Canon EF 200-400mm F4 L Extender 1.4X Lens in its Case

Canon EF 200-400mm F4 L EXT 1.4X Lens Review (Podcast 414)

After many moons, finally here's my Canon EF 200-400mm F4 L EXT 1.4X lens review! As you may recall, I bought this lens  back in June 2013, as I was able to get a good deal on some old gear that I sold to pay for it. I've dragged my...

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Martin Bailey
Martin Bailey is a nature and wildlife photographer and educator based in Tokyo. He's a pioneering Podcaster and blogger, and an X-Rite Coloratti member.
16 Comments
  • Murray Foote
    Posted at 03:59h, 03 April Reply

    Great review Martin though I’m not likely to sell all my Nikon equipment to get one. If I shot Canon, I might be tempted.

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 08:52h, 03 April Reply

      Hee hee. I felt that way about the D800. I’d love that camera, but not so much as to abandon my Canon gear, and switching isn’t really an option. 🙂

  • Darren White
    Posted at 12:06h, 06 April Reply

    100% outstanding lens and review

  • Rick Nash
    Posted at 09:02h, 10 April Reply

    Thanks for the great review. Given how you had to scrape together the funds to purchase it, the review didn’t suffer from the guarded approach of those who get their gear for free. I am in angst over deciding if this is the right zoom telephoto or the prime 600/4 II. Your review has helped make this lens a much more serious contender than before reading it. I am curious if you were using the 600/4 II or was it the earlier version? Same thing goes for the external extenders. What versions were used in the examples you provided in your review as I understand the Mk III versions are designed to accommodate the new generation of telephotos (including this 200-400 zoom) better than the earlier versions.
    Since I like to shoot both large wildlife and also little birds, it’s a tough decision since the IQ will suffer with the external extender on the zoom as required to get the reach.
    I also found it interesting that the 5D Mk III AF didn’t perform similarly as the 1DX. It’s a shame as there are better ways to differentiate the flagship model than with a deliberate under-performing AF system.
    I do think there is much more flexibility using the zoom telephoto than with the fixed primes but naturally the small tradeoff will be that there will be some IQ degradation as you observed when the external extenders are also used.

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 11:41h, 10 April Reply

      Hi Rick,

      It’s great that you read into that about my review, but you also have my word that I will never change what I say about a product, even if it’s one that I do sometimes receive for free in return for a review. I always make that clear to companies that I work with before I receive a product. No product is perfect, and I like to keep it real.

      I was using the Mark I of the 600mm f/4 lens. It was slightly heavier and a little less sharp than the Mark II, but I was still very happy with it until the 200-400mm came along. I don’t think the difference between the Mark I and Mark II are significant enough though to change my opinion, that if you are buying now, the 200-400mm is the way to go. Image quality is just not an issue, despite this being a zoom lens, but the reduction in weight and the added flexibility is liberating. Having used a 600mm for almost 10 years and having missed many shots because I couldn’t pull back or switch to my second camera quickly enough, I was literally giggling like a teenager as I zoomed around and nailed my shots with the 200-400mm.

      All Extenders are Mark III. I should have mentioned that. Sorry!

      On the 600mm with Extender combination IQ, you’ll need to find out just how good that is. On the original 600mm IS, it was unusable with an Extender. The IQ just wasn’t there. In this respect the 200-400mm blows it away.

      It is a shame that the 5D Mark III AF doesn’t work as well on the 200-400mm. It’s OK, but nowhere near as snappy and accurate as the 1D X. The difference took me by surprise actually.

      I hope this helps some! Let me know what you eventually decide.

      Cheers,
      Martin.

  • Mark Bullen
    Posted at 18:28h, 05 May Reply

    Hi Martin,

    Thank you for an excellent review. I have a quick question as I have been saving up for the 200-400 ever since I saw it, but as I have a 5D Mk III and a 7D as a backup I am not quite sure what to do at the moment.

    My question is how does the 5D Mk III and your 1DX focus performance compare with your other lenses? Is it only different when you are using the 200-400 or do you see the same with other lenses when used for the same wildlife / action shots?

    Thanks again for an excellent review in a real world situation.

    Cheers

    Mark

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 19:46h, 05 May Reply

      You’re welcome Mark. Thanks for reading/listening!

      There is a slight drop in responsiveness with all lenses, although it isn’t as obvious as it was with the 200-400mm. I have to say though, when I need killer autofocus, I generally reach for the 1DX, and only used the 5D Mark III on that day as a test.

