Note that this review will be completed as soon as a production version of this lens becomes available. In the meantime, here is my preview:
Causing great excitement among Canon photographers was the February 7, 2011 development announcement of the Canon EF 200-400mm f/4 L IS USM Ext 1.4x Lens. I was personally excited – a Canon EF 200-400mm f/4 L IS USM Lens had long been on my most-wanted Canon lens list. Finally, I would not have to envy the Nikon DSLR owners and their Nikon 200-400mm f/4G AF-S VR II Lens. My excitement was tempered when, on Nov 15, 2011, Canon announced that this lens had been delayed until an unknown future date. Probably none of us expected the official product announcement to be another 18 months away at that point.
When the Canon EF 200-400mm f/4 L IS USM Ext 1.4x Lens finally arrives, I am very confident that it is going to be another incredible addition to the big white Canon telephoto lens family. This lens promises excellent image quality even with a wide open aperture, extremely fast AF, a 4-stop-rated image stabilization, best-available build quality and - a GREAT focal length range. That last part is something I've never been able to say about a Canon great white lens – this is Canon's first great white EF zoom lens (the FD 150-600mm f/5.6 L was Canon's first great white EF zoom lens). This lens' negative attribute are definitely its price tag and size/weight.
Since I typically start my lens selection by determining the focal length or focal length range (FLR) that I need, I also typically start my lens reviews with the same. And any discussion about the FLR of the Canon EF 200-400mm f/4 L IS USM Extender 1.4x Lens requires a look at the bulge on the side of this lens.
Housed in that bulge is a dedicated, optimized, 1.4x extender (teleconverter). The large, lockable lever you see allows that extender's elements/groups to be included in or removed from the active optical path as desired.
This is a great feature. Swapping a conventional extender in and out of use on a super-telephoto lens takes far more time, effort and inconvenience than throwing a switch. A subject can easily be gone in the time it takes to install a conventional extender. The inconvenience of installation is often enough that it does not get done.
The built-in design is also far less risky to your gear. It is not unusual to hear of extenders (or lenses) being dropped during field installation, a process that really could use three or four hands. Extender installing/removing can also allow dust and moisture into the camera and lens - removing dust from a large stack of photos can take days.
Another significant advantage of a built-in extender is that it can be optically tuned specifically for the lens it is designed for use in, giving it a potentially strong optical quality advantage.
While this design is new to many (most) of us, it is not the first Canon lens to incorporate a built-in extender. The Canon EF 200-400mm f/4 L IS USM Ext 1.4x Lens has inherited the built-in 1.4x extender concept from the rare Canon FD 1200mm f/5.6 L Lens (see picture on PBase.com). The 200-400 L is the first EF lens to receive a built-in, switch on/off extender.
With the extender locked out of the active lens groups, this is a 200-400mm lens with a relatively wide f/4 max aperture across the entire range. The throw of a lever moves the extender lens elements/groups into the optical path and this lens becomes a 280-560mm Lens with an f/5.6 max aperture across the focal length range. Combined, this becomes a 200-560mm f/4-5.6 lens with an incredible range of mostly-outdoor uses.
The focal length potential of this lens does not stop at 560mm. You see, this lens, like the rest of the big white Canon lenses, is also compatible with the Canon EF 1.4x III Extender and the Canon EF 2x III Extender. Here is a chart of the resulting focal lengths and apertures of the various combinations.
|200-400mm||w/ Built-In 1.4x|
|Native||200-400mm f/4.0||280-560mm f/5.6|
|w/ 1.4x III||280-560mm f/5.6||392-784mm f/8.0|
|w/ 2.0x III||400-800mm f/8.0||560-1120mm f/11.0|
Keep in mind that, unless you have a Canon EOS 5D Mark III or a 1-Series DSLR, you will lose autofocus functionality when the maximum aperture reaches f/8. No Canon EOS DSLR will autofocus with an f/11 max aperture lens combo mounted.
If you are shooting with an APS-C format body, you can multiply the numbers in that table by a factor of 1.6x to get the full frame AOV (Angle of View) equivalency. Those results are some very big numbers.
When the 200-400 L IS lens was first introduced, I received many questions from people wanting to know if this was the LONG-rumored replacement for the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS USM Lens. That it is not. While the 200-400 L will be a significant upgrade from the 100-400 L in nearly all ways, these two lenses are not in the same class - in size, weight, image quality (presuming) - or price.
