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

Let me introduce you to your dream lens, the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III.

If you can get past the price, the EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III Lens will blow you away in most other regards. This is one of the most incredible lenses available and the ultimate action sports lens. The 400 f/2.8 IS III features superb image quality at even wide open apertures, incredibly fast AF and best-available build quality. That is what I said in the beginning of the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II Lens review and it still applies to the successor, the version III lens.

The EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens is the 6th generation in Canon's 400mm f/2.8 series, replacing the introduced-in-2011 EF 400mm f/2.8 IS II USM Lens, and the 3rd IS version. Owners of this lens will, like owners of the previous lens versions, primarily be professional and serious amateur photographers (or simply wealthy). Due to the focal length and max aperture of this lens, these photographers will primarily use this lens for sports, wildlife and photojournalistic pursuits.

The bar was set extremely high for this lens. This lens' predecessor was simply phenomenal in all respects. A new version could be nothing less and it was hard to believe that better was achievable. Amazingly, it was.

While at first glance the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens looks like the II, the appearance seems more accidental than intentional as the III is a totally new lens design with the most obvious difference being dramatically lighter weight. While photographers have many opinions about what they want in a lens, universal for this one was a desire for lighter weight. With the version II lens dropping 3.3 lbs (1,520g), it was hard to imagine a significant additional weight loss delivered only 7 years later. But, that was delivered.

Let's put the Canon super telephoto weight loss program into a chart:

ModelWeightYear 
Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens6.3 lb(2840g)2018
Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens8.5 lb(3850g)2011
Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS USM Lens11.8 lb(5370g)1999

The EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM weighs only approx. 6.3 lbs (2,840g). That is approximately 2.2 lbs (1,010g) less than the II (26% less) and a whopping 5.5 lbs (2,530g) less than the I lens (47% less).

Upon the curtain going up at the announcement event for this lens, I walked straight up to the 400 III and the simultaneously-introduced Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS III USM Lens and held both versions of each lens at the same time. I was blown away. The difference felt even more significant than the numbers show and part of the reason for this is because the weight has been shifted rearward, giving the lens a better balance. The improvements in these regards alone are quite dramatic.

So, how did the weight savings and improved balance come about?

The Canon-supplied graphics below show the design of the last three Canon EF 400mm f/2.8 image stabilized lenses. Light green represents UD elements, violet indicates a fluorite element and dark green elements are Super UD.

Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens Design

Notice that the protective meniscus front lens element in the I series lens disappeared in the II with a less-expensive-than-UD next-in-line element becoming frontmost. Additional weight savings was found in the utilization of fluorite elements.

The III's biggest design secret is moving all but one of the large front set of lens elements considerably far rearward where they also become smaller. This design also moved the center of gravity rearward for a more-comfortable and better-handling design as the front of the lens gets moved the most and it is now much lighter. The addition of the Super UD element was part of the design change. Check out that awesome 3rd lens element, a thin concave optic tightly nested between the two fluorite elements. Per Canon, "This lens element is so delicate that simply holding the edges of it in your hand can cause localized warping due to body heat."

Also interesting is that this lens along with the 600 f/4L IS III are the first Canon lens designs featuring new glass materials. "This glass has a comparatively higher refractive index than general low-dispersion glass, and has a low specific gravity. By using the new glass material in the first, large-diameter lens element [which cannot be reduced in size due to the focal length and max aperture requirements], the weight is reduced and spherical and chromatic aberration are suppressed."

Another interesting design element is the aperture that is moved forward, resulting in the largest EMD (electromagnetic diaphragm) in an EF lens to date, representing another design challenge Canon has overcome.

With the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III Lens' headlining improvements addressed, I can advise you to just go buy the lens. It is incredible. If you need more convincing, read on.

Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens on Tripod

Focal Length

Your lens selection decision should always be significantly weighted to choosing the right focal length. While perspective remains important for telephoto lens focal length selection, distance-to-subject tends to become the bigger factor. How close can you get to the subject from the vantage points available to you? Or, how close do you want to get to the subject? Safety, for both the photographer and the subject, may be a factor in the answer to the second question.

While this lens has some amazing features, its 400mm focal length is (should be) the same as that in all of the other 400mm lenses (including zoom lens options). Four hundred mm is a moderately long telephoto focal length that has a correspondingly-narrow angle of view. What is the 400mm focal length commonly used for?

Action sports is always at the top of my mind when I'm thinking about 400mm subjects. I won't bore you with the entire list (or even my attempt at creating such a list), but there are a huge number of sporting events being captured with this focal length. I'll talk more about the ultra-wide-for-400mm f/2.8 aperture soon, but that feature makes this lens the ultimate choice for many indoor sports and for sporting events held under the lights. The 400mm focal length reaches mid-field on a big field event (soccer, football, baseball). This lens is easily my first choice for running events including track and field meets.

Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens Sample Picture

The 400mm focal length finds a lot wildlife in front of it. Wildlife is typically most active early and late in the day when the light is dim, and the f/2.8 aperture is a great compliment to the narrow angle of view. The weight of this lens along with the focal length make it a good choice for birds-in-flight.

Photojournalists and others covering events will love this lens' reach, especially combined with the f/2.8 aperture. When photographers covering events are not permitted close access to their subjects, including concerts, speaking events, etc., this focal length will often provide the reach needed.

While 400mm is long for portraiture and the working distance needed can present communications issues with the subject, results of making this work can be excellent. I often use 400mm lenses for landscape photography, but the size, weight and cost of this lens will not have many selecting it specifically for that purpose. However, if you have the lens and the opportunity arises, it can work very well for this endeavor capturing mountain vistas, fields of flowers, colorful foliage, etc.

Utilizing a smaller portion of the image circle means that APS-C sensor format cameras frame a scene more tightly, with 1.6x being the angle of view multiplier (FOVCF) for Canon's lineup. The full frame angle of view equivalency is 640mm. The uses for 400mm on an APS-C body shift toward big field sports and longer-distance wildlife. It is an ideal option for both.

