Field Report on the New Canon 100-400mm f/4.5 – f/5.6 USM II

A few weeks back I got a chance to try out a pre-production model of Canon’s new 100-400mm f/4.5 – f/5.6 USM II lens shooting on the sidelines for an NFL game (Eagles vs. Titans) up at Lincoln Financial Field in Philly, and I thought I’d deliver a field report here in a quick Q&A format. It’s not a technical look or in-depth review, just my initial thoughts after shooting it for a game. Here ya go:

Q. How is the physical size of the lens?
A. It’s really close to the size of Canon’s 70-200mm. It’s just a little bit wider but I was surprised to see it’s actually a little bit shorter than the 70-200mm. However, with the large lens hood attached, it definely looks beefier than the 70-200mm.

Q. How was the weight compared to the 70-200mm?
A. If I handed you the two lenses, you’d think they weighed about the same, but I think technically the 100-400mm weighs about 2 or 3 ounces more.

Q. Which other lenses did you use during the game?
A. None. I shot the entire game using just this one lens.

Q. What was it like shooting with just one lens?
A. It was absolutely awesome!! I cannot tell you how sweet it was using just one body, just one lens, no monopod needed and so lightweight compared to what I’m usually lugging along the sidelines (two camera bodies, a 400mm f/2.8 and a 70-200mm f/2.8 and a monopod). Shooting on a monopod definitely limits you, and affects your shooting angles, so it felt like it does when I shoot my 70-200mm, so that was really nice.

Q. Did the lens get heavy to hold up as the day went on?
A. Not at all. Like I mentioned, it’s about the same as size and weight as my 70-200mm (which I shoot quite often, and it’s usually on my 2nd body at games anyway) so the weight wasn’t an issue.

Q. How’s the overall sharpness of the lens?
A. I felt it was a very sharp lens (especially for the money). It was super-crazy sharp at 300mm and under, and only slightly less at a full 400mm, but I was using a pre-production model on loan (just for that one game) so it didn’t have all the final tuning and adjustments the shipping model will have, but even at that it was still very crisp. I called a buddy of mine who is one of the tech gurus at Canon and he said that the Canon engineers internally are saying the final shipping version of this lens is really close in overall sharpness to the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 (which I think is one of the sharpest lens ever made by anybody), and for a 100-400mm at this price, that’s saying something.

Q. When is it supposed to ship?
A. I believe B&H Photo is shipping their pre-release lens orders today, so I’d say “any day now.”

Q. How was the overall “feel” of the lens?
A. Well, in the first quarter of the game I was surprised how tight the zoom barrel was on this lens (the older version of this lens was a push/pull lens â” you didn’t rotate a barrel to zoom â” you pulled the lens outward or pushed it in). Luckily, between quarters I saw a circular adjustment that lets you set the exact amount of tension you want, so I set it right then to how I like it (which is a looser zoom than the default setting).

Q. Did you use it on a full frame or crop sensor body?
A. I shot on a full frame Canon 1Dx, which is why I could get away with using just that one lens all day.

Q. So, is there a downside to using it on a cropped sensor body?
A. I wouldn’t say it’s a downside, because you gain something but you also lose something â” it’s more of a tradeoff. On a crop sensor body, you’d gain 60% reach, so your 400mm lens suddenly has the reach of a 640mm lens on a full frame body, which is awesome (especially if you’ve ever priced a 600mm lens). However, that means when you zoom all the way out to 100mm, on a crop sensor that’s the equivalent of a 160mm and that would be too tight once the players get close to where you’re shooting from. So, if you’re shooting on a crop sensor body, you would want to have a 2nd lens to switch to for when the team gets inside the 20-yard line (something like a 24-70mm would probably be ideal).

Q. How did the auto-focus perform?
A. I was impressed â” it was pretty snappy! I’m used to shooting some really high-end lenses and this one still felt pretty quick overall.

Q. Who is this designed for lens for?
A. I’d say it’s really designed for daytime sports photographer and for wildlife photographers, but of course it will take a picture of whatever you aim it at, so you’ll see everybody from wedding photographers to portrait photographers using this same lens, especially at its size/weight and price (B&H Photo has it for $2,199).

Q. Is it a Daytime only lens?
A. Well, it’s like this: it’s an f/4.5 to f/5.6 lens, so unless you’re shooting a body with really great high-ISO (low noise) performance (like the 1Dx I was shooting at this game) you’re going to have some really noisy images after dark, or inside a gymnasium or an arena. For wildlife photographers, this probably won’t be much of a problem, but for sports photographers this is something you have to consider, which is why I say it’s a daytime lens. During daylight, it rocks! I set my f/stop to f/4.5 and didn’t change it all day. I had Auto-ISO turned on and set it so the slowest shutter speed it would ever take would be 1/1000 of a second, so the ISO would climb as high as it needed to get that shutter speed. It worked awesome. It would be less awesome (at f.4/5 to f/5.6) at night or indoors.

