Hands-On Review: the New Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x Lens

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Canon has just announced a new telephoto-zoom lens that covers a range of oft-used longer focal lengths and brings with it the quality and usability of their L series lenses: the EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x lens. This lens takes the new top spot as the longest zoom lens for EOS cameras and incorporates a constant f/4.0 maximum aperture to provide consistent imaging performance throughout the range of focal lengths. Additionally, a 1.4x teleconverter is integrated into the lens’s design to provide an effective maximum focal length of 560mm. The efficiency of the zoom lens profile coupled with an internal teleconverter is further benefitted by the enhanced optical construction—including a fluorite glass element—as part of the L series of professional-grade lenses.

When I received this lens, the first impression I had was simply how impressive the whole lens and its components felt. It is delivered in a rugged hard case that is form-fit to the lens and includes with it an additional foot to support the lens's use on a monopod. Two straps are included—one for the lens, one for the case—a lens hood, and the lens caps. The whole package conveys an air of importance and excitement that is well-matched to the specifications of the lens; Canon users have been waiting for this lens for a long time.

The lens itself is quite large, weighing just about 8 lb, measuring 14.4” long and 5” in diameter at its widest point. While large, it is designed to suit handheld shooting as most of the controls are easily accessible from the rear of the lens, including stabilizer modes, focus modes, a focus limiter, a focus preset control and the extender control lever. The lens also accepts 52mm drop-in filters, which can be inserted in the rear of the lens via the included drop-in filter holder. On the barrel of the lens are the rubberized zoom and focus rings, the textured playback ring, and the front-most grip ring that incorporates four AF Stop Buttons.

If you're not working handheld, a built-in tripod collar is available that can rotate about the lens to facilitate easier switching from horizontal to vertical orientations. As with other super telephoto and telephoto-zoom L series lenses, this lens features durable construction quality that provides both weather and dust resistance to protect it in the great outdoors. Aside from the security the barrel construction provides, a fluorine coating has also been applied to the front and rear lens elements to shield these susceptible surfaces from fingerprints, smudges and other image-compromising artifacts.

The overall design of this lens places all of these controls in easy-to-reach locations that make handling intuitive and efficient, which benefits working in fast-paced circumstances. I became quickly acquainted with the lens’s layout and was able to navigate all of the controls easily and employ them in the same logical manner as I would the camera body itself. The focus limiter and preset focus control became especially useful while I was out photographing birds and other animals, that would change position quickly and spontaneously, which gave me more freedom to focus my attention on following the subjects and ensuring focus. The focus limiter control gives you the option to work within the full reach of the lens, or override it to focus only within a 2-6 m zone or a 6 m to infinity zone.

The closer-focusing setting was typically more helpful, since it covered such a narrow area of focus and suited working with subjects that moved about the entire composition more quickly. The focus preset control lent itself to working from a stationary position and previsualizing the exact area in which I wanted to photograph a moving subject. I would select this location and focus on it, then press the SET button to have that distance saved. I could then track my subject as it moved to this location and quickly rotate the playback ring to immediately jump to this point of focus and capture the moving subject in sharp focus.

It should also be noted that the general autofocus system functioned rapidly, precisely and reliably. The autofocus system revolves around an inner-focusing mechanism with a ring-type Ultrasonic Motor (USM), which employs piezoelectric ceramic elements to make focusing accurate and quiet. This near-silent performance is especially beneficial for recording video as well as when working in quieter settings. Particularly effective when recording movies is the Power Focus setting, which is controlled via the playback ring when the focus switch is set to PF.

When working with Power Focus, the autofocus motor is driven electronically in a very smooth, silent and controlled motion that eliminates focus jumping or the need to rack back and forth over the desired point of focus, due to the speed that the ring-style focusing provides. Two different focusing speeds are available in this mode and are chosen depending on how much the playback ring is rotated. Besides the range of autofocusing abilities available, this lens also supports manual focusing and has full-time manual-focusing override for fine-tuning the focus of an image after the AF system has already performed.

