marlon du toit, wild eye, photo safari, canon, 400 f2.8

The 400mm f2.8 – A super-telephoto lens to cover all needs

Marlon duToit All Authors, Marlon 22 Comments

As it stands, I have 53 772 images in my Lightroom catalogue that have been captured with my Canon 400mm F2.8 IS L.

Yes it’s official – I love my 400!

marlon du toit, wild eye, photo safari, canon, 400 f2.8

In the month of May 2012, I took the next step and bought my 400. It was a dream come true, something I had only dreamed of at the time. I am not kidding, I literally had dreams about it.
I have never looked back & I have never had the need for another super-telephoto lens quite like I have for the 400.

This is a lens favored by many professional sports photographers. Its got just the right focal length & its ability to deal with low-light is exceptional.

When I bought my 400 all those years ago, very few wildlife photographers were interested in it. In fact, a good friend & reputable photographic guide insisted I sell the lens within the sports photographers circuit, and get my hands on a 500. Boy am I glad I never did that. The funny thing is, this friend of mine recently sold his 600 and yes you guessed it, he is now the proud owner of a 400.

marlon du toit, wild eye, photo safari, canon, 400 f2.8

Many wildlife photographers have made the shift to the 400 as their prime long lens over the last couple of years. Why would you not? There are a ridiculous amount of benefits, most of which I will share with you below.

I know that the topic of what the best lens is, can be rather sensitive. I am by no means suggesting that other lenses are not as good, but I am merely wanting the showcase the beauty, versatility and incredible image quality that the 400 does produce.

The 400 in Low Light

marlon du toit, wild eye, photo safari, canon, 400 f2.8

1/125, ISO 5000, f/2.8

The ability of this lens to perform when the light starts to fade, is unbelievable. It sucks out every little ray of remaining light & provides you with images that not only have enough light on your subject, but also oozes with contract & beautiful tones.

Typically you would be shooting at f2.8 to gain as much light as possible, and this gives you a beautiful bokeh to add.

marlon du toit, wild eye, photo safari, canon, 400 f2.8

1/100, ISO 6400, f/2.8

In some instances, similar to the above images, if you can hold it steady enough you’ll be able to photograph in situations you’d never imagine.

For this elephant image above, it was so dark that everyone else had already started with their sundowners. I spotted this elephant bull and the temptation was just too much.

This lens allows you to shoot scene’s that nobody else can, especially when coupled with a camera body able to cope with higher ISO. The 300mm is capable of sharp images under poor light, but that additional 100mm makes a huge difference, especially when looking for closer portraits – like the lion above.

marlon du toit, wild eye, photo safari, canon, 400 f2.8

1/50, ISO 5000, f/2.8

The 400 for environment imagery

marlon du toit, wild eye, photo safari, canon, 400 f2.8

A lens with as much focal length as the 400mm would rarely be considered for landscapes. In fact, to shoot as scene such as the above, you would far more likely reach for your 700-200 or 24-70. That would change the entire feel of the image – not necessarily in a bad way, but I love what a super telephoto such as the 400 brings to the table in terms of capturing scenes filled with more environment.

All is required from you, is to take a few steps back and creating a little more distance. The results are staggering. The lens has the ability to deal with potential flare from shooting into the sun, and provides you with ample contrast & sharpness.

marlon du toit, wild eye, photo safari, canon, 400 f2.8

marlon du toit, wild eye, photo safari, canon, 400 f2.8

CG0T4263

As you can see, by allowing yourself a little more distance between you & the scene you intend to capture, you’re able to take stunning images not often expected for a lens with this much focal length.

I have also taken many panoramas with the 400, and stitched them together in Lightroom – a very easy process & something no doubt worth exploring.

The result are always beautiful, and I actually find myself looking for opportunities to capture more such pano’s with the 400mm. Once again, it’s just a matter of creating that distance.

The image below was created with 11 images – later cropped to about 8 or 9 images in total.

C24T1237-Pano

The 400 & that oh-so-beautiful bokeh

marlon du toit, wild eye, photo safari, canon, 400 f2.8

marlon du toit, wild eye, photo safari, canon, 400 f2.8

Now I know there are many lenses out there with the ability to create beautiful bokeh. Not disputing that.

But, are there many lenses out there with the variety of the 400, AND still has the ability to produce an images such as the above one? I can’t think of many.