Zooming out to 100mm, the 100-400L has the wide-end angle of view advantage. The 100-400 L also accepts extenders, so the two lenses compete in this regard at the long end of the FLR. But, with its native f/4 aperture at 400mm, the 200-400 L allows twice as much light into the lens as the 100-400 L's native f/5.6 aperture at 400mm. Thus, with-extender combinations also have 1-stop wider apertures on the 200-400. That extra stop can be huge - and can make the difference between active AF and MF-only with some cameras including all review-time current Canon APS-C format DSLRs.
You could buy a pile of 100-400 L lenses for the price of one 200-400 L lens. A large number of 100-400 L lenses will fit into the case of one 200-400 L lens. It takes many 100-400 L lenses to make the weight of one 200-400 L lens.
The image quality of the 200-400 L should be at a completely different level of excellence.
Much more comparable to the 200-400 L are the big white prime lenses (200 f/2 L IS, 300 L II IS, 400 L II IS, 500 L II IS, 600 L II IS). These lenses are more comparable in size, weight, image quality and price. The primes generally have a wider aperture useful for stopping action in lower light levels and for blurring the background, but the zoom has the focal length range advantage. Unless you have a lot of control over your subject and your positional relationship to them, shooting with a prime lens often results in cropping of a significant percentage of the images from a shoot. And sometimes this cropping happens in the viewfinder.
Shooting action with a zoom lens adds another dimension to the capture. Additional mental and physical effort and skill are required of the photographer to manage focal length changes while keeping the proper AF point where it needs to be in a rapidly changing subject scenario. With practice, the zoom option is an advantage, allowing better overall image quality solely due to the higher resolution images resulting from uncropped captures. A zoom range allows proper framing over a much wider range of subject distances. For example, if a 500mm lens properly frames a subject at 50', the 200-400 + 1.4x can properly frame that same subject from 20' out to 56'.
A range of focal lengths also provides flexibility in composition (through perspective) that primes do not afford – or they require a lens change to make possible. Having a zoom range to work with in a long focal length lens of this class will increase the variety of images able to be captured without a lens change - and without cropping.
I'm really anxious to put this zoom capability to the test in the field. I don't have a prime vs. zoom decision in my mind for the various uses I have for these lenses. A combination of primes and zooms will likely be my final decision.
Sports and wildlife photographers are going to represent the largest market for this lens. And these uses will likely be my choice for this lens. Aviation photographers will find the 200-400 L a key lens in their kits. These lenses will fall into the hands of more than one photojournalist. And I'm sure that more than a few outdoor portraits will be captured with the 200-400 L.
The usefulness of the focal length range is complemented by the usefulness of image stabilization. The 200-400mm f/4 L's IS system is rated at 4-stops of assistance and provides three IS modes.
Use Mode 1 is for stationary subjects. Not only does IS help deliver a sharper image, you will find the Mode 1 stabilized viewfinder extremely helpful for obtaining ideal subject framing - especially when handholding at the longer focus distances.
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.
The new mode available on Canon's latest 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 erratic 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 Image 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/2.8 L 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-handholdable shutter speed to stop the action I am shooting. Mode 3 on the 500 and 600 L IS II lenses is also working superbly for me. I have no doubt that the 200-400's IS Mode III will also work well.
You will likely hear some clicking and whirring when IS is active on this lens, but I expect the IS implementation is very well implemented. By this I mean that, in part, the image in the viewfinder will not jump around when the system activates. In Mode 3, IS sound will likely be heard when the shutter release is half-pressed, but the image is not stabilized until the precise moment that the shot is taken. This means that mode 3 assistance is not visible in the viewfinder.
Canon's big white lenses have a secondary IS mode that automatically senses a tripod being used and, at shutter speeds between 1/30th and 1 second, adjusts to compensate for mirror slap, shutter and other subtle tripod-based vibrations. The IS system automatically disables itself during tripod use when shutter speeds longer than 1 second are used.
What will the Canon EF 200-400mm f/4 L IS USM Ext 1.4x Lens' image quality look like? To date, amazing image quality from Canon's super telephoto L lenses is the norm. But, we have not seen a big white Canon L Zoom Lens before, so ... will image quality from this lens be something just less than incredible? Probably not - I fully expect to be impressed.
