

Canon EF 100-400mm L IS II USM Lens – Side View on EOS 5D Mark III

Alternatives to the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens

The lens I expect the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens to be most frequently compared to is its wildly popular predecessor, the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM Lens. These two lenses are compared in the next two images.

Canon 100-400mm L IS II Lens Compare to Version I with Hoods

The older lens' primary advantage is its lower price, but it will soon be found only in used condition as the II is replacing it in Canon's lineup. The new lens is completely redesigned and offers many advantages (many I've already discussed in this review), but image quality is the biggest. The difference in image quality between these two lenses, especially at wide open apertures, is significant. Also significantly improved is the image stabilization system (4 stops vs. 2) and the rotational zoom is my preference to the previous model's push-pull design. The new lens focuses much closer with a significantly higher maximum magnification ratio.

Canon 100-400mm L IS II Lens Compare to Version I

The next lens I immediately compared the 100-400 L II to is the Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 ISL USM Lens. The 70-300 L has been my personal lightweight telephoto zoom lens choice since it became available. It is a great lens. A worth-considering difference between these lenses is obvious from the name. The 70-300 has wider focal lengths and the 100-400 has longer ones. If the most reach possible is needed (wildlife, large field sports), the 100-400 is going to be a better option. If the wider focal lengths are more advantageous (portraits for example), the 70-300 range is probably best.

From an image quality perspective, these lenses are more similar than different and the choice between these two lenses is best made on other differentiators. The 70-300 L has a considerably lower price to its advantage. It is also lighter and smaller than the 100-400 L II. While the 70-300 will, at 5.6" (143mm) retracted, fit upright into many camera backpacks, the 100-400 L II will most often need to be oriented horizontally to fit. A larger case is needed to carry the 100-400 L II mounted.

The Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM Lens (the non-L version) shares a large amount of focal length overlap with the 100-400 L II, but ... this lens is a far cheaper and lower performing model. The Canon EF 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 DO IS USM Lens has a great form factor, AF system and build quality, but ... it is not my preference from an image quality perspective.

Because it is such an amazing lens, many have opted for the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS II USM Lens plus extenders to gain the longer focal lengths contained in the 100-400mm lenses. Even with a 2x extender mounted behind it, the 70-200 L II was nearly as sharp as the 100-400 version I at 400mm. While the 70-200 L II retains the significant wide aperture advantage in its native range, the 100-400 L II has the clear image quality advantage at 400mm. The comparison at 300mm/280mm (w/ 1.4x) is closer with the 100-400 L II retaining a modest advantage. If the wider apertures are appealing to you and/or you only occasionally need focal lengths longer than 200mm, the 70-200 L II makes a lot of sense. If you will be using the mid 200 to 400mm focal lengths much of the time, the 100-400 probably makes more sense to have in the kit. Having both of these lenses is of course optimal.

Serious photographers may consider the Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Lens as an alternative. The 200-400 L is an amazing performing lens and is currently my favorite wildlife lens, but this lens is in a different league in terms of price, size and weight. From an image quality standpoint alone, it will be hard for some to find enough advantage in the 200-400 L to justify the big price difference, but this lens is the better performer (and one of the best zoom lenses ever made). The 100-400 L has a focal length advantage on the wide end while the 200-400 L has a built-in 1.4x extender to give it the flexibility to instantly go to 560mm. The 200-400 L has a fixed f/4 max aperture that allows it to stop action in 1/2 as much light as the 100-400 L when its max aperture hits f/5.6 and the big zoom can create a stronger background blur due to the wider aperture.

There are a large number of people interested in getting the longest focal length they can for a reasonable price. Going beyond 400mm in a Canon lens while maintaining an f/5.6 or wider max aperture means a very big hit on the wallet at checkout. These people are looking at the 100-400 L II lens only for the 400mm focal length and in that case, the 400mm primes become valid alternatives. Only the Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM Lens (and possibly the Canon EF 300mm f/4L IS USM Lens with a 1.4x extender) is in the same price league. The 400 f/5.6L has been in the Canon lineup for 5 years longer than the original 100-400 L IS, yet it is a very good performing lens with image quality essentially equivalent to the 100-400 L II and less distortion (compared at 400mm). The 400 f/5.6L is lighter, longer and considerably less expensive, but this lens is sorely missing image stabilization. I find the zoom to be a far more useful lens.

Those with larger budgets needing 400mm or longer focal lengths can consider the Canon EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II USM Lens. While I still await this lens' arrival, I expect it to perform at least as well as the 100-400 L II and likely better – especially with extenders. The DO II's 1 stop wider aperture is helpful in low light and especially when extenders are in use. While it is an especially compact and light lens for its specs, the 400 DO II is still larger and heavier than the 100-400 L II.

If size, weight and price are inconsequential to you, the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens is definitely your lens. This lens is amazing from image quality, AF performance and build quality perspectives. With its f/2.8 aperture, this lens can separate the subject from the background like few other lenses can do.

Those willing to venture outside of the Canon lineup will find the Tamron 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD Lens on the must-compare list. Obvious is that the Tamron shifts the focal length range to a much longer 600mm (with the max aperture sliding to f/6.3 beyond 428mm), but this lens' image quality in the above 500mm range is not so great. Still, 500mm built-in is better than 400mm and the Canon's 100mm is better than the Tamron's 150mm on the wide side. With a wide open aperture, the Canon has better image quality over the entire focal length range, especially at the wide end. By 400mm, the Tamron is nearly equivalent and still performs quite well in the center of the frame at 500mm. The Canon is sharper over most of the image circle at 560mm (with 1.4 extender) than the Tamron is at 600mm.

An AF system, if being relied on, can make a huge difference in image quality and the Canon's AF system is my strong preference. At roughly 1/2 of the price of the Canon, the Tamron has a strong advantage from a budget perspective. The Canon has the max magnification advantage and is smaller/lighter.

Awaiting review (and availability) are a pair of new Sigma lenses: the 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sports and Contemporary lenses. While I have only briefly handled these lenses, I can tell you that the Sports model is big, heavy and exceptionally well-built while the contemporary model is a bit lighter and promises to be lighter on the wallet. The Sports model costs nearly as much as the 100-400 L II.

Canon EF 100-400mm L IS II USM Lens – Front View

Summary

Many were referring to 2014 as the "Year of the Lens" and the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens joins a host of other 2014-anounced models (including the amazing Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens). This lens has been the hottest, most in-demand model of them all and the reasons for this popularity are very good.

Every so often, a lens comes along that really grabs your attention. This is one of them. The Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II is in an elite class of zoom lenses, capable of producing prime-grade image quality at all available aperture and focal length settings. Put a very useful focal length range into a ruggedly-built, pro-grade lens with fast and accurate AF, very effective image stabilization and very impressive image quality and it is destined to be a very popular model. The 100-400 L II has quickly become one of my favorite and most-used lenses. I highly recommend this one.

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My Recommended Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens Retailers

Where you buy your gear matters. You expect to get what you ordered and you want to pay a low price for it. The retailers I recommend below are the ones I trust for my own purchases. Get your Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens now from:

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