“Impossible?:” The Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x Lens « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

“Impossible?:” The Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x Lens

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This is an image of a prototype of the recently announced Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x lens.

“Impossible?:” The Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x Lens

Five days ago Canon announced that it is developing an EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x lens which will feature a built-in 1.4x teleconverter. With the converter engaged, it becomes a 280-560mm F5.6 lens. Designed for sports and wildlife photographers the lens will feature weatherproof construction and is scheduled for launch later this year.

My comments: My understanding is as follows: with the launch “later this year,” this amazing new lens will not be available until some time in 2012. About four years ago I was part of a small group of Explorers of Light who met with the three top Canon lens designers at a brain-storming session in Lake Success, NY. My #1 suggestion was the development of a 200-400mm IS L lens to compete directly with the Nikon 200-400mm VR lens. Though it took a while, it is rewarding to see this lens well past the drawing board stage.

Many were stunned by the fact that the lens will feature a built-in 1.4X teleconverter. Robert O’Toole titled his e-mail, “Wow! What the?” I was informed that crack BPN Avian moderator Randy Stout said simply “It is not possible,” when told about the lens by one of the participants on the SW FLA President’s Week IPT. (Randy is one of my three great co-leaders; Denise Ippolito and Dan Cadieux fill out the team.) I do remember Robert O’toole suggesting the possibility of a lens with a built-in TC years ago. I have no clue as to how the telecoverter will be engaged but it will surely be convenient. Among nature photographers, this new lens will be of greatest value for folks traveling to Africa and for folks photographing big game including bears where the crying need for a Canon lens in this focal length range has existed for too long.

For me there are two huge questions: How much will the lens weigh? What will the Minimum Focusing Distance be? I would imagine that the lens will weigh 7-8 pounds. I have no clue as to the MFD but am hoping for something in the 6-7 foot range…. That would make the lens great for butterflies, dragonflies, frogs, medium sized flowers and the like. Others are of course asking about the price. I cannot imagine that the lens will be priced at less than $9,000 though I saw a report of something in the range of $7,000. The lens will surely feature the amazing four-stop IS system as well as three IS modes both as in the new Series II super-telephoto lenses.

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The new Canon 2-4 will be a boon for those photographing coastal Brown Bear at close range. Brown (Grizzly) Bear mother and cub, Katmai National Park, AK.

Here is the official Press Release:

London, UK, 7th February 2011 – Canon today announces the development of a telephoto zoom lens featuring an integrated focal length extender – the EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXTENDER 1.4x. The lens will be displayed for the first time during CP+, held in Yokohama, Japan.

Designed for Canon’s leading range of EOS Digital SLR cameras, the new lens will be an ideal addition for sports and wildlife photographers, offering exceptional flexibility with a built-in 1.4x extender that creates an increased focal range of 280 – 560mm.

Perfect for photographers who require high performance, fast aperture and a flexible telephoto range, the EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXTENDER 1.4× will enable photographers to shoot a greater breadth of subjects using a single lens, delivering the best possible image quality at all focal lengths.

Developed as a new addition to Canon’s acclaimed L-series of professional lenses, the new lens will offer an unsurpassed combination of versatility, first-class optical performance and an enhanced weather-proof construction. The model will be released as part of Canon’s continued development of its EF lens line-up, offering enhanced performance and improved functions that cater for the needs of photographers from beginners through to professionals.

The EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXTENDER 1.4x is scheduled for launch during 2011.

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The need for a long Canon telephoto zoom lens has existed for too long. Common Zebras jousting, Lake Manyara National Park, Tanzania. Click here if there is a photographic safari in your future.

Shopper’s Guide

If you are considering the purchase of one or more pieces of major photographic gear, it would behoove you to check out our Shopper’s Guide here.

35 comments to “Impossible?:” The Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x Lens

  • avatar bill butchet

    I finally broke down and bought 100-400, its a love hate relationship. Focus is slow when tracking birds in flight. Is sharp in good light, though lacks the pop of my 300 4.0. Is convient though. I think if you need more reach and focus speed a 400 5.6 maybe better. Cant wait for canon to come up with a 500 5.6, or a 500 6.3 or even a 200-500 that is less than $3000 dollars would be awesome for us ameutures. And or make a prosumer body that will autofocus a 5.6 lens with an extender.