Canon's last fixed max aperture white L zoom lens is simply amazing – and it costs far less that the 200-400 L. I will be surprised if the 200-400 L lens delivers anything less. Take a look at Canon's impressive theoretical MTF charts for this lens:
Based on these charts alone, we can expect the Canon EF 200-400mm f/4 L IS USM Ext 1.4x Lens to deliver impressive image sharpness – and especially impressive with-extender image quality.
I will of course be taking a very close look at this lens' optical capabilities both in the lab and in the field. And I'm very optimistic and anxious to do so.
Aiding image quality is Canon's SubWavelength Structure lens coating. "The optical elements also feature Canon’s latest Super Spectra Coatings, optimized for both the position and type of each lens element. A SubWavelength Structure Coating (SWC), which uses microscopic cone-shaped structures smaller than a wavelength of visible light, reduces ghosting caused by light bouncing back from the imaging sensor and resisting flare."
As with many of Canon's recent higher grade lenses, the 200-400 L's front and rear lenses elements are fluorine-coated to repel water, dust and dirt - and to make cleaning much easier.
In regards to autofocus, all Canon super telephoto lenses turn in best-in-class performance and I expect nothing less from the 200-400 L. Driven by Ring USM (Ultrasonic Motor), autofocus should be extremely fast and very quiet. Some quiet shuffling movement will likely be heard inside the lens during AF.
All Canon super telephoto lenses focus internally and have FTM (Full Time Manual) focusing available.
These lenses also include a Focus Preset feature. Set the Focus Preset to a specific distance and when your shooting needs require that specific distance, simply turn the white spring-loaded knurled playback ring on the end of the lens. The Focus Preset switch settings include an audible focus confirmation setting.
The Canon EF 200-400mm f/4 L IS USM Lens' manual focus ring is nicely sized, should be nicely damped, should have a very nice rate of adjustment and should be very smooth with no play.
New on the 2010 and later-announced super telephoto L lenses is the third focusing mode: "PF" or Power Focusing.
"Helping moviemakers achieve smoother and more appealing focus shifts when filming on EOS DSLR cameras, Canon has included a new Power Focus (PF) mode on the Company's two new super telephoto lenses. This mode allows manual rack focusing to be operated smoothly by turning a playback ring that is normally used for the focus preset function. Both low-speed and high-speed focus shifting are available." [Canon USA]
Turn the ring slightly to get the low speed electronically-driven AF and turn it to a greater degree to obtain the higher speed. The direction of ring rotation determines the direction of focus distance change. I'll wait to make my final determination regarding this feature on this lens, but in the other PF lenses, the feature works nicely. However, the usability of this feature is a bigger question. You need a very solid tripod setup and a steady hand to not induce movement while turning the ring. The electronic focusing is very quiet, but image stabilization will likely need to be turned off if recording sound at the camera.
A 3-position focus limiter switch allows focusing distances to be limited to a specific distance range - or to be unlimited: 6.56' - 19.69' (2m - 16m), 19.69' - ∞ (6m - ∞), 6.56' - ∞ (2m - ∞). Limiting the focus distance range can improve focus lock times and reduce focus hunting.
Autofocus Stop buttons near the objective lens allow autofocus to be temporarily stopped. I use AI-Servo focusing mode for shooting sports and other action, but like to shoot a focus-and-recompose portrait at times during the event. The Autofocus Stop feature makes it easy to obtain focus lock, turn off autofocus and recompose for a framing that places the active focus point(s) off of the subject. Alternatively, changing the camera setup to rear-AF button focus only can enable this functionality.
This is a world class lens that will be expected to regularly deliver incredible photos at the world's most important events. Critical to these results will be AF accuracy. And again, I am confident that the 200-400 L will perform up to these needs with even fast-moving subjects.
Following is a comparison table showing the MFD (Minimum Focus Distance) and MM (Maximum Magnification) of the review-time recent and current Canon super telephoto lens lineup along with some smaller lenses.
|Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS USM Lens||70.9"||(1800mm)||0.20x|
|Canon EF 200-400mm f/4 L IS USM Ext 1.4x Lens||78.7"||(2000mm)||0.15, 0.21x|
|Canon EF 200mm f/2.0 L IS USM Lens||74.8"||(1900mm)||0.12x|
|Canon EF 300mm f/4.0 L IS USM Lens||59.1"||(1500mm)||0.24x|
|Canon EF 300mm f/2.8 L IS II USM Lens||78.7"||(2000mm)||0.18x|
|Canon EF 300mm f/2.8 L IS USM Lens||98.4"||(2500mm)||0.13x|
|Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM Lens||137.8"||(3500mm)||0.12x|
|Canon EF 400mm f/4.0 DO IS USM Lens||137.8"||(3500mm)||0.12x|
|Canon EF 400mm f/2.8 L IS II USM Lens||106.3"||(2700mm)||0.17x|
|Canon EF 400mm f/2.8 L IS USM Lens||118.1"||(3000mm)||0.15x|
|Canon EF 500mm f/4.0 L IS II USM Lens||145.7"||(3700mm)||0.15x|
|Canon EF 500mm f/4.0 L IS USM Lens||177.2"||(4500mm)||0.12x|
|Canon EF 600mm f/4.0 L IS II USM Lens||177.2"||(4500mm)||0.15x|
|Canon EF 600mm f/4.0 L IS USM Lens||216.5"||(5500mm)||0.12x|
|Canon EF 800mm f/5.6 L IS USM Lens||236.2"||(6000mm)||0.14x|
Evaluating a lens with a built-in extender complicates this site's various charts and tools. Where previous lenses have one value, I feel the need to share two values – one with the built-in extender in use and one without.
Without the extender in use, the 200-400 L lens turns in average telephoto prime lens MFD and MM specs. Move the extender into the optical path and the specs go into best-available range.
Of course, the entire family of Canon super telephoto lenses (and all lenses listed in the table above) are compatible with the external extenders – the Canon Extender EF 1.4x III and the Canon Extender EF 2x III. Extenders have no effect on the minimum focus distance of a lens, but they do increase maximum magnification by their 1.4x or 2.0x factor. So, a lens without a built-in extender may be able to match the 200-400 L's MM if an extender is mounted behind them.
For example, the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8 L IS II USM Lens has a native MM of 0.17x. Adding a 1.4x extender to this lens increases the MM by 1.4x for a 0.24x.
As indicated earlier in the review, the 200-400 L is also compatible with external extenders. With external extenders added, the 200-400 L lens' MM increases to 0.21, 0.29x and 0.30, 0.42x for the 1.4x and 2x extenders respectively. Those are rather impressive MM figures – especially for the resulting focal lengths – which are also impressive (see table near the beginning of this review). The overall image quality and AF speed performance of the possible extender combinations remains the big question for me. I will be taking a close look at this performance.
All Canon super telephoto lenses are compatible with the Canon EF 12mm Extension Tube II and the Canon EF 25mm Extension Tube II. Using the ETs improves the 200-400 L IS lens' MM specs to 0.20-0.03, 0.36-0.02x and 0.26-0.07, 0.52-0.05x respectively (comma separating the without and with-extenders figures). I use extension tubes behind super telephoto lenses more than with any other lens type. You need to be aware that infinity focus distance is not available when ETs are mounted.
Those of us who have had the privilege of using one of Canon's super telephoto lenses have a good idea of what to expect from the design and build qualities of the Canon EF 200-400mm f/4 L IS USM Ext 1.4x Lens. Featuring a weight-saving but strong magnesium alloy body, the weather-sealed 200-400 L will be ready rigors of professional outdoor use – which often includes abuse.
The 200-400 L lens shares the Canon ET-120(WII) Lens Hood (included) with the Canon EF 300mm f/2.8 L IS II USM Lens. This hood is plenty large enough to afford very good protection (from bright light, rain, dirt, impact, etc.) to the front lens element.
As many of you know, I prefer focus rings to be positioned forward of the zoom rings for usability reasons. And for this reason, I have been asked what I think about the 200-400 L's rear-positioned focus ring. Good question – and the answer is that I don’t know yet. Since I don't expect to be handholding this lens a lot of the time (it weighs 8 lbs/3.6kg), my left hand will often rest above the tripod ring area of the lens – and the 200-400 L design might work very well for this. When handholding the lens, my left hand is going to be directly under the lens far enough out to balance the setup - likely under the zoom ring. And I probably will not be rotating my support hand around the lens in this position as I will not have a solid-enough grip when doing so. I need hands-on experience to form a solid opinion on this issue.
I was also asked if water and dirt were going to funnel into and pool in the extender switch area. My expectation is that the Canon engineers have thought of this issue and that we will not have problems in this regard, but this also remains to be seen.
The size and weight of the Canon EF 200-400mm f/4 L IS USM Ext 1.4x Lens are considerable – this lens will not be considered small or light by anyone. Weighing in between the Canon EF 500mm f/4.0 L IS II USM Lens and the Canon EF 600mm f/4.0 L IS II USM Lens, the 200-400 L is hand-holdable, but not comfortably hand-holdable for long periods of time. A monopod or a tripod is going to be a very useful 200-400 L accessory.
