Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM

In early 2011, Canon announced that it was to develop a brand-new 200-400mm f/4L lens. What made this news so unique was that the lens was planned to include a nifty 1.4x extender built into the body itself. Fast-forward two years and after a handful of delays Canon has finally announced the release of the EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM with 1.4x Extender, much to the excitement of pro Canon users.

Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM

Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM

With an eye-watering price tag of £12,000, this goliath of a lens is most certainly out of the price-range of most photographers, but is it really worth all that cash? We got hold of a production model of the lens to find out just that.

Features & build

Constructed from magnesium alloy and finished in Canon’s trademark white paintwork, the lens measures 36.6cm in length with a diameter of 12.8cm. It’s made up from a total of 25 elements in 20 groups (or 33 elements in 24 groups when you take the 1.4x extender into consideration), with both fluorite and Ultra-low Dispersion (UD) lens elements included to help minimise aberrations, while Super Spectra and advanced anti-reflection SubWavelength Structure Coatings (SWC) have also been added to reduce ghosting and flare. Placing the lens on our test scales it weighed in at a hefty 3.62kg, though this was to be expected considering the amount of glass inside.

The aperture diaphragm consists of nine blades making forpleasing bokeh (out-of-focus areas) and offers a straight-through maximum aperture of f/4, closing down to f/32. Flipping a chunky lever at the base of the lens activates the 1.4x Extender, which transforms the focal length to an equivalent of 280-560mm. It’s worth noting, however, that activating the Extender will also reduce the aperture range by one stop, to f/5.6. 

Built into the lens is Canon’s Ultra Sonic Motor (USM) for quick and quiet focusing, and it also features the latest Image Stabilizer (IS) technology that brags the ability to capture sharp shots up to 4-stops slower than normal. There are three individual IS modes to choose from; Mode 1 compensates for movements in all directions, Mode 2 corrects vibrations while panning, with Mode 3 only applying IS at the moment of capture.

There are a number of advanced focusing features, including a Focus Limiter switch that toggles between 6m–∞, 2m–6m and the full focusing distance. There’s also a Focus Preset switch that allows you to ‘save’ a focus point that can be quickly switched back to at any time by simply turning a knurled Playback ring located in front of the zoom ring. Just behind the front element there’s also a series of AF stop buttons that allow you to temporarily pause AF whileheld down. Aside from the regular MF/AF modes, there’s also a third Power Focus (PF) mode, which allows you to adjust the focus using the Playback ring.  

Owing to its large front element, filters are added via a 52mm drop-in style adapter, situated at the rear of the lens, and as an added piece of luxury, the lens comes packaged in its own armoured hard case. Other added extras include a large padded lens cap, lens hood, a tripod collar and a well-padded shoulder strap that attaches directly to the lens barrel, making it easier to carry when you’re out on location.

Performance & Handling

In terms of build quality, the Canon 200-400mm is as solid as a rock, though this is somewhat to be expected for something that costs as much as a new car! Both the zoom and focus rings are easy to locate from behind the camera and rotate in a consistently smooth motion. The same can be said for all the buttons and levers, which operate with a reassuring click. During testing, the Autofocus proved to be rapid and accurate, with the USM operating in near silence.

Attaching the lens to our Canon EOS 5D Mark II test camera, the combined weight came to a hefty 4.25kg and, needless to say, it felt incredibly front-heavy, making handheld shooting a rather cumbersome affair. That said, attaching a monopod via the collar soon fixed this problem and added far greater stability. 

Value for money

There’s no avoiding the fact that the EF 200-400mm f/4 L IS USM will make a sizable dent in your back balance.  Though, if you were to part with the cash, we don’t think you’d feel short-changed as you’d be investing in a solid lens that offers a host of advanced features, as well as a built-in 1.4x Extender, making it an incredibly versatile tool. It’s certainly one to consider for pro wildlife or sports photographers seeking the proverbial Swiss Army Knife of super-telephoto lenses.


Hefty pricetag aside, the Canon 200-400mm f/4 IS USM is indisputably a fantastic piece of kit. Teaming a rock-solid build with outstanding image quality, as well as including the majority of Canon’s most advanced technological features in its tool belt, we were hard pushed to find something to complain about during our time with it, and it’s for these reasons that it earns itself a prestigious Digital Photo Gold Award – deservedly so!


  • Street price: £8,598 (As of July 2016)
  • Focal length: 200-400mm (280-560mm with 1.4x extender active)
  • Lens mount: Canon EF (full frame)
  • Lens construction: 25 elements in 20 groups
  • Apeture blades: 9
  • Max. aperture: f/4 (f/5.6 with 1.4x extender)
  • Min. aperture: f/32 (f/45 with 1.4x extender)
  • Min. focus distance: 2m
  • Filter Thread: 52mm (drop-in type)
  • Dimensions: 128x366mm
  • Weight: 3.62kg
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This review was first published in the November 2013 issue of Digital Photo - download back issues here.