Canon EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II USM
Lab Test Results
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by William Brawley
Ah, one of the rare Canon L-series lenses not to sport that distinctive red ring. Indeed, the newly redesigned Canon EF 400mm ƒ/4 DO IS II USM, like other Canon "DO" lenses, uses a green ring to denote the use of special Diffractive Optics. The original model was released back in 2001, and this updated "Mark II" version not only gets subtle cosmetic updates, but also a notable redesign in its optical formula aimed at increasing image quality and reducing flare.
Why use Diffractive Optics? Telephoto lenses for DSLR cameras reaching into the 300mm, 400m and beyond often necessitate very large sizes. These supertelephoto lenses often wind up weighing pounds upon pounds with price tags hitting five figures. Take the Canon 400mm ƒ/2.8L IS II lens, for example. This large lens is over 13 inches long and weighs over eight pounds -- and costs over $11,000. Of course, one of the big factors to its size and price is the bright ƒ/2.8 aperture. But for those who don't need as large an aperture, a 400mm lens with DO optics offers significant weight reductions while still keeping a decently-wide aperture, built-in IS and, most importantly, that long, 400mm focal length.
While the new Canon EF 400mm ƒ/4 DO IS II USM might not be as pricey as the 400mm ƒ/2.8, this new telephoto prime is a very serious lens with a retail price of $6,899. With your purchase, the lens ships with a Canon locking 400D hard case with keys, cloth lens cap, metal lens hood, tripod mount with removable foot, lens strap, strap case, and of course, a standard rear lens cap.
But is the lens actually any good? Read on to find out…
On a full-frame body, the Canon 400mm DO II is sharp, though not as tack sharp as the 400mm ƒ/2.8 II; still, the 400 DO II is quite good. Being a longer focal length lens, the sharpness is very uniform across the frame, without any noticeable corner softness, even wide-open. The lens displays optimal sharpness both wide-open and stopped down, with diffraction limiting softness coming into play at around ƒ/22-ƒ/32. On a sub-frame camera, the sharpness is only marginally improved due to the smaller image circle, but overall we found the same pleasing results as with the full-frame camera. Again, diffraction-related softness starting coming into effect around ƒ/22-ƒ/32.
Seeing as this lens is ideal for wildlife, sports and even a great choice for birds-in-flight and airshows, we felt that many photographers would be interested to see how this lens performs with a teleconverter. We just so happened to have access to a Canon 1.4x TC II and tested it. On a full-frame camera, we saw a slight dip in image sharpness when using the teleconverter, but performance overall is quite above par. We also found similarly impressive performance on our sub-frame test camera as well. Diffraction-related softness at the extremely small apertures (now down to ƒ/32-ƒ/45) is more significant than on the bare lens.
In the end, while the 400mm ƒ/4 DO II is not as sharp as the 400mm ƒ/2.8 II lens, the substantial savings in both size and weight, as well as sheer cost, more than make up for it.
As one would hope from a nearly-$7000 lens, chromatic aberration is very minimal. On both full- and sub-frame cameras, CA was very low, and despite our graphs indicating a slight increase in CA on sub-frame cameras at smaller apertures, our test images displayed barely any perceptible CA, both wide-open and stopped down.
With the Canon 1.4x II TC attached, both full-frame and sub-frame cameras display increased CA, though still very minor. This is often one of the expected compromises when using teleconverters. When looking at some of our test images, you can see very faint blue/magenta fringing on high-contrast edges out in the corners.
Like CA, vignetting on this telephoto lens is very, very low. On a full-frame camera, we did register some slight corner shading -- to the tune of around 0.25EVs of light falloff -- at ƒ/4. Vignetting steadily decreased, dropping to about half that at ƒ/8, and then reducing even further as you stopped down more. As expected, vignetting is barely perceptible on a sub-frame camera. Wide-open, the vignetting we observed on a full-frame sensor is cut in half at ƒ/4, and stopping down, even a stop or so, nearly completely eliminates corner shading. Adding on the 1.4x teleconverter, we saw similar vignetting characteristics to the bare lens, on both sensor sizes.
