Review Canon EF 400 f/4DO IS Review


Alan Rickman
Paul Beastall
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Maker/Provider: Canon

Product: 400mm f/4DO IS

Price: £5,500 new, around £3,000-£3,800 s/h

Overall Rating: 8/10 (would be 9 but struggles on value)

Overall Summary: Canon’s lightest “big prime” with the build quality, AF performance and portability to make it a great all-rounder and excellent walk about wildlife lens

Detailed Review
I had a Canon 400mm f/4DO for a couple of years a few years ago and sold it as I wanted more reach and was unhappy with slightly unhappy with the image quality. I bought a Canon 500mm f/4L and was very happy with it. For shooting from hides and from vehicles, the 500 really is a stunning lens. However, I have spent the last 2 years trying a number of options to get a lighter weight solution for birds in flight and as more of a walk-around lens (the 500 really needs a tripod).

In that time, I have tried the 300 f/4L IS (twice), 300 f/2.8L IS, 400 f/5.6L and 100-400 f/4.5-5.6L IS and none of them have really met my needs. I decided I really wanted another “400DO” and kept my eye out for a suitably priced used one for almost a year. This particular lens is a newer one than the original I had and is definitely sharper.

For those that don’t know, the “DO” refers to Diffractive Optics where a Fresnel lens is used as the main element rather than a standard lens, which means that the lens is both shorter and lighter than it would be normally. The downside is cost – the front element is about the same size as on a 300/2.8 but the lens costs more than a 500/4!!!

In Use:
On the 7D, the lens is well balanced and, at half the weight of the 500, readily usable handheld for birds in flight and more casual trips out (I previously had to decide whether to go out looking for wildlife with binoculars or on a serious photo trip). The focusing is superb, at least on a par with the 300/2.8 and 500/4. The only thing missing from a focusing point of view is the focus preset that is available on the other big lenses and that can be very useful.

Much is made in the world of the Internet of the image quality of this lens and many people pass opinions based on what they have read rather than what they have seen or used. My own personal experience, based on a sample of 2 is that my second lens is sharper than my first but still not quite as sharp as a 500/4 and the contrast is slightly lower, needing a slight boost in post-processing. However, it is entirely adequate for a very good quality A3 print – which is as far as I want to go.

Coupled with the fact that the lens is small and light enough to be with me at times when I wouldn’t have my 500 due to size and weight issues, I think it is a stunning lens and I have no regrets about buying another copy.

Still, as they say the proof of the pudding is in the eating so, here’s a few images.

Full frame

EOS-1Ds MarkII, EF 400 f/4DO IS, handheld

APS-C Crop

EOS-7D, EF 400 f/4DO IS, handheld

100% Crop on APS-C

EOS-7D, EF 400 f/4DO IS, tripod, Acratech long lens head

Bearing in mind the 7D is as tough a challenge as it gets from Canon in terms of pixel resolution and so the most demanding on lenses at the centre (equivalent to ~46 Mpx on full frame) I think this stands up remarkably well for a lens that does not have a reputation for sharpness.

Build Quality:
Excellent, although it's not an 'L' lens this is only because of the diffractive element. From a build point of view it is up there with the other big primes. It is weather sealed and robust. I used my previous lens on several trips across Africa and this one has, so far, braved a Norwegian winter with me.

Light, compact, build strength, AF performance

Price, slight drop in contrast (but can be fixed in PP), no AF pre-set (available on other big primes)


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Excellent review Paul. I am seriously impressed by the people who are taking the time and effort to review their gear for the benefit of others here on TP.

Nice one matey (y) It has been added to the directory.
Edit My Images
An excellent overview of this lens I also own and is right up there with the best. If weight is an issue nothing to beat it