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Gear Reviews

Some Initial Thoughts on the Canon 400mm F/5.6L

By Anthony Thurston on April 20th 2014

I have wanted to get my hands on the 400mm F/5.6 to review for a while now. It has a good reputation as a great lens for wildlife, and general day shooting where you may need a 400mm – a HS baseball game, for example. Being as sports and wildlife are probably two of my favorite ways to enjoy photography, this lens has always intrigued me.

Well, I have finally got my hands on one, and I am actually comparing it to its larger and more expensive F/2.8L cousin. A more in-depth review and comparison between the two lenses will come later, but today I wanted to share some of my initial thoughts on this Canon 400mm f/5.6L.


Disclaimer: Again, this is not meant to be a full review of this lens. These are just some initial thoughts that I have had on the lens since I received it. My full review will include sample images from different apertures and in different situations. 

Initial Thoughts on the Canon 400mm f/5.6L

I am actually quite impressed with both the build quality and the weight of this lens. It’s similar in size and weight to a 300mm F/4, which is another great “day shooting” lens. The tradeoff for the easily manageable size, weight, and extra reach, is the relatively low F/5.6 max aperture.

Still, after having had it for a little over a week now, I am very happy with what this lens is capable of, and how it compares to the 400mm F/2.8L in a standard day shooting environment.


Quick Build Quality Thoughts

This is a Canon L lens, so you can be sure that the build quality is top notch. I have been happy with every aspect of this lens so far, with only a few minor exceptions.

  • The hood is built onto the body. In theory this is awesome, but in practice it is more annoying than it is awesome. The hood stays tight now, while the lens is still new, but I can definitely see the hood getting looser and looser as the lens ages. Eventually it would not surprise me to see a loose hood on the end of your lens that moves around freely and causes more harm than good. Canon_400mm_F5-6-4158 Canon_400mm_F5-6-4159
  • No “clicks” on the tripod collar. On other Canon L lenses that I have used in the past that require the use of a tripod collar they have had clicks at certain points along the rotation. This makes it easy to spin the lens on the collar, and know if you are perfectly vertical or horizontal. On this lens, you basically have to guess and hope that you got it close enough.Canon_400mm_F5-6-4156

Those are my only two real complaints so far. But, I have it for a month and will have plenty more opportunities to test it out in a variety of situations, including more wildlife, and on the sideline of a professional soccer match. So stay tuned for the full review and full comparison between this, and the Canon 400mm F/2.8L.

5 Quick Sample Images From the 400mm F/5.6L

Before I let you go, I am sure you may be interested in some sample images from this guy and I am happy to oblige. Below you will find some sample images from a recent trip to the local wildlife refuge.

I used both my Canon EOS-M and Canon 6D, to demonstrate what this lens is capable of in a situation it is likely to be used for. The EOS-M is APS-C and the 6D is full frame, so you can see how the lens performs on both Canon sensor sizes.

Canon EOS-M, F/5.6, ISO 1000, 1/1000thCanon_400mm_F5-6-3751


Canon EOS-M, F/5.6, ISO 800, 1/1000thCanon_400mm_F5-6-3883


Canon 6DF/5.6, ISO 1000, 1/1000thCanon_400mm_F5-6-4064

Canon 6D, F/5.6, ISO 1600, 1/1000thCanon_400mm_F5-6-4105

Canon 6D, F/5.6, ISO 1250, 1/1000thCanon_400mm_F5-6-4136

If you are considering this lens and have any questions about it, leave a comment below and I will make sure to try and answer your questions in my full review.

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Anthony Thurston is a photographer based in the Salem, Oregon area specializing in Boudoir. He recently started a new project, Fiercely Boudoir to help support the growing boudoir community. Find him over on Instagram. You may also connect with him via Email.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Joseph Prusa

    Great lens for the price!

