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Design

Here's the 200-400mm with its natural companion, the EOS-1D X. It is huge - over 36cm / 14" long - and a heavy beast too, weighing in at no less 3.6 kg (~8lb). Add in that not-insubstantial 1D-series body and you're looking at a distinctly unwieldy combination - it can be used hand-hold, but for any kind of extended shooting you'll want to use a monopod at least. The barrel is festooned with control rings, buttons and switches - we suspect it has the most controls ever seen on an SLR lens.

Here we're looking down onto the top of the lens. The tripod collar rotates, with click stops every 90 degrees, but it doesn't detach. There's a choice of two 'feet' - the longer one shown here doubles as a padded carry handle. The hood is a substantial metal cylinder which locks in place using a large screw, and is nearly half the length of the lens. It has a chunky rubber bumper at the front for protection against knocks.

On APS-C the lens offers an equivalent range of 320 - 640mm, or 450-900mm with the extender engaged. We can't imagine anyone's likely to use this lens with an EOS 100D, but we couldn't resist seeing what it looks like.

The hood reverses over the barrel for transport, and the front cap is a fabric 'bucket' that's held in place by velcro fastenings. There are also lugs on the side of the barrel for a shoulder strap.

Built-in 1.4x Extender operation

The built-in 1.4x teleconverter is engaged by flicking a chunky lever on the side of the barrel. This swings the optical unit out of its housing on the side of the barrel into the lens's light path. A sliding switch can be engaged to lock the extender in either position, and a red line on the switch allows you to check its position at a glance.

This lever on the side of the barrel engages the built-in extender. It's big and chunky, and should be easy to operate while wearing gloves. The sliding switch on the side of the lens barrel can be used to lock its position.

The movie below shows how this works - it's a deceptively simple mechanism. But don't underestimate the technical accomplishment here - to maintain image quality the Extender has to be centered within a fraction of a millimeter, time after time after time. When it's engaged the maximum aperture selectable by the camera becomes F5.6, which gives an indirect indicator of its position.

Canon EF 200-400mm f/4 L IS USM Extender 1.4x - operation of built-in teleconverter

It's possible to tell whether your images were shot with or without the extender engaged simply by looking at the EXIF data. Without the extender, the lens reports as 'EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM'; when it's in place, the EXIF says 'EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXT'.

Optical diagram

The lens's optical diagram below shows how the Extender fits into the overall construction. It slots in front of the rear lens group, unlike a conventional teleconverter that goes between the lens and camera body. Here you can also see all the special glass used in the lens, and the location of the IS group.

Controls and body elements

Here's a closer look at the main lens controls. From left to right we have a set of focus stop buttons arranged around the barrel, so that in principle one should be within reach no matter what orientation you're holding the lens. Next to this is knurled metal ring that's used to perform the lens's powered focus functions: twisting it drives the lens to its preset focus distance.

The widest ring on the lens is the zoom control, which is marked at the 200, 250, 300, 350 and 400mm positions. Next to it is the manual focus ring, which is linked to simple distance scale.
Nobody could accuse Canon of skimping on the lens barrel switches. This set next to the mount deals with focusing - the top allows selection of Auto, Powered or Manual focus. As usual with a top-end Canon lens, you can tweak the focus manually at any time when using AF. Power Focus is designed to give smooth, controlled focus pulls during movie shooting.

Below this is the focus distance limiter switch.
These switches are set further forward on the barrel, and deal with the image stabiliser.

Mode 1 is the 'standard' setting that stabilises in both dimensions. Mode 2 automatically detects panning, and turns off stabilisation in the direction of movement. Meanwhile Mode 3 is a relatively recent addition to Canon's super-telephoto lenses, and only activates the IS system at the point of exposure.
The lower set of controls deals with the focus preset function. This allows you to set a particular focus point of interest - perhaps the goal line when shooting sport, for example. A quick twist of the metal ring in front of the zoom ring then quickly resets focus to this distance.
As with other super-telephotos, it wouldn't be practical to use screw-on filters with the 200-400mm's huge front element. Instead it uses a drop-in filter holder behind the Extender unit.
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Comments

Total comments: 14
jesusrc

Andy writes: "... the lens comes ridiculously close to matching Canon's very best primes. Click for comparisons with the EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM and EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM in our lens widget."

