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Tips On Buying A 100-400L  
User currently offlineatomother From United States of America, joined May 1999, 440 posts, RR: 4
Posted (2 years 7 months 3 weeks 5 days 1 hour ago) and read 5742 times:

Hello all, I used to be a frequent poster/uploader here but life has been in the way recently... At any rate, I am finally ready to get in the market to buy a 100-400L and was wondering if anyone had some advise for purchasing one.

I know I want to buy it new, and will want to test it before I buy as I am worried about getting the dreaded bad copy of one that I have read so much about. In doing some research, it seems that the bad copies that are out there were produced at a particular time some years ago and are identifiable by serial number. Can anyone confirm this? If so, what serial numbers are the good copies that I should be looking for and which ones should I avoid?

Also, I am assuming this lens is still in production, if so, have models produced more recently been avoiding the "bad copy" designation and the IQ problems beyond 300mm.

Hoping to get a great copy of this lens and learn for any mistakes others have made.

Thanks,
Tim Samples

21 replies: All unread, jump to last
 
User currently offlineJakTrax From United Kingdom, joined Jun 2005, 4936 posts, RR: 7
Reply 1, posted (2 years 7 months 3 weeks 4 days 16 hours ago) and read 5696 times:

Hi Tim,

I bought one only last year and ended up sending it back as it was extremely soft one side at above about 350mm. Initially I was pretty satisfied with it as I'd been told not to expect miracles at the long end, but the perfectionist in me assumed that a copy existed somewhere that would be spot on both sides!

Luckily my second copy was just that. Goes to show though that newer models can suffer from issues so I think the whole serial number thing is just an urban myth.

There are many here who will quote the 'tolerance' thing, and although there's much truth to it it can't be a factor when only one side is constantly very soft.

Also, I'd really recommend buying one during winter time, when it can be successfully tested in cold, clear air. The amount of people who first test it by taking it out to their local at mid-day in 30 degree C heat in summer is unbelievable. They then go on to moan that the images of that 747 taken at 400mm are crap. I mean......

A lot of people here disagree with me but I think you're perfectly entitled, when spending well over $1,000, to settle for nothing less than a prefect copy - however many times you send one back!

Karl


User currently offlineviv From Ireland, joined May 2005, 3142 posts, RR: 29
Reply 2, posted (2 years 7 months 3 weeks 4 days 15 hours ago) and read 5675 times:

Who makes the illegal copies? China?


Nikon D700, Nikkor 80-400, Fuji X Pro 1, Fujinon 35 f/1.4, Fujinon 18 f/2
User currently offlineatomother From United States of America, joined May 1999, 440 posts, RR: 4
Reply 3, posted (2 years 7 months 3 weeks 4 days 11 hours ago) and read 5642 times:

Hi Karl, thanks for the info... Agree with how people test them, winter versus summer. This is def not a beginner lens and I think I am fully past that stage 10 years into the game with over 1000 uploads on the site here.

I am thinking about purchasing through B&H here in the states. I see they have a 30day return policy, has anyone here bought this lens through them and returned it looking for that good copy? Am kind of wondering what they do with the copies that are returned back to them for not being that perfect copy. I assume they are factory sealed when they arrive?


User currently offlineandrew50 From United States of America, joined Jun 2005, 123 posts, RR: 1
Reply 4, posted (2 years 7 months 3 weeks 4 days 8 hours ago) and read 5620 times:
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I always wondered that about B&H's return policy, and what they do with returned lens' or camera bodies. I have bought almost all of my gear from them and they are definitely great to deal with. My first 100-400, and first L lens I had ever purchased actually broke the 2nd time out with it. That was about 6 years ago. I was sick to say the least. I called B&H that afternoon, the rep could tell I was really upset, and actually sent me out a new one (next day Fed Ex) before I even sent the broke one back. What bothers me about the Canon gear is they don't come with a factory seal on the boxes like most electronic stuff or software. I really can't see how they could sell the gear as new, but who knows.

User currently offlineatomother From United States of America, joined May 1999, 440 posts, RR: 4
Reply 5, posted (2 years 7 months 3 weeks 4 days 1 hour ago) and read 5588 times:

Yeah, it has been a while since I purchased a lens but I dont remember any seals that I had to break to get into it. I guess that is just the way they do it.

