CANON Zoom Lens comparison
by Chris Hartzell

(if you want to just skip to the final findings and recommendations, scroll down to the yellow highlights)
With the new 70-200 2.8 mark 2 out with its reported incredible clarity and the anticipated release of the
100-400 mark 2 along with the expensive 200-400 4.0L with built in 1.4x, the question that has been
posed is: what should I use and what should I do with any old lenses I have? I have gone online and
looked at many reviews and there are some comparisons out there, but many are confusing, not direct
comparisons, and often involve super professional review which is beyond that of the average
photographer. So I went out to do my own review that was a real world application of comparing apples
to apples in lenses and looked at the comparison from the way average photographers would view.

The 70D and the 1Dx represent Canon’s current top of the line crop sensor and full frame sensor
bodies. I used mark 3 teleconverters.

Comparison conditions:
I shot all setups at the same distance under the same conditions. There was intermittent light clouds. I
focused on the two primary factors that the average photographer would care about: 1) clarity 2)
distance. I am not incorporating noise, white balance, etc. in the comparison.

Now I realize everyone may have different monitors, or viewing in different programs, or you may be
looking at this on a phone, so at the end of each discussion I will summarize my findings as I viewed on
two different monitors in three different programs.

Zoom capability (click on images to enlarge):

Using the red arrows to show set height, from the initial results, using the crop sensor camera
obviously gets us closer than full frame. A direct comparison shows that at 400mm the 70-200 with the 2.0
x attached, the 100-400, and the 200-400 all give us the same zoom capability. So at first glance, any of
these would work. To summarize the results, let me rank the findings:
1)        (tie) crop sensor w/ 200-400, 100-400, or 70-200 with 2.0x
2)        Crop sensor w/ 70-200 with 1.4x
3)        (tie) full frame w/ 200-400, 100-400, or 70-200 with 2.0x
4)        Crop sensor w/ 70-200
5)        Full frame w/ w/ 70-200 with 1.4x
6)        Full frame w/ w/ 70-200

Bokeh (focus blur):

Where we start to see the differences is in bokeh. Generally speaking, if you are shooting at low F
numbers, you are trying to put a nice smooth artistic blur to the background. If we compare the bokeh
using the blue arrows, you can now start to see the difference. The crop sensor body actually gives a
better bokeh than the full frame with some of the lenses. This is of course because the crop sensor acts
like more of a zoom. Clearly the 200-400 outperforms the others on both bodies. Now this is where we
start to see some real difference in zoom vs. bokeh. The 70-200 with the 2.0x has slightly better bokeh
than the 100-400. The 100-400 has better bokeh than the 70-200 with the 1.4x and of course as expected,
the 70-200 with the 1.4x has better bokeh than the 70-200 by itself. Taking into consideration we are not
comparing noise, to summarize the results, let me rank findings:
1)        Crop sensor w/ 200-400
2)        Full frame w/ 200-400
3)        Full frame w/ 70-200 with 1.4x
4)        Crop sensor w/ 70-200 with 1.4x
5)        Full frame w/ 70-200 with 2.0x
6)        Crop sensor w/ 70-200 with 2.0x
7)        (essentially tie) Full frame w/ 100-400 and Crop sensor w/ 100-400
8)        Crop sensor w/ 70-200
9)        Full frame w/ 70-200


If we blow up all the images and crop them to identical proportions, we find some significant
differences. This is where we see the new sensor technology really shine. The crop sensor camera
actually ends up with a clearer image than the full frame when blown up. Now I know the arguments will
come with, “full frame is always clearer and shows more detail.” In general, yes this is true, but only
when you don’t do an apples to apples comparison on a major zoom. This can be confusing to explain,
but I’ll see if I can try… I’m going to use hypothetical numbers to keep the explanation simple. Let’s say
a 1 inch by 1 inch square is 1 foot away. A full frame is 100x100 pixels and a crop is 60x60. A full frame
will show the full 1x1 inch square at 100x100 pixels. A crop sensor will show a 1.6”x1.6” square at 60x60
pixels. If I blow up the full frame image to equal 1.6”x1.6” then I’m selecting a 60x60 pixel image and then
blowing it up to fill up a 100x100 pixel sensor, essentially diluting the sharpness of each pixel because
now each pixel has to fill up the space around it. So if this is the case, the question becomes why shoot
full frame? Well, if you are doing primarily wildlife, with today’s technology, the argument falls in favor of
the crop sensor camera. A full frame is the way to go if you are going to shoot more than wildlife and use
the same body for landscape as well. That’s when you are not going to want to blow up your image and
you are going to want to maximize that 100x100 pixel sensor. Another reason is the bodies overall
capabilities. I chose to go with a 1Dx because it shoots 12 frames a second, almost twice as fast as all
other bodies. So in my case, I chose to sacrifice my cropping clarity for versatility and frame rate.
Another factor in why I chose a 1Dx is I have a wife who also shoots and needs her own body and also
does not want to carry as big a lens as I do. So with that in mind, we got her the 70d and now we have
both a crop sensor body and a full frame, giving us a wide range of options. Now everyone’s needs are
different, so keep this in mind when choosing a body
(You can read more about full frame vs. crop here  http:
// ).
As for clarity, here are the rankings:
1)        Crop sensor w/ 200-400
2)        Crop sensor w/ 70-200
3)        Crop sensor w/ 70-200 with 1.4x
4)        Crop sensor w/ 100-400
5)        Crop sensor w/ 70-200 with 2.0x
6)        Full frame w/ 200-400
7)        Full frame w/ 100-400
8)        Full frame w/ 70-200 with 1.4x
9)        Full frame w/ 70-200
10)        Full frame w/ 70-200 with 2.0x

