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Image Quality Examples

We haven't spent long shooting with the 200-400mm. Indeed as we only had an hour or so with it wandering around Hammersmith in West London, weren't able to make any useful assessment of several aspects of its performance that will be critical to users (such as autofocus tracking, image stabilisation, and weathersealing). But we can, even from a handful of hand-held samples, come to the conclusion that the optics look just as special as the test results suggest.

We made a point of shooting finely detailed subjects wide open, and the lens produced excellent results right across the frame with impressive sharpness and minimal chromatic aberration. Vignetting can be visible when shooting wide open with the Extender in place, but it's in no way objectionable. The examples below should give some idea of just how good the optics are in real-world use - we're using RAW conversions with no lens corrections applied.

Without built-in Extender
Canon EOS-1D X, 200mm F4, 1/2500 sec Canon EOS-1D X, 400mm F4, 1/2000 sec
100% crop, centre 100% crop, centre
100% crop, bottom right corner 100% crop, bottom left corner

These samples show impressive resolution into the extreme corners of the frame. There's just a touch of green/magenta fringing at from lateral chromatic aberration at 400mm, but is seems churlish to complain. Now let's see if there's much image quality penalty from snapping the converter into place.

With built-in 1.4x Extender
Canon EOS-1D X, 280mm F5.6, 1/640 sec Canon EOS-1D X, 560mm F5.6, 1/1250 sec
100% crop, centre 100% crop, centre
100% crop, right edge 100% crop, left edge

Just as the test results indicate, there's little sharpness penalty to using the converter at all. The lens is still picking lots of fine low-contrast detail right across the frame at both ends of the zoom, and there's still only a small amount of CA. Vignetting is perhaps a touch more visible, but this is trivial to fix in software these days.

Close focusing

The lens has a minimum focus distance of just 2 metres at all settings - including with the extender engaged. This is quite impressive for an ultra-telephoto; Canon's EF 500mm f/4 L IS II USM, for example, only focuses down to 3.7m. You could be forgiven for expecting an obvious loss of image quality at close range - and again, the lens might surprise you.

EOS-1D X, 386mm F4, 1/320 sec 100% crop

You're unlikely to win Wildlife Photographer of the Year for a snap of a pigeon - particularly one of London's scruffy mutants - but it illustrates the point here. We've shown a 100% crop of feather detail at the point of sharpest focus, and it's really pretty impressive. Image stabilisation has kept the image nice and sharp at a marginal shutter speed (particularly given this lens's size and weight).

Image stabilisation

We haven't been able to test precisely how well the lens's stabilisation system works, but first impressions suggest that it does just as well as you'd expect from the company that first put IS into an SLR lens more than 15 years ago. Crucially it allows you carefully compose your shots in the viewfinder even when hand-holding the lens at 560mm - something that would be pretty much impossible with an unstabilised lens this size and length (it's hard enough with a 300mm consumer zoom).

EOS-1D X, 212mm F4, 1/125 sec 100% crop

Given that this is a huge, heavy lens, without stabilisation you'd expect to need rather faster shutter speeds to avoid blur compared to a lightweight consumer telezoom. But this shot was hand-held at ~200mm and 1/125sec, and is still pretty sharp.

Overall impressions

Canon has a reputation for designing spectacularly good telephoto lenses, and from the lab test results and a few handheld shots of static subjects, it's clear that the 200-400mm is exceptionally good. On full frame it's near-flawless, and there's practically no perceptible sharpness penalty for using the extender. On the more resolution-hungry APS-C format it also performs exceptionally well, suggesting it has plenty in reserve for any upcoming higher resolution sensors. This is pretty stunning stuff for a zoom.

Equally important for this kind of lens, of course, are the autofocus and image stabilisation systems. While shooting with it for an hour in one of the less-interesting parts of West London isn't an ideal way test these things, we can say that AF with static subjects is very fast and extremely accurate, while the IS system is good enough to allow you to compose shots with this monstrous lens hand-held. We can't assess how well continuous AF will work, of course, but there's no reason to believe it will be any worse than Canon's other professional super-telephotos.

The question, of course, is whether all this can justify Canon's asking price. We've got to be honest here - we're not professional sports or wildlife photographers, and therefore not best-placed to judge the value proposition of the 200-400mm, or how it compares to other top-end telephotos in real-world use. Of course it is also the kind of lens that very few individual photographers will buy for themselves; instead it's more likely to be purchased by agencies, for whom the value proposition is entirely about the saleable shots it can bring in.

In this regard the Canon's capabilities make it unique among top-end super-telephoto zooms. For example the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 200-400mm f/4G ED VR II doesn't have the built-in extender (but is half the price), and the Sigma APO 300-800mm F5.6 EX DG HSM is even larger and heavier, but lacks image stabilisation or weathersealing. This doesn't excuse the 200-400mm's price, but it does go some way to explaining why Canon feels justified in asking it. From our point of view, the absolutely stellar optics and innovative design earn the lens our top award.

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Total comments: 16

I have used this lens on my 5D3 and, funny though, on my EOS M3 too. I have found it is more powerful on EOS M3 than that of 5D3. Bad thing is that it drains battery a lot faster than 5D3.

I also used it to take some Blood Moon photos 2 nights ago, but not that good due to very low light for focusing......

I have just got it for 2-3 months, still need more time and opportunities to familiar with all the functions of it.

It is also DARN HEAVY. It is not appropriate to carry around. With this lens purchased I am changing my car to a SUV so that I can put it in the back of my car, drive to a place, set up, shoot, pack up and drive to another way to bring it for hiking...............

Comment edited 4 minutes after posting

This lens is ridiculously over-rated for the money! I paid $12,000AUS for a lens that vignettes unforgivingly and has 'hands down' the worst out of focus bokeh I have ever seen. Canon's Lightroom 'lens correction profile' is total rubbish, it swings from making matters worse (edge darkening) to over lighting the edges depending on where the zoom is! Canon have totally conned us with this lens except for its' subject sharpness (which I admit is impressive). Trouble is … a sharp subject is not all their is to an image! I have thousands of images to back up my views.


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.

1 upvote

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.


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.

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
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.

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....


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

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.


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.


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.


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..


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

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?


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

Total comments: 16