Let's briefly discuss optimal framing with a prime lens. Image cropping is often required during post processing after using a prime (non-zoom) lens to capture action from a fixed position as is very 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 that a narrower angle of view provides is a longer duration in which to capture an optimally-framed subject and that advantage can result in less cropping needed overall with higher resolution retained.

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 the 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' 9' (3m) distance. Distances much closer than optimal will often result in the subject being cropped in the frame, so I'll not count this distance. The greater amount of time the subject remains at near-optimal framing distance, the more time you have to capture ideally 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.

To see how the 400mm focal length range fits into some other popular options, here is a focal length comparison (created with a different lens).

Sigma 150-600mm OS Sports Lens Focal Length Range Example

Which focal length is best? That answer always depends on the subject and the scenario.

Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens Top View

Max Aperture

The Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III lens' huge f/2.8 aperture is the biggest contributor to the large size, heavy weight and high cost of this lens, but it is also key to its awesomeness. Canon has a number of great 400mm-capable lenses, but none of them have an aperture more than 1/2 as large as the III's. This is the longest focal length Canon-mount lens available with an f/2.8 max aperture aside from the monster Sigma 200-500mm f/2.8 EX DG APO IF Lens, a lens that very few have been willing to pay the price for and carry the size/weight of.

Allowing a great amount of light to reach the camera's imaging sensor positions this lens as the ultimate choice for long focal length low light needs. This lens can stop action (and camera motion) in lower light levels than most alternatives. If shooting sports events indoors or outdoors under the lights, f/2.8 is often the narrowest max aperture motion can be stopped with without resulting to only-good-for-marketing-bragging-rights unbearably noisy high ISOs.

The difference one stop makes over an f/4 lens is big, it can be the difference between getting a great shot and getting a blurry image, and the two-stop difference over an f/5.6 alternative is huge. In moderately low light levels where the other lenses can work, this lens can capture images at one or two-stop lower ISO settings, resulting in potentially far lower noise levels. For example, at ISO 1600, this lens can do what an f/5.6 max aperture lens requires ISO 6400 to do. That difference in noise levels is a big one.

The other sensor that works better with the large amount of light provided by this lens' aperture is a DSLR's phase detection AF sensor. Lenses with an opening wider than a specific aperture, usually f/2.8, enable the higher precision AF capabilities (most often the center AF point) in some cameras and a bright viewfinder image is another benefit.

In addition to permitting a great amount of light to reach the imaging sensor, this lens can create a much stronger background blur than most other lenses via shallow depth of field combined with strong telephoto magnification. Most of the common uses for this lens do not permit manipulation of the background and the background found in many of the venues this lens gets used in tend to be busy and distracting. Use this lens to blur the background, turning advertisement banners, fans and their clothing, apparatus, gear, seating, etc. into just blurs of color, making the subject stand out, popping from the frame. Look at the images in the popular sports magazines/websites and you will see the results this lens can achieve.

Here is an aperture comparison that was created using the version II Lens and a full frame Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III DSLR.

Aperture Comparison

Canon's most affordable professional grade 400mm lenses, including the Canon 400mm f/5.6L USM Lens and the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens, have a max aperture of f/5.6 at that focal length. As you can see above, the background blur difference between 400mm f/2.8 and 400mm f/5.6 is substantial.

Here is a sample photo illustrating the background blur strength of this lens even with a full horse and rider comfortably-framed in a modestly-cropped image.

Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens Background Blur Sample Picture

When shooting sports and other action and when photographing people, I seldom use an aperture other than f/2.8 on a lens such as this lens. Since those are my primary subjects for this lens, I might not notice if this lens had only f/2.8 available, and I probably wouldn't complain if I noticed (of course, this lens can be stopped down).

Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens Vertical

Image Stabilization

Practically everything in this lens is new and that includes the image stabilization system that has achieved an impressive up-to-5-stop CIPA rating. Borrowed for this system are the vibration gyro and latest microprocessor from the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM Lens, though these were tuned specifically for the characteristics of the 400.

This lens is far lighter than its predecessor, but it is still not a light lens to handhold and handholding it completely unsupported (no help from an elbow resting against the body) for the many hundreds of images required for a complete image stabilization test session was a bit of a workout. To ensure that fatigue didn't interfere with the results, I opted to test the narrowed-down sharp and nearly-sharp shutter speed range a few times. What I learned was that, under ideal conditions, my keeper rate with 1/25 second exposures was very high and it was still quite good at 1/20. Just over 60% of the images captured at 1/13 second were sharp and a couple of additional images from that set could have been usable with some sharpening added. The sharp image rate dropped off gradually until the last sharp images were captured at 1/6 of a second.

Keep in mind that this testing was done on an ultra-high resolution Canon EOS 5Ds R. Higher imaging sensor pixel density makes motion blur more-readily-noticeable than lower resolution models as details cross over pixel wells with less movement. Basically, motion is being magnified.

As with the version II lens, three IS modes are present. Mode 1 is the general purpose mode and the latest word I've heard from Canon is that this mode should be used for nearly all situations including while using a tripod, monopod, and while photographing action.

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.

Mode 3 is used for tracking action, especially fast-moving erratic 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, allowing an erratic subject to be tracked without fighting against image stabilization trying to stabilize the view. 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).

A noticeable click is heard when IS starts and again when it stops, but only very quiet whirring and clicking are audible while IS is active. This IS implementation is extremely well behaved – the image in the viewfinder does not jump around when the system activates and the image does not drift while IS is active. IS aids greatly in establishing ideal subject framing and I had no problem tracking action in Mode 1.

Canon's super telephoto lenses have a secondary IS mode that automatically senses a tripod being used and attempts to eliminating mirror slap, shutter and tripod vibrations. "The new IS unit features improved high-frequency tracking performance, so it is better equipped to handle mirror slap when using a tripod compared to the current II series." [Canon]

While stopping camera motion-induced image blur is image stabilization's primary job, it has another significant benefit and that is aiding in AF precision. The camera's AF system can produce better focus precision if the image it sees is stabilized. Canon contends that this is true even with a subject that is in motion and at action-stopping shutter speeds and AF precision is especially critical with the 400mm f/2.8 combination producing a potentially very shallow depth of field.

