EF 100-400 II vs. EF 70-200 f2.8 III + 2x ext

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Marco Nero
Marco Nero Veteran Member • Posts: 6,144
To: MirceaG - EF 2x III extenders + EF 100-400mmL II

MirceaG wrote:

Has anyone tested the sharpness on these two combos? I read somewhere that 100-400 is better but no details were given. If they're close, I'd rather go with the 70-200 plus the extender for the extra versatility of shooting at lower f stops below 200mm (and a bit of inconvenience in having to add/remove the extender). The weight, size and price of the two lenses is very comparable

I remember comparing these lenses previously. No doubt someone who owns both will be able to chime in with a few thoughts. What I can do is list a few things worth considering about the EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens because that was the lens that I was eventually compelled to buy. Something to consider about the EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM lens is that people (including professional reviewers) have noted that it's virtually the same as the previous Mk II version. I think it was the reviewer on Digitalcameraworld who said that the Tamron G2 version "has a better stabilizer at half the price" (in reference to the 70-200mmL III). The also stated that this lens was virtually the same as the Mk II. Even good old Ker Rockewell's review of the lens (which is usually a very fair and balanced one) said that this lens is "99% the same as the previous 70-300mm f/2.8L IS II lens". However, I happen to know that a lot of people talk about the option of buying this lens and then adding an extender to it - which will not only work, but it should bypass the restrictions built into the electronics of some DSLRs to inhibit extender use. Ken also notes that he prefers the EF 100-400mmL II because "it focuses closer than any 70-200mm lens" and he "...never [misses] the 70-100mm range". In a prior review of the 70-200mmL II lens he opened up the review by saying that lens was 'generally replaced by the EF 100-400mmL II lens'.
So whilst both lenses sell for similar prices where I am, the EF 100-400mmL II lens was the lens I chose to buy. Part of that attraction for me was the extra focal length. You might shoot weddings for all I know - in which case the extra zoom might be unnecessary overkill.  If you want to shoot weddings, either lens is fine.  You might appreciate softer bokeh from the 70-200mmL II although if you are shooting wildlife, you're going to want as much zoom as you can get your hands on.  The 70-200mmL III is actually slightly longer than the EF 100-400mmL II lens (199mm compared to 193mm) but the 100-400mmL II is heavier at 1570g versus 1440g.  That's only slight I guess. But there's no Zoom Lock on the 70-200mmL III.
Do Extenders affect image quality?
I think we've all asked ourselves that question:  Does the use of an Extender reduce image quality?  It sure used to before the Mk III Extenders became available.  I'd say they still do by nature.  But not in the same way they used to.  The earlier versions were said to soften the image and some wildlife photographers said they would prefer to enlarge an image by 200% rather than use a 2x Extender because they honestly felt the results were sharper.  This led me to conduct my own experiment with the Mk III Extenders after Canon repeatedly asked me why I had no interest in extenders.  The lousy opinions of earlier model extenders had rubbed off on me.  Yes, when you're zooming past 1200mm with an extender there's going to be an effect on your images but in some ways, the effect is pleasant.  The bokeh becomes unique.  Reflections on water take on an ethereal appearance.  Subjects pop out from their backgrounds - even close or mid distance subjects.  But if you want to see what someone is eating for lunch over half a kilometer away, you'll find that the amount of heat and particles in the air may influence your shot by introducing haze, thermal rippling and contrast differences that were not visible before you added the extender.  Even the act of putting the 100-400mmL II lens onto an APS-C camera results in an increased focal length range of 161mm-644mm (equiv).  That's one of the advantages of APS-C.   Some people (especially wildlife photographers and Astrophotographers) love using APS-C over Full Frame for this reason alone.
200mm + 2x Extender = same as 400mm lens with no extender...
Adding more glass to a lens to increase the zoom is one thing but having a lens that is f/5.6 at 400mm is going to produce more than enough background defocus and attractive bokeh.  And yet (if my calculations are correct), adding a 2x III Extender to the 70-200mm f/2.8L III lens at 200mm will result in an aperture of f/5.6 - which is the same aperture and focal length as the unaided 100-400mmL II at 400mm!  You end up paying more to add the 2x Extender and end up putting even more glass in between the camera and the subject yet the aperture is the same (f/5.6).  For this reason alone, the 100-400mmL II without an extender is the better choice if you think you might enjoy using the zoom at maximum with no slowdown and no image quality reduction.

