A few weeks ago I got my hands on the Canon EF 100-400mm F/4.5-5.6 L IS USM (version 1) telephoto lens. The lens is currently priced at 1.299 US Dollar which is not too much considering the focal length, the red ring and the image quality.
At first I only took photographs but then decided to test this long glass at a real shoot – a marathon. The Frankfurt Marathon is an annual run through the city with thousands of participants. We have been covering the marathon in the last few years for a local news site and know all the interesting spots. So I took the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera with the Metabones EF Speed Booster, a big battery and of course the 100-400mm lens.
You can watch a hands-on video with pros and cons below:
My goal was to capture close-up shots of runners but also shots of the whole crowd running towards or away from the camera. The main reason I wanted to do this shoot with the 100-400mm was the image stabilization. I wanted to get smooth smooth pans. The lens has two different IS modes. Mode 1 is a general stabilization mode. Mode 2 is meant for panning shots to stabilize horizontal shots only. I didn’t really mention that in the video because it’s not easily noticeable but of course good to know.
The IS works great and most of the panning and tilting shots came out very well. In the end it comes down to the person behind the camera and of course the video head of the tripod. I just tried to film hand-held a few times but due to the high focal length and the rolling shutter the results weren’t actually useable.
Below is the marathon video featuring only 100-400mm shots. All shots were captured with the IS on and weren’t stabilized in post:
Color, contrast and the overall image quality is good. Of course it can’t be compared to a prime telephoto lens but regarding the price the images captured with this lens look totally fine. The depth of field won’t be very shallow because of the variable aperture starting at F/4.5 and ending at F/5.6. For documentary filmmaking that’s not a big problem or downside for me as long as I am shooting in daylight. If you need a shallow depth of field or you need to shoot at high shutter speeds this might not be the right lens but for real-time shots I don’t see the aperture as a big problem. Since I used the Metabones Speed Booster I was able to capture more light which also means the parts of the image which are out of focus will be even shallower. The aperture went from F/2.6 to F/3.2 when using the adapter which also makes the lens a better choice for darker surroundings or low lights situations.
As mentioned in the video, the focus ring is positioned in the middle of the lens instead of the front. Most lenses have the ring to pull focus in the very front but the Canon 100-400mm has a grip instead positioned right there which is good when shooting hand-held.
But this can become a problem especially if you have never used this lens before. Why? You or to be precise your hand is going to end up searching for the focus ring because it’s positioned at such an uncommon place. You will probably get used to it when using it often but it’s especially annoying if you are looking at the monitor at the back of the camera and then you have to look up to find the position of the ring.
The obvious difference between this and other zoom lenses is the pump-zoom. You just pull it out or push it back in instead of rotating a ring. Right behind the focus ring is a ring that allows the user to adjust the smoothness of the zoom moving in or out. It can also be used to lock the zoom at a certain position. For example if you zoom to 200mm and then you want to make sure it stays exactly at that mm number just move the ring into the “tight” direction to lock it.
You can buy the Canon 100-400mm F/4.5-5.6 HERE!
Canon also introduced a new (2nd) version of this lens in 2015 which is designed in a different and overall better way. But it costs 2.199 US Dollar which is overpriced in my mind especially regarding the aperture still is F/4.5-5.6. So if you are not short on money you should definitely take a look at the Canon EF 100-400mm F/4.5-5.6L IS II USM first.
Written by Moritz Janisch