The f/2.8 aperture makes this an incredible choice for low light action use, but image stabilization adds greatly to this lens' versatility.

Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens Side View

Image Quality

We're reviewing another big white Canon super telephoto lens, so it is time to dig out all of those big superlatives to describe the image quality. With the version II lens delivering incredible image quality, there was very little room for improvement with the III. But, few would be tolerant of any decline in image quality despite the weight reduction. Fortunately, there was no need for concern. This lens delivers absolutely outstanding image quality.

With f/2.8 aperture being so important for this lens, the wide open image quality is what matters most and this lens performs spectacularly at f/2.8, delivering razor sharp details across the entire full frame image circle. Very few lenses perform near their best at wide open apertures, but very little resolution or contrast improvement is seen from this one at f/4 or narrower apertures and none is needed. The only reason to stop this lens down is for increased depth of field and slightly less peripheral shading in the corners. That is the way it should be.

Our lab sharpness tests tell the story the best, but I attempted to create some outdoor comparison examples to share. To be accurate, the stable lighting of a clear sky is needed for this testing and heat waves are often present when the sky is clear. When magnified with a 400mm lens, heat waves prevent representative results. That was a problem I was not able to satisfactorily overcome, so I'm opting to share some 100% resolution f/2.8 crops instead. These images were captured using an ultra-high resolution Canon EOS 5Ds R with RAW files processed in Canon DPP using the Standard Picture Style and sharpness set to only "1" (0-10 scale). Note that even modestly-high sharpness settings are destructive to image details and hide the true characteristics of a lens.

Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens Sharpness Comparison Example

Find the center of the depth of field in the above samples to identify the correct performance. The feather detail image is my favorite for showing what this lens can do at f/2.8.

I debated about including the following corner comparison for a couple of reasons. One is that, as mentioned, heat waves were a big issue and another is that the very shallow depth of field at the distance close enough to avoid some of the heat wave issue made the comparison a bit challenging to discern. In the upper left corner crops below, look for the very narrow area of details that change least between images. The second f/2.8 image, also a top-left-corner crop, was captured at a relatively long distance and has definite heat wave effects showing, but it still looks great.

Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens Corner Sharpness Comparison Example

I see a touch of improvement happening at f/4. A lot of the uses for this lens do not require tack-sharp corners, but when that need arrives, this lens will deliver impressively.

Focus shift, the plane of sharp focus moving forward or backward as the aperture is narrowed (residual spherical aberration), is not an issue with this lens. Stop down and the center of the depth of field will remain where you expect.

I generally don't like vignetting, but I don't mind having some vignetting from lenses such as this one. Sports action and wildlife shots seldom have a primary subject (or a primary subject's face) in the corner of the frame and the vignetting-darkened borders can draw the viewer's attention to the subject and their face. At f/2.8, this lens has just a touch of this effect. The about-1.5-stops of corner shading is mild and usually only very slightly noticeable. The about-0.6-stops of shading in the f/4 corners is seldom noticeable and if you cannot have any shading in your image corners, f/5.6 and narrower apertures have you covered.

The effect of different colors of the spectrum being magnified differently is referred to as lateral (or transverse) CA (Chromatic Aberration). Lateral CA shows as color fringing along lines of strong contrast running tangential (meridional, right angles to radii) with the mid and especially the periphery of the image circle showing the greatest amount as this is where the greatest difference in the magnification of wavelengths exists. Any color misalignment present can easily be seen in the site's image quality tool, but let's also look at a worst-case example, a 100% crop from the extreme top left corner of an ultra-high resolution 5Ds R frame.

Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens Lateral Chromatic Aberration Example

There should be only black and white colors in these images and that is essentially what we see here. This lens shows essentially no lateral CA.

A relatively common lens aberration is axial (longitudinal, bokeh) CA, which causes non-coinciding focal planes of the various wavelengths of light, or more simply, different colors of light are focused to different depths. Spherical aberration along with spherochromatism, or a change in the amount of spherical aberration with respect to color (looks quite similar to axial chromatic aberration but is hazier) are other common lens aberrations to look for. Axial CA remains at least somewhat persistent when stopping down with the color misalignment effect increasing with defocusing while the spherical aberration color halo shows little size change as the lens is defocused and stopping down one to two stops generally removes this aberration.

In the real world, lens defects do not exist in isolation with spherical aberration and spherochromatism generally found, at least to some degree, along with axial CA. These combine to create a less sharp, hazy-appearing image quality at the widest apertures.

Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens Spherical and Axial Aberration Example

The silver jewelry in the 100% crops from an f/2.8 5Ds R image above shows only very slight color difference in the foreground vs. background and the details in the center of depth of field are really sharp, reflecting strong performance.

Canon optical technologies deployed on this lens include Super Spectra Coating (SSC), rejecting extraneous light wavelengths, and Air Sphere Coating (ASC, a thin film containing silicon dioxide and air formed on top of traditional multi-coating), helping to minimize glare and reflections. Additionally, the new optical design, moving the second lens element toward the rear of the lens with only one large element remaining in the front, aids in reducing flare and ghosting. Our standard flare test involves placing the sun in the corner of the frame. While this test works excellently with wide angles through short telephoto focal lengths, longer focal lengths such as this one always show a lot of flare from this test (and we don't flare test focal lengths above 400mm because I don't like seeing smoke come out of the camera).

This lens is near-linear-distortion-free with only a tiny amount of pincushion distortion showing in our test. I doubt that you'll ever be tempted to distortion-correct a Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III Lens image.

Very obvious is that this lens can create a crazy-strong background blur and the quality of that blur is quite good. A pair of bokeh samples including out of focus specular highlights are shown below.

Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens Bokeh Example

These images were captured with the lens stopped down to f/8 for involvement of the 9-blade aperture. These are some of the nicest results I've seen. Aside from the requisite concentric rings around the borders of specular highlights, the outer transition is smooth and nicely-rounded and the centers very smoothly-filled.

How good is the optical quality of the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III Lens image? It is stunning. I can't think of anything else to say and stunning seems to sum it up accurately.

Focusing

Critical for the success of a lens with very shallow depth of field being used primarily to photograph fast action is its AF performance. Canon's super telephoto lenses have long delivered best-available autofocus performance and this lens continues that trend.

