Canon 400 5.6 L review



Latest update:05/09/2014 samples added

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canon 400 5.6L

This is a dream lens for a beginner wildlife photographer. A true masterpiece from Canon. When I started photographing birds, my first idea was that I need a long lens preferably at least 400mm, so before I bought my first Dsrl camera body I bought a Soligor 100 400 lens. My idea at that time was that I can make perfect bird pictures with it, pictures that I saw earlier on the internet. The lens was big, looked serious comparing a super zoom camera lens so I thought the pictures I will make also going to be excellent. After some learning, and some experience I realised this going to be not so easy, the pictures I took with that lens was good only from short distances (3-5m) and at f8 aperture. Even the closest pictures missing the desired ‘wow’ effect. I realised that making good wildlife and bird pictures not easy, need to travel, wait, be precise with aperture, exposition, and focus and if I am managed to make a good shot, at least prefer to look good also on the computer. The common opinion between wildlife photographers that this lens is the ‘cheapest’ really serious picture quality wildlife or bird photography lens. What are the other options in this price range ? There are plenty of other options : the bes is the new Tamron 150-600mm, and Sigma 150-600mm lenses, shorter Canons with a teleconverter Canon 300mm f/4 with 1.4 x converter, Canon 200mm f/2 or f/2.8 with 2x converter, older Sigma zooms: Sigma 100-300 f4, Sigma 50-500,150-500, Sigma 170-500, older Sigma 400 f5.6 tele macro or sigma telemacro 300mm f4 with a converter, older Tamron 200-500. Nikon has their excellent 300mm f4 with 1.4 converter. This lens has at least 3 clear advantages compare to the competition: sharp at f5.6, not so big and heavy like most of the competition, quicker autofocus. Clear disadvantage that the 400mm prime hard to use for anything else than wildlife photography (This is what is designed for). The lens usually compared with it’s zoom cousin the Canon 100-400 f4.5-5.6. According to me the zoom is also very good quality at 400mm at f5.6 but too big, heavy and bulky to my taste, and also much more expensive. I usually prefer walking, than sitting in a hide for hours, for this reason the smaller prime is better (if I have a good opportunity sometimes go to hides as well). Compare to this lens the big mostly used professional lenses (canon 300 f2.8, 500 f4, 600 f4, 800 f5.6) this lens is much smaller and better hand holdable. In practice this lens doesn’t seem at all heavy and very good balanced on a middle sized body like a 30,40,50,or 7D. Optical quality is excellent. On tests this lens seem not so perfect regarding resolution, but in real word the pictures this lens makes are really satisfying, and has good contrast, colours, and sharpness. The built in hood according to me a very good, user friendly solution. I not a big fun of the beige colour of Canon L lenses, I prefer to be black, or something not so obtrusive colour. Physically the lens is big, especially with the built in hood extended. This is not a small lens that without noticed by someone one can walk in to a public park or building. The weight of the lens for me is not heavy at all, perhaps for a smaller person the situation can be different. Built quality is excellent. The built in hood can be fixed fully extended.

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What are the possible drawbacks, whom this lens is not recommended: I don’t recommend this lens to someone who has not a budget for it. This is a very expensive lens, especially in Europe, the Canon 200mm f/2.8 with 2x converter is also very good and the difference not so huge. The main difference is the f5.6 aperture of the 400 prime, and better contrast because of the 2x converter. The other very good choice is the Tamron 150-600mm which is a very nice lens. The Canon 400m prime has better image quality but the Tamron is not far behind. If your main interest is not wildlife or bird photography no meaning to buy this lens. Better to have a zoom, you can use it for other purposes as well. The beige colour and the big size also can be a drawback for some. Lot of people mention the lack of stabilizator in this lens. I don’t think it is so big problem, yes would be very useful for still objects, but the lens would be much more expensive, and perhaps heavier. The f5.6 aperture can be limiting as well, but not so much. This lens is good for sunny situations, or other possibility to put on a tripod. For shutter speed 1/1000 s preferable according to my opinion.

Canon 400 5.6 L Specification

Canon 400 mm f/5.6 USM L
Canon EF
Filter size:
77 mm
Lens elements / groups:
7 elements / 6 groups
Exotic Lens elements:
1 Super UD and 1 Ed element (similar to Nikon’s Ed)
1250 g ( lb. )
256.5 x 90 mm (10.1 x 3.5 ” )
Close focus distance:
3.5m ( 11.5′)
Manual focus autofocus, focus limiter
Lens Mount:
Full frame
0.12 x
Reproduction ratio:
1 : 8
Aperture blades:
Distance scale:
Focal length:
400 mm
Focal length Aps-C FF equivalent :
640 mm
Max Aperture:
Min Aperture:
Angle of view:
6°10′ on FF
FTM (Manual focus override):
Ring rotates during focusing ?
Focus limiter:
Yes 8.5m
Tripod mount ring:
Tilt / shift:
Sealing against dust and moisture:
Special coatings:

Built in can be fixed at the end position

About the focal length:

Very good, for bird photography 300mm is not enough, if the reach is not enough with a 1.4 converter can have some extra. I recommend the Kenko 1.4 x or Kenko Pro 1.4 x because it will autofocus with this lens on any cameras, while the Canon only autofocuses this lens on the Canon 7d II or older 1 series camera.


Seems work well with the 1.4x extender, with Canon converters the autofocus is not functioning. With the newest Kenko 1.4 blue dot version the autofocus works in normal conditions.
canon 400 5.6 review
Canon 30d+400 f/5.6+Kenko 1.4dgx at 560mm f/8 wide open in dark environment ISO 1600, the quality is very good even wide open, just turn 1 click it is even a little better at f/9. Uncropped, no post processing.

canon 400 f5.6 review 2
This is what I like: contrast and colors out of the box even with the converter attached wide open (exposure little turned down in matrix metering)

canon 400 5.6 review 3
560mm f/10 ISO 1600 1/3200s the detail is fantastic even with the converter

Handling and build quality

Handling is simply fantastic. I tested many lenses and this lens is one of the best in this regard. Despite the long focal length this lens is light, very easy to handhold, and at the same time feels extremely durable. Just one turn and the built-in-hood is protects the lens from any damage, very safely. The lens feels light and thin, compare to what it is (very long moderately bright telephoto lens). The 3.5m minimal focus distance is hard to get used to. There is a focus limiter at 8.5m if we want to speed up the autofocus. The autofocus is very quick and precize. It is not totally silent, but not loud either.

Supplied accessoires

Front (E77 U 77mm) and back lens cap, Tripod collar, LZ1132 Pouch Case, strap for the case


– Excellent picture quality, sharp wide open, excellent contrast, beautiful colors
– Consistent output
– Quick and precise autofocus
– Very good, durable build quality
– Very good with the Kenko 1.4 x converter
– Relatively affordable, compare to the other extremely expensive lenses
– Arguably the second best value (the Tamron 150-600 is the first) serious super telephoto lens for wildlife


– 400mm works excellently for bird and wildlife but otherwise not very versatile
– 3.5m Minimum focus distance can be limiting for many purposes
– with f/5.6 brightness is more of a sunny lens
– Big and white, in city can attract unwanted attention
– Many people want stabilizer on this lens, not helps with moving subjects, but good for still non moving subjects
– can be heavy for some people

Bottom line:

Highly recommended for serious wildlife or bird photographers, or daytime sports, or other applications needed this focal length for other purposes perhaps not the best choice, because of the 3.5m close focus distance, high price and narrow field of view.

 Posted by at 9:09 am