The ultimate landscape telephoto lens for a Canon camera is actually one that is marketed as a sports and wildlife focused: the Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II. If I had to choose a favorite lens out of my entire kit, it has to be this one.
First things first: the zoom range. It’s unreal. The field of view difference between 200mm and 400mm makes an astronomical difference in the types of images I’m able to create. I used to use a 1.4 extender with my 70-200mm f/4L II lens, but I was ultimately disappointed with the degradation of image clarity and the wonkiness of having to put an additional adapter between my lens, EF-RF adapter, and camera body.
I now see compositions everywhere I look now! I know I can so closely zoom in to very tight scenes or create stunning scene compression. The compression at 400mm is something that I had always wanted out of the 200mm focal length but just couldn’t ever reach. The f/5.6 aperture isn’t the best when light gets dim if faster shutter speeds are needed, but most of my work is on a tripod with static subjects, making this a moot point. There is also the near-macro like ability too… Since I don’t have a macro lens, this is my best close focusing option. It’s so good that I rarely feel the need to add a macro to my kit.
The other thing to keep in mind (and what really had me convinced to go for this lens over the 70-200mm f/2.8L alternatives) is simple: they weigh about the same. My first “L” lens was the first iteration of the 70-200mm f/2.8L, a secondhand copy that was pretty beat up and had mediocre image stabilization. This weighs about as much, which is a lot heavier than the 70-200mm f/4L I carry when weight is a concern, but the reach of this lens far outweighs the f/2.8 aperture of my original telephoto lens. I ended up selling that one and putting the proceeds towards the 100-400 ii, especially since the bigger aperture is not something I’d need for low light/action applications.
This lens is now my second most used lens, behind only my go-to 24-70mm f/2.8L II. The image quality is perfect, the image stabilizer means I can hike without my tripod and still get great images at 400mm, and the weather sealing lets me take this cannon of a lens out even when the rain is falling. If I could only bring along two lenses on a photography trip, this would be my telephoto complement to whichever normal or wide angle lens I’d choose. I don’t know if I’d bring just this one, but it would certainly be highly considered.
The only lens that could rival this one is the new RF 100-500mm option. Once I picked up a Canon R5, I was incredibly tempted to go for the mirrorless ultra zoom, but frankly don’t think it’s worthy of an upgrade. Now let me explain, because I think the 100-500 is probably better. It’s just not better enough to warrant selling my favorite lens and replacing with one that I can only use on the R5 (currently the 100-400 can go on the 5DSR and R5).
The other thing I thought about too was that the difference between 400mm and 500mm wasn’t as noticeable as the difference between 200mm and 400mm when utilized in landscape photography. Just a slight crop of the image and I can recreate the 500mm field of view. The 100-400 is also solid metal construction (i.e. tough as nails), while the newer one is more of a specialty plastic. The less metal construction does make the newer lens lighter, but I’m a fan of the durability and the interoperability between my two camera bodies.
If you’re considering a lens that can bring your landscape photography to the next level, this 100-400mm should be at the top of your list. The only real downside I can think of is the price, which can be a bit high compared to other options like the 70-200mm f/4L. However, with the new RF 100-500, I found my model for $600 cheaper than most new prices just because it was exchanged for the new model after no use. It was still in the original sealed plastic and everything. I know it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made since starting landscape photography, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.