AutoFocus with Extenders
The Stabilizers on BOTH lenses work with the Extenders as well. So if you mount an Extender to either lens you'll still get the use of the IS as well. And when you're using 800mm or even more (by stacking extenders), you really will appreciate being able to access the Image Stabilizer with such long focal lengths. On my DSLR's the 100-400mmL II lens focuses almost instantly. It's so fast you barely see the focus range change. It's lightning quick.
The AF on the EF 100-400mmL II lens is very fast when there's no Extender on the lens. it's a lot faster on a DSLR or an EOS R. On an EOS M camera with DPAF or on a DSLR with APS-C, it works just fine but it's slower to focus if your lens isn't already close to locked onto the target when using Live View. With AF using the Viewfinder, It's really quick on a Full Frame DSLR and it's slower but still useable on the miorrless APS-C cameras like the EOS Ms. On my 6D, the use of Extenders cancels the ability to use the AF. It is re-enabled when the same gear is used on the newer Canon 6D II. But only the 1.4x III extender offers AF on the 6D II. The use of the 2x III on the 6D will deactivate AF. The ability to now use 1.4x III Extenders on the newer DSLR is in part due to the 6D II's new DPAF sensor which is part of the AF process. With older cameras like my 3 year old 6D, I have to switch to Live View if I want use Autofocus. And that method is really, hideously slow. I mean slow like 'molasses'. Yet if you put the same lens and extenders on a newer mirrorless like the EOS M5/M6/M100/M50 or EOS R camera with DPAF sensors, they will autofocus just fine.  And they are very sharp.

The new Mk III Extenders. One is virtually pocketable.

Stacking Extenders
Canon do not recommend stacking Extenders against one another to increase magnification even further. In fact, they redesigned the Mk III extenders to prevent people doing just this. But you can still do it by using an EF12 extension tube from Canon and placing it between the two extenders. On a DSLR you can only get Manual Focus from that setup with stacked extenders. Curiously, you get Autofocus from a Mirrorless camera with DPAF, though it's slow to operate. Why would anyone double-stack Extenders? Probably just for the fun of it... and you loose the ability to use the wider end of the zoom since the image blurs if you try to pull back on the zoom. But if you want a picture of Jupiter with its own moons sitting above the horizon of our own moon, it works. You'll get nicer pictures with just one extender. The EF 1.4x III is the best to be using if you just want a bit more reach. The 2x III is very good optically but over great distances, the lack of contrast with higher magnifications will also reduce finer details due to heat and thermal fluctuations in the air. But that happens with any long lens regardless. Overall, the extenders are a little pricey but they work fine with both lenses.

M6 + EF 100-400mmL II + EF 2x III Extender - taken in JPEG. Here's an uncropped image taken just last night of Saturn coming out from behind the moon. Though this shot was taken with a tripod to allow more light to better expose Saturn, I was able able to shoot the moon just as clear handheld.

6D + EF 100-400mmL II + 2x III Extender - JPEG - Taken using Live View.
This shot was perhaps a little overexposed but I was testing the extenders for the first time.

I ran my own tests on the EF 2x III Extender and was surprised that it actually gave me more detail than I was expecting to see with detained subjects shot over great distances. I'd been conditioned to believe (based on fact) that the earlier Extenders would soften images. The Mk III Extenders work well with the EF 100-400mmL II and they match the paint of the new White lenses. The optical performance was really much, much better than the Mk II extenders and i took samples with both Full Frame and APS-C cameras to sample both the 1.4 III and 2x III extenders. They say that using an extender will enhance any flaws in a lens and I can say that this is true. Using the Extenders on the respected EF 135mm f/2L USM lens produced strong Purple Fringing and contrast issues. But the experience on the 100-400mmL II lens was really much more ideal. The 2x Extenders are supposed to slow down Auto Focus by 75% to enable better accuracy (according to Canon). The 1.4x extenders are supposed to slow down AF by 50%.

My own test with the EF 100-400mmL II + EF 2x III Extender showed more detail was captured at 800m than simply up scaling the image by 200%/

Just so you can see how far away I was shooting from with this test.  The cropped image was sampled from the top left image in this collage.
Image Stabilizers
Both lenses carry Canon's new I.S. modules that apparently offer up to 4-stops over lenses that don't have a Stabilizer. That's insanely good. The EF 100-400mmL II has an extremely effective Image Stabilizer but it probably needs a good one to offset the 400mm focal length and it's VERY effective. Though not ideal, I've seen people take pictures with it while holding perfectly still at just 1/10 sec. I tried it and was able to get down to 1/13 sec before moving on to other tests. One reviewer took his test shots indoors at night at 1/15 sec (might have been Ken).  According to DPreview, the CIPA rating for the stabilization on the 70-200mmL III is 3.5-stops.
The bokeh from the f/2.8 aperture on the EF 70-200mmL III lens is indeed very nice although quite a few photographers gave away their Mk II version of the 70-200mmL lens and quickly bought the EF 100-400mmL II when it hit the market amid exceptionally positive reviews. I think both lenses use the same (or at least nearly identical) IS units.
I was on a mountain lookout with two friends who were gearheads but not so much into photography and they were astounded at the difference when I showed them the performance on my Camera's LCD with the IS turned Off and then On. One of them insisted on filming it to show his friends in the military. It's quite a sight to behold for both video and stills.
Closeup ability of the 100-400mmL II is exceptional. I can recall one reviewer online declaring that his friends were selling their EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens simply because they rarely needed to go so small and the EF 100-400mmL II was giving them exceptional closeup ability.