As you expect from a long, telephoto lens, geometric distortion on the Canon 400mm DO II is practically nonexistent, for both full- and sub-frame cameras. Adding the teleconverter does increase barrel distortion somewhat, but overall, it's a very minor effect, especially on a sub-frame camera.
The Canon 400mm DO II lens uses Canon's Ultrasonic Motor for super-fast, quiet autofocus, as well as full-time manual focus override of AF. In our tests, the AF performance on this lens was superb, with quick, precise focusing taking under one second to rack from minimum distance to infinity focus.
Like many other Canon supertelephoto lenses, the 400mm DO II is outfitted with a focus preset system, which lets the user pre-program focus at specific distance and then quickly recall the lens to automatically focus at that particular mark. To do this, simply autofocus normally using a half-press or manual focus, press the "SET" button on the side of the lens, and then when needed, rotate the thin, "gear-like" toggle ring (called the "playback ring" in Canon lingo) in front of the focus ring to the left or right to snap the lens into focus at your preset distance.
The lens also is equipped with a focus limiter switch, allowing for quicker autofocusing by limiting the range in which the lens elements have to move in order to achieve focus. Focus limiting options on the 400 DO II are 3.3m to 8m, 8m to infinity, and the full range of 3.3m to infinity. There are several focus 'hold' buttons on the rubberized front collar of the lens, allowing autofocus to be temporarily paused if needed.
Following the lead of the "Mark II" versions of the 300mm ƒ/2.8 and 400mm ƒ/2.8 lenses, the new 400 DO II also includes PF (''power focus'') mode, which allows for electronically controlled autofocus. This is useful for video recording where you'd want smooth, precise focus pulling rather than relying on the large manual focus ring. Using the same bi-directional playback toggle ring previously mentioned with focus presets, Power Focus allows for constant speed focus pulling, with two speed settings available.
The 400mm ƒ/4 DO II isn't designed for macro style shooting, offering just 0.13x magnification and a minimum focusing distance of 3.3 meters (just a bit over ten feet). Close focusing performance is slightly better with this Mark II version compared to its predecessor, which needed a minimum of 3.5m (11.5 ft.) to focus.
Build Quality and Handling
While it might not have an "L" in the model name, the Canon 400mm ƒ/4 DO II, not surprisingly, is considered part of Canon's L-series line of top-quality, professional lenses. Finished in classic Canon white, this large lens is, as they say, "built like a tank." The build quality is simply impressive, as are Canon's other L-series lenses. As expected, the Canon 400mm DO II is fully weather-sealed like many of Canon's other big telephoto lenses, including a rubbery gasket on the lens mount.
The solid, all-metal construction feels great in the hands, and when comparing this lens side-by-side with the 400mm ƒ/2.8L IS II it's amazing how much lighter and more balanced this DO lens actually is. Weighing in at 4.6 lbs., the Mark II lens is actually just a hint heavier than the Mark I version (which weighed 4.6 lbs.) and is significantly lighter than the ƒ/2.8 option, which tipped the scales at around 8.5 lbs. The physical dimensions of the 400 DO II, however, are identical to the old Mark I lens.
Mounted on a large 1D-series camera, the 400mm DO II is very well-balanced and very usable handheld. The 400mm ƒ/2.8 on the other hand feels very front-heavy due to those large glass front elements. The 400 ƒ/2.8 can be handheld comfortably for short periods, though it's more at-home atop a monopod or tripod. The 400mm DO II feels almost featherweight in comparison -- a great option for fast action, birds-in-flight or other subject matter where a more stationary setup would be awkward or frustrating.
Optically, the Canon 400mm DO II lens features notable changes compared to the previous version. The biggest improvement centers around the DO elements themselves. The Mark II uses a new gapless, dual-layer DO element design. While the first version uses a single diffraction grating, the Mark II version features two elements with separate diffraction grating sandwiched together to help cut down on excessive light rays. (See Canon's article on multi-layer DO elements)
Furthermore, the Mark II lens places the DO element farther back into the lens barrel itself rather than toward the front as with the first version. This helps reduce flare issues that were reportedly a big issue with the original model. (Note: we have never had an opportunity to review the original version.) Overall, the 400 DO II uses a total of 18 elements situated in 12 groups and includes one aspheric element and UD element. The front and rear lens elements feature fluorine coatings.
On the exterior, the lens features a number of switches, buttons and dials as well as a standard focus distance window. The vast majority of buttons and switches are located along the left-hand side of the lens. Right up near the lens mount sit the AF/PF/MF slider switch for selecting focus mode (AF, MF or Power Focus), and below that the three-way focus distance limiter switch.
Further up the lens barrel, there is a switch for Image Stabilizer settings. The 400 DO II includes the usual Mode 1 and 2 options, as seen in a number of other Canon IS lenses. The lens's IS system is tripod-aware. Mode 1 is the general-purpose option for horizontal and vertical stabilization, while Mode 2 is reserved for panning motions. The Mark II lens also includes a Mode 3 option, which is a newer mode introduced on Canon's newer telephoto lenses and "Mark II" supertelephoto updates. This option is like Mode 1, but enables I.S. only when you fully press the shutter button, as opposed to activating the stabilizer during a half-press. Canon states this is beneficial for fast action and sports shooting where you're moving the camera around sporadically, and can therefore avoid the distracting jump or jitter seen in the viewfinder when IS engages (this would also presumably help save battery power as I.S. is only enabled when absolutely needed).
We tested the IS system on this lens with a full-frame camera, and it was fantastic. Click on the I.S. Test tab at the top for the results.
Toward the front of the lens sits a large rubbery-ridged focus ring, and in front of that, is the "Playback ring." This thin, notched toggle ring is used both for Focus Presets, to snap the lens to a previously set focus distance, and for use in Power Focus mode. This ring only rotates a few degrees left and right, so for Power Focus, for instance, you rotate and hold to focus closer and the other direction for farther away. And finally, there's a second rubberized ring near the front of the lens, however this one does not rotate. It's actually primarily a comfortable handgrip area, and the grip ring also includes a handful of AF Stop buttons, that are used to temporarily pause AF operation.
The front element of the 400mm is too large for traditional screw-on filters, and uses 52mm drop-in filters that fit into the removable slot in the rear of the lens next to the mount. The included tripod mount is very sturdy and features carrying strap mounting lugs and a removable foot should you desire to substitute it for a different style, such as an Arca-Swiss-type.
There's actually quite a bit of competition and alternative for Canon shooting looking for a lens in the 400mm range:
Not surprisingly, the most apt alternative the Mark II lens is the original Canon 400mm ƒ/4 DO IS lens. The lens keeps the same size and weight as the new model, however, the optical construction is very different and the lens reportedly had issues with flare and the DO element did cause some image quality degradation compared to it's non-DO counterparts. While we never had the opportunity to test the original 400mm DO lens, Roger Cicala at LensRentals did an Imatest comparison and confirmed that the new models produces significantly sharper images.
Another main competitor would be it's big ƒ/2.8 brother. The Canon 400mm ƒ/2.8L IS II is a massive lens (less massive, though, than its own Mark I predecessor) and twice as heavy as the 400 DO II. The bright ƒ/2.8 aperture and traditional (non-DO) optical construction make for a very large, heavy lens. However, the ƒ/2.8 version is very sharp -- sharper than the DO MkII lens. It's also more appropriate for shooting in low light. Unfortunately, it's also significantly more expensive at around $11,000+.
Canon does offer a rather "budget-friendly" option for a 400mm prime lens: the 400mm ƒ/5.6L. Going for around $1,300-1,400, this lens is by far, much more affordable than the DO and ƒ/2.8 versions. The ƒ/5.6 model maintains great L-series build quality and image quality performance, but it lacks some weather-sealing and most importantly, Image Stabilization. The ƒ/5.6 aperture is not the brightest, so this lens is most appropriate for outdoor, daytime shooting or for use on a tripod.
Lastly, Canon also offers a 100-400mm ƒ/4.5-5.6L IS lens. At 400mm, the lens is essentially the same as the 400mm ƒ/5.6L lens, but with the added benefit of image stabilization. Unlike these other primes lenses, though, the 100-400mm offers the versatility of a zoom. It might not be as sharp as the 400mm primes, at least wide-open, but it a much more convenient option if you need more focal lengths. Canon recently announced a Mark II version of this year, and while we haven't had the chance to review it, we are eager to do so.
