In late 2021 Canon and Nikon released 100-400mm lenses for their full-frame mirrorless cameras. The similarities and differences between these lenses are summarised here.
Although they cover the same angles of view and have a few other features in common, Canon’s RF 100-400mm f/5.6-8 IS USM and the Nikkor Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S are aimed at completely different users. Canon’s lens is designed for hand-held use and weighs only 635 grams, while the Nikon lens comes with a tripod collar and weighs a total of 1435 grams – although the tripod foot can be removed to allow users to use the lens hand-held. Interestingly, both lenses claim up to 5.5 stops of integrated stabilisation to support hand-held use. However, the substantially greater weight of the Nikon lens implies it should normally be tripod-mounted.
The table below provides an overview of key features of the two lenses, showing their similarities and differences:
It’s worth noting the Canon lens lacks weather-resistant sealing, whereas the Nikon lens is comprehensively sealed against both moisture and dust intrusion. Similarly, the Nikon lens comes with a lens hood, while for the Canon lens it’s an optional extra. It’s all a matter of pricing and value perceptions.
Interestingly, the Canon lens is light enough to be used on a cropped-sensor camera, even though Canon doesn’t have an RF mount APS-C camera in its stable – yet. In contrast, although Nikon has two Z-mount cropped-sensor cameras (the Z50 and Z fc) the Nikkor Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S is much too large and heavy to fit comfortably onto either of them. Both situations raise the questions: who are these lenses for? and why did each company target different user profiles?
Having entered the mirrorless market in the past few years, Canon and Nikon have been industriously building up their mirrorless lens portfolios. However, neither can match the complete suite of lenses available for their DSLR cameras. They don’t even offer as many as Sony, which took the lead in adopting mirrorless designs and has opened their mount design to third-party manufacturers.
Canon users who want the weather-resistant sealing professional shooters require will find the closest alternative is the RF 100-500mm f/4.5-7.1 L IS USM, which is 2/3 of a stop faster at 100mm and about a third faster at 500mm. Owners of Nikon’s mirrorless cameras will need to be patient since Nikon has no Z-mount lens with similar specifications and the relatively low price tag of the Canon lens – at least so far.
Sony’s only 100-400mm lens, the FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS, which was launched in April 2017, fits into the same category as the Nikkor 100-400mm lens and is as fast with similar features and price. But there’s no Sony lightweight lens equivalent to the Canon lens to cater for the company’s no-longer-manufactured-at-present APS-C cameras, and even the Sigma 100-400mm f/5-6.3 DG DN OS lens is a bit on the heavy side for the smaller camera bodies..
With CP+ coming up at the end of this month (since cancelled, but expect product announcements regardless) it will be interesting to see what the various manufacturers have to offer – particularly the independents like Sigma and Tamron, as well as the growing coterie of independent manufacturers from China. With gaps in the ranges of all the major brands – especially for cropped-sensor cameras – photographers at all levels will be looking to have them filled.
Telephoto zoom lenses with a minimum focal length of 100mm cater for many different users. As well as being ideal for sports and wildlife photography (including birding), these lenses can be used for portraiture, where the 100mm focal length provides a flattering perspective and comfortable working distance. They can also provide creative potential for landscape photography through utilising their inherent perspective compression.
Telephoto lenses can also be used for close-up shots, especially at wide apertures, which can make subjects stand out against more distant, de-focused backgrounds. They also tend to be free (or almost free) of focus breathing, a valuable feature for videographers. Finally, the ability to fit telephoto extenders can be handy, both for photographers on a budget and travellers who need small, lightweight kits. Even though teleconverters reduce the light entering the lens, their other benefits outweigh this disadvantage – particularly if the camera and/or lens is effectively stabilised.
We believe there’s a place for both types of ‘super-zoom’ lenses to cater for different market sectors. There’s also an incentive to produce lenses light enough for use on cropped-sensor bodies, where users can take advantage of the focal length extensions provided by smaller sensors.
As far as the current situation is concerned, choosing which lens to choose will depend on several factors. Budget-constrained consumers and sports and wildlife shooters who need to travel light will focus upon light weight, affordable price and the ability to use the lens hand-held. Effective stabilisation in both the lens and the camera bodies will be essential. However, lens speed is likely to be a secondary issue since most shots will be taken in daylight.
Professional users have the luxury of being able to select faster lenses with more rugged construction and weather-resistant sealing because those characteristics are the best match for their requirements. Stabilisation will be advantageous but not essential since most of these lenses are heavy enough to require tripod mounting; shooting hand-held is very tiring when holding more than two kilograms of camera plus lens!
Both lens types will be sought out by photographers. Choosing between them is simply a case of matching ‘horses to courses’. Nikon now has an gap in its mirrorless lens range for a lower-priced, lighter ‘enthusiast’ superzoom, while professionals will be anticipating a big premium gun from Canon some time soon.
– Margaret Brown
Canon Australia; 1800 021 167, https://www.canon.com.au/
Nikon Australia, 1300 366 499, https://www.nikon.com.au/