There’s no doubt in my mind that this is Canon’s greatest ever achievement in their lens lineup; an optical masterpiece. Over the last five years we’ve seen them work on an increasingly impressive range of zoom lenses that challenge the popular though that primes rule all else. This is no longer the case. [...] The 200-400 is just the icing on the cake though, and I’ve no qualms about declaring it the best wildlife photography lens on the market, from any manufacturer. Canon lost a few wildlife shooters due to their lack of a 200-400 in the lineup but I dare say they’re going to gain a few back again with this lens. It would be a good enough lens if it was just a 200-400 but the inclusion of the 1.4x extender elevates its versatility to a whole other level. It should almost be referred to as the Canon 200-560 because there’s little reason to not make use of the extender. The difference between an image at 200mm and at 560mm is vast and the ability to grab those two shots just a second apart means that you come back from your wildlife trip, or your sporting assignment with a much wider array of photos.
For many, the question is going to be “Is it worth the money?”. For professional Canon wildlife photographers, yes, it’s absolutely worth it. I don’t take these sums of money lightly, and I’ve rarely, if ever, been so direct with my response to such a question. You can spend many thousands of dollars getting to a location and waiting for your subject. Coming away from an encounter with a wider range of images is only going to increase your sales and give your clients with a choice of images. Not only do you get that range of images from the tight portrait to the wider, scenic, animal-in-landscape shot; you also get some creative freedom for framing all those images instead of being forced into a composition with a 500 or 600mm prime. Sometimes with wildlife and sports you don’t get to choose exactly where you want to stand so the zoom range give you some freedom to create a more pleasing composition. If you aren’t a professional who’s making money from their images then it’s unlikely you’ll be considering this lens. If you are lucky enough to have this kind of money at your disposal, to spend on your pastime, then you simply won’t be disappointed. As I said in the un-boxing video, I think every photography fan should experience the excitement of unwrapping a super telephoto lens at some point in their life.
What about sports photography though? I know that I concentrated heavily on wildlife in this review but I know that a lot of sports photographers will be considering this lens as well. Just a few years ago it would be unthinkable to approach a sporting event professionally with an f/4 lens, but times have changed and cameras like the 1D-X deliver high ISO results that more than compensate for the stop of light that this loses over something the Canon 400mm f2.8 L II. My thoughts are that if you are primarily shooting sports then the 400mm prime lens is likely to still be your workhorse though. If your work takes on a broader range of subjects, more photojournalistic, then the Canon 200-400 is a perfect partner to the venerable 70-200. Many people follow me because of my winter sports work and for this as well the Canon 200-400 is the new king as far as I’m concerned. It’s long enough for me to shoot big mountain skiing in Alaska, and versatile enough that I can just pack a 24-70 alongside it and be good for a day in the mountains. For major sporting event coverage like the Olympics this would be the lens I want in my hand, paired with a 600mm f/4.
Read the full review in Bears of Vancouver Island. You can also get A Free E-Book Version Of This Review With Bonus Images & Full Resolution Samples.