Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS USM Lens Review

April 11, 2021  •  Leave a Comment


As a portrait/headshot photographer, it’s not often that I get to use lenses greater than 200mm, so when I had an opportunity to try the venerable Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS USM Super Telephoto lens, I was awestruck.

This lens is a BEAST! It has a front element that measures nearly 6.5-in diameter, weighs just shy of 12-lbs, is built like a tank and is fully weather-sealed. This is a lens designed for sports and wildlife photography and the associated rigors of professional use.

Since it’s release, the EF 400mm f/2.8L IS USM has undergone two revisions... a version II and III —both improving on size and weight reduction, as well as improved lens coatings and sharpness. However, of the three incarnations, this original version is my favorite —mainly due to its no-compromise construction. It’s the kind of iconic exotic lens that says, “no matter what you are attempting to photograph, under virtually any environmental condition, I will not fail you.”

Yes, you can handhold this lens (if you have Olympic weightlifter arms), and it fares well on a sturdy monopod but, for ultimate control and stability, you will certainly welcome a tripod —preferably with a large load rating and a gimbal head (WIMBERLEY or equivalent). And, since the front element is so large, the use of 52mm drop-in filters are a must.

You should also exercise caution using this lens in direct sunlight in order not to; A.) permanently blind yourself, and B.) melt your camera’s mirror and/or imaging sensor and internal components. So, ALWAYS REMEMBER TO USE THE LENS CAP when not in use.

The images you can get with this fast, tack-sharp (edge-to-edge) lens are nothing short of amazing. The background separation and 3D image quality makes virtually every subject pop. Autofocus is very fast for a lens this size and with such a massive amount of glass to move. Rounding out its many useful and desirable features, Canon’s Internal Stabilization makes this fast lens even more versatile in low-light conditions.

If 400mm comes up short for your needs, I suggest adding the Canon EF 1.4x Extender II, increasing this len’s focal length to 560mm (full frame) @f/4. I do not recommend the 2x extender, as image softness is more noticeable and you will lose another stop of light.

For use in portrait photography —specifically environmental portrait photography, this lens would be considered “special purpose”, cumbersome and somewhat cost-prohibitive, but I feel that it yields a quality like no other —with amazing background compression and separation.

I highly-recommend giving this incredible lens a shot! (pun intended)

~ Brent

 


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