In addition to the focusing system of the 200-400mm f/4L, three distinct optical stabilizer modes are also available for rendering sharp imagery, albeit by minimizing the appearance of camera shake that becomes increasingly noticeable when working with lenses of this length as well as in dimly lit conditions. The three modes are selectable via a switch on the side of the lens, and all provide support to account for up to four shutter-speed steps of camera shake, which allows greater handholding potential with this lens.

The first mode is the standard stabilizer mode, which will correct for vibrations from all directions and is most suited for working with stationary or slow-moving subjects. The second mode is a more dynamic type of stabilizer that corrects for vertical shake during lateral panning shots and for horizontal shake when panning vertically. The third stabilizer mode functions the same as the second one does; however, it will only provide these benefits at the point of exposure—this allows for better tracking of more irregularly and fast-moving subjects, since there is no lag for the stabilization system to perform constantly. The other two stabilization modes will produce a stabilized image in the viewfinder to aid more careful compositions. Image stabilization can also be completely disengaged for instances where it can possibly be counterproductive, such as when working with your camera mounted on a tripod.

Both the focusing and stabilization mechanisms work together to benefit the most crucially designed aspect of this lens: its optical construction. One fluorite and four UD (Ultra Low Dispersion) elements are integrated into the lens’s makeup to provide an effective reduction in chromatic aberration and color fringing throughout the entire zoom range, leading to imagery with notable clarity, sharpness and resolution. Additionally, lens coatings have been applied to select elements to further improve image quality by reducing flare, ghosting and surface reflections to render images with vivid contrast and color neutrality.

This optimized optical design improves imaging performance throughout the zoom range, and when the 1.4x extender is in place, giving way to an effective focal-length range of 280-560mm. This bit of extra reach was especially crucial when photographing smaller targets from greater distances. By being able to toggle between having the extender locked in or out of place, you could use the 400mm setting to generally frame your shot, then quickly flip to 1.4x prior to releasing the shutter. When working from the native focal-length range—200-400mm—the constant f/4.0 maximum aperture provides consistent performance for lower light and selective-focus control. When the extender is seated, the maximum aperture is narrowed to an effective f/5.6. The diaphragm is constructed from nine rounded blades to form a nearly circular aperture, which helps to render out-of-focus backgrounds with a pleasing quality and out-of-focus highlights that take on an aesthetic circular shape.

The most enjoyable aspect of working with this lens was how seamlessly it was able to oscillate between different settings on the lens and truly utilize all of its features in a short span of time. This effectiveness and intuitive quality meant that I was up and shooting in no time, as if I had been accustomed to working with this lens for a significantly longer period of time. This handling ability is also especially useful when you're working with moving and spontaneous subject matter, when you have little time to get a shot off, let alone worry about a variety of camera or lens settings to adjust.

The lens is certainly aimed at those who need the ability to work quickly and deftly, and aside from the handling and speed afforded by it, the lens is also capable of producing imagery of the highest quality. The array of low-dispersion elements, fluorite and USD, coupled with the optimized optical structure and lens coatings resulted in imagery that left little to be desired. As with other L series lenses, the quality of imagery, overall performance, and design of the lens is suitable for any working situation, and the added benefit of this lens being able to produce such imagery with the convenience of both a zoom design and integrated 1.4x extender make it truly an effective tool that is ideally situated for sports, wildlife and nature photography.

For more information on this and other Canon lenses, speak with a B&H sales professional at our New York SuperStore, over thephone at 1-800-606-6969 or online via Live Chat.

Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x Lens
  When internal extender is
set at 1x
When internal extender is
set at 1.4x
Focal Length 200-400mm 280-560mm
Maximum Aperture f/4.0 f/5.6
Minimum Aperture f/32 f/45
Lens Construction 25 elements in 20 groups 33 elements in 24 groups
Angle of View (Diagonal) 12° - 6°10' 8°50' - 4°25'
Minimum Focusing Distance 6.6' / 2m 6.6' / 2m
Maximum Magnification 0.15x (at 400mm) 0.21x (at 560mm)
Field of View 6.2 x 9.25" / 157 x 235mm
(at 6.6' / 2 m)
4.4 x 6.5" / 111 x 166mm
(at 6.6' / 2 m)
Filter Size 52 (WII)-series drop-in filter 52 (WII)-series drop-in filter
Dimensions 5 x 14.4" / 12.8 x 36.6 cm 5 x 14.4" / 12.8 x 36.6 cm
Weight 8 lb / 3.6 kg 8 lb / 3.6 kg

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I for one would love to see a comparison of this lens and the Olympus 75-300 (150-600 equivalent) on an Oly OM-D.
The Oly rig is under 2 pounds and $1500. The lens is $500. Are the images from this 8 pounder really 20 times better? At 2 pounds with IS in the camera I can shoot the OM D hand held all day. At 8 pounds plus a body I am going to need a monopod, and a Sherpa. Dunno. I am a long time Canon AND Oly user and I am not rushing to get my credit card...

with a limited one year warenty, why would anyone buy a $11,000 lens. I can say only one word, "RENT!"

At 8+lbs, There will be a lot of lop-sided photographers recovering from a day walking around with it. Although if you can afford the lens, have a 'lens sous' lug it around for you.

It's huge!

So... !! First how many callers will get one as free giveaway?? Oh! Wait! My birthday is around end of this month !!

Why bother showing this lens on a public website. If you don't work for the New York Times it means nothing. Virtually all of Canon's new L lens are so expensive they are out of reach of serious amateurs.

You are underselling the lens by showcasing these sample shots. I know the shots need not to be Pulitzer-worthy but the photographer here seem to have put the least amount of effort to get the shots...I mean, look at the 6th photo...to quote Seth Meyers: "Really?!"

It looks very nice, but the image quality looks not great, the 8 Pound weight is challenge for hand hold shooting too. the price also too high compare to canon 400mm F4.0 DO lens.

The image quality of sample photographs on online reviews is rarely indicative of lens quality. Many reviewers show laziness as their main attribute. Review after review of various lenses ( from both Canon and Nikon) appear to show 'so-so' images as one person here has called the samples for 200-400.

Look at the reviews of Andy Rouse and Joshua Holka (to name two) to see what this lens is capable of.

One can understand that expensive lenses (which covers all super telephotos really) are beyond many people's reach, which is a pity but to run down a lens or the company that makes it ONLY on this criteria is not fair. Canon like any other company (and that includes Nikon) is in the business to make money PERIOD To expect anything different is naïveté .

However any serious comments on this camera must stick to whether it will seriously offer an alternative to a couple of ( if not more) high priced telephoto primes in one's kit. The answer to that alone can justify the decision to buy it and . . . Canon's temerity to price it this high.

By and large, those who have used it over extended periods, mostly during the six months of per-launch usage trials Canon conducted, appear to give it a resounding thums up. To doubt these photographers might be understandable even for those wanting to own it. For them the way out is to try and rent one when available for renting before deciding whether to buy or not.

Till then bad-mouthing the company or those who have reviewers and praised the lens to heavens is unfair to put it mildly.

Just for the record, I own both the 300 f/2.8 mk ii and the 500 f/4 mk ii and have just placed the order for the 200-400. I plan to sell the 500 but keep the 300 due to its being in a different class on account of weight and Han-holdability. I might, I suspect, become more comfortable with a monopod over time and use the 200-400 for the 300mm focal length more and more. In such an event I just might find myself using the 300 f/2.8 much less. But I need to find that out and decide about that awesome lens only then.

So expensive, so heavy and so, so shots!........I suppose the tripod collar is $500 more! Yikes!

At 11K, Canon has better options, the 400mm 2.8L would be a better buy. Nothing represents colours better than a good fast prime lens.

