Thursday, February 19, 2015

Hands on with the Canon 100-400 IS Mark II

Spotted Towhee on Branch, Spring, Snohomish County, Washington
Captured with a Canon 1D Mark IV, Canon EF 100-400 f/4.5-5.6L Mark II, and a Canon Extender EF 1.4X Mark III

I spend relatively little time on this blog talking about equipment — I’m drawn more to the art than the mechanics — but there’s no denying that equipment plays a critical role. The wrong equipment can limit your creative vision. Bad equipment can cause you to miss the shot entirely.

With that in mind, I thought I would share some of my thoughts about the new Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens, which I’ve been using for about two months now. You won’t find test charts and studio comparison scenes here. There are plenty of those already that are produced under very controlled conditions. This is a Canon 100-400 Mark II review in the context of how it has performed for me as a professional nature photographer in real-world situations, which includes handling and other features that make a difference in my work.

First, some background. I was an early adopter of the previous generation of this lens. On the few occasions the lens had been serviced, the technician, after viewing the serial number, always pointed out it was one of the first off the line.

While people bashed the lens on photography forums, it was one of my favorite lenses and likely delivered the strongest return on investment of any piece of camera gear I’ve ever owned. My contribution to the book, the Wild Within, was produced exclusively with that lens. I couldn’t even tell you many magazine spreads have resulted from it. Of my most published images, at least half have been captured with that lens.

I have a longer, sharper prime telephoto lens, but I’ve always found the 100-400 much more versatile. It fits easily in a travel bag. I can take it kayaking. And with unpredictable wildlife and changing weather conditions, there’s no beating the flexibility of a zoom lens.

When the new version was announced, I had no reservations about placing an order. The original was the oldest piece of equipment in my camera bag. It earned its retirement. And I was looking forward to the creative potential of a lens that was more than 15 years newer.

Holly and Douglas Fir

How sharp is it?
One of the biggest complaints about the original lens — besides its trombone-line zooming mechanism, which we will get to later — was that it was perceived to be not sharp. I never had any complaints about mine, but if you can trust Internet forums, that perception seems to be a a widely held belief. I figured the new lens had to be better, but by how much?

As I snapped the first images with the 100-400mm Mark II, I could have sworn that a dramatic improvement was visible even on the camera’s LCD screen. After shooting a true comparison test, however, I’m now convinced the difference is much more subtle.

For this review, I tested the lenses with an outdoor scene on a cloudy day so that I would have fairly constant, even lighting. I tested three lenses: the new Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM, the original Canon EF 100-400 f/4.5-5.6L IS USM, and, because people will ask, the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM attached to a Canon Extender EF 2X Mark III. They were tested at full telephoto, which should be 400mm.

The three lenses were tested with a full-frame Canon 1Ds Mark III, which was set to 100 ISO with an exposure of f/7 at 1/5 of a second. The image stabilization feature of each lens was turned off. The lens foot was mounted to a tripod with a Really Right Stuff ballhead. I used mirror lock-up on the camera with a 2 second delay. There was no wind, but I shot several frames with each lens and picked the sharpest for the comparison, not that there was any real difference between the frames for each lens.

The lens was focused on the berries just below the center of the frame since they were in the same plane of focus as the leaves at the upper left. What you see here are comparisons of the berries and the leaves. You can click or tap on this comparison image to review it at full size; each square is a 100% crop.

At least to my eye, there appears to be very little difference between the two 100-400 images at the center. If I really study the crops, the 100-400 Mark II may show a tiny bit more fine detail in the texture of the leaves, but I also may be imagining that. There really doesn’t appear to be much difference. (As for the 70-200 Mark II, the extender appears to significantly degrade its performance; even at the center of the frame where the image should be sharpest, there is noticeably less detail in the leaves.)

In the corner, however, there is more of a gap between the two 100-400 lenses. The original version still performs very well, but its berries seem slightly less sharp and there is some faint fringing around the sharpest leaves in the upper left corner. The 70-200/extender combo produces sharp berries, but loses some of the finer texture of the leaves.

Wide open at f/5.6, both 100-400 lenses are very sharp and almost indistinguishable at the center. At the upper left corner, the original 100-400 performed well, but there’s a hint of distortion fringing around some of the edges that are going out-of-focus. That distortion isn’t in the images from the 100-400 Mark II, although, again, you’re only like to notice a difference between those lenses if you intently study the images. The 70-200/extender combo again loses some of the texture on the leaves.

