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REVIEW: Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM lens

CANON EF 400MM F/2.8L IS III USM: This third-generation, ‘super telephoto’ lens is the lightest in its class and provides up to five stops of integrated image stabilisation. It is every bit as good as you would expect from its specifications and price tag, delivering excellent resolution, plucky contrast and superb stabilisation. Its build quality is up to pro standards and its AF is very fast and reliable.
RRP: $17,499

It’s been almost 10 years since the EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II was launched – and 19 years since the original EF 400mm f/2.8L IS lens – so the third-generation EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM lens is a sought-after, professional product. Designed with input from users of the earlier generations, the Mark III lens has been re-engineered with new glass materials to make it much lighter than its predecessor (although it still weighs 2.84 kilograms). The size and weight of this lens require it to be used on a professional EOS camera like the new EOS-1D X Mark III. It will best suit sports and wildlife photographers who shoot distant, fast-moving subjects, often in challenging lighting.

The optical design is complex for a prime lens, with 17 elements in 13 groups. Two fluorite elements have been included to ensure higher optical quality with less weight, while an ultra-low dispersion (UD) glass element is included to correct chromatic aberrations. Fluorine coatings on the front and rear elements repel moisture and dust and make the lens easy to keep clean. Weatherproof sealing is extensive.

The electromagnetic diaphragm (EMD), which controls aperture settings, is further forward in the new lens to enable smaller and lighter elements to be used behind. The USM-driven focusing unit is encapsulated and contains fewer elements than the previous design. A new sensor in the drive can detect the motor rotation speed in real time and provide an instant response, improving focus precision. Full-time MF override in AF mode is available but because focusing is driven electronically from the camera, manual focus override is only possible when the camera’s shutter button is half-pressed. Three different manual focus speeds are supported, varying in speed and ring rotation. The lens is clad in a white, Canon-developed heat shield coating, which is more reflective to provide even better heat-resistance than previous lenses.

Despite its bulk and weight, we found it possible to use this lens hand-held for shooting sports action when tested on the EOS-1D X Mark III. Even though the camera and lens combination became tiring to hold after a couple of minutes, that weight noticeably aided the stabilisation system. Resolution in test shots was similar to the shots we took with the EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM lens. Vignetting and distortion were minimal. Bokeh, as expected, was smooth and attractive, both towards and away from the camera.

Purchasing points:
1. Physically, this lens is an ideal match for Canon’s EOS-1D X cameras, particularly the latest model.
2. This lens is made mainly from magnesium and aluminium alloys, which combine lightness and strength. A new high-strength, carbon reinforced magnesium alloy has been used for the lens barrel and tripod base plate, which is made by injection moulding and achieves a barrel thickness that is 20 percent thinner than previous models. This lens boasts dust- and moisture-resistant construction and has a fluorine coatings on the front and rear elements to repel moisture and grease.
3. Built-in Optical SteadyShot stabilisation offers up to 5 stops of shake correction and allows the lens to be used for hand-held shooting.
4. A Ring USM with rear focusing and a distance limiter ensure flexible fast, precise and quiet autofocusing, making this lens ideal for shooting both stills and movie clips.
5. A drop-in filter slot and holder are provided just in front of the lens mount for readily-available 52mm filters. No filter is supplied with the lens.
6. Any of the four focus hold buttons can be pressed to pause autofocusing temporarily to lock onto a particular focusing distance or to prevent hunting for focus. They can also be registered to retain a preset distance, which is recalled via the playback ring.
7. An infinity mark on the lens barrel allows users to compensate for shifts in infinity focus resulting from temperature changes.
8. The tripod collar can be rotated and there’s a large locking screw to keep it in place. Strap lugs are provided on either side of the collar for fitting the supplied neck strap, which makes it easier to carry when the lens is mounted on a camera.
9. The lens is supplied with a large, cylindrical lens hood that attaches with a locking knob and can be reversed over the barrel for transport and storage. A dedicated fabric lens cap is also provided, with drawstring and hook-and-loop fasteners. It can also fit over the lens hood. A dedicated fabric lens case (LS400) with five padded ‘cushions’ end a zip fastener is also supplied.

Distributor: Canon Australia; 1800 021 167;
– Margaret Brown

The Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM lens has been awarded an Editor’s Choice award in Margaret’s more extensive review on the Photo Review website.

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