Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM £11449

5th Oct 2011 | 10:50

Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM

Canon by name and big gun by nature, it's a super-telephoto beast

TechRadar rating:

5 stars

Like:

4-stop image stabiliser is excellent; Super-fast autofocus; Stunning image quality;

Dislike:

Big; Heavy; Fiendishly expensive to buy;

Overview and features

Combine a 400mm full-frame prime lens with a fast maximum aperture of f/2.8 and there are two things you can be assured of – size and weight. The mighty Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM
measures a whopping 163 x 343mm (484mm long with the lens hood fitted) and tips the scales at 3.85kg.

It's supplied in its own custom-made hard case that, in itself, exceeds the maximum carry-on size for most airlines. Indeed, you don't fit this lens to your camera, you fit the camera to the lens. But sometimes, big really is beautiful.

A scaled up version of the Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM super-telephoto lens, the 400mm offers the same wealth of features.

Designed for full-frame DSLR camera bodies such as the Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III or Canon EOS 5D Mark II, it's also equally compatible with APS-C-sized cameras such as the Canon EOS 7D, where it has a mighty effective focal length of 640mm.

In either case, the fast f/2.8 maximum aperture is a real bonus for freezing the action in dull lighting conditions, making the lens ideal for wildlife and sports photographers.

Headline attractions include super-fast, ring-type USM (Ultrasonic Motor) autofocus, complete with full-time manual override.

Better still, you get an additional Focus Preset mode where you can store a focus distance in memory and call it up at the touch of a button, with or without confirmation beep.

There's also a neat Power Focus mode with its own 'Playback ring'. Turning the ring by varying amounts enables dual-speed motorised focus adjustments, ideal for use in video shooting.

There's also a three-position focus limit switch with Full, 2.7-7m and 7m to infinity options.

To guard against camera shake, Canon's latest 4-stop Image Stabiliser (IS) has three separate modes to choose from.

Mode 1 stabilises the image full-time, so you can view the effect through the viewfinder when composing shots. Mode 2 is for panning with the camera in either portrait or landscape orientation. Mode 3 only applies stabilisation when the shot is actually taken, and works really well when you're tracking erratically moving objects.

Rounding out the feature set on this high-end camera lens, currently selling for around £8,880, are four AF stop buttons placed at 90-degree increments around the circumference of the lens, towards its front.

If you're not happy with their placement, you can pay to have the ring that houses them rotated by a Canon service centre.

There's also a Kensington lock attachment for securing the lens, a beefy tripod mount and somewhat enormous lens hood.

Build quality and handling

Canon ef 400mm f/2.8l is usm

The Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM is a lens that's designed for the great outdoors and, as such, has particularly sturdy build quality along with weather seals to guard against dust and moisture.

There's also a rubber O-ring fitted in the metal mounting plate to form an environmentally sealed fixing between lens and camera.

Construction of the barrel is based on magnesium alloy and titanium components and, heavy as this ultra high-performance super-telephoto lens is, it's still 1.5kg (28%) lighter than the first edition.

This makes handheld shooting quite feasible, at least for short periods of time. For extended periods of shooting, a monopod makes the lens much easier to use.

Handling of the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens is very refined with smoothly operating, high-precision controls in every area.

Performance

Canon ef 400mm f/2.8l is usm and 300mm f/2.8l is usm

The use of top-quality fluorite elements aims to ensure great image quality with high resolution and contrast, along with minimal colour fringing.

Canon's SubWavelength Coating (SWC) is also employed to reduce ghosting and flare, while the outer surfaces of the front and rear elements have fluorine coatings for easy cleaning.

Optical quality is impeccable in every respect. We were massively impressed at the sharpness and contrast, even when shooting at the maximum aperture of f/2.8 under gloomy lighting.

However, you do need to watch out for depth of field. At a focus distance of 10m with an aperture of f/2.8, DOF is only 10.2cm on a full-frame DSLR camera and a mere 6.4cm on an APS-C-sized body.

Distortion is practically zero, chromatic aberrations are negligible and peripheral illumination is excellent. The lens is also very resistant to ghosting and flare.

Given the long 400mm focal length, or an effective 640mm on Canon APS-C cameras, the 4-stop stabiliser really does have its work cut out.

In our tests, it performed extremely well, not only enabling sharp handheld shots when needed, but working brilliantly when using the lens on a monopod.

Autofocus is similarly top-drawer, with spectacularly fast and supremely accurate performance.

Sharpness and fringing test

Sharpness

As part of our test of the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8 IS II USM we've shot our SFR Plus chart at every aperture to check for sharpness and fringing across the frame. The resulting images are then fed through the Imatest Master software.

The graph below shows the results of the test, with each of the coloured lines depicting the lenses performance at the centre of the frame (in blue), and an average of the results for the mid-range (pink) and edge (yellow) frame.

Canon ef 400mm f/2.8l is ii usm sharpeness

The graph shows that the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS USM performs well across the aperture range. Despite the progressive fall towards f/22 the results for this lens are impressive with little drop in sharpness across the frame. The best results are achieved between f/2.8 and f/7.1.

Fringing

Canon ef 400mm f/2.8l is ii usm fringing

This graph shows that signs of fringing are low across the aperture range, whilst results at the middle and edge frame are higher at the centre fringing is almost non-existent.

Sample images

Canon ef 400mm f/2.8l is ii usm

Taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II, f/2.8, 1/1000 second

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Canon ef 400mm f/2.8l is ii usm

Taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II, f/8, 1/100 second

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Canon ef 400mm f/2.8l is ii usm

Taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II, f/2.8, 1/1600 second

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Canon ef 400mm f/2.8l is ii usm

Taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II, f/5.6, 1/125 second (full-frame)

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Canon ef 400mm f/2.8l is ii usm

Taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II, f/2.8

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Canon ef 400mm f/2.8l is ii usm

Taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II, f/5.6

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Canon ef 400mm f/2.8l is ii usm

Taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II, f/8

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Canon ef 400mm f/2.8l is ii usm

Taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II, f/11

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Canon ef 400mm f/2.8l is ii usm

Taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II, f/8

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Canon ef 400mm f/2.8l is ii usm

Taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II, f/8

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Verdict

The Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM is as good as it gets for a super-fast, super-telephoto prime lens.

From its rugged build quality and expansive feature set to its brilliant optical performance, trick focus modes and rock-steady image stabiliser, everything comes together perfectly.

The only downsides are that it's big and heavy to use, and massively expensive to buy.

We liked

Superb image quality made all the more effective by excellent autofocus and image stabilisation systems.

We disliked

It's very big, still heavy despite the Mark II's weight loss, and extremely expensive.

Final verdict

Even with its disadvantages, the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM would be a great super-telephoto lens to hire for special occasions.

Canon lenses camera lenses
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