As you would expect, this lens gets all of the latest-available upgrades. Interesting is that Roger Cicala reports finding the same Ring USM AF motor in this lens as in the Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L USM Lens. "Mechanically-related AF improvements include reduced drive load, thanks to glass materials in the focus lens group that are nearly one-fifth the previous weight." [Canon] Also included is the latest microprocessor for improved calculation speed. Canon claims a faster minimum focus distance to infinity focus time, despite a shortened minimum focus distance, than with the version II lens. That lens focused fast, so don't expect to find the difference dramatic, but this is a fast-focusing lens. Note that Canon mentions "EOS-1D and EOS 5D series benefit from improved AF performance when used with the III series lenses."

The Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens is here – it is time to unleash the ponies.

Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens Action Sample Picture

The horses are always ready for some galloping and they provide both convenient and challenging subject for AF performance testing. The Canon EOS-1D X Mark II and EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III Lens combo performed very impressively with this subject, so well that they created a bit of a problem. It took forever to go through the well-over-2,000 images captured in this session as most were keeper-grade. With a great camera behind this lens, a photographer's brain needs to be retrained to be OK with deleting really nice images. At least, that's what I keep telling myself.

In addition to being fast and accurate, this lens' internal AF system is very quiet. Some quiet internal shuffling along with quiet clicks can be heard if you listen carefully, but I don't even notice the sounds when shooting.

The IS version II and III super telephoto lenses include a Focus Preset feature. Set the Focus Preset to a specific distance and when your shooting needs require that specific distance, turn the white spring-loaded playback ring located in front of the focus ring and the lens will automatically adjust to the preset distance. New with the III is a direction-sensitive features that permits a different distance to be set for each rotation direction. The Focus Preset switch settings include OFF, ON and an ON with audible focus confirmation. Use this feature to quickly adjust focus to a known distance or to an approximate distance where fine-tuning can quickly attain proper focus.

A 3-position focus limiter switch allows focusing distances to be limited to a subset of this lens' focus distance range. In addition to the full range, restricted limits of 8.2' - 23.0' (2.5 - 7m) or 23.0' (7m) - ∞ can be selected for improved focus lock times and reduced focus hunting when photographing subjects at distances within these ranges.

Four autofocus stop buttons in the black ring near the objective lens allow autofocus to be temporarily stopped. I use AI-Servo (continuous) focusing mode for shooting sports, but sometimes like to shoot a focus-and-recompose images such as a portraits 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, including in the periphery of the frame. Another great use for this feature is when an image has been captured but the framing is not good. Simply press a focus stop button and capture enough images to be stitched together during post processing. Of course, switching the lens to manual focus mode also works for these techniques.

New on the 2010-announced super telephoto lenses was a third focusing mode. In addition to AF and MF, a "PF" or Power Focusing mode was included and this mode has returned with the series III lenses. When first introducing this feature, Canon USA said the feature helped "...moviemakers achieve smoother and more appealing focus shifts when filming."

Turn the focus preset playback ring very (very) slightly to get the low speed electronically-driven AF and turn it to a greater degree to obtain a higher speed with the direction of ring rotation determining 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 power focusing is extremely quiet. Note that AF does not work in PF mode, though manual focusing is available in this mode.

Those interested in manually focusing this lens have definitely not been forgotten – this ring lens provides a superb manual focus experience. Instead of a conventional mechanically-linked manual focus drive, Canon implemented electronic manual focusing in this lens, the first Canon super telephoto (along with the 600mm f/4L IS III) to have such. This decision simplified the overall design, saving weight and increasing expected reliability. Perhaps your first clue about this being a focus-by-wire design will be when attempting to manually focus with the camera powered off or the metering inactive. This no longer works.

This lens' manual focus ring is ideally located, has a sharply-ribbed rubber surface with a great feel, is large in size and is very smooth with no play and an ideal rotational resistance. A series of tightly-spaced click sounds can be heard while manually focusing.

A feature commonly implemented feature on electronic focusing lenses is variable speed drive rate dependent on the focus ring rotational speed. Unfortunately, this feature is often not optimally-implemented and fortunately, Canon has a better option for this lens. Via a switch, this lens offers three linear drive speeds. Mode 1 adjusts focus more-slowly than on the II series and mode 2 and 3 become respectively slower still for very fine control over focusing. For full extent focus distance adjustments, these modes respectively require 1.5 rotations (540°), 5 rotations and well over 8 rotations of the focus ring. You don't want to use the 3 setting to chase sports action, but this mode does allow for very precise manual focusing.

FTM (Full Time Manual) focusing is supported in AF mode with the camera in One Shot Drive Mode, but the shutter release must be half-pressed for the focus ring to be enabled. Note that FTM does not work if electronic manual focusing is disabled in the camera's menu (if this option is present). The lens' switch must be in the "MF" position and the camera meter must be on and awake for conventional manual focusing to be available.

Cameras featuring Dual Pixel CMOS Movie Servo AF make video recording very easy and this lens is very well-suited for this task. Their smooth focusing makes focus distance transitions easy on the viewer's eyes and the sound of the lens focusing is not picked up by the camera's mic.

A focus distance window is provided with this lens.

Canon super telephoto lenses are not known to have the shortest minimum focusing distances. The good news is that the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III Lens improves upon the spec of its version II predecessor, dropping the close distance to 8.2' (2500mm) from 8.86' (2700mm). That line is great for marketing, but the not-so-good news is that the .17x maximum magnification spec is unchanged and this lens is an only-mediocre performer among all lenses in this regard. Our subject framing distance measurements show this.

Expect a modest subject magnification change in a full-extent focus distance adjustment as illustrated below.

Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens Focus Magnification Example

Following is a comparison table showing the recent and current Canon super telephoto lineup as of review time.