Q. How did the f/4.5 to f/5.6 range affect you for this game?
A. At first, at the 1:00 pm kick-off it didn’t at all, but later in the game some cloud cover rolled in and my shutter speeds started dropping. Then the game ran long (lots of penalties) so by around 4:30 pm it looked like dusk and the stadium lights were on, and my Auto ISO started climbing. Take a look at the shot up farther on this page â” the shot where Titan’s Lineman Mike Martin is pulling on Sanchez’s jersey  â” that was shot at 1,600 ISO and it’s just 4:41 pm in the afternoon. Lenses with these higher f/stops make you shoot at higher ISOs when it’s not bright sunshine â” it’s that simple, and that’s why I call it a daylight lens. Just my take on it.

Q. Wasn’t there (ahem) an “incident” during this game? Something to do with a bullet pass?
A. Next question, please.

Q. Did you sharpen any of these images?
A. Of course. Every image you see from a pro game is sharpened (I applied an Unsharp Mask filter with these settings: Amount: 90; Radius 1.5, Threshold 0 – to the full-sized images). I didn’t think it would be a fair comparison to put un-sharpened sports images from any lens up against the sharpened sports images you see every day.

Q. Can’t you post an unsharpened image?
A. Sure. Here ya go (below) â” this is an un-edited, un-cropped, tilty, unsharpened, JPEG shot straight out of the camera that needs straightening, brightening, cropping and sharpening. Still looks nice and sharp, but outside of this blog post I would never post ANY sports image without, at the very least, applying sharpening first.

Q. Did you shoot in RAW or JPEG?
A. I shoot all my sports in JPEG, so these are all JPEGs. 

Q. Anything else strike you about it?
A. Not really. I think Canon did a nice job with this lens, and I think at this price, it will make a lot of people happy (especially since the old version was introduced about 10-years ago). What was most memorable for me about shooting with it was just how awesome it was shooting an entire game with just one lens. Shooting without a monopod gives you a big advantage, so that was a big thing, and not ever having to switch bodies or lug all that gear was a real plus for me. I took all my gear to the game, and was expecting to switch to my regular much (ahem) high-priced lens for the 2nd half, but I was enjoying the freedom, size, weight and results so much I decided to just stick with it, and I was really happy with the results.

Q. By the way, who won?
A. The Eagles won 43-24.

(Above: Although I was shooting for the Titans that day, my buddy John Geliebter shoots for the Eagles and I snapped this one of him during a time out. After the game he drove me to the airport in record time to catch my flight, so I owe him several beers next time I see him). 

(Above: That’s my buddy Donn Jones, Titan’s Team Photographer and just one of the greatest guys out there. However, I feel like his iPhone is outdatedâ¦wellâ¦especially since my 6-plus just came in last night. I’m not sure Donn and I can be friends any longer). ;-)

This weekend off I’m to shoot with the Falcons on Sunday for their home game against the Steelers. Might do a few remotes (you know I love that!). I have some shots from the game next week. :)

Hope you all have a great weekend (#gofalcons, #riseup) and we’ll see you back here on Monday.




  1. Thanks for taking the time to do this review Scott! I’ve been hanging to read it all week!

    I’m glad to see the lens performs pretty well wide open, as that was the only thing I didn’t like about the original version I had. The 3 copies of the lens I tried were all soft below f/8. They were razors at f/8 though!

    There’s been no mention of a release date in Australia, so it’s hurry up and wait down under :(

    1. Hi Adam: Maybe you should fly to America and pick one up! Better yet, I could bring you one in Australia — always wanted to go! LOL!!! I never got to shoot with the old version, but Pete Collins had one and really like the old one (and now he’s hankering for the new one). I think you’ll really this new version. I was impressed.

  2. My friend is a Canon shooter, and he’s been drooling over this lens since it was announced (he has the old version and uses it for wildlife). I’ll be sure to send him a link to this blog post. Have a great weekend, Scott!

  3. Scott, I love your reviews but there is one thing about this particular one that makes me feel bad.

    I will have to buy another piece of gear beacuse of you! It seems like a solution to the “buy a second seat for your 400 f/2.8” problem that I always encounter with European airlines when 70-200 is not enough.

    My wife will not be pleased and it is going to happen again and again unless I develop some reliable method of sneaking the Canon-branded boxes into our house.

    If it is not released in Europe until late January I am fortunate to fly to the US then!

