Canon 100-400mm f/ 4.5-5.6 IS II Review

Prior to the introduction of the 100-400 f/ 4.5- 5.6 IS II, Canon has had an apparent gap in their telephoto lens lineup.  The previous version was a slow- focusing lens, which caused photographers to opt for either fixed focal length offerings, shorter zoom options, or lenses made by third- party manufacturers.  Canon drastically improved the performance of the lens by enhancing the sharpness, auto focus speed, and some other characteristics.  However, the new lens also has some negatives. 

I have been secretly admiring some photos online taken with the new 100-400 for a while, and I decided to join the party.  After I unboxed the lens, and took the first shot, the sharpness improvement was noticeable.  I was never a fan of the version I offering, and I sold it because of the lack of sharpness.  The use of the Fluorite element in the new lens has done wonders.  If you’re using any of Canon’s 70-200 offerings (I use the 70-200 f/ 2.8 IS II), then you are in for a wild ride.  After using the lens wide open, it appears to be a hair sharper than the 70-200. 

The sharpness improvement increases the situations where you can use the lens.  The lens is on the slow side (aperture from f/ 4.5-5.6), however because you don’t have to stop the lens down to get tack sharp images you can shoot in lower light situations than before.I often set my f/ stop to 5.6 because it’s so sharp, which allows you to have a higher shutter speed/ lower ISO in certain situations. 

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The new lens offers a nice bump in the auto focus speed; the auto focus is instantaneous.  The faster auto focus coupled with the improved sharpness allows you to slap on a 1.4x III converter with success.  The converter does slow the auto focus down a little bit, however it’s still usable for flight images.  The lens also focuses quickly from the minimum focusing distance to infinity. 

Other noticeable improvement in the lens include the extremely close focusing.  At just over three feet you have the ability to photograph at 400mm!  This is great when you have the rare opportunity to get extremely close to your subject.  To steady your lens when shooting at those close distances, the new version comes with the newest/ greatest IS (four stops of stability vs. two previously offered).  The improvement is noticeable, and if you used the older lenses do you remember that loud/ swirling noise?  I’m happy to report that the new IS is silent.  Lastly, Canon included the mode 3 as an IS option, which is my preferred mode when photographing wildlife.    

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Canon also changed the way the lens can be used, and some aesthetic features.  The old lens, called the “dust pump,” operated by a push/ pull design.  This was great for wildlife photographers because the time it takes to zoom from 100mm to 400mm was minimal/ easy.  The new design is the traditional rotation shared with all the other lenses.  The change, in my opinion, is bad.  Now, it takes longer to operate the lens from 100mm to 400mm. 

Canon changed the aesthetic features by integrating the tripod collar into the lens, and only allowing you to remove the foot.  Even though I only use this lens handheld, the new tripod collar allows for a smoother rotation coupled with the portability letting users remove the foot.  The last notable aesthetic feature is the hood.  Canon now has a locking mechanism in the hood, and they added a window to allow for filter rotation.  The locking feature is great, and allows for a more secure fit.

Lastly, the lens has more pleasing bokeh, has no chromatic aberration (unlike the version I), offers good weather sealing (mine still works after shooting in the rain), and keeps the desirable 77mm filter thread. 

Canon didn’t forget to add any features.  For me, the lens fits perfectly into my lineup as a good flight lens to complement my 600mm.  You won’t regret this purchase, if you like lenses that take tack- sharp photos with a slew of other awesome features. 

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