View Full Version : 100-400mm V 400mm Lens

Lesley Bray
11-02-2011, 7:50am
Last year I went on an extended trip of six months in the outback and discovered I liked photographing birds. My current longest lens is the Canon 70-200m which isn't long enough.
I am really keen on purchasing the 400mm lens but the guy at the camera tells me the 100-400mm lens would be much better.
Ideally I would like something even longer, but these two lenses are in my price frame. The 400mm is a prime. Is this a disadvantage for birding? Which lens?
Does an extender work well with either of these lens?
Thanks Lesley

11-02-2011, 7:58am
Hi Lesley, The 400/5.6L is an excellent birding lens, although longer is nearly always better ;-)

It's consistently faster and more accurate to focus than the 100-400L and in my experience, sharper as well. It lacks IS, but I've not found this to be much of an issue while birding.
The extenders work on both of those lenses, but you'll need a 1 Series body to have AF on the 1.4x TC and the 2x won't AF at all - MF only.

I have found I do not miss the 100-399mm focal lengths when birding as most of the time you'll be cropping your shot anyway. The only drawback of the 400 prime is the minimum focal distance of 3.5m.

11-02-2011, 8:16am
What David says is pretty spot on. I have friends that have both, and most times the zoom is spent on maximum and the other with the prime does not miss many shots at all. The only time he misses out is in close quarters, so not very often. I have the Sigma 150-500 and also use it rarely below 400, maybe 1 out of every 20 shots.

Edit* just as a suggesttion, you are from Brissy, why not attend one of the meet ups? PM those going and ask if they have either of those lenses and would they mind letting you have a try. I have attended meets where I have let people try different lenses. It is a great way to get the feel and actually use it so you know before you buy what to expect.

11-02-2011, 3:16pm
the 400 5.6l is a good lens i own one myself its not too heavy mostly i use it on a monopod. its a tack sharp lens well my copy is atleast i was quite suprised 1st time i used it. when coupled with my 7d the 640mm equiv focal length is huge. all in all its a good lens

11-02-2011, 4:50pm
which 70-200 do you have ?

if you have the f/2.8 then a EF 2x II will give you f/5.6 from 140-400 when fitted, which is the same that you would get from the 400 or 100-400

11-02-2011, 7:01pm
chris P can you tell me which monopod you use - what type of head does it have I am interested in most

11-02-2011, 7:10pm
i used the 100-400 to shoot birds, alot of the time spent at 400mm. This lens is good fi you also choose to shoot other things, not just birds. I used it for surfing, and occationally got some scenery shots at 100mm. I found that youm could locate the subject easily at 100mm and zoom in and focus. I went to 300mm + 1.4TC and found shooting birds still fairly easy, the flexibility of a zoom is missed sometimes, but the image quality makes up for it, and you can always bring a second body along with a wider lens for other shots.
In regard to thr IS, it was useful for me as i shot some stationary birds as well, and being able to decrease iso and get less noise on some shots due to IS was nice. But stationary birds are usually boring so IS doesnt help in that department! :p

11-02-2011, 8:15pm
which 70-200 do you have ?

if you have the f/2.8 then a EF 2x II will give you f/5.6 from 140-400 when fitted, which is the same that you would get from the 400 or 100-400

From experience, the 2x on the 70-200/2.8L IS degrades image quality waaaaay too much.

Typically the 2x extender (not the latest one, but the version most people will have), is only really useful on a selection of very specific lenses. The 300/2.8L IS takes it beautifully (in fact most of the super-tele primes do). Conversely, most of the Zooms don't.

Lesley Bray
11-02-2011, 8:58pm
Wow came home from work to find all these knowlegable replies .... thank you so much for the time and the input. I've decided to stick to my choice of the 400mm and hopefully I will have one within a month !!!! Unfortunately I do not have the 70-200mm 2.8L to try an extender. Thanks again for sharing.

