I pretty recently upgraded my camera optics at the long end. My trustworthy Canon 100-400 mm /f4-5.6 L lens made room to Canon 400mm/f4 is DO lens in my bag. There was nothing special wrong with 100-40mm, but I constantly found myself using only the 400mm of the wide range of zoom. The image quality was overall good, especially after I took it to service for adjustments last year. Actually @100-250mm,wide open it was very pleasing, but got softer towards 400mm/f5.6. If there was enough light to stop down a step of two it produced good image quality to my purposes. And of course a zoom lens has it advantages in terms of flexibility in the nature photography. I can honestly say that my best images of 3 weeks South African tour last year, were made with it, and partly because of zoom capability. Some situations came up so fast that I wouldn’t have had time to switch the lens from prime. Still I was looking for better IQ with 300-400 mm lens. I am lucky to have a good friend, Pekka who happens to own the lens: Canon 300mm/f2.8 IS. I have borrowed it occasionally, and found out that it really is worth its reputation. Pin sharp images, really fast and accurate focus are the reasons all the professionals are using that lens. Last winter I was shooting alpine skiing with it and it really proved its quality once again.
Like always, nothing is good or bad if not compared to something. So like comparing 100-400mm to 300mm is night vs. day, it made me starting to search an alternative to my old ‘legand’. The cold fact is that quality costs, and that’s the case also with Canon high end L-lenses, if bought new. The good news is that as expensive items, those are usually well kept by the first owners and since those are build to last in professional usage, it is pretty risk-free to buy a used one. I found my lens from Rajala Camera Turku used items department and they kindly shipped it to their store in Helsinki from where I then collected it after checking and testing.
Of course on our way back home I needed to made a stop at Helsinki Airport for the first test drive of the lens.It was bright spring day, so not ideal conditions for plane spotting, but the sharpness of the lens was checked to be excellent.
My main reason to go for EF400mm f/4.0 DO IS USM lens was its known image quality and lightweight construction. It weights just 1970g (compared to e.g. 300mm/f2.8 2350g or 500mm/f4 3870g) and there fore fits my main style of photography – just walking around- perfect. With the lens hood on it looks a bit bulky, but is very portable attached to my Canon 7 D mark 2 body. DO in the name of the lens stands for Diffractive Optics, and for those who are more interested in technical data can visit Canon CPN website. I found on some websites, that people noted that the DO lens are not even red ring L-serie, but according to Canon the green ring DO lenses use a diffractive optic to produce a lens that is significantly smaller and lighter than other lenses with a similar focal length. DO lenses are in the same class as L-series lenses as far as construction and performance are concerned. So the image quality shouldn’t be an issue, then. Other thing I found as critics was that somebody thinks the picture lacks contrast, and that might be true in some images, but I personally do not find that annoying, because all my images are post processed in Lightroom and/or Photoshop anyway.
The lens is weather sealed, and it feels very well build and robust. The tripod ring is like in other Canon L-lenses. The 14 cm long lens hood is made of aluminium, and it protects the front element well from sun, rain or snow. It is attached by tightening a screw and can be turned the other way around when transporting the lens. The lens cover is leather like pouch, not so handy to use, (or store when out in the fields) but provides good protection for the lens and the hood of course. There are 4 switches on the left side of the lens barrel; focus range either 3,5m to infinity or for more distant objects and quicker focusing 8m to infinity, Autofocus on/off, Stabilizer On/off and then you can control the IS for mode 1 universal shooting or 2 for tripod mounted shooting. The lens has build in image stabilizer for 2 or 3 stops.
How it does then? After about 10 photoshoots I must say that I am very, very pleased with it. The ease of carrying makes it ideal companion for nature photography, and even for walks with the dog. The focus is very precise and fast and follow moving objects well. Images are very sharp even @ f/4 and I almost all the time use it wide open, although you might notice a slight improvement in sharpness if stepped down a stop to f/5.6.
All in all I can recommend the lens for everyone who want to have portable, high image quality long telephoto lens. For more into the detail field test you can find from Grant Adkinson’s blog post:
And special thanks to Tomi Muukkonen (and his blog post of his secret weapon (written in Finnish) for “nudging me down the cliff”; to make the decision of purchasing the lens!
Here is one the first images I shoot with the lens and you can see it zoomed out and below is 1:1 with Exif data with no adjustments made.