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Canon 100-400 mm L IS vs Canon 400 mm f/5.6 L

Subhasis Roy , Sep 15, 2012; 03:52 p.m.

I am using 40D and Canon 300mm f/4. I also use 1.4x Tc with is combination. But recently I am facing some sharpness problem with this combo 300 mm f/4 and 1.4 tc. Then what should I do? Should I sent the TC for its proper functionality. If it fails further thinking to buy a lens with 400 mm focal length. Then what will be the best in respect of sharpness between Canon 100-400 mm L IS and Canon 400 mm f/5.6 L,where I want to use 100-400 as 400 mm. Please give me some suggestion. Regards, Subhasis


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Keith Reeder , Sep 15, 2012; 04:45 p.m.

I'll sum up the forthcoming long and almost certainly increasingly bad-tempered post (this subject - "which is sharper, the 100-400mm or the 400mm f/5.6?" - must be one of the most argued-over questions on the internet).

Some people will say that it's impossible for a zoom to be as sharp as a prime and will therefore recommend the prime, especially if they've been exposed to a less-than-perfect version of the 100-400mm (they exist).

Others, who know better and who have (or have had) prime-sharp 100-400s (yes, they exist too - and I've got one myself), will say that there's no sharpness disadvantage to the zoom, and a lot to recommend it from a versatility point of view.

The prime is a bit faster-focusing (although this advantage can be somewhat reduced by using the focus limiter on the 100-400mm); the zoom has a minimum focusing distance which is shorter - to a worthwhile extent - than the that of the prime.

And of course, the 100-400mm has image stabilisation, which I consider essential, and which can in itself make all the difference to sharpness in the right circumstances.

Richard Hatch , Sep 15, 2012; 05:29 p.m.

It comes down to a good, better, best in sharpness. Best is going to be a 300mm 2.8 and/or a 400 2.8 (both with IS and a whole lot of money). Better is a 300 f4 and/or a 400 5.6 (but not by much) Good of course is going to be the 100-400L... but... it does things none of the other lenses can do. It zooms from 100 to 400... fast. It is plenty sharp for most things.
Here is an image shot with the 100-400L at 100mm.

Here is one at 180mm.

I could not have have captured these at this rodeo if I had a 300 or a 400 alone.
When I know I'll be shooting long and want fast and sharp I'll go with my 300 2.8 (and a TC if needed) The 100-400 gets a lot of play time.

Frank Mueller , Sep 15, 2012; 10:10 p.m.

At 400mm the difference is small, if any. Between 100mm and 399mm the zoom is sharper ;-)

I had a 100-400L for a while, bought used, and was never really happy with it. I just got it back from service at Canon, and WOW - difference like day and night. Great lens! I never saw that fruit-fly until I looked at the photo!

Virginia Creeper, T1i, 100-400L @ 400mm, ISO800, f5.6, 1/320s, handheld

Peter E , Sep 15, 2012; 11:30 p.m.

The 400/5.6 wins in all categories except for the lack of IS and the fact that it is not a zoom. The 400/5.6 is frequently preferred for birds in flight (less light fall off, faster AF, less flare) although the zoom can be advantageous in that case as well.

Lester Wareham , Sep 16, 2012; 04:41 a.m.

If you look at Canon's MTF data then the 100-400 and 300 f/4 IS + 1.4x are of similer performance and the 400 f/5.6 is better. Real world issues and AF accuracy can swallow these deltas however.

I use the 300 plus 1.4x a lot on a 7D with very good results, the key brining to keep the shutter speed up.

So my view is the 400mm should in theory give better results this is probably only significant for aggressive cropping or large printing. I regularly crop to 1/4 of a frame with a 7D and the 300 + TC for birds I can't get closer to, these are very usable with good techneque.

Check your setup to see if you need to microadjust.

Marco Hidalgo , Sep 16, 2012; 05:33 a.m.

Hi Subhasis, I own the 400 f5.6 and have been perfectly happy with the performance, size and weight of this lens. I decided to get the prime lens vs the 100-400 zoom because I found that most of my images were going to be shot at 400. If I want to shoot around the 100mm focal length, then I grab a shorter and lighter lens, e.g. 85 f1.8, 100 f2.8 macro and a couple of other non Canon lenses that I use around that focal length. But that is just my personal shooting style, I like primes but I have to agree that IS does make a difference when shooting with the 70-200 f2.8 IS. This is a link to a website that describes the virtues of the 400 f5.6 hope this helps. Cheers, Marco

Subhasis Roy , Sep 16, 2012; 12:42 p.m.

Thanks a lot to all the members for your valuable suggestion. Through this valuable discussion I can conclude that if I go for 400 mm prime then I will loose nothing except IS and zoom. I think it will be better for me if I use a good tripod for 400 f/5.6 L lens. So I have to wait until I can manage sufficient money for the combination. Again thanks a lot to everyone.

Nathan Gardner , Sep 16, 2012; 02:46 p.m.

Do you ever use the 300 without the 1.4x attached? If you often do the versatility of the 100-400 may be better for you. I used a 100-400 for a bit but realized that it was pegged at 400mm 99% of the time, so I got the 400 prime for sharper IQ and better AF. The 100-400 is a great lens, but the one I used seemed to have flakey AF at the 400mm end. The IS is handy and an advantage over the prime, but if you think you'll shoot mostly at the 400mm end then I'd go for the prime. It's very light and very handholdable, but that's not to say that a monopod wouldn't help to make up for the lack of IS.

Michael Eckstein , Sep 16, 2012; 03:40 p.m.

I've had both lenses and I widely prefer the 400 f5.6. It's sharper wide open then the 100 - 400 at any f stop. Works well with 1.4x and 2 x converters. The 100 - 400 is hopeless with a 2x. Here's a 2x sample with 400 f5.6:

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