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

May 17, 2015  •  7 Comments

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.

Handling
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 BirdBlue Quail Birdf5.6, 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 Vulturef10, 1/250th sec, 400mm African Elephant MaleAfrican Elephant Malef6.3, 1/800th sec, 312mm

Green Tree Iguanaf9, 1/160th sec, 241mm Plains Zebra Grazing on Green GrassPlains Zebra Grazing on Green Grassf5.6, 1/300th sec, 300mm African Elephant HerdAfrican Elephant Herdf6.5, 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
Left: Canon f5.6 Right: Tamron f5.6


Canon 100% Crop from above image, f5.6
Canon 100% Crop, f5,6

Tamron 100% crop from above image, f5.6
Tamron 100% Crop, f5.6

 

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

Canon 100% Crop from above image, f8

Canon 100% Crop, f8

Tamron 100% crop from above image, f8
Tamron 100% crop, f8

 

Left:  Canon f11, 1/500th sec, 400mm        Right:  Tamron f11,  1/500th sec,  400mm
Left: Canon f11 Right: Tamron f11 Canon 100% Crop from above image, f11
Canon 100% Crop, f11 Tamron 100% crop from above image, f11
Tamron 100% crop, f11 Obsevation

  • 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 focussing 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.
 
Pros
Image Quality
Excellent IS
Accurate Focusing and Speed
Smooth Bokeh
Size and Mass
 
Cons
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.

UPDATE:

I had the opportunity to test the AI server focus mode and panning on IS mode 2.  The subject was fast moving karts on a local race track.

The AI server focus was almost flawless!  I am very impressed with how accurate it is.  Panning was not as successful but this is mainly due to my lack of technique, not a fault of the lens.  However, I still managed a few panning keepers as well.

Panning Mode 2ISO100, f16, 1/250th sec AI Server FocusISO800, f8, 1/5000th sec

I can confidently recommend this lens as a superb sports and wildlife lens as well as very good for portraits and even semi-macro shots.


Comments

7.carlos H(non-registered)
Thanks Duncan for the answer. I have a better idea now about using the teleconverter with the new 100-400mm MK II.
6.Four Oaks Photography
Hi Carlos H

Thanks for reading my review.
I have the TC Mk III and I don't think it degrades the image quality at all. I can't compare it to the TC Mk II though because I have never used it.

However, I hardly use the TC Mk III because I find using only the center focal point a problem. And secondly, it does reduce the speed of the lens (aperture). But it certainly has it's place in my bag and is used from time to time.

Regards
Duncan
5.Carlos H(non-registered)
I just got the 100-400 MK II to replace the Canon 400mm f5.6L (no IS). I have been shooting with the new lens here in my country Costa Rica and the 7D MK II. Big improvement!! My question is: Right now the Canon TC I have is the 1.4X II. Will I get better IQ with the TC 1.4X III?
Lovely King vulture, Can't wait to photograph the King Vulture again with the new lens.

Thanks for the excellent review.
4.Four Oaks Photography
Hi John

Thank you for your message. I sure you will be very happy with this lens. It is a bit pricy but I think worth ever cent.

Duncan
3.john(non-registered)
thank you for taking the time to put this together...I followed it from the miranda site. Will be my next lens purchase for sure. As I read (reviews) by every day people I am becoming very confident in knowing that I am pursuing the right choice.

thanks again...
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