You also need not always shoot at f/2.8 in order to blur that back & foreground. By positioning yourself with enough distance between your subject and the next solid piece of background, you are creating your own bokeh. That means you can still shoot at apertures to allow enough detail on your subject, yet that background is still as smooth as butter.

The cheetah above was photographed at F/5.6

marlon du toit, wild eye, photo safari, canon, 400 f2.8

As you can see, even with a huge amount of “clutter” surrounding the leopard above, I was still able to emphasize the beauty of the cats face & focus by using a wider aperture. Even on the image above, I have not yet opened this lens up as wide as it could go. It was shot at f/4

You need to be very careful though – shooting with so much focal length, combined with the small amount of focal area produced by the wide aperture, you can easily end up with key areas of your image not in focus. You need to make 110% sure that your focal point is aimed at the exact area you intend to have sharp & in focus.

With a moving subject – like the leopard above – you need to be continuously focusing to ensure absolute sharpness.

F64T7908

As you can see, my intended area of focus – the eye – is perfectly sharp!

marlon du toit, wild eye, photo safari, canon, 400 f2.8

Even is bright daylight this lens performs beautifully. These hyenas were squabbling over a carcass in the Masai Mara, and the light was already rather harsh. The bokeh I was able to produce was fantastic & isolated my subjects perfectly, and the detail in the darker areas still remain intact.

This shot was taken at f/6.3, yet that beautiful smooth background is still very evident!

marlon du toit, wild eye, photo safari, canon, 400 f2.8

In a type of image where you intend to blur the background & foreground in order to enhance your subject, this lens can simply not go wrong.

It has the ability to provide you with a decent focal length, and also provides you with a wide-enough aperture range allowing you the creativity to isolate your subject in exactly the way that you intend to.

marlon du toit, wild eye, photo safari, canon, 400 f2.8

marlon du toit, wild eye, photo safari, canon, 400 f2.8

marlon du toit, wild eye, photo safari, canon, 400 f2.8

The 400 & night-time photography

marlon du toit, wild eye, photo safari, canon, 400 f2.8

It’s a ridiculously good lens for capturing subjects after dark whilst making use of artificial light.

Wether the light is produced from the back, the front or the side, this lens sucks up all of that light provided & consistently provides you with incredible results.
As with any low-light photographic opportunities, you need to keep your lens stable & steady, a kind of no-brainer really but worth mentioning again.

marlon du toit, wild eye, photo safari, canon, 400 f2.8

wild eye, south luangwa, raymond stone, guest blog

You will absolutely not be dissapoiunted by this lens after dark.

The long focal length also means you need not be right on top of your subject in order to get the shot. It also means that you don’t have to have a huge amount of light falling on a predator – making the experience alot easier on your subject.

The 400 & teleconverters

marlon du toit, wild eye, photo safari, canon, 400 f2.8

Photographers often shy away from converters. They argue that there’s almost always a significant loss of quality and they would rather not take the risk.

Out of the over 50 000 images I have in my library taken with my 400, over 16000 were taken using a 1.4x converter.

Yip, pretty big number hey?

I never use a 2x converter. I have done so in the past but have noticed a drop in quality during low-lit situations, a time of day that I really enjoy photographing in.
With a 1.4x converter I get 560mm on a full frame body, and that all at a widest aperture of f/4. How awesome is that? This still allows me to shoot in low light, even WITH the converter attached.

_89K0368

As you can see, there’s hardly any drop in quality – at least not enough for my eye to notice – and you get a great 560mm of focal length at your disposal.

A popular lens for many wildlife photographers is the 500 f/4. Now again, don’t get my wrong here as this is all based on my experience with the 400mm.
The 500mm lens is fixed at a widest aperture of f/4. My 400 has the ability to reach a focal length of 560mm, and all that at an aperture of f/4. This allows me to shoot in LOWER light, at a LONGER focal length and with perfect image quality. May I dare ask the question – why bother getting a 500mm? 😉

marlon du toit, wild eye, photo safari, canon, 400 f2.8

marlon du toit, wild eye, photo safari, canon, 400 f2.8

marlon du toit, wild eye, photo safari, canon, 400 f2.8

All three of the above images were captured using my trusted 1.4x converter. I am super happy with the clarity, sharpness, contract & quality. You’ll never notice the difference had I not told you so.

