I see Canon have announced the 200-400 f/4 L IS lens. The press release for the announcement only gives the basic details of the lens but it will surely replace the 100-400 f/4.5-5.6 L IS that has been with us since 1998. The 100-400 L IS is a popular lens and you’ll find it in the kit bags of many an aviation photographer because of its versatile focal range. I spent many years using one myself and used correctly it would produce some good results.
The 100-400 wasn’t perfect though, the push pull operation didn’t suit many and the announcement for the 200-400 doesn’t make mention of push pull so I’m expecting it to a more traditional twist design. The push pull design also made the lens vulnerable to dirt getting into the tension ring that would stop the ball bearings from moving. If not fixed this would end up stopping the lens from changing focal length, usually with some deep scratches into the barrel as well. If the 200-400 has reverted back to a twist design it wouldn’t have that drawback.
Having f/4 all the way through the focal range is a big plus but has meant losing the 100 to 200mm portion of the focal length and it will make the lens heavy. The 100-400 did struggle in low light conditions and once stopped down you would need a sunny day to get the auto focus system to keep up with the demands of shooting a fast jet. That extra stop should make a big difference.
The f/4.5 to f/5.6 on the 100-400 also meant you couldn’t use a 1.4x extender (as Canon likes to call their teleconverters) because it would take the aperture to f/8 where the xxxD and xxD cameras couldn’t autofocus (the 1D range could but the AF was so slow it wasn’t worth doing). The 200-400 with its f/4 would be able to use an extender but Canon has done something a bit different on that front, they’ve built in the 1.4x extender!
I would expect the lens will have a switch that will enable the 1.4x extender. Flicking the switch would change the lens from 200-400 f/4 to a 280-560 f/5.6. With the extender built in the light path should have been designed with the extender in mind. This should mean the hit you take on image quality should be reduced.
The downside? I suspect it will be the price! Looking at the current crop of lenses Canon have released…..
….those are some big numbers and in most cases about 75% increase on the model it replaced. With that in mind a figure toward £2000 would come to mind if the pattern followed but this lens isn’t a reworking of the original design. Nikon’s version, the 200-400 f/4 VR II, weighs in at £5000 I’d suggest you brace yourself when the price is revealed!