Overall, the new 100-400 Mark II produced the sharpest images overall, but it wasn’t a mind-blowing improvement over the output from the original version. The only noticeable difference between the lenses is at the corners. If you’re using a crop-sensor camera that cuts off those corners, you may not notice any difference at all. The images produced by the 70-200/extender combo are certainly publishable, but they visibly lag behind even the first generation 100-400.

Full disclosure: Canon Professional Service replaced one of the element groups of my 100-400 Mark I lens and custom calibrated it several years ago. Due to heavy use in extreme environments and its push-pull zoom design, my lens had a tendency to attract dust inside. Every few years, I would send it in for internal cleaning. During one of those service calls, Canon decided on its own and without any prompting to replace one of the element groups. I’m aware that people complain of a huge variation in quality in lenses, so it’s only fair to point out for review purposes that my 100-400 Mark I received special attention. My 100-400 Mark II was purchased off-the-shelf from a retailer. I was not provided with any loaner or review equipment.

Leaning Snag, Jackman Ridge, North Cascades, Washington

400 isn’t quite 400 anymore
While there isn’t much of an image quality difference between the two 100-400 lenses, there is a difference in the magnification they deliver at 400mm. Both lenses claim to zoom to 400mm, but this animated image shows the original version reaches a bit farther than the new lens.

Both lenses are rated as having the same angle of view, but in my test, the older version appears to reach about 2% farther. I cropped the image from the Mark II lens to match the view of the Mark I; measured horizontally, it was just under 98% of the width of the file from the older lens. The Digital Picture conducted tests of its own and found 100-400 Mark II really only zooms to about 383mm or so.

I doubt I would have even noticed the difference had I not been trying to produce direct comparisons and it doesn’t concern me at all for the work that I do. The 70-200 with the doubler produced an image that was much closer to the Mark I.

Storm on Sauk Mountain, North Cascades, Washington

Subjective thoughts on image quality
The 100-400 is primarily used for wildlife and sports photography, which makes real-world image comparisons difficult. Unlike landscapes, the types of scenes it is used to photograph can be entirely different one second to the next. Aside from the one scene in the section above, I don’t have any other direct comparisons involving multiple lenses to show you.

My impression is that the 100-400 Mark II captures wonderful color tones and contrast, as is evidenced by this stormy landscape. As I pan through the image at the pixel-level, there just seems to be more detail in the trees and the storm clouds than I am used to seeing. If you look close, there’s a bald eagle in the tree near the bottom right corner of the frame. It really pops when the image is printed large. It may not show in an absolute resolution test, but there is a special, rich quality to the images it produces.

Anna's Hummingbird Perched, Snohomish County, Washington

Beautiful bokeh…
The new 100-400 Mark II has one more aperture blade than the previous generation — nine versus eight — which makes for beautiful backgrounds. I’m sure somebody can provide more detail than me, but here’s a quick-and-dirty explanation of why this is a big improvement.

Out-of-focus highlights in an image take the shape of the aperture, the variable-sized, iris-like part of the lens that controls the amount of light that passes through. So if each blade has a straight edge, you can’t make a perfect circle with just eight blades. The best you can make is an octagon. As you add more blades, you still don’t get a perfect circle, but since each line is shorter, the appearance becomes more rounded and less like a stop sign.

The additional blade may not seem like much, but it does make a difference, especially since the aperture blades in the 100-400 Mark II are rounded. Backgrounds with the 100-400 Mark II can appear almost dreamlike.

Raindrops on Maple Tree, Winter, Snohomish County, Washington

…with a hint of onion rings
With some lenses, bright out-of-focus circles in an image can produce a phenomenon known as onion rings. The term refers to bright circles that aren’t solid circles of light, but rather made up of layers of concentric circles. If the phenomenon is especially pronounced in a lens, it can produce highlights that actually look like a cross section of an onion.

As this image shows, the 100-400 Mark II does exhibit a mild onion rings effect. It’s more visible if you click or tap to enlarge the image. Many of the bright highlights in the image have a thin, bright outer ring, a thin dark ring, and then three to four rings of various widths and intensities.

I don’t find the rings unsightly, and they are similar in appearance to the rings produced by the much more expensive 600mm f/4 IS lens that I also use.