Here is a table of comparable Canon telephoto lenses with the weight specification included.
|Model||Weight||Dimensions w/o Hood||Filter||Year|
|Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS USM Lens||3.04 lbs||(1380g)||3.6 x 7.4"||(92 x 189mm)||77mm||1998|
|Canon EF 200-400mm f/4 L IS USM Ext 1.4x Lens||7.98 lbs||(3620g)||5.0 x 14.4"||(128 x 366mm)||DI 52mm||2013|
|Canon EF 200mm f/2.0 L IS USM Lens||5.56 lbs||(2520g)||5.0 x 8.2"||(128 x 208mm)||DI 52mm||2008|
|Canon EF 300mm f/4.0 L IS USM Lens||2.63 lbs||(1190g)||3.5 x 8.7"||(90 x 221mm)||77mm||1997|
|Canon EF 300mm f/2.8 L IS II USM Lens||5.19 lbs||(2350g)||5.0 x 9.8"||(128 x 248mm)||DI 52mm||2011|
|Canon EF 300mm f/2.8 L IS USM Lens||5.63 lbs||(2550g)||5.0 x 9.9"||(128 x 252mm)||DI 52mm||1999|
|Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L USM Lens||2.76 lbs||(1250g)||3.5 x 10.1"||(90 x 257mm)||77mm||1993|
|Canon EF 400mm f/4.0 DO IS USM Lens||4.28 lbs||(1940g)||5.0 x 9.1"||(128 x 232mm)||DI 52mm||2001|
|Canon EF 400mm f/2.8 L IS II USM Lens||8.49 lbs||(3850g)||6.4 x 13.5"||(163 x 343mm)||DI 52mm||2011|
|Canon EF 400mm f/2.8 L IS USM Lens||11.85 lbs||(5370g)||6.4 x 13.7"||(163 x 349mm)||DI 52mm||1999|
|Canon EF 500mm f/4.0 L IS II USM Lens||7.04 lbs||(3190g)||5.7 x 15.1"||(146 x 383mm)||DI 52mm||2011|
|Canon EF 500mm f/4.0 L IS USM Lens||8.54 lbs||(3870g)||5.7 x 15.2"||(146 x 387mm)||DI 52mm||1999|
|Canon EF 600mm f/4.0 L IS II USM Lens||8.65 lbs||(3920g)||6.6 x 17.6"||(168 x 448mm)||DI 52mm||2011|
|Canon EF 600mm f/4.0 L IS USM Lens||11.83 lbs||(5360g)||6.6 x 18.0"||(168 x 456mm)||DI 52mm||1999|
|Canon EF 800mm f/5.6 L IS USM Lens||9.86 lbs||(4470g)||6.4 x 18.1"||(163 x 461mm)||DI 52mm||2008|
For many more comparisons, review the complete Canon EF 200-400mm f/4 L IS USM Ext 1.4x Lens Specifications using the site's Lens Spec tool.
Like most of Canon's super telephoto lenses, the Canon 200-400 f/4 L IS utilizes 52mm drop-in filters. Included is a drop-in gel filter holder with a glass filter installed. I have found this glass filter to be useful in catching dust before it drops deep inside the lens. A Canon 52mm Drop In Circular Polarizer Filter is available. A small wheel on top of this filter is used to adjust/rotate the polarizer inside the lens.
As with the other recent super telephoto lenses, a Kensington-type wire security lock slot is provided in the tripod ring. Flip open the cover on the tripod ring tightening knob to reveal this slot.
Although there has been some confusion in the matter, I have confirmation from both Canon USA and B&H Photo that the typical Canon super-telephoto hard lens case, the Lens Case 200-400 in this case, is included in the box. These lockable cases are very expensive to purchase separately – and while protective, I don't find them especially useful other than for storage. I often keep my big lenses in individual Think Tank Photo backpacks.
Without a doubt, price is going to be the biggest roadblock for those desiring this lens. If the price makes the Canon EF 200-400mm f/4 L IS USM Ext 1.4x Lens unobtainable for you, consider renting one for your special events/trips.
I'm anxiously awaiting my Canon great white zoom – I'm expecting awesomeness. Completing this review will be a high priority for me when this lens arrives. This should be a special lens.