    • avatar Chris

      The 100-400mm was a ground breaking lens. Its my most used lens thanks to it size and flexibility. But its still 1990’s techcnology. Where is the mark II?

      PS: Yes, I am jealous of the guys with the black 200-400mm F/4.

  • avatar Ssk

    Hi There,

    I’m still could find any release date for this lens… any idea when this will be released..?


  • I think they may just incorporate the in-built TC technology from the video lenses. Any idea at what sort of a price this thing may go at, im scared of the recent Canon prices. 😀

  • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

    Hey Ken, Careful readers cringe when the encounter folks who cannot write a sentence…. IS with the shorter lenses is also amazing; many folks report making sharp images at shutter speeds as slow as 1/2 sec. with the 24-105…..

    There is a picture of my late friend Hugh P. Smith with the old 500mm f/4.5 in the blog post here.

  • I imagine the built-in TC is activated by moving an internal element or group between two positions (slide lever on lens side possibly). Makes me wonder if the lens couldn’t have been designed instead to be a 200-560 f/4-5.6. And why neither I nor anyone else thought of this cool idea before!

    Regarding the value of IS, I saw a ridiculous difference in image sharpness when I went from the old 500 f/4.5L to the 500 f/4L IS. That sold me on IS; at least for the longer lenses. I haven’t seen much difference with the shorter ones but also have minimal experience with them.

    I find the grammar and spelling discussion amusing. I’m in an online class right now and one student makes regular spelling and word choice errors. I correct her. She gets mad. The instructor remarked how she considers it a gift when someone corrects her. I agree. If I’m doing something wrong, and no one points it out, I’ll never know or be able to fix it! Plus, I find these errors very distracting and have to imagine I’m not alone.

  • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

    Mr. Butcher, Two things:

    #1: You pretty much get what you pay for.
    #2: As far as your “writting,” if you are going to post lengthy comments it would seem a good idea to use proper grammar, to use the correct word, and to spell most of the words right, else most folks will not read what you have to say….

  • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

    Mike, There is a lot that I cannot afford either. Why waste time lamenting??? Learn to make good images with the gear that you can afford.

  • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

    Bill Richardson, I am gonna try to do some resolution/sharpness testing to compare the 400 DO vs the 70-200 f/2.8L IS II with the 2X III TC and then sell the DO lens if the results are as expected 🙂

  • avatar Mike Damoth

    Sorry, I can’t get excited about this lens. It may be a great lens; but, it will be great only for those that can afford it. And, I will not be able to afford it.

  • avatar Bill Richardson

    Oh yeah, I meant 70-200f2.8v2 (not f4) in my prior post. (taking lots of cold meds today!)

  • avatar Bill Richardson

    BTW, I also just sold my super sharp 400DO since I now have the new 70-200f2.8 with teleconverters. I have found the new 70-200 with the old v2 1.4TC very sharp and pretty good with the 2x v2 also. Wondering if it would be worthwhile upgrading to the v3 TCs? I just did not use the 400DO much and could never fit it into my carry on for trips. The new 70-200 and my 500 are pretty much perfect for travel.

