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

Earlier this year I purchased the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens and I’ve been quite happy with the results. In this fairly non-technical review I’ll discuss some of my thought process while considering buying this lens, a few relevant specifications, and provide a few example photographs.

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

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II Telephoto Zoom Lens

Why should I buy a long zoom lens?

Before I’ve purchased a new lenses I really try to determine what I am missing from my current lenses and balance that with the cost of filling that particular gap. For about 8 years I didn’t really have much need for anything new. This changed a few years ago when I upgraded to my first full frame camera, the Canon 5D Mark IV. The transition was expensive as I had to replace several EF-S mount lenses. After my upgrades I missed the “reach” given by the crop sensor on my old camera, and this made my 70-200mm seem a lot shorter than it had before.

While I assume most photographers purchase this lens for wildlife and perhaps sports related photography, I had to justify this expense by thinking about its application to landscapes. I’ve noticed in the past few years that more and more I’ve been choosing select details from a scene rather than shooting a wider view. Many locations give an opportunity to do both quite successfully, but without a longer lens sometimes those details just aren’t within reach. Likewise I’d like to shoot a bit more wildlife than I have which made this sort of lens appealing as well.

Having established a “need” in my photography for a longer focal length lens, I still waited quite some time before making the purchase. The cost of this lens is not insignificant at around $3000 CDN (I found one on sale for $2200). While editing a wildlife photograph this summer I decided to look at the price of the 100-400mm again and found that the lens was on sale for about $800 cheaper than regular price. I decided to finally fully research this lens and buy it soon as it was on sale. If new equipment isn’t an emergency then you can usually wait for a sale and get something at a discount – Canon seems to do these sales/rebates quite often. After research and a waiting period to make sure I really wanted to do this – I bought the lens one a week later. I then waited another 2 weeks for a new lens foot (not pictured above) to attach it to my RRS ballhead.

Some Specifications and Details

The Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II is the second version of their 100-400mm lens. The first (released in 1998) was popular with photographers for many years, and had a push/pull mechanism for zooming. This initial version was replaced in late 2014 with version II which is the model I purchased. The mark II lens uses the more familiar rotating ring for zooming like most Canon lenses. Along with the lens Canon includes an ET-83D Lens hood (with small window for adjusting filters), the Canon LZ1326 Lens Case, and a built in tripod mount ring. I replaced the Canon lens foot with a Really Right Stuff LCF-54 foot which works well with my RRS ballhead without the need for a separate plate. The Canon foot easily unscrews from the base of the collar making replacement pretty simple.

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

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II Telephoto Zoom Lens

Shooting with the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II

My first tests found the lens to be sharp through all focal lengths, and adding my 1.4X extender didn’t seem to change that noticeably. I’d previously had the Canon EF 1.4X Extender II (review) attached to my 70-200mm much of the time, and that has usually been the way I’ve used the 100-400mm too. I don’t find much (if any) image degradation with the extender, but the autofocus is apparently slower (this may not be as much of an issue with the newer mark III version of the extender). I rarely shoot needing to track a fast subject, so I have yet to see how it compares to the same setup with my 70-200mm, which worked great at an airshow tracking planes with the 5D IV even with the extender attached. By all reports the focus with the 100-400mm (without an extender) is also very fast. The main drawback using with the extender with this lens is that at 400mm I’m shooting at f/8, which is why the Cedar Waxing photo below is shot at 6400 ISO. The 4 stop IS did help a lot with this photograph as I was shooting handheld. Generally speaking I am shooting landscapes at apertures smaller than f/8 anyway, so this isn’t usually as much of a concern for most of my subjects.

cedar waxwing bombycilla cedrorum at godwin farm

Adult Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) (Purchase)

The 100-400mm weighs in at 1380g (48.7 oz) which is not insignificant when hand holding. The 70-200mm f/4 IS lens weighs 760g (26.8 oz). As a consequence, the addition of the 100-400mm to my bag has increased the weight, even when the 70-200mm doesn’t come along. That said, I have found walking around with the 100-400mm on my 5D IV to not be overly cumbersome or heavy. Generally I’m carrying lenses/cameras in the bag until I find a subject of interest. The extra capabilities of this lens more than make up for a bit of extra weight in my opinion. While I mostly use a tripod, I have made many photographs with this lens while hand holding. The 4 stop Image Stabilization system has worked very well so far for me when I have used it. Those shooting sports or wildlife subjects will no doubt be very happy with how the system works for them.

