Although Canon announced the lens’ development in February 2011, subsequently showing a prototype at CP+, Yokohama Japan, working models were first ‘seen’ during the London Olympics in 2012 before being only officially announced recently in May 2013. At $11,800, the lens is unashamedly targeting professionals and well-heeled enthusiasts looking to use it for sports and wildlife.
Without the extender in place the new lens achieves a DxOMark score of 24 points, dropping to 17 points with in place which is good for a telephoto-zoom but still behind less extreme models.
Achieving an excellent DxOMark score of 24 points overall and 19P-Mpix for sharpness mounted on the EOS 5D Mk III, the lens performs very well, edge-to-edge, but the image quality drops noticeably when the 1.4X extender is engaged. Then it’s just slightly the ahead of the $999 Sigma 120-400mm F4.5-5.6 DG APO OS HSM, in terms of sharpness at least. In all other respects; Distortion, Vignetting and Chromatic Aberration are all very low indeed. Slightly more than one stop (1.2EV) is lost in Transmission when the extender is used.
When compared against Canon’s recently introduced redesigned 300mm and 400mm f/2.8 super-telephotos without the extender in use, we can see just how good a performer the Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4 really is. While it can’t quite match them in outright sharpness (it is very close at each focal length setting) the other metrics are equally low. In fact, the zoom lens has a less lateral chromatic aberration than either of the other two, though bear in mind the two primes are a stop faster at full-aperture.
Despite the desirability, with the price close to twice that of the rival Nikon equivalent the (as yet untested) $6,700 AF-S Nikkor 200-400mm f/4G ED VR II, this lens will remain largely inaccessible to most Canon users. However, for those that can afford it, or decide to rent it for occasional use, the Canon 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4X offers image quality that’s close to the best in class, along with the convenience and versatility that’s otherwise lacking with those fixed focal length equivalents.