  • avatar Bill Butcher

    I wasn’t commenting it as a writting lesson, but to show that there
    are many,many people out there like me, and way to many i believe
    based on and judging from all the blogs, posts, materials that are sold
    on photography that wish to be able to have some lens that offer some reach (500 or higher)
    that do not break the bank. It’s the folks like us that support many
    of the pro photographers,as well as canon, Nikon and the
    like, through our purchases of lower to middle class/ grade equipment, books, videos, etc,but cannot afford a several thousand dollar plus price lens to get more reach. We are the ones that buy all the magazines, books, videos etc. So why doesn’t cannon start cattering to us a bit, give us something like a 200-500 would be nice in a price range that is affordable , or do we need to jump to Tamron? Heck even a 100-400 that is sharp at 400 at 5.6 , and works with a 1.4 tc
    After all isn;t that the market these are leaned towards. Why should we buy items that do not work .
    i have been told that a 400 5.6 with an extender will not autofocus correctly on many of the cannon middle to low end bodies, even the 7d if memory is right. Now isn’t that the market that these items are marketed to, people like me, that don’t know a lot about photography but am trying to get the best image i can with what i can afford. If i could afford a better $3000 plus body and a $5000 plus lens would that not make me a pro, or at least one would think. I really don’t believe that when they sell a 100-400 they are marketing to the pro in mind but more to the guy on a budget, and don’t get me wrong that is a fine lens for the price. Now just pop out a 200-500 similar type lens for between $1200- $1600 and i think we may have a winner. anyhow who knows, i guess cannon isn’t listening to us here at the bottom of the photographic pecking order. Hello Tamron.
    Now if i had the bank and was a pro the 200-400 4.0 with Is would be a beauty though, i don’t understand the IS though just added cost from all i have heard and read, and from personal experience IS to me doesn’t do much and the heavier the lens as this one will be , you will need a tripod for sure. I have been told over and over IS on larger lens is over kill as you will use a tripod anyhow. I know with the 100-400 and 300 when i use IS images maybe slightly sharper if i reasonably hold the camera still and shoot fast enough, owe well if i am shooting faster why the IS again. Also this 200-400 looks awesome but when you use the 1.4 fuction won;t it just end up being a 5.6 or 6.3 lens at 560mm, that would limit it a bit ,but still pretty versatile. Please Canon i am crying here make us a 200-500. for us the folks on a stiff budget.
    Thanks Bill

  • avatar Bill Richardson

    Wow, that is amazing. I have often wished for a really sharp 200-400 Canon lens. (Unlike you, I have always disliked the 100-400. Both of mine were not sharp above 300mm) I also have dreamed about a built in TC but nnever thought it would come to pass. I just hope it really is sharp and the AF point of focus is consistent throughout the zoom range. The new 500 sounds great too. And the existing 800 is a lens I would like to get. And I absolutely love my 70-200 f4 v2. Canon is really coming on strong. Good thing the stock market has rebounded so I can afford some of these things! ;-0

  • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

    Hi Bill, Thanks for stopping by. You are spending too much time dreaming and not enough practicing your skills with the gear that you have. The 100-400 is a fine lens. Contrary to the comments of the internet geniuses it is sharp wide open and it is sharp at 400mm.

    ps: you might wish to proofread your posts before submitting them as your two posts here contain many errors….

  • avatar Bill Butcher

    owe when i said I sale or made another sale in my previous post/comment i didn;t mean that i made an actual cash sale i am not a camera salesman persay or am i? Anyone that is out shooting is a salesman for that company and for photography in general something we need to remember, be respectful, and helpful to others as we are representing photography and the brand we carry just like Nascar.
    I never physically sold a camera but through my actions i helped others settle their choice of brand, something i think the big brands this day and age with all the advertising etc..often forget this fact. People buy what they see in use. I had many people when i was walking the sidelines of a local football game shooting friends of my daughters, Mostly parents of kids playing and they would walk up to me and say hey what are you shooting with? what do you think of it? what do you like about it? or don;t like about it, what lens, what body do you use? sure it would interupt the shooting of the game but it pays to be helpful to people. Then at the next game i would see that same parent on the sidelines a new canon in tow and all the other gear to go with it an ex580,1.4 tc, camera bag, etc sometimes money is not always made by high end sales but by a lot of little purchaes, that could have very easily went into Nikon’s pocket should canon forget . Canon made another sale, because of people out there like us, representing and being helpful to other people, photographers tend to be this way ,very nice and helpful, even those that make money from the craft or selling their book, video, or work, will most usually always take time out to answer a question or two, that is what is so great about photographers. and it’s canon, nikon and a few others that benefit from all this free advice and advertising without kicking something back to those small town folks out there that cannot aford a high end $1200 plus piece of glass , but would like to have something similar that would offer near equal image qaulity at a fraction of that cost.i guess enter Tamron..but not really that close…

