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)


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.


  • 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)


  • 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:

Canon EF 1.4x Extender II Review

A review of the Canon EF 1.4x Extender II

canon ef 1.4x extender II review

The Canon EF 1.4x Extender II

a snowy owl - bubo scandiacus - hops to a different piece of driftwood at boundary bay - british columbia - canada

Snowy Owl
(Bubo scandiacus)

-click to enlarge-

   Late last summer I decided I wanted a bit more focal length than my Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM Zoom Lens could offer. Not being able to afford a really long telephoto lens, I looked into the Canon Extenders. Having eliminated the 2x version, I had a choice between the Canon 1.4x EF Extender II ($350) or the newer model the Canon 1.4x EF Extender II ($499). I read many reviews of the new extender over the old one, and it just didn’t seem to be worth the extra $150, at least for me so I went with the mark II version.

pasture on vernon mountain in coldstream, british columbia

Vernon Mountain Pasture
(Bubo scandiacus)

-click to enlarge-

   An extender attaches between a compatible lens and the camera body to give some added magnification with that lens. So the Canon 1.4x EF Extender would make a 200mm focal length more like 280mm. While there can be some image degradation, this does allow for a relatively cheap way to achieve the magnification found in longer focal lengths. An extender is also lighter and smaller than a lens, coming in at only 2.9″ x 1.1″, 7.8 oz. (72.8 x 27.2mm, 220g). An extender doesn’t take up much room in your bag or add much weight during a long hike. Using the 1.4x extender your lens operates 1 stop slower than it otherwise would. So my Canon 70-200mm f/4 L IS can only open up to f/5.6, not f/4. This is something to consider, depending on the camera you are using. I’ve been happy with the results from my Canon 7D with higher ISO performance, so if I am shooting wildlife with this combination, I will bump the ISO up a bit to compensate for what would otherwise be slower shutter speeds at f/5.6.

   Of course, an extender is only as good as the lens it is sitting behind. All of the sample photos you see here were shot with the extender and the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4 L IS USM lens. I love this lens for both wildlife and landscape shooting – and I wrote a separate review of the 70-200 here: Review of the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM Lens

northern pygmy-owl (glaucidium gnoma)

Northern Pygmy-Owl
(Glaucidium gnoma)
(Bubo scandiacus)

-click to enlarge-

   I asked my contacts on social media and in a few photography forums if anyone had used both the II and III versions of this extender and what they found to be improved in verion III over II. The apparent differences were not worth $150 in my opinion – especially behind the 70-200 lens I would be using it with. Many mentioned there was less Chromatic Abberation (CA) in the newest version. I decided to buy the less expensive version but to keep an eye open during post processing for CA. At this point I have only seen this in one photo, and it was a poorly exposed throwaway that was of no consequence. There still may be situations where this becomes an issue, but as I am aware of it and what shots I’ve made with the extender, I do not foresee this being an issue in the long run.

   The 1.4 extender III also has improvements in the coating on the outer pieces of glass – and it is said to not pick up fingerprints like the version II. There are also improvements to better match improvements in some of Canon’s super telephoto lenses that were released at about the same time. I am not worried about fingerprints, and I am unlikely to own some of the really long telephotos anytime soon. I can currently think of better ways to spend $8000. If I come into a landslide of money I will be able to upgrade my extender in addition to purchasing really long glass.

a flock of canada geese - branta canadensis - flying over the harrison river after feeding in the fields by kilby historic site
Canada Geese
(Branta canadensis)
-click to enlarge-

   Another issue with extenders can be image degradation. As you are placing more and more pieces of glass between your sensor and subject, image quality is likely to decrease slightly. I have not really noticed this in any of my images taken with the EF Extender II – though I am not one to do too much “pixel peeping” at 100% looking for flaws either.

   If you are on a budget and looking to get a bit more reach out of a lens like the 70-200, the Canon 1.4x EF Extender II (or a current version) might be the perfect way to do it. Using the version II for almost 8 months I’ve had no issues and am happy with the photographs I have been able to make with it. Glad to say buying this accomplished exactly the purpose for which I purchased it!

Review of the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM Lens

A review of the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM Zoom Lens

review of the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM Lens

Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM Lens

In early 2010 I finally decided that I had outgrown my 100mm macro lens as my longest telephoto lens. I wanted a lens that would help me photograph some of the wildlife that I occasionally see, and to help me photograph subjects I wasn’t able to get closer to on foot. I had read some great reviews of the Canon 70-200mm lenses so this seemed like a great place to start my research.