Anna's Hummingbird, Perched, Snohomish County, Washington

Close focusing
One of the new features that I am most excited about is the new lens’s ability to focus close. I don’t have a macro lens, but like to do close-up photography from time to time. The new version of the 100-400 lens has a minimum focusing distance that’s about half that of the old version, which is a tremendous improvement.

At 400mm, the Mark II can focus on objects that are just three feet away. The Mark I needs to be at least nearly six feet away (71 inches or 180 cm) from anything it photographs.

Given that I primarily use the lens for wildlife, a close focusing distance may not seem like much of a feature. Who can get within 3 feet of a bird? Actually, it is possible, as this image shows. This hummingbird image was captured at near the 100-400 Mark II’s minimum focusing distance at 400mm.

This setup allowed me to capture an image where the bird’s head is very sharp, but the background branches, even though they were only several inches away, where attractively blurred away. This image simply wouldn’t have been possible with the previous version of the lens.

And situations like this aren’t unheard of. Especially with remote cameras, getting within three feet of a bird may be a rare occurrence, but it’s no longer an impossible one. The 100-400 Mark II opens up more options.

Bald Eagle Flying Past Forest, Winter, North Cascades, Washington

Modern image stabilization
Image stabilization technology has also improved over the past decade and a half. The rule of thumb is that for sharp images from a handheld lens, you need to shoot at a shutter speed that is the reciprocal of the focal length or faster. So for a 200mm lens, you’d need to shoot at a shutter speed of 1/200th of a second or faster.

The original 100-400 IS was rated at two stop of stabilization, so at 200mm, it could produce sharp images with a shutter speed as slow as 1/50th of a second. The new 100-400 is rated at four stops of stabilization, so it should be able to produce sharp images at that focal length with a shutter speed as long as 1/12th of a second.

In practice, I was able to achieve more than five stops of stabilization with the new lens, although not constantly. I shot several handheld burst sequences of a scene at approximately 200mm. With the 100-400 Mark II, about half of the frames were acceptably sharp even at shutter speeds as slow as 1/5th of a second. At that shutter speed, all of the images from the original 100-400 were, shall we say, impressionistic.

Technique matters greatly. In that test, the lens was held horizontally and braced against my body. If the lens was held at an angle, such as photographing a bird that is slightly above me, the image stabilization was much less effective. I tried photographing a bird that was at a 30-40 degree angle above me. At a focal length of 400mm, I was not guaranteed a sharp image at even 1/80th of second, which is barely two stops of stabilization. But then at that angle, I was not able to brace by elbows, and therefore the lens, against my body.

The image stabilizer in the new lens also detects when it’s attached to a tripod and adjusts the stabilizer accordingly. That’s hardly new technology, but it is new to the 100-400. My old 100-400 would jump erratically when image stabilization was on while it was on a tripod, resulting in blurry images. It is nice not to have to remember to turn the stabilization off, although you should still turn if off if you are using the lens for long exposures from a tripod.

The new 100-400 also feature a new stabilization mode. The new mode 3 engages the stabilization only while the shutter is open. It’s intended to make it easier to compose images, since the stabilization won’t affect the view in the viewfinder, but I’ve honestly never seen that to be a problem.

Golden-Crowned Kinglet Feeding Upside Down, Snohomish County, Washington

New lens hood
Another favorite new feature of mine is the new lens hood, which features a sliding door near the filter threads that you can open to adjust a circular polarizer or variable neutral density filter.

More often than not, I use my 100-400 for wildlife photography, but occasionally, I also use it to photograph scenics. I used to have to stick my finger in the hood and adjust the filter by actually touching its glass, and then clean my fingerprint off the glass without moving the filter. The filter access door is a stroke of brilliance. I wish they would have thought of it years ago.

Murder of Crows in Flight, Snohomish County, Washington

New zoom design
The old 100-400 had a zoom mechanism that was quite polarizing. To zoom in, you’d actually pull the barrel of the lens out, a lot like a slide trombone. People either absolutely hated that or didn’t mind it. I didn’t mind it.

The new 100-400 works like every other zoom lens. There’s a ring that you turn to adjust the zoom. This is probably an improvement, since it allows you to keep your hand in the same spot, but what annoys me is that the rings are in the opposite position that they are on the Canon 70-200 IS Mark II, another lens that I commonly use.