  • avatar Bill Butcher

    Wow what a cool idea, but way to much money for a glorified Ameuture like me trying to make better pictures with more reach, but at less money.
    I wonder how well this lens would have been without the added cost and weight of the extender. Would it have worked better than the 100-400? You read all the horror stories about the 100-400 being soft at the long end maybe a 200-400 would have reminied this.
    I think canon would do better to come out with a 200-500 or a 500 that is 5.6 to effectivly lower cost by making it a 5.6, while given you added reach of the 500, for those of us that cannot afford a real long lens a 500 or longer. For canon to make a 200-400 with an ext seems over kill for those that can already afford a long lens, why not just use your 600?
    Canon needs to focus on there amueture shooters a bit i think, make some lens, and camera bodies that are affordable, functionable to the middle of the road guy, that offer nice results. In this day in age you shouldn’t have to break the bank to get good equipment as the cost of electronics is cheaper than ever. I suppose that i will never gareden the skill sto be a pro, or the equipment for which to do so, but i still would like the chance with affordable equipment to be able to capture something i can hang on my wall and be proud of. I spend ocuntless hours in the woods, studying and shooting wildlife and birds, but have nothing to come close to the images of those with a huge budget and hi end gear, that is sad. Come on Cannon think of us sometime the guy with a wife and kids, a mortgage, car payments and debt up to his eyeballs, but wants to get away for a few hours out in the quiet of the outdoors sitting back in his blind, relaxing and trying to enjoy his hobby photography without having to worry about how to pay for all that high priced gear to allow him to get closer to the subject and shoot some fantatsic images he can hang on his wall and show off when friends come by and say hey i shot that with my canon –d , and a 200-500 5.6L Lens and it didn;t break the bank. Then he would go out and buy one as well. I have sold lots of cameras and lens to folks in like manner by word of mouth, they see you shooting and want to know what you are using, and bam another sale. I am sure Nikon wouldn;t mind. More of the people i know bought a camera not by looking at shots in a magazine or on the web done by a professional with a high end gear, but by watching the small town local guy shoot and want to copy him. I used to shoot sports for a small town local paper, i volunteered to do it, no pay just for the excitement, and challenge of high school sports. The paper had some folks that i saw my work, thought it was good and asked if i would submit shots so i did. I shot them all with a canon 20d and a cheap Tokina 70-200 2.8 old photo lens i bought used because i couldn’t afford the high tag on the canon 70-200 2.8, my results were less than stunning but with a lot of editing became exceptable. I dreamed of owning the 70-200 L 2.8 But never could afford one. Sure would have ct down on editing and missed shots i am sure. Anyhow parents would see my pictures and ask for copies, and want to know how i shot them with what.i would tell them i think canon picked up about 10 camera bodiy sales right then with lens. As did Tokina , i still dream of canon L glass, and finally saved up money took me about 8 years but i finally bought a canon 300 4.0 L, wanted a 400 or longer but not in the budget as of yet. Nice glass though i still need to learn to use it. Someday i would hope that canon can make some high image qaulity making glass as an affordable price for other guys like me, that would be great, and maybe an impossible dream but one can dream right.

  • avatar Leonard Malkin

    To Allan – I know, I was being facetious. E.g. of the top 10 winners in a recent Audubon contest, 4, including the grand prize, used the 100-400. The others included a Canon 400, 500 and 600 and then some Njkons . The photographer does seem to make a difference.

  • avatar Ray

    I wish they would make this with the new 2 X III that would be amazing and not have so much overlap.

  • […] “Impossible?:” The Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x Lens […]

  • Artie,
    This is what I wrote when I read the announcement for the 200-400mm…but like everyone I’m anxious to see what they’ll charge for it, and what it will weigh.

    Given that my longest lens is the 400mm DO, I can see the potential to replace it with the new 200-400mm. But for someone who owns a longer telephoto (I don’t need anything longer at the moment…I would like a longer lens, but I know for what I’m doing right now 400mm is plenty) the 70-200mm with the 2x is a startlingly good should-slung combo in conjunction with a big lens on a tripod. So, I do have to wonder if Canon simply missed the opportunity to make a lot of sales by not introducing this lens four or five years ago.


