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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

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

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

Canon announced the EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens on November 11. These is one of my favorite Canon lenses and I placed my order right after the announcement and have just received the new model. This glass is about 16 years in the making. The original model was introduced in 1998 and it had an earlier version of Image Stabilization with a 2 stop advantage.

Although the technology is aged and it is not one of the sharpest lens in Canon's EF lineup, the Series I lens is still a very good performer and its versatile focal length and light weight makes it my favorite, handheld lens on wildlife photo shoots. This Series II lens incorporates all of Canon's technological advances in the last decade and more with new optics, coatings and material.

Specifications for EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens :
  • Lens Construction - 21 elements in 16 groups
  • Focal Length & Maximum Aperture 100-400mm 1:4.5-5.6
  • Rotating zoom ring, telescopic in design
  • 4 stop Image Stabilization
  • 3 Image Stabilization modes
  • Detachable tripod collar foot
  • Minimum focusing distance 3.2 ft / 0.98m
  • 9 aperture blades
  • Dust and weather sealed 
  • Air Sphere Coating (ASC) reduces backlit flaring and ghosting
  • One fluorite and one super UD element to improve contrast and resolution
  • New optics help reduce chromatic aberration across the entire zoom range 
  • Filter Size 77mm 
  • Latest material, offering a slight weight addition to current model
  • Max. Diameter x Length, Weight
  • Approx. 3.7 x 7.6 in. / 94 x 193 mm
  • Approx. 36.2 oz. / 1640 g
  • List price - $2,199

The EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II, together with the recently released EOS-7D Mk II camera, is one of my favorite combination equipment for handheld, wildlife photography.

The Series II lens is equipped with the latest IS technology, and comes with a 4 stop compensation plus 3 IS Modes, a feature shared only by the other Series II Super Telephoto lenses.

  • Mode 1 is designed for stationary subjects 
  • Mode 2 is designed for panning, allowing a linearly-moving subject to be tracked 
  • Mode 3 detects panning but IS activates only at the moment when the shutter releases

This new telephoto lens features one fluorite and one super UD element. Canon claims it will provide impressive contrast and resolution with reduced chromatic aberration across the entire zoom range. Furthermore, a new Air Sphere Coating (ASC) reduces backlit flaring and ghosting, while fluorine coatings on the front and rear lens surfaces help lessen smears and fingerprints. A new 9-blade circular aperture provides beautiful bokeh.

With the improved Image Stabilization system and material of the new lens, the weight has increased by about 8.3 oz / 206 g. The dimension has grown a tiny bit in diameter but almost identical to the old lens. The EF 100-400mm II telephoto zoom lens comes with a new inner focusing AF system for faster and more accurate focusing, down to about 3.2 feet, with a .31x maximum magnification. Gone is the old Push/Pull design for zooming in and out. The new lens is equipped with a rotation-type zoom ring and a redesigned tripod mount. The small foot of the tripod mount can be detached but not the tripod mount itself.

There is also a new lens hood, with a small side window that makes it easy to adjust specialty filters like circular polarizers, without the need to remove the hood. The small window is rather loose and opens easily, whether one wants to or not. It is an annoying feature to have in my opinion. I wish there were no window there at all, so I glued it shut. In addition, the lens hood now locks into place, much like the EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II. To take it off, one depresses the button on the side of the hood before unscrewing it. This is a nice feature I like and Canon should incorporate this design into every lens hood in their EF, non Super Telephoto line.

Canon retained the old Smooth/Tight ring on the lens barrel to ensure the lens does not extend itself when it is pointed downwards. At first, I preferred the Lock button on the EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS lens, but after a few long shoots, my mind was changed and the EF 100-400mm II locking mechanism is better after all. The detachable tripod foot is another feature I am not enamored with. The detachment is done by unscrewing a knob that is under tension. The foot is small and can be misplaced easily. When the foot is off, the exposed screw hole can collect dirt and dust over time, especially when out in the field. I prefer to have the entire tripod mount detachable.

Other than that, the lens is excellent and extremely well built. It has a familiar feel in my hands, much like the EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II. I have taken the lens out for a quick birding trip. Mounted the EF 100-400mm Series II on the EOS-1D Mk IV camera. All shots were handheld, taken with f/5.6 aperture @ 400mm. The lens is great, IQ quite impressive and sharper than the old model. I will add an extender next time for further testing.

I have just returned from a photo shoot down in the Southern Oceans. The weather was windy, cool and sometimes misty. The EF 100-400mm II performed flawlessly but I found the lens not to be as sharp as I had hoped at 400mm wide open. The sharpness improved dramatically with a little stepping down. This does not happen all the time and I will give it additional field testing in Asia.

Just back from India. The weather was was too hot by Indian standard but the conditions were extremely dusty and bumpy on the jeeps. Put the EF 100-400mm II through some though field tests and it came through with flying colors.

Just back from Costa Rica. It rained often and the weather super humid. As usual, the lens performed flawlessly. AF was fast and accurate, even under heavy rain and cloud forest lighting conditions. Used it with both the EOS-7D Mk II and EOS-1D X cameras. I am beginning to like the lens more and more. You can see more of my works on 


Canon said...

I like it already. This new lens sounds great. Can't wait for your wildlife photos and full review soon.

Michael Daniel Ho said...

I have taken this lens out for a local birding trip. It is a welcomed improvement over the Series I and quite a joy to use. The zoom ring is especially nice after so many years of pushing and pulling to change focal length. After the New Year, I will take it on various wildlife photo shoots and put it through some real world tests.

Michael Daniel Ho said...

I have returned from my photo shoot down in the Southern Oceans with this lens. The rotating lens barrel is a much welcomed improvement over the push-pull design and the lens performed well. See the sample Penguin photos above and visit my website to see more.

Ricky L Jones Photography said...

I just order this lens, and based on this review, I think it was a great idea to do so! Thanks as always Michael!


Michael Daniel Ho said...

Ricky, I just came back from India. The EF 100-400mm II was simply great. I like it more after every trip. Hope you are enjoying the lens as well.

William T.Mack said...

I was very pleased to find this web-site.I wanted to thanks for your time for this wonderful read!! I definitely enjoying every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you blog post.
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Michael Daniel Ho said...

Thanks for your comment, William. The Canon EF 100-400mm II lens is my go-to piece of equipment when I am out in the wild. Stay in touch.