Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens Review

Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens
Note: The Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens has been replaced by the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens.
In-Depth Review

If you can get past the price, the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens will blow you away in most other regards. This is simply one of the most incredible lenses available and one of the ultimate action sports lenses. The 400 f/2.8 IS II features superb image quality at even wide open apertures, incredibly fast AF and best-available build quality.

Angle View on Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III DSLR Camera

My first thought when reviewing the 400 f/2.8 IS II press release was that this lens is the answer to the "How do you make a $7k lens look like a bargain?" question. The answer of course is that you introduce a $10,500 replacement lens. This initial price was increased by $1,000 before the 400 IS II hit the streets (the original 400 f/2.8 IS price also increased a significant amount during this timeframe which included the devastating 2011 Japan Tsunami).

My second thought being a more serious one, was: How can one of the best lenses ever, the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS USM Lens, be improved upon?

The answer to the second question was quickly answered upon lifting the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens with a Canon EOS-1D Mark IV mounted, to my eye during the Canon Expo 2010. I can handhold this one! I cannot understate the dramatic difference in weight - and this weight difference starts making the difference in price appear smaller (especially if shoulder or back surgery is included in the equation).

The EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens is the 5th generation in Canon's 400mm f/2.8 series, replacing the introduced-in-1999 EF 400mm f/2.8 IS USM Lens. Owners of the this lens will, like owners of the previous lens version, primarily be professional and serious amateur photographers (or wealthy photographers). And due to the focal length and max aperture of this lens, they will primarily be using this lens for sports, wildlife and photojournalistic pursuits.

400mm provides a rather narrow angle of view - especially on APS-C camera bodies. Image cropping is often required during post processing after using a prime (non-zoom) lens to capture action from a fixed position as is frequently the case with sports photography. A longer focal length lens has a narrower angle of view, which of course requires you to be farther from the subject for optimal framing. One huge advantage a narrower angle of view provides is a longer duration in which to capture an optimally-framed subject, which can result in less cropping needed overall.

Let me explain that concept. If you are shooting a running person with a 24mm lens on a full frame format DSLR, optimal framing distance to capture the entire person might be 9' (3m). At 18' (6m), that person would only be 1/2 of optimal size in the frame. A person running at full speed will only momentarily be near that optimal distance.

In contrast, a 400mm lens would frame this person similarly-optimally at around 135' (42m) with the 1/2 optimal distance being 270'. It takes a running person far more time to cover this 135' (42m) 1/2 optimal to optimal distance than the 24mm lens's 9' (3m) distance. Distances much closer than optimal will often result in the subject being cropped in the frame, so I'm not counting this distance. The greater amount of time the subject remains at near-optimal framing distance, the more time you have to capture great properly framed shots - and you can cover a much greater area of the event from a single position.

This does not mean that a 400mm lens is always a better choice, but it is definitely the answer for many sports events. There are longer focal length lenses available, and these lenses provide even larger areas of optimal coverage. But these longer lenses do not offer the incredible f/2.8 aperture advantage.

The Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens is the longest focal length Canon lens available with an f/2.8 max aperture. The only longer Canon-mount f/2.8 lens available is the monster Sigma 200-500mm f/2.8 EX DG APO IF Lens.

When shooting action sports, I rarely use an aperture other than f/2.8 on this or similar lenses. The extra stop of light over what the longer lenses offer (f/2.8 vs. f/4) allows action to be stopped in 1/2 as much light. And this extra stop of light can make the difference between getting a great shot and getting blur.

If shooting sports events indoors or outdoors under the lights, f/2.8 is often the bare minimum max aperture you can stop motion with (f/2 is much better in these venues). An outdoor night soccer game I shot with this lens required ISO 3200 and f/2.8 to get a very-marginal-for-stopping-action 1/400 shutter speed under the lights. Even this setting resulted in some underexposed shots - depending on the output of the flickering field lights at the moment of the shot and the players position on the field (relative to the lights).

