Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Review

January 19, 2015 | Mark Goldstein | |

Introduction

The EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM is a professional telephoto zoom lens for Canon’s full-frame and APS-C DSLRs. Featuring a versatile 4x zoom range, 4-stop three-mode image stabilizer, Air Sphere coatings, an ultrasonic focus motor, a nine-blade circular aperture, silent high-speed AF performance, full-time manual focusing and dust/moisture resistance, the EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM is ideally suited to wildlife and sports photography. The Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM officially retails for £1999.99 / $2199.99 in the UK and the USA respectively.

Ease of Use

As a professional L-series telephoto zoom that offers such a versatile 4x zoom ratio, the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM is predictably big and bulky, weighing in at a hefty 1640g with the fitted tripod mount (which can be detached) and measuring over 19cms in length when zoomed out to 400mm. While you could use it on a smaller APS-C body for a 160-640mm equivalent angle of view, it won't balance very well at all - as demonstrated by the images below, it's a much better match for a professional-grade full-frame camera like the 5D Mark III, preferably with a battery grip attached.

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USMThe Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens mounted on the Canon EOS 5D Mark III

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USMThe Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens mounted on the Canon EOS 5D Mark III

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USMThe Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens mounted on the Canon EOS 5D Mark III, extended to 400mm

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USMThe Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens mounted on the Canon EOS 5D Mark III

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USMThe Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens mounted on the Canon EOS 5D Mark III, extended to 400mm

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USMThe Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens alongside the Canon EOS 5D Mark III

As you would expect from a lens that costs this much, build quality is excellent, certainly up to the "L" moniker that denotes Canon's premium lenses. The Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM certainly feels very solid in your hand thanks to its all-metal construction. The focusing ring is just as wide as it needs to be, and has a ridged, rubberised grip band. It has no aperture ring, which is no big deal unless you wanted to use it on a very old film body. The lens also features a clear distance scale.

The Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM has a rotating zoom ring for more precise adjustment between focal lengths, with a zoom torque adjustment ring allowing you to set the zoom ring from "Smooth" to "Tight" to suit your particular way of shooting.

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USMFront of the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USMSide of the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens, extended to 400mm

The Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM boasts Image Stabilisation which Canon claims offers an advantage of up to 4 f-stops over lenses without a stabilizer. This is activated via the On/Off switch on the side of the lens. There are three different Image Stabilisation modes - Standard, Panning, and During Exposure Only - which are handily selected via a dedicated switch on the lens. If you're using a tripod, the lens will automatically lock the IS elements when it detects the tripod - very clever!

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USMSide of the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USMSide of the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens

The focus range limiter switch helps to speed up the autofocus and avoid hunting if you know that your subject will be more than 3m away, or you can leave it set to Full. the closest focus point is 0.98cm, much closer than the original version.

The final control on the lens barrel is a focus mode switch with the usual AF/MF settings. Note that this lens usefully offers full-time manual focusing even when AF is selected.

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USMFront of the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USMRear of the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens

The Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM is sealed against dust and moisture thanks to being fitted with a rubber ring on the lens mount, but is not totally waterproof.

The svelte tripod collar can usefully be attached or detached from the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM without having to remove it from the camera body.

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USMThe Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens in-hand

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USMThe Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens with the lens hood fitted

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USMThe Canon ET-83D lens hood

The Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM ships a high quality lens case and the large bayonet ET-83D lens hood, which innovatively incorporates a small slot that makes it easier to rotate filters without having to remove the hood first.

Focal Range

At the 100mm focal length the angle of view is 20 degrees.

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USMField of view at 100mm

At the 400mm focal length the angle of view is 3.3 degrees.

 Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USMField of view at 400mm

Focusing

The Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens has a wide-enough focus ring. There are no hard stops at either end of the range, making it harder to set focus at infinity. Polariser users should be pleased that the 77mm filter thread doesn't rotate on focus.

When it comes to auto-focusing, the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM zoom is a quick performer, taking about 0.15 seconds to lock onto the subject when mounted on the Canon EOS 5D Mark III that we tested it with.

We didn't experience much "hunting", either in good or bad light, with the lens accurately focusing almost all of the time. It's also a quiet performer, thanks to the built-in USM (Ultra Sonic Motor), which makes this lens quite well-suited to video recording.

Chromatic Aberrations

Chromatic aberrations, typically seen as purple or blue fringes along contrasty edges, are impressively well controlled with this lens - the examples below show the worst-case scenario.

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM

Vignetting

With the lens wide open, you can see some obvious light fall-off in the corners, especially at the long end of the zoom range. Stopping down helps, although to completely get rid of this phenomenon, you will need to use an f-stop of f/8 or smaller.

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USMVignetting at 100mm

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USMVignetting at 400mm

Macro

The Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM isn't claimed to be a macro lens, but it delivers quite good performance nonetheless if you zoom to 400mm, where the close-focus point is at 0.98cm from the film/sensor plane and Canon quotes a maximum reproduction ratio of 0.31x. The following example illustrates how close you can get to the subject.

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USMClose-up performance

Bokeh

Bokeh is a word used for the out-of-focus areas of a photograph, and is usually described in qualitative terms, such as smooth / creamy / harsh etc. Canon have employed an iris diaphragm with 9 rounded blades in the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM for a very pleasing rendering of the out-of-focus highlights. Below you'll find some examples, but you are also encouraged to check out our sample images.

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM
   
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM

Sharpness

In order to show you how sharp this lens is, we are providing 100% crops on the following pages.

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