More Canon 400m DO II Comparisons

Published January 27, 2015


In an earlier post we were most impressed with how much better the new Canon 400mm f/4 IS DO II resolved compared to the original version. I mentioned that we hadn’t been able to get many copies and didn’t have time to do any other comparisons right then, but that we would do more as soon as we could.

We still haven’t gotten many copies, but we did get a little time, so I did the two comparisons that had been most requested: the 400mm DO II against Canon’s 400mm f/5.6 L and against the Canon 300mm f/2.8 IS II with 1.4x TC III.

We still haven’t received any of the other couple of dozen 400mm DO IS II lenses we’ve ordered, so the results are for the same pair as the original post. For all other lenses in this post we tested four copies and averaged the results. For the 300mm f/2.8 with 1.4X TC III test we used four lenses and four different converters. All tests are done using the same backlit film chart as the previous test, using a Canon 5D Mk III test camera.

400mm DO II vs. 300mm f/2.8 IS II

The first comparison we made was between the 400mm f/4 DO IS II and the 300mm f/2.8 IS II at their native focal lengths – 400mm and 300mm. I do want to point out that this puts testing distances at roughly 19 and 15 feet respectively. This is not ideal working distance for super telephoto lenses, so take these results with that tiny grain of salt.

We tested the 300mm lens at both f/2.8 and at f/4 to level the playing field a bit.

400mm f/4 DO II 300mm f/28 IS II f/2.8 300mm f/2.8 IS II f/4
Avg Corner110011001160

These results are about what I expected, since we already knew that the 400 DO II is really excellent. Shot at its native f/4 it has a bit better resolution than the 300 f/2.8 does shot at f/2.8. Stop the 300mm lens down to f/4, though, and it’s a bit sharper than the DO.

Could you notice these differences in a photograph? Probably if technique was equal and you pixel peep a bit. But these are all spectacular results. If you can’t tell the difference between a 300mm f/2.8 shot at f/2.8 and at f/4 (most of us can comparing side-by-side shots), then you sure can’t tell the difference between either one and the DO.

400mm Comparisons

The question most people (and by most people, I mean me and a couple of others) wanted answered was how the 400 DO compares to the 300 f/2.8 with a 1.4 X teleconverter added. Other people wanted to know how it compares with the tried-and-true, bargain-priced Canon 400mm f/5.6 L, so we did those comparisons too.

Let’s again point out that there are some differences in these tests. The 300mm f/2.8 with teleconverter is actually shooting at 420mm, so it gives a bit more reach. The 400mm f/5.6 is being compared one stop down compared to the other two, which are being shot at f/4, which gives it a bit of an optical advantage.

400mm f/4 DO II 300mm f/2.8 with 1.4X 400mm f/5.6 L
Avg Corner11001080990

The results, again, are fairly triumphant for the DO. The DO version I, which I shot with frequently, definitely gave up some image quality compared to a 300 f/2.8 with teleconverter. Most of us who shot the DO were willing to do so because it weighed less, and the weight was distributed near to the mount making it easier to handhold. The version II 300 f/2.8 is much lighter than its predecessor, so the weight savings isn’t quite as significant. However, it’s clear that from a resolution standpoint at least, the 400 DO is slightly better than the 300 f/2.8 IS II with teleconverter.

Again, let’s remember that with DO lenses, field tests in varied lighting conditions may well reveal other issues that a simple resolution test can’t. But the resolution test certainly suggests that shooting the DO could give results at least as good, and perhaps a tiny bit better, than the 300 f/2.8 IS II with teleconverter.

The results with the 400mm f/5.6 weren’t surprising to me at all. It has always been regarded as a very sharp lens. Given that it’s shooting at a 1-stop narrower aperture, no one should be shocked that it can hang with the other two lenses in the center. The price is certainly far more attractive, although the narrower aperture and lack of image stabilization make it a very different lens than the other two.