The f/2.8 aperture at the 400mm focal length provides an addition feature strongly desired by sports photographers. With a reasonable close subject shot at f/2.8, the background is completely blurred away by this lens. Sports events are especially known for having distracting backgrounds - advertisements, fans, apparatus, gear, etc. Rendered as a blur, the distractions melt into a colorful background blur that allows the subject to pop into the viewer's attention. Few (if any) lenses are as capable of blurring the background as 400 f/2.8 lenses.

Here is an aperture comparison created using the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens and a Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III DSLR (full frame).

Aperture Comparison

Canon's more affordable professional grade 400mm lenses, including the Canon 400mm f/5.6L USM Lens and the Canon EF 100-400mm f/5.6L IS USM Lens, have a max aperture of f/5.6. As you can see above, the difference between 400mm f/2.8 and 400mm f/5.6 is substantial.

When reviewing high performance lenses such as this one, the kids riding their horses provide a great test subject for me - and I of course I get pics I will cherish forever. Bouncing horses galloping at near-30mph provide a huge challenge for the camera, lens AND photographer. Here is one of my favorites taken with this lens as of review time:

Sample Picture

Even at the moderately long focus distance required to properly frame an American Quarter Horse and her rider, the background is strongly-blurred.

This location is one of my late-day summer go-to spots - lighting is from the sun setting under a pair of converging thunderstorms (resulting in a bright subject under a dark sky). The 400 f/2.8 IS II was mounted to a Canon 1Ds Mark III. AI Servo AF was used to track the rider.

It is not hard to make a web-sized image look good, but this lens will make even huge prints look great. Here is a 100% crop from the above image:

Sample Picture - 100% Crop

Using settings of 1/1600, f/2.8 and Canon's Standard Picture Style with sharpness turned down to only "2", ISO 500 delivers the above. While I'd love to take full credit for the results, the camera and lens had a great amount to do with them. I have so many great horseback riding shots that I'm having a really hard time eliminating the excess (the sweet pains of success).

A new lens feature I was also testing at this time was Canon's new Mode 3 IS. Mode 1 image stabilization is practically a standard feature on lenses introduced at this time. I find IS to be a hugely valuable feature.

The Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens's IS is rated at a best-available-at-review-time 4-stops. "The Image Stabilizer ... has been enhanced through the incorporation of a rolling-ball-friction system in place of sliding parts in the compensation optics barrel for a minimum-friction structure" [Canon USA]

Shooting in a field outdoors, I was able to get consistently sharp handheld results at 1/15 - 1/13th of a second for an easy 4 stops (approaching 5 stops) of assistance. Even after handholding the 400 f/2.8 IS II for hundreds of shots, I was still able to get a sharp shot at 1/6 second (this is a 100% crop):

Image Stabilization Example

Mode 2 IS is used for panning with a subject. In this mode, only 1 axis of stabilization is provided - allowing the linearly-moving subject to be tracked.

The new mode 3 is used for tracking action. 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. This means that you are able to follow your erratic subjects without fighting against image stabilization trying 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).

I immediately began using the new IS mode 3, though I was not completely convinced of my need for it when shooting action. If the action is fast, my shutter speed is generally fast enough to stop any camera motion present (I shot action sports with IS turned off on the original 400mm f/2.8 IS Lens).

I mentioned shooting soccer under the lights earlier in the review. At this event, with much longer-than-usual-for-fast-action shutter speeds, I indeed saw a benefit of the mode-3 IS. My percentage of sharp shots was noticeably higher than without Mode 3 IS in this circumstance. I am also seeing fewer self-caused blurred shots even under normal shooting circumstances. So, I do see value in Mode 3 and now use it 100% of the time when shooting action.

You will hear some clicking and whirring when IS is active, but the IS implementation is well behaved. By this I mean that the image in the viewfinder does not jump around when the system activates. In Mode 3, IS sound will be heard when the shutter release is half-pressed, but the image is not stabilized until the precise moment that the shot is taken.

I rarely handheld the original 400mm f/2.8 IS Lens (it was too heavy). And since I generally was using a fast shutter speed for sports action, IS was not so important to me in that lens. Canon's super telephoto lenses have a secondary IS mode that automatically senses a tripod being used and focuses on eliminating mirror slap, shutter and tripod vibrations. So, IS was indeed helpful on the version I lens for those shooting from a tripod (I typically used longer lenses for wildlife photography).

