I’ve always been a big fan of using extenders, and those that say great images aren’t possible with them have a personal invitation to come round to my office and peruse my archives. Many of my best photos have been taken using extenders, and I recently showed you guys that even cheaper (and by cheap, I mean relative to super tele primes) zoom lenses like the stunning Canon 100-400 f/4.5-5.6 L IS II, can work exceptionally well with a 1.4x extender.
Recently I’ve been carrying my Canon 400mm f/4 DO IS II around with me a lot. You can do that with this lens, simply carry it around just in case an opportunity presents itself. It’s a distinct advantage over all of Canon’s other super telephoto lenses, because the others are so big and cumbersome that they require some forethought and often a different carrying solution. I’d simply never carry my big 200-400 f/4 around with me unless I really knew that I was going to use it. Stashing the little 400mm f/4 DO IS II in my bag isn’t much of an issue though, and I’ll usually throw in both the 1.4x and 2x extenders as well. This gives me a 560mm f/5.6 option, and an 800mm f/8. With the 5D Mark IV’s new AF system, all AF points are active with with an f/8 lens, so I still get great compositional flexibility.
There’s two incredible things about this setup: Firstly, that’s an easily hand-holdable 800mm lens!! And secondly, it’s STUNNINGLY sharp! In fact, I think this might be the best performing Canon lens ever, with the 2x extender.
Usually I’ve no issues at all with using a 1.4x extender on a super telephoto lens, but in general, to use the 2x extender I try to limit myself to using it in really ideal circumstances. Nice contrasting, bright light for example, because the 2x can lower contrast a fair bit on some lenses, and this reduces perceived sharpness. When I first tried the 2x extender on the 400mm f/4 DO II though, I was staggered. This is a combination I could use all day long, and not worry about sharpness at all.
1280mm – Hand Held!
This sample I’m I’m providing here, was shot hand held with the 7D Mark II, so that’s a 35mm field of view equivalent to 1280mm. Hand held!! Are you kidding me? This is game-changing performance as far as I’m concerned. Not only do you save weight on choosing this lens in the first place, but you can also do away with taking a large tripod, and a heavy gimbal head. This combination is a real winner for wildlife photographers who want to venture off the beaten path a little more. Sure, if you’re only going to shoot a few feet from your car all the time then this isn’t a consideration, but for people that want to search for wildlife in more remote situations, this lens is simply stunning.
I was considering the 300 2.8 mk II and 2X TC to go with my 1DX2, but I am seriously tempted for the 400 DO mk II after this post!!! I have the 100-400 mk II right now, and it is by far my favorite and most used lens. I’ve added a 1.4 TC to it a couple times with decent results, but I’m lookijg for a bit more reach with the most portability, and this combo just might be it for me. thanks for the awesome review Dan. It’s always a pleasure reading your stuff. Also, have you by chance tried the 300 2.8 + 2X TC combo, thoughts on that vs the 400 DO combo?
I used to own the Mark 1 version of the 300, but I’m afraid I haven’t tried the 2x with the Mark II 300 so it’s hard to comment. All comes down to whether you need the reach or the faster aperture really!
I have used the 300mm ii with 2x Mark III on my 1DX with excellent results
Yeah I would expect that to be roughly similar. I did try that combination once… I think I even published a post and some samples a long time ago. I don’t remember being disappointed.
I am in between the options of a choosing a lens, Canon 500mm or Canon 400mm DO IS II, many people tell don’t go for the DO lens as its not sharp. I am using the 7D mark II, I want to use the 2x extender more often but the 7D mark II how is the AF speed and which lens you would prefer for me choose.
The old 400mm DO was not that sharp, but the new one is just as sharp as the 500mm. I personally think that on a 7D Mark II, the 400mm DO II is the perfect wildlife lens. It keeps the whole setup nice and light, and the AF with the 2X is accurate. Obviously it is slower with the 2X added to the lens, but realistically, you would probably be fine with the 1.4x extender anyway. The 2x is rarely needed for most things.
Hello Dan. Thank you for your work and communication of your experience with the gear that you use. I appreciate all of it. I have a statement that is partially a question and also a suggestion. It can be a somewhat controversial element of the photography world, especially with the internet culture we have today; however, the concept of lens micro contrast, natural color saturation, tonal range,3D pop( not attributed to an out of focus back/foregound) is something I am studying at the moment. Micro contrast and its more numerous and finer levels of gradation between white, grey, and dark is something that I have been curious about personally and conducting tests for myself.
Among telephoto lenses especially there seems to be even less information around this topic being talked about. There seems to be a consensus that due to the nature of optics and the laws of psychics, there seems to be an inherent tradeoff in lens design between sharpness, and lens micro contrast. This scenario of the 400 f4 do ii having a different type of optical formula with its diffractive element has me curious about its rendering compared to the other Canon super telephoto lenses. If this also has your interest on some level, I am suggesting that you perhaps look into it yourself since you seem to currently own some of the lenses which little information exists about regarding this topic of rendering. It may be something you wish to investigate for yourself and bring to the world as you would be among the only people on the internet looking into such things.
