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Canon 400mm f/5.6 L

© 2015 KenRockwell.com. All rights reserved.

Sample Images   Intro   Specs   Performance

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Canon 400mm f/5.6

Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L (Full-frame, 1.3x and and APS-C coverage, 77mm metal filter thread, 42.6 oz./1,207g lens only, 47.5 oz./1,346g with collar, 11.5'/3.5m close focus, about $1,240 after rebate).

I got mine at this link to it at Adorama; this link to it at Amazon is also a great place to get it. This ad-free website's biggest source of support is when you use those or any of these links to approved sources when you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live. It helps me keep adding to this free website when you get anything through these links — but I receive nothing for my efforts if you take the chance of buying elsewhere. Never buy at retail, since Canon doesn't seal its boxes so you can't tell if it's a used, dropped, returned, incomplete or damaged lens. Thanks for your support! Ken.


January 2015      Canon Lenses   Canon Reviews   All Reviews

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Sample Images       top

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Palm, RP, 21 December 2014

Palm, 21 December 2014. Canon 5D Mark III, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L, f/5.6 (wide open) at 1/320 handheld at ISO 100, no lens profile used, Athentech Perfectly Clear v2.) Full resolution.


Introduction       top

Sample Images   Intro   Specs   Performance

Compared   Usage   Recommendations   More

Adorama pays top dollar for your used gear.

B&H Photo - Video - Pro Audio

This all-metal Canon 400mm f/5.6 is high performance professional lens with superb optics that's also built like a tank.

Its images are extraordinary, and it is small and lightweight and inexpensive. It for decades has been a favorite of practical birdwatchers, with its ultra-tele focal length and reasonable size, weight and price.

While most people prefer the new 100-400mm II zoom for its convenience, much closer focussing and image stabilization, this unstabilized beauty remains very popular with wildlife shooters on a budget. It's a fully professional lens with performance that completely smokes any zoom that sells for less than $2,000.

Just grab the focus ring at any time for instant manual-focus override.

The lens and tripod collar pop apart without having to take the lens off the camera, so it's easy to take it off a tripod and leave the collar ready on your tripod!

This professional L lens is a bargain today because it's been in Canon's catalog for over 20 years. Canon has long since paid for its development cost, so it sells for much less than similar but newer lenses.

The only gotcha is that this has no image stabilization (IS) for handheld use in dim light. IS does nothing for action shots, which is why this lens is so popular for hand-held birds in flight shots, however for hand-held shots of things that hold still, you'll prefer something with IS.

It's much lighter than 70-200/2.8 or 100-400mm zooms, and much sharper than shorter lenses used with a tele-extender.


Canon 400mm f/5.6

Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L. enlarge.


Specifications         top

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Canon calls this the CANON LENS EF 400mm f/5.6 L ULTRASONIC.

EF means "electronic focus;" there is an autofocus motor inside the lens.

L means as expensive as L.

ULTRASONIC means that the focus motor operates reasonably silently.


Optics       top

Canon 400mm f/5.6 internal construction

Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L internal diagram. Super UD Glass and UD Glass.

7 elements in 6 groups.

One element is of UD glass, and another is of Super UD glass, designed to increase sharpness and eliminate color fringes.


Rear focussing.


Focal Length


When used on an APS-C camera, it sees an angle of view similar to what a 650mm lens sees when used on an FX or 35mm camera.


Angle of View, full frame

6.1º diagonal.


Diaphragm       top

Canon 400mm f/5.6

Canon 400mm f/5.6L at f/5.6. (EF diaphragm not visible).

8 straight blades.

Stops down to f/32.


Close Focus       top

11.5 feet (3.5m) from the image plane.


Maximum Reproduction Ratio       top

1:9.1 (0.11x).


Hard Infinity Focus Stop?        top



Focus Scale       top



Depth-of-Field Scale       top

Sort of; two marks right next to each other for f/32.


Infra-Red Focus Index       top

Yes, but so close to the visible index as not to be that much use.


Filters       top


Metal threads.


Size       top

Canon specifies 3.5" (90 mm) diameter by 10.1" (256.5 mm) long.


Weight       top

47.485 oz. (1,346.2g), actual measured, with collar.

42.585 oz. (1,207.3g), lens alone without collar.

4.905 oz. (139.05g) tripod collar alone.

Canon specifies 44.1 oz. (1,250g).


Hood       top

Built-in telescoping metal hood.

Hood locks in extended position with screw threads, bravo!


Canon 400mm f/5.6

Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L with hood extended. enlarge.


Caps       top

New 77mm Canon pinch-type front cap and standard EOS rear cap.


Tripod Collar       top

The Tripod Mount Ring A II (W) is included.

It also fits the 70-200/4 IS.


Case       top

Canon LZ1132 case Canon LZ1132 case
Canon LZ1132. bigger.
Canon LZ1132. bigger.