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  2. NancyP

    Best Budget Birding Lens!! You learn to live without IS. Your handholding and panning technique improves by necessity. I bought mine new, 3 years ago, and it is holding up splendidly over thousands of bird photos. No hood issues yet. I prefer a clickless tripod collar because the tripod itself may not be 100% level and it is easier just to level up using the camera level. It isn’t weatherproof, but I have a Lenscoat Raincoat (standard size) for it and also wear it on a Cotton Carrier vest under my raincoat when hiking. I can hike 10 miles with it without noticing its weight. I would love to have the 400 f/2.8 L IS II, 500mm f/4 L IS II, or 600mm f/4 L IS II (my top pick), but for now, I am very happy with my 400mm f/5.6L, and just live with the denoising needed when shooting at high ISO to compensate for the small aperture.

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  3. Casey Smith

    Thanks Anthony for the review, I have just bought myself a 400mm F2.8 Series 1 and I look forward to your review on a comparison of the 2 lens. But I can say that the 2.8 is one of the best lens I have, other than the 85mm F1.2.

    The DOF and sharpness from edge to edge is amazing and before I bought the 400mm I could not find a bad review on it anywhere, the only bad comment I saw were 2 things, cost and weight. I was lucky enough to find a second hand lens that was in such good condition that if I told I got new you would believe me.

    So I look forward to reading your thoughts on the 2.8 version. Keep up the good work this is a great site for info.


    A link to some sample images from Tasmania V8 Supercar

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  4. TylerIngram

    Wish Nikon had a variety of lenses in this range like Canon does. 400mm f5.6 would be a nice affordable entry-level birding lens.

    Though, I have used the Canon 100-400 and use it probably 99% of the time at 400mm. Wonder which one I’d prefer. 100-400 with its varied focal range + IS or the prime 400 f5.6 which I’ve seen some pretty awesome photos from. Ah well, guess for me I’d have to look at something like the Nikon 80-400 :

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  5. Stan Rogers

    For what it’s worth, I don’t know that there would be as much utility to rotation detents on this lens as there would be on its big brother. That’s mostly because the f/2.8 is far more likely to be living on a gimbal head, whereas the f/5.6 is more likely to be on a ball head. Detents are great — except when you need “almost but not quite”, and that’s a scenario you’re more likely to run into when you’re using a ball head, even on a carefully-levelled tripod. (It’s even more likely if, like myself, you do your back-woods shooting from something like a Benbo with its legs wherever they need to be for the terrain and the centre column used to put the camera where it needs to be.) I haven’t used this particular lens, but a 400mm/5.6 was a central part of my hiking kit back in the Age of Acetate, and I can’t say I ever found myself wishing the tripod collar had detents.

    (BTW, for the naysayers in the previous article’s comments, I got an awful lot of use out of the 5.6 shooting ASA 25, 50, 64 and 100 film. Including, yes, birds in flight. Candlelit indoor sport isn’t the only use case for a long lens.)

    My lens also had the sliding hood, and that was something I had to be a little bit careful with as time went on. It’s not that it would droop on its own, but you could give it enough of a twist or a bump if you weren’t careful to cause a slight mount of vignetting.

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  6. Derek

    I’ve used the 300 f4 IS via rental before and loved it for the air show I was shooting, as I could go handheld with it. I understand the reciprocal rule for handheld shooting, I’d love to see/read your thoughts about this lens and handholding, especially since I am an APS-C shooter. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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  7. AOD

    Heh, that should be “enthusiastic amateur” :-)

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  8. Chris

    I debated between his lens and the 300 f4. I decided on the 300 f4 and couldn’t be happier. The image quality of the 300 is astounding. What broke the tie in my mind is that by adding a 1.4x teleconverter you sacrifice only a little image quality and the 300 becomes a 420mm 5.6 with image stabilization. The lack of IS on the 400mm limits its use without a tripod, while I can get great handheld shots with the 300mm. The 300mm f4 is a few hundred more, but well worth it in my view. With respect to the lens hood, after four months of hard use it has not loosened up any.

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  9. AOD

    I recently got a 2nd hand 400mm from a work colleague for a decent price. I wasn’t in the market for such a lens (especially after buying a 70-200 f/2.8 II the week before ;-) ) but it was a good offer and he threw in some other bits and bobs too.
    Yesterday I took it for a spin at a local country park in Cambridge. I was really pleased with the results. If anyone’s interested.
    From my point of view as an enthusiastic; you need the light and a tripod but if you’ve got them it’s a great, sharp lens.

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