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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Canon EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II Lens Review

                    * * *  Canon EF 600mm f/4 DO BR prototype lens at Expo 2015  * * *

Canon EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II lens in 400D lens case

Canon EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II USM lens

Canon announced the EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II lens on September 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 13 years in the making. The original model was introduced in 2001 and it had one of the 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 relatively fast speed, excellent focal length and light weight made it my favorite, handheld lens on wildlife photo shoots. The 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 400mm f/4 DO IS II lens :

  • Lens Construction - 18 elements in 12 groups
  • Focal Length & Maximum Aperture 400mm 1:4
  • Diagonal Angle of View 6°10’
  • Focus Adjustment Inner focusing system with USM
  • Minimum Focusing Distance 10.83 ft. / 3.3 m
  • Filter Size 52mm drop-in
  • Latest generation 4 stop Image Stabilization system
  • Comes with 3 IS modes
  • Attached tripod collar
  • Latest material, offering a slight weight addition to current model
  • Max. Diameter x Length, Weight
  • Approx. 5.04 x 9.16 in. / 128 x 232.7 mm
  • Approx. 74.1 oz. / 2100 g
  • List price - $6,899

The EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II lens, 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, with a 4 stop compensation and 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 Series II telephoto lens features gapless dual-layer diffractive optical elements for improved diffraction efficiency with reduced flare. They are arranged with a large-diameter ground aspheric lens and a UD lens for unparalleled sharpness and clarity. New coatings help to reduce ghosting and ensure excellent color balance, while reducing fingerprints on the front and rear of the lens. A new 9-blade circular aperture provides beautiful bokeh.

The tripod collar is now permanently attached to the lens. It has a very small foot and even with a lens plate attached, it is rather difficult to carry the lens by grabbing on to the foot, especially if one has large hands. The most annoying thing about Canon's Super Telephoto lenses is their factory lens cap and the EF 400mm DO II is no exception. The cap is 'cumbersome' and does not do a great job in protecting the glass. I always substitute it with the Don Zeck lens cap. The DZ caps are on all my Canon Super Telephoto lenses.

With the improved Image Stabilization system and material of the new lens, the weight has increased by about 5.3 oz / 160 g. The dimension is almost identical to the old lens and it is extremely well built and has a familiar feel in my hands. The 400D lens case is slightly redesigned and feels lighter. The handle on top of the old 400B case is gone, replaced by a side handle on the right.

I have taken the lens out for a quick birding trip. Mounted the Canon EF 2.0x Series III extender and used it on the EOS-1D Mk IV camera. All shots were taken with f/8 aperture. Some shots are from very far away (Osprey and Snowy Egret). The others are from moderate distance. The lens' IQ is impressive and much sharper than the Series I especially with the 2.0x extender mounted.

It is nothing less than amazing when paired with the EOS-1D Mk IV and EF 1.4x and EF 2.0x extenders, I have a handheld package with about 520mm to 1,040mm focal length to work with and not get tired even after a full day of wildlife photography. I have also tried the lens with the EOS-7D Mk II but recommend using only the EF 1.4x on it. The EOS-7D Mk II autofocusing ability is less than desirable with f/8. It is slow and I have lost crucial wildlife shots trying to AF with that aperture. Read my 7D2 review for details.

I have just returned from a photo shoot down in the Southern Oceans. The weather was windy, cool and sometimes misty. The EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II performed flawlessly. It is a joy to use especially on handheld photography. I get to move around quickly following the wildlife without the bulk and weight of the EF 200-400mm f/4L IS . Of course, the drawback is I have to use my feet a lot to get closer or further from the action whereas the EF 200-400mm is a zoom lens with a built-in extender. The DO's sharpness improved dramatically with a little stepping down. 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  400mm DO II through some though field tests and it came through with flying colors.

Back from my latest shoot in Costa Rica. It rained often and the weather super humid. This DO lens is a joy to use with or without a tripod.. AF was fast and accurate, even under heavy rain and cloud forest lighting conditions. Used it with the EOS-7D Mk II , EOS-1D Mk IV and EOS-1D X cameras. This is my favorite Super Telephoto lens in my inventory. It is a real pleasure to be able to handhold a 400mm Super Telephoto lens all day and get incomparable mobility to follow the wildlife action. You can see more of my works on


Kenny said...

This is a very nice lens and will not be under-rated like the Series I cousin. 13 years in the making will bring a lot of improvements. Looking forward to your more comprehensive review and wildlife photos.

Michael Daniel Ho said...

I have taken the EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II lens to my local park for some bird photography. It is an impressive piece of glass. My first impression is very good.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the review. It would be nice to see a full resolution picture.

Michael Daniel Ho said...

Just returned from a photo shoot in the Southern Oceans with the EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II lens. What a joy to handhold the latest Super Telephoto lens without a tripod and not getting too exhausted at the end of the day. See latest images above and I will be taking this lens on another wildlife shoot in Asia very soon.

Michael Daniel Ho said...

Just came back from my India photo shoot. The EF 400mm DO II was a joy to use and gave me unmatched mobility all day long without the need for a tripod. Occasionally I used a monopod and the IQ is simply superb when mated to the EOS-7D Mk II and EOS-1D X cameras.

Michael Daniel Ho said...

Thanks for your comment, Vicky. Glad you like the review of the Canon EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II lens. Stay in touch.

Christina Porter said...

If you need best magnifying glasses greater than 20x I would definitely recommend a digital magnifier. They are expensive, but all my clients love them and say they wouldn’t cope without them.