Would I sell my 300 f/2.8 IS II and move to the 400 DO? I doubt it. But if I was considering the two for purchase and realized I was going to shoot at 400mm, I’d be leaning towards the DO. It’s still easier to shoot handheld, the IS systems are now equal, and it doesn’t appear to give up anything from a resolution standpoint.

Can I get equivalent shots with a 400 f/5.6? If the light and technique are good, I can certainly get very close, if not equal shots. But the other two lenses will get shots in a lot of conditions that the 400 f/5.6 could not shoot well in.


Roger Cicala and Aaron Closz


January 2015



Author: Roger Cicala

I’m Roger and I am the founder of Lensrentals.com. 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 Other
  • BroadcastNews

    The 300 2.8 II really is a world class lens. I’ll have to see with my own eyes a challenger that has the AF capabilities. It’s such a fast focusing machine on a 1DXMKII

  • Able, you mean the one copy they tested wasn’t as good as the one copy of the 300 f/2.8 and the one copy of the 400 f/2.8. But the DO isn’t as good from a resolution standpoint as the 400 f/2.8 — nothing much is. But it definitely gives a lot more resolution per pound of lens 🙂
    I agree, though, the fair comparison is the 400 DO vs the 300 f/2.8 with 1.4 TC

  • According to the DxO Mark, the 400/4 DO ii falls behind 300/2.8 and 400/2.8 but perhaps they should have compared the 300/2.8 with a TC

  • Roger Cicala

    PH, Or you talking about the discontinued DO or the new Mk II DO? They’re very different. I would NOT consider the original one.

  • PHKlein

    I have rented the Canon 400mm f/4 DO from you as well as the Tamron 300mm f/2.8
    Test charts aside, and keeping in mind I’m not a birder using TCs but can switch Canon bodies between full frame and crop, which do you think is best for shooting sports. Please consider all factors including $$$.
    Pick one, please.

  • Roger Cicala

    Nilesht, it’s too close to call. Comes down to whether you want the extra reach or the wider aperture.

  • Nilesht

    Hi, Roger , Thx for ur valuable demo , I wanted to know exactly especially for birding which lens is most preferable, canon 300 f2.8 new version or 400 DO new version , i am waiting for your final suggestion before purchasing,

  • Dave

    Came back to review article again. In the opening sentence, the 400 f/4 DO 2 link takes the viewer to the 400 f/2.8L IS 2 lens. Cheers!

  • Thanks Roger. All good info. Can you recommend which holster or bag is best for the 400 f/4?

  • Chris

    Thanks Roger! Any tests on how the DO II performs with a 1.4x? It would be interesting to see if it holds up as well as the 300 2.8 II.


  • I would be more interested in the results at F/5.6 with the 300 II and 1.4. As compared to the 400 DO II at F/5.6.

  • Carl

    Thanks Roger for this comparison! Will be interesting to see how more samples of the new DO compare. Canon’s own mtf chart made it look like the DO ii is sharper than the 300 f/2.8 ii (both wide open aperture), and your tests back this up. It’s also interesting that your number for the “average” is still slightly higher on the DO ii at f/4, than the 300 ii is, at f/4 (with no TC added). To me that is saying these samples averaged, or perhaps are slightly sharper in the mid-frame, than the 300 ii is at f/4? Mid frame in many ways is more important than corner sharpness.

  • tomas

    no good test compare,,,You should do tests with APSC cameras with small pixel for example canon 70D or 7D mark II and resulst I would be interested then ake score should old 400 mm 5,6 …

  • KeithB

    Maximum mag really only indicates minimum focus distance. These lenses do “shorten” a bit in close focus, But there are better solutions if you want a large magnification at close range.

  • stever, my concern is not related resolution. But how big the subject may appear in the frame. So it looks like the image was taken with a longer lens.
    I’d like to know how Maximum magnification differs on these lenses as on the 100-400 II the increase is huge.
    Regarding resolution, comparing the values above, the 400/5.6L is still a great option for those who doesn’t need IS. An updated 400/5.6L with IS for $500 more, would be a terrific option. 😉

  • Ken Pride

    Roger, I appreciate your lens tests and comparisons. I am in the market for a Canon 400mm lens and have not decided which way to go: 300f2.8 + 1.4TCIII, 100-400 II, 400 DO II. (400 f2.8 II out of my price range).