Now that the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens is light enough to be handholdable for reasonable periods of time (by those with moderate strength), IS takes now on a much greater importance to me.

Wildlife tends to be most active in the low-light hours of the day - Wildlife photographers capturing less-active subjects will find plenty of use for IS in this lens. Photojournalists will also reap the benefits of IS.

Side View

I said earlier in the review that for action sports, I would only need an f/2.8 aperture available in my 400mm lens. This of course places great importance on the wide open aperture image quality. Only the best lenses have excellent image quality at their widest apertures and I am happy to report that, based on evaluating two retail-purchased Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II Lenses, image quality of this lens at f/2.8 is amazing. This fact is probably not a surprise to any of us familiar with the 400 I - it was an impressive lens as well and we didn't expect image quality to take step backwards in the new lens.

Canon's theoretical MTF charts strongly hinted that the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens's image quality will be exceptional - like the other version II super-telephoto lenses being released in 2011.

MTF Charts

Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens 400 II | 400 II + 1.4x III | 400 II + 2x III | 400 I
Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens 300 II | 300 II + 1.4x III | 300 II + 2x III | 300 I

Real life performance: At f/2.8, the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens is impressively razor sharp right into the full frame corners - There are few lenses this sharp at their wide open apertures. Stopping down to f/4 makes little difference in image quality other than some vignetting clearing in the corners. About 1.5 stops of vignetting is present in the full frame corners at f/2.8 - perhaps slightly less than the 400 f/2.8 IS I. About 1/2 as much vignetting remains at f/4.

I generally don't like vignetting, but this is one of the lenses I don't mind having some vignetting from. Sports action and wildlife shots seldom have a primary subject (or a primary subject's face) in the corner of the frame. So the vignetting-darkened borders can serve to draw the viewer's attention to the subject and their face.

The 400 f/2.8 IS II is practically distortion-free. CA (Chromatic Aberration) is well controlled - only a minor amount is visible in full frame corners.

The 400 IS II proves to be far greater resistant to flare than the 400 IS I Lens. I highly recommend avoiding a mid-day sun in the frame with a 400mm lens, but here is a flare comparison between the two lenses using the sun as a light source. The new lens is a much better choice for strongly-backlit subjects.

In regards to bokeh (quality of the background blur), I like what I'm seeing. In regards to amount of background blur, this lens can create it like few others can. The amount of background blur is impressive. The 400 IS II employs a 9-blade circular aperture. When stopped down to a narrow aperture, an odd number of aperture blades will create stars from specular highlights that have twice the number of points as aperture blades present (an even number of aperture blades will create the same number of points as blades).

"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. Fluorine coating is also used on the front and rear elements of the lenses, repelling dust and dirt for clearer shots. The coating is also water repellent, keeping the front element free of water marks and smearing by ensuring water runs off the lens quickly." [Canon UK]

I'm convinced that the SWC coating works - in addition to the reduced flare, this lens turns in impressive contrast and great color - even at f/2.8. The Fluorine coating benefit is easy to see from a cleaning standpoint - fingerprints specifically are much easier to remove from the lens.

Side View on Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III DSLR Camera

In regards to autofocus, all Canon super telephoto lenses turn in best-in-class performance. Driven by Ring USM (Ultrasonic Motor), they focus extremely fast and quietly. Some quiet shuffling movement can be heard inside the 400 f/2.8 IS II during focusing if you listen carefully, but I don't even notice it when shooting.

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 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens's manual focus ring is nicely-sized, is properly damped, has a nice rate of adjustment and is smooth with no play. The subject size in the viewfinder does change somewhat over long focus pulls, but the change is solid and predictable.

New on the 2010-announced super telephoto 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. The feature works nicely, but you are going to need a solid tripod setup and a steady hand to not induce movement while turning the ring. The electronic focusing is quiet, but image stabilization needs 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: 8.85' - 23' (2.7m - 7m), 23' (7m) - ∞, 8.85' (2.7m) - ∞. 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, 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.