Of course, do this only if you have a personal interest in the topic, however if you do have interest I would love to hear any findings you may have looking into it as I am on the cusp of purchasing one of the Canon super telephotos. Size and weight savings are not deal breakers for me, but it would be something that I would take advantage of by taking this lens nearly everywhere I go if I decide that there are not significant trade off’s in the more subtle rendering characteristics of this lens ( such as ones i’ve mentioned above).
In all honesty, it’s not a topic I’m going to delve into. I’m a straight shooter, so I won’t mince my words here… I’ve owned 20+ Canon L-series lenses (and rented more) and worked professionally for over ten years with them. Never once I have I looked at similarly shot images and thought “hmmm, I really do very very slightly prefer the rendering of that image vs. another one”. I think you’ll find that’s the case with many people who own these kinds of lenses because we know that such fractional differences make zero difference to the visual impact of a shot. I could take two images 5 seconds apart and the tiny cloud movements in the sky will cause more of a contrast shift than if I switched from say a Canon 500mm to a Sigma 500mm. Or a Canon 400 2.8 to the 400 DO. It’s really not something that I think is important. I can see differences in micro contrast between a $1000 lens and a $10,000 lens, but even that is only visible if you have the full resolution file and zoom in on things. All bets are off if you put that $10,000 lens on an APS-C camera and crank the ISO up. I’m glad you have found a niche that really captivates your attention, I know what that’s like since I’m an engineer by trade before I was a photographer, but for me these topics such as 3D pop and natural saturation from an optical design aren’t things that would make a difference to my images.
Thanks for the reply Dan. I appreciate your outlook and it’s one that I actually hold myself too. I guess since I am newer to being serious to photographer that I may be in a phase of testing out the more subtle rendering aspects until I run it out of my system so to speak. Ha. I do know that once I decide on which super tele is right for me, that it will be the end of this interest for the most part as I will be to busy using it.
Really the most important thing is that the lens suits your needs in terms of focal length or light gathering ability. If you go too short, or with an aperture that isn’t wide enough, it can have a massive impact on your images. Specific rendering characteristics should be well down the list. The other thing is that people love to write about rendering of 50mm and 35mm lenses because there are perhaps 10+ different 35mm lenses you could choose for EF mount. That’s not the case with 400mm lenses though. For what it’s worth, this little 400mm is probably my favourite ever Canon lens. The combination of the small size, and its ability to work so well with extenders, means it comes pretty much everywhere with me. It’s an absolute stunner.
Ok I hear but I have a 1.4 mkii extender on my 100-400mkii and it will not autofocus on either my 5D mkii, my 70D nor my 7D mki. This seems contrary to what you say and of others I have read. Odd to say the least
Bob, what you are experiencing is exactly what I would expect. None of those three camera are capable of AF with an f/8 lens combo. Please review this previous article of mine for explanation: http://shuttermuse.com/canon-cameras-autofocus-extenders-f8-aperture/
Note that this blog post here on this page is about the 400mm f/4 DO II, which is not the same as the 100-400 II which you are talking about.
I got AF with 1.4 and 2x TC even on my older Canon camera SL1. Now again I got really fast AF with my Rebel T7I with 1.4 TC and use to have AF with Canon T6I on 1.4 TC. But not the Canon version. I use Tamron Pro version TC. So the cameras can AF on F8 even the Rebel’s but depends what TC you are using. I guarantee you with the Tamron TC you can get fast AF with 1.4TC using the viewfinder and accurate AF even with 2x TC in live view mode. Thank you
Hey Dan. I’m enjoying the the new lens. Tack sharp even with the 2XIII. For static objects focus snaps it quite well but I find that it struggles a little with BIF. It often won’t focus in when an AF point falls on the subject. I often have to pump the BBF to get it focus. This does not happen with the 1.4III with the DO or my 100-400 II. I have read this is pretty much normal but I thought I’d ask just in case.
Yeah, pretty normal with a 2x I’m afraid! There’s a lot of lost light with that. Personally I’d never try and use a 2x with fast moving subjects like BIF.
Thanks for the reply.
I used with 2x BIF and the results were outstanding, https://youtu.be/2ndnkypTl6k
Impressive stuff! Thanks for sharing!! And on a Sony A9, too. I didn’t think it would be fast enough AF speed.
Hey Dan. Awesome article. IM also planning to go for that. Currently Im using Canon 6d mark ii + Tamron new 150-600 G2. Could you please help/suggest me out how the new 400 mm f 4 DO will work with 6D mark ii.
Hi Shaon. In terms of straight up image sharpness there is little difference between the 6D2 and the 5D4 that I have been using for a few years. The 5D4 has a slight high ISO and dynamic range advantage, but in terms of lens performance you can expect to see very close to what I’m getting here. You’ll love it!