    1. Here’s what I do: go to a large department store; buy something large that’s very inexpensive (like the cheapest toaster); then sell the toaster on eBay; keep the box, and bring toasters filled with camera gear in the house with suspicion (except that at some point your wife will start to worry about your carb intake). ;-)

      1. What a fantastic idea! Thank you!

        Now I have to find a clue how to explain to my wife these constant toaster purchases while being on a very strict diet! ;-)

        Being a bit more serious: your posts are very important to me while I make my gear decisions. Thank you for all your hard work. Have a fantastic weekend, Scott!

  4. Scott, I know you are a Canon shooter now but you did a review of the new Nikon 50-400 a while back. Can you give a comparison of that lens versus the 100-400 for the Nikon shooters looking for a similar solution? Thanks, great stuff as always!

    1. Hi Eric: Ya know, I did that review a few years back, so it would be hard for me to do any meaningful comparison. I do remember I really liked the Nikon 80-400mm, probably for the same reasons I like the Canon. Both great lenses but honestly, any real comparison would take me shooting both again, but chances are you have either one brand or another anyway, so if I said the Nikon or Canon was better, you probably wouldn’t sell all your gear to switch brands. LOL! :)

  5. Thanks for the field report. I’m looking forward to renting the 100-400 to use at The Masters Golf Tournament Wednesday practice round next year. I wouldn’t mind the 100-400 reach, but the 70-300 f4-5.6L would be better for getting into venues that limit lenses based on length.

    1. I shot several PGA events this spring with the new Tamron 150-600. You’d be shocked at how well that lens works for golf. It’s all I shot with at this year’s tournaments.

  6. Thanks for the thorough lens review. Yours are always the best with the right balance of Q&A, samples and humor.

    Canon’s new lenses are impressive, but I’m wondering where the fast glass is. Somewhat worried about the daytime only aspect (though the price is nice). How does it compare to using an extender on a 70-200 f2.8?

    Also been waiting for a refresh of Canon’s wide angle zoom lens. Latest was the 16-35 f/4. Any word on a 16-35 f/2.8 zoom or wider?

    1. Hi Scott (great name, by the way), make sure you see my comment above to Joe Brown where I kinda talk through this. I’m ready for a new wide angle, too but not as much as a lightweight 28-300mm — that one way over due.

  7. I’m not into sports and I don’t really have a use for this lens (well, maybe for photographing tiny birds?), but DANG Scott! These photos are NICE. Some are almost like portraits with preplanned back-light. Anyone ever tell you that you’re getting good at this? ^_^

    Also, I’m kind of (read: REALLY) picky about noise, and your high ISO shot here is 100% acceptable. At the preview size I would never have guessed that there was any noise at all. And the content you captured, that super cool moment, totally glosses over the minimal noise at the full size. You’re making me pine even harder than I already have been for a body with a better sensor.

    1. Thanks for the very kind comments, Katie. The low noise technology is just getting better and better. In a few years, we’ll be talking about how “the old days” where noise was a real issue for photographers. :)

  8. Thanks Scott, all the teasing of the review coming the past couple of weeks was worth it. I have the older one and love it for youth sports because of the breadth and was glad to hear I wasn’t the only one who enjoyed not needing a monopod. Guess I have to save up for it before baseball season starts.

  9. Nice real world review. I’ve been using a Tamron 150-600 recently for daytime sports and have been pretty darn happy with it. For half the price of this Canon and 5 yr warranty, it’s worth a look. Not quite as sharp as some of my bigger L glass, but impressive nonetheless.

  10. Scott have you posted your workflow for processing the images after a game. I see you are using an unsharp mask in PS. Are you ingesting in lightroom and running a script in PS to batch apply the filter? Thanks for sharing your work and thoughts.

    1. I did on these images, because it was a one-off for the field test, but when I’m doing a working shoot, I do the sharpening in LR. I have a book on for Kindle called “Professional Sports Photography Workflow” that details all of this.

      1. I found the book right after I posted this. Thanks for the reply. I like the way the unsharp mask vs the sharpening in LR. Just a preference. I plan on purchasing your book. Thanks again.

      2. So what is the difference between LR and Photomechanic? Love the review and thanks been waiting to pull the trigger on this lens. Having been on the sidelines I agree one body lens vs the two and being able to pan is a huge advantage..

  11. As a wildlife photographer, I shoot vertically all the time for magazine covers and full page inside shots. Does everyone in sports (specifically football) only shoot horizontal, or do sports shooters ever shoot vertically? I had heard years ago in the slide days, that Sport Illustrated photo editors cropped horizontal photos for the cover. Seems like all the photos I see of sports photogs on the sidelines are in horizontal format. The magazines I sell to want verticals, though they will occasionally crop a horizontal to vertical if it’s really a great shot, so this has been a surprise to me. I know sports is fast moving, and maybe staying in horizontal format is best for catching action, but wildlife can be pretty action packed at times.
    Thanks for the review. I was most interested in finding out how sharp this lens is at 400mm, which was one of the downfalls of the old 1-4 (which is why I never bought it), so I’m hoping the new 1-4 v2 will be sharper with the production model, like the 70-200 v2, which I love it’s sharpness.

