Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 USM L - Review / Lab Test Report
Lens Reviews - Canon EOS (APS-C)
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Review by Klaus Schroiff, published November 2005

Special thanks to Rob (NL) for providing this lens for testing purposes!


The Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 USM L is one of the (relatively) affordable super-tele fix-focals in the Canon line-up and the last of the species here that has not been replaced by an IS successor - it survived without changes since 1993. The lens had a mixed reputation in the 90s because of a rather mediocre test report in an US magazine but it received a couple of very good ratings on this side of the Atlantic. On APS-C DSLRs its field of view is equivalent to 640mm on full frame cameras so the obvious applications are sports and wildlife photography.

Due to the lack of an IS correction group the optical design can follow a minimalistic approach with just 7 elements in 6 groups including one S-UD and one UD element. Well, Einstein once said "Keep things as simple as possible but not simpler" which is probably also a good idea in lens land - e.g. Leica lenses are renowned to push this philosophy to the max. in many of their high-performance lenses. The aperture mechanism of the EF 400mm f/5.6 L features 8 aperture blades. The min. focus distance is a little disappointing at 3.5m with a max. object magnification of only 1:9. As to be expected from such a lens it not exactly small with a size of 90x257mm and a weight of 1250g. The filter size of 77mm is in-line with many other pro grade Canon lenses. The lens can accept all Canon EF tele-converters resulting in either a 560mm f/8 (400mm + 1.4x) or 800mm f/11 (400mm + EF 2x) combination. Due to the small max. apertures of these tele converter combinations there's no AF possible anymore except with the EOS 1D series (and the EOS 1v/3) and even here AF stays alive with the 1.4x converter only.

The mechanical quality of the lens is excellent with an outer barrel made of metal and a broad rubberized focus ring which is smooth and well damped. The focus range can be limited to 8.5m-∞ and 3.5m-∞. The lens also features a detachable tripod mount for a better balance on tripods - certainly a good idea regarding the weight of the lens. There´s also a pretty convenient build-in lens hood which can be locked in its out-most position. Thanks to its ring-type USM drive the AF speed is very fast and virtually silent.

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