Given the price I'll stick with my 100-400 IS with my 1.4X I can use with other lens. Lighter too.

Wow...almost $12,000 when the Nikon 200-400 - tried, trusted and well-proven is under $7000. OK, so add $500 for a TC14E 1,4x teleconverter...less than 7.5k! Gotta be something magic about this lens! Or not. (Its taken Canon a long time to iron out the wrinkles...this must have been announcved two years ago, right?

For $11,000 you sure did not do a very good job at this shots.
Maybe it's the lens that lacks that wow factor. Anyways I'm hoping
Pophoto.com and Review.com do a better review besides telling me what the controls do.

Could you send me one to try out?

Be just like trading cars to own one... you'd have to be a well paid pro or a tester to ever afford one... We can all dream though...

The adjustable range of 200-400 is good but that is about it. You can purchase a 400mm DO and an extender to boot for much less than this. Waaaay too over priced in my opinion!

While the review overall sounds pretty good, the photo's posted detract from any positive elements mentioned by appearing to have been shot from a point and shoot camera...
If you want to showcase what the lens will capture and how it will capture it, put some work into that part of it. As the saying goes, "A picture is worth a thousand words" and right now I'm going to myself, Meh, why would I spend that kind of money to get these type results? I got better results than that with the 70-300 kit lens that came with my first camera years ago..I have the 70-200 2.8 and the 28-300 f3.5-5.6 and the f-4 500 and all of them perform superbly, I would assume that this one will as well.
But based on these photo's why would anyone who doesn't have any experience with good Canon lenses even try it?

Just looking at these sample shots, well, I believe I can take as good if not better pictures with my Canon Power Shot SX50 HS, and it only costs $449.00

I can not believe this was posted by B&H as a review. it is certainly not up to the usual B&H standards. These are snapshots not pictures. If you want to see a real review of what this lens is capable of, look here.

http://www.andyrouse.co.uk/index.php?page_id=174

I agree with the previous comments. This lens is overpriced, compared to its competitors (Nikon, Olympus, etc.), and too heavy and bulky for handholding. The photos represented here by the tester are amateurish, at best, and should be deleted immediately. These photos can only hurt the sales of this lens.
Finally, it should be noted that most pros won't have to shell out real cash money for this lens because Canon will make it available for free as a loaner at major sporting events. Only well-heeled nature photographers and videographers can afford to buy this lens.

This review is useless. I am intrigued by the lens but the images here are lousy and the review seems very basic. How well can you shoot this hand held? At this weight, that has to be a big challenge, but I would like to know.

8 pounds? They must be kidding. Must be designed for pros (who will sign one out from a pool) who have assistants to lug this around. I'll stick with my 100-400.

For $11.799,00 you can get:
- Nikon 200-400 f/4 = $6.999,00
- Nikon D800 (30+ Mpixels) = $2.799,95
- AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II Refurbish: $2156,00

In the end, you just switch from Canon to Nikon and spent $11.954,95 or $155,95 more than this Canon lens.

Do the math. And I though Nikon was crazy to ask $17.999,00 for their 800mm f/5.6

Looks to me both, Canon and Nikon are overcharging every pro lens so they can get enthusiastic amateurs to pay the pro sponsorship.. No way

I have to agree with all of the others about the poor quality of the example photos you chose to show, howver I didn't think that it was the biggest issue here. I've been waiting a lng time for Canon to come out with an alternaative to their 100- 400 zoom. Rather than to force me to go to Nikon and use their 200-400 lens. Now they are making it clear that they would like us all to switch. Why would I givee them my 11k$ when for the same amount I came get a Nikon D800 thier 200- 400 lens and one or more other lenses. Where's the value guys? Oh yeh, it's in those great pictures you took for us B & H. Thanks guys. Some times more is less. If my car tells me what time it is and my cell phone tells me what time it is, why do I need a Rollex?

Nobody buys a Rolex to tell the time!

I agree with all the other comments -- heavy, $$$, lousy images. What I want to know is where the extra eight! elements hide when not using the extender.

