Canon's 200-400 was announced as an in-development lens more than 12 months ago. This means that it hasn't yet become an official lens and that we don't know when it will ship and how much it will cost. Canon is still staying tight-lipped about this unfortunately, despite the lens being heavily tested during the summer Olympics. It's understandable that they want to take their time with it, in the pro market this is perhaps their most anticipated lens ever since it satisfies both the sports photography market and the wildlife market. A few years ago an f4 lens might not have peaked the interest of sports photographers but with ISO capabilities getting better by the year, f4 should do a fine job in a stadium these days and reports from Olympic photographers (non-Canon employed ones) were extremely positive.
The inclusion of a built in 1.4x extender is a fascinating development in long lens design since it allows an optically matched extender for optimal performance while at the same time delivering speed of flexibility. For outdoor shooters it also prevents dust, rain, sand etc. from entering the lens when previously you would have to have unmounted the lens. The 1.4x extender optics and design are borrowed from Canon's broadcast cameras and for the first time, this week at PhotoPlus Expo I was able to get my hands on one of these interesting lenses and give it an inspection. See the video below to view the 1.4x extender in action, actuated at the flick of a switch!
What I was particularly interested in was the weight of this lens, in particular when compared to the new 500m f4 L IS II which will probably be many peoples other alternative. The 500mm is $10999, the same RUMORED price for the 200-400 which will actually be a 200-560 if you take the in-built extender into account. Upon picking up the 200-400 for the first time I was actually quite shocked at how heavy it is. It is far heavier than the 500mm even though it is very slightly shorter. It's also heavier than the Nikon 200-400 which I also went and handled for comparative purposes. Now optically there is obviously a huge amount going on in this lens but given Canon's revision of all the other long lenses, and the concentration on weight reduction in those revisions, I was surprised to see how heavy this is and I think it might put a few people off. With that said, it might only put off those who have handled the new super-tele lenses since this new 200-400 still comes in at, in my estimation, about the same weight as the old 500mm f4 IS. So those with either that lens, or the old 600mm might not scoff at this at all!
The operation of the extender is smooth and solidly clicks in with a clunk. The bulge on the side looks in photos bigger that it actually is, and whilst noticeable it doesn't get in the way at all. The zoom ring felt a little stiff to me but that could easily be due to the pre-production nature of the version I was handling but it certainly needed far more force to turn than any other zoom I've ever used. Other functionality remains the same as all other Canon super telephoto lenses and the general build is totally bombproof. The radius circumference of the lens is a fair bit less than the 500mm (and 600mm) so whilst heavier, it takes up a lot less volume in a bag and does feel unwieldily in the hand.
I'm looking to pick up either the new 500mm or this 200-400 myself and I was hoping to come to a clear decision when I handled them. I think the 200-400 will win me out purely for the sheer flexibility. Sure you might miss the odd shot when things are further away but the zoom allows for a considerable number of other shots that aren't possible at 500mm. Note that when I talk about the 500, I consider that one capable of 700mm as well since I have no qualms using the excellent 1.4x extender MK III. So the zoom will give me 560mm at f5.6 and the 500mm will give me 700mm at f5.6. It's certainly not a totally clear cut decision though since the 500mm's weight saving would be nice to have as well. I think anyone considering either lens has to handle them to come to a decision.
So when will we hear more details about this lens, like pricing ? I asked several people and nobody had anything to say. The rumours had been strong that something would be announced at the show but alas, it wasn't to be! What worries me is Canon's recent lead times after announcements , they could very well give us a shipping date well into 2013 at this rate !!
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