    1. I now always shoot horizontal because the Web punishes you for shooting tall. Wide images get much more space and therefore have much more impact. Plus, as you noted — it’s much easier to shoot wide and then crop to tall. If you shoot tall, it’s usually really hard to get a decent wide shout out of it. :)

      1. I think the only image was that of a punter and his leg extension…good points – thanks..the only other time is if I want some of the clouds or crowds as part of the shots – like in Polo..

    2. Sadly, the majority of sports images picked up today end up on the web, which makes shooting landscape more desirable for many outlets. If specifically shooting for print, I might shoot differently, but now it’s more of a 80/20 split unless shooting stock head shots which I shoot more of vertically.

  12. Great review on what sounds like a great lens. Question on your settings, you mentioned, “I set my f/stop to f/4.5 and didn’t change it all day. I had Auto-ISO turned on and set it so the slowest shutter speed it would ever take would be 1/1000 of a second, so the ISO would climb as high as it needed to get that shutter speed.” Did you use manual or aperture priority mode? How do you set it so the shutter speed didn’t dip below 1/1000? Very curious!

    1. Hi Andrea. I shoot in Aperture Priority, and I can set a minimum shutter speed (in the menus) to be 1/1000 of a second so it will pump the ISO up to whatever it needs to get there, without me ever touching the f/stop. Hope that helps :)

  13. Hey Scott, does the global sharpening feature in Lightroom compare to unsharp mask in PS? I would think it would be a whole lot faster to do it in LR rather than PS.

  14. I sure appreciate this review, Scott. Thank you. I have the 70-200 F2.8L IS II. Do you think a 2X converter would be “just as good” as buying a whole new 100-400 lens? That could save me $1500, but would the image quality be compromised? Sure I lose stops, but that gets me to the F-stop range of the new lens? Your thots… :-)

    1. Hi Joe: I haven’t tried the 2x converter; just the 1.4x and while you do lose a stop, the image quality is still very good. You’re going to lose two stops with the 2x. That would put your wide open aperture at f/5.6, so as long as you have a body that rocks the high ISO performance, I guess theoretically you could be OK (but as I said, I haven’t tried the 2x so I can’t speak for the sharpness factor).

    2. One thing to consider is that the AF doesn’t perform quite as well with an extender. I enjoy the 1.4 extender. However, the 2x definitely takes the sharpness down a notch as well as AF. I’m using version 2 extenders, so v3 2x might be better, but I rarely ever attach it… Fwiw.

    3. I threw my converter back in the box and have never looked back…I was getting artifacts and strange bokeh…so that’s why I am getting this lens..finally its here..

  15. Scott – I’m confused about RAW vs JPEG since you shoot sports in jpg and still sharpen and tweak. I shoot RAW now about 99% time, but sometimes wish I could cheat a little since it writes to the memory card faster. I thought we weren’t supposed to fiddle with jpegs. Is that just for white balance? I’m referring to your untouched sample being an untouched sample.

    1. Not that I am the Scott you are asking..but I will weigh in..I shoot mainly JPG in sports also…the speed and memory..its the output that is what dictates if I switch to RAW..If I am shooting for a client or team or a player that say wants them personal use then jpgs…if its for a magazine or a sponsors that are going to use them for a poster or trifold etc..then I might switch to RAW…but for me its needless memory and speed to the card..

  16. Hi Scott, Iam buying the Canon 7D Mark II and the Tamron 24-70 2.8 and I have the Tamron 70-200 2.8 will this be a good set up for basketball games and concerts in side and portraits.

  17. I wish these reviews and samples would be done with cameras normal humans use…5d3, 7d 2, etc…many lenses look great on the 1DX. Not a complaint…just a wish.

  18. Thanks for the review of the lens. I have a question about the setup you used for the game. What equipment did you have with you/on you while shooting the game?

  19. Hi Scott, can You explain how to set the minimum shutter Speed to 1/1000 of a sec?
    In My settings canon 6 d the fastest Auto iso Speed is 1/250 of a sec

  20. Scott, I know you have a quick turnaround on your photos, so do you select your keepers during the game on your camera screen after each play? If so, how do you mark them on your camera so that you know which ones you picked when importing them to your computer?

  21. Hi Scott, great review… I rented the 200-400 1.4x canon lens and was really pleased with the results shooting cross country horse jumping. How do you find the image quality compares with for the 200-400 vs the new 100-400 (I realise the 200-400 will be better, but enough to take the price difference hit?)

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