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This is, of course, a common question. (The common related question is whether to get the 100-400 or get a 300mm prime plus a TC.) I went through this thought process myself and ended up with the 100-400, and I'm very happy with the choice.
It is possible that the prime can produce slightly more resolution in some situations, so if you only need to shoot at 400mm it can be a fine choice.
The reasons that I chose the 100-400 and would choose it again for my own work include:
- While we might argue that the prime is potentially capable of slightly better resolution in some circumstances, the 100-400 is actually quite a sharp lens as well. I've made 20" x 30" prints from shots made with mine
- The 100-400 certainly wins on the basis of versatility. While I do often use it at 400mm, I also frequently use it at other focal lengths where its performance is even better than at 400mm. Its flexibility is a major advantage for my shooting.
- Especially with longer lenses, IS can be a real advantage since camera/lens vibration becomes a more critical issue both due to the magnification of the longer FLs and to the necessity to shoot at somewhat smaller apertures.
- Because of the zoom design of the 100-400, it packs quite small for a lens that can go so long.
In my experience the so-called "dust problem" is far more theoretical than real, and I haven't had an issue with it despite shooting in locations and situations where dust is around.
YMMV, of course.
I'm upgrading my toolbox and am ready to buy a longer tele. I've been giving a lot of consideration to the 400 F/5.6 prime and the 100-400 zoom. I used a zoom a little last year doing some racing shots at Lime Rock, and liked what I got from it, but after reading a lot of reviews on both lenses, I have yet to make a choice.
My concerns with the reviews: Prime- Pro; super sharp IQ. Con; Lack of IS
Zoom- Pro; wider range of focal length, has IS. Con; IQ not quite as sharp as prime, dust getting inside...Show more →