      I do use the 5D Mark III with all of my lenses, including the 200-400mm for more steady paced shooting, and it performs fine. It’s just when you need split second super accurate focusing that it fails to deliver. I’m not really comparing apples to apples of course, and indeed, the 5D3 works OK with the 200-400mm, it’s just nowhere near as responsive as with the 1DX in fast paced shooting.

      I’d say you’ll be fine with all lenses, just not as super responsive as it would be with the 1DX. I still nailed some images of course, and the hit rate probably improves as you work with the combination.

      I hope this helps some.

      • Mark Bullen
        Posted at 20:36h, 05 May Reply

        It does help, thank you Martin. I know the 1DX is an amazing piece of kit and something maybe to put on my wish list (or more probably whatever Canon replace it with by the time I have saved up 🙂 ) I still have lots to learn about the 5D Mk III and all it focus modes and the fine tuning available.

        Thank you for taking the time to answer my question and thank you for such an excellent podcast.

        Best Regards

        Mark

  • Parag Bhatt
    Posted at 19:16h, 16 July Reply

    Hi Martin,

    I just happened to read your informative review on the Canon 200-400mm lens.

    I am mainly into wildlife photography and have been using the Canon 200-400 lens with the 5d MK III since about a year now. What I have noticed is that while using the camera in AI Servo with this lens, some of the images are soft & distinctly out of focus in spite of having 1st & 2nd image priority on ‘Focus’ setting. This is not constant but happens once in a while. I have also noticed a very slight micro hunting of the lens in AI Servo on some occasions. I have taken the lens to Canon who tell me there is no problem with the lens. For your information I use Single-point Spot AF and mainly Case 2 in the AI Servo AF Characteristics.

    I also have a 7D MK II and the lens behaves pretty much the same on it as well.

    Maybe you could throw more light on the problems I’m facing.

    Best regards,

    Parag Bhatt

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 22:16h, 16 July Reply

      Hi Parag,

      It’s hard to say whether this is normal or not. You will never get 100% accuracy. There are always a number of frames here and there that aren’t in focus.

      The 5D Mark III isn’t as good as the 1D X with this lens, but it is workable.

      Depending on what you are shooting, maybe you could try the [ AF ] mode as opposed to a [ SEL ] mode (when settings the AF mode looking through the viewfinder) and set the camera so that all focus points are active, but initial focus is gained by the center focus point. Then once you have focus, it uses all focus points to track your subject. This doesn’t work well if there are lots of other objects in the foreground and background, but you can also tweak the settings in the focus in Case 2 as well, so that focus doesn’t move to other objects very quickly.

      For my settings, I generally use Tracking sensitivity set to -2, Accel./decel. tracking set to 1 and for AF pt auto switching I move between 0 and 1 depending on how accurately it’s working in a given situation.

      Give this a try and see how it goes.

      Martin.

      • Parag Bhatt
        Posted at 19:26h, 17 July Reply

        Hi Martin,

        Many thanks for taking time off to read my message.

        Maybe I’ll try your suggestion of the [AF] mode and tweak the cases and see if it improves.

        Thank you once again.

        Best regards,

        Parag

  • Nuno Januario
    Posted at 07:51h, 15 February Reply

    Hi Martin,

    Great review!!!

    i did the same as you, sold my 300 2.8 L IS and 600 f4 L IS to buy this beauty!!

    Although I’m not regret, sometimes I need more reach and I miss the 600 + 1.4 III, but I agree that with this Lens we have an excelent focal lenght with great quality.

    Finally, I’ve sold my 5D mk3 and 7D2 to buy an used 1Dx. 🙂

    • Nuno Januario
      Posted at 08:18h, 15 February Reply

      I thought a good idea to complement the 200-400 with the 500f4 mkI but I’m not sure if I can justify this, even if I consider the 200-400 as a 380mm.

      • Martin Bailey
        Posted at 08:56h, 15 February Reply

        Hi Nuno,

        Sorry I didn’t reply to your first comment yet. I’ve been busy with traveling.

        There’s really no point in owning the 500mm or 600mm once you own the 200-400mm. It can get a bit soft but with careful manual focusing, you can even add an external 2X Extender and shoot with the internal 1.4X Extender engaged at a push. I can’t see any situation when I would put up with the extra trouble and weight involved in carrying a second lens of similar size. The benefits are too small.

        Congrats on getting the 1DX. 🙂

        Regards,
        Martin.

        • Nuno Januário
          Posted at 10:10h, 20 February Reply

          Thanks Marin for your feedback.

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