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Canon EF 400mm f/4 DO IS USM

Review Date: Mar 5, 2006 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $5,000.00 | Rating: 8 

Pros: Great performer optically. It's light and short. Has excellent IS. You definitely can take it on a hike with you, and you can hand hold it for hours on.
Very expensive given the focal length and speed. Somewhat low contrast in flat light. Not quite as sharp as the 300/2.8LIS with a 1.4x TC. This lens is not something for pixel peepers.

I've had a long, mixed relationship with this lens. I first encountered it in November 2002 when it was handed to me on a 1D body. Maybe you know the feeling: you are about to grab something that has a familiarity to you. Your muscles instinctively prepare for a certain mass, but surprisingly the object is much lighter or heavier than expected. In my case, the 400DO+1D pretty much flew into the air, it was so much lighter than I anticipated. That moment I knew I needed to have one.

I shoot wildlife occasionally. I don't really care for birds except for owls, so I don't need extremely long lenses. I have found a 300mm lens to be too short for my needs, as I used to own the 300/4LIS, and I rented the 300/2.8L quite often. On the other hand, I found the 300/2.8 to be too heavy, esp. with the 1.4x TC attached. Once I knew about the DO lens, I knew it was right for me. It had the right focal length, aperture, IS, and size/weight - like no other lens out there.

I managed to borrow one and found it to be a wee bit less sharp than a 300/2.8 + 1.4x TC, but it was better with the 1.4x TC than the 300 with the 2.0x, and it's a better 800 than the 300/2.8 ever will be. I bought a "demo" copy of the lens, but displayed buyer's remorse and reluctantly returned it for a full refund a week later.

After that I rented the 300/2.8 a few more times, but found that it stayed behind too often because of its size and weight. Eventually I bought a new one, and been in love with it ever since. I don't really have a reason to justify owning such an expensive lens since I use it only occasionally, but it's about as big as I am willing ever to carry around, and you can't rent it anywhere.


To illustrate the usefulness of this lens: in December 04 I went shoot Great Grey owls with a birder friend. He came equipped with the 600/4LIS, while I came with the 400DO + 1.4x TC. There's no doubt that by the end of the day, he had the superior images, in part because of his lens and in part due to experience. However, I had at least an order of magnitude more pictures than he did, simply because I could point the lens out of the car when I needed to, while he had to set up a big tripod before firing a single shot - by that time, the owl was often gone. In this respect, I'd rather take a handful of excellent images over one razor sharp one. Your mileage may vary.

I have used three different copies of the lens over the years and personally haven't seen much of a variation, but there are reports to the contrary.