LensRentals’ 400mm shootout: Money usually buys better results, but there’s more to it than price


posted Friday, August 19, 2016 at 4:58 AM EST


LensRentals does a lot of excellent testing, but to date they have been unable to adequately test lenses that weigh more than 2.5 kilograms (about five and a half pounds) and have a focal length greater than 250mm, so supertelephoto lenses have not been tested. However, with a lot of determination and some tweaking to their testing methods, the team has been able to evaluate 400mm lenses with "good reproducibility" and perform "The (sort of) Great 400mm Lens Shootout."

You'll notice a few lenses are missing, such as the Nikon 400mm f/2.8E FL ED AF-S VR and both Canon and Nikon's 200-400mm offerings. The Nikon prime is missing because it is so heavy that even with the improved testing methods, it wasn't producing consistent enough results. Don't worry though, Nikon 400mm fans, as LensRentals suggests the results of the Canon 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens can be viewed as essentially the same results they would get from Nikon's 400mm f/2.8 had they been able to get publishable results. 

This is great news for Nikon shooters because Canon's 400mm f/2.8 is, they say, "the gold standard" and "the best telephoto lens there is." Canon's popular, and much more affordable, 400mm f/4 DO IS II USM lens trades in a stop of aperture but retains great optical performance. I shot with the 400mm f/4 DO II lens when field testing the Canon 7D Mark II DSLR and I was impressed by the quality and (relatively speaking) the lightness of the lens -- it weighs less than five pounds!

Canon 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM MTF chart. Image credit: LensRentals

Not content to test only primes, some popular zoom lenses found their way onto the optical testing bench as well. Nikon's 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR AF-S went up against Canon's 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM and it was bad news for Nikon's $2,400 zoom lens, at least at the tested 400mm focal length, as the Canon won out. LensRentals tested numerous other lenses, including Canon's 300mm f/2.8 IS II with a 1.4x teleconverter, Nikon's 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR AF-S and Sigma and Tamron's 150-600mm lenses. See all of the charts and results for the tested lenses here.

(Seen via LensRentals)