    Have you tried the 400 DO II with a 1.4TCIII?

  • stever

    Fabiopb – I recently purchased the 100-400ii and did a resolution test on my 5De with Imatest using the 1.4x. It is very close to the 400 f5.6 with 1.4x and of course much better than the old 100-400 with 1.4x which I really don’t think is acceptable for 13×19 prints. If you can live with the loss of 1 stop and center focus I would recommend the 100-400ii with 1.4x on the 5D3 or 7D2. The zoom is generally much more useful unless you absolutely need the extra stop and the last bit of resolution.

  • Roger Cicala

    Thank you Zachary!

  • Allan Sheppard

    Hi Roger,
    You have recently published a number of comparisons of various lens performance’s at 400mm – either 400mm native or combinations with extenders.

    The elephant in the room is the EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens. How does the performance of this lens compare with the other lenses?
    I suspect it is only a few % higher in the mtf 50 stakes, but may have other attributes other than the 2.8 f-stop.

  • Zachary Reiss-Davis

    Quick typo report — in the first sentence, you write “with how much better the new Canon 40mm f/4 IS DO II resolved” when you mean 400mm you say 40mm.

    Otherwise, great post!

  • Regarding Maximum magnification:

    I am curious about the MM (maximum magnification) and its
    overall impact on lens choice.

    I noticed that given the new 400s from Canon, we have:
    400 DO I – 0.12x
    400 DO II – 0.13x
    100-400/ I – 0.20x
    100-400/ II – 0.31x

    The improvement from DO lens is minimal (neglectable ?).
    But from 100-400 is huge (50%).

    What can we conclude about this ? The 100-400 is not really at 400mm @ 400 (much less) ?

    I think it would be interesting an article about lens maximum magnification to sort out
    this issue. I’ve seen this kind of questions before, with
    people comparing the MM of 300/4L + TC1.4x vs the 400/5.6L.

    I am interested in this topic now as I have a trip to Florida on April, 2 weeks birding
    in Florida parks, and I intend to rent the 400/4DO II. Or maybe it would be better to buy the 100-400/II and a TC 1.4x ?
    Not sure about what to do yet.

  • Roger Cicala

    Hi Mathieu,

    I made a typo. Thank you, corrected that.

  • NancyP

    Thank you. I am impressed at how well the old 7 element design 400 f/5.6L holds up. I certainly feel like I have gotten my money’s worth and more from this humble lens. I do want to rent some of the bigger siblings though. f/5.6 is not that great at dawn or dusk, what with pushing the ISO as high as it will go.

  • Mathieu

    Hi Roger,
    When the 300 II f2.8 is used at f4, your numbers suggest a visible increase of resolution both in the corner and at the center but not on the average. Looks strange.
    I am owning the 300 II f2.8 and will probably wait for a longer DO lense before considering a switch.
    Any idea of what Canon will implement next if the new DO is such a success?
    Thanks for all the provided information.

  • Cat

    Hi Roger
    I tested recently the DO II with my 2,8/300 L IS II on my EOS 7D2 –
    under different conditions – they are mostly equal!
    But at Sunset I got a f:2,8 with my 300 mm – I got sharp shots and I can live with the the loss of 100 mm!

    And I love to get close, and then the DO II loses again a bit:
    2m (0,18x) against 3,3m (0,13x) – so Canon has two winners,
    for me the 300 mm gives me more chances, even with extenders!

    Exiting will be a comparison with the new Nikon AF-S 4,0/300 PF VR – good idea from Nikon to start with a 300 mm “DO” and maybe a 500 mm “DO” will follow.

    And I don’t need to wait for a Olympus/Panasonic/Sony/Samsung mirror less 300 mm anymore!
    Canon and Nikon can be light on the fastest level.

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