One unexpected characteristic of the Canon 100-400mm is a minimum focus distance of only 98cm (3.2 feet)! This lets me get 22cm (8.6 inches) closer than my 70-200mm would and gives a magnification of 0.31x. I am betting there are going to be many examples of wildflowers, mushrooms, and other subjects in the future that I can photograph “close ups” of when I wouldn’t have been able to approach them closely enough with other lenses. This was not a feature I’d researched ahead of time – I had simply presumed that the minimum focus distance would be much longer than a 70-200mm. So this was a nice surprise!

One of the first (non wildlife) subjects I photographed where this lens came in really handy was at Blackie Spit near Crescent Beach (Surrey, BC). This Blanketflower (Gaillardia aristata) was growing in a meadow well off of the trail. I wanted to pick it out from the rest of the scene, and the 100-400mm + 1.4x extender worked well for this. As I’m not going to trample a meadow for a photo, the longer lens allowed me to make this photo when I otherwise would not have been able to. The Blanketflower photograph was shot at an equivalent of 560mm (the full zoom capability of the 100-400mm and 1.4x together) and allowed me to get the photograph that I wanted. If I didn’t have the extender attached this still would have been a photo much more possible with the 100-400mm than without it. This sort of scenario was the main reason I was able to justify purchasing this lens. Wildlife photography is great, and I intend to do much more of it, but this kind of photograph will be much more frequent and important to me.

blanketflower blooming at blackie spit

Blanketflower Plant (Gaillardia aristata) growing in a field at Blackie Spit (Purchase)

Summer is not a peak time for my photography but in testing and experimenting with this lens I did get out and found that it may be a good time to photograph wildlife in certain locations. The Blackie Spit part of Crescent Park is not a long trip to make and has some good opportunities in the evening. I photographed the Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) below while it looked for food in one of the marsh areas. I suspect I’ll be photographing more in the summer due to the wildlife capabilities this lens allows.

great blue heron wading at blackie spit

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) at Blackie Spit (Purchase)

Also at Blackie Spit I made this photograph of a Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) while it sang in a bush along side the trail I was on. This photograph may have been possible with my old lens setup, but I would have had to approach the Sparrow’s location in order to do so. Maybe the Sparrow would be comfortable with that, maybe not. On that evening I didn’t have to move, however, as the bird landed near me and all I had to do was zoom in.

song sparrow melospiza melodia singing at blackie spit

Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) singing at Blackie Spit (Purchase)

Summary

Despite the relatively significant cost (~$3000 CDN) I justified this lens purchase for the new photography opportunities that would be available and the high quality reported by those who already owned it. I’ve been able to make landscape and wildlife photographs that would not have been possible with my previous equipment. I’d would recommend the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II as a great lens to consider for photographers who want to shoot more wildlife/sports subjects or the smaller details found in landscape scenes.

Pros:

  • Sharp!
  • Versatile compared to a prime telephoto
  • 77mm filter diameter matches many other popular Canon lenses
  • 4 stop Image Stabilization
  • Comes with ET-83D Lens Hood, tripod ring, LZ1326 case
  • Close focusing distance (98cm / 3.2 feet)

Cons:

  • Relatively heavy (1380g / 48.7 oz)
  • More expensive than many lenses (~$3000 CDN)

I don’t do a lot of product reviews but here are two more that might be of interest:

Random Photos Volume II

I thought I’d share another batch of photographs here that don’t have enough of a story involved justify their own blog post.

Baby Eastern Cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus)

baby eastern cottontail sylvilagus floridanus eating hawksbeard stems

Baby Eastern Cottontail (S. floridanus) Eating hawksbeard Flowers (Purchase)

I was testing out a new zoom lens in the backyard and had seen this baby Eastern Cottontail eating Hawkesbeard stems on the lawn. I sat down and waited for it to come back which it did after a few minutes. This was a rather small rabbit – the adults can be approximately 44 cm (17 in) long, but this little one was only about 15 cm (6 in)!

