Gear Talk # 2 – Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM

NOVEMBER 2011 – Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM on location in South Africa. © Petra Zanzig/

The Affordable Super Zoom

When you own a high end DSLR and have started working with the prestigious L-range of Canon’s lens portfolio you quickly realize two things: 1) You definitely need more glass. 2) It will cost you deerly. So you have to take smart decisions concerning your lens investment. Which ones do you need for daily jobs? Which ones will you need for special occasions? And which ones are pure luxury and nice-to-have lenses?

I had to take that decision. Having seen the 400mm f/2.8L lenses of the colleagues who were doing sport photography, I knew I wanted one of these. But they were (and still are) horribly expensive. A once-in-a-lifetime investment. So my decision was clear: not anytime soon.

Money was the main reason, but I also felt that a 400 mm fixed focal length was not flexible enough (for me.) Sure, for well-planned shots this lens would be the first choice due to the superior image quality. But for any spontaneous photos it would limit my ability to react, especially when shooting weddings where you often need to be fast and flexible.

So I started to consider alternatives and finally picked the EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM, a tele zoom with an incredible focal range. It works well on a full frame body but excels on an APS H body like the 1D mark IV, shifting the focal length from 100-400mm to 130-520mm, enabling shooting of distant objects. During one of our trips to Africa one guide called it “the Bazooka”. And rightly so, because I captured countless wildlife images with this lens on my various APS H bodies (1D mark IIN, 1D mark III, and 1D mark IV).

My reasons for chosing this lens have been flexibility and speed of operation, along with image quality. The image stabilizer works wonders, so you can keep shooting at the higher focal ranges without tripod and still get excellent results. Again, this is key for wildlife, press and wedding photography. I admit that the aperture limits the ability to create super sweet Bokeh effects. I also notice a minimal softness at 100% in Photoshop when shooting at full aperture – but the lens costs just a fraction of a 400mm fixed lens, so I can live with these limitations.

Another reason is that when combined with a 24-70 mm lens you’ll almost cover the range of 24 to 400 mm with just two lenses. This makes it the perfect kit when you need to travel with light equipment. The entire kit still fits into a medium-sized backpack (e.g., a Tamrac Expedition 5) and you’ll just miss out the range of 70-100 mm which is hardly missed at all, because usually either the 70 mm or the 100 mm setting can do the trick.

I purchased this lens in 2006 and still own and use it, hoping that it will serve me well for another 15 years to come. If you consider buying this lens, you won’t regret it (if you can live with its limitations.)

Please see some of the stunning photos I shot with this lens.

The high resolution image

Capture Date & Time28-NOV-2011, 15:15
LocationMapungubwe National Park, South Africa
CameraRicoh CX1
Exposure1/440 sec at f/4.8
Digital Image Source FormatJPEG, 24 bits/pixel, sRGB
Edited Image FormatJPEG, 24 bits/pixel, sRGB
Edited Image Dimensions2592 x 3456 Pixels
Copyright© by Petra Zanzig/

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