The lenses are so similar that I turn the outer ring on the 100-400 Mark II thinking that I am adjusting the focus, when I’m actually causing it to zoom. The focus ring on the new 100-400 is very thin and half buried under the tripod collar, which makes it difficult to adjust. Canon’s assumption is probably that people who use this lens rely on auto focus almost exclusively, but I do like to fine tune my focus and I strongly detest the placement and small size of focus ring. One day I may get used to it, but even after two months, it’s the only part of the new lens that I absolutely hate.

You can also adjust the tension of the zoom ring, just as you could with the zooming mechanism on the original 100-400. I generally leave the tension of my lens at the loosest setting. The zoom ring is easy to turn and it generally holds its position if you’re even mildly supporting the zoom ring with your hand.

In the image here of the murder of crows in flight, the crows were passing directly overhead. Just the weight of the lens resting against my supporting hand kept the lens at 400mm, even though the lens tension was at its loosest setting. If you’re using it on a tripod, you will probably want to adjust the tension to lock it into place when shooting at extreme angles, but otherwise, you don’t need to worry that the zoom ring will slip.

Lichen Forest, North Cascades, Washington

So, should you buy one?
I’m not going to use this review to belabor the point about how much the new version costs. The new 100-400 costs about a third more than the lens it replaces. It’s not cheap. But it costs what it costs and whether you should buy it or not depends on whether the improvements are worth it to you.

Image quality wise, I don’t see a significant leap in sharpness between the two generations. If you go looking for differences, you will see that the new version is better in the corners, but there’s not a lot of improvement at the center of the frame. If you plan to use the image on a crop camera, you may not notice as much difference in the files between the two lenses. I use the 100-400 lenses most often on my Canon 1D Mark IV, which has a smaller sensor that crops off some of the sides. Subjectively, it seems that there's some improvement in sharpness with the new version, but it's not a mind-blowing improvement.

Beyond image quality, however, there is a dramatic, measurable improvement in the image stabilization and the reduced minimum focusing distance. For me, both of those improvements are worth the investment in the new lens. The 100-400 has always been my go-to lens for photographing from boats or tight spots, and these new capabilities simply open up new possibilities for me.

Besides, as I look at the images from the 100-400 Mark II, there is something about the files that looks noticeably better, even if it’s not immediately apparent on a head-to-head comparison.

If you plan to order the Canon EF 100-400 Mark II, you can help support this blog by ordering it through Adorama by using this link.

Have questions or comments about the new lens? Feel free to leave them in the comments and I will respond as I am able.

(Learn more about Kevin Ebi's new book, Living Wilderness, the first comprehensive portfolio of his fine-art images and download a free preview. Follow his photography on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.)


Anonymous said...

I'll clarify for others which are not familiar with Canon - there is no 100-400 Mark I. There is only the original 100-400 and the new 100-400 Mark II. Canon never uses 'Mark I' for any product.

Unknown said...

I'd be interested to see how it compares to the 400mm 5.6L. That is optically better than the old 100-400.

LivingWilderness said...

Terrance -- I don't have the 400/f5.6, but you can find an image quality comparison of those two lenses at The Digital Picture.

LivingWilderness said...

Thanks Anonymous for posting that clarification. Whenever I say "Mark I," I do mean the original Canon 100-400 f/4.5-5.6 IS lens. While Canon does not use "Mark I," I thought using that convention from time to time would make this post easier to read and understand.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for a great review on the new Canon 100-400 IS II
I also see a bonus with the new IS system and close focusing. But, also the construction that is perhaps at least 2x as better than the first lens.
More robust, front and rear fluorine coated lens and also the new ASC(air sphere coating), a nano tech that helps minimise reflections and flare.
As you have stated, the background blur(bokeh) is wonderful and it's mainly due to the new 9 blades but also with the new arrangement of the lens elements group(now 21 in 16 groups)... wonderful new lens.
A little pricey I must say but, if you can afford it it's a non-brainer IMHO.

Wolfgang said...

Thanks for the review. I would be interested to see the result if you attach the Mark II to a Canon Extender EF 1.4X Mark III.

Unknown said...

It works just fine with the 1,4 III ext. AF works with centerpoint on the 5D mk III. Sharpness remains on a high level.

Glenn Eriksson

LivingWilderness said...

