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Photography Workshops by Christopher Dodds


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

My friends at Canon Canada have done it again; another box with a prototype inside arrived, this time it was the new, and much anticipated, Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens. I have an "MT" sample, which basically means that it is a pre-production sample and I can't share images from this lens. I was granted permission to post a picture of the lens, so here I am in my favourite weather conditions, with the lens on a newly released EOS 7D mark II; truly a killer, and "must have", wildlife imaging combination! (Image courtesy and copyright Julie Morrison - Thank-you!)

Despite the continual debate about it's consistent sharpness, the original Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM lens was almost always mounted on a second camera body and slung over my shoulder for nearly a decade. The copy I had was consistently sharp and produced many "portfolio" images, which continue to sell for publication and as prints. I see history repeating itself again, as I anticipate having the new Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens paired with the new Canon EOS 7D mark II slung over my shoulder while out with my tripod-mounted super-telephoto lens and Canon EOS 1DX in the future.

First impressions: The lens features a completely new design with the old push-pull to zoom lens barrel replaced by a much more weather resistant and user friendly turn to zoom variable torque twist ring. The new lens collar features an easy to remove lens foot and the lens is adorned by a new lens hood with a push button lock release and a sliding window to accommodate filter adjustments (mount the window on the bottom of the lens in wet or snowy weather to keep the front element clean and dry). No detail was over-looked by the Canon engineers when redesigning this beast; it even includes an improved pinch-lock style 77mm lens cap.  It is a little heavier than its predecessor, but the improvements to design, image quality and weather sealing are, in my opinion, worth every ounce....and I did get to test the weather sealing while out in the wet snow for an extended shoot as seen in the image above (but let's not tell my friends at Canon what I do to their prototypes - smile).
It's even more of a beast if you install a Canon Extender EF1.4X III between the lens and 1.6X crop factor camera (like the 7D mark II); Yes, it still auto-focuses and offers an effective focal length of 224-896mm! Image quality is still impressive with a Canon Extender EF2X III, but the lens needs to be manually focused at a mind-blowing 1280mm equivalent.

Less apparent new features are the lens now "features one fluorite and one super UD element to help provide impressive contrast and resolution with reduced chromatic aberration across the entire zoom range. Canon’s new Air Sphere Coating (ASC) helps significantly reduce backlit flaring and ghosting, while fluorine coatings on the front and rear lens surfaces help lessen smears and fingerprints. A 9-blade circular aperture renders beautiful, soft backgrounds, and a 3 mode (standard, panning and exposure only) Optical Image Stabilizer provides up to 4 steps* of image correction." - Canon product page.

Auto-focus speed and accuracy are impressive, with zippy performance only usually expected in the most expensive optics. I haven't tested the lens for birds in flight yet, but my initial impressions are that AF acquisition time and speed are remarkably good. As I discovered way back in 2011 while testing the Canon EF70-300mmL IS USM, the new optics and coatings improve resolution and contrast, which greatly improve the already impressive new auto-focus systems in the latest Canon cameras. The minimum focusing distance has been reduced to only 3.2 feet (my test unit focuses much closer than that), making it a fantastic walk around lens for details in nature too!

As always, I don't spend my time looking at specifications or MTF charts, but I do closely examine the images and evaluate image quality for my "real life" use; big prints. The results are impressive! While important to note that I have based this mini-review on a pre-production unit, it is unlikely that image quality will change with a production model; It would be hard to make it better.

In conclusion, if you are looking for an incredibly versatile wildlife, nature, birds-in-flight, sports and action set-up that won't break your back or bank account, then the new Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens, paired with the new Canon EOS 7D mark II and a Canon Extender EF1.4X III truly are a wildlife photographer's new secret weapon! It's a relatively compact, packable and manageable kit that I won't be caught without!

