The Canon 300mm f/2.8 vs 400mm f/2.8

8.8 out of 10
Pros Excellent Image Quality and Impressive Corner to Corner Sharpness at 16mm – 24mm. One of the best Sunstars in the market. Very little COMA or Astigmatism for night photography. Nearly non-existant distortion. Cons – Too heavy to carry around all day
– Price ($2198 USD)
– 35mm is the weakest part of this lens

This is an area of photography I was most curious about how both lenses would perform. Even a broad Google search yields very little material to make a good enough assessment with. These lenses are used almost exclusively for sports, action and wildlife. For each lens I put together a photo shoot with model(s) and talent from the local fashion scene.

The EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM y

This lens is in fact hand-holdable albeit on the upper limits. It requires that you leverage your entire body and center of gravity. I was able to do shoot continuously for about 3 hours switching between the EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM and the EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM. My back and shoulders were most definitely fatigued and a little sore the next day, and I have a relatively larger frame at 6’3″ tall. You pretty much have to keep both hands on your camera system at all times and set it down when not shooting. You can read and see more about this shoot here: Fashion: Winnie Stackz Collection.

The image stabilization was so effective, there was never a need to use a tripod. I was blown away by the fact that I could heave such a massive lens with such a long focal length – it is impossible to keep still at 400mm – and click away getting some of the sharpest portraits I have ever seen. The portrait to the left, was taken about 50+ feet away and yet every pore on the model’s skin was visible as well as every strand of hair. What you see is only a quarter of the original image size. All of this hand held. This is perhaps one of the feats this lens performs better than any other.

Wide open at f/2.8 this lens is sharp and true. The depth of field (DOF) is just wide enough to keep most of your subject in focus but then quickly falls off, transitioning into a sublime bokeh (background blur) like no other. It almost does not matter what’s behind your subject, as this lens will most likely turn it into a creamy magically beautiful blur. Even the 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM cannot quite match this, however it does come very close.

T The EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM

This lens was much more at home with this style of photography. It felt like a slightly heavier 70-200mm f/2.8 IS II USM lens, with a bigger front element and hood. I was able to shoot hand held for several hours without fatigue and when not shooting, held the camera system with one hand. I do have big hands so this might be a bit of an issue for some. It required no leverage and IS seemed almost unnecessary. I was able to keep a very fast shutter speed due to it’s amazing light gathering ability.

At f/2.8 this lens appears sharpest. The DOF and fall off is very much reminiscent of the EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM. The bokeh and subject isolation when up close is just sublime and second only to that rendered by the The EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM. I also liked that I did not have to be almost 100 feet from my subject to get a full body shot. Try yelling your model very detailed, specific directions from 100 feet with the wind blowing and other ambient noise…LOL.

I love how both of these lenses tell a story with every shot. The quality of the image rendered is of the highest order and often so good there was no need for any editing whatsoever. In many cases I just pulled them off the camera and posted them on here. The time savings here are incredible and I can definitely see why these lenses are a favorite for serious sports media photographers – they just don’t have time to fiddle with image editors.

For fashion and portrait photography I think both lenses performed equally well with the The EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM having a slight edge in bokeh and subject isolation and the The EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM having a slight edge in versatility due to it’s relatively smaller size and weight. In this category I could not come up with an absolute favorite for the two.

For more detailed, objective and in-depth analyses, I recommend reading Bryan Carnathan‘s reviews for the EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM and the EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM. I am in no way affiliated with The Digital Picture but most definitely appreciate all his hard work and dedication over the years.

The Author: Bryan Allo

Born and raised in Cameroon, West Africa, photographer Bryan Allo studied his craft in Madrid, Spain. A longtime resident of Sacramento, Allo continues his love of world travel and photography. His shooting style is more of a realist expression. He shoots what he sees and only retouches his photos to the extent that they better express the beauty of his subject. He believes if a photo is worth taking and is well taken, it is better off left alone. “I take my camera and lenses with me everywhere I go including the bottom of the pool. My carry-on bag is always full of lenses. Clothes are an afterthought. I am obsessed with capturing beauty in all its fleeting forms in the greatest possible detail

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