Glenn, thanks for adding your experience with the extender. Wolfgang, that's my experience as well. The second hummingbird image in this post (the really close one where it's sitting on the branch that runs horizontally across the bottom of the frame), was shot with the 100-400 Mark II with the 1.4 Mark III extender. I'm very happy with the results. It's very sharp.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the review but I challenge your comments regarding IQ and crop cameras. With their higher pixel density I would expect cameras like the 7DII (even the 5Ds) to enable the new lens to show measurably better IQ at the longer focal lengths.



LivingWilderness said...

Hi, Jim -- I appreciate your comment, and I certainly agree that a camera with a higher effective resolution should show a greater difference between the lenses. But the 5Ds isn't even available for pre-order at this point, so anything I would say in that regard would be pure speculation. Further, if there was a quantum leap in sharpness, I would expect that you would still see some evidence of that on the 1Ds III and 1D IV. I'm just not seeing that at the center, though, as I mentioned, the new version is better in the corners.

What I had hoped to do with this post was to go beyond the discussions of absolute resolution, which you can get everywhere else and with much more detail. Nobody has ever bought one of my prints or licensed one of my images because they're incrementally sharper than another image they were considering. It's always about the overall look and content. What I hoped to bring to light is that whether or not there's a resolution improvement, the new version adds features, such as close focusing, that open up new opportunities for me and do let me make better images. It isn't just sharpness. There are things I don't like about the new 100-400 -- the placement of the focus ring for one and the fact it's at least 2% shorter on the long end isn't an improvement either -- but I'm very happy that I purchased the lens.


Anonymous said...

A comparison between the 100-400 (with and without 1,4X converter) MkII and the new Sigma 150-600 Sport would certainly be interesting.

Unknown said...

I have the 400/f5.6 prime, and I find it knocks the spots off the original 100-400 as far as auto-focus speed goes. I find for birds in flight, the old 100-400 is slow. How does the autofocus speed of the mark II compare with that of the old 100-400? Enough to make convince me to change from the prime to the 100-400 MkII?

LivingWilderness said...

Hi Peter - The autofocus seems pretty snappy, but I haven't had a chance to do a direct comparison to the old version. It feels faster, but for the work I do, it's really hard to do a direct comparison. Over the past week, I've photographed owls in deep shade and a large murder of crows taking off before sunrise and the new 100-400 performed flawlessly.

I was really frustrated by the old version when working from boats or a kayak, which makes tracking birds. In addition to the motion of the bird, compensating for the rising and falling water is a challenge. My assumption is that the dramatically better image stabilization will make a huge difference, but I haven't had a chance to get the kayak out yet.

The only problem I've had with focusing so far is when the lens is significantly out-of-focus, but that may be more the camera than the lens. I primarily use a 1D Mark IV and the AF technology is certainly better in today's cameras. If you switch from something that's very close to something that's closer to infinity, the lens can be slow to acquire focus under certain conditions (busy background), but no worse than the original version. With the Mark II, if the focus is already more or less in the ballpark, then it feels instantaneous.


Ken said...

I had the first version of 100-400 and found it great on film, 20D and 40D but when I got the 7d I did notice that it was producing softer images. I swapped over for 300f4L and this lens was fantastic. I recently got the 100-400 mark2 and it is fantastic but I it is not quite as sharp as the 300 prime. Perhaps I am over critical but there is a difference in the two lenses I have

LivingWilderness said...

Thanks for sharing your experience, Ken. I don't have the 300 prime to run a test of my own.

Unknown said...

I'm thinking of purchasing this lens and the 1.4x III extension tube for use (primarily) on my 60D, but perhaps also on my 5DMkII, and perhaps in the future, a 7DMkII, if and when I can afford that, as well. Anyone able to answer definitively if AF will work with all of these potential combinations?

LivingWilderness said...

Glenn - The combination of the 100-400 and teleconverters will not work on the 60D or the 5D Mark II. It will work on the 7D Mark II (but not the original 7D). As of right now, that combination would only work on the 1D series (1Dx, 1D Mark IV, and so on), the 5D Mark III, and the 7D Mark II.

Anonymous said...

It's interesting to know it's only about 383mm at '400.' Have you discovered what the '400mm' focal length is at closest focus? I'm guessing it's probably not much more than 300mm, because the mark I version was about 350, and this focuses much closer — and only starts out at 383.

The only reviewer I've seen who discusses this phenomenon is Ken Rockwell:

I don't mind them doing this, but Canon should be up front about it, at least saying what the actual close focusing lengths are in the manual, which I'm guessing they aren't.