  • avatar Alan Lillich


    Try looking at all the great work of talented photographers using mainly the 100-400. Daniel Cadieux and Aidan Briggs are two that I think use that lens a lot. Take a look at all the great work done a decade or two ago on film – like in the original ABP. A lens like the 100-400 is far better than folks had then, not to mention the difficulties of exposure with film. Expensive superteles make some things easier, they are not the only route to success.


  • avatar Leonard Malkin

    Re the new $9500 500 and (probably) $7000 200-400: Now good bird pictures will only be taken by pros or wealthy amateurs. Think of all the talented photographers who will have to rely on the 400 or 100-400 and settle for inferior photos.

  • avatar Chris L.

    Wow! But with the pricing on this as well as on the new 500mm, I think I am sticking with my current 500mm/f4IS and my 100-400mm. I keep wishing that Canon would upgrade the 100-400mm. It really defined that zoom catagory, but that’s 10+ years ago. Now Nikon and the aftermarket folks have a similar entries. Some newer glass and the newer IS would be really nice for $1,500-$2,000 range for the next 100mm-400mm F5.6 .

  • avatar Alan Lillich


    I’m more optimistic than you about the weight. The Nikon 500 weighs 8.6 lbs, the 200-400 7.4 lbs, the 300 6.4 lbs. The old Canon 500 and 300 are 8.5 lbs and 6 lbs, about the same as Nikon. The new Canon 500 and 300 are 7 lbs and 5.2 lbs. Ignoring the TC, there’s reason to hope the Canon 200-400 would be about 6 lbs. A stand-alone 1.4 TC is about 1/2 lb, the built-in one should add less. I’m hoping the Canon 200-400 will be between 6 and 6.5 lbs.

    Nikon has new-ish versions of the 500, 200-400, and 300 priced at $8500, $6800, and $5800. Canon’s new 500 and 300 are $9500 and $7000, so maybe the Canon 200-400 will intro at $8000 to $8500.

    Based on our experience with the Nikon 200-400 on D300 and D700, with and without a TC14, I think the Canon lens will be fantastic on a 1.6 crop body. Can’t wait to get one. Then to just save for a 600 for the long stuff. I have to admit though that A 70-200 plus 500 is a very interesting alternative.


  • avatar Keith Reeder

    That’s weird – Joel’s comment definitely wasn’t visible when I posted mine, or I wouldn’t have posted.

  • Can’t they weigh the dang thing? 😉 I need to know! Thnx for the report. This would answer my equipment weight problems. I’ve always loved ‘hand held one lens days’ and 7 lbs. would be workable!!! Dream lens for me.

  • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

    All, I did not know that video cameras had built in TCs.

    David, the 70-200 f/2.8L IS with the 2X TC had replaced both the 400 DO and the 100-400 for me. The only thing that I lose is the 560mm of the 400 DO + a 1.4TC. I will sell the DO after I have some time to do resolution testing comparing the 400 DO alone to the 70-200/2X III combo. What sort of test would you recommend?

    David. Please post a link to your post 🙂

  • Hey, Artie,
    I wrote a brief piece on this lens on my blog a few days ago and I agree that Canon has said very little–the announcement is as bare-bones as when they announced they were developing a new 500mm and 600mm lens last fall, i.e. no weight and no MSRP. What I am hoping is that it’s good enough (and priced comparably) to replace the 400mm f/4 DO, because I can’t imagine justifying owning or traveling with both!

    Oh, and as for the built-in TC, I think it’s an interesting feature, but here’s the real question: will it be able to mount another teleconverter on the back, so that another 1.4x TC can be tacked on (to get to 784mm f/8 or 800mm f/8 using the 2x TC without the internal 1.4)? I suppose only time will tell.

  • avatar Keith Reeder

    Re: the impossibility of an in-lens TC: some dedicated video camera lenses have had just this for a while now, so it’s not only possible, but it’s proven technology.

    For example: http://tinyurl.com/4nwdrwl

  • avatar M. Bruce

    It seems like an amazing dream lens for sure, but I concur with all of your concerns – but for me $7K would be a show stopper.

  • avatar Joel DeYoung

    Why would a built in 1.4 extender be impossible? Broadcast lenses have used built in extenders for years. (http://www.usa.canon.com/CUSA/assets/app/pdf/bctv/HJ18ex28B.pdf)

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