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

Canon EF 100-400mm Mark II Lens Review (Podcast 463)

Canon recently released a long awaited Mark II version of their legendary 100-400mm lens, that was loved by many until the resolution of our cameras out-grew it. Today we're going to take a look at this new lens, to see if it was worth the wait. As the megapixels of the images that our cameras record increases, the demand on our lenses to resolve light down to a finer point of light increases too. Without sharp lenses, high resolution cameras can't maximise the benefit of having more megapixels, and this is what happened with the original version of Canon's 100-400mm...

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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.
26 Comments
  • DaveT
    Posted at 20:02h, 18 March Reply

    Martin,

    Thanks for your comprehensive impressions of this lens. Like you, I had a copy of the older lens and sold it after a year or so because I got fed up with its quirky results. In short, for me it was unreliable.

    I bought the new lens as soon as it came out because I wanted the focal length flexibility, particularly for safari use. The only downside I have experienced with it is trying to manual focus it when its fully extended at 400mm. The focusing ring is near to the body so it leaves quite a bit of the lens extended when hand held, which I found made it a bit awkward to support when hand held. I have though adapted the way I hold the lens, supporting the barrel with the palm, fingers pointing forward and using the thumb and fourth finger to move the focusing ring. Its just a question of getting used to it though.

    As for sharpness, I fully agree with you. I have just come back from Kenya and on some of the close-ups I shot of a large male lion I was amazed to see every little detail and hair in the RAW file (5DMKIII) – right out of camera the image was tack sharp and the image quality excellent.

    Very happy with the new model and cant wait for the summer now to try it with Butterflies and Dragonflies – i would imagine that with an extension tube fitted it will be even more versatile.

    David

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 21:07h, 18 March Reply

      Thanks for stopping by David! I see what you mean about the manual focus. I support my lenses like that anyway, and so hadn’t really thought about it, but you’re right. Especially if it requires a change to how you hold your lens that might be a bit of a pain initially.

      I have been chuckling every time I look at my images though, it’s that sharp. I’m looking forward to Namibia in August too now, as well as a few other trips before that which require hand-held long glass.

      Cheers,
      Martin.

  • Dan Dill
    Posted at 03:51h, 19 March Reply

    This was a very helpful review, and a pleasure to listen to and to view.

    It makes we wonder whether the 100-400 II would also be a reasonable alternative to the 70-200 II.

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 09:29h, 19 March Reply

      Thanks Dan!
      I believe it absolutely will be a great alternative to the 70-200 II. I didn’t mention this because I haven’t decided yet, but as time goes by I imagine I will stop taking my 70-200mm f/2.8 out, and end up selling it. Of course, I like the wider aperture, but the 100-400mm is actually sharper, so I’m pretty sure my 70-200mm will start to go unused.

  • Stef
    Posted at 03:35h, 28 April Reply

    Thank you for this review.
    Now, I am confused… Initially, I was not considering this new lense because of the narrow aperture, despite my interest was caught by the relative lightweight…
    Here is my problem. I own a 5d3 and a 7d2 bodies. I practice a lot wildlife and nature photography in the French Alps. I also own a 70-200 f2.8 L IS II, a 300 f2.8 L IS II, and both extenders vIII. Certainly a good kit, but quite heavy when hiking for long…
    If I buy this new 100-400, i would have a doublon with the 70-200, but I would lack the f2.8 which I like a lot for portraits. In the other hand, I am very reluctant in selling my 300… What I am sure about is I cannot keep 3 lenses like those for an amator practice.
    Any advice ? Would I be able to generate with the new 100-400 background blurs of the same quality as what I get from the 70-200 at full aperture for portraits ? Maybe thanks to the short MFD ? Would it be relevant to sell the 70-200, replace it by the new 100-400 for multipurpose (nature in good light, portrait, lanscape), but keep the 300 for nature in low light ?

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 09:19h, 28 April Reply

      Hi Stef,

      I was using the same kit as you. 70-200mm f/2.8 II and 300mm f/2.8 with Mark III Extenders, but I sold the 300mm f/2.8 when the 200-400mm 1.4X was released. Until recently I have not missed the extra stop of aperture. I took the 100-400mm to shoot some Flowerscape images, and it really didn’t have a wide enough aperture at f/5.6 for the look I was after, but the 200-400mm probably would have at f/4 so I’ll take that next time.

      I already sold my 300mm, so I guess that is my answer regarding that. Whether or not to sell the 70-200mm is a more difficult choice.

      The 100-400mm is actually sharper than the 70-200mm f/2.8 II so I know that for the majority of my work in this range, I will now reach for the 100-400mm instead. I have considered selling the 70-200mm but I think I’ll wait a few months and see just how much I actually use it from now on. I haven’t used it for four months at this point, since I got the 100-400mm.

      Don’t hold on to your current lenses just for use in low light. The cameras you have can go crazy high on the ISO if you expose to the right, so the only consideration really is depth of field. For sure, if you want shallow depth of field for portrait work, you might want to keep the 70-200mm, at least until you’ve seen how well the 100-400mm works for you.

      Check your EXIF data if necessary and see how much of your wildlife work you are shooting below f/5.6. If it’s not a lot, or you could stop down and still get the look you want, it may well be worth considering the 100-400mm. Maybe try renting it for a while first? That would help you to see if it makes sense for you.

      Sorry I can’t give you a definitive answer, but hopefully this will give you some direction.

      Regards,
      Martin.

  • Dennis Mahaffey
    Posted at 07:24h, 30 April Reply

    Thank you for your equipment reviews. Always think of you for opinions on new equipment. I purchased the 100-400 and
    took it to the beach shooting birds and macros. Did find it does a wonderful job on macros with an extension tube. I like to lay on the beach to get as low as possible when shooting the birds. Evedently to low. By the end of the day my lens would not focus. This was only week 3 with this lens. Sent to Canon and would cost $$$ and it had a lot of sand inside. Their recommendation was to use a rain jacket when around sand or in rain, just a small amount of sand will get in the focusing mechanisms. Expected this to be somewhat more resistant to sand and water. What would, or do you use, to protect this lens?

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 11:05h, 30 April Reply

      Ooh, sorry to hear that Dennis!

      I don’t use anything to protect this or any of my lenses, but I also know that sand and lenses don’t like each other. This gear is dust and rainproof, but sand is generally a no-no. Also, with sand, a rain cover might not be much use, as it will probably work its way in through the end unless you have it attached very securely.

      My advice would be to keep your hand cupped under the lens to keep it out of the sand, or maybe even just lay a piece of cloth or plastic on the sand beneath it, and ensure that you brush off any sand from your hands before touching the lens.

  • Tim Harty
    Posted at 02:45h, 01 June Reply

    Have you tried this lens with the 5D Mark III and 1.4 extender by any chance? I am thinking of getting the extender. Thanks so much.

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 09:57h, 01 June Reply

      I don’t think I have Tim. I did try on the 7D2 just to check that the center focus point worked as expected, but that’s all.

  • Petrus van Zyl
    Posted at 22:08h, 19 June Reply

    Thank you for a very helpful review. I have the old 100-400mm lens and the old 7D. Would it be worth my while upgrading to the new lens or should I rather consider a camera upgrade.
    Thank you
    Petrus

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 22:14h, 19 June Reply

      Hi Petrus,

      I never used the old 7D, so I can’t say for sure, but I’d say if it’s one or the other, the new 100-400mm would give you better quality images. If budget could stretch to bother, they are a great combination together.

      Cheers,
      Martin.

      • Petrus van Zyl
        Posted at 15:01h, 25 June Reply

        thank you. I opted for the lens and so far I am very happy with it on my old 7D.

        • Martin Bailey
          Posted at 15:19h, 25 June Reply

          That’s great to hear Petrus. Have fun!