ModelMFDMM
Canon EF 200mm f/2.0L IS USM Lens74.8"(1900mm)0.12x
Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS Ext 1.4x Lens78.7"(2000mm)0.15x, 0.21x
Canon EF 300mm f/4.0L IS USM Lens59.1"(1500mm)0.24x
Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens78.7"(2000mm)0.18x
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens38.4"(975mm)0.31x
Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM Lens137.8"(3500mm)0.12x
Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens98.4"(2500mm)0.17x
Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens106.3"(2700mm)0.17x
Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS USM Lens118.1"(3000mm)0.15x
Canon EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II USM Lens129.9"(3300mm)0.13x
Canon EF 500mm f/4.0L IS II USM Lens145.7"(3700mm)0.15x
Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS III USM Lens165.4"(4200mm)0.15x
Canon EF 600mm f/4.0L IS II USM Lens177.2"(4500mm)0.15x
Canon EF 600mm f/4.0L IS USM Lens216.5"(5500mm)0.12x
Canon EF 800mm f/5.6L IS USM Lens236.2"(6000mm)0.14x

Magnification from telephoto focal length lenses is not significantly increased with the use of extension tubes, hollow tubes (with electronic connections) that shift a lens farther from the camera, but all Canon super telephoto lenses are compatible with these. This shift allows the lens to focus at closer distances, though at the expense of long distance focusing. The Canon EF 12mm Extension Tube II increases the magnification range to 0.22-0.03x and 0.3-0.07x is the result of mounting a Canon EF 25mm Extension Tube II. I used extension tubes with the IS version I lens a good amount, but with the minimum focus distances decreasing, I find less need for using them.

Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens with Teleconverter

This lens is compatible with the Canon Extender EF 1.4x III and the Canon Extender EF 2x III, but note that Canon has indicated that the version III 400mm f/2.8L IS and 600mm f/4L IS lenses are not compatible with previous version I or II Canon EF extenders (a first for an L-lens). The resulting focal length and aperture combinations of this lens being used with extenders (often referred to as teleconverters) are impressive. With the 1.4x, this lens becomes a 560mm f/4.0 IS lens and with the 2x, it becomes a 800mm f/5.6 IS lens. Weather-sealing and image-stabilization are included and these combinations autofocus on all current Canon EOS bodies. The lens' native minimum focusing distance is retained and that means the maximum magnification value is multiplied by the extender's multiplier, a significant improvement.

I didn't capture the following images with an extender focal length comparison in mind, but ... they work for that purpose.

Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens Teleconverter Focal Length Comparison

With the EF 1.4x III behind the 400 L III, image sharpness is decreased modestly in the center (corners seem to be less-affected) with a wide open aperture. Stopping down 1 stop to f/5.6 brings a nice improvement in sharpness and results at this aperture are very sharp. The 1.4x III adds a touch of barrel distortion and a minor amount of lateral CA.

As always, the image sharpness hit with the 2x is stronger than with the 1.4x and 800mm f/5.6 results are a bit soft. The results are improved at f/8 and looking decent. Real life results usually look better than our charts, but the 2x has an impact on image quality. The 2x increases lateral CA more than the 1.4x does, but the with-2x linear distortion profile looks great.

If you have tried extenders with smaller telephoto lenses in the past, it is worth trying them again with Canon's current lineup of super telephoto lenses. Having a 400mm f/2.8, 560mm f/4.0 IS and 800mm f/5.6 IS available in a moment is quite valuable.

The with-extender autofocus performance I am experiencing is excellent. It is hard to tell that the extender is even in place in regards to AF. Typically, low light performance can be decreased modestly with extenders reducing the maximum aperture.

"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 Europe CPN]

Build Quality & Features

Canon's big white super telephoto lenses are among the most elite DSLR lenses available and represent the best of the Canon L Series. Professionals expect these lenses to deliver the ultimate performance in the most adverse environments and this one raises that bar. Despite the significant weight loss, the overall durability of the 400 f/2.8 IS III has been increased over the already-impressive previous model.

Improvements in manufacturing processes get some of the credit for the enhancements and very interesting is the use of a new carbon reinforced magnesium alloy. "The high level of fluidity in this material enables injection molding (thixomolding) for a thin walled formation. For example, with the first group lens barrel on the 400mm model, we were able to achieve a barrel thickness of 0.8mm via injection molding, for a base that is 20% thinner than previous models, maintaining sufficient strength and lightness. The carbon reinforced magnesium alloy is also used for the tripod base plate and the exterior of the barrel." [Canon]

As lens size increases, the difficulty to maintain precision increases and it has been interesting to see the attention to detail given to this lens.

Upon loading the standard product images for the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens, the first side-by-side comparison I wanted to see was of the three 400mm f/2.8 IS versions.

Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS Lens Version I, II, and III Comparison

At first glance, it appears that little has changed between the II (center) and III (left), but upon closer inspection, it seems that nearly everything has been changed. Hit the last link above to see larger versions of these images, but especially note that the tripod collar and foot have been moved significantly rearward, reflecting the much-improved weight distribution of this much lighter lens.

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

At the mount end of the lens, there is little change from the version II lens. The AF/PF/MF switch and the focus limiter switch are easy to find and use in this location. The focus limiter switch gets a new number reflecting its reduced minimum focus distance.

The tripod collar lock knob gets a new texture that is easier to roll between the thumb and finger. With the tripod collar shifted back, the main switch bank was also able to be moved rearward for easier access. The switches available on the next switch bank have already been discussed, but notice the additional manual focus speed switch gained over the version II lens.

Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens Switches

All of this lens' switches are mostly recessed with just enough raised surface to be usable with gloves on. Note that the IS ON/OFF switch is raised in the center vs. both sides for tactile differentiation.

As already mentioned, the focus ring feels great and the shape of this ring aids in the quality experience. The focus recall ring has a new, much-improved look and feel. The black grip ring has a new diamond pattern that sticks to fingers.

You may have noticed that the III is slightly brighter in color than the II, which itself is much whiter than version I. The difference is also noticeable in the images showing the previous-white-version extenders mounted. The color of this lens deserves additional attention.

Heat gain, especially uneven heat gain, can cause problems for a lens' optical performance and big lenses have a lot of surface area to catch sunlight. Canon has chosen white paint to avoid as much heat gain as possible and the new paint formulation better shields the lens from heat than the previous paint did. But, that is just the beginning of the heat-avoidance efforts designed into this lens.

