Canon’s NEW 200-400 f/4 IS Lens Review

Hands on review of Canon New 200 -400mm f/4L IS w/built in 1.4x teleconverter.

Reviewed by: Ray Taggart, Pixels Foto and Frame

July 16, 2013

I wanted to write this review because for a long time there has been all kinds of rumors about Canon coming out with a new 200-400 f/4 IS lens.  And in February Canon officially announced it.  First customer shipments started around June, and I first saw it in my store on June 10th. Anyone reading this should know this is not a technical review. It’s a hands on practical review.

So how do I evaluate a lens? For me, and I think a lot of you reading this, it all boils down to a few simple questions that I’ll try to answer in my own way.

  1. How sharp is it? With and without the 1.4x.  Because if it’s just OK, or average, then the rest of the discussion is moot. Because most of us won’t shell out BIG bucks for a lens that gives us average images.
  2. If the lens is sharp, then let’s look at function.  ie size, weight, balance, how good is the IS (Image Stabilization), how fast is the focus, how does it handle extreme lighting conditions, is it easy to use and how is good is the bokeh. And how jealous does it make other photographers when we’re all shooting together?
  3. In the field, when I’m under pressure to get the shot, am I comfortable with the lens or does it feel awkward?

Because of a very generous offer from a great friend, (RON) I have his brand new lens for a few days to test.  Here is my testing strategy.

  1. I’m going to shoot some lens charts and compare image quality to couple of other great lenses. At 400mm I’m comparing it to the Canon 400mm f/2.8 IS Lens.  In my opinion, this is the best/sharpest lens I have ever shot. And I’ve shot the Canon 300, 400, 500, 600 and 800mm. The 400 2.8 IS is the Holy Grail of large telephoto lenses. And to compare the built in 1.4 extender, I’m going to shoot the 400mm f/2.8 with Canon’s 1.4x III.  At 200mm I’m going to compare it to Canons 70-200 f/2.8 IS II lens. Another great lens and I think it’s the sharpest zoom lens that Canon makes.  And for one more comparison, I’m going to shoot it against Nikon 200-400 f/4 IS lens. With and without a 1.4 extender. I’ve read and been told that this is a pointless comparison. No one expects Nikon shooters, or Canon shooters to go out and sell all their gear if one 200-400 appears to be better, I know I wouldn’t. But there are budding photographers that don’t have an investment in expensive equipment yet, and this could be their first mega buck lens purchase.  So this might help them. And, I have had a LOT of people ask me “how does it compare to the Nikon 200-400?” So quite a few people are really curious how the two lenses compare. I regularly shoot the Nikon 200-400 and I know it truly is an awesome lens.  I hope the Canon is too.
  2. Now for the field test. This is where I get to put it through its paces.   I shoot a fair amount of professional sports. From US Speed Skating Worldcup and Olympic trials events, to PGA golf to a lot of professional soccer for Real Salt Lake.  And since I’m credentialed for the upcoming US MENS Soccer World Cup qualifier match, I can’t think of a better test environment. Nothing like a world class event to try a new lens!  Shooting field sports like soccer is fun and exciting and a great challenge and it’s perfectly suited for a lens like the 200-400mm. I can’t’ wait.



The first thing you notice when you get this lens, is the new trunk. The new trunk has a couple of open sections that allow you to store stuff, like the two straps, one for the trunk and one for the lens, and the extra foot that ships with the lens. It’s good use of an area of the case that up to now has been wasted.  Canon 200-400 trunk with lens2

As I lovingly lifted the lens out of the case I immediately focused on it’s weight. At about 1/2 ounce under 8 lbs, (7lb 15.695oz) the lens definitely could be hand held.  What I mean to say is, if I found myself in a situation where a tripod or monopod was impractical, I know I could hand hold this lens for short amounts of time. (I had to do this once when photographing Polar Bears from a small fishing boat. The vibration from the motor made anything but hand held impossible.)  The lens measures about 16” with the hood reversed and about 21” with the hood on for shooting. The button and switch layout is clean and exactly what I’m used to, with all the same switches and options of their newest version II super telephoto lenses.   Of course the large bump on the side of the lens immediately draws your attention to the built in 1.4 teleconverter. By simply sliding the lever up or down the teleconverter smoothly slides into place. This teleconverter has been designed and optimized to ensure high quality with this lens. When you slide the lever to move the teleconverter it feels substantial and well made. After all, you are moving 8 elements in 4 groups whenever you move it. The addition of a simple sliding lock prevents you from accidentally flipping the teleconverter lever. Canon 200-400 buttons 4

Charts Tests:

Let’s get down to it and compare some shots.  For a camera I used a 5D Mark III. I shot in AV mode, mirror lockup with a cable release. I used a large heavy tripod with a big geared head and I turned OFF the image stabilization. I shot a multitude of aperture settings from f/4 to f/22.  ALL the shots shown are at f/11.   I shot 4 different charts that should test for any abnormalities I can think of.

Here are 3 charts I shot. ( I actually shot more charts, but I didn’t feel it was necessary to show them all)

Canon 200-400 Lens test

Chart 1

Canon 200-400 Lens test

Chart 2

Canon 200-400 Lens test

Chart 3

Now let’s look at some comparison, side by side shots.

These charts are 11” x 16” and the shooting distance is 36 ft for 400mm and 18 ft for 200mm.