        • Simon K
          Posted at 11:17h, 16 August Reply

          Hello Petrus and Martin, there are two things that I’m confused about, and hoping you can share your feedback

          Background: I’ve owned the original 100-400 for almost 8 years now. I shoot full frame. I always shoot handheld. I prefer wildlife and birds in flight.

          1.I’ve loved the push pull of the old 100-400 for the convenience of zooming while handheld panning or when a subject comes closer. I have not tried the new 100-400 IS II yet. The concept of twisting to zoom during handheld framing bothers me a lot. I’m especially worried about it causing wobble during hand held shots. What is your experience?
          2. If the twist to zoom is indeed problematic, is the sharpness worth the risk of losing shots while fumbling with the zoom ring?
          3. is it possible to zoom in/out by simply sliding the palm under the zoom ring, or does one have to grip the zoom ring and turn it?
          4. As mentioned here, the sharpness is better than the original 100-400. But would the old 100-400 match up to the new version’s sharpness after some light sharpening?

          Thanks so much again!

          • Martin Bailey
            Posted at 12:01h, 16 August Reply

            Hi Simon,

            Having used both lenses, I can tell you that they are both very easy to zoom during a pan. I do it all the time with the new lens and have had no issues. Jumping straight from the old to the new model will probably be a bit frustrating at first, but once you are used to it, you will be able to zoom smoothly.

            On 2) I really doubt that you’ll lose shots fumbling once you’ve rewired your muscle memory, and personally, I’d rather lose a few shots initially as opposed to sticking with the Mark I lens.

            On 3) you can adjust the resistance of the zoom ring with another ring next to it, and if you loosen it right off, Having said that, you will probably never be able to zoom just with your palm under the lens. You need to have at least one finger over the top of the zoom ring to grip it. I generally zoom with my forefinger under the lens and thumb on the top, while supporting the lens with my palm.

            On 4) as I no longer own the 100-400mm I can’t really say for sure. It’s your choice as to whether to upgrade of course, but personally, I don’t like to sharpen images any more than the default settings unless I have screwed up on a shot that I can’t shoot again. I prefer my default workflow to produce top-class images without that kind of processing.

            I hope that helps!

            Regards,
            Martin.

          • Petrus van Zyl
            Posted at 14:06h, 16 August Reply

            Hi Simon
            I agree with Martin. It took some time for me to get used to the difference in zoom and yes sliding is so much easier. However I do not think you can beat the sharpness. I have upgraded to the 7D mk11 and the combination rocks.

  • marasha
    Posted at 16:21h, 11 April Reply

    hi guys.. i am not quiet sure about sand however i wanna share my experience about rain. i just used canon 100-400mm is ii under heavy rain. i was in doubt cause of its front element moving forward and then comes in when de zoom. but i never had a problem of rain so far even with muy basic gear. I used under heavy rain all day yesterday. it was totally wet. however at the end today i checked out there aint any problem at all. It works perfectly well.

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 09:22h, 12 April Reply

      That’s good to hear Marasha. Thanks for the update.

      I have used my 100-400mm in wet snow now many times too, and it’s been fine. It’s turning out to be an absolutely amazing lens, as I’m sure you’ll agree.

  • Karen Flint
    Posted at 12:47h, 02 August Reply

    Thanks for your blog about the new Canon 100-400 zoom. I have just upgraded to the Canon EOS 5D Mark III, and was curious about whether that will work with my old 100-400 zoom lens. I wanted to have two backs usable so I don’t have to change lenses all the time. It does sound as it the new Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM is a pretty great lens. Should I upgrade to the new lens as well? Thanks for any advice.

    Karen

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 11:51h, 16 August Reply

      Hi Karen,

      Sorry for my delayed reply. I only just saw your question.

      I personally found that the old 100-400mm was not performing well once we got past around 10 megapixels, so I would absolutely recommend upgrading to the Mark II version with the resolution of the 5D Mark III. Having said that, you could certainly try it with your old 100-400mm first and check the image quality before making your decision. If you are happy with the images from the old model, you can save some pennies.

