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The best 100-400mm lenses in 2021: which is the best zoom for you?

best 100-400mm lenses: which is the best zoom for you?
(Image credit: Canon)

Looking for the best 100-400mm lenses? These telephoto zooms offer some of the greatest flexibility on the market, and with lens technology getting better all the time, they're getting more and more compact!

With incredibly versatility, a 100-400mm lens is an ideal companion for shooting sporting events, wildlife, airshows, and really anything else where you just need to bring a little reach into proceedings to get a sharp image of your subject. Pushing further than a 70-200mm or even a 70-300mm, without the limited perspective of a 500mm prime, they are oriented towards consumer photographers who might want to approach a range of subjects. This is also helped by the fact that they tend to be much more affordable than the big telephoto primes. 

There are plenty of 100-400mm lenses around, with most manufacturers fielding their own, as well as a host of third-party options. Sometimes the precise focal range differs from lens to lens; Nikon offers an 80-400mm, while Pentax has a 150-450mm. There are also some manufacturers pushing things further, like Canon with its 100-500mm lens for RF mount. We've taken a broad view in this guide; if it roughly covers the 100-400mm focal range, it merits inclusion as far as we're concerned. 

One thing to bear in mind is that when a 100-400mm lens is used on a crop-sensor camera, its reach will be extended. A 100-400mm lens on an APS-C camera like a Fujifilm X or a Sony E-mount will provide an effective focal range of 150-600mm, while on a Micro Four Thirds camera from Olympus or Panasonic, its reach will extend to a whopping 200-800mm.

So, for a long, versatile zoom lens that won't clear out your bank account, read on! Here are the best 100-400mm lenses for each major system (click the headings to the left to jump straight to the system of your choice).

Best 100-400mm lenses in 2021

Canon

It's the best value 100-400mm for Canon DSLRs

Specifications
Mount: Canon EF, Nikon F
Full-frame compatible: Yes
Autofocus type: Ultrasonic (ring-type)
Optical stabilizer: Yes
Minimum focus distance: 1.6m
Maximum magnification: 0.26x
Dimensions (WxL): 86x182mm
Weight: 1,160g
Reasons to buy
+High performance+Good customization options
Reasons to avoid
-No optional tripod mount ring -Not fully weather-sealed

Despite being full-frame compatible, Sigma’s 100-400mm ‘Contemporary’ lens is relatively compact, lightweight and easily manageable. It’s only about two-thirds the weight of Canon’s equivalent lens and is barely any heavier than the Panasonic 100-400mm, which produces a much smaller image circle.

Handling is very good, with smooth zoom and focus rings, and the availability of switching to auto-priority or manual-priority autofocus, the latter enabling you to twist the focus ring and override autofocus without first waiting for it to lock onto a target. Two switchable custom modes for autofocus speed and stabilization behaviour are available, which you can set up with the optional Sigma USB Dock. 

There are Canon EF and Nikon F mount versions of the lens, both of which have very rapid yet near-silent autofocus, along with image quality that’s on a par with competing own-brand lenses. The Sigma is a particularly good buy for Canon cameras, as the rotational direction of the zoom ring is the same as in own-brand lenses (opposite to Nikon), and a full set of in-camera aberration corrections is available with current and recent bodies. These include the likes of peripheral illumination and distortion, as well as lateral chromatic aberration.

2. Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM

A top quality lens for Canon DSLRs if you can afford own-brand prices

Specifications
Mount: Canon EF
Full-frame compatible: Yes
Autofocus type: Ultrasonic (ring-type)
Optical stabilizer: Yes
Minimum focus distance: 0.98m
Maximum magnification: 0.31x
Filter thread: 77mm
Dimensions (WxL): 94x193mm
Weight: 1,640g
Reasons to buy
+Build quality and handling+Great optical performance
Reasons to avoid
-Relatively heavy and expensive -No switchable custom settings

This own-brand Canon lens is about 50 per cent heavier than the competing Sigma 100-400mm zoom and getting on for three times the price. That’s a big mark-up for a lens that’s only one-third of an f/stop faster at the long end of its zoom range but, then again, you’ll usually pay a premium for own-brand Canon glass.

Extensively redesigned from the original version of the lens, the Mark II drops the trombone-style push-pull zoom mechanism, instead featuring a regular twist ring. However, it retains the adjustable friction damper of its predecessor. The Mark II also adds high-tech ASC (Air Sphere Coating) to reduce ghosting and flare, and keep-clean fluorine coatings on the front and rear elements.