Summary of Rankings:
So now that we have all three of the most important rankings, let’s put them together to see what lens
choices we should go with. Although we evaluated zoom, zoom is just a means to the end so we wouldn’
t want to buy a lens that had great zoom but poor clarity and bokeh. So we throw zoom out in our final
rankings. Clarity of course is the most important factor and ranks first, followed by bokeh and then
finally zoom capability. So let’s look at the top rankings in clarity for both crop and full frame…

1)        Crop sensor w/ 200-400
2)        Crop sensor w/ 70-200
3)        Crop sensor w/ 70-200 with 1.4x
4)        Crop sensor w/ 100-400

1)        Full frame w/ 200-400
2)        Full frame w/ 100-400
3)        Full frame w/ 70-200 with 1.4x
4)        Full frame w/ 70-200

Now the top rankings in bokeh for both crop and full frame…

1)        Crop sensor w/ 200-400
2)        Crop sensor w/ 70-200 with 1.4x
3)        Crop sensor w/ 70-200 with 2.0x
4)        Crop sensor w/ 100-400

1)        Full frame w/ 200-400
2)        Full frame w/ 70-200 with 1.4x
3)        Full frame w/ 70-200 with 2.0x
4)        Full frame w/ 100-400

Final Rankings:
Now we can get an accurate picture about what lenses stand out on top. In all rankings both crop and
full frame, the 200-400 is the top choice. Only in rank 2 of the full frame does the 100-400 outperform the
70-200, so 70-200 is our next choice. As you can see the 100-400 is ranked last, even over the 70-200
with any teleconverter. Now only in the clarity category with the crop sensor is the 70-200 better than
with the 1.4x. But it didn’t even make top 4 with bokeh. So it would make sense that you sacrifice just a
tiny bit of clarity but drastically improve bokeh. This is why the 70-200 with the 1.4x would be chosen on
either body over just by itself. The real tricky one is the 70-200 with a 2.0x vs. the 100-400. That is a
tough one and quite honestly could go either way. But why you would want to choose the 70-200 with a
2.0x over the 100-400 comes later in my recommendations. And lastly you can see the 1.4x outperforms
the 2.0x. So here are the final rankings for lenses evaluated:

1)        200-400 on either crop or full frame
2)        70-200 with 1.4x on either crop or full frame
3)        70-200 with 2.0x or 100-400 on either crop or full frame

The current 100-400 mark 1 is operating off 1995 glass and technology. The 70-200 mark 2 was just
released and has superior new technology and glass, even over the older model 70-200 mark 1.
Currently the 100-400 is going for around $800-$1000 used. The new 100-400 mark 2 is anticipated to be
released within the next 12 months or so. Although no one knows exactly what it will be or what it will
cost, there are some very educated opinions. It is said it will basically be the 70-200 in a 100-400 tube.
Price is guessed to be around $4,000-$5,000. When it comes out, it will be one of the highest demand
lenses out there. The old 100-400 will plummet in price and I wouldn’t be surprised if you will find them
for $300 after the mark 2 release. The 2.0x mark 3 teleconverter sacrifices too much clarity and speed
over the 1.4x. I shot awhile with one on multiple lenses but was so unhappy with the results, it not only
came off but went into the drawer and I’m even debating selling it. The 1.4x is the best middle ground
for clarity, zoom, and speed.

Final Recommendations:
My recommendation is sell your 100-400 while you can get a decent price. But what do you use in the
meantime? If you can’t afford the 200-400, then go with a 70-200 and a 1.4x mark 3 teleconverter. When
the new 100-400 comes out, the 70-200 will make an excellent addition to your lens lineup for landscape
and portrait shooting (it is a great astronomical lens on a full frame camera too). If you can’t afford the
new 100-400 then stay with your 70-200 mark 2 and the 1.4x until you can.

I have an old 70-200, should I upgrade?

Absolutely. The new technology is leaps and bounds above the old lens. Buying the new 70-200 2.8 m2
and a 1.4x is an excellent overall long term investment.

I have a 7d and a 100-400 m1, should I upgrade to the new 70d, wait for the new 7d m2, or get a new lens?

The old 7d body is an excellent one and will last a lifetime. The old 7d and the new 70d are just a hair
apart. The only real difference is the movie capabilities and the flip/touch screen. I'd spend the money
on a new lens or upgrading to the new 7d instead. The upgrade from the old 7d to the new 70d is not
worth the chunk of change unless you are into movies. What you get depends on how much money you
have. I'd focus on glass first. In my order of preference...
1) new 100-400 m2
2) 70-200 2.8 m2 with a 1.4x m3
3) new 7d m2

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