New superlight Canon 400mm f2.8 IS III USM Lens Review
31st October 2018

Introduction

Canon recently announced two upgrades to their existing 400mm f2.8 and 600mm f4 lenses. Via bribery, corruption and useful blackmail material I managed to get hold of the new 400mm f2.8 III USM jobbie for my recent 10 day trip to Brazil, so I could really put it through it's paces. 

And now I'm gonna save you a lot of reading. The lens is great. Well for £10K you would expect that wouldn't you, it's hardly gonna be a duffer is it? It's all lovely and white with nice writing and the end bit is nicely polished. Oh and the bag, wow, it's everyone's new fashion accessory and the lens bag to be seen around town with. I could even walk into my local trendy Starbucks with it and be accepted, which would be a first as I don't have dangling white headphones, a man bag and a pony tail. So now you've read this you can relax, it's a good one and comes complete with a fashion accessory too.

Oh you want a bit more? Alright but I am gonna keep it short as there is not much I can say to be honest, it's a lens and yes it's better than the one before it. I know, it's amazing I get away with writing the completely obvious.


Super Dooper Light

It's main selling point is that it's 1KG lighter than it's predecessor, and when you weigh only 3.8KG that is a very big percentage saving. It's noticeable. Here I am in my best Mr Strong-Arm-Muscle-Chest pose pretending that it didn't weigh a thing...



And in truth it didn't really, I didn't notice it. Here I had the EOSR and the 2x converter (shooting the crocodile teeth pic you see below) so the weight was increased a little but it was still frighteningly easy to handhold. And I have arms like a chip! It's all about the posture and how you use your weight to hand-hold lenses like these, and this lens is made to hand-hold. That is also due to the 5 stops of IS that we now have with this lens (and the new 600mm), which forgives wobbly arms and bad postures and allowed me shoot at shutter speeds slightly less that I would normally. How much less you cry?? To be honest I can't really say but I can tell you a massive percentage of my images with it are razor sharp. Down to the lens or technique? I cannot say to be honest but I will tell you how light and balanced the lens was to hold and how confident I was with it. I did not however get any opportunity to shoot at very low shutter speeds with it as I know a few of my fellow Canon Ambassadors have and I need to be honest about that. The sports guys have said they can shoot noticeably slower and get really sharp results, who am I to argue as the 400mm f2.8 is their mainstay. 

Here's a few pics, not that it means much as you would expect the lens to be damn sharp!

EOS R, 400mm, 2x T/C, ISO 400, f10 @ 1/1600th

EOS R, 400mm, ISO 800, f7.1 @ 1/500th



1DX2, 400mm, ISO 400, f8 @ 1/400th



6D IR, 400mm, ISO 400, f5.6 @ 1/60th



Conclusion

I've never really considered a 400mm f2.8 before for my work because of the weight. My 500mm lens is 3.1KG but of course it is f4 and this lens is f2.8. The effect of f2.8 is to give lovely diffuse backgrounds and a more creative effect; the 500mm is no slouch in this department but the 400mm f2.8 takes it to another degree. And consider this, it's more versatile than the 500mm. With a 1.4x converter you get a 560mm f4 lens, with a 2x you get an 800mm f5.6 lens (although in reality you would shoot this at f8). And I will add here that the focus points all work perfectly with these converters. Whilst there are plenty of the fill-the-frame-at-all-cost shooters around, the vogue now to to use composition to tell a better story rather than just showing a frame filling portrait. In many many cases I want to start off at 400mm and decide if I need to get closer, rather than starting at 500mm and having the choice made for me. So for me this means that I am considering using smaller, lighter lenses which are easier to use and travel with (a big consideration in my world), and using the large number of pixels on my 5D4 and EOSR to get in closer if needed. Plus there are always the teleconverters, use them sensibly and there is no degradation in quality when shooting. 

It's an interesting time for my photography and I am at a bit of a crossroads now with the lens choice. My beloved 200-400 is no more, I managed to destroy it in an accident, and my 600mm is still just a KG too heavy to travel with. I am finding increasingly that I want to shoot wider when I take the shot and crop in later if I think it needs it, therefore smaller is best. Certainly for my next trip, to India in 3 weeks for tigers, I am considering either taking this new 400mm lens or my existing and much ignored 300mm f2.8 (which currently is a plant stand as it was eclipsed by my 200-400). I have not even considered my 500mm or 600mm lens. It's a combination of the flexibility and the new 5 stops of IS that is probably gonna sway me towards this new 400mm.

But of course there are many of you reading this who are 500mm and 600mm shooters and are happy doing what you do, that's great and I would never tell you to do anything else, all I am saying is that now with the reduced weight and IS, the 400mm becomes a more creative option for us wildlife types. And it's got a trendy case that will get you admiring glances in Starbucks too. Bonus!


Footnote

I always wanted to do a footnote, it's one fantasy I can talk about on here. The eagle eyed amoungst you will have noticed that the new mirrorless EOS R has featured here as I took it on the same shoot in Brazil. A full professional review will follow of it next week with some great pictures I promise and some surprising findings! Watch this space...

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