Canon 200-400, at 400mm, f/11

Canon 200-400, at 400mm, f/11

Canon 400mm f/2.8 IS at f/11

Canon 400mm f/2.8 IS at f/11

Here are the same charts zoomed in 400%


It might be hard to see from these shots, but  the 400mm f/28 prime lens is slightly sharper.  The only surprise here is how close the 200-400 is!  As I examined all parts of this chart, I found the same result.  There were NO shortcomings or weaknesses with the 200-400.

CHART 1 W/1.4X Extender


Once again the 400mm prime slightly outshot the 200-400, but not by very much.


Canon 200-400 Lens test

Here’s the chart I shot, and below are two images zoomed in to 200% so you can see the detail.


Once again it’s really hard to see a clear winner!



Canon 200-400 Lens test


Here’s the next chart I shot, and below are the two images zoomed in to 200%.sbys4


Now here is the 200-400mm at 200mm compared to the Canon 70-200 f/2.8 IS II at 200mm. These shots are zoomed in to 100%


The here are the same charts zoomed in to 200%


All the charts that I shot comparing the 200-400 and the 70-200 showed the same thing.  The Canon 200-400 definitely holds it’s own! I love my 70-200 II. It’s sharp as a tack and now it looks like the 200-400 is just as good.

Here are the Canon 200-400 and the Nikon 200-400 charts.  I’m not going to show you all the charts, I’ll just show you a couple, then summarize my thoughts below.

The first set is at 400m





After closely examining all the shots of all the charts, Canon vs Nikon, I can honestly say No Clear Winner!  Which is great! Because I have reallllly liked shooting my Nikon.  Both lenses are razor sharp, fast,  and agile.  The obvious advantage with the Canon is the built in 1.4x teleconverter.



I need to thank Real Salt Lake and Rio Tinto Stadium for granting me permission to use a few images from their games.  Maybe this will get a few folks excited about going to one of their games.  They are very addictive and GREAT fun to watch, and a blast to photograph.

Canon 200-400 f/4 1/2500th at 400mm.Canon 1DX

Canon 200-400 f/4 1/2500th at 400mm. Canon 1DX

Canon 200-400 f/5.6 1/1000th at 560mm. (with 1.4x)Canon 1DX

Canon 200-400 f/5.6 1/1000th at 560mm. (with 1.4x) Canon 1DX


Canon 200-400 f/5 1/500th at 400mm. Canon 1DX

Canon 200-400 f/5 1/500th at 400mm. Canon 1DX

Canon 200-400 f/5.6 1/320th at 560mm. (with 1.4x)Canon 1DX

Canon 200-400 f/5.6 1/320th at 560mm. (with 1.4x) Canon 1DX

Not bad considering this shot is taken at about 130 yards away from go goalie!


Well I shot a bunch of charts with a bunch of different patterns at a couple different focal lengths (200-400mm) and apertures (f/4 to  f/22). Then I took the same shots with a couple of stellar lenses, the 400mm f/2.8L IS and the 70-200 f/2.8L IS II.  Then I shot 2 soccer matches both in difficult lighting conditions. I had high contrast full sun, full shade and twilight. So let’s get back to my three opening questions:

1.  Is it sharp?

This lens is really sharp.  I was amazed how well it stacked up against the 400mm f/2.8L and the 70-200 f/2.8L

2.  How functional is it?

The lens performs great, and once I got used to the positioning of the 1.4x lever I felt right at home. NOTE: When I first used the lens at the soccer match, I found myself kind of wandering all around the focal lengths and using the 1.4x at the wrong times.  I’d be at 200mm with the 1.4x engaged, then out to 400mm, then switch off the 1.4, then try to zoom in more, then… then…. then.  SO, I started just paying attention to my aperture setting in my viewfinder. Since I was shooting AV mode, if my aperture showed f/4 I wasn’t using the teleconverter, and if it showed f/5.6 then I was. Daaaa.   Once I did that, I could concentrate on using the zoom the frame the shot and engage the 1.4x only when I needed more that 400mm.

The lens focus is fast.  That’s a big deal for me.  When I shoot a lens that takes an extra part of a second to focus, I can really tell.  And it frustrates me waiting for a lens.  This lens kept up great.

3.  How does it handle in the field?

No problems here.  I really like the weight.  Compared to my 400 f/28 (11.7 lb), the 200-400 is a joy to handle.  I found it easier to shoot my second camera, because the lighter 200-400 on the monopod was easier to keep held against me.   And whatever Canon has done with the tripod collar is really nice.  It’s much smoother than my 400 f/2.8.  NOTE:  My 400 f/28 has been around the world with me several times.  It’s cosmetically, ahhh, what shall I say “not pristine” so maybe in the beginning the collar was just as smooth as the 200-400.

To sum it up.

THE NEW 200-400 f/4L IS USM  ROCKS!!!  It’s sharp at all focal lengths. The focus is really fast.  The lens is not terribly heavy and it handled really well. If I was looking for a very versatile, basically a 200-560mm lens.  I wouldn’t hesitate buying this lens.  I can’t wait for my next trip to Africa, my personal favorite photo trip. I WILL find a way to take this lens with me.  If there is a down side I guess it has to be the price. At $11,799.00 you have to really want this lens, but I’ll tell you what.  THIS IS A GREAT LENS TO REALLY WANT!



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