As always, the greatest image quality will quickly be negated by focusing errors. AF accuracy is extremely important for the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens - especially AI Servo AF accuracy. With a shallow DOF (Depth of Field), even small focusing errors will ruin the shot.

The 400 f/2.8 IS II has received some AF upgrades from the 400 f/2.8 IS I - new dedicated AF algorithms and a new high-speed CPU. How well they work is of course what is important.

The timing of the arrival of my Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II Lenses coincided with Hurricane Lee's arrival. The rain gauge at's world headquarters received 14.3" of rain that first week. Most sporting events in the area were of course cancelled.

This flooding was followed by a photo trip to Glacier and Waterton Lakes National Parks. I brought the 400 II along on this trip, but did not find good use for it at the parks. I returned home to another 9" of rain. With clear skies, the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens review continues.

When I first created this review, I used three different Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III DSLR bodies behind the 300 IS II and 400 IS II and shot numerous sports events (as well as galloping horses and running kids at home). To be honest, I felt that I had a somewhat better AI Servo in-focus rate when using the original version 1 IS lenses. No current lens delivers 100% accurately focused results in challenging conditions, but I was getting some OOF shots that I thought should be in focus. The problem was not with the focusing speed - these lenses focus incredibly fast and the misfocusing was both in front and behind the subject - and could be so in neighboring frames. Slowing the AF Tracking (custom function) seemed to have helped this issue somewhat.

I had been trying to get more information from Canon in this regard, but were non-responsive. One Canon rep PhotoPlus Expo booth thought the 1D III-series AF was the fault. Perhaps the new lenses require different AF settings on the camera for ideal performance? Perhaps the Canon EOS-1D Mark IV is better-tuned for this lens? Perhaps the at-review-time-announced Canon EOS-1D X DSLR is the answer?

The AF reports I was receiving from those with other camera models were all positive. I of course pulled this lens out immediately upon receipt of the Canon EOS 5D Mark III and used it exensively for autofocus performance testing for the Canon EOS 5D Mark III Review. And the good news is that this lens performs exceptionally well in all regards, including AF, when used in front of the 5D III. Likewise with the 1D X. Very impressive.

Canon super telephoto lenses are not known for their MFDs (Minimum Focusing Distances). The Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens does improve on its predecessor by a welcome 12" (300mm). Still, .17x MM (Maximum Magnification) does not make this a good close-up lens. Following is a comparison table showing the recent, current and near future Canon super telephoto lineup as of review time.

ModelMin Focus Distance "(mm)Max Magnification
Canon EF 200mm f/2.0L IS USM Lens74.8(1900)0.12x
Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Ext 1.4x Lens78.7(2000)0.15x, 0.21x
Canon EF 300mm f/4.0L IS USM Lens59.1(1500)0.24x
Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens78.7(2000)0.18x
Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM Lens98.4(2500)0.13x
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM Lens70.9(1800)0.20x
Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM Lens137.8(3500)0.12x
Canon EF 400mm f/4.0 DO IS USM Lens137.8(3500)0.12x
Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens106.3(2700)0.17x
Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS USM Lens118.1(3000)0.15x
Canon EF 500mm f/4.0L IS II USM Lens145.7(3700)0.15x
Canon EF 500mm f/4.0L IS USM Lens177.2(4500)0.12x
Canon EF 600mm f/4.0L IS II USM Lens177.2(4500)0.15x
Canon EF 600mm f/4.0L IS USM Lens216.5(5500)0.12x
Canon EF 800mm f/5.6L IS USM Lens236.2(6000)0.14x

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 400 IS II's MM specs to .21x and .26x respectively. I use extension tubes more with super telephoto lenses than with any other lens type. That extra reduction in minimum focusing distance can be especially helpful with these lenses when photographing wildlife. Infinity focus distance is of course lost when using ETs.

All Canon super telephoto lenses are also compatible with the Canon Extender EF 1.4x III and the Canon Extender EF 2x III. The resulting lens combinations are impressive - 560mm f/4.0 IS and 800mm f/5.6 IS weather-sealed lenses that autofocus on all current Canon EOS bodies.

