Canon 100-400 Review

One of the longest running sagas in the world of camera equipment watchers was the replacement of the venerable 100-400 zoom lens. I have had the old version for about ten years and it has been a useful workhorse for me. However, it was becoming a little unreliable in recent years. A trip to Canon came back with a clean bill of health but I still found it a little trickier to get good results with. I had totally given up on the image stabilization as I found it often made things go strangely, particularly in the view finder.

Consequently, I have been keeping an eye out for when the new lens was due to come out. I planned to replace mine when the new one showed itself. As it was, I had been waiting of quite a while. Then, at the end of 2014, the new lens was released. There was not a glut of them available (and at the time of writing they are still pretty hard to come by) but I placed an early order and a couple of days before Christmas, it showed up on the doorstep.

First impressions had to wait as it was taken away to become a gift. However, once I did get it in my hands, I was quite impressed. For those that aren’t following these things (and if you are interested, you probably are following them), Canon have changed from the push-pull style of zoom to a ring operated zoom. This is like most other zoom lenses and it seems to work well. However, they have made the zoom ring the outer ring which is the opposite of my 70-200 so makes for a little adjustment. It does mean that the focus ring is where your hand might be when bracing the camera for steadiness. However, this has not been an issue for me yet.

I took the old and the new lenses out for a shoot to see how they compared. I shot with each in turn as well as doing some comparison shots to see how much they varied. It was interesting that, when I imported the images into Lightroom, I went through them to cull the poor shots and found the rejection rate would go up and down. This was when switching from one to the other. The newer lens seems to have a higher rate of keeping focus for moving subjects (surfers in this case). The bodies were the same so the lenses were the only variable.

I quickly adjusted to the new lens and find it easy to work with. It certainly feels solid and there isn’t the play I found with the old version. The image stabilization is a major improvement. It is great for static subjects with a major improvement in steadiness. It has three modes – static targets, panning targets and a third mode that only starts the stabilization when you fire the shutter. I have played with that but have not found it to be so reliable. I suspect it is a lack of understanding on my part. However, I think Mode 2 for panning will be where mine stays.

Aside from focus, how is the image quality? Pretty impressive. In the comparison shots things were a little sharper all over but more so at the edges. I will have a word of warning here though. I have had a series of shots where one side was noticeably blurred. What I have not been able to break down is whether that is a focus plane issue, a haze issue or a problem with the lens. I have tried a number of test shots to try and get to the bottom of this but everything seems to be solid. There is possibly an issue around the 300mm mark in some one test I ran which does coincide with what I have experienced in the field but it is far less than I had seen before. However, I have had plenty of good shots so I suspect the issue is not with the lens but with what I was shooting.

The new lens hood is one that leaves me with mixed feelings. Overall, it is good. The newer lens hoods on Canon lenses now include a button to lock it in place which stops them dropping off at odd moments. This one also includes a small “window” in the side of the hood to allow you to adjust polarizers without taking the hood off. This is a nice enough idea but the sliding panel over this window, while having a detent, is easily disturbed and I frequently find it is open. Not a huge problem but a bit of a compromise in the design.

My remaining issue is not with the lens but with Lightroom. Adobe have not created a lens profile yet (or rather not released one) which I suspect means it will be in the new version of Lightroom which is supposedly imminent. I have shot a lot of stuff wide open with the lens and there is some vignetting which is not a big problem but having a well worked out correction profile will be very helpful.

Overall, I am very happy with the lens. It seems to perform very well. Once I have convinced myself the minor problems I have seen are down to me rather than the lens, I shall relax into this being a regular part of my kit. It doesn’t have the low light capability of the 70-200 but it might find itself being used more for shoots when that lens was previously in the bag. We shall see.

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