A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Beach
f/8 , ISO500, 1/100 – Canon 7D Mark II + Canon 100-400 f/4.5-5.6 L IS II
Last week I posted a quick first look at the new Canon 100-400 f/4.5-5.6 L IS II, an eagerly awaited update to the extremely popular first version of this lens. Just a day after receiving the lens, I set off to explore Vancouver Island with my girlfriend, and it gave me numerous great opportunities to test this lens out. I had always envisaged this lens being my lightweight wildlife photography solution (lightweight compared to my 200-400 f/4 of course), but a funny thing happened while I was on this trip…
When we talk about long zoom lenses, we tend to fixate on the longer end of the focal reach, and particularly with this model, the sports and wildlife we can shoot with it. An often overlooked specification is the MFD, or Minimum Focus Distance. This is the closest distance that an object can be from the sensor for it to be able to focus. Note here that I say “from the sensor” ! MFD is NOT distance from the front of the lens, as a lot of people mistakenly think it is!
The original version of the lens was able to focus as close at 70.9 inches. Not bad, when you consider that this can be at a 400mm focal length. The new MKII version of this lens makes an almost astonishingly big improvement on this, though, and is now able to focus as close as 38.4 inches! Imagine being able to shoot something that is 3 feet away, at 400mm! In fact, if you put this on a 1.6x APS-C camera like the 7D Mark II, as I was, you are shooting at over 600mm! That’s pretty wild, and it totally changed the way I used the lens, and allowed me to get some shots that I really had not bargained for.
I love it when a lens is versatile, and with this amazingly short MFD, it means the 100-400 II can produce “macro-like” images just as well as it can shoot wildlife. On a trip such as this one, I would never think about taking a dedicated macro lens with me, but having this close focus capability allowed me to get some lovely shots that I would otherwise have missed out on. What’s more, some lenses struggle with sharpness at their MFD, but as far as I can tell from these first shots, that isn’t the case with this lens. It’s just as sharp at the MFD, as it is in regular shooting scenarios. LOVE it!
- Canon 100-400 II is here!
- Canon 7D Mark II & 100-400 Mark II – The perfect pairing?
- Canon 100-400 Replacement Finally Launched
f/9 , ISO2000, 1/125 – Canon 5D Mark III + Canon 100-400 f/4.5-5.6 L IS II
f/10 , ISO1250, 1/160 – Canon 5D Mark III + Canon 100-400 f/4.5-5.6 L IS II
a crop camera does not make the focus of a lens longer; it crops the image
You’re right, I forgot to add the word “equivalent”.
Fantastic work and I like the honest, no frills stance you take on several issues
I have the Canon D6 + 100-400 IS II but I do not go shooting on a regular basis (photography is a hobby for me) so I simply do not do the mileage and thus I would appreciate your lights on the following:
At what focal length (mm) were the ‘macro’ shots taken? And in general (assuming you can fill the frame and the subject is static like a flower or the mussels) what focal length works in your experience for macro like work? I do appreciate there are charts that may suggest the lens is at its sharpest around 135mm but real life, colour, etc. is a matter of what works in practice of which you seem to have plenty.
Do you find a constant sweet f-spot on the 100-400 e.g. f8 or f9 and do you feel that it changes from body to body or from ‘macro’ to the 400 top end?
Thanks! You know, the great thing about this lens is that it’s so sharp that you aren’t going to notice much real world sharpness difference by varying the focal length. Mine were mostly taken at 400mm and they are tack sharp. Regarding aperture, I don’t notice any significant softening effects of diffraction until about f/18. Yes, technically f/8 is about the sweet spot, but this lens is so good that it makes little practical difference anywhere between f/5.6 and f/16. You’d have to be putting your images under a microscope to see the difference and ANY image at any focal length or aperture combination on this lens is very useable for professional grade work.
Great site. I have the original 100-400. Always good but when carrying it over the shoulder the lens extends and gets a bit awkward. The new lens would cure this. Also, I was thinking of getting a Canon macro at £650 (UK) to go with the 100-400. If I were to get the new 100-400 it would seem I would not require a dedicated macro. This would bring down the price to £1000(UK). Creative accounting. Thanks
Haha! I like the creativity. It can certainly do a lot of the macro work that most people would want to do. It’s an extremely versatile package.
Hi Dan, looking to use my 7Dll and 100-400ll on rainforest trip, and hoping to use the lens for macro work as well as wildlife-birds. However not wanting to struggle with tripod for walks etc. so have you any views on using a mono-pod or hand held with this combo.
For macro work in a rainforest you should definitely take a monopod at an absolute minimum. It can be very dark in such situations. You might also consider taking a flash as you can minimize the appearance of blur by freezing things with the flash pulse instead. I would only use this combo for hand-held macro work in extremely open/bright lighting. Go for the monopod! Potentially consider a monopod head as well like the RRS one, as this will allow you to angle the lens up or down whist still maintaining a stable vertical position with the actual monopod.