I would like to understand how he arrived to that conclusions when he is testing combos and not lenses. The EF 300/2.8 L IS USM II test was carried out on a 5D II while the 200-400 zoom was performed on a 5D III. The results will never be truly comparable.

0 upvotes
jesusrc

I had it. Before it I owned th3 300/2.8 II and now I'm back to it. The reason? Bokeh and weight. I can't complain about quality: the 200-400/4 1.4x is, indeed, certainly the best zoom lens ever made by humans.
But I prefer not to have two rings to manipulate when holging such a big and heavy lens. 300/2.8 II is my favourite. Razor sharp, and a beautiful bokeh.

0 upvotes
Vmo9

This lens is over-the-top in performance, quality and deliverability! You get what you pay for in this fine lens. If you can't afford one, I highly recommend renting it. When shooting Equestrian, Football, Lacrosse or Soccer (my main focus), you are not confined by the Prime Lens focal length. The f-stop is sufficient for low light, end of day shooting. When shooting Equestrian events, this lens shines and gives the photographer the ability to quickly change focal lengths and capture the action from 200mm to 560mm! This lens has given new life into what I've never been able to accomplish and when comparing to other pros, I've noticed they too are considering (or already have) purchasing or renting one. The 400mm f2.8 is used much less and only for particular reasons. I use a mono pod but have also shot hand held and still captured incredible shots with no signs of camera shake (using a 5D Mark III or 1 DX)!
Without a doubt, this lens is my favorite for shooting sports, wildlife, etc.

0 upvotes
Outback Aus

How does the lens compare to a prime lens say either the 300 or the 600 for sharpness. Some people are saying the pictures are a bit soft. I also use a 70 - 200 2.8 lens. I am getting mixed feed back. It is a lot of money to shell out and not get a sharp image. Thanks

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 10 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
manolo romero

I just recently bought the lens and I'm very happy with the quality.
Its lighter than 400 2.8 sharpness is excellent. The ability to track subjects from a distance as you zoom are superb. That missing range from 200 to 400
is wonderful to have at a twist of a barrel. I can olny think of the shots Ive missed grabbing my 70-200. The ability to frame shots alone are worth a bundle. I let some fellow phtographers try the lens out while shooting a college Lacrosse match and they were equally pleased. The 1.4 ext. also gives you that range that would take an addition lens to cover, especially when shooting with a 1D IV. This lens has become my favorite sports lens in my arsenal.

0 upvotes
Dr Bhaskar Maitra

Very expensive. Out of bounds for 99% of photographers. Canon should reduce its price to realistic levels for increased sales. Only then, it can make a good profit margin. Very poor value for money.
Waiting for a head-on comparison with others....

0 upvotes
oysso

Reduce price? It is a very specialized and costly to develop lens. For the right people this lens is much value for the money. But you have to earn money from your shooting or have loads of money to buy this one.

1 upvote
MarshallG

I would love to see Canon do this with their 200mm f/2.8 L lens -- a compact, sharp lens that 200mm f/2.8 or 400mm f/5.6. That would be fantastic.

4 upvotes
oysso

there is a 100-400 4.5-5.6 for the masses already. That would suit most people on a budget. and you have the 70-200 2.8 which you can turn into a 140-400 5.6 with a 2x teleconverter.

0 upvotes
dbltapp00

I use the 70-200 f2.8 IS II with a 2X a lot. Only a stop slower, for sports that's not a problem. Which is why they have that built-in 1.4X, without which that lens would have been a dud.

0 upvotes
Scorpius1

Amazing lens,all we need now from canon is a top knotch sensor,and maybe they can knock a few hundred grams from the weight of the 1DX successor while they at it..

0 upvotes
Maciejewski

Wonder if they need testers for this lens. I'm available!!!

0 upvotes
Francis Carver

Lens weighs 8 pounds or close to 4 kilos according to the specs. R U sure you're in shape for it? Maybe it will come with its on 2-wheel dolly?

0 upvotes
Scorpius1

This is pretty light compared to the 400mm 2,8 mk1...

1 upvote
Total comments: 14