Coming up for a title to this post was tough, because I simply didn’t want to call it “The return to Gear Porn”, or “Here’s another gear review” or anything like that.  This is because what I am reviewing in this post is very special.  It’s a lens that I know Canon photographers have been jonesing after for a long time, and not only is it out (at an incredibly exorbitant price), but it’s quality matches the cost.  I’m talking about Canon’s new 200-400F4 to be specific.  At $11799 it’s not an impulse purchase kind of lens.  Well maybe it is if you’re the kind of person that Impulse purchases a car, but very few in the photography field are those people.  Nikon has had a 200-400F4 for a long time; in fact they are on their second iteration of the lens.  I’ve used both iterations and while it also is expensive, I’d own one in a heartbeat if I had the scratch, or anyone offered to give me one in exchange for work or say…….free?  (anyone? anyone?).  Anyway, I had two days with Canon’s 200-400F4 courtesy of CPS at the 2013 Brickyard 400 here in Indianapolis.  I was incredibly excited, and unlike some things that I’ve had the opportunity to try over the years; I was not disappointed.

(Canon 1Dx, 200ISO, Canon 200-400F4 with built in 1.4x extender engaged for a full 560mm.  1/640th@F5.6)

Have you ever wanted to mount one lens to your camera, and just be done?  Thought, “I wish I didn’t have to carry three bodies with long lenses on them around a racetrack so I can reach all the stuff I need to get”?.  If So, this is your lens.  (This sounds like an infomercial, but bare with me).  This lens is versatile, it’s light weight enough that carrying it around isn’t an end of the world affair, and hand holding the lens with the IS2 is easy.  Not all day without a monopod kind of easy, but I would gladly shoot basketball, volleyball, or tennis with this lens without a support.  That kind of easy.  For an auto race it’s kind of a long stretch, as well as football would be the same way, but either would be possible if you chose your breaks wisely in a worst case scenario. That being said, seriously this lens will (on a full frame body) take you from 200mm-580mm without anything extra attached to the body or lens.  Wait What?  Yea, the lens has a built in 1.4 extender, and it’s glorious.

Yea, it’s like that.  Canon thought ahead here with it’s built in 1.4x extender and they put a lock on the lens so that you won’t accidentally flip it on while carrying the lens.  Pretty smart.  The only downside is that the lens won’t function correctly if your camera is still buffering and you flip the switch.  Kind of like if your camera is still writing to the card and you try to change shooting speeds, or shooting modes.  I never experienced this while I was shooting, but i was explicitly told this was the case by Canon when I was given the lens.  During the Nationwide 200, and the Brickyard 400 I started out in Turn 1 of the races.  The range on Canon’s new 200-400 allowed me to be able to not only catch the beginning of the race while keeping the flag stand in the frame, but it also allowed me to shoot the first couple of pits without having to change lenses.  The next question is; what if it’s not far enough?

200mm F4

400mm F4

with built in 1.4x at 580mm F5.6

With built in 1.4x and an extra Canon 1.4x II extender taking us to 784mm F8

That’s a progression of images from 200mm to 784mm using using a Canon 1Dx.  Yea I can see the need to take this lens to almost 800mm, and obviously I did think to try it myself; but still.  That’s asking a lot and it’s probably not something you should do if you have other options for reaching 800mm, but if you do find yourself with this lens and the need it can do it reasonably sharply.  Much sharper than You’d expect for a lens that was essentially using two Teleconverters to get there.  How bout them apples?  The downside to this is loss of light of course and to shoot at the 784mm you are at a minimum of F8, which only Canon’s 1Dx can Autofocus with.  I’d imagine in the future Canon will expand their line for multiple bodies to be able to do such a thing, but honestly anybody other than 1Dx users are kind of unlikely to be in that situation anyway.  There are a lot of heat waves in the samples above, but that was just to give you an idea of the level of magnification the lens was capable of.  With that now done, lets get onto some real measurbating and lets look at sharpness from a few different images.

(This is at 560mm with the built in Teleconverter.  Shot for detail purposes only)

(click to biggify and see at the real 100%) OR CLICK HERE FOR THE ORIGINAL JPEG

That one is kind of boring, so lets look at a different one of the volunteer B-28 bomber that performed the flyover before the race.

Again, at 560mm, F5.6.  This one is a bit of a reach, but it was flying away now.

(click to see at actual 100%, or again CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL SIZE FILE)

Keep in mind too, these files were shot as Jpegs, which means they would be even sharper if the camera was set to RAW.  (Full disclosure; Normally I do shoot in RAW.  These races are about the only time I ever shoot in Jpeg, and that’s because I may not be responsible for editing depending on if I catch something that gets run back to the editing room.)

Whew! well how about that?  The only issue I had with the lens in the hours that I had it had to do with the Auto Focus system.  I worked with the Canon techs and it was deemed that my 1Dx was not set up optimally for what I was shooting, which I fully believe.  I set the camera up as I have all of my cameras set up, but the 1Dx is a totally different entity when it comes to settings and options.  Definitely a camera I would read the manual before using if I owned one. Anyway, I don’t have a 1Dx to use regularly so I most likely didn’t have it set up as needed.  Not a big deal, most (90%) of the shots I took were sharp as it is anyway, I just noticed that 10% that I was missing of the fast action; in which frankly nothing interesting happened anyway.

(Canon 1Dx, 160ISO, Canon 200-400F4@400mm, 1/1250@F4)

The lens is definitely fast enough to be out at the racetrack meaning I’d easily take it to a football field or a basketball court to shoot with it also.  It’s really an incredible lens considering you can go from 200-560mm and not have to even stop shooting.  Really it is the ultimate zoom, and if I was a Canon shooter I’d consider buying one of these instead of the standard 500 or 600mm lens.  While the exotic prime may be inherently sharper right away, where else are you going to get a range from 200-600ish?  Seriously?

(Canon 1Dx, 640ISO, Canon 200-400F4@400mm, 1/5000th@F4)

So there you have it.  I believe that Canon has finally produced the Ultimate Zoom lens, and it’s their new 200-400F4 with the extender built in.  Beautiful I tell you, beautiful.  It’s expensive at almost $12,000 but it’s probably worth it since you can replace your 300, 400, 500 and maybe even that 600mm if you happen to own that whole set.  Or heck, don’t replace them just add this to the kit and you decide.  Maybe you’ll end up getting rid of the other ones since this is the only lens you’ll want to carry around since it covers all the bases.  Yes, you still will get an extra stop of light with the exotic primes, but you also have to lug them around as a group to get that kind of variety and I don’t know about you; but I don’t have a Sherpa.  Nikon has had the market on the 200-400F4 for years, and it’s good to see Canon finally get in the game.  Next we’ll just have to see if Canon can replicate Nikon’s 14-24 jewel of a lens.  That’s something I’ve had for years that I thought about every time I mounted my 16-35 to a Canon body.  I digress.  If you’re in the market for some LONG Canon glass, and you can only buy one lens?  The Canon 200-400F4 with built in extender is for you.  I’m not sure if Roberts Camera in Indy has one for you to play with if you go in or not, but if you’re looking to buy one Call Jody to get on the list.  OR, visit Roberts Camera’s website since you can do it there too.  Otherwise, More soon.

(Canon 1Dx, 400ISO, Canon 200-400F4 with 1.4x Teleconverter engaged shooting at 448mm.  1/8000th@F5.6)