The 400 & bird photography

marlon du toit, wild eye, photo safari, canon, 400 f2.8

We have spoken of many great aspects of this lens, all able to deliver to you images you’ve only ever dreamed of.

Now what about one of the trickiest forms of nature photography? Well, perhaps its just me, but getting great bird photographs is no easy task. My 4oo though – and especially coupled with a 1.4 converter – has provided me with stunning shots.

Now I also don’t claim to be the best at photographing the feathery subjects, but the images that I have produced have been very pleasing indeed.

marlon du toit, wild eye, photo safari, canon, 400 f2.8

marlon du toit, wild eye, photo safari, canon, 400 f2.8

The beautiful bokeh produced by this lens, and the added focal length from the converter, puts me in a position to capture quality images of birds should the opportunity arise.

This just adds to the incredible versatility of this magnificent piece of glass!

What about birds in flight? No problem at all…

CL0T9694

CL0T0696

As you can see – beautiful results! Absolutely nothing wrong with using this lens to capture stunning, mood-filled images of birds.

The Conclusion

As you can clearly see from everything that I have mentioned, the 400mm f/2.8 is a winning lens in every regard! There’s very little fault to find.

It allows you the variety you would expect from a zoom lens, yet with quality you only see in top magazines. I have used mine for over 4 years and have no intentions of changing lenses at any point in time. There’s simply no need to.

If you are looking to change prime lenses and you have the budget for a super-telephoto, why not consider this beauty.

Thanks so much for reading along!

Till next time,

About the Author

Marlon duToit

Passion, enthusiasm and an unquenchable thirst to explore and introduce you to our natural world’s wildlife perfectly sums up my ambitions. I can’t imagine myself doing anything else. Through my African adventures I kept my photographic passion alive. Behind a camera aimed at a lion or a leopard is where I am most at home, my heart skipping a beat at the mere thought of it. My intention has never been solely for recognition but for the plight of what’s left of our natural recourses. Using my love and understanding of wildlife I am able to convey to the viewer more than an image or a fleeting moment. I aim to tell a story, to bring that moment alive to you and to capture your heart through it.

Comments 22

  1. Pingback: The 400mm f2.8 – A super-telephoto lens to cover all needs - Africa Freak

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      Marlon duToit

      Hi Riaan!
      I typically shoot between f7.1 & f11. I am usually a fair distance away from the area I am photographing, so there’s never too many issues with detail. Often I am able to shoot a landscape-orientated scene, but at f4. This helps to keep the focus on my animal/tree, and has the rest of the landscape soft enough to not infringe with my story, but still strong enough to be a part of the scene.
      Thanks for taking the time,
      Marlon

  2. Xenedis Photography

    Hi Marlon.

    I agree — the 400/2.8 is a stellar lens for wildlife photography.

    Despite lusting for the 500/4, I bought a 400/2.8 a few years ago and photographed wildlife in the Mara, using it extensively. I barely touched the 70-200!

    A few years earlier, I photographed wildlife in the Timbavati with my 300/2.8. Again it was used for the majority of my images.

    In my experience, both are superb lenses.

    I also used my 1.4x TC and 2 x TC with both lenses, and the results were very pleasing.

    Some of my best African wildlife images were shot with the 2x TC attached.

    You have some stunning images in this article, and they provide a great example of what the big 400 can do.

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      Author
      Marlon duToit

      Yeah, brilliant lens! Take nothing away from the other lenses though.

      As for the converter, I have several shots with the 2x converter, but it the loss of quality was more evident during tough light than what it was with the 1.4x. At the end of the day, as long as it works for you & you are happy, that’s what is most important!

      Thanks for taking the time, much appreciated.
      Marlon

    1. Post
      Author
      Marlon duToit

      Hi Dick, great to hear from you!
      As mentioned, these are my personal experiences with this lens and it suits my kinda photography perfectly! If I have sold you on it, then fantastic!
      I too hope we will cross paths during the year, you never know! Thanks for taking the time,
      Marlon

  3. Nicolas

    Hi Marlon,

    What about the 200-400 mm f4.0 from canon ?
    I have the opportunity to discover it in Timbavati few weeks ago with Andrew and I was enthusiastic to play with it and discover the range of this lens from 200 to 560 mm.
    I can’t wait to use it again in the Masai Mara in August.