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) at Blackie Spit Park

Blackie Spit Park (Surrey, BC) is a favourite photography location of mine, and now that I’ll be occasionally photographing more birds I suspect I’ll be there even more. In July I photographed this Heron wading in one of the small canals in the park while searching for small fish and invertebrates. It was looking around a lot, so I was able to make photos of it facing both ways. I also made the photo below with a longer exposure, to try to get it looking both ways at once. I didn’t expect it to work out quite this well, but I like the result. I was also unable to really come to a conclusion as to whether I liked the Heron facing right or left, so I ultimately just published all three photos.

great blue heron foraging in water at blackie spit

Great Blue Heron (A. herodias) foraging at Blackie Spit Park

great blue heron searching for food and looking both ways

Look both ways before you cross the marsh (Purchase)

I also photographed this decorated rock sitting atop a fence post at Blackie Spit. I take it this sort of thing is not rare in the area, but it was the first time I’d seen one. The large yellow flowers next to the post are Fernleaf Yarrow (Achillea filipendulina).

decorated rock sitting on a post at sunset

Decorative Rock on a Crescent Beach Fence Post (Purchase)

Also at Blackie Spit I photographed this Hawksbeard (Crepis sp.) plant with some seed heads on it that were nicely backlit by late day sunlight. I’ve photographed a number of interesting small plant scenes in this particular meadow – which you can find in my Surrey gallery.

hawksbeard plant with seed heads backlit by sunset

Hawksbeard (Crepis sp.) Seeds at Blackie Spit (Purchase)

Water Lily Reflection

I’ve photographed these pond lily (Nymphaeacea) plants in the backyard before, but this time I was attracted to the reflection from this particular flower. I like finding subjects that are only a few steps from the back door!

water lily flower reflection

Water Lily (Nymphaeacea) Flower Reflection (Purchase)

More of my newer images can be found in my New Images Gallery.

My Top 10 Photographs of 2018

Once again it is time to post my favourite images from the past year. Choosing these images is always a good mental exercise, and I get a bit of a head start when I design my yearly calendar sometime in late October. I like sharing these image every year, and viewing everyone else’s lists as well. I also make this post so I can participate in Jim Goldstein’s annual Your Best Photos project. His collection of these posts is a great place to find new photographers you may not have seen before.

If you click on a photo you’ll be taken to my Image Archive. I’ve also linked to corresponding blog posts that contain these images if you want more information about the location or to see other photos from that area. There are a few images here that will have blog posts for them soon, but they aren’t finished yet. These photos aren’t in any specific order though I think the first one of with fall foliage around the road in Québec is my favourite overall.

I hope you enjoy this years selections and am curious to hear if you have any particular favourites.

My Favourite Photos of 2018:

chemin cafferty in chelsea quebec
1. A closed road (Chemin Cafferty) disappears into the trees
(Chelsea, Québec)
Blog post: Meech Creek Valley in Gatineau Park

great blue heron at hogs back falls ottawa
2. Great Blue Heron at Hog’s Back Falls
(Ottawa, Ontario)
Blog post: Hogs Back Falls on Ottawa’s Rideau River

fall maple foliage colour at beaver pond in gatineau park
3. Vine Maples Over Lower Falls Trail
(Maple Ridge, British Columbia)
Blog post: Lower Falls in Golden Ears Provincial Park

farmhouse and apple tree at ruckle provincial park
4. William Norman Ruckle Farmhouse and Orchard

(Salt Spring Island, British Columbia)

fall maple foliage colour in gatineau park
5. Fall Maples at Lac Bourgeois in Gatineau Park
(Gatineau Park, Québec)
Blog post: Fall Rhapsody in Gatineau Park

mute swan at fulford harbour salt spring island
6. Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) in Fulford Harbour
(Salt Spring Island, British Columbia)
Blog post: Fulford Harbour on Salt Spring Island

dunlop falls in gatineau park
7. Dunlop Falls on Fortune Creek
(Gatineau Park, Québec)
Blog post: Dunlop Falls on Fortune Creek in Gatineau Park

almonte mississippi river ontario
8. Waterfall on the Mississippi River

(Almonte, Ontario)

lower falls on gold creek in golden ears park
9. Summer evening at Lower Falls on Gold Creek at Golden Ears Provincial Park
(Maple Ridge, British Columbia)
Blog post: Lower Falls in Golden Ears Provincial Park

pacific dogwood flower cornus nuttallii
10. Pacific Dogwood (Cornus nuttallii) Flower

(Langley, British Columbia)

You can view my favourite photographs from 2017 here: My Top 10 Photos of 2017.