Sound advice Dan, thanks.
I had considered monopod head of this type so it was useful to have your supporting comments. A flash is in the bag as is a multi LED light for macro.
Sound advice Dan and I was considering a monopod head similar to the one you described. A flash will be in my bag together with a small multi led light for additional lighting. Thanks for your comments.
You’re very welcome. Enjoy your trip!
Wonderful advice above, and very detailed, Dan. I’d like your help and opinion if you have time. I recently received a Canon 100-400 II and am practicing with it as this lens is still somewhat new to me. (My camera is a Canon Rebel T3i). I’m used to using the 55-250 lens. Anyhow, I’m not a complete photog noob, but, this question will probably label me as one. Here is my question: Why aren’t my subjects filling the frame in the 100-400 lens when it is completely zoomed to 400mm? I am probably standing 15 feet away from my subject (birds mostly) and I zoom to the max of 400. I thought by having this lens I would be able to stand far away so as not to disturb the birds. Since the lens is sort of heavy for me, I put it on my monopod. And even this far away, I am scaring the birds away except for the bold ones. I realize there is a minimum focusing distance after reading your article, but is there a maximum? I’m sure I could look this up, but would prefer an answer from someone in real time. My guess is I am just too far away. I may resort to using a tripod, but would like to hear your take on this.
Unfortunately you are just too far away. 400mm might seem like a long focal length if you aren’t used to using something above 250mm, but in wildlife photography terms it would not be considered long at all. If you are scaring them away, your best bet is to use a blind/hide.
You are also having a slight confusion between focus distance and focal length. Focal length is the zoom part – your lens has a focal length of up to 400mm. There is no such thing as maximum focus distance though, a lens can focus from its minimum focus distance, all the way to infinity, but changing the focus distance doesn’t alter how much of the frame an object takes up, it merely alters what in the frame is in focus.
Hello Mr Carr. I am getting a Canon 80d and have been interested in the canon 100-400 L LENS. I am hoping it will work for wildlife and other outside outings. I guess what I want to know in your opinion. If it is a good combo. Hope to receive a reply from you. Thanks
Yes that’s an excellent combination, especially if you can afford to go for the Mark II version of the lens. The newer version is a considerable improvement in sharpness, and also AF ability with the 80D.
I have the Canon 80D and the MKII 100-400L. Heavy yes but I love that sweet lens. I do a lot of wildlife. I also just purchased a Canon MK IV getting tomorrow. I am curious to see how wildlife with show with that. You at correct at what you said above regarding distance.
I am interested in getting that 1.4 extender you were talking about. Can you please give me more details or info on that and how it works, etc.
Thank you Barbara
Hey Barbara, as it happens, I’ve written an extensive guide on extenders here: http://shuttermuse.com/ultimate-guide-to-extenders-teleconverters/
Hi Dan, I’ve had the 100-400 ii paired with my 7D mark ii since Feb 2016. I love the lens and use it about 90% of the time because I primarily shoot wildlife. I’ve always handheld and had great results. I purchased my first tripod early summer before the eclipse, and have been even more impressed with the sharpness of all of my shots…. until last night! Out of the 160 pictures I took of the moon, I have 1 keeper… and that’s only a keeper because it was the only decent one out of them all. I tried changing every setting I could think of, but nothing helped. The AF just wasn’t locking on…and when it EVENTUALLY would lock (for a second or two) the pic was still blurry. I tried manual focus, turning IS off, changing the IS mode from 3 then 2 then 1, checked my camera menu settings, changed my ISO/SS/f-stop, tried handheld… nothing helped!! Would you have an idea of what it could be, or have you ever experienced this before? It’s so upsetting and frustrating because this has been my go to lens and I’ve never had a problem.
Well unless you dropped it, the lens is not the problem. The best way to focus on the moon is to use live view and punch in to 10x zoom on the screen, then focus manually. Without knowing your settings it’s hard to be definitive BUT my guess is that you might have used a shutter speed that is too slow! With a long zoom, the moon actually moves very fast across the frame. You’ll see it moving in live view! If your exposure is too long all the details of the moon will be blurred. What exposure time did you use?
Same I’ve discovered- use live view, works very well on the 6D MkII, better than the 7d MkII but ‘punching in’ the zoom really helps.
Hi Dan. I was reading that the 100-400 has a maximum magnification of 0.31x or 0.43x with a 1.4x extender. I’m assuming this is on a full frame. I wonder what maximum magnification you would get with a crop frame camera and the 1.4x extender?
Off the top of my head, I’m not sure how sensor size affects magnification.
Now you’ll have to test the 2x on that 100-400mm (with ‘R’ adaptor of course) on an R5 or R6! I really don’t want to start over with a new 100-500mm at this point!