From the Canon product page:
"The EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens delivers a superb combination of cutting-edge performance, compact construction and brilliant resolving power that’s great for sports and wildlife photography. The lens features one fluorite and one super UD element to help provide impressive contrast and resolution with reduced chromatic aberration across the entire zoom range. Canon’s new Air Sphere Coating (ASC) helps significantly reduce backlit flaring and ghosting, while fluorine coatings on the front and rear lens surfaces help lessen smears and fingerprints. A 9-blade circular aperture renders beautiful, soft backgrounds, and a 3 mode (standard, panning and exposure only) Optical Image Stabilizer provides up to 4 steps* of image correction. The new inner focusing AF system helps ensure fast and accurate focus down to 3.2 ft. with a .31x maximum magnification. Usability enhancements include a rotation-type zoom ring with adjustable zoom torque for more precise, customizable zoom performance, a redesigned tripod mount that can be attached and detached without removing the lens from the camera, and an all-new lens hood with a side window that makes it simple to adjust specialty filters-like polarizers-without the need to remove the hood. Ruggedly constructed with advanced dust and water sealing for durability in a range of environments, the EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens is a stellar performer with refined controls for a wide variety of situations."


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Reader Comments (29)

Thank you Chris, for the mini-review. I knew if anyone could get their hands on this new lens, albeit a pre-production sample, it would be you. I got some really good eagle photos with my old Canon 100-400mm lens last March during one of your eagle workshops. Since lugging around a 500mm is getting to be a bit cumbersome for me, this sounds like the way for me to go. Thanks again!

November 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJessica Duke

I'm curious at why you would use manual focusing with the 2X extender instead of using contrast detection AF.

November 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMr T.

It is impossible to use contrast detecting AF with any lens / extender combination with a maximum aperture smaller than f/8, so AF is not an option with this lens and the 2X extender. It works fantastically well with the 1.4X extender though.

November 18, 2014 | Registered CommenterChristopher Dodds

Great photo, You have a really nice kit there, I agree with you and I would use manual focus with that kit to.

November 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGlen Adams

Hi Glen,

To be clear: I use auto-focus whenever possible. This lens auto-focuses extremely quickly and accurately, and It continues to preform well with the 1.4X extender. You will, however, need to manually focus with the 2X extender.

I hope this clarifies the issue.

Very best,



November 19, 2014 | Registered CommenterChristopher Dodds

In the near future, i upgrade my 7D to 7D mkII. But for the upgrade of my lens 100-400, what is the best choice ? The new 100-400 II or 200-400 with internal 1.4x . Is not a simple choice ?

November 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAndre Messier

Hi Andre,

I think the answer is easier than you expect; If you can afford the EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4X, and it's size and weight are not factors, then that is what I would buy. If size, weight and cost are factors, then I would choose the EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM.

Very best,


November 19, 2014 | Registered CommenterChristopher Dodds

Hi Chris,

I was wondering between the new 100-400mm lens and the old 400mm F/5.6 lens, which one you would choose for a second kit, knowing that my first kit is a 1DX paired with a EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM lens, and my second body is a 5D Mk III.
Currently I always carry my 5D Mk III / 400mm in my backpack, but rarely use it since it is not IS, and I'm sometimes too close to my subject (e.g. a moose at 20 feet distance).
Would the 100-400mm AF be fast enough for BIF? (I know you didn't test it).
Would the 100-400mm photos quality be as good as the 400mm lens when using with good light?

Thanks for this review.


November 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGilles Archambault

Hey Gilles,

I would choose the new 100-400mm lens. It does focus just as quickly, has new coatings designed with digital sensors in mind and has IS. I have now used the new 100-400mm for birds in flight, and can attest to it's speed and sharpness; it is a wicked replacement for your old 400 f/5.6!

The answer to both questions is YES, the AF is fast enough and YES, the image Quality will actually be better because of new optics and coatings.

Hope this helps & very best,


PS - hope to see you out there soon!

November 23, 2014 | Registered CommenterChristopher Dodds

I think the person above regarding AF with the 2x was referring to using live view autofocus Christopher - DPAF works down to f/11 (or at least it does on my 70D)

November 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterTim


Thanks for publishing the short review . Can you tell the difference in AF speed between the Canon EF 400mm F5.6 L USM and the 100 - 400 mm F4.5 F 5.6 L IS II USM ?