2019 Nature Calendar Now Available!

cover for 2019 nature calendar - lower falls golden ears park

2019 Nature Calendar Cover – Lower Falls in British Columbia’s Golden Ears Provincial Park


   My 2019 Nature Calendars are now available! I have put together some of my favourite recent photographs into a 11″x17″ (28cm x 43cm) calendar. Included are 12 photographs of landscape and nature scenes from British Columbia, Québec, Ontario, and Washington State.

500px Now 100% Owned by Visual China Group

   Here I thought I had written my last blog post about 500px. I’ve written two in the past. First I outlined “9 Reasons I No Longer Use 500px” back in 2015 (would be 25 if I’d kept up with it) and then followed up with “500px Creates 500px.me – Hosts Photos in China” later that same year. Today it was announced that Visual China Group (VCG) bought 500px outright. People are now rightly concerned about their intellectual property. Honestly though – the warning signs were there years ago.

   This reminds of something important that I think more photographers and creatives should be doing. If you give a damn about your art, your intellectual property rights/copyright etc… then you should look before you leap. Yesterday the frenzy over a new (3 year old) social network really rose to a fever pitch and invitations, discussions, and complaints were flying around the internet – especially among photographers. I’ve asked a few times if anyone had read the Terms of Service (TOS). “No, who does that?” was the most frequent response. Well – YOU should. If you care about your work – then don’t place it in the hands of anyone until you know what they say they can do with it. I’ve read the TOS for G+, Flickr, Twitter, IG, Facebook, Ello, 500px, and every other social network I’ve ever joined. I did not enjoy reading them – slogging through that language is not fun. Why read it then? So I can have at least some idea (not being a lawyer) if it is a safe place to upload my work. I’m uncomfortable with the TOS on Twitter and FB so I don’t directly upload my work there (but do use the networks extensively). So if you’ve signed up for a new social network in the past few days and haven’t read the TOS – why not? Likewise have you re-read the terms on sites you’ve been on for a long time? Are you sure they aren’t acting like another 500px and have changed their TOS along the way?

Deleting your Work on 500px

   So rather than list another litany of 500px’s transgressions I’ll offer some suggestions to the photographers that have determined they don’t want their work any more. Deactivating your account won’t help you – your images will remain in the hands of… whoever. From my experience many years ago I would proceed to try to delete your work on 500px as follows:

  1. Determine the urls (direct to jpg) of a handful of photos you’ve uploaded on 500px. They likely start with “https://drscdn.500px.org/” or something similar.
  2. Manually, individually delete these images. I believe that is a 4 step process but I don’t have any images on there to test this for you.
  3. Check to see if that jpg is still on the site. Spoiler alert: it probably is (remember that part about allowing people to embed your image on websites around the world – the one in the TOS?).
  4. Contact support at 500px (which I’ve heard is just one employee at this point but hopefully there are more) and request your images be deleted for good. This might work, it might not. I’ve read it has for some, but not for others. In my case I know of four of my images still on their servers and no amount of requests, DMCA takedown notices (to their US based servers), and more emails/requests have removed those files. I do hope you have better luck.
  5. If the above works I’d do that for all of your photos on 500px. I realize now some of you are just now panicking about your photos going to China etc, but the process to remove your work from 500px may take some time. I encourage you to keep after them if that is what is required.

So what now?

   No matter what networks you share your work to – having your own website and making it the center of your activity is a good idea. It is only on your own website that you can truly control your content. Buy a domain name if you don’t already have one. I host mine with Dreamhost.com, though there are a lot of other great hosts out there. Research them before you sign up – and get the level of hosting you require. I also host my Image Library on a site called Photoshelter. If you just have a few photos online at this point you could start with a some basic WordPress galleries and get some experience with that platform.

Good luck!

My Top 10 Photos of 2017

   It is once again time to post my 10 favourite photographs – this time from 2017. I do this every year as it is a very good exercise (and not always easy) but also so I can participate in Jim Goldstein’s annual Your Best Photos project. His collection of these posts is a great place to find new photographers you may have been unfamiliar with before.

   If you click on a photo you’ll be taken to a larger version in my Image Archive. I’ve also linked to corresponding blog posts that contain these images if you want more information about the location or to see other photos from that area. These photos aren’t in any specific order though I am still enjoying the first one a lot as I probably wouldn’t have attempted to make it in previous years. Sorting images for my calendar often gives me a head start on this list. While it did help this year for some reason the images I chose as my favourites are fairly different this time around. This is partly due to the variety I want to show in my calendar as well as I try not to include any human made elements in those photos.