Am thinking about ordering two at the same time and just keeping the better one. I think reading all the posts about bad copies has me a bit freaked out and I am also wondering what the chances are of actually getting a bad one. Am hoping it is very rare and mostly just internet paranoia of photogs.


User currently offlineflood From United States of America, joined Feb 2009, 1381 posts, RR: 1
Reply 6, posted (2 years 7 months 3 weeks 3 days 23 hours ago) and read 5583 times:

I'm not aware of any Canon photo products which are sealed and am quite certain B&H cleans, tests, resets (including the shutter actuations which they do check) and repackages (new) returned items for resale. I've seen it discussed a few times on dpreview with one of their representatives chiming in. This practice is probably also followed by other large retailers such as Adorama, etc.

That shouldn't stop anyone from buying there imo and they get virtually all my photo business. Their selection, professionalism, competitive pricing, quick and reliable shipping, and their return policy can't be beat.

Quoting atomother (Reply 5):
Am thinking about ordering two at the same time and just keeping the better one.

It's reasoning such as this which is why they can't take every single opened box and ship it back to the manufacturer. The items are essentially still brand new and, more than likely, meets Canon's tolerances. Otherwise B&H would quite literally be shipping tons of glass back to Canon every month.


User currently offlinedazbo5 From United Kingdom, joined Mar 2005, 2903 posts, RR: 2
Reply 7, posted (2 years 7 months 3 weeks 3 days 20 hours ago) and read 5556 times:

Quoting atomother (Reply 5):
I think reading all the posts about bad copies has me a bit freaked out and I am also wondering what the chances are of actually getting a bad one.

If you're set on a 100-400 L, the only way is to go and purchase one from a reputable dealer then spend a week or two evaluating it. As Karl menioned, this is the better time of year to do that rather than in the warmer months. Long lenses take some getting used to as well so watch the shutter speeds. If you're happy with it, that's great. If not, take it back and explain your reasons and either get a refund or swap it for another one. Of all the lenses I've had, only one didn't meet expectations and it was swaped without any questions. You can sometimes read too much in to things. The 100-400 is a very popular lens and given the numbers out there and it's reputation as one of the best lenses, that shows how many have problems.

Darren



Equipment: 2x Canon EOS 50D; Sigma 10-20 EX DC HSM, 50-500 EX APO DG, Canon 24-105 f/4 L, Speedlite 430EX
User currently offlineJakTrax From United Kingdom, joined Jun 2005, 4936 posts, RR: 7
Reply 8, posted (2 years 7 months 3 weeks 3 days 14 hours ago) and read 5521 times:

I think the 100-400 has a bad reputation but this is fed in part by the truth. First one I had was okay but, like I said, when spending that much money I wanted a perfect one. I thought I may have to go through three or four before settling on one but the second copy was (and still is) excellent.

The first copy is probably by now in someone else's hands, and they may well be as happy with that one as I am with my second. There is also the 'tolerance' thing, although soft on one side only is a lens fault and nothing to do with mis-match between camera and lens.

Quoting dazbo5 (Reply 7):
given the numbers out there and it's reputation as one of the best lenses, that shows how many have problems

Whilst true, I suspect that many people settle for mediocre copies in the belief that it's supposed to be not-too-good at 350mm and above. I've spoken to many people who claim their copies are crap above ~320mm, and it astounds me that they never investigated more while they still could have requested a replacement. A friend told me personally not to expect much at 400mm, yet my copy is superb at that focal length.

I suppose it all depends on how fussy you are. Like I said, when paying in excess of GB£1,000 for a lens, I want it to do the job perfectly. There are many retailers (at least here in the UK) that are willing to keep supplying lenses until you (the customer) are happy. So long as the unwanted item goes back in perfect, resaleable condition you should be fine.

Karl


User currently offlinedlednicer From United States of America, joined May 2005, 544 posts, RR: 7
Reply 9, posted (2 years 7 months 3 weeks 3 days 11 hours ago) and read 5484 times:
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I bought mine used on Amazon, during a period when there was a shortage of supplies of the lens here in the US. It has proven to be a very good lens. A lot of what I get out at 350-400mm is dependent on the lighting. By Canon's own admission, the lens is not as good at 400mm as it is at 100mm:


According to the EXIF information, this was shot at 400mm and I remember that the day was pretty warm. Obviously, the subject was moving relatively fast.

View Large View Medium
Click here for bigger photo!