A newly-developed heat shield coating reduces uneven heating and a two-layer barrel structure design also helps mitigate effects of thermal transfer into the lens elements. Reducing the weight of the lens naturally reduces its overall thermal capacity.

Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens Weather Sealing

The version III lens has the same weather-resistant construction as the II series lens which is really good. Many outdoors events are held rain or shine and those required to photograph them are not given a choice about the weather. While I use and recommend a rain cover when wet weather is expected, it is the unexpected that can be a problem. I've used Canon weather-sealed super telephoto lenses in some rather heavy rain with no ill effects. In addition to being sealed from moisture, dust is another hazard this lens keeps out.

Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens Mount

The front and rear lens elements are fluorine-coated for easier cleaning and for preventing dust and drips from adhering in the first place.

Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens Fluorine Coating

When you pick up this lens, you will immediately feel the ultra-high quality construction. What you will also feel is the already-discussed very significant weight loss. The difference is amazing. Carrying and using this lens causes less fatigue than when using its predecessor, keeping the photographer sharp in the game. The lighter weight can reduce arm, back, and especially shoulder injuries photographers commonly endure and also valuable is the easing travel weight restriction challenges.

This lens can easily be handheld for reasonable periods of time – for many hundreds of images in the case of the IS testing segment of this review. Still, this is a 6.27 lbs (2.84kg) lens. Those used to the version II's weight will find this lens a feather-weight, but those using smaller lenses such as the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens will require a bit of acclimating.

The size of this lens garners attention. You look like you belong in some venues and you stand out in others. You'll get over the latter. This lens and others like it have gained me entrance to locations in venues that I would otherwise have been restricted from.

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

ModelWeight (lbs/g)Dimensions w/o Hood ("/mm)FilterYear 
Canon EF 200mm f/2.0L IS USM Lens5.56(2520)5.0 x 8.2(128 x 208)DI 522008
Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS 1.4x Lens7.98(3620)5.0 x 14.4(128 x 366)DI 522013
Canon EF 300mm f/4.0L IS USM Lens2.63(1190)3.5 x 8.7(90 x 221)771997
Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens5.19(2350)5.0 x 9.8(128 x 248)DI 522011
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens3.51(1590)3.7 x 7.6(94 x 193)772014
Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens6.27(2840)6.4 x 13.5(163 x 343)DI 522018
Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens8.49(3850)6.4 x 13.5(163 x 343)DI 522011
Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS USM Lens11.85(5370)6.4 x 13.7(163 x 349)DI 521999
Canon EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II USM Lens4.63(2100)5.0 x 9.2(128 x 233)DI 522014
Canon EF 400mm f/4 DO IS USM Lens4.28(1940)5.0 x 9.1(128 x 232)DI 522001
Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM Lens2.76(1250)3.5 x 10.1(90 x 257)771993
Canon EF 500mm f/4.0L IS II USM Lens7.04(3190)5.7 x 15.1(146 x 38m)DI 522011
Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS III USM Lens107.7(3050)6.6 x 17.6(168 x 448)DI 522018
Canon EF 600mm f/4.0L IS II USM Lens8.65(3920)6.6 x 17.6(168 x 448)DI 522011
Canon EF 600mm f/4.0L IS USM Lens11.83(5360)6.6 x 18.0(168 x 456)DI 521999
Canon EF 800mm f/5.6L IS USM Lens9.86(4470)6.4 x 18.1(163 x 461)DI 522008

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

It is light and handholdable, but I still prefer to use this lens on a support for both comfort and stability reasons. Simply adjusting the monopod while tracking sports action is much easier with the lighter, rear-weighted lens. Also, 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.

Putting the sizes into perspective:

Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens Compared to Similar Lenses

Positioned above from left to right are the following lenses:

Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens
Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens
Canon EF 500mm f/4.0L IS II USM Lens
Canon EF 600mm f/4.0L IS II USM Lens

Notice the slightly whiter color of the III?

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

Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens Compared to Similar Lenses with Hoods

Use the site's product image comparison tool to visually compare the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens to other lenses. I preloaded another interesting comparison in that link.

Like most of Canon's super telephoto lenses, the 400 f/2.8 IS III utilizes the same 52mm drop-in filters as its predecessors. Included in this lens' slot is a drop-in filter holder that accepts 52mm threaded filters. A Canon Protect 52mm filter comes installed (helpful for catching dust before it drops deep inside the lens). Note that the filter is part of the optical design of Canon's big lenses, effectively the rear element in the lens design. The Canon Drop-In Circular Polarizing Filter PL-C 52 (WIII) is the filter option that will usually be found most useful. This filter has had several revisions for color changes, keeping up with the lens color changes. Some will find neutral density filters to be useful with this lens, especially when recording movies at f/2.8 under bright daylight.

With this lens' weight being comfortable for handholding, how this lens is handheld becomes a bigger issue. The shifted-rear weight distribution means the tripod foot needed to be moved back and the tripod foot is the natural choice for holding this lens in use. The height of the tripod foot combined with the new rearward location combine to keep the left elbow resting against the body for less shoulder strain. The redesigned shape of the foot, including an upward curve at the end, makes handholding comfortable with fingertips ideally positioned for using the focus ring and the thumb located not far from the switches. The gripped padding provided on the tripod foot aids in carrying comfort.

This tripod 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. Mounting with two screws is important to prevent the plate from twisting, but note that most lens plates will require a 3/8"-16 to 1/4"-20 Reducer Bushing in the larger threaded insert. These are very inexpensive and it seems Canon could easily have included one in the box. Much better would have been to machine the needed Arca-Swiss dovetail grooves into the foot as some other lens manufacturers have started doing.

Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens Balance

With the weight of this lens being shifted significantly rearward, the tripod/monopod balance point is also moved back. Canon moved the tripod ring back to accommodate this change, but notice that the balance point with a pro body mounted is still behind the rear of the tripod foot as illustrated in the above image showing a balanced rig (the spirit level on the clamp is at the level position). Ensure that your tripod plate is long enough to cover that distance (and possibly more for balance when shooting upward). Look for a back kick design when selecting a tripod replacement foot (Wimberley's has it).