300mm is quite different than shooting at 400mm. Photographers have a right to know.


Al N. said...

Many thanks for this review. A highly practical view point which has really helped me focus in on what may be the ideal get 'out of jail' zoom lens for me as an enthusiast.


Jerry Avis said...

I was very pleased with my old 100-400, but pre-ordered the new one mostly for the short minimum focus, which is very important to me. I also expected improved sharpness, but was not expecting anything fantastic. When received from Amazon, I did some very detailed testing against my old one and my 300MM 2.8ii, which is extremely sharp. I was shocked to find the sharpness of the new one was nowhere near as good as the old one. I took more photos and changed all conditions to see what was happening. Same no matter what I did. The image was noticeably brighter and unrealistic looking compared to the old one and the 300mm. Called Canon and described everything asking for a comment. He was sure I had a damaged example and suggested returning it. Amazon immediately sent me a replacement and I duplicated the tests. Identical results. I reluctantly returned it to Amazon asking for a refund and they were very gracious.
I was wondering if both early lenses came from a bad batch or if there could be any explanation. I found the new lens unacceptable, which makes no sense considering it should be improved in every way. I prefer the old push-pull, but really appreciate the short MFD. Were there any recalls of early production lenses or has anyone else had similar findings ?

LivingWilderness said...

Hi Jerry — Sorry to hear about your experience. I haven't had any trouble with mine and it was from a very early batch. As time goes on, however, I am missing the push-pull design more. The new location of the focus ring still drives me nuts. Kevin

davemunnphotography said...

Thought i would throw my twopenith in( not actually sure that's a real word these days) anyway... Having been frustrated by wanting to own a superzoom for Bird photography and affording a good one I went through cheap Tamron to recommended Prime and now to a Professional Lens. By that i mean this... I started out with a Tamron 150-600mm superzoom. It was cheap for the size of the lens and by all accounts promised great things- after 1 month I was not at all happy because the sharpness was not really there.It was very soft at the max length and AF was slow especially at tracking BIF. I decided to cut my loss and bought the 400mmL Prime (no IS with this lens) great speed of focus and mega sharp. However, that loss of the IS mechanism meant that for every 10 shots I would maybe be able to keep 1. That could have been me or the fact that unless you are really close to birds then the lack of the IS was clearly a problem. Once again i decided to get rid and buy the long awaited 100-400 IS USM MarkII - I have never owned the original version of this lens but if i compare it to the other two lenses i have used then this is pure quality. Sharp through the range and very fast focusing, not as fast as the Prime lens but pretty close - plus you the IS. On the Canon 7D markII it's a dream. The old saying rings true again.. you get what you pay for. End Of..

Gordon said...

"Have questions or comments about the new lens? Feel free to leave them in the comments and I will respond as I am able."
I'm hoping you can give me some guidance in using my own Canon 1D Mark IV with the new 100 400 mark 2 as we both seem to be using the same kit - my favorite lens being the 70-200 2.8 mark 2 also.
I'm getting totally erratic results when using the 100 400 on a tripod - I keep getting "judry" looking shoots even though i have it set at 1000 plus and 6.3f
i'm trying to take sailing boats at up to 1/2 mile . I set it on a tripod but pan -sometimes with stabilization on 1 and other times on 2 ,but cannot get constant results . I know its down to my technic
Any guidance would be much appreciated


LivingWilderness said...

Hi Gordon - Is it possible that heat and humidity are the problem? When there's a lot of water vapor in the air, I've had trouble getting sharp images at 50 feet, let alone 1/2 mile. Heat stirs up the air, so the distortion can be really erratic. If you're getting better results at certain times of the day (when it's cooler), I'd think this is the problem. A few summers ago, when I was working on the bald eagle project along a canal, I wasn't able to get any images after about 10 a.m. because of this problem.

Gordon said...

You hit it -
I was taking even longer range shots over the lake today
cloud and damp with just a hint of sun on the fells
and I've got the most perfect clear shots even at up to 3 to 4 miles +
Thanks so much for your advice
I'll wait until the winter to take long range photos
now I know the problem , just some careful planning & luck with the British weather
Thanks so much for your time
From the fells of Cumbria-across the pond

dave munn said...