6D + EF 100-400mmL II - JPEG - Uncropped. Using extenders should still allow closeups although the distance (MFD) might be increased or even doubled. Closeup from this lens is good. I took this while driving through the mountains at sunrise where I found a small mantis on the handrails of the lookout.

The EF 100-400mmL II is generally a more flexible lens because you're only losing around 30mm but gaining twice the zoom. Even though the aperture range starts at f/4.5, the smoothness of the defocused regions and the quality of the bokeh rendering are quite exceptional.  At f/4.5 the bokeh is noticeable and appealing.  More impacting that you'd expect with that aperture.
EF 70-200mmL III - Bokeh comparison between f/2.8 and f/4.0 (LINK )
EF 100-400mmL II - (see my images in this thread)
I expected the Bokeh to the bolder on the 70-200mmL III than on the 100-400mmL II because of the wider aperture. But it was a little more subtle than I had anticipated.  The aperture is immediately made smaller - to around f/11 - whenever the 2x extender is used on the 100-400mmL II lens.  But since Bokeh isn't just the sole product of aperture size, it's still impressive and even attractive due to the increased focal length produced by adding the Extender.  Note that I found the use of the 2x III Extender less favorable for wildlife on APS-C than on Full Frame.  I also found the 2x III Extender to be slower on APS-C compared to the EF 1.4 III Extender.

6D + 100-400mmL II + EF 2x III Extender -  Lizard was about 18 feet away.

M6 (APS-C) + EF 100-400mmL II + EF 1.4x III Extender
6D (Full Frame) + EF 100-400mmL II  - No Extenders - Bokeh sample

6D (Full Frame) + EF 100-400mmL II + EF 1.4x III Extender (no crop).

Falloff is expected but it's minimal and is automatically cancelled out (virtually entirely) by in-camera automation. This applies to both lenses. One thing in slight favor of the 70-200mmL III is that you get more light at f/2.8 - which means it can benefit the amount of light cut down from mounting an Extender.
The 100-400mmL II handles the newer EF 1.4x III and EF 2x III extenders well if you need them. The new White-Grey colored Mk III extenders use the same resin-paint featured on the newer lenses. Older extenders and the Mk 1 version of this lens were more of a beige color. The extenders were completely redesigned to perform with this lens and have a new optical design as well as a new shell design with a new microprocessor that Canon says is faster. The main difference is that the Mk III Extenders offer a much sharper experience than the Mk II versions.
White Paint...
The White Paint used on these "white-L-series lenses" is apparently a special resin and paint mixture. While you can retouch it, it can and does chip when impacting any sharp surface, including stones and jewellery. The White Paint is supposed to be better for thermal control in direct sunlight... to prevent expansion with heat which would likely affect image quality.
Don't be tempted to use a cheap filter on the EF 100-400mmL II lens or the EF 70-200mmL III as some of us have had strange streaking effects show up in the bokeh of photographs with BOTH of those lenses. Removing a cheaper filter and replacing it with a better quality one solved the problem for me but it ONLY occurred with APS-C camera and not Full Frame cameras. Pretty sure both lenses use the same 77mm filter size.
Monopod with Extenders (or even just the lenses)
The EF 100-400mmL II lens weighs quite a bit. To increase stabilization ability, especially with Extenders, use a Monopod which can be attached to the Lens Ring Foot. Buy one rated for the weight of your gear. I bought an inexpensive silver-grey one from Manfrotto that cost me about $43 and it makes an enormous difference. If I'm standing on a beach with the 100-400mmL II lens shooting surfers, I might be waiting with my lens raised for many tens of minutes waiting for a shot to present itself.  With a monopod the unit it raised all the time and there's no fatigue in my arms from the weight of the lens and camera.  The same applies with wildlife. The addition of an Extender means a longer focal length and even with an amazing 4-Stop Image Stabilizer, you are still going to benefit from the stability and portability of a monopod.

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Marco Nero.

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