When the series III extenders were introduced, much was made about their performance with the new series II super telephoto lenses. "These new extenders have been designed to provide faster autofocusing and improved autofocus precision with compatible EF lenses" and "Each extender also features a newly developed microcomputer that increases AF precision when the extenders are used with a IS Series II EF super-telephoto lens." [Canon USA]

The 300 f/2.8 IS II and 400 f/2.8 IS II were the first two such lenses to hit the streets, so the potential with-extender performance from this lens was of particular interest to me. In the lab, the image quality results from two different 400 f/2.8 IS II lenses with extenders mounted did not overly impress me. The bar was of course already set high - and the 400 II-plus-extender results were not dissimilar from those of the prior 400mm f/2.8 IS lens.

On the 400 f/2.8 IS II, the 1.4x III somewhat reduces wide open image sharpness, increases CA and increases barrel distortion. Stopping this combination down to f/5.6 results in good sharpness. Adding the 2x III reduces sharpness/contrast even more. With the 2x mounted, CA remains similar to that of the 1.4x and barrel distortion is reduced. Again, a 1-stop narrower aperture results in a more-pleasing image when the 2x extender is in place.

Note that the Canon USA press release does not specifically say that the series III extenders would deliver better image quality (though features were added that could) - but that they would deliver better AF performance. Although the AF improvement will not result in better than the optical capability of the lens-plus-extender combination, better AF performance does indeed deliver better image quality overall.

The with-extender autofocus performance I am experiencing is excellent. It is hard to tell that the extender is even there in regards to AF.

Note that Canon Europe CPN has stated "To get the best out of the new lenses and the Mark III extenders photographers must ensure they attach the extender to the lens first, before attaching the whole unit to the camera. This ensures that the combined lens information is transmitted correctly to provide the optimum image quality and focus performance."

Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens Side View on Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III DSLR Camera

As a member of the most elite group in the Canon L Lens Series, the Canon Super Telephoto Lens Series, the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens comes with high expectations from a build quality perspective. These lenses are expected to deliver ultimate performance in the most adverse environments. They have to be rugged and sealed against dust and moisture - and the 400 f/2.8L IS II is both.

Note that the version II super telephoto lenses do not have the protective meniscus front lens element that the older super telephoto lenses had. I'm sure that removal of the protective lens lends to the weight reduction that I enjoy much. With the large lens hood in place during use, the front element is already protected on the Canon super telephoto lenses. Also note that weather-sealed does not mean waterproof (or submersible).

According to Canon USA, the overall durability of the 400 f/2.8 IS II over the previous model has been enhanced through increased usage of robust and lightweight magnesium alloy and titanium for lens barrel components. The previous 400 f/2.8 IS had no problem handling the rigors of professional outdoor use - I don't see any reason why the version II lens will prove to be lessor in this regard. This is a solid, quality-built lens.

Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens Product Images

It's beautiful, isn't it? Taking delivery of a new Canon super telephoto lens can make even the most jaded photographer feel like a kid on Christmas morning.

Here is a table of comparable Canon telephoto lenses with the weight specification included.

ModelWeight oz(g)Dimensions w/o Hood "(mm)FilterYear 
Canon EF 200mm f/2.0L IS USM Lens5.56 lbs(2520)5.0 x 8.2(128 x 208)DI 52mm2008
Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM 1.4x7.98 lbs(3620)5.0 x 14.4(128 x 366)DI 52mm2013
Canon EF 300mm f/4.0L IS USM Lens2.63 lbs(1190)3.5 x 8.7(90 x 221)77mm1997
Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens5.19 lbs(2350)5.0 x 9.8(128 x 248)DI 52mm2011
Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM Lens5.63 lbs(2550)5.0 x 9.9(128 x 252)DI 52mm1999
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM Lens3.04 lbs(1380)3.6 x 7.4(92 x 189)77mm1998
Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM Lens2.76 lbs(1250)3.5 x 10.1(90 x 257)77mm1993
Canon EF 400mm f/4.0 DO IS USM Lens4.28 lbs(1940)5.0 x 9.1(128 x 232)DI 52mm2001
Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens8.49 lbs(3850)6.4 x 13.5(163 x 343)DI 52mm2011
Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS USM Lens11.85 lbs(5370)6.4 x 13.7(163 x 349)DI 52mm1999
Canon EF 500mm f/4.0L IS II USM Lens7.04 lbs(3190)5.7 x 15.1(146 x 383)DI 52mm2011
Canon EF 500mm f/4.0L IS USM Lens8.54 lbs(3870)5.7 x 15.2(146 x 387)DI 52mm1999
Canon EF 600mm f/4.0L IS II USM Lens8.65 lbs(3920)6.6 x 17.6(168 x 448)DI 52mm2011
Canon EF 600mm f/4.0L IS USM Lens11.83 lbs(5360)6.6 x 18.0(168 x 456)DI 52mm1999
Canon EF 800mm f/5.6L IS USM Lens9.86 lbs(4470)6.4 x 18.1(163 x 461)DI 52mm2008