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      Author
      Marlon duToit

      Hi there Nicolas,
      The Canon 200 – 400 is a brilliant innovative lens and no doubt a great professional safari companion. I have used it many times in the past & enjoyed the results. That said, I am a prime kinda guy – I love the fact that I don’t have the option of zooming. That makes my options less and allows me the opportunity to be more creative in my composition of a scene. It causes me to think a little.
      I also enjoy low-light photographic situations and my 400 is as good as it gets when the light starts to fade.
      Hope this helps? The 200-400 is great, and at the end of the day you need to find what suits YOUR needs. But at the same time, try the 400 and see how it works for you!
      Marlon

  4. Jakes de Wet

    Yes agree. However the Nikon version G is very heavy and I know a number of people who use the 400. I have used the 300 f2.8 for the past 7 yrs with converters as my primary lens. Purely as it is lighter and as I always travel with my wife the 300 is easier to handle in a car.

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      Marlon duToit

      Jakes there’s no doubt that they weight of it can become an issue. The 300 is also alot smaller & requires far less space. If you can get used to the weight of the older versions then it becomes a brilliant piece of equipment.
      The newer versions are far lighter & more convenient to travel with – not sure if you’ve picked them up yet? That said, they come at a far heavier cost 😉
      Thanks for taking the time,
      Marlon

  5. Xenedis Photography

    One thing to consider is that the size and weight of a 400/2.8 can and often does exceed airline carry-on baggage restrictions .

    Such restrictions tend not to align with the needs of wildlife photographers. The combination and bulk of a 400/2.8’s weight along with everything else adds up quickly, which is a concern particularly on light aircraft in South Africa and Kenya.

    My camera backpack on our last trip was 17kg! My checked luggage, which consisted of clothes, toiletries and a monopod, weighed 11kg.

    All that aside, a 400/2.8 is hard to beat in terms of image quality and low-light performance. The size, cost and weight, of course, are the trade-offs.

    1. Post
      Author
      Marlon duToit

      Yeah, the 400 mk1 is heavy, but the mk2 is far lighter & very easy to travel with. In fact, the very popular Canon 200 – 400 f4 is only 200grams lighter than the new 400. Not bad at all and totally easy to travel with.

      I travel with the mk1 that weighs in at alot more than the two mentioned above, and always have it in my bag. My bag weighs about 18kg’s and I never get told I can’t take it along. At most, I might have to pay for additional luggage. In that case, I am happy to do so as the images I get will be well worth it.

      At the end of the day, it’s up to how much travel-inconvenience you’ll be willing to put up with 🙂

      And yes, where I do agree with you is the superb image quality. There are no bad aspects to this lens for me.

  6. Charles Swart

    Funny timing reading this as I have just sold my 600mm and bought a 400mm f2.8….first Safari in August, can’t wait.

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      Author
      Marlon duToit

      Charles, that’s awesome! I think you are going to love the versatility of that lens! Take nothing away from the 600mm! It’s a great lens, but the 400 will be in your hands far more often than you think! Look forward to hearing how it went! Drop me a mail – marlon@wild-eye.co.za

  7. Alice

    Hi Marlon

    Great article, I have the 500f4 booked for my upcomming trip to Botswana. Would you recommend trying to change to the 400?
    I’m so torn now.

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      Author
      Marlon duToit

      Dear Alice, so sorry for my delayed reply! Both are great, but the 400mm is just so good in low light, especially when photographing cats when the sun is not around! Let me know how it went?

  8. Pingback: Lens Review: Canon 400 f4 DO II - Wild Eye

  9. michael dos Santos

    HI Marlon

    Truly awesome page !
    Its really inspirational .
    Iv seen a Canon-Lens-EF-400mm 2.8 (mark 1) no IS , on Ebay for under R30000.00 . I have a 7d mark ii . Would the auto focus work with the 2x and 1.4 ex and do you think it is worth it?

    Kind regards
    Mike

  10. Daniel

    Hi Maron,
    thanks for that great review.
    i’ll be in Namibia in November.

    If you had the choice of 600II 400II and the 200/1.8

    Which would you pick?
    600 and 200 for lowlight or still 400 and 200 ?

    Thanks for your opinion

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