Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM: the perfect 400mm budget option for A7II?

Started Dec 14, 2015 | Discussions thread
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dagerber New Member • Posts: 11
Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM: the perfect 400mm budget option for A7II?
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A year ago, I bought a Sony A7II body and two used 55mm f/1.8 and 35mm f/2.8 prime lenses. I'm very happy with it, I enjoy the features, the size of the system and of course the quality of the pictures it produces.

A couple of month later, I bought an old, used Nikkor 200mm/f4 manual focus prime. I tried to capture some bird images in our garden, but with a 200mm lens, it was not an easy task. I managed to take some good shots, you can find an example here
https://500px.com/photo/109616965/kleiber-by-daniel-gerber

I started looking for a 400+ mm option. It should have AF capabilities, as I found focus peeking to be sub-optimal for birding.

Wildlife and birding is not my primary interest. If it was, I wouldn't have bought an A7 System in the first place. And no, buying a second camera is not an option for me and I prefer the A7II for non-wildlife over any other system.

The E-mount system doesn't offer any lenses in that range. I know about the rumors, that in 2016, there might be a telephoto lens coming. But it's only a rumour and what would it cost?
E-mount lenses are of excellent quality, but cost a lot of money (I'm not saying they are not worth it). I expect the price to be higher than its A-mount counterpart, and that is simply out of budget for me. Second, I would like to use it now.

I started googling around in September 2015, reading blogs and tests and found out, that the only working option would be the A-mount Tamron 150-600 or the Sony 70-400 G2 with the LA-EA4.

I didn't want to use an adapter with a mirror in front of a mirrorless camera sacrifing light and I knew, that my A7II with its 117 phase detection focus points should be able to AF a lens, if the LA-EA4 could do it with just 15 of them.

Then came the new firmware. Thank you Sony! All of the sudden, a lot of lenses became new candidates. Obviously, very view people have experience yet with the new 2.0 firmware and adapted lenses. Thankfully, Brian Smith did a lot of testing and quite a few people in this forum did.

I then again, started googling and also looked at the used marked. I found very few people actually testing with the A7II, most of the tests were done with the A7RII. I wasn't quite sure, if a lens would work on the A7II, when it was tested positive on the A7RII and vise versa… So when a lenses AF was working with the A7RII, I took it as a hint, that it could also work on the A7II. And when a lenses AF was not working properly an the A7RII, I expected it to also not to work on the A7II (the A7RII has a more PDAF points).

You can get a Sony 70-400 G1 for a very good price, but it looks like the AF performance is not so good. On the other side, the 70-400 G2 would be the obvious choice, but there is no used market for this lens. It costs quite a bit of money when buying new. For about the same price as for the G2, you can get a Canon 100-400mm L II USM, which seems to be optically better than the G2 (I have no hard facts for that, just my findings from various blogs). There is also no used market for this lens and it doesn't seem to autofocus well above 200mm with the A7RII.

Then there is the Tamron 150-600. What I dont't like about this lens: it is bulky and heavy. And I'm not convinced, that it is optically as good as the other options.

Then finally, there is the Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM. It seems to be the perfect match for me.

It's lighter, smaller, very well built and optically as good as the Canon 100-400mm L II USM. Aside from the Tamron, it's a lot cheaper than the other options. And there is a used market for this lens that might be growing a lot next year, because Canon wants to bring an updated, stabilized version of this very lens.
On the negative side: it's not as versatile as a zoom lens, it's not meant for landscape photography and even for wildlife photography, there might be situations where you would want to zoom out. And may be most negative point: the minimal focus distance is quite high at 3.5m

Brian Smith reports when testing this lens with the A7RII: „Metabones: Very slow yet accurate PDAF AF-S but much too slow for AF-C“. Too bad, I really would like to have a fast AF.
Then I found another user, confirming the findings of Brian Smith with the A7RII, but saying, that it actually works very well with the A7II. Bingo! The two cameras seem to behave differently with this lens (see the post in French http://www.alphadxd.fr/viewtopic.php?f=121&t=103952 ).

I finally bought a used Canon EF 400mm in excellent shape, and also ordered the latest metabones adapter. The metabones adapter is an investment for other potential Canon lenses. One of the reasons I bought the A7II was its capability to adapt other lenses.

I only had a couple of hours to play with this lens, but I can confirm AF works! Don't expect it to work as good as on a Canon body (I could not compare), but it works good enough for me.
I found it works best when prefocussed in AF-C. I was even able to use the AF-C on birds flying by (if that is your primary interest, get a Canon or Nikon camera – it will work better).

If I select „ISO Auto“ in mode „A“, the camera selects 1/500s.

To get an idea of how sharp it is, see the attached image (shot at 1/500s handheld)
https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B4xrA3oS_58HVTJGVGkyNlVBSERIYWlxYk51WmIwMUlUQnpj/view?usp=sharing

The other images I put on 500px are not perfectly sharp, they were shot at ISO 1000 and the camera selected 1/250s – too slow for handheld. But you get an idea.
Images are cropped:

https://500px.com/photo/132197751/taking-a-winter-bath-by-daniel-gerber
https://500px.com/photo/132197757/taking-a-winter-bath-by-daniel-gerber
https://500px.com/photo/132197755/taking-a-winter-bath-by-daniel-gerber

The AF is unusable in very low light, but that is no use case for me. You won't get sharp images in dim light, even with lenses that cost as much as a small car.

Links I found useful (among many others):
http://www.kenrockwell.com/canon/lenses/400mm-f56.htmhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1fmMG5jgDwkhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lgurGidoSJs

For now, I'm very happy with it!

I hope this helps! Any feedback is welcome.

  • Any other photographers out there owning and using this lens on a A7xx?
  • Anyone having an idea, why the lens performs well on the A7II but not on the A7RII? Firmware of the camera or Metabones firmware? Hope this gets fixed for you guys owing an A7RII!
  • Anybody tried the Canon 100-400mm L II USM with the A7II (not A7RII)?

Daniel Gerber

 dagerber's gear list:dagerber's gear list
Sony a7 II Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM Sony FE 35mm F2.8 Sony FE 55mm F1.8 Zeiss Loxia 21mm F2.8 +4 more
Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM Sony a7 Sony a7 II
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