Review Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x @ Canon 650D (C APS-C)
Previously we published a Canon 200-400 mm review with a Canon 1Dx. We came to the conclusion that the sensor of this 18 megapixel camera was probably the limiting factor in terms of resolution. The Canon 650D with an 18 megapixel APS-C sensor is an ideal candidate for a resolution test, because the pixels on an 18 Megapixels APS-C sensor are as far apart as the pixels on a 47 megapixel full frame sensor. And because that 47 mp full frame sensor does not yet exist, we choose the Canon 650D. The view angle of the Canon 200-400 mm IS USM Extender 1.4x on a camera with an APS-C sensor corresponds to the view angle of a 320-960 mm zoom lens on a camera with a full frame sensor. That is a spectacular zoom range. And you need no external converter, with associated loss of light or image quality. Time for a second Canon 200-400mm review: How good is the Canon 200-400 mm f/4 on a Canon 650D?
Long live the crop factor! If you use the Canon 200-400 mm 4 on a camera with an APS-C sensor, then the view angle corresponds to the view angle of this lens on a camera with a full frame sensor plus an external teleconverter. Using a teleconverter ensures light loss: with a 1.4x converter you lose 1 stop and with a 2x converter you lose 2 stops. As a result, you should switch to a higher ISO value, or choose a longer shutter speed. Also for the autofocus, a teleconverter is a hinderance: the speed and accuracy of the AF is greatest at wide apertures. You should consider the Canon 650D in this case as a 1.6x converter no light loss.
The Canon 200-400 mm 4 is designed for use under the most extreme conditions. The lens body is made from a strong magnesium alloy. A fluorine coating on the front and rear lens elements prevents dirt from sticking to the surface. Furthermore, the Canon 200-400 mm f/4 is extra sealed against dust and splash water. Both the zoom ring and the ring for manual focusing are nicely muted. The operation of the zoom is maybe a bit long for a 2x zoom lens. The lens is equipped with a lot 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 shown here. This switch can be protected with a slider, so you do not accidentally switch the teleconverter on or off.
Below you can see the impressive optical design, which consists of 33 lenses in 24 groups, if you count the 1.4x extender and the image stabilization lenses.
In our testing, we try as much as possible to apply lens corrections to the jpg files that are stored in the camera. Our Canon 650D 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.
The Canon EF 200-400 mm f/4 L IS USM 1.4x is equipped with an Ultrasonic Motor that with the Canon 650D offers fast, very accurate and reproducible focus. Also in low light and when using the built-in converter, the focusing with the Canon 650D works very well. Fully manual focusing is possible by turning off the AF, but you can also override the AF manually at any time. Sports photographers will appreciate that you have the ability to focus in advance at a certain distance and storing this setting as a Focus preset, after which you can set the AF quickly to the preset distance, thanks to this preset.
Without image stabilization you can already shoot well in low light, thanks to a fixed aperture of f/4. The usability of this lens is further enhanced by the built-in image stabilization. The IS system detects whether the lens is mounted on a tripod and turns off shutter speeds of longer than a second. The image stabilization system offers a choice of 3 options: IS mode 1 is suitable for static subjects and works as soon as the shutter release button touched. Focusing is 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 1 direction. Also here the viewfinder image is 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.
We tested the image stabilization of the Canon 200-400 mm by measuring the sharpness of the captured images. This lens delivers such sharp images that we can determine that shots made by hand with a shutter speed of 1/1000 are less sharp than shots made from a tripod. The longer the shutter speed, the greater the difference in sharpness between recordings made with and without image stabilization. A picture made at a focal length of 200 mm on a Canon 650D without IS at a shutter speed of 1/250 is as sharp as a picture made with IS and a shutter speed of 1/30. These are very good results. Pictures made with image stabilization and a shutter speed of 1/30 are on average even sharper than recordings made without image stabilization and a shutter speed of 1/500. That is actually a 4 stop advantage.
In short, you can say that the Canon 200-400 mm on a camera with an APS-C sensor gives sharp results at all focal lengths, all apertures, from center to corner. The highest center sharpness at maximum aperture we reached at a focal length of 300 mm. The highest center sharpness we measured both with and without converter after stopping down 1 stop. The differences are very small. At the longest focal length, our test setup is too short. Already to obtain a full-screen photograph of the test card, which is almost 2 meters in size, at a focal length of 375 mm (600 mm @ FF), we stood several dozens of meters away from the test card.
The resolutions that we measured on a Canon 650D are somewhat lower than the resolutions that we measured with a Canon 1D x. That's because the pixels on a Canon 650D sensor are much closer together than the pixels on a Canon 1Dx sensor. If you measured the resolution of a Canon 200-400 mm lens on a camera with a full frame sensor with the same pixel density as the Canon 650D, then the resolution would work out about 1/3 higher than what we measured with Canon 1Dx.
Converter or no converter, that's the question
Using a teleconverter often delivers images at a lower contrast and a lower sharpness, especially at maximum aperture. With the Canon 200-400 mm f/4 and the Canon 650D, that is virtually not the case. We have compared the sharpness of a picture made at a focal length of 400 mm at maximum aperture with a picture made at full aperture with the same focal length when using the converter (286 mm + 1.4x converter). You see no difference if you are viewing the files next to each other at full size on your screen:
The Canon 200-400 mm is designed for use on a camera with a full frame sensor. On a camera with a smaller APS-C sensor, you only use the center of the image and vignetting at all apertures and focal lengths is virtually absent. 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 takes half a per cent, but that is still so low that you won't see it.
We haven't tested the bokeh of the Canon 200-400 mm on our usual setup. Therefore, we give here only the impression we have, based on our practice shots. Thanks to the long focal length, this lens delivers a beautiful background blur. At maximum aperture the bokeh is beautifully round. In comparison with the bokeh of this lens on a camera with a full frame sensor, you see a just visible ring around the bokeh, that we didn't find in our test Canon 200-400 mm on a Canon 1Dx.
The anti-reflective SubWavelength Structure Coating (SWC) and Super Spectra Coating applied by Canon effectively reduce any flare and glare. If you photograph directly against a bright light source, there is a very small zone with reduced contrast around the light source. In no shots did we find any real flare or ghosts. Thus, this Canon lens is, in terms of flares, also on an APS-C, among the very best we've ever tested.
The above shot was taken without a tripod at a focal length of 560 mm. The picture angle is equivalent to a shot made with a 1000 mm lens on a camera with a full frame sensor. If you then look at the sharpness of the hair on the chin of the lioness and how beautifully the sharpness dwindles in the background, then can you help but be impressed by the image quality?
The Canon 200-400 mm shows no significant lateral chromatic aberration, not even when using the 1.4 converter. That's a good accomplishment because converters usually provide increased chromatic aberration. The application of expensive, high-quality Fluorite and UD (Ultra-low Dispersion) lens elements pays off here.
Conclusion Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x review
Canon 200-400mm test JPG & RAW score:This table normally shows the performances of this lens when saving files in the camera as jpg, with all available in-camera lens corrections enabled. The Jpg score then gives for this lens / test camera combination: "What you see is what you get." However, the Canon 650D test camera did not have correction data for this lens (yet). Therefor the results for a RAW and a jpg file are almost identical, because both files are not corrected.
Very high image quality on all parts, also when using the converter
Built-in 1.4x converter
Built-in image stabilization
Ideal for use under extreme conditions
Heavy, big and expensive
Test camera is out of balance with the lens
Lower resolution at longest focal length when using 1.4x converter
The Canon 200-400 mm performs convincingly in our test with the highest image quality we have come across for a Canon zoom lens, with and without the 1.4x converter. Comparing the scores of our Canon 200-400 mm test on APS-C, with those of our test on a camera with a full frame sensor, the overall scores are more or less equal to each other. On a camera with an APS-C sensor vignetting and distortion are lower, while you get a higher resolution on a camera with a full frame sensor, even if, as in our case, the megapixels of both cameras are equal.
Professional sports, action, or nature photographers will quickly be convinced of the qualities of the Canon 200-400 mm f/4 with built-in 1.4x converter. Compared to lenses with a fixed focal length, the zoom range of 200 mm to 400 mm zoom provides an excellent ability to accurately frame, while the image quality remains at the highest level, regardless of the aperture or focal point that you choose.
Author: Ivo Freriks
With Camera Review Stuff I hope to make a modest contribution to the pleasure that you get from photography. By testing cameras and lenses in the same way, evluating the results and weighing up the pros and cons, I hope to help you find the right camera or lens.