Allan Ryan
12-02-2011, 2:10pm
I also am looking to get a 100-400 lens, my only concern is the issue of wether or not the one I buy is a sharp copy or not...
I have the 50D and would use it mainly for birds.

Can anyone tell me what can be done if the lens is a soft example?

12-02-2011, 2:52pm
There is a lot of talk about the 100-400 being soft but in reality I believe is is more likely to be bad technique, I struggled with mine for some time and after addressing the basics and a bit of practice the results improved markedly. Some people can pick up this lens and get great results from the first shot, others take a little longer.

Allan Ryan
12-02-2011, 3:19pm
i can see a lot of hard work ahead then :)
I'm not very good yet :(

13-02-2011, 9:48am
Dannat - Manfrotto 628B Monopod and a manfrotto ball head

13-02-2011, 12:30pm
I've been thinking about this very subject.

I'm currently swinging towards the 400mm, why?

The 100-400mm would mostly be used at 400mm, secondly the 400mm prime is sharper and cheaper. I've also read a couple articles, one is 100-400mm v 400mm (http://www.luminous-landscape.com/reviews/lenses/forgotten-400.shtml) and 100-400mm v 70-200mm with 2xTC (http://www.luminous-landscape.com/reviews/lenses/400v400.shtml) and why you shouldn't use this option.

I'm looking at hiring the 400mm when I go down to Melbourne in March, and it will get a run at the Avalon Airshow.

13-02-2011, 1:00pm
I have been using my friends 100-400 for quite a while now and at first I had a lot of trouble getting good results.
I kept persisting with it, sometimes using a monopod or tripod, but mostly just kept pushing myself to hand hold it, often without using the IS until I started to get good results and now really like the lens and would like it left at my place full time :lol:

15-02-2011, 7:03am
Before I bought my 100-400L I thought about a prime (400mm) but now I am glad I did not go that way. True eight out of ten shots with this lens are taken at 400mm but I would have missed two others... :) It really comes in handy to be able to zoom out a bit and include some background or other elements at the scene at times. And you don't need to change lenses when you want to take a somewhat wider shot.
I am very pleased with my "dustpump" (well built and verwy well sealed so there is no dust in it). It takes a lot of practising to get the shots right but have a look at my bird (http://www.flickr.com/photos/vk2gwk/sets/72157623848380461/) and surf (http://www.flickr.com/photos/vk2gwk/sets/72157624525729541/) sets on Flickr for the results.

16-02-2011, 9:32pm
Another vote for the Canon 400 5.6. I had one up until recently and my copy was tack sharp. Light, portable and affordable, its hard to go wrong with thin lens. Some shots with a 7d body are here:




16-02-2011, 10:06pm
I have a Canon 400mm IS L lens with a series 3 2X TC and I do get AF. Admittedly it becomes a 5.6
with the TC but we get tons of light here in WA so thats not an issue. I use it on my 7D and get good sharp shots.
I also have a Sigma 120-300 F2.8 and the same TC gives me AF on it too. The shots are softer though. I prefer it
without the TC.

17-02-2011, 1:47pm
I have a 100-400 which I bought from a grey importer (which saved me around $500!!), and I was also worried I would get a soft example, but it has worked really nicely from the first time I tried it.
Using the IS, I can easily get good shots 90% of the time at 400mm in daylight.
I've taken shots of things around 5km away at 400mm hand held, and when blown up, the images are surprisingy sharp.
Mind you, it is a heavy thing to carry around, and I only put it in my bag when I know I'm going to need it, otherwsie it stays at home.

21-02-2011, 6:09pm
I go along with all that as been said, my self i think it is a personal prefrence , I started with the 100-400 just could not get used to the zoom so change to a 300L + 1.5 tc used that for around 2yr's then I tried the 400L bought it right away this would have to be the fastest 400L lens out its light and its fast clear and sharp , But which ever you choose good luck. Ps go's great with the Canon 7D.