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100-400 Pictures at 400mm wide open: Users observation

G D , Jul 01, 2007; 08:39 a.m.

Right, so Its the big old toss up, which Lens, 300 f4IS with 1.4 extender, the "Lost 400" f5.6 or Canons 100-400IS? All are L lenses, and all take very good Photographs.

I have deliberated and followed the arguments for years and I have now brought the 100-400. These are my thoughts and observations; I have not used (or seen) the 400 f5.6 so cant judge it. I have used the 300 f4IS and rave about it.

The 100-400 may well be the lens that has been elevated in stature by those owning it, or berated by those owning something else. I am providing some photos of the lens from the field, so people can see for themselves how sharp it is or, is not.

OBSERVATIONS: The lens does not replace my 70-200f4. I thought it way well, but it is significantly more bulky in my already crowded camera bag, and has to travel seperately.

The 70-200 f4 and my Sigma 300 f4 produce more contrasty pictures under less illuminating light levels. However in conditions where ISO 100 f5.6 1/125th is available, the 100-400 produces significantly more contrasty shots than the Sigma and is on a par with the 70-200 f4.

I did not experienced low quality of variations in lens quality, I have played with 3, two different ones in two different stores and a friends, all were of a similar (to the eye on a computer screen with varying backdrops) quality at the 400 mark.

My use of the lens is for Wildlife (predominantly African) and Aviation shows chasing Red Arrows hiding in open skies. I have been toying with bird photography for a couple of years but have lacked a long enough lens for this. I thought that the Zoom would be useful for finding and framing, and it is been more so than I had expected.

"Everyone" berates the Push-pull zoom: I find it extremely quick, and having been raised on a Nikon 80-200 f4 Pull-Push zoom, found that this is a very efficient way to observe, compose zoom in take the shot, zoom out then reframe, zoom in. However I find it frustrating that to zoom in, you push away... (maybe it was the nikon zoom in, pull in-dunno) However it becomes more natural and then confuses you when you go back to twistie zooms. Focusing Manually with the 1.4x extender is seriously a breeze thanks to me only having the two hands.

The Canon 300 f4IS has a considerably better Image Stabilisation system, not to say that this is useless, but that the Newer IS realy is significantly better.

Yes in this camera will inhale dust and spew it into your camera. In fact with the 5D when zooming out you can feel the air (probably very filtered by now) blowing outo your eye ball. I aliken it to the breath before a very gentle kiss from a hot girl! I will have to have the lens serviced frequently, and the Zoom is not the best long term keeper. the 300 would be a lens that you will still have in 10 years time, the 100-400 may well have been sold on by then, or become generally buggered.

One of my considerations is how long this will lats when its home is on a Landrover seat next to me on Kenyas suspension trialing roads- I have seen a 300D take itself apart after a trip to the East coast of Turkana and back, however I dont think that this will be happening to this lens, but am not 100% convinced... I have insurance, dont care.

SETUP: For those prepared to argue the point, the Clamp was onto a railing on the balcony that does wobble and transfer vibrations.

The subject was a pink flower in a bush approximately 12 feet away. It had freshly rained (British summer) and is currently raining again. There was a slight breeze but it is doubtful that it made any difference to the shots with a higher shutter speed, though may have affected the 1/150th with 1.4 extender.

In the MLU case, it was Mirror lock up and timer on. The camera was mounted onto a Manfrotto Clamp with a Ball mount head and all locked down. I did not use a flash. All mirror Lock up shots had the IS switched off and focus checked and rechecked, then switched to manual.

I took the Handheld shots with the Image Stabiliser switched on, setting 1. I stook without any external support, such as leaning on the balcony, just to get a feel, for how I would do it if on walkies and a saw a bird in the bush (feathered kind). The Autofocus was switched on and on servo mode

Below is a full frame shot of the scene I was photographing with the Canon 5D: the pictures that follow are 100% crops

Attachment: IMG_1501 MLU.JPG


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G D , Jul 01, 2007; 08:48 a.m.

