Review Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x (C FF)
|In May 2013, the Canon EF 200-400 mm f/4 L IS USM Extender 1.4x was finally introduced. Finally, because this unique lens with built-in teleconverter for professional sports and wildlife photographers had been announced quite a few years earlier. This professional L-lens has a focal length range of 200-400 mm and a fixed f/4 aperture, which with the flip of a switch becomes a 280-560 mm f/5.6. This Canon telephoto zoom has a modern, 4-stop image stabilizer, is made from a magnesium alloy and is suitable for use under the most extreme conditions. Including the teleconverter, we are dealing with a lens that's almost 37 cm long (without lens hood), 3.6 pounds in weight, and has a very complex design that consists of 33 lenses in 24 groups. It's not surprising that this comes at an impressive list price of 12,000 euros. We have tested the lens with a 17.9 megapixel Canon 1D x camera with a full frame sensor.||
|Telephoto zoom or fixed focus? Choosing a lens with a fixed focal length provides on the one hand a high brightness, but on the other hand, you lose flexibility in framing. Nature photographers and sports photographers often don't have a chance to vary the distance from their subject and have to crop their shots to get the desired composition. In such cases, the Canon 200-400 mm zoom lens is ideal: you get the subject as close to you as possible with the standard 1.4x converter, so you have a view angle ranging from 280-560 mm. And if the subject approaches you, then you turn off the 1.4x converter and use the lens in the 200-400 mm setting.|
The Canon 200-400 mm f/4 Ext. 1.4 x is designed for use under the most extreme conditions. The lens body is made of magnesium alloy and as we're used to with Canon L-lenses, the Canon 200-400 mm is extra well sealed against dust and moisture. Despite the integrated 1.4x extender, this lens is about as heavy as other lenses of similar focal length. A fluorine coating on the front and rear lens elements prevents dirt from sticking to the surface, while the dust- and moisture-resistant construction also allows photographers to make shots under extreme weather conditions.
The lens is equipped with a large number of switches for AF/MF, limiting the AF range and for the built-in image stabilization. The most notable switch, for the built-in image stabilization, we have depicted at the top of this article. This switch can be protected with a slider, so you do not accidentally switch the teleconverter on or off.
No in-camera corrections
|In our testing, we try as much as possible to apply lens corrections on the jpg files that are stored in the camera. Our test camera had no lens correction profiles available for the Canon 200-400 mm 4, so this test was carried out without lens corrections on the jpg files.
De Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x is uitgevoerd met een Ultrasonic Motor die met de Canon 1D x verliep niet alleen razendsnel, maar ook zeer nauwkeurig en reproduceerbaar scherp stelt. Ook bij weinig licht en bij gebruik van de ingebouwde converter verliep het scherpstellen met de Canon 1D X probleemloos. Zoals we gewend zijn van USM AF motoren, is op elk gewenst handmatig scherp te stellen, zonder dat je eerst een schakelaar hoeft over te halen. Volledig handmatig scherpstellen si natuurlijk ook mogelijk. Voor video is er nog een Power Focus (PF)-modus. Daarmee kan je bij het filmen met de EOS-1D C of EOS-1D X, een nauwkeurig 'pull-focus'-effect krijgt met een van de twee snelheden, door aan de focus-instelring te draaien en te stoppen bij een vooraf aangegeven afstand.
Center sharpness vs. corner sharpness Canon 200-400 mm
In anticipation of the results of the Imatest resolution measurements for the Canon 200-400 mm here's a puzzle: Below, you see 3 excerpts at 100% from test shots. Two excerpts were made from the outer corners of shots made at 400 mm f/4 and 400 mm f/5.6 (incl. 1.4x converter). We have corrected for vignetting, so that this difference between the center and corners in these shots has been eliminated. The third excerpt is from the center of a recording made at 400 mm f/4.
Do you see the difference in sharpness? Move your mouse over the image.
Without image stabilization, you can already photograph well in low light, thanks to a fixed aperture of f/4. The IS system detects whether the lens is mounted on a tripod and then turns off shutter speeds of longer than a second. The three different types of image stabilization enhance the applicability of this lens under poor lighting conditions significantly. IS mode 1 is suitable for static subjects and works as soon as the shutter release button is touched. Focusing is thereby easier because the viewfinder image is stabilized.
IS mode 2 is for the tracking (' panning ') of the camera with a moving subject, whereby the IS works in one direction. With this, the viewfinder image is also stabilized. When following very active subjects, image stabilization can be disturbing, because then you get a choppy viewfinder image. For such situations, a third IS mode added. With IS mode 3, the viewfinder image is not stabilized; the IS only comes into play when you press the shutter button – ideal for sports and nature photography.
The built-in image stabilization works very well. We have tested the image stabilization of the Canon 200-400 mm on a Canon 650D at a focal length of 200 mm. The results are not directly comparable to our other IS testing, because now we're testing at a much longer focal length than we normally use.
In short, you can say that the Canon 200-400 mm gives sharp results at all focal lengths, all apertures, from center to corners. The highest center sharpness at maximum aperture we reached at a focal length of 300 mm. The highest center sharpness we measured at the same focal length at f/5.6.
Roger Cicala reported in his Canon 200-400mm quick comparison, carried out with a Canon 5D MK3 at 400 mm f/4, a center sharpness of 910 lines pairs per image height. Based on pixel numbers you expect the Canon 5D MK3 (with 22 megapixels) to have a 10% higher resolution than for a Canon 1D x. A camera with more megapixels actually delivers a higher resolution. It would not surprise us if the Canon 5D MK3 were still the limiting factor in the resolution test of the Canon 200-400 mm.
It's not only the center sharpness that is very constant. Even in the outer corners, the differences in resolution are very small. Below you can see 100% excerpts from shots made at 400 mm f/4, 400 mm f/5.6 (= 286 mm + 1.4x converter) and at 560 mm f/5.6 (400 mm + 1.4 converter). Determine for yourself which image is taken at 400 mm f/4, 400 mm f/5.6 or 560 mm f/5.6.
Move your mouse over the image below.
Converter or no converter, that's the question
Using a teleconverter often produces pictures with a lower contrast and a lower sharpness, especially at maximum aperture. With the Canon 200-400 mm f/4 that is not the case. If you want to take a picture with a focal length below 400 mm, then it does not really matter in terms of sharpness whether you do that with or without converter. You can of course without the converter choose a faster shutter speed.
Guess which shot was made at which focal length, and move your mouse over the image to see if you got it right.
As we have seen before, the vignetting in RAW files is lower than the vignetting in jpg files that are stored in the camera at the same time (standard picture style). At maximum aperture, the vignetting in jpg files is more than a full stop at all focal lengths. That is not an unusual performance for a telephoto lens on a camera with a full frame sensor. After 1 (200 mm) to 2 (400 mm) stops down, the vignetting is no longer visible. Vignetting is simple to correct with software, but in many of the applications for telephoto lenses vignetting is even appreciated, because the subject in the middle of the picture stands out more.
When using the 1.4x teleconverter, the vignetting at maximum aperture takes half a stop. That difference disappears after 1 stop stopping down.
|Without converter there is no distortion at all focal lengths. If you use the 1.4x converter, the distortion is almost 1%, but for many applications – sports, action or nature photography – that is still irrelevant. Furthermore, such modest distortion is simple to correct afterwards with software if necessary.
We haven't tested the bokeh of the Canon 200-400 mm with our usual setup. Therefore, we only give here the impression we have, based on our practice shots. Thanks to the long focal length and the full frame sensor, this lens delivers a beautiful background blur. At maximum aperture the bokeh is beautifully round. Once you stop down, the bokeh is more angular, which can be seen in this image cutout of a shot made at f/8.
Telephoto lenses with a fixed focal length of 300 mm or more and an f/2.8 brightness are known for the perfectly uniform background if you're taking pictures at maximum aperture. In the pictures of the marmot and the polar bear, you can see that this is less so the case with the Canon 200-400 mm.
The anti-reflective SubWavelength Structure Coating (SWC) and Super Spectra Coating applied by Canon effectively reduce any flare and glare. We tested the Canon 200-400 mm on a couple very sunny days, where we have made multiple shots almost directly against the sun, with and without lens hood. In none of the pictures could we find flares or ghosts. Only if you photograph directly against a bright light source, there is a very small zone with reduced contrast visible around the light source. We didn't encounter any ghosts. Thus, this Canon lens is, in terms of flares, among the very best we've ever tested.
Canon 200-400mm @ 400mm, 100 ISO, f/5.6, 1/400, hand-held
The more glass a lens contains, the more you have to adjust the design of the lens for chromatic aberration. That is why telephoto-lenses are in principle more sensitive to chromatic aberration, unless you use expensive special types of glass.
Conclusie Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x review
|WYSIWYG score: This table shows the performance of this lens if you store the files in the camera as jpg, where you have all available in-camera lens corrections applied. This score gives you for this lens/test camera combination: "What you see is what you get".