Hi-I have been deciding to purchase the 100-400mm and your review is comprehensive enough for me to make that purchase,regardless of cost. However,are you aware that if I buy through the link you have posted to support this blog then the lens cannot be registered with Canon as they see Amazon as a retailer of grey import products.I have tried to register purchases from Amazon and out of Europe locations before and they won't do it.Your thoughts would make interesting reading.
From Dave at

LivingWilderness said...

Hi Dave - I had never heard that, although I have found you do have to be careful when ordering through them. I don't think they make it clear enough when you buy rough them vs. buying through some other seller who's selling the item in their online store. I am not sure it's clear when you are buying from Amazon or through them. I would be very careful with the latter, because I have never heard of those stores and am guessing those are all or at least mostly gray market. But I do want you to get one you can register, after all I needed the warranty on my original one. Don't worry about me - reviews like this aren't my source of income. I do them just to share information. Thanks, Kevin.

Steve Walmsley said...

Thanks for the review, good to read real world experience rather than just test bench.

I guess from one of your earlier comments you have found the zoom ring more troublesome over time? Would that be a deal breaker for you? The original lens is now about half the cost of this or less. Is the IS worth it?

Do you use a UV filter on your lenses to protect the front element? If so any suggestions or recommendations as to particular model or manufacturer. Is there any sacrifice in image quality in using a UV or similar?

Thanks again


LivingWilderness said...

Hi Steve,

I remain frustrated by the position of the zoom ring, although that's because I also use the 70-200 IS Mark II. The lenses are quite similar with the exception that the rings are reversed and I often find myself turning the wrong one. Even with that frustration, it's not a deal breaker. The new 100-400 is better in almost every way. But as someone who uses a variety of Canon lenses and has to react quickly in the field, I wish there was more consistency between lenses.

As for UV filters, I almost never use them. I haven't done any tests to see how much image quality is lost with a UV filter, but I think there would have to be some loss — although likely not much — when you add any extra glass to the lens. I only use them if I'm working in volcanic areas where boiling mud pots could splatter onto the front element or if I'm at the ocean where salt water spray could hit the lens. I almost always have the lens hood attached. For me, I find that's enough protection.


Accountants London Lady said...

Wonderful photos, that bird almost has iridescent feathers!

TheTank811 said...

Hi there! Do u use any uv filter for lense protection?

LivingWilderness said...

Hi TheTank811. I do not use UV filters unless I'm working in an especially hazardous area — in ocean salt water spray or volcanic areas where there's bubbling sulfur mist. I do always use the lens with the hood attached and have found that — for me — the hood offers adequate protection.

redlester said...

Thanks for this, really interesting stuff. I've just ordered this lens and can't wait to try it out, as I'm upgrading from the 70-300mm! :-)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your sound advice Kevin, I am an amateur and my husband bought me my 40D a few years ago and Ive done photography courses and know the basics, but am wanting to now look at going into photography more deeply. I have been looking at this lens for a while now.
I live in South Africa and we have wonderful wildlife which is a love of mine, but also want to look at some action sports too (kite surfing, SUP etc), and so I reckon this will be an excellent lens for that.
I was then thinking price wise, purchasing the 70-300mm plus a converter, but am I correct in my understanding, that the 1.4x converter doesn't work with 70-300mm - But this 100-400mm would work with it?
Your overview has been so helpful so I reckon I'm going for it!

LivingWilderness said...

Hi Fiona! I don't have any firsthand experience with the 40D, but I do not think it will allow you to use a teleconverter with this lens. A 1.4x teleconverter turns this lens into a lens with a maximum aperture of f/8 and there are very few cameras that will focus with an aperture that slow. I know for sure that the 1-series cameras well, as does the 5Ds. The 7D may autofocus as well with a teleconverter, but I don't think any other camera does. And that is the very same problem that you will have with the 70-300.

Anonymous said...

The 80D will allow focus at F8 with 100-400 IS II and the 1.4 ex III.

Unknown said...

Very good. Is there a use for this lens in Long exposure photography?

LivingWilderness said...

Sure, Blaise. This is a long exposure image of a murder of crows flying to their night roost. I have also used it for long exposures to capture patterns and details on dark forest floors, and for close-ups of rocks as ocean waves crash by. I do turn the stabilizer off for those images, however.

Unknown said...

I have the 7D Mark II and used the Tokina 11-16mm for my first venture into Long Exposure. Have Photomaster ND circular filter but unsure of it's proper setting for daylight long exposure. Just got the Canon 100-400mm II and would like to try it. Thanks for the reply.