I am very frustrated by not being able to insert a photo into the text, it apears to be a bit hit and miss: I have selected 510 pixels wide and 72 dpi, less than 100kb. Anyone any other ideas?


All shots were at the fastest aperture as this is where the lens performs poorest and where you are most likely to need quality.

Frst: Mirror lock up clamped down, IS off Manual focus after testing focus extensively, not that it was an issue.

Second: Handheld more or less the same point IS on and Auto focus Servo mode. More or less the same settings, but difference in weather realised slightly differing exposures. So I adjusted in RAW so that the optimal sharpness was visible.

Third: attach canon 1.4x Extender MLU, clamped to railing settings as before. Results are acceptable, but not what I would call publish grade quality, but not far off.

There is no conclusion, just results, this is what it does do. It suits my needs and is apparently sharper stopped down and also zoomed out (in - bloody canon!) a bit.

Cheers G

Dick Arnold , Jul 01, 2007; 08:52 a.m.

Click on my name and look at my gallery. The picture of the Oriole was taken at 400mm hand held at ISO 400 at about 400 @13 with IS on one. The flexibility of the lens is extremely important to me. Push-Pull is quicker and more intuitive than my 70-200 2.8. The 100-400 is very close in size and wt. to the 70-200. All in all a very useful and effective lens. It satisfies me.

William W , Jul 01, 2007; 08:55 a.m.

Mr Down:

Thank you, a really nice read, (seriously): but you have not swayed me. I want the 300 F2.8 and the 500 F4, until then I will be happy with the 70 to 200F2.8 and an extender.

Technically: the 320mm to 400mm was not sharp enough (on the copy I used), but I respect the opinion of those who love it.


G D , Jul 01, 2007; 08:58 a.m.

I tis fair to say that the shutter speeds did come down as the weather go worse (if you can vary degrees of bad) so there is a possibility that at 1/125 there were issues with movement. But it does tell a story. initially I though that there was little in it, apparently not so.

the Last shot with the 1.4x extender had a shutter speed of only 1/50th which is a bit unfair given the conditions so I would expect that it is better than the demonstrated shot.

And Lastly the handheld 100-400 with 1.4x extender, and IS on. Here you can see a difference, again that 1/50th of a second shutter speed is never going to help at 560mm! but the results were better than locked down.

I shall take another shot, crank up the ISO and see if it comes out with any better clarity

Robin Sibson , Jul 01, 2007; 09:27 a.m.

Graham ... welcome to the 100~400 owners club or victim support group, whichever way you look at it. I've used this lens since it was first released, and I think my copy is a decent one - it's been on many wildlife trips to South Africa, Australia, and elsewhere. I have had one problem with it, which is a well-known design fault, the collapse of the zoom mechanism, and this was repaired easily (but not cheaply). This problem is provoked most readily by repeatedly hammering the push-pull movement against the stops, but can happen, as in my case, without that. I have recently been doing some tests that suggest it might benefit from AF calibration, and I'm going to try to get that done before my next major trip. All that apart, it's been fine, and has produced some excellent shots for me. I'm a bit surprised about your comment on IS. If I remember correctly, the 100~400 and 300/4IS both use the same generation of IS, and certainly my experience with my own lens and my son's 300/4IS is that there's no significant difference, whereas my recently acquired 70~200/4IS is something else altogether. I agree that the 100~400 and 70~200/4 serve different purposes; the latter is now part of my normal carry-round kit, whereas the 100~400 is taken only when I know I'm going to need it.

And Bill, my utility for money will probably continue to exceed my utility for a Big White Lens (time alone will tell), but we're now living in a time when moving a BWL around internationally must be a major headache. I can live with the one standard-size item of cabin baggage, just about, but I'm already having to think carefully about how to organise myself for my next trip with a cabin baggage weight limit on my carrier of 7Kg that I know is likely to be enforced to within at best a few hundred grams. More robust items like flashes and binoculars will just have to be risked in hold baggage, and jacket pockets will undoubtedly have to be put to good use, but it would need a real poacher's pocket to take the 100~400! What's maddening, of course, is that if I chose to I could carry on a weight of airside-purchased duty-free that would dwarf my camera kit, but I know that sort of argument cuts no ice!

G D , Jul 01, 2007; 09:27 a.m.

Retired William: thank you, but I was not trying to persuade anyone anything.

Just there are so many opinions out there that I wanted to show results, yes it is not as sharp as many other lenses, but it is sufficient for publishing in the last week there have been 5 discussions around the 300-100-400 and 400 topic.

Your own decision to stick with the 70-200 and extenders is also fraught with completely diverse reviews, yet you are completely happy with your setup.

As a buyer it is distracting not to get an experience of what it can do. So I wanted to put together some results, then people can ask the questions.

I comprehensively agree that the 300 2.8 is the solution regardless of the problem. Given a leopard lying in the bushes I would rather have the 300 2.8 than the 100-400; stuff the zoom ability, a good weapon is much more useful. And if there were any shots to come out of it, hey luckily right tool for the job

The 500 is too much for my purposes, it incurs too many extra costs that it doesnt justify for the kind of use I would get from it. Airline handling, cases, Insurance, carrying that bloody thing, it does need a tripod bolted into the back of a dedicated SWB landrover with full canvas tilt to work propperly, mind you I have one of those somewhere...


So 400mm with 1.4 extender ISO 400 Clamped down, 1/320 f9 and the quality suddenly jumped up again, or rather it never jumped down, it was all subject movement.

100% crop as you can see from the time frames here, I am not really spending any time on anything other than runnig out results direct from the camera. Then croped in Photoshop, no sharpening etc.

Gotta say it has surprised me a bit. Sure the aperture is dull and belongs in enlarging lens territory, but its results are sharp and every bit useable. Plus you get a dust protector for DSLR's

If you are toying with the idea of buying this lens and want to know more info, I will be very happy to oblige.

Loving the 5D with no grain, but here at ISO 400 560mm f9 1/320th

Dick Arnold , Jul 01, 2007; 09:31 a.m.

Our postings crossed. I had not seen your pictures. Very interesting. I am surprised at the clarity of the first picture. I mainly bought the lens to shoot wildlife without a tripod. I like to shoot on the wing and it's just not practical to use one. You now have inspired me to set up a tripod and see if I can get similar results with my lens. I think I have a good copy. One of the reasons I got the zoom was my sports experience. I tried a rental 600 f4 but it's too big to move around with. With birds I occasionally get in quite close and have the opportunity to extend the lens as the bird or birds fly away from me. I grew up hunting and shooting them has become repugnant to me but I carry over what I learned in hunting to photographing birds. Interestingly enough, I was at a local pond looking for Osprey when I ran across this couple who were also interested in photography(Leica) and they were also celebrating their engagement earlier in the day. I had the 100-400 on the camera. I offered to shoot an engagement picture for them and did so with the lens on 100(1.6 crop). It came out quite well and they will soon pick it up. I didn't see any osprey.

William W , Jul 01, 2007; 10:01 a.m.

>>> Retired William: thank you, but I was not trying to persuade anyone anything. <<<

I know, that was understood. It was just that your post was such an enjoyable read, I felt obligated to respond.

>>> welcome to the 100~400 owners club or victim support group <<<

Robin: I love your work.

>>> I am surprised at the clarity of the first picture. <<<

Graham: Yes, as Dick says, the first frame is impressive, its clarity also surprised me.


Steve Dunn , Jul 01, 2007; 11:26 a.m.

The Canon 300 f4IS has a considerably better Image Stabilisation system, not to say that this is useless, but that the Newer IS realy is significantly better.

As Robin pointed out, these two lenses use the same generation of IS. The 300/4 is the older of the two lenses (released in 1997, vs. 1998 for the 100-400), but both have two-stop IS with one-second startup and mode 2, and both lack tripod detection.

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