Recently I decided that I’ve been planespotting for long enough that I should upgrade to some new gear, so I went out and got myself the Canon 100-400mm Mark I, also known as “the planespotter’s lens” due to how popular it is among spotters. Now I wasn’t ready to go and dish out a bunch of cash, so I opted for a second-hand copy which I picked up for less than half of how much a brand new Mark II version of the lens retails for. The lens was quite old, having been made in 1999, but I found it to be in mint condition. Considering the lens cost me a fair price of $850 USD, I’m not sure who got the better end of the deal here – me or the shopkeeper.

Although I haven’t had it for a very long time, I absolutely love this lens. As is expected with Canon L lenses (especially the white telephotos), this thing is built like a tank but looks like a Panzerfaust. The push-pull zoom mechanism is kind of quirky as it’s a very old design, but it doesn’t actually take that long to get used to and can be very convenient once you are used to it. There’s also a ring that you can turn to adjust the stiffness and lock the focal length. It’s connected to the focus ring and moves relative to it, so if you turn the focus ring the stiffness ring will turn with it, but it won’t actually change the stiffness. This can actually be pretty confusing for people who just bought the lens and are learning to use it. Some say the push-pull thing makes it easy for dust to get inside the lens and the sensor, but mine is 17 years old now but still cleaner than my language (which is perfectly clean, mind you).

Focusing on this lens may not be as fast as I’d like, but it’s nevertheless relatively fast compared to cheaper non-USM telephotos, especially considering the size of this lens and how much glass needs to be moved for it to focus. For planespotting, you can set the focusing mode to 6.5-infinity for increased focusing speed. I’m quite impressed with the image stabilizer of this lens. I didn’t know IS even existed back in 1998, when this lens was first released. With IS turned on, I was able handhold at 400mm with a shutter speed of 1/80. Canon says that the IS is able to compensate for two light stops, which is think is about right. As you may know, you can switch between two modes of IS. Mode 1 gives you vertical and horizontal correction, whereas mode 2 only provides vertical correction and is meant for panning shots. The image quality is not out of this world but still superb and definitely what you would expect from a piece of Canon L glass. An in-depth review and image quality test is coming soon, so be on the lookout for that. The Canon 100-400mm is an amazing lens and I strongly recommend you pick one up, especially if you can get it second-hand for a much cheaper price.

New on B&H:

Mark II new on B&H:

For further reading – full review by Ken Rockwell: