Lens review

Canon EF 100-400 mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS USM

29 December 2009
Arkadiusz Olech

3. Build quality and image stabilization

The first meeting with the lens is nothing else but a pleasant experience. Firstly, you might be nicely surprised by its dimensions. For a 400 mm focal length range, f/5.6 aperture and an USM motor the instrument is not big at all. For want of anything better you can put it round your neck and go for a photo walk. Of course only on 350/400D or 30/40D bodies, because higher class cameras weight so much that such a set would make any attempts at handholding shooting very uncomfortable.

Canon EF 100-400 mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS USM - Build quality and image stabilization

Looking at the picture above, where the Canon 100-400 mm is placed next to a kit lens EF-S 18-55 mm and two L-series lenses, a 24-17 f/2.8 and a 70-200 f/2.8, you can see that it is a tad smaller than a journalistic 70-200 mm lens. We talk about the folded position of course because on passing to the 400mm focal length the lens doubles its size. Here we should mention the fact that the focal length is changed in a less popular way – you don’t rotate a ring but you push and/or pull the whole front element. The advantage is that you can do it really quickly; the disadvantage – that the lens acts as a big vacuum pump, hissing, sucking in flecks of dust which are present nearby and sending them towards the sensor. We should mention the fact that the constructors really saw to making the work with this type of mechanism comfortable. We have a ring, marked “Smooth-Tight”, that adjusts the tension on the zoom collar. You can choose the proper tension level to avoid the “zoom creep” and make the whole process smooth and nice.

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Such an instrument can’t lack a manual focus ring. In this case it is comfortable and allows precise movements.

Not far from the metal bayonet mount we find a clear distance scale and, next to it, the AF/MF mode switch and a focus limiter, allowing you to set the focusing range on full (from 1.8 meter to infinity) or restricted distances (from 6.5 meter to infinity).

When it comes to the inner construction, it can never be simple in such an instrument and, also in this case, it isn’t. We deal here with 17 elements in 14 groups. Among them we find one element, made of fluorite and one, made of Super UD glass. Additionally, inside we have a circular aperture with eight diaphragm blades, which can be closed down to f/32 or f/40, depending on the focal length, used. The lens ends with a non-rotating 77 mm filter thread.

Canon EF 100-400 mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS USM - Build quality and image stabilization

Canon takes care of its customers only if they buy the most expensive optical instruments, by including items, which the independent manufacturers add even to several times cheaper lenses. The Canon 100-400 mm has an accessory kit worth of an L-series lens, then – a tasteful and very robust case, a tripod adapter and a hood.

Canon EF 100-400 mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS USM - Build quality and image stabilization

The Canon 100-400, launched almost a decade ago, is equipped with a first generation image stabilizer, supposed to be efficient at the 2 EV level. It was the first L-series lens with such a mechanism. Let’s have a look at a series of our scenery pictures, taken in the same conditions with the stabilizer on and off.

Canon EF 100-400 mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS USM - Build quality and image stabilization

At 100m focal length a sharp picture can be taken up to the 1/125 –1/100 s. level with the IS off. Analogical effects are obtainable near 1/25 s with the IS on. It suggests a need for stabilization at the level of 2.2 EV. In the case of such an expensive lens it’s nothing to be proud of – perhaps it is the main source of rumours that the launch of this lens’s successor is near. After all, a sensor stabilization at the level of 2-2.5 EV for all types of lenses is offered free of charge so to speak by even the cheapest reflex cameras of such competitors as Olympus, Pentax or Sony.