Photo © David Lednicer



User currently offlineNZ107 From New Zealand, joined Jul 2005, 6414 posts, RR: 38
Reply 10, posted (2 years 7 months 3 weeks 3 days 9 hours ago) and read 5462 times:

I bought my 100-400 last November and loved it from the beginning. I've had no problems whatsoever with it and I reckon it's either down to luck or some other unforeseen circumstances if you end up with one which isn't optimal.


It's all about the destination AND the journey.
User currently offlineatomother From United States of America, joined May 1999, 440 posts, RR: 4
Reply 11, posted (2 years 7 months 3 weeks 3 days 9 hours ago) and read 5459 times:

I think I will give it a shot and order through Amazon or B&H. I won't be ordering two, that was just some thinking out loud. From what I can tell the easiest tests seem to be shooting some dollar bills at different focal lengths and seeing how the results are. As long as they are sharp evenly across the photo and I am happy with it the results, then I guess I am good to go. Without anything to directly compare an exact photo to, I think all I can do is decide if I am happy with it or not.

I currently have a 75-300 IS so maybe I will set them both up on tripods with the IS off taking some test shots at the same focal lengths and see how much sharper the 100-400 is. It is just that 300-400 range that I will have to use my judgement on I suppose.

Does anyone know of any good dollar bill type test shots online taken with a good copy of a 100-400 that I could use to compare mine to?


User currently onlinewalter2222 From Belgium, joined Sep 2005, 1293 posts, RR: 28
Reply 12, posted (2 years 7 months 3 weeks 3 days 6 hours ago) and read 5431 times:

Hi Tim,

The 100-400 is a good lens, but it takes a while before you get used to it. The zoom is push-pull and some people hate is, while others love it (I am one of them).

Even if you compare its sharpness by taking some static test-shots, and assuming the results are good, getting good results of very fast moving jets will take some practise.

In general, I take my 100-400 lens and the body to a Canon repair centre once a year to have the combo re-calibrated. While both the camera-body and the lens are manufactured to strict specifications, both have tolerances. These tolerances - if extreme and adding up - can cause a bad performance of the combo compared to another combo (with different tolerances). This also explains why a certain lens can have different performances if conected to different bodies (with different tolerances).

Good luck with the purchase (and testing)!

Best regards,

Walter



canon 340d ;-) - EFS10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM - EFS18-55mm - EF28-105mm f3.5/4.5 - EF100-400mm f4.5-5.6l is usm - ...
User currently offlineatomother From United States of America, joined May 1999, 440 posts, RR: 4
Reply 13, posted (2 years 7 months 3 weeks 2 days 22 hours ago) and read 5387 times:

Thanks for all the comments so far...

I have been doing more reading on the web and am coming to the conclusion that when people say that got a bad copy, I think the problem is that their copy isn't calibrated properly and after it is sent to Canon for proper calibration to line everything up internally then their bad copy turns into a good one? Before doing my research I was just thinking that it was a quality problem with the glass in the lens not being up to par but now I am left wondering.

Anyone else think I am on the right track here with all the glass being the same in all the lenses but the fine tuning is where the differing results come from?


User currently onlinevikkyvik From United States of America, joined Jul 2003, 9911 posts, RR: 26
Reply 14, posted (2 years 7 months 3 weeks 2 days 13 hours ago) and read 5343 times:
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Quoting atomother (Reply 13):
Anyone else think I am on the right track here with all the glass being the same in all the lenses but the fine tuning is where the differing results come from?

I'm no expert in lenses, but I do deal with fabricating parts and tolerances a fair amount....

There are many potential sources of error in a lens:

1.) The fabrication of the actual lens elements;
2.) The position and alignment of the lens elements (the fabrication of the housing and other parts);
3.) The mounting between lens and camera;
4.) The precision with which the elements move as the lens is zoomed/focused;
5.) Tolerances in the camera;

Probably others which I didn't mention.

My GUESS is that the actual glass elements are probably made to pretty strict tolerances. However, that doesn't do a whole lot of good if they're not positioned accurately as well. You could also get a lens where the tolerances of most or all of the individual components are maximized to one side; stack them up and the whole thing could be nearly out of tolerance.

The mounting between lens and camera, and your particular camera's tolerances, are really the x-factors. The manufacturer and/or seller won't know whether your camera is perfect, or at least within tolerance. If you get the lens(es) calibrated with your camera, that'd obviously solve that issue.