The image stabilizer is also uprated with 4-stop effectiveness and three operating modes for static and panning shots, plus an option for applying stabilization only during exposures. This makes it easier to track erratically moving objects through the viewfinder. Autofocus speed and image quality are impressive, but not really any better than from the less expensive Sigma and Tamron alternatives.

(Image credit: Canon)

The latest premium super-telephoto zoom for EOS R mirrorless cameras

Specifications
Mount: Canon RF
Full-frame compatible: Yes
Autofocus type: Ultrasonic (ring-type)
Optical stabilizer: Yes
Minimum focus distance: 0.9-1.2m
Maximum magnification: 0.33x
Dimensions (WxL): 94x208mm
Weight: 1,530g
Reasons to buy
+Stellar build and image quality+Excellent AF and IS
Reasons to avoid
-Narrow max aperture-Expensive

Canon's EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM (see above) is a firm favourite among DSLR shooters, and the RF 100-500mm f/4.5-7.1L IS USM looks set to become a similar hit for Canon's R-series. Rather than try to improve on the optical performance of the EF mount lens which the company felt was pretty spot on, Canon has instead opted to expand the focal length for this R-series lens by a further 100mm. This sees the maximum aperture drop down to f/7.1 at the long end of the zoom, but pair the lens with either the EOS R5 or R6 (both featuring Canon's next-generation In-Body Image Stabilization), and with the RF 100-500mm you can increase the amount of IS stops from 5-stops to 6-stops when the lens and camera IS combined. Added to this is Canon's excellent build quality and stunning optical performance which all combine to make this one of the best super-telephoto lenses you can buy.

Nikon

The best combination of value and performance for Nikon DSLRs

Specifications
Mount: Canon EF, Nikon F
Full-frame compatible: Yes
Autofocus type: Ultrasonic (ring-type)
Optical stabilizer: Yes
Minimum focus distance: 1.5m
Maximum magnification: 0.28x
Filter thread: 67mm
Weight: 1,135g
Reasons to buy
+Excellent performance+Lightweight build and weather-seals
Reasons to avoid
-Aperture shrinks to f/6.3 at full zoom-Tripod mount ring sold costs extra

This Tamron combines high-end performance with a lightweight build, at an attractive asking price. It lacks the Sigma’s switchable ‘custom’ modes and auto/manual-priority override options for autofocus, but adds a more comprehensive set of weather-seals.

Handling is refined and the oversized AF/MF and dual-mode static/panning stabilization switch are easy to operate even with gloves on. The flipside is that you can find yourself nudging the switches out of position accidentally. Autofocus range limiting is available for both the short and long sectors of focus distance.

Image quality and autofocus speed are impressive. Optional extras include a USB Tap-in Console for applying autofocus fine-tuning and firmware updates, and a tripod mount ring. Even so, at just over a kilogram, the Tamron is only about two-thirds the weight of Nikon’s 80-400mm lens and doesn’t really need a tripod mounting ring. The rotational direction of the zoom ring is the same as in Nikon lenses. The electromagnetic diaphragm control makes aperture adjustment impossible with some older Nikon DSLRs, however.

5. Nikon AF-S 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR

The best quality option for Nikon DSLRs if you can afford it

Specifications
Mount: Nikon F
Full-frame compatible: Yes
Autofocus type: Ultrasonic (ring-type)
Optical stabilizer: Yes
Minimum focus distance: 1.75m
Maximum magnification: 0.2x
Filter thread: 77mm
Dimensions (WxL): 96x203mm
Weight: 1,570g
Reasons to buy
+Dual switchable autofocus modes +Full compatibility for aperture control
Reasons to avoid
-Hefty in weight and price-Stabilization is a little mediocre

Nikon’s original AF 80-400mm was the company’s first lens to feature VR (Vibration Reduction). That’s been updated in the new AF-S version, but it’s still only worth about 3-stops and is less effective than in the cheaper Tamron 100-400mm. It does have a switchable dual-mode autofocus system, enabling you to give priority to autofocus or manual override.

