Canon 100-400 IS II MTF and Variation Tests

Published August 24, 2015

When the Canon 100-400 f/4-5.6 IS L Mk II lens was first released we immediately did some testing. First we took one apart and were extremely impressed with the build quality. Then we compared it using Imatest to the original Canon 100-400 IS L and the new Canon 400mm DO L IS Mk II lenses at 400mm. I was impressed with the Imatest results too, but wanted more. Imatest, like all computerized target analysis tests the lenses at fairly close range and I wanted to see how these did at infinity, not to mention how it tested at other focal lengths.

But testing isn’t my primary purpose in life, and testing 400mm lenses on our optical bench is really difficult, so it didn’t get done. Until last week, finally. My expectations were pretty high for this lens, but the test results easily exceeded them. I don’t shoot with this kind of zoom, but I sure do appreciate good optics and good engineering.

I’ll keep this brief. First, here are the MTF and copy-to-copy variation charts. These are from testing 10 copies of the lens on our Trioptics Imagemaster optical bench.

Brandon Dube and Roger Cicala,, 2015 I put Brandon’s name first because to be honest, I would NEVER have had the patience to do this test.


Both the MTF and Consistency scores are just outstanding. The 100-400 has some of the highest consistency scores of any zoom lens we’ve ever tested. It waxes the Canon 70-200 f/2.8 IS II lens, for example, having far less copy-to-copy variation.

To give you an idea of just how excellent the MTF is on this lens, I’ll put the MTF of the 100-400 IS Mk II side-by-side with the Canon 70-200 f/2.8 IS II lens. Now remember, the 100-400 has the advantage of being shot at f/5 here. The 70-200 f/2.8 would have better MTF curves stopped down. The point here is that the 100-400, while not able to compete in aperture with the 70-200, certainly does compete in resolution. And the 70-200 IS II is one of the sharpest zooms made.


Roger Cicala and Brandon Dube,, 2015. And yes, things go back in proper order now.


I won’t go into a long, drawn-out monologue telling you what you can already see for yourself. The new  Canon 100-400 IS II is optically superb.


Roger Cicala

August, 2015.

Author: Roger Cicala

I’m Roger and I am the founder of Hailed as one of the optic nerds here, I enjoy shooting collimated light through 30X microscope objectives in my spare time. When I do take real pictures I like using something different: a Medium format, or Pentax K1, or a Sony RX1R.

Posted in Equipment
  • Uwe Weddige

    2nd that!

    A serious review of the Sony 100-400mm G Master lens would be more than helpfull – especially since this is the only site I saw founded scepticism about the otherwise hyped Sony F/2.8 70-200mm!

    Thank you for all your work!

  • VPR

    The Lens Rentals blog is the best photographic blog I’ve read… Thank you very much to Roger Cicala, Zach Sutton, Joey Miller, Aaron and all the rest for the work you’ve done.

    WRT this particular article, it was great to get a sense of just how good Canon lenses can be. This, together with your excellent “teardown” feature on the 100-400mm L Series IS ii, really helped to underscore that point.

    I look forward (with some trepidation) to evaluations of Sony’s new 100-400mm G Master lens for the FE mount… I hope that the outcome is better than what we saw for the F/2.8 70-200mm, but if not, then so be it.

  • Peter N

    This lens really looks like a big hit. Measured MTF at the swedish site looks very similar to yours.

    They also tested the Canon 100-400 II with the Canon Extender 1,4x III and it looks darn good, at least with full frame. Less so with APS-C at 30 lp/mm.

    Here is a google translate of the article. Fully understandable even if some words must have been mistranslated.

  • Jeff Forbes

    Wow, the MTF charts look like the theoretical ones so many lenses are published with.

    Except they’re measured.

    Whatever Canon is doing with some of their recent lenses, they’re doing it particularly well.

  • Roger Cicala


    A really bad copy will be bad at all focal lengths. But the decent copies, one is better at 24, another at 50, a third at 70. Haven’t seen one that’s best everywhere.

  • Guillaume

    Hi Roger!

    Thanks a lot for the effort you put into this. It really helps 🙂

    I had a question to understand your graphs and better make up my mind:
    On these copy-to-copy charts, you’ve tested 10 lenses. But are you able to tell if one given (zoom) lens behaves the same at each tested focal length and aperture? Or the lens that tops the results at 16mm is not necessarily the same that tops the results at 24mm or 35mm (considering a wide-angle zoom)?

    The underlying question here is: for a lens with avg score=5, is it worth testing 10 copies in a store to get THE one? Or no matter what, the one that will perform well at 16mm is not the one that will perform equally well at 24mm. “So just pick one!”

    Thank you!

  • Roger Cicala

    Kenny, The Digital Picture is hosting all of the MTF and Variance charts on their site — they’ve got a nice tool where you can compare two lenses side-by-side and we saw no need to reinvent the wheel.

  • Are you guys compiling these results into a database somewhere on your site? Maybe I’m just slow and missed it.

  • Ruy

    This lens is great. Super! Combined with 7DMKII makes a perfect par to wildlife, even to small bugs, and sports with reasonable light available.

  • Georges

    Yest another great technical review. Thanks for this no-nonsense down to earth approach. The photography community needs it! I will still take the 70-200/II when traveling because the new guy is not exactly inconspicuous when fully deployed. And well, faster and 70-100. One could discuss the bias of 5.6 vs 2.8 for days on end but our conclusions totally confirm my perception about these two lenses. Great stuff!

  • Goran

    Simply amazing results. I enjoyed your previous tear-down of this lens. I use it a lot and I love it! Brilliant IQ, versatile zoom range, insane image-stabilization, short MFD. My absolute favourite in the field. Will not part from it in this life.

  • for the smart engineer, always remember:


  • These go to eleven.

    As always, thanks for the testing! I figured it gets boring to just hear that every time so I threw in a pop culture reference. A lot of the recent Canon designs have great consistency. That this one is optically excellent is just icing on the cake. I wonder if comparing the 100-400 and the 70-200 at 200mm and the same aperture would be possible. Can you control the aperture at-will while the lens is on OLAF?

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