Review: Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens December 15 2015, 0 Comments

Using Canon's Newest Telephoto Zoom

 divzi media reviews the Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM exclusively for Bokeh Fire. 

With many opportunities to use this new lens with this season’s fall sports, I’ve been very impressed by how Canon’s new 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 IS USM II handles. Having never used the original, I did not have any frame of reference for this lens except for having read that the original push/pull design was very polarizing among photographers and was a magnet for internal dust.

Shooting a lot of sports, I always wanted access to more reach (who doesn’t?) but I couldn’t justify the thousands of dollars required for a 300 or 400 2.8 at this stage of my shooting career. The 100-400mm has filled all the gaps in my lineup in a way that is more impressive than I ever expected, and now it’s one of my favorite lenses to use.

The Good

The most impressive part of this lens is how sharp it is. Zoomed out to 400 and shooting wide open at 100,000 ISO on a crop sensor I was able to capture images like this:

Photo by divzi media.  Shot with the Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM

The focus is responsive even in very dark situations, and it’s great at adding extra reach in situations where you are unable to move any closer to your subject (think sports and wildlife shooting).

While I have not yet felt the need to use a teleconverter with the lens as sports shooting is my primary use for this lens, I could imagine that for certain wildlife situations it could be a significantly more cost effective way to get the reach of the $11,000 200-400 f/4 at nearly 1/5 the price. You may have to give up one stop of light for it, but gaining one stop at a cost of $8,000 is a little too expensive for my taste.

The lens also features Image Stabilization which is great if you need to bring your shutter speed down to a level that is difficult for handholding shots without the blur of camera shake. In poorly light situations on a crop sensor, I’m still able to get sharp shots wide open at 400mm at 1/60th of a second.

(Pro Tip: This lens is also very sharp but don’t use it to shave, regardless of how tempting it may be. We’ve tried it out. It works well but gets messy).  

Photo by divzi media.  Shot with the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM

The Bad

There’s not really much to say here. It is a little heavy but most lenses with long reach are. It’s a few pounds and I’m able to hand hold it for the duration of a football game. Some may prefer to use a monopod but it serves as a good workout if you don’t, so it’s a win-win.

I was expecting this lens to lock focus a little slower than it does. On Al Servo it’s pretty quick to lock, even when shooting on a crop sensor, even in relatively dark situations. It’s not perfect, but it’s very good.

The variable aperture of 4.5-5.6 can be a little frustrating in lower light situations. Is it frustrating enough to spend five times as much on a fixed aperture? Not for me. 4.5 is noticeably slower than 2.8 but if I shoot wide open at ISO 200 I can still get up to around 1/2000th on sunny day, more than fast enough to freeze almost any kind of motion (even raindrops).

Photo by divzi media.  Shot with the Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM

Pro Tip: Many cameras have the option to automatically make exposure adjustments as you zoom on a variable aperture lens so that you can maintain the same exposure ratios throughout the entire zoom range.

Consult your camera manual for more details on how to do this. I typically have the camera change my ISO to compensate for the change in aperture. When shooting outside, this often results in little to no discernible difference among shots. Indoors, you’re going to see more noise the further you zoom if you opt to have the camera change your ISO. 

The Ugly

It’s still too early to tell whether or not the external zoom mechanism (as opposed to the internal zoom you see in the 70-200 f/2.8 or the 200-400 f/4) will cause an accumulation of dust in the interior optics. The jury is still out, but even if it does have a tendency to collect dust, it would not change my love for this lens. It has become one of my favorites, as I love being able to stay out of the way and frame very close up shots of my subjects, like this.

Photo by divzi media.  Shot with the Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM

Pro Tip: The lens does have a tension ring so that you can adjust the level of friction present when you zoom. If you release the tension all the way, the lens will zoom very smoothly but you can easily slam the part of the lens that extends into the barrel when you collapse the zoom. Speaking from experience, this is easy to do and probably not the best for the lens. It doesn’t handle like it’s fragile, but that doesn’t mean you should tempt fate.


I strongly recommend this lens, particularly for sports and wildlife photographers. Canon’s new 100-400 f/4.5-5.6 IS USM II may not be a Big White (as Canon sports lenses are affectionately referred to), but it has the same look and relatively similar performance.

It’s best for outdoor shoots including sports, nature and wildlife or very compressed headshots/portraits with reasonable (but not excessively shallow) depth of field. It is a definite winner for me, and I love using it in my daily shooting routine. Hopefully you will too after you get a chance to try it out.


Editor: You can rent the Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM with a Bokeh Fire PRO Membership for just $225 / month.  

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