Canon offers 4 versions of its EF 70-200mm lenses. The EF 70-200mm f/4L USM, EF 70–200mm f/4L IS II USM (IS stands for Image Stabilization), EF 70-200mm f/2.8L USM and the EF 70–200mm f/2.8L IS III USM. I own the older (I) version of the 70–200mm f/4L IS lens.

Ultimately my choice between these lenses came down to price, weight, and the type of photographs I usually shoot. The EF 70-200mm f/2.8L versions have a relatively high price tag so they were well beyond my budget. I had considered the non IS version of the f/2.8 lens but this version is almost double the weight of either f/4 versions. I was reasonably certain that I did not require an f/2.8 and that the f/4 would be fast enough – especially considering the landscapes that I often photograph. New cameras with great high ISO capabilities have also lessened the usefulness of f/2.8 lenses for me. I had decided that I wanted the IS feature so it really came down to the EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM. I should point out that I did not consider lenses from manufacturers other than Canon.

The stabilization system in the EF 70-200mm f/4L IS is a “4 stop” IS. IS systems like this one steady the lens when your hands move the camera – they do not have any effect on a moving subject. Essentially you can use a slower shutter speed hand held with the IS system turned on than you otherwise would be able to. The EF 70-200mm f/4 L IS also focuses internally, so the lens does not extend its length as you zoom.

How I use the EF 70-200mm f/4 L IS Lens

While I purchased this lens mostly for wildlife and the occasional landscape, I was initially surprised how often I have used it for landscapes. There can be many distracting elements in a landscape scene and shooting at a wide angle might make it difficult to minimize these with composition alone. With the EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM, I am often able to concentrate only on the most important part of that sort of scene. In the first example below I focused on the patterns in the White Salmon Glacier on Mount Shuksan in Washington State. This was the most interesting part of the photo to me, and the effect would have been greatly diminished with a wider angle lens such as my Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS.

white salmon glacier on mount shuksan sunset

The White Salmon Glacier on Mount Shuksan in North Cascades National Park (Purchase)

Another example is this image of Eureka Falls – made possible due to the focal length available in the EF 70-200mm f/4 L IS USM. The waterfall is 82 feet (25 meters) from where I was standing, but between my feet and the falls lies the swiftly flowing waters of Silverhope Creek. This was not a case of being able to walk closer to the subject. I already had some nice wide angle images of these falls from another trip and with this lens I was able to show some of the details in the water and the surrounding rocks.

eureka falls

Eureka Falls near Hope, British Columbia (Purchase)

Naturally I also use this lens for photographing wildlife. At a focal length of 200mm you have to be reasonably close to your subject – even more so on a full frame camera. While I almost always shoot landscapes from a tripod if possible, sometimes my wildlife shots are hand held depending on the circumstances. This is when the IS system comes in handy. This American Pika (Ochotona princeps taylori) was not moving but not easy to get near either. I needed to approach the Pika over various rocks and boulders on a slope so using a tripod was not going to be possible. I turned on the IS system and shot this hand held with good results.

american pika Ochotona princeps taylori in the mount baker wilderness

An American Pika (em>Ochotona princeps taylori) in the Mount Baker Wilderness (Purchase)

Sometimes the subject is posing nicely like this Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) below. In a circumstance like this I always turn off the IS and shoot with my tripod. While a wide angle photograph might have looked good, being able to isolate the Heron on the rocks and the river flowing behind gave this image something special. This would not have been possible for me without the EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM.

great blue heron in the capilano river in north vancouver

A Great Blue Heron on the shore of the Capilano River in North Vancouver, BC (Purchase)


When you purchase this lens you receive a lens bag and the ET-74 lens hood included. The only complaint I really have about purchasing the EF 70-200mm f/4 L IS USM is that Canon did not include the Mount Ring A-2 tripod collar. Canon charges a lot for the tripod collar by itself, ($139) and it just seems that this lens is expensive enough to have included it.

Overall I have been very happy with the performance of this lens. I cannot think of an instance where it has let me down. I have found the images I have made to be very sharp regardless of focal length or aperture.

I have found the photographs made with this lens to have slightly more vibrant colors than with some of my other (lower quality) lenses. Less time spent editing colors later is always a good thing. This was my first L lens from Canon and it is definitely a step above my other zoom lenses in terms of image quality and construction. If you are considering a telephoto zoom lens I believe the EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM would be one to consider.

I now frequently use the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS with the Canon EF 1.4x II extender – read my Review of the Canon EF 1.4x II Extender.