on September 7, 2006
I've been using this lens about six years. In all that time, I can't remember ever shooting at any aperture smaller than f/5.6. It's amazingly sharp wide open and I've never had any reason to stop it down. When I first bought it, I used it on a tripod almost all the time. These days, I've started using it handheld and I can appreciate how well it handles. In good light, autofocus is fast and accurate. In low brightness and low contrast light, it gets a little slow and sometimes hunts. Not a real problem, just switch off the autofocus and use the superb manual focus ring. Images snap in and out of focus easily whether you do the focusing or you let the lens do it.
The lens is made like a tank. Mine has been subjected to a lot of use but it has never failed me. I sometimes use it with the Canon 1.4x Extender which makes it a 560mm f/8 lens. That combination does usually require a tripod but it is still a handy combination that retains great sharpness. I've also used it with the Canon 2x Extender as an 800mm f/11. It's a good idea to put it on a sturdy tripod and stop down a wee bit to get the best results.
If you can make use of the focal length and you can live with f/5.6 as the maximum aperture, I recommend it highly.
on June 9, 2009
I purchased this lens primarily for hand-held bird photography for use on my Canon 40D DSLR. The lens is typical of Canon's L-series "white" family of professional level telephoto lenses, having very high standards of construction and superb optical performance, even with a 1.4X teleconverter, when conditions allow.
This lens is known as the "overlooked" Canon telephoto, since it does not garner the glamor of its cousins, the really long, heavy, faster, and vastly more costly professional telephoto lenses. It is also known as the "toy lens" by bird photographers who mostly use those really Big Berthas for long-distance close-ups with blurred-out backgrounds.
I selected it for the high image quality wide-open, relatively light weight, and shorter physical length, allowing both hand-held and tripod mounted use, as well as its modest cost (compared to all high quality alternatives). The image quality is extremely high, even wide open at f/5.6, although it does improve slightly stopped down a notch or two. The image contrast, flare resistance, and color saturation are also excellent for a telephoto lens of its "older" fixed focal length optical design.
It doesn't have image stabilization (IS), which maintains the reasonable price, but I don't consider that much of a handicap using Canon's DSLR's, which allow low-noise high ISO settings for higher shutter speeds under decent lighting conditions. Braced against a tree, fence post, etc., and especially in a sitting position with arms resting on knees, for example, the lack of IS is simply not an issue. The focus is extremely fast and accurate with the 40D's sensitive all X-type focus points, and the quickly removable tripod mount is of an excellent design that all tripod mounts should have.
As a bonus, on the 40D, the lens has the equivalent field of view of a 640mm f/5.6 telephoto lens! When a high quality teleconverter can be used, this becomes almost a 900mm f/8 telephoto (actually 896mm)! Not to exaggerate the point too much, but that's starting to get into the Big Bertha focal length range, under the right lighting conditions. Other pluses include the handy built-in sliding lens hood and the very high quality included lens case, which are extra cost items for Canon's non-L lenses.
The 400mm and 500mm zooms all seem to suffer from image softness at their maximum focal lengths, which I would be using 90% of the time anyway, so I elected to simply get the highest quality fixed 400mm I could find for a reasonable price. I also decided that I could live with 1 f-stop less than the much more expensive f/4's, since this lens can be shot wide-open at the same high quality as the f/4's stopped down - thus resulting in f/5.6 anyway.
This reasoning is even more appropriate when including the slightly less expensive, still high-quality, third party lenses, such as Tamron, Tokina, Sigma, etc. I reasoned that since I plan to use this lens for the rest of my life, why compromise in image quality for a few percent lower initial cost? I'm not slamming third party lenses in general by any means (I own a few), just in this case of comparing available alternatives (including other Canon's) to the selection of this particular Canon 400mm and its intended use.
I was blessed with several excellent bald eagle shots on what I had expected to be just an initial "practice with the new lens" outing. Because of this excellent lens, it turned out to be a very productive shoot. I would include a thumbnail photo of one of these shots, except I can't seem to be able to "paste" a small image into Amazon's review window.
For one that is willing to accept and operate within the parameters of this lens, that photographer will be handsomely rewarded by Canon's 400mm f/5.6L telephoto lens. In my case, it is exactly what I was looking for and it is exceeding all my expectations.
on December 3, 2013
I have to start by saying what you already know: This lens is amazing. There is no other peer that gives you an aperture of f/2.8 at any higher focal length and weighs so little with the contrast and resolving power this lens provides. The image quality is so high that Adobe has determined that there is no need to generate a lens correction profile for this lens. So what is the catch and how are you going to monetize the investment?
There are a couple of photographic subjects this lens excels at. You can get publication quality shots of anyone playing a sport. You can do this at f/2.8 down to f/5.6 before you start to lose the background cream effect. The added bonus is that at f/2.8 this lens nails sharpness and contrast with unnoticeable vignetting, so you really don't have any reason to stop down to f/4 unless you're going for depth of field. Those two wide aperture settings mean shooting at the minimum shutter speed of 1/1000 to capture action is relatively easy to pull off at ISO 800 or less. I recommend either screwing directly onto the monopod if you only need to aim horizontally, or using a tripod and the very affordable Manfrotto 393 gimbal head (if you don't want to buy Really Right Stuff and Arca Swiss mount gear.)
As anyone who knows how Sports Illustrated swimsuit photographs used to be shot, they did use the 400mm and 600mm focal lengths for compression effects and bokeh in their shots. They now use Hasselblad medium format cameras for the majority of their cover photos, the same as Playboy does for their centerfold photos, but the prior use for full body length shots should be considered.
Nature photography is the second use. Ranging from hummingbirds at 15 feet to deer at 500 feet, this lens allows you to get low noise images at f/2.8 in low light and shutter speeds down to a legitimate workable limit of about 1/30 with Image Stabilization turned on. I added a sample photo of a finch eating some grass. I recommend a monopod with the Sirui L-10 monopod head for shots that have a shutter speed that slow and require non-horizontal aiming. (For some reason people love the Manfrotto 234 monopod head. But even though I love Manfrotto, I think the 234 is junk.) You can hold and aim this lens without a monopod and hang the lens around your shoulder with the over-sized neck strap that comes included when not in use. You will have nearly impossible success getting solid Image Stabilized shots due to motion blur below 1/60 if you try to hold and aim without the monopod. But 1/200 is a breeze to shoot while hand holding with image stabilization turned on.
The catch is price. With these high end products, Canon spends whatever is necessary to develop a best-in-class product and sets the sale price post hoc to recover costs and make margins. Contrast this with the lower end equipment where a sale price is determined beforehand followed by the research & development costs and materials selection to ensure healthy margins. I have used lots of professional glass over the years and I can confirm that you do get the best when you buy this lens. And as many of us know, these lenses never depreciate in value.
So how do you make money? Well, you are able to capture images that no other lens can come close to getting. Remember those Canon advertisements every month on the 15th page of National Geographic Magazine back in the 1980s and 1990s? They were very likely using this lens or the 600mm f/4L USM with a teleconverter to get those images. Every sports photograph that you will take with this lens looks like a sports illustrated cover. You can imagine that for those of us that have access to a lens of this caliber, we're demanding top dollar for our images. The only way things could be better is if something like this was made for a Hasselblad.
I should also mention that I carry a 2X Extender III everywhere with this lens so I have access to 800mm @ f/5.6 if I need it. I did test that combination on hot air balloons with and without the 2X extender. I could barely make out the detail of people standing in the basket at 800mm. However I could not make them out at 400mm. I would estimate that they were about 5 miles away. That is effectively the limit of what you can resolve with a 2X teleconverter because the people amounted to orange blobs about 4 pixels large. The point is that I couldn't make out the people at 400mm, so there is utility to using a 2X teleconverter, despite the light being spread out over a larger area so the effective aperture becomes f/5.6. I have uploaded a picture of the case with the teleconverter. Also, I would suggest adding the Canon PL-C 52 (W II) to your order. It's just about $100 extra, and then you'll have a circular polarizer, which will likely be useful in certain situations you run into. It'll kill your light by 1.6 stops, so just compensate for the 1.6 stop drop in light.
If you can afford this, you'll get beautiful pictures of whales and dolphins in the ocean, breathtaking compressed sunsets against foreground objects, and the most incredible 24 x 36 posters of your nieces and nephews playing soccer that they'll be worthy of being posted up for sale at the entrance to Costco.
And if you are in LA, you just might make the other paparazzi jealous. You can sell your latest shot of the Kardashian women with their newest husbands to US Weekly and make out the layers of makeup that they cake on their faces.
on March 26, 2005
After noting the captions of exceptional photographs that appeared in nature and photography magazines were often shot with this lens, I began to read the reviews. Based on the uniformly excellent reviews, I bought this lens and spent two weeks this January in the Florida Everglades taking pictures of birds. Based upon my experience with the lens, I would rate this as second in sharpness and contrast only to the 300 mm f2.8 Canon L series lens. The lens is handholdable for short periods to shoot birds in flight, but it is best suited for use on a solid tripod with a Wimberley tripod head to allow tracking of birds in flight.
on February 9, 2006
This is my favorite lens. I could not carry the heavier long range teles, and it was a hard decision for me. In the end, I chose this because it was lighter than the zooms.
Having previouly used the 75-300 IS zoom, I was leary of getting another 300mm prime, because I may miss the 70-300 range of shooting. But the clarity and colors are so true for this 300 prime, I don't look back.
Easy to handle, not so bulky. Fast, impressive photos. Even when I add a 1.4 teleconverter shooting in the 500mm range on my 20D. I use the f4 alot, no problem, great clarity. Awesome lens for the price.
on July 23, 2005
I got this lens for shooting architecture from a distance--an unsual application. I've also found myself using it to shoot kids soccer games. It's super sharp and very fast focusing. I haven't done formal tests at all apertures, but images appear vivid and contrasty at a range of settings. Online reviews rank this lens very highly and my own experience supports those findings.
The Image Stabilization seems to work very well, although be sure to turn it off if you're using a tripod--I've found that it can reduce image quality if you forget to turn it off in that application.
For shots where you'll be standing around a lot with the lens to your eye, ready for a shot, it gets kind of heavy to carry. If you're shooting sports, you might want to consider a monopod. For other applications, its weight is low enough not to be too big of a problem.
It comes with a canvas-like case that includes a loop you can use to attach it to your belt. I've found this works pretty well out in the field, particularly when combined with a photo-vest. The case also can be carried with a neck strap, but this gets in the way of your camera strap and is also thin, so it kind of cuts into your shoulder.
As I write this, the Amazon site has a link for 58mm filters for this lens. It takes 77mm filters.
on November 14, 2006
I needed more reach than 400mm gave on my EOS 1D, so I purchased Canon's 500mm f/4L IS three years ago. It's incredibly sharp out to the corners at f/4. With bird and mammal portraits, you see every feather, every hair.
The lens is light enough to use on a Wimberley Sidekick. Some claim to be able to handhold it, but I think its eight-plus pound weight is a bit much for that. I carry mine in a long lens case with backpack harness from Kinesis Gear.
This lens' image stabilization works very well. I've used it on a tripod with one-second shutter speeds and good telephoto technique, and gotten sharp, publishable images.
With an EOS 1D or 1Ds, lens and camera are rain-proof in mild storms.
I also got mine through Adorama, and had no problem with delivery or post-sale advertising.
If you buy one expensive long lens for wildlife, choose this one.
on August 13, 2007
On a 30D and Digital Rebel XT, I tested this lens against my Canon EF70-200mm F/2.8L USM IS with 1.4x extender, and against the EF70-300mm F/4.5-5.6 USM IS lens. I can honestly say, there is a noticeable sharpness and contrast improvement of the 300mm F/4 USM IS lens over the other two configurations. Bokeh is very good with the 300mm lens. I cannot complain. Would the extra $3K be worth it for the F2.8 300mm lens? Only if you make enough money from this field to pay for it AND make some profit. Otherwise, I'd get this lens to fill the position. Then only if it sees an abundance of work would I consider looking at the bigger brother. Selling this one as used and upgrading later would be more like renting it for a cheap price because it holds it's value.
Back to my comparison: The 70-300mm lens was sharper than the 70-200mm w/1.4x wide open, but the results were reversed when stopping these two combinations down. the 70-200 and the 300mm here have better color than the 70-300 zoom I tested. The issue with the 70-200mm w/1.4 extender is, I was unhappy with the bokeh (background blur) using the extender. I'd hate to see how bad this is with the 2x extender. In my opinion, and I admittedly pixel-peep, but if you are wanting to shoot at 300mm, and find yourself zooming as far as you can, this lens will deliver the goods. Everyone else basically says this lens beats the 100-400mm L zoom, and although I've yet to test one of those, I hear that the 100-400mm L zoom is not "L" sharp at anything above 300mm unless you stop it down. However, I understand that the 100-400mm L zoom is sharper at 400mm wide open, than the 300mm L w/1.4 extender. For this point, I'd consider whether you're shooting a cropped sensor or full-frame (I prefer the former, actually--long story)
Would I choose the 400mm non-IS lens? No. I don't know anyone who can shoot at 400mm without a tripod unless the sun is out and light is bright. Even then, I'd still prefer at least a monopod. At 400mm even IS would be limited. Even the 300mm tested here is difficult to hand-hold with IS and nearly impossible without IS. IS makes a tremendous difference, but not having it would require a tripod. I don't always want to carry one.
I took a star off on my review only because I found the AF pretty lousy. It does a great job of what it does (focus), but hunts an awful lot if the background is busy enough. About 20% of the time, I've had to simply disable it. Don't let this scare you away. No, it is sweet when the composition is sparse, or your subject is quite obvious. But if you're shooting birds in a tree, it may hunt.
Noisy IS? My copy seems rather quiet, but it does exhibit little clunks when starting and stopping IS. Honestly, this happens in my more expensive 70-200 L USM IS, and it happens all the time on nearly every car's A/C compressor when it starts and stops every 30 seconds during the summer. It's a normal thing. Maybe Canon will put a clutch in the IS later on, right?
Bottom line, if resolution, contrast, color, and sharpness is what you're after and you don't mind the fact that you don't have zoom, you'll like this lens. the price for what you get is not bad, especially when compared to the faster 300mm L lens Canon offers.
on December 4, 2011
I use this lens for astrophotography, which puts the highest possible demand on raw optical performance. I have been getting great results from the 400L wide open. I have no other lens that is usable for astro work wide open. Additionally, its construction is solid - another must for what I do. Highly recommended!
on August 16, 2007
A 400 MM prime for about a grand? Neat.
I originally bought the 100-400 when I got my Canon body, as I wanted to do wildlife photography and wasn't even AWARE of this lens. I wish I had, because this lens is (1) a pound lighter than the 100-400 (two pounds vs three), (2) doesn't pump dust into my camera body when I adjust the zoom (as there isn't any zoom!), (3) is shorter and so easier to balance in my hand, (4) has a built-in lens hood -- the one with the 100-400 is separate and surprisingly flimsy for a $1500 product, (5) produces a somewhat better picture, and (6) it is a 77 mm L lens, which means I needn't buy a new set of UV and polarizing filters. (Many, but not all, "L"s are 77 mm diameter lenses.)
No, there's no IS, but -- and here's the important part -- it doesn't NEED it. That one pound and shorter length makes all the difference, at least for me. But if you're undecided, then keep in mind that: (1) the 100-400 has that zoom, which means that when you CAN shoot in, say, 100 mm, then you're doing it at F/3.5, and (2) if your hands are a bit wobbly then you can do a lot of hand-held shooting with the IS.
I wondered if I'd miss the zoom, but in all honesty there has only been one shot in the two years that I've shot with this lens that I wished that I could dial it back a bit. A great lens for the money.