The Canon EF 400mm ƒ/4 DO IS II USM is a fantastic, professional-level supertelephoto lens. As a significant upgrade optically compared to the original version, the 400mm DO II is an even more attractive option over the heavy, expensive 400mm ƒ/2.8L IS II. For professional and serious wildlife, sports and action photographers who don't want or need a fast, low-light-friendly ƒ/2.8 supertelephoto prime, the 400mm DO II version offers healthy savings in both cost and weight. Image quality is very good, and the built-in I.S is extremely impressive. I.S. a very welcome feature for such a long lens -- a notable benefit over the ƒ/5.6L version in Canon's 400mm lens lineup. Solid as a rock, new Canon EF 400mm ƒ/4 DO IS II USM is one heck of a lens that would do very nicely at your next outdoor sporting event or wildlife safari.
The VFA target should give you a good idea of sharpness in the center and corners, as well as some idea of the extent of barrel or pincushion distortion and chromatic aberration, while the Still Life subject may help in judging contrast and color. We shoot both images using the default JPEG settings and manual white balance of our test bodies, so the images should be quite consistent from lens to lens.
As appropriate, we shoot these with both full-frame and sub-frame bodies, at a range of focal lengths, and at both maximum aperture and ƒ/8. For the ''VFA'' target (the viewfinder accuracy target from Imaging Resource), we also provide sample crops from the center and upper-left corner of each shot, so you can quickly get a sense of relative sharpness, without having to download and inspect the full-res images. To avoid space limitations with the layout of our review pages, indexes to the test shots launch in separate windows.
Canon EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II USM
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Canon EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II USM User Reviews
10 out of 10 points and recommended by ejehulten (1 reviews)Portability, and handling without and with extendersPrice
Canon 400mm f/4 DO MK II............... versus Canon 100-400mm MK II , Tamron 150-600mm and Sigma 150-600mm Sport,... and the optically perfect "Tony Northrup extender"...................... my first impressionsreviewed March 7th, 2016 (purchased for $7,000)
After working my way thru approx. 300 RAW pictures
taken with my Canon 7D MK II in combination with this
lens and the Canon 100-400mm L IS MK II, Tamron 150-600mm
and the Sigma 150-600 Sport, I found out that I, in general, agree with
the findings at:
Especially the findings regarding how it works with the Canon MK III extenders.
At the indicated, not the true, focal length of 400mm, the difference in resolution between my Tamron 150-600mm, my Canon 100-400mm MK II,
my new Canon 400mm f/4 DO MK II and a borrowed Sigma 150-600mm Sport, was of no significance to my photography. (that is, birds, butterflies and dragonflies, for the latter two I use my Canon 100-400mm because of its superior min. focal distance)
Looking at the contrast the Canon lenses came out on top. Looking at the other main optical parameters, not that important to me, the Canon 400mm DO came out on top.
Best performance at 400mm for the Tamron and the Sigma and the Canon 100-400mm occurred at f/7.1 to f/8 and for the DO lens at f/5.6.
At 600mm the Sigma outclassed the Tamron, both worked best at f/8.
But the Tamron has a great weight advantage, which to me, is a greater
benefit than the loss of sharpness above 450mm.
I preferred the Canon 400mm DO at 560mm and f/7.1, and also at 800mm f/8 (with Canon extenders MK III 1.4x and 2x) to the Sigma at
600mm f/8. (cropping) And this, please note, before I added the benefit of Canons superior stabilizing , better autofocus and the big weight advantage.
I like to carry the lens (in use) in its foot with a loose strap for extra
safety. Tamron has a good foot, the Sigma not so good, to short
a distance between the foot and lens body.
Both foots on the Canon lenses are to short for a good grip,
so I replaced the original Canon DO foot with the one Canon uses on
the 400mm f/2.8 and the 200-400mm f/4. Perfect fit and grip with good balance even when using the extenders.
In the end, when on foot in nature, size, weight and handling are the main
parameters, if not the only, in my world at least, that matters.