Canon includes a very nice padded nylon LZ1132 case.

This is a very useful sturdy padded case. You can use the double-handled zipper for solid closing, and once open, there's velcro on the top for shot-to-shot open and closing. Bravo!


Introduced       top

May 1993.


Canon Model Number       top



Included       top


Tripod collar: Tripod Mount Ring A II (W).


LZ1132 case.


Price, USA        top

2014 December: $1,240 after rebate.


Box, Canon 400mm f/5.6 L

Box, Canon 400/5.6.


Performance       top

Sample Images   Intro   Specs   Performance

Compared   Usage   Recommendations   More

Overall    Focus   Bokeh   Coma   Distortion    

Ergonomics   Falloff   Filters   Focus Breathing   

Color Fringes   Macro   Mechanics   

Sharpness    Sunstars   Teleconverters


Overall     performance      top

The Canon 400mm f/5.6 L is sharp, light and and easy to use, and built better than almost all other lenses.

Ignore me; everyone at Amazon loves it.


Focus     performance      top


Auto/Manual Switching

Just grab the ring anytime for instant manual-focus override.


AF Speed

AF is very fast; not instantaneous, but fast.

As a lens introduced in 1993, this is part of the reason Nikon lost the professional market to Canon. All Nikon's AF lenses were sloths back then.


AF Accuracy

AF is always dead-on.


Bokeh     performance      top

Bokeh, the quality of out-of-focus areas as opposed to the degree of defocus, is swell.

Backgrounds get very soft and never distract. That's why 400mm lenses are a top pro choice for portrait lenses.

Here's a full-frame sample. Click to enlarge:

Canon 400mm f/5.6 bokeh at f/5.6

At f/5.6. enlarge.


Coma     performance      top

I see no coma. It's sharp right out to the corners, even at f/5.6.


Distortion     performance      top

There is no visible distortion.

For more critical use, use these values in Photoshop's Lens Distortion tool to remove it:

FX and 35mm
100' (30m)
30' (10m)
11.5' (3.5m)

© 2015 KenRockwell.com. All rights reserved.


Ergonomics     performance      top

Canon 400mm f/5.6

Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L ULTRASONIC.

The tough metal hood is built in, and locks so it's not always getting pushed back. There's a tough rubber bumper on the front.

The manual focus ring has two grips, one on each of two different diameter parts of the ring. Use one when you're holding the lens by the front, and the other when you're gripping it closer in the middle.


Falloff (darkened corners)     performance      top

Falloff is invisible. It's negligible wide-open, and gone by f/8, even without a lens correction profile.

I've greatly exaggerated this by presenting it against a gray background. In actual photography, it's invisible.


Canon 400mm f/5.6 falloff on full-frame, no correction.


© 2015 KenRockwell.com. All rights reserved.



Filters, Use with     performance      top

There's no problem with vignetting, even using a stack of ordinary 77mm filters.


Focus Breathing     performance      top

Focus breathing (the image changing size as focused) is mostly of interest to cinematographers who don't want the image changing size ("breathing") as the lens is focused among different subjects.

There is only the slightest bit of breathing. The image gets slightly smaller as focussed more closely.


Lateral Color Fringes     performance      top

There is only the tiniest bit of green-magenta lateral color fringing without a lens profile.

With a lens profile, there will be absolutely none.

This is excellent.


Macro     performance      top

Macro doesn't get very close. Here's the best you can get on full-frame at the close-focus distance:

Canon 400mm f/5.6 macro performance

Longines 23ZS at close-focus distance at f/5.6.

Canon 400mm f/5.6 macro performance

Crop from above at 100%. If this is about 6" (15cm) on your screen, printing the complete image at this same high magnification would result in a 40 x 60" (100 x 150 cm) print!

It doesn't get close, and it is super-sharp, and this is wide-open at f/5.6.

What looks like noise is the surface of the 60-year-old wristwatch.


Mechanics     performance      top

Canon 400mm f/5.6

Rear, Canon 400mm f/5.6 L, showing UC0423 date code. enlarge.

The Canon 400mm f/5.6 L is a jewel, built entirely of metal.




Rubber bumper on front.



Filter Threads






Focus Ring

Rubber covered metal.



Mostly metal.


Mid Barrel



Tripod Collar



Rear Barrel




Engraved metal plate.








Serial Number

Engraved into bottom rear of barrel near the mount, and filed with black paint.


Date Code

Printed on rear light baffle as shown above.

Mine has date code UC0423, meaning my sample was made in Canon's Utsunomiya plant in April 2014.


Rear Gasket (moisture seal at mount)



Noises When Shaken

Mild to moderate clunking.



Made in Japan.