So, in essence, I think I agree with you.



"Two and a Half Men" was filmed in front of a live ostrich.
User currently offlineG-CIVP From United Kingdom, joined Mar 2001, 1321 posts, RR: 10
Reply 15, posted (2 years 7 months 3 weeks 2 days 10 hours ago) and read 5306 times:

Canon's bodies usually come sealed (can not comment on the lenses), although the dealer will usually break the seal to check the goods prior to sale.

User currently offlineJakTrax From United Kingdom, joined Jun 2005, 4936 posts, RR: 7
Reply 16, posted (2 years 7 months 3 weeks 2 days 9 hours ago) and read 5300 times:

Quoting atomother (Reply 13):
Anyone else think I am on the right track here with all the glass being the same in all the lenses but the fine tuning is where the differing results come from?

This is definitely the case, however if a piece of glass is misaligned this constitues a fault rather than a tolerance issue.

Whatever the reason behind 'bad' copies, I believe that returning the item to Canon always proves fruitful. Still, I'd rather not have to send a brand new, £1,000+ product back to the manufacturer for 'tweaking'. Additionally, this service as I understand costs money, which on top of the price already paid is a bit much.

On a final note, a friend of mine has just bought one and his (first) copy is every bit as good as mine. No horror story there then.....

Karl


User currently offlineJRowson From United Kingdom, joined May 2004, 351 posts, RR: 12
Reply 17, posted (2 years 7 months 3 weeks 2 days 8 hours ago) and read 5280 times:

Quoting atomother (Reply 13):
I think the problem is that their copy isn't calibrated properly and after it is sent to Canon for proper calibration to line everything up internally then their bad copy turns into a good one? Before doing my research I was just thinking that it was a quality problem with the glass in the lens not being up to par but now I am left wondering.

Calibration is partly the issue...but my 100-400 woes went to a mechanical level in that the IS failed on a 6 month old copy and the IS unit had to be replaced (under warranty) but then after the lens went out of warranty I had an AF problem and the AF unit had to be replaced at great expense. You simply don't need this from a lens that costs alot of money to buy. When the AF had been fixed and re-cal had been done it wasn't a bad lens but by this point i was rapidly loosing faith and switched over to a 70-200 and 1.4x combo which frankly blew my 100-400 out of the water and resulted in me selling it.



James Rowson. Canonite and lover of all things L. JAR Photography.
User currently offlineatomother From United States of America, joined May 1999, 440 posts, RR: 4
Reply 18, posted (2 years 7 months 3 weeks 12 hours ago) and read 5153 times:

Thank you all for the helpful replies... I just took the plunge and made the order with B&H as I have read so many positive things about them in my research of this lens. They also had it available and a great price at $1439.

I will now be selling my 75-300IS as I doubt I will use it much anymore with this 100-400L in my arsenal. Will be sad to see the 75-300IS go though as it get me to 1000 photos on this site and it was a great lens! Can't wait to put the big guy on my 60D and run it through some tests and eventually get some great wildlife and aviation photos with it.

I will update this thread with the results I get from B&H and from the new 100-400L.

Thanks again for all the help and perspectives!


User currently offlineJakTrax From United Kingdom, joined Jun 2005, 4936 posts, RR: 7
Reply 19, posted (2 years 7 months 3 weeks 12 hours ago) and read 5148 times:

Yes, do let us know how you go on.

Karl


User currently offlinephilhyde From United States of America, joined Aug 2003, 678 posts, RR: 1
Reply 20, posted (2 years 7 months 3 weeks 9 hours ago) and read 5129 times:

Quoting atomother (Reply 18):
I will now be selling my 75-300IS as I doubt I will use it much anymore with this 100-400L in my arsenal. Will be sad to see the 75-300IS go though as it get me to 1000 photos on this site and it was a great lens!

Unless you need the money (which I TOTALLY understand), I would keep it. You'd be surprised when that shot you want is in the 75-100 range.



HoustonSpotters Admin - Canon junkie - Aviation Nut
User currently offlineatomother From United States of America, joined May 1999, 440 posts, RR: 4
Reply 21, posted (2 years 7 months 2 weeks 6 days 22 hours ago) and read 5091 times:

I already have the 10-22 and the 18-200 which I have found is quite good compared to the reviews I have read about it. I think between those two and the 100-400 I will be totally covered.

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