      Regards,
      Martin.

  • Joshua Nicholson
    Posted at 18:09h, 11 January Reply

    Thanks for the detailed review Martin. Love your podcast and photos. So I feel I can trust a gear review from you.

    After a few good years of service and several photos (200k-ish) my 70-200 f2.8 has become too unreliable when focusing and too $$$ to repair. So I’m in the market for a replacement. Obviously my immediate response is to go and buy another 70-200 but I am now thinking this lens could give me better flexibity and in truth most of my photos would have been shoot at 120-200mm (f5.6-f8) so loosing the 70-100mm range will not be a big loss. However I do spend some time shooting indoor track cycling and BMX races at night (under lights) so I did like a wide open 2.8 aperture. However main camera is a 1dx mk I so hey I will just crank the ISO some more with the 100-400. It’s a thought provoking set of options.

    Find your comments curious around the IS Mode 3 because I thought it will benefit me and some other reviewers have spoken well of it. Have you changed your thoughts since the original review?

    Love your work
    Joshua

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 13:11h, 21 January Reply

      Hi Joshua,

      Sorry for the delayed reply. I’ve been traveling until last night.

      You know, Mode 3 IS just doesn’t do it for me. I haven’t really tried again since, but I don’t like it. I wouldn’t let that affect your decision though. If others like it, great! You might, you might not. If you don’t, you’ll still have a great lens that works perfectly in Modes 1 and 2. 🙂

      Thanks for the kind words, and for trusting my content.

      Cheers,
      Martin.

      • Joshua Nicholson
        Posted at 16:12h, 21 January Reply

        Thanks Martin, great timing as I’d only purchased it a couple of hours before your reply, looking forward to using it in the next couple of days. Like any lens it takes a little time to get the most out of it. Also purchased the new sigma art 12-24 couldn’t push the budget for the canon 11-24 (I’ve borrowed this lens a couple of times and loved it). So far amazed at how straight the sigma is, even compared to the canon. But sigma is a little soft on the edges but hey if people notice that I failed to get the shot.

  • Simon Packer
    Posted at 06:51h, 03 January Reply

    I have a 5D3 and a 100-400 MK1 and I don’t find it unusable at all. I have shots of house martins landing at 1/8000 sec which are pretty sharp. I also think the 5D3 has a profile for the lens which seems to help it somehow. It does seem to need good light and contrast to focus consistently accurately. But the centre sharpness isn’t bad at all, in my opinion, and certainly doesn’t totally disgrace the 21mp sensor. It does look cleaner on the 5D3 than a crop, but I have some pretty good near-pixel-sharp aircraft in flight shots with a 18mp rebel/600d crop frame. Compared to a non-Canon long lens I had before it, the colour/contrast/light rendition are very pleasing. The other lens was possibly a little sharper but overall I easily prefer the MK1 images. Mine has given some mechanical trouble with the MF ring though, now rectified. I’m sure the new one is better, but the old one isn’t a resolution disaster. I can send some pics in…

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 09:20h, 04 January Reply

      Hi Simon,

      Certainly not a disaster. I agree. But there are conditions when it will not perform as well as I’d like a lens to perform. For example, you’ll get better image quality at 350mm than at the full extent of 400mm. It also depends on what you do with your images, as in printing really large compared to sharing images on the web, etc. I assure you, the Mark II version of this lens is much better in terms of sharpness and IS performance, but at the end of the day if you are happy with the Mark I, there’s nothing to worry about. I’m not telling you how to feel or what to do, just what’s available and why I made my own decisions.

      Also, as good as it was, I’ve now sold the 100-400mm Mark II for the RF 100-500mm which is better again, but that decision was based more on IS performance and the extra reach, as well as it being a native RF lens for my mirrorless Canon cameras now. Our motives and decisions will be different, so please don’t think I’m having a dig at your lens.

      All the best for 2021.

      Regards,
      Martin.

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