Sharpness     performance      top

Image sharpness depends more on you than your lens, and lens sharpness doesn't mean much to good photographers. It's the least skilled hobbyists who waste the most time blaming fuzzy pictures on their lenses, while real shooters know that few photos ever use all the sharpness of which their lenses are capable due to subject motion and the fact that real subjects are rarely perfectly flat.

The Canon 400mm f/5.6 is very sharp, better than most Canon zooms. That's why people use it.

If you can't get an ultrasharp image from this lens, you're doing something wrong. It could be haze or heat shimmer in warm weather, or subject or camera motion, or the simple fact that there is no depth of field at f/5.6 at 400mm. See also Fixing unsharp images.

Here's Canon's MTF curve, which shows engineers just how nearly perfect it is:

Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L MTF Curve

Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L MTF Curve.


Sunstars     performance      top

With its straight 8-bladed diaphragm, this Canon 400mm f/5.6 makes 8-pointed sunstars on brilliant points of light, even at moderate apertures.

sunstar on Mercedes S63

Surveillance photo shot through house window, 12:25 AM, 22 December 2014. Canon 5D Mark III, Canon EF 400mm f/5.6 L, f/7.1 at 1/400 handheld at ISO 100, no lens profile used, Athentech Perfectly Clear v2.)


sunstar on Mercedes S63

Crop from above at 100%. If this is about 6" (15cm) on your screen, printing the complete image at this same high magnification would result in a 40 x 60" (100 x 150 cm) print!


Teleconverters     performance      top


Canon EF Extender 1.4x II

It works with the Canon EF Extender 1.4x II, making it a 560mm f/8.

Autofocus is slower, but at least it doesn't get lost or stop.

it is very sharp, although if you don't use a lens profile there can be some green-magenta lateral color fringes.

The combination becomes f/8, so only the center AF point works on my 5D Mk III and 7D Mk II.


Canon EF Extender 2x II

The Canon EF Extender 2x II makes this an 800mm f/11. Therefore there is no autofocus.

It's not quite as sharp this way, but if you need it, it works manually.

If you don't use a lens profile there can be some green-magenta lateral color fringes.


Compared         top

Sample Images   Intro   Specs   Performance

Compared   Usage   Recommendations   More

See Canon 400mm Lenses Compared.


Versus the 300mm f/4 IS

This 400mm is made even more nicely out of all metal. It's sharper, too, but lacks Image Stabilization.

It costs a little bit less and is a little longer and heavier.


Versus 100-400mm zooms

This 400/5.6 is significantly lighter than either of the 100-400mm zooms.

The new Canon EF 100-400mm L IS II focuses faster and much closer, and has fantastic image stabilization, but costs twice as much and weighs much more. They are just as sharp.

If you don't mind the size and weight and expense, get the new Canon EF 100-400mm L IS II. I did.


Versus 70-200mm zooms with converters

This lens is much sharper than any 70-200/2.8 and 2x converter.


Usage       top

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Compared   Usage   Recommendations   More


Canon 400mm f/5.6

Canon 400/5.6L. bigger.


Canon 400mm f/5.6

Controls, Canon 400mm f/5.6 L.


Use AF. In AF, it autofocuses, and you can grab the focus ring at any time for instant manual focus override.

MF is manual focus only and locks-out autofocus. Use this only if you don't want the AF system to try to focus.


Focus Range Limiter

Use the 3.5m-∞ range.

If your conditions are causing to the lens waste time "hunting" at close distances for focus, select the 8.5m-∞ range and you'll stop the lens from trying to focus closer than 8.5 meters (28 feet).


Recommendations       top

Sample Images   Intro   Specs   Performance

Compared   Usage   Recommendations   More

This lens is for practical nature photographers who need a long lens at a reasonable price with the highest optical quality

If you want a lightweight, sharp, high quality ultra-tele and are willing to forego the convenience of a zoom or image stabilization to get it, this is the lens.

This also weighs much less than 70-200/2.8 or 100-400mm zooms.

Birders love this lens, since they have to carry it around all day and it gives great results if you don't need IS.


More Information         top

Sample Images   Intro   Specs   Performance

Compared   Usage   Recommendations   More

Canon USA's page on the 400mm f/5.6.

Canon Camera Museum's page.


Help me help you         top

I support my growing family through this website, as crazy as it might seem.

The biggest help is when you use any of these links when you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live. It costs you nothing, and is this site's, and thus my family's, biggest source of support. These places have the best prices and service, which is why I've used them since before this website existed. I recommend them all personally.

If you find this page as helpful as a book you might have had to buy or a workshop you may have had to take, feel free to help me continue helping everyone.

If you've gotten your gear through one of my links or helped otherwise, you're family. It's great people like you who allow me to keep adding to this site full-time. Thanks!

If you haven't helped yet, please do, and consider helping me with a gift of $5.00.

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Thanks for reading!



Mr. & Mrs. Ken Rockwell, Ryan and Katie.


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21 December 2014