I hope you enjoy this years selections and am curious to hear if you have any particular favourites.

My Favourite Photos of 2017:

walking over the floating bridge at sasamat lake
1. Sasamat Lake

(Port Moody, British Columbia)
Blog post: Sasamat Lake on a Fall Day

fall foliage and mount shuksan from huntoon point in the north cascades
2. Mount Shuksan from Huntoon Point

(North Cascades, Washington State)

adult barred owl strix varia perched
3. Barred Owl (Strix varia

(Langley, British Columbia)
Blog post: Adult Barred Owl (Strix varia)

mount cheam fraser river fall leaves agassiz
4. Mount Cheam and the Fraser River

(Agassiz, British Columbia)
Blog post: Mount Cheam and the Fraser River in Agassiz

fall foliage reflection in rolley lake
5. Fall Reflections at Rolley Lake

(Mission, British Columbia)
Blog post: Fall Reflections at Rolley Lake Provincial Park

sailboat in burgoyne bay saltspring island
6. Sailboat in Burgoyne Bay

(Saltspring Island, British Columbia)
Blog post: Burgoyne Bay Provincial Park Farm Buildings

dogwood tree flowers eddies white wonder
7. Dogwood Flowers

(Langley, British Columbia)
Blog post: Dogwood Flowers – Eddie’s White Wonder

vancouver trade and convention center and coal harbour
8. Vancouver Convention Center & Vancouver’s Coal Harbour

(Vancouver, British Columbia)
Blog post: Vancouver Convention Centre

sunshine on mount webb in chilliwack lake provincial park
9. Spotlight on Mount Webb

(Chilliwack, British Columbia)
Blog post: Rainbow at Chilliwack Lake Provincial Park

sunset at the white rock pier
10. Sunset at the White Rock Pier

(White Rock, British Columbia)
Blog post: An Evening at the White Rock Pier

   Ooops – there is an eleventh photo below! I included this one as an extra photograph because I like it and it also represents something new. I haven’t tried to photograph an airshow since I had a rangefinder camera with film in it in the 80’s – so it was time to try again! Thanks, in part, to the autofocus on my Canon 5D Mark IV, this experiment turned out quite well.

Canadian forces snowbirds in formation over white rock
Canadian Forces Snowbirds

(White Rock, British Columbia)
Blog post: Canadian Forces Snowbirds Over White Rock

My top 10 photos from last year can be found here: My Top 10 Photos of 2016.

Maple Leaves in Full Fall Foliage Colors

Sugar maple (Acer saccharum) leaves showing fall foliage colours on a white background.

red orange and yellow maple leaves on a white background

Sugar Maple Leaves in Full Fall Colors (Purchase)

-click to enlarge-

   Fall is one of my favourite times of the year, and certainly my favourite to photograph. I know I’ve previously expressed dismay at having a year where the fall foliage was dull or almost nonexistent. I’d say that 1/5 years is a good fall foliage year here, at least for native species. Mostly that is Bigleaf Maples (Acer macrophyllum) and Vine Maples (Acer circinatum) in the Vancouver area and Fraser valley. The leaves above are from a backyard Sugar Maple – a tree that can be counted on for decent leaf color almost every year (even in the rain). In mid-October I started to think about the fall foliage – a point in the season where one doesn’t know if it will be good color at all. Even if it is, often rain will fall constantly until the leaves are on the ground. As I’ve had experience with this before – I photographed these leaves on a white background one rainy day just so that I could say for sure that I’d photographed some decent color.

red maple leaf on a white background

Red Maple Leaf Fall Foliage (Purchase)

-click to enlarge-

   Luckily for me and everyone else around here who enjoys such things, this was a rather good year for fall foliage. I was able to photograph much of it without any interference from the rain (see a number of my recent posts) which was an added bonus.

For more photos of fall foliage visit my Fall Gallery.

2018 Nature Calendar Now Available!

cover for 2018 nature calendar - mount cheam fraser river fall

2018 Nature Calendar Cover – The Fraser River and Mount Cheam on a fall day in Agassiz


   My 2018 Nature Calendars are now available! I have put together some of my favourite recent photographs into a 11″x17″ (28cm x 43cm) calendar. Included are 12 photographs of landscape and nature scenes from British Columbia and Washington State.

15% OFF! Use the code LULU15 (case sensitive) for 15% OFF at checkout through December 18, 2017.

You can view a full preview and purchase this calendar through the button below: