Thursday 4 June 2015

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

 The long anticipated replacement to the original Canon 100-400 L lens finally became available towards the end of 2014.  This is about 15 years after the launch of the original 100-400 lens!  Is the new version a worthy successor to the original?  And how does it compare to the competition?

This mini review of the new Canon 100-400 L IS II is not technically inclined but based on real life usage.  There are no charts etc. Only my personal experience and comments as well as sample images.   I will also compare the new Canon 100-400 L IS II to the Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD.

First Impression
Quality!!!  Handling this lens immediately gives one the impression of excellent build quality.  The lens has no "play" when zoomed, the lens hood attaches is a positive way, the buttons all feel solid and Canon supply a very nice protective case.  The lens hood also has a opening which allows one to adjust a polarising filter without removing the hood - simple but neat feature.  The lens is also weather sealed.

Compared to the Tamron 150-600mm it is considerably smaller and easier to carry.  The trade-off is the maximum zoom of 400mm which is perhaps too short for some situations when photographing birds or small wildlife.  However, I find it easy to use for long periods of time without getting overly tired.  Also it fits into my Lowepro Flipside 400 camera bag without a problem.
The IS works extremely well.  Hand held at 400mm and 1/100th second produces consistently sharp images. At this shutter speed the only blur is because of subject movement.
I prefer the new twist action to zoom over the old push pull method.  Not that I ever minded the push pull action.  Some will also argue that twist action is better because it doesn't suck dust into the lens.

Closest Focusing Distance (perhaps the best feature of the lens!)
The lens can focus at a closest distance of about 0,98m (98cm).  This is compared to 1,8m for the original Canon 100-400 and 2,7m for the Tamron 150-600mm.  This ability to focus so close opens up a lot of new opportunities. The lens almost operates as a macro lens when focused at it's closest.  The image below was shot in a small aviary.  I was just over a meter away from the small quail.  With the original Canon 100-400 or the Tamron 150-600 I would not have been able to get this shot due to limited space in the aviary.  Also, getting closer to the subject means the frame is better filled and less cropping is necessary.  And depth of field gets narrower as one gets closer to the subject - the result is beautiful blurred backgrounds.

 Blue Quail Bird      f5.6, 1/250th sec, 300mm
Field Usage
After one month and about 500 shots later I can only say I like almost everything about this lens.  Image quality is brilliant, handling is excellent,  the IS works extremely well and Bokeh is beautiful.
Below are some sample images taken with the Canon 100-400 IS L MkII.  These images were shot in RAW have been processed in Lightroom - mainly to boost the contrast a little.

King Vulture      f10, 1/250th sec, 400mm

African Elephant Male       f6.3, 1/800th sec, 312mm

Green Tree Iguana        f9, 1/160th sec, 241mm 

 Plains Zebra Grazing on Green Grass      f5.6, 1/300th sec, 300mm

African Elephant Herd     f6.5, 1/800th sec, 400mm

Controlled Test and Comparison
The images below were shot on a tripod with IS (or VC) off.  The camera used was a Canon 5DMkIII and picture style was set to "Standard".  The images have been resized to 800 x 600 pixels and a little bit of sharpening applied.
The 100% crops are all exactly as they were shot and processed by the camera.  Exposure was manually controlled. Identical exposures were used for each lens.
All images at 400mm zoom unless stated otherwise.

Left:Canon f5.6, 1/1000th sec, 400mm       Right:Tamron f5.6, 1/1000th sec,  400mm

Canon 100% Crop from above image, f5.6

Tamron 100% crop from above image, f5.6

Left:  Canon f8, 1/500th sec, 400mm        Right:  Tamron f8,  1/500th sec,  400mm

Canon 100% Crop from above image, f8

Tamron 100% crop from above image, f8

Left: Canon f11, 1/500th sec, 400mm Right: Tamron f11, 1/500th sec, 400mm

Canon 100% Crop from above image, f11

Tamron 100% crop from above image, f11

  • The Canon lens produced brighter images at all f stops.  Shadow detail was also more detailed.
  • The Tamron lens is not as sharp as the Canon lens.  (There may be a front focusing adjustment for the Tamron but never-the-less the Canon is sharper, especially wider open at f5.6)
  • Both lenses produce excellent results but I think a discerning pro would definitely choose the Canon over the Tamron.
  • Image Quality
  • Excellent IS
  • Accurate Focusing and Speed
  • Smooth Bokeh
  • Size and Mass
  • 400mm maximum can be a bit short for some wildlife and sport situations
  • Price
Don't forget you can see my complete portfolio at Shutterstock or Dreamstime.  I hope to have lots of images taken with my new Canon 100-400 MkII uploaded there very soon!

Disclaimer:    I have not been compensated for this review and my conclusions were not influenced in any way.  The opinions stated here are my own.  I have tried to be as balanced and objective as possible in this review.

Visit my Website at Four Oaks Photography to see more of my photography and other useful information.