A 400mm prime lens is quite a specialist offering, providing a super telephoto view of the world, with that special something you can only get from a prime lens. Enthusiasts to professionals opt for this focal length for high-end images for such things as wildlife and sports, boasting superior optics and go-anywhere build quality.
The Canon EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II USM now provides an alternative to the f/2.8 version. It offers just as many high-end features, but is also more compact and sits at a relatively more affordable price point.
The construction of the lens is designated by the ‘DO’ part of the name, standing for Diffractive Optics. This is clearly made out by the green rings on the lens barrel. A saw-tooth cross section ensures light travels through the lens at tighter angles, allowing for a more compact design, while also reducing lens aberrations.
The magnesium alloy barrel construction is fully weather-sealed against dust and moisture, provided with a lockable hard case, substantial lens hood, and lens caps. The lens is advertised as being compact and lightweight, at 232.7mm x 128mm, and weighing in at 2.1kg. But this is when compared to the EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM which is much larger and weighs in at 3.85kg, due mostly to the far wider aperture. This doesn’t mean Canon has skimped on quality, as there’s still loads of functionality built into the lens.
Inside the lens are 18 elements arranged in 12 groups, with a nine-blade rounded diaphragm for excellent bokeh renditions. The aperture spans from f/4 to f/32, with Aspherical and UD elements, along with fluorine coatings on the front and rear elements.
What seems unusual at first is a ridged ring near the front of the lens, which is actually fixed in place and has four equally spaced AF Stop buttons around the enclosure. The next ring, known as the Playback Ring, comes with two distinct functions. One of these to operate as a Focus Preset, to set a specific focus distance, while the other is a Playback Ring function for smooth focusing electronically. Further along the barrel is the widest ring for manual focusing, accompanied by a distance indicator.
The Canon EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II USM isn’t short of control switches. A Stabilizer Mode selector provides three modes of operation, with mode one being for multi-directional movement, mode two for vertical movement, and mode three to apply stabilization at the point of exposure. There’s also a switch to simply turn stabilization on and off. Two more controls in this area govern the Focus Preset functions, along with a ‘set’ button.
Next is the substantial tripod mounting ring, with handy 90° placed indentations for quick and easy orientation. A huge locking knob secures the tripod ring in place, but the ring itself cannot be removed from the lens. Luckily, a handy attachment has been included for a carry strap, making for easier carrying.
The last area of the lens features two switches that control MF/AF selection with a ‘PF’ option by using the Power Focus mode, enabling exceptionally quiet and smooth focusing and predominantly aimed at video shooters. There’s also a focus distance selector, with options to choose between 3.3-8m and 8m above. In this area, there’s also a drop-in filter holder, accessible by pressing two release buttons from which a sliding door appears, which can accept gel filters or possibly 52mm regular lens filters.
A ring-type Ultrasonic Motor has been integrated for autofocus duties, which also features a Power Focus mode for smoother focusing when shooting video.
The Canon EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II USM In Use
From the outset, it’s clear this is a high-quality lens from weight alone. A few initial test shots show that the Ultrasonic autofocus motor is both quick and quiet, and only started to struggle in extreme low-light conditions. The manual focus ring has no hard stops and is extremely smooth and easy to rotate.
Sharpness levels from the 400mm f/4 show nice center sharpness at f/4-f/5.6, but the edges do suffer from slight softness. Footage comes out extremely sharp at f/8 and only starts to tail off again after f/22.
As for lens anomalies, the diffractive optics reduce chromatic aberration, along with providing the more compact dimensions. By separating out the light wavelengths, fringing is almost non-existent, even on very high contrast areas. This is a crucial area, especially if you are shooting wildlife against a bright and clear background.
The Canon EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II USM also handles vignetting extremely well, with only small amounts in the corners at f/4, while at f/5.6 the effect is almost non-existent and non-detectable at f/8. There’s also no complaints with barrel distortion, with test shots of a brick wall showing parallel lines across the frame.
Bokeh is achievable with this lens, due to the nine-blade diaphragm, producing very smooth backgrounds and nice transitions of color. Overall, the lens produces exceptionally good images and detailed video footage, with a high-end, professional look to all.
How Does It Compare?
The Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM has acquired a solid reputation for good reason. A great telephoto zoom lens, with image stabilization and super sharp across the range. It also costs far less than the 400mm, which means unless you need the superior optics of 400mm, the 100-400mm is a great alternative.
Alternatively, as a third-party solution, there’s the Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary. The 400mm has far superior optics, but the Sigma benefits from a wider focal range and is the most cost-effective option.
|Canon EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II USM||Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM|
|Optics||18 elements, 12 groups||21 elements, 16 groups|
|Diaphragm blades||9 rounded||9 rounded|
The standout feature with the Canon EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II USM is the diffractive optics, which doesn’t just provide a more compact design, but does an amazing job of eliminating most lens anomalies. In the grand scheme of things, the lens is still quite large, but far more compact than equivalent focal length primes.
The image stabilization system works extremely well and is a necessity on this type of lens when shooting handheld. The f/4 aperture will suit many situations, unless you are in really low-light conditions. This obviously isn’t a cheap lens, but for the overall quality it provides, it can be a great solution for those shooting events, wildlife or far off action shots.