Yes, I know. The Canon 200-400mm f/4 ext 1.4 costs a little fortune (or, at least, as much as a little car). Knowing quite well that I was lucky to be able to get mine (I will never thank enough those who contributed so actively; They will recognize themselves), I also know that it will stay out of reach for most people, but since I have been using it (and even more during the two weeks spent in Kenya with it), I am sure that I did the right choice in investing into this huge tele-zoom lens.
I hesitated quite some time and, while I was waiting for its arrival, I admit I was somewhat frigthened that buying it may have been the biggest mistake of my photographer’s career. I am no longer frightened and I offer to share why using it was so positive.
Out of its price, it appears frighteningly heavy. I would not say this is a light lens (3.8kg, no less!) but it is astonishingly well balanced; Most probably because it has a large optical group in the back, near the camera body. I was coming from my habits with a Minolta 400mm f/4.5 (of -only- 1.8kg) which I learned to handle without a pod (to track fliying birds). With the help of the image stabilization (active in the viewfinder), I could shoot vultures and storks filling the frame at 400mm and smaller, faster birds (European rollers) in a wider frame. Just remember that you need some space around or the head of your neighbours will not appreciate your ample moves. And those who met me face-to-face understand that I am not really an athlete!
The zooming ring falls right in your hand and is ideally fluid with a nice run (not too short, not too long for my taste: A big 90° angle to go from 200mm to 400mm). The advantage of the integrated multiplier is resolutely recognizable. I thought that it could be a pleasant addition with a limited use. This is much more than that: The combination of the focal range and the multiplier teaches you to easily move from one range to the other. I quickly built a reflex of re-centering the focal range when reaching 400mm (one push of a finger on the multiplier lever and a small ring turn and I’m back at 400mm but in the middle of the available 280-560mm range; and back).
The materials used to build it are pleasant and re-assuring to handle (the sun visor is quite rigid even if clearly plastic-made). The case which -at launch time- have temporarily appeared as maybe a separate option was included. If it protects the lens well, removing it from the shipment would have reduced the price by nearly 600€ (at this level of price, every little thing could help) and moving this jewel around in so recognizable a Canon case would call for robbery. Who would be ready to put this case on the conveyor belt of an airport check-in counter? Seriously!
Speaking of image quality,I should let more competent people count lines, measure fringes, peep pixels and describe the technologies deployed by Canon. I can only say that all you se in the viewfinder looks great (f/4) but I would tell a little tale that I can share with you. Back from Kenya with plenty of photos (my finger is a bit heavy and the 70D continuous shooting is quite fast, even when I shoot completely immobile subjects). While reviewing the images, I tried to compare AF results of a leopard lying on the ground by merely zomming as much as possible on the eye of the animal and by checking the precision of the vein lines and iris colors.
Of course, this cannot stop you having fun shooting pictures (the leopard below really winked at me (you can see it by moving your mouse over the image – if you click, you will see his nice eye).
All in all, no regret. The Canon 200-400mm f/4 ext 1.4 is a sumptuous piece of optical photographic glass.