The tripod collar is extremely smooth and provides light click stops at 90° degree rotations. While the click stops cause a small bump during rotation (such as when panning with a subject as a monopod tilts), I much prefer to have the click stops assisting me with finding center, aiding significantly in keeping a camera level.

As the super telephoto lenses continue to drop weight, the demands of the support they are used on also diminish. While this lens can be handheld for decent periods of time, you will still appreciate having support under the lens for longer periods of use (and for stabilizing the view). Avoiding future shoulder issues may not seem important today, but I assure you that you will appreciate having taken good care of your body in your youth when you are older. Keep your elbows in.

For tripod mounting, I suggest using a strong ball head (such as the Really Right Stuff BH-55 or Arca-Swiss Z1) with this lens. Much better (safer, easier) is to use a lens of this size on a gimbal style head such as the Wimberley Tripod Head II or Really Right Stuff PG-02. The 400mm IS III is shown mounted to the RRS FG-02 head with an RRS Ground-Level Tripod under it in many of the product images on this page.

Two tripod collar feet were included with the version II lens with one being a small foot designed for monopods. I never used the small one and apparently many others left theirs in the box as well. The smaller monopod base plate is reportedly again available for the version III lens, but this time it is an optional accessory.

As first seen on the 400 IS II, the 400mm IS III has a Kensington-type wire security lock under the tripod collar lock knob cap.

The included ET-155 (WIII) lens hood is nearly the same as the version II lens' ET-155(WII) lens hood with paint color being the primary difference. This hood is relatively rigid, rather light (9 oz, 255g) and very large, offering the lens element excellent protection from bright light, impact and the elements. While this hood is quite rugged, protect it as a replacement will cost as much as a relatively nice lens.

Canon ET-155B Short Lens Hood for EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens

The big lens hood is sometimes an issue from a space standpoint including both packing space and space on the sidelines or other event. For those circumstances, there is the optional Canon ET-155B Short Lens Hood. The price tag is rather strong for this one also.

Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens Cap

The EF 400mm f/2.8L IS version I lens came with a large leather-like lens cap that completely covered the reversed lens hood and was held in place with a drawstring that was not really needed as these covers were difficult to get off. The version II lens cap design was a huge improvement, featuring a shallower padded nylon cover that could easily be removed with one hand by simply pulling the hook-and-loop tab. The cap could be attached with the hood in ready to use or reversed positions and, if the Velcro tab was pulled tight enough, it could be attached directly to the lens without the hood being there. I doubt that latter feature was designed-for, but the version III formally adds that feature. With an overall design similar to the version II, the version III cap adds a less-padded, more-flexible nylon extension with a draw-string that snugs around the end of a non-hooded lens. The front of the lens cap is additionally padded with a rigid interior protecting the front lens element.

Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens Strap

The included padded lens strap can be attached to the tripod ring, an attachment point that allows the camera to be rotated without the neck strap following the rotation (causing strangulation).

Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens Case

There is a new Canon super telephoto lens case. For as long as I can remember, Canon's super telephoto lenses came in a rigid lens trunk. These shaped, lockable trunks were very nice, very protective and were good for storage, stacking and shipping purposes. However, these trunks were expensive, often far oversized, could not hold a camera body, were not especially comfortable to shoulder carry and rarely left my studio.

New with the version III telephoto lenses is a sling-style (single strap) shoulder case, the Canon LS400 Soft Lens Case, replacing the trunk.

This nylon case looks great, is relatively compact and lightweight, is well-padded, is easy to use with smooth-functioning zippers and large pulls, and has a round molded-plastic bottom that keeps it upright on a flat surface. A thin 7" (178mm) tall by 5" (127mm) wide zippered pocket and two strap attachment points are provided on both sides of the case. The shoulder strap is padded and strong, and breathable padding is provided on the case side of the strap, adding to the shoulder-carrying comfort. The convenient hand strap on top is also strong with breathable-padding ensuring that grip is not lost. Four hook-and-loop-adjustable pads are provided for interior use.

Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens Case Pads

My initial impressions were good and upon first looking into the case, I got a little extra excited – it was over-sized at the top and it appeared that a mounted DSLR might fit. Unfortunately, that excitement was short lived – the case is not quite big enough at the top to hold even a non-gripped DSLR.

Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens Case Open

Leaving the extra 2" (50mm) of vertical space at the top of the case for an extender to be mounted makes some sense, but for that purpose, the case could have been made less broad at the top for more compact design, though perhaps not as aesthetically pleasing. Making the case shorter seems more logical to me. Of course, the extra 2" on top would make this case accommodate larger lenses.

Making the case large enough for a mounted DSLR to fit would have been my preference. The additional cost would have been very little (especially relative to the cost of the lens) and the utility of the case would have been greatly increased.

Transporting a large lens with a camera mounted increases risk of damage but there are many times when I'm transporting a lens such as this one in a lower risk manner and prefer quick access to the mounted lens or want to avoid mounting a lens in unfavorable conditions. For example, arriving at a soccer (football for our friends across the pond) tournament and transporting the lens from field to field throughout the day can be low risk. Or, when photographing wildlife, getting the lens into action fast can mean the difference between getting the shot and getting nothing. For air travel or shipping, I usually separate the lens and body.

For those who love the trunk style case, Canon has you covered. The Canon 400E Lens Case is available, but brace yourself before looking at the price. And, take good care of your LS400, because it also has a very big price tag itself.

The old 400C weighs 9.6 lbs (4.35kg) empty. The new LS400 weighs 2 lbs (.9kg). That is another very significant weight savings.

At review time, the Think Tank Photo StreetWalker Pro is my preferred carry case for this lens.

Price and Value

The price of the Canon 400 f/2.8 IS L III lens will wow you as much as its image quality and overall performance. Without a doubt, the price is the biggest hurdle for getting this amazing lens into the hands of photographers wanting it (which is nearly all of them).