Thanks , PiNo.

November 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPierre Nowosad

Hi Chris,
I'd like to know what kind of mittens you're wearing on that photo.
Do they keep your fingers warm for quite a while?
I attended your conference on the 7D2 at le Salon de la photo in Laval, at the end of october. You're were so convincing that I bought a few days ago that camera, and ordered the new 100-400mm!!

November 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGuy Brunet

Hi Pierre,

The 400 f/5.6 is an old lens, but has quite a reputation as a very fast lens when talking about auto-focus acquisition speed. I had limited time to put the new 100-400mm through it's paces, and it was a pre-production unit. I did find, however, that the auto-focus acquisition time seemed on par or better than the 400 f/5.6. Do keep in mind that acquisition time may vary with ambient light and contrast levels. I hope to follow-up with a much more "tested" review, with more on AF and image quality.

Very best,


November 27, 2014 | Registered CommenterChristopher Dodds

Hi Guy,

Glad you enjoyed the show! They are mittens that I am testing and won't make mention of the brand until I decide if they truly are as good as promised by the manufacturer and distributors. I haven't had the occasion to truly test them in our cold climate yet. Stay tuned for more - smile.

Very best,


November 27, 2014 | Registered CommenterChristopher Dodds

Thanks Chris for the review. Have the 7dII which I have been "boundary testing" -extreme range, low light and etc. really like it in the tool kit with the 1dx...also have ordered the 100-400...headed to Africa and it should be terrific there and many other places such as my kayak.

Also to the person that asked about the mittens...My wife and I use that brand in extreme cold. Yellowstone in January, polar bears in Canada and Alaska....Northern light photography and so on.....great tactile feel....spots for handwarmers if it gets really, really cold.. very intelligent design as they were designed for special forces work in Europe. Some think expensive but IMO not really..goes to the priority you put on warm hands when shooting in extreme cold

November 29, 2014 | Unregistered Commentersteve

Hi, did you test its IS efficacy, especially at the long 400mm end? Does it give the 4-stop performance as advertised by Canon i.e. 1/40s on the above combo? Is it as sharp wide open as the 400mm 5.6L? Thanks! Cheers - Hor Kee

December 3, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHK Neoh

Hello Chris,

Thanks for the short and precise review.

My current gear is Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF-S 15-85 and Canon EF 40mm.

I have been doing bird photography for about an year, for these I have been renting lenses Canon 100-400 (60%), Canon 300 F4 (10%), Canon 400 F5.6 (10%), Canon 300 f2.8 (20%). Lens rental in India was relatively cheap.

Now, after moving to Nottingham, UK, I find lens rental is quite expensive. So, planning to take a plunge and buy Canon 100-400 Mk II for bird photography.

Until now, 95% of my photographs have been handheld ( ). So, predominantly would be shooting handheld.

Your view and opinion about my current setup/gear would help me with this investment on my first big white:-)


December 4, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSrinath

Hi Hor,

I only had the pre-production sample for a short while and didn't spend a lot of that time testing the Image Stabilizer. It is very important to note that technique will play a role when pushing the limits of the IS; those with a steady hand will be able to hand-hold at lower shutter speeds than those with some shake.

I hope to have a production unit sometime soon.

Very best,


December 13, 2014 | Registered CommenterChristopher Dodds

Hi Srinath,

Personally, I feel the new 100-400mm lens is the very best choice for your first "long lens" for birds and nature. When weighing the price, weight, versatility and reach against image quality, I don't think you could find a better lens than the new Canon EOS 100-400mm f/4.5/5.6 L IS mark II.

I hope this helps and Happy Holidays,


December 13, 2014 | Registered CommenterChristopher Dodds

Hi Chris

Love your review. Would the AF work with a teleconverter and an original 7D?

Kind regards,


December 17, 2014 | Unregistered Commenternicspicstagram

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