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Is the Canon 100-400mm a sharp enough lens?


Hello everyone,


My name is Jake Miille and I am photographer in California. I use a Canon Rebel XSi (Hoping to upgrade to a Canon 7D Mark ii if it comes out in January) as well as a Canon 10-22mm and a 24-105L. I shoot mainly railroads throughout the Western US and sometime 105mm just doesn't cut it. I have been hoping to upgrade my telephoto lens (I do have a kit 55-250 but it's... you know) for awhile. I have seen a few options and I was hoping I could get some of your opinions/advice.


The Canon 100-400 looks like a nice lens and I'm really excited about the coverage it could get me. I am not too worried about the limited aperture because railroad scenes are usually shot on f/7.1 or higher. I have heard the push/pull system can be weird but I have no doubt that I could get use to it. My one concern with this lens is the sharpness and quality. I have heard it is not the sharpest L lens out there and I was wondering how that would affect my photos. I'm a little torn/confused because the lens is Canon L series, but people have discussed it as being a little soft. Does anyone out there have experience with this lens? Is it sharp enough? Will it be worth the money?


If you wouldn't recommend the 100-400, what do you think about the 70-300L? If those two lenses are equal in quality, the 100-400 would give me a better range. Is the 70-300 actually a sharper lens?


Thanks for the help.


The 100-400L is  relatively sharp unless you've used the 400L f5.6 or the 70-300L. Both of these lenses are much sharper in every day use. Here's a shot with Canon 7D and 400L f5.6 and Canon 2x. Don't try this with your 100/400L and 2x, because you won't be happy with the resiults.Dragonfly

The 100-400 is the workhorse of my profession. I have had it since 2006 and only in to Canon Service once for a minor issue which was neither focus or mechanical.



Gar Travis, asmp, CPS, ISAP

"Talent makes the photographer...
Canon makes the photographer memorable." ~ GT©

*Love* this shot, very nice 😄
Canon 7D

Thank you. The fellow with whom she was in contest, was mesmerized by the reflection of the sun as well and while these are bouts of skill and not speed, he nearly stepped into her rapier.



Gar Travis, asmp, CPS, ISAP

"Talent makes the photographer...
Canon makes the photographer memorable." ~ GT©

That might have hurt, plus soiled the outfit.

"A skill is developed through constant practice with a passion to improve, not bought."


I just got my 100 - 400L so I am still getting used to it. Honestly I thought this would never be my "walk-around" lens but after using it a few times, I love it and I belive I can produce better images with it than my old kit Canon 55 - 250mm which is a respectable lens. The bottom line is, I love this lens!


Here are a few images, they are probably not the sharpest in the world but good enough for me. 


ISO  200 | 400 mm | f 5.6 | 1/1000 | not cropped | hand-held



ISO 200 | 260 mm | f 5.6 | 1/1800 | not cropped | hand-held


» «
» EOS 7D | 100 - 400mm L | 10 - 24mm | Mac Pro | Lightroom 4 «
"Yes. Feet on earth. Knock on wood. Touch stone. Good luck to all." – Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire

I've got good news & bad news. The aircraft shot shows that you need more panning practice with it, which is VERY understandable. It's a much heavier lens than you're used to & it takes time to get the hang of panning. Also did you set the IS to mode 2 for that (off may have been a good choice too) ? If not that may also have hurt the potential sharpness 1/1000 should have provided. In an effort to help you improve try to remember that a good prop plane photo has prop blur making it look like it's actually under power flying through the sky. Unfortunately that takes both remembering to slow the shutter speed & even better panning skills, but with practice you'll get better. Also note that when a prop plane is landing the engines are usually spinning slower than on take offs

Enjoy your new lens, it should provide you with endless possibilities.

"A skill is developed through constant practice with a passion to improve, not bought."


But see this sharpness comparison to the Canon 400 f/5.6 prime...


That shows a fairly stark difference in sharpness.


Canon 5d mk 4, Canon 6D, EF 70-200mm L f/2.8 IS mk2; EF 16-35 f/2.8 L mk. III; Sigma 35mm f/1.4 "Art" EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro; EF 85mm f/1.8; EF 1.4x extender mk. 3; EF 24-105 f/4 L; EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS; 3x Phottix Mitros+ speedlites

Why do so many people say "FER-tographer"? Do they take "fertographs"?

Although I have used Luminous Landscape many times over the years & learned several valuable bits of information from it that test looks like the 100-400 used was out of calibration. I've examined hundreds of images from others & shot thousands with my own that are much sharper than they imply I will see. I've also followed many "which is better" threads over the years without ever seeing that big a difference between the 2. 

"A skill is developed through constant practice with a passion to improve, not bought."

This test came to the same conclusion as the Luminous Landscape test. A large number of 100/400L's were used to make sure results were accurate. The only lens or lens/extender  combo that scored worse than the 100/400L was the 70/200 f2.8 with 2x.

click here to view the press release