While this lens is expensive, it is priced in line with the other camera brand options. Canon USA's Rudy Winston shared some of the reasons for the high cost of this and similar lenses:

Fluorite lens elements: fluorite is an artificially grown crystal, not glass, and requires a lot of time to grow to sizes that can be used as lens optics. [In this regard, surely some cost savings was realized with the shifted-rearward fluorite elements being smaller in size] And then, it requires incredible skill and precision to cut and grind into shape for use as an optical element.

Mechanical design: these lenses require tremendous precision, to sustain optical alignment with their physical length and to withstand the inevitable bumps and bruises that they'll get in the hands of working professionals. This is easy to take for granted, but they're much more difficult to manufacture than smaller, lighter lenses.

Skill of manpower used for assembly: usually, the most skilled and experienced workers are culled for assembly of the big white super-tele lenses (along with the Cinema EOS lenses), AND these lenses tend to be largely hand-assembled. The costs associated with this are, of course, absorbed into the final selling price of the lens.

Finally, you have simple economies of scale... even if the price was arbitrarily cut in half, we know the number of units sold per year would never match those of lighter, more everyday pro-level lenses (think of 70-200/2.8s, 24-70/2.8s, and so on). So the development costs and so on, again, have to be made up with fewer total lenses being sold during the product's lifetime.

Fortunately, quality lenses hold their value well. While the overall cost of ownership for these lenses can vary greatly (including from monetary exchange rate fluctuations), a Canon super telephoto lens can typically be sold for a solid percentage of the purchase price. I of course cannot promise anything in this regard, but I made a nice profit when selling the version I IS lenses. The concept of buying this lens to photograph a child's high school sports career and later selling it to fund their college education seems logical. Those pursuing professional sports photography will likely find the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens to be a career requirement.

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.

As expensive as this lens is, you get what you pay for.

As an "EF" lens, the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens is compatible with all Canon "EOS" cameras (the EOS "M" and "R" series models require an adapter). Canon USA provides a 1-year limited warranty.

The reviewed Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens was online-retail sourced.

Alternatives to the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens

With this lens in your arsenal, you know that, at review time, you have the absolute best Canon 400mm lens option there is. It may not be the least expensive or the lightest option, but there are none better and every other option gives up at least some aspect of this lens.

The lens most similar to the EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III is the predecessor Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens. While the III has a very slight optical advantage, these two lenses are both incredible performers at f/2.8 and few will upgrade for optical reasons. The Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III vs. II Lens comparison shows where the huge upgrade value is: reduced weight. The III has many other advantages as discussed throughout this review, but expect the now-lower-priced discontinued version II lens to disappear from inventory.

The next-best f/2.8 alternative is the Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens, a considerably-wider angle lens. This 300 is an absolutely amazing performer and at least as good optically as the 400 f/2.8L III. The Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III vs. EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II Lens comparison shows the 300 being considerably smaller, but the weight difference is not as significant. The 300 costs about 1/2 as much and that is rather significant. If you need 300mm, the 400 cannot do that. The differences extend with extender use.

If 400mm is the right focal length for your needs and the application does not require an f/2.8 aperture, the Canon EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II USM Lens is the next most-similar option. While the f/2.8 lens holds an edge in optical quality, the difference is small enough that only the most discriminating will care. The Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III vs. 400mm f/4 DO II Lens comparison shows the DO II lens being considerably smaller and lighter. It is also much less expensive.

Another strong-performing 400mm f/4 option is the Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM 1.4x Lens, with a long range of other focal lengths and a built-in 1.4x extender to its advantage. Does a prime lens optically compete with a zoom lens? The 200-400 is one of the best zoom lenses ever made and even in the prime f/4 vs. zoom f/4 comparison, image sharpness is not a differentiator. The Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III vs. 200-400mm f/4L IS 1.4x Lens comparison shows the zoom lens weighing a bit more. The zoom is narrower, longer and less expensive.

Those debating between the EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III and longer focal length lenses will next consider the Canon EF 500mm f/4.0L IS II USM Lens. There will be little optical quality differentiation found here, but the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III vs. EF 500mm f/4.0L IS II Lens comparison shows some gains and losses. With the 500, gain length and lose width, gain focal length and lose aperture. Incredibly, the 400 II's weight now falls below that of this 500 though it's price does not. The 500 is the more-affordable option.

With the 400 able to go to 560mm f/4 with a 1.4x extender mounted, the 500 will often appear less attractive and the Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS III USM Lens (which is expected to be optically the same as the Canon EF 600mm f/4.0L IS II USM Lens I'll use for comparisons below) becomes the stronger alternative. While these 400mm and 600mm lenses are excellent complements in a kit, those able to choose only one of the two have a bigger decision to make. At wide open apertures, the two lenses are similar in optical performance with the 600 showing a bit of lateral CA. At 560mm f/4 (with the 1.4x III extender), the 600 has an optical advantage.

The Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III vs. 600mm f/4L IS III USM Lens comparison shows these two lenses weighing similarly-enough for the difference to not matter. The 600 is noticeably longer, but slightly narrower. The 400 is modestly less expensive, but at these prices, you probably don't care. If having both lenses is not an option, those needing 400mm or the f/2.8 aperture should get the lens having those attributes. Those only needing 600mm and longer focal lengths should get the 600mm lens.

There are many additional narrower-aperture options including telephoto zoom lenses. Use the site's tools to create your own comparisons.

Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens Top View with Hood

Summary

The Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III is an absolutely-no-compromises lens created by a company with a long history of delivering best-available camera lenses. This lens is a roll-up of the best-available technology, including the technology utilized in the lens' design as well as the innovative manufacturing techniques required to make this lens a reality for the professionals who will ultimately rely on it.

With superb build quality, a moderately-long telephoto focal length, an ultra-wide aperture, a fast and precise AF system, and extremely-high-grade image quality, the built-for-speed EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III package works exceedingly-well for serious, discerning sports photographers, wildlife photographers and photojournalists. This is the type of lens that will have under-funded photographers digging through their gear kits searching for anything that might be considered non-essential and potentially contributing to the 400mm f/2.8L IS III fund. Once the investment challenge has been overcome, taking delivery of a new Canon super telephoto lens such as this one will make even the most jaded photographer feel like a kid on Christmas morning.

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My Recommended Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III 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 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens now from:

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the Canon Store (new)
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