And for that purpose I could live with the Tamron, its a very good 150-400mm lens with an extra gear.
The Sigma is a good lens superior optically and mechanically to the Tamron, but too heavy to carry around in order to take photos on the fly.
Canon 100-400 MK II is, of course, the Sigmas total antithesis when it comes to handling, not to mention autofocus and stabilizing, and it can be used with the 1.4x extender.
Canon 400 DO MK II is as easy to carry around for prolonged time as
the Canon 100-400. Its the perfect lens for birds in flight, and has
the advantage of working surprisingly well with both extenders.
Its not always, when on the fly, possible to use the Tony Northrup
extender. This excellent extender is cheap and has an outstanding
optical quality. Does this extender exist ? I hear you ask ! Of course
it does, its your feet, move closer !
But when the Tony Northrup extender is not available, the next best
thing is, as I see it, the Canon 400mm DO MK II with/without extenders.
9 out of 10 points and recommended by gary1952 (4 reviews)Light weight, Extremely well made, Fantastic IS, Good opticsNot tack sharp
I am strictly a wildlife shooter. My hobby in retirement.reviewed December 5th, 2015 (purchased for $5,000)
I can say SLRGear's review of this lens is spot on.
Shooting wildlife I use the 300 II and 500 II lenses. Both are the pentacle of optical quality in there classes IMO.
The 400 DO II lens while very good, and the build quality is top notch. It just does not optically reach the quality my other lenses.
The colors are a little off. I cannot put a finger on it. Not a deal breaker, but different.
Optically wide open it is like my 300mm II lens with a 1.4 T.C. attached at F/4 (wide open). The problem is when I stop down my 300 to F/4.5-5.6 with a 1.4 T.C. It goes into the tack sharp range. While the DO doesn't.
Can you see the difference in sharpness? Yes you can. With a good monitor and 100% it is apparent.
If you'r main object is shooting BIF? I would say jump on this lens. It's AF speed is amazing, and very accurate. With the extra reach, and light weight it makes for one of the best BIF lens I have ever used.
If shooting larger animals it is a very good lens. You won't be dissapointed in the least.
Shooting birds I can definitely tell a difference in the plumage detail between this lens and the 300 or 500. Not huge, but it is there. That is what I am comparing it too. So, my score is going to be a little lower than the others.
if interested. I have some photos with it on my flickr site.
9 out of 10 points and recommended by Zorro (1 reviews)Light weight, Good Optical Performance, Improved ISCould be cheaper!
I bought this lens because I have always wanted a DO lens but the first version of the 400mm DO was a little disappointing - based on online reviews. So when the Mk II was annnounced towards the end of 2014, I eagerly waited for some positive reviews. After a long wait, I managed to come across 3 positive reviews of this new lens.reviewed October 4th, 2015
When I got the lens, I tested it against my 300mm f2.8 II. Optically, I feel they are very similar. Performance with the 1.4X TC was very good - both AF and sharpness were very good. With the 2X TC, AF was noticeably slower but in good light, it was still reasonably fast. I had to do a bit of AF micro adjustment before I could consistently get accurate AF and sharp images. Yes, even with the 2X TC, the 400mm f4 DO II delivered sharp images wide open. BUT you need to be very careful with vibration due to mirror slap and other vibrations. Using Live View mode and a remote cord, I could consistently obtain sharp images @ f8 using the 7D Mk II.
This lens is a keeper for me because it has longer reach than the 300mm and sharpness is very good - with or without TCs
10 out of 10 points and recommended by Sc (2 reviews)Size, weight, optical quality.Price
This lens intrigued me ever since the first version came out, but I resisted the urge due to the cost and the fact the IQ was considerably lower than other super telephotos.reviewed September 22nd, 2015 (purchased for $6,300)
I've used the 300f2.8 version II, and it was a nail biter when I decided to sell it for this lens. Thankfully, I couldn't be happier. The lens performs admirably with the 1.4x and 2x, easily yielding publishable images. Coupled with the 7D mark II, it is a fabulous combination with great reach and portability. Other than griping about the price, I can honestly say this is a great lens and I don't regret selling my 300.