I don't know if it's just the jpg, but these images look like they were made at short distance with one of those ******* lens pocket shooters. I don't see the point in giving this as an L lens image of that bird - there's no three-dimensionality, nothing but 'it's a such-and-such bird' imaging. Nothing at all like what i'm getting with my 180 L lens. Data gathering for people who don't really need too much data?

This is the most beautiful lens I'll never buy.

INTERESTING, but what Nikon and Canon or perhaps Sigma should market is a 500/5.6 VRII/IS/OSII lens, far fewer lens elements for better sharpness and light transmission, overall definitely lighter, and hopefully much less expensive! With the newer EF bodies or the Nikon D7100, one could still use a 1.4X TC, for 700 mm, plus the 1.5X or 1.6X lens multiplier factor, for the equivalent of 1050 to 1120 mm. I would think that Sigma could make such a lens for around $2500. I think it would sell very well!

Dear Valued customers: While this lens might be costly for some of you, we do know that many photographers have been eagerly anticipating its arrival. In our haste to bring this information to you, we rushed to get images posted after having the lens in our possession for only a few hours. We sincerely apologize for not demonstrating the range and versatility of this lens more completely, and for the inadequate photos we published in the article. New photos will be coming soon and we appreciate everyone who took the time to comment on the article.

If the Nikon lens is all you need then switch, my guess is that this lens will be optically superior, especially whn racked out to 400mm. I also find this lens far more convenient with the built in extender. And useful especially since the Nikon 200-400 doesn't play with converters well in my opinion,.. Not unlike the 70-200vr 1.

I think Canon has the lens priced in the right ball park for its target demographic, and relative to the pricing assigned to the other Canon superteles. Just like high quality photography... If you want it, pay for it. ;)

I agree that this lens is VERY expensive. I was able to use a prototype at the London Olympics and it was amazing. As crazy as it might seem, I think it might be worth the money, saving me carrying around more lenses. I can see using this one lens for most of my sports shooting, regardless of how close I am to the action (unless I am in 16mm or 100mm range).

You can see my post from the Olympics at:

http://jeffcable.blogspot.com/2012/08/the-upcoming-canon-200-400mm-lens-...

Sorry new canon ,but I have a mach beter combination and at half price! Canon 200 F 2 + 1.4 and 2 Extenders (280 f 2.8 and 400 f 4)!!! B*

Nobody is seeing the advantage of having an extra 160 mm just in one click, though I am not a wildlife photographer, but I think when it is needed, it worth saving the time adding an extender to get the shot!

I agree with Terry, where the extra eight elements hide when not using the extender!

Really? The lens was shipped to Bjorn in Africa and he just scuttled out to find a lion in the grass? You could have done so much better. I had a hard time believing that the sleepy lion was shot with the lens at all.

This lens is garbage and provides no further optical advantage over the 75-300mm USM Canon lens

Dead fact.

http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/169269-USA/Canon_6472A002_75_300mm...

Plonker

I doubt there is a comparison here, the new 200-400mm with 1.4 walks all over that 75-300mm, not in the same class at all. Compare clarity when cropping.

Never buy a lense with minimum aperture above 2.8 in my life again.
Thanks.

I wonder what gives anyone here the right to judge if a lens like this one is overpriced or not... If you are a pro, you do the math and either figure that you can get your investment back, or not. If you are an amateur then every lens is overpriced. Or none. Is a Ferrari overpriced? Is an F1 car overpriced?

Besides: Did you ever look up how such a lens is produced? Have you ever tried to make a perfect piece of glass this size? Of course Canon has a markup on the lenses, and of course it does not cost them 11k to make each of them. But given the quantities they are produced in, I seriously doubt canon makes a living off of these products.

For the individual who comments that 560mm is no good for wildlife, you clearly are not a wildlife photographer. The Canon 500mm prime is one of the best wildlife lenses on the market.