For many more comparisons, review the complete Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens Specifications using the site's Lens Spec tool.

Make no mistake - this is not a small or light lens. It is the change in weight from its predecessor that is the really big news. I can handhold this lens for a significant amount of time - for several hundred shots in the case of the IS testing segment of this review.

After a long day using the 400 f/2.8 version I lens for an event such as a sports tournament, my body would remind me of what I did the next day. After shooting a full-day tournament with this lens, including walking long distances between field assignments, I had no aches or pains the next day. Simply adjusting the monopod while tracking sports action is much easier with the lighter lens. Or, simply lifting the monopod off the ground to track action handheld is easy and fast to do. Use the monopod to rest the setup between breaks in the action.

Like most of Canon's super telephoto lenses, the 400 f/2.8 IS II utilizes 52mm drop-in filters. Included is a drop-in gel filter holder with a glass filter installed. This glass filter is helpful in that it catches dust before it drops deep inside the lens. A Canon 52mm Drop In Circular Polarizer Filter is available.

Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens Compared to other Canon Super Telephoto Lenses

Positioned above from left to right are the following lenses:
Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM Lens
Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM Lens
Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens
Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens
Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS USM Lens
Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS USM Lens

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

400 f/2.8 IS II Compared to other Canon Super Telephoto Lenses with Hoods

Canon's new-for-2H-2010 white color is nice - it makes the older lenses appear dirty. You can better see the color change in the larger images available in the large lens image comparison tool. The design refinements are also better seen in this tool.


The image above shows most of switches and buttons discussed in this review. Also shown in this image is one of the two attachment points for the included lens neck strap - which is shown below.

Neck Strap

The lens strap attaches to the tripod ring, which allows the camera to be rotated without the neck strap following the rotation. The 400 f/2.8 IS II tripod ring has been updated over the previous version. It is now smoother and again features 90° detents for perfect framing orientation.

Small Tripod Ring Foot

Two tripod ring feet are included for use on tripods or monopods - the monopod foot is delivered as the optional attachment and is shown above. I use the originally-installed padded (for carry comfort) foot for all of my uses. This foot has two differently-sized threaded inserts (1/4" and 3/8"). As you see in the product images on this page, I have a Wimberley P50 Lens Plate attached to my lens for quick attachment to my Arca-Swiss compatible monopod and tripod head clamps. This setup requires a bushing/thread adapter to allow the two screws to be properly attached (two screws prevents twisting).

I've talked about how light this lens is throughout the review, but you are still going to want to use a tripod or monopod with this lens when possible. Sports photographers typically employ monopods while wildlife photographers will more typically use tripods.

Tripod heads should also be discussed. I most often use only a quick release clamp on my monopod, but a head is needed for tripods. Even though a good tripod head such as the Arca-Swiss Z1 is rated to hold far more weight than that of this lens, lens flop is a scenario that can easily occur. When adjusting the tripod head, a heavy lens can quickly fall forward - which then can topple the entire tripod - resulting in an expensive repair.

I highly recommend using the superb Wimberley Tripod Head II with this lens. When properly attached to the Wimberley Head, the 400 f/2.8 IS II can be positioned using only two fingers. This is the tripod head seen in the product pictures throughout this review.

New for the 400 IS II is that the tripod ring has a slot for a Kensington-type wire security lock. A flip-open cover on the tripod ring tightening knob reveals this slot.

