Canon EF 400mm F/5.6 L USM Lens Review

The Canon EF 400mm F/5.6 L USM Lens is simply an amazing lens. It's easy and fun to use, and it really feels good in my hands. Introduced in 1993, this EF 400mm F/5.6 L lens is Canon's least expensive L lens in their 400mm line up and it is one of the most affordable 400mm in the industry.

I bought the lens primarily for shooting birds and zoo wildlife. It was not my first choice, in fact it didn't even cross my mind. At that time, I wanted to get a zoom, so my choices were the Canon EF 100-400mm F/4-5.6L IS USM, Sigma 100-300mm F/4 EX, Sigma 150-500, Sigma 120-400mm. I was leaning towards the Canon 100-400mm and the Sigma 100-300mm F/4. Until one day when I was at the canon usa website, I came across two super telephoto prime lenses, the Canon EF 300mm F/4L IS USM and the EF 400mm F/5.6L USM and right there and then, I knew that the 400mm F/5.6 is exactly what I need.


The Canon EF 400mm F/5.6L is not a fast lens at F/5.6, it has no image stabilization and it is quite old having been born in 1993. The one thing it's good at is producing sharp images. The quality of the photos from this lens is just excellent.. Thanks to one Super UD-glass element and one UD-glass element. The built-in lens hood is a nice addition, I really like. With just a short twist and pull you have an instant lens hood. I also appreciate that Canon included a detacheable tripod mount and a nicely padded bag. The tripod mount is compatible with the Canon EF 70-200mm F/4L IS USM. I also like the wide rubberized focus ring which is really smooth to use. Sadly this 400mm F/5.6L is only partially sealed which means it only has a moderate dust and moisture resistance unlike the EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM which has a water and dust proof construction. And the other thing that others may find dissapointing is the closes focusing distance of ths lens is3.5m or 11.5 ft. Forget about taking photos of something close to you.

The Canon EF 400mm F/5.6L has 7 elements in 6 groups, and uses an Inner focusing system with USM making the Autofocus really fast and silent. It uses the usual 77mm filter which is typically common and it accepts 1.4x and 2x tele-converters. This lens is not too big at 90x257mm(10 inches long) and not too heavy, weighing only 2.8 lbs. In fact the lens feels good in my hands and I can shoot with it handheld without a problem provided the light is good. Like all Canon L lenses the build quality of the 400 F/5.6L is excellent, the outer barrel is made of metal




  • No Image Stabilization.
  • Not weather resistant


Advantages/Reason to get this lens

  • Excellent / Sharp Images – The 400mm F/5.6L is greatly known for producing sharp images.
  • Price – It is one of the most affordable L Lens in the 400mm line up.
  • Light – Because of it's lightweight, it's handholdable.
  • Excellent build quality and ergonmics.
  • Silent / Fast AF because of it's ring type USM drive
  • Accepts 1.4x and 2x tele-converters
  • Built-in lens hood.
  • Detachable Tripod Mount that is compatible with my EF 70-200mm F/4L IS USM


Why I choose this?

  • At 400mm it is much sharper than the EF 100-400. The Luminous Landscape has a great article comparing this two lenses.(Canon's Forgotten 400)
  • It is lighther than the EF 100-400mm
  • I already have a EF 70-200mm IS which I really love and my go to lens on events and other engagements.
  • It is cheaper than the EF 100-400mm. 
  • Perfect for bird photography and occasional trip to the zoo


I use the Canon EF 400mm F/5.6L USM primarily for photographing birds, I'm really happy with this lens, now I can get close up shots of our tiny bird friends here. This lens is ideal for wildlife photography, I've use on my occasional trip to the zoo, and I'm really happy with the results.  Do I feel I need IS, I agree that IS really helps, I have it on my 70-200mm, but I really don't miss it on the 400mm F/5.6L. What I do is I shoot in Shutter Priority and I always shoot with a minimum of 400-500/sec. On a bright day, I set my ISO to 400 but if I feel that light can be challenging, I switch just switch my camera to use Auto ISO and set the max ISO to 1200 or 1600 if needed. I really don't worry about the aperture, this lens is sharp even at it's widest F/5.6. With regards to ISO, I not too worried, with the advancement in camera technology and with vast  array of noise removal software products that we have now it's not a big problem anymore.



There are a lot of lenses in these focal length, from other manufacturers, but I must say that this lens is probably one of the best. If you are looking for a lens in the 400mm range this is one to consider.  To summarize it all, it has excellent optics, it will give you excellent sharp photos, the build quality,  mechanical quality is just plain excellent. The only downside to this lens is the lack of IS, which in my opinion can be controlled, you just have to know how to use your gear, and once you learn it, you can use it anyway you want without a problem. I can highly recommend this lens to anyone looking for a super telephoto lens with excellent image quality, fast auto focus and great optics.


Where to buy?

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4 thoughts on “Canon EF 400mm F/5.6 L USM Lens Review

  1. David Shingler

    A very concise and helpful review. I have a 400 L 5.6 and my only problem is getting good focus at long distance. Am I expecting too much? Any advice would be appreciated.

    1. Simplyness


      Hi how are you? Thank you for your message. You mentioned that you cannot get “good focus at long distance”. In cases like these, I would recommend using a monopod. In good day light I shoot in Aperture Priority and set the aperture to F/5.6. At sunset or when it starts to get dark I will switch to Shutter Priority or Manual and shoot at a minimum of 1/600 I also set my ISO to Auto ISO.

      I really love the lens, I used it in tandem with my EF 70-200mm F/2.8L for high school sports, birds and wildlife. Just remember to always shoot above 1/400, most of the time I set my ISO to auto ISO and never worry about it. When I’m using it for daytime sports (High School Football / Soccer) I start at 1/2000 and work my way down to 1/600 when it starts to get dark. I used the same method when shooting birds and other wildlife and sometimes I use a speedlite for fill flash or to stop the action. You may also want to try using the Better Beamer Flash X-Tender to extend your flash output.


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