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