Lens Cap

Canon's previous model super telephoto lenses came with a large leather-like lens cap that completely covered the reversed lens hood and was held in place with a drawstring. The drawstring was not needed as these covers were difficult to get off.

The new lens cap design, shown above, is a huge improvement. The entire lens hood is no longer covered, but the padded nylon cover can easily be removed with one hand - simply pull the Velcro-attached tab. The cap can be attached with the hood in ready to use or reversed positions and, if you pull the Velcro tab tight enough, the cap can be attached directly to the lens without the hood being there (though I doubt that it was designed for this). The lens cap has a padded-but-hard back to protect the front lens element.

Canon super telephoto lenses come in a nice, protective, lockable (keys included) lens trunk. The IS II cases are redesigned with a nice, more-modern appearance. Here is the included Canon Hard Case 400C.

Canon Hard Case 400C

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | Open

This is a large case measuring about 13 x 10.5 x 24" (330 x 267 x 610mm)(DxHxW). The two round storage spaces below the lens in the "Open" image are not cup holders. These are made for storage of extenders. Bad idea in my opinion.

There is a huge amount of case dedicated to the storage of two small extenders - and the extenders do not fit snuggly in their spaces - they rattle around when stored there. Eliminating the extender space would likely reduce the size and weight of the case by 25%. Or - give me room for a camera body in there. A camera is a requirement for using the lens - the extenders are optional. The 400C weighs 9.6 lbs (4.35kg) empty.

The new cases feature two side-mounted carry handles and feet on three sides of the cases including those opposite of the carry handles. Missing to me is the handle that lifts the case straight up from the most-flat storage position (the previous 400 hard case had this handle). Same-sized Canon hard cases will stack - but new models do not stack with old models. The 400C case comes with a removable shoulder strap as seen below.

Canon Hard Case 400C Neck Strap

The hard cases are nice for storage and are protective, but I find some of the nicer soft cases (such as some of the smaller Nikon super telephoto lens cases) to be nicer for transport. At review time, the Think Tank Photo StreetWalker Pro (love it) is my preferred carry case for this lens.

The Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens is the first Canon lens I've received that did not come with a manual. Instead, a CD with all of Canon's lens manuals in PDF format is included - a great move in my opinion.

Front View on Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III DSLR Camera

Without a doubt, the 400 f/2.8 IS L II's price is going the be the biggest road block for most people who would like to have this amazing lens in their hands. There is no arguing that the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens carries a high price tag, but here's my experience with these lenses. Quality Canon lenses taken care of retain their value well. You can usually get most of your money back at resale - or even make a profit. This makes overall cost of ownership low.

My big white Canon lenses have actually proven to be a better investment than my 401k fund in the last few years. I sold my being-replaced Canon super telephoto lenses prior to the new ones becoming available to be able to fund the new lenses. Even selling my four mint used lenses at very-good-for-the-buyer prices, I still made a significant amount of profit (4 figures) after getting years of use from them.

I of course cannot predict the future, but history can be a good indicator of it. What I can tell you that I'm having much more fun with my 400 f/2.8 IS II than with my 401k investments. And the images I've captured are priceless to me.

If the price makes the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens unobtainable for you, consider renting one for your special events. If you are not shooting professionally, consider getting other parents to share in the rental expense in exchange for photos of their kids.

Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens Mounted Vertically on Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III DSLR Camera

Those pursuing professional sports photography will likely find the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens to be a career requirement.

Wildlife photographers needing a long focal length lens for use in low light will probably be the next-largest customer segment. Many people consider buying the 400 f/2.8L II IS and adding a 1.4x extender instead of buying the 600mm f/4L IS. If you need 400mm or an f/2.8 aperture, the answer is easy - get the 400. If you need to be able to get to 1200mm with a 2x extender, the answer is again easy - get the 600. But, if 560/600mm is your final goal, I'm not seeing a significant difference in image quality between the 400 + 1.4x and the bare 600 (version 1) and lean toward the 400mm option for the additional versatility.

Photojournalists will likely be the third-largest 400 f/2.8 IS II user group.

I'm loving my Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens. I expect to get a great deal of use out of this one.

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Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens
Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens
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