For those that think its not worth the money, this lens is clearly not intended for you or your budget. But just because you cant afford it, dont suggest that all serious amaturers, amatureres or pro's will not afford this.. It will sell..

For those that have missed a shot because the subject came to close for your prime then this lens is a god send and for those that use your gear in extreme conditions such as Africa etc and subject your gear to the elements and are forever having your sensor cleaned and your images have dustspots then this lens is for you..

Expensive yes, to heavy no (lighter then the 400 f2.8 and 600 f5.6), superb lens 100%. Will i purchase one, yes.. It might not be for everyone but every photographer has an individual need and an individual budget.

I have to agree with many of the posts ditching the 200-400 f4. The photo sample is indeed poor. I have had many canon cameras and lens over the past 10 years. The issue is always the same: poor quality either in focusing or the lens fail to be as sharp as promised. I've had two cameras break down when on assignment in Peru. (One per trip) Canon hopefully will change their ways and stop trying to milk every penny out of people and simply produce a good product. Personally I think Nikon listens better to their customer base and not just the pros who are paid to sell their product. They have too, cameras are the main stay of their bottom line. No, I don't own a Nikon digital camera, but I am looking into it.

Coulter Photography is correct the images from Andy Rouse using the Canon 200-400 f4 are clearly amazing with a Canon 1DX ($6799). So the total investment of getting Andy's images are $18598. Or you could just completely switch to Nikon and get D4 Digital SLR Camera, AF-S NIKKOR 200-400mm f/4G ED VR II Lens, AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G ED Autofocus Lens , SB-700 Speedlight Shoe Mount Flash, AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II Lens for $17757.

Overlooking the price, the biggest drawback is the 8 pound weight. The whole point of this lens is quick shots by having a nice zoom range without changing extenders or the lens itself while following wildlife. Using a tripod or monopod in these situations is not really an option. Canon should have made every effort to reduce the weight for handholding. 560mm isn't fantastic, but being able to zoom back to 280mm for a moving bird would make up for that. Adding the cost of a 500 f4 and 70-200 or 100-400 plus an extra body is not any better, especially for travel, quick changes and portability.
For me, the 300 2.8 with 2X on a 7D and a second 7D with 100-400 is about the best compromise, but if the 200-400 weighed 6 pounds I would buy it. That extra 2 pounds makes a big difference.

Lots of opinions from people who have never seen or used this lens!

Having recently purchased this lens I find it strange how people can comment on it without having practical experience of using it. I am a keen amateur and had to think long an hard before making the decision to invest in it.

I can say that having used it a for a period of time I have found it to be wonderfully made, great optics and a brilliant addition to my kit.

Strangely enough I live in HK and don't use it for big game photography ;-)

Hi...Next season I shoot our junior soccer club photos and will be purchasing either the canon 400 f.2.8 or a 200-400mm f4 .i only have one body that being 5dmk3 with 70-200 mk2......if I bought the new 1 dx soon to be released next year what lens would I be better off getting  -  the prime or super zoom.....I will be one out and there won't be photographers at all ends - this makes me consider the versatile zoom however not at the expense of sharpness and super clarity which is my main priority ...... I have read nearly every column online and you tube and am still unsure.....are any pros using the 200-400 or are they sticking to the 400 prime?........appreciate your opinion...thanks kevin

First permit me to comment that manufacturers never inform us of future products or intentions prior to an official announcement.  Therefore I could not make a recommendation on which lens would be more optimal on future models.   I am sorry about that. 

Pros are using both the 200-400mm f4 lens as well as the 400mm f2.8.  A lot depends on the photographer and what types of work they are shooting and how they like to approach working on their subject.  Based on the criteria you mentioned I would recommend the 200-400mm zoom lens as the versatility will give you a greater advantage to get the shots you want.  Understandably these are expensive lenses, and my best recommendation would be to recommend renting each lens and doing a test run before purchasing, that way you are not stuck with the burden of buyer’s remorse if you purchase the wrong one.