The original Nikon AF lens relied on an autofocus motor in the host camera, coupled via a screw-drive mechanism. It was actually one of Nikon’s slowest lenses in terms of autofocus performance, and made autofocus completely unavailable with cameras like the D40, D3xxx and D5xxx series. The replacement AF-S lens has typically fast and near-silent ring-type ultrasonic autofocus, that works with any Nikon DSLR or mirrorless Z-series camera. Furthermore, it has Nikon’s old-style aperture control lever, rather than an electromagnetic system (as featured in the Sigma and Tamron lenses), ensuring compatibility with older Nikon DSLRs.

Performance and image quality are impressive overall. However, the Nikon struggles to justify its price tag when compared to newer Sigma and Tamron competition.

Fujifilm

6. Fujifilm XF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR

The obvious choice for Fujifilm X-mount cameras

Specifications
Mount: Fujifilm X-mount
Full-frame compatible: No
Autofocus type: Twin linear motors
Optical stabilizer: Yes
Minimum focus distance: 1.75m
Maximum magnification: 0.19x
Filter thread: 77mm
Dimensions (WxL): 95x211mm
Weight: 1,375g
Reasons to buy
+Mighty telephoto reach +Very effective 5-stop stabilizer
Reasons to avoid
-Big and heavy lens -Price

One of Fujifilm’s highly acclaimed ‘red badge’ lenses, the XF100-400mm has robust, fully weather-sealed, professional-grade build quality. Handling is excellent, benefiting from Fuji’s typical control ring, ideal for controlling the aperture in aperture-priority and manual shooting modes.

Despite producing the relatively small image circle used by APS-C format cameras, the lens is about the same weight as competing Canon and Nikon full-frame compatible lenses. Thanks to the APS-C crop factor, the effective zoom range is boosted to 150-600mm and you can bump it up even more with one of Fujifilm’s 1.4x or 2x tele-converters, albeit with a loss of one or two f/stops in aperture width.

Optical highlights include five ED (Extra-low Dispersion) elements and one Super ED element, for minimizing chromatic aberrations. Super-fast and virtually silent autofocus is based on twin linear motors, and there’s a highly effective 5-stop image stabilizer with automatic panning detection.

Olympus and Panasonic

Best 100-400mm for Micro Four Thirds cameras

Specifications
Mount: Micro Four Thirds
Full-frame compatible: No
Autofocus type: Linear motor
Optical stabilizer: Yes
Minimum focus distance: 1.3m
Maximum magnification: 0.25x
Filter thread: 72mm
Dimensions (WxL): 83x172mm
Weight: 985g
Reasons to buy
+Sensational reach +Relatively lightweight
Reasons to avoid
-Modest max aperture at 400mm -Feels cumbersome on an MFT body

Typical of Panasonic’s up-market lenses for Micro Four Thirds cameras, this one is impeccably turned out. The relatively small size of MFT image sensors equate to a 2x focal length multiplier or ‘crop factor’, giving the lens a humungous effective zoom range of 200-800mm. As an MFT lens, it will not only work on Panasonic cameras like the GH5, but also on Olympus OM-D and PEN mirrorless cameras (and some Blackmagic video cameras too).

It feels pretty epic in practice, like using a 100-400mm on a full-frame camera with a 2x tele-converter. And while the f/6.3 aperture rating at the long end is a third of a stop down on some competing lenses, it’s no narrower than in the latest Sigma and Tamron 100-400mm zooms.

Switches are on hand for auto/manual focusing, an autofocus range limiter, and stabilization on/off. The built-in Power OIS (Optical Image Stabilizer) can work in conjunction with sensor-shift stabilization, available in Panasonic cameras with a ‘Dual IS’ function. A handy locking ring between the zoom and focus rings enables variable friction damping and can put a stop to zoom creep. Build quality feels very solid and the lens has a dust- and splash-proof construction.

Typical of MFT lenses, this one has fast and practically silent autofocus, based on a linear motor. Sharpness and contrast are impressive and there’s practically zero distortion at any zoom setting.

Best 100-400mm lenses: Olympus M.Zuiko 100-400mm f/5.0-6.3 IS

(Image credit: Olympus)

This flexible Olympus lens can be teleconverted for greater reach

Specifications
Mount: Micro Four Thirds
Full-frame compatible: No
Autofocus type: Stepper motor
Optical stabilizer: Yes
Minimum focus distance: 1.3m
Maximum magnification: 0.17x (wide) / 0.57x (tele)
Filter thread: 72mm
Dimensions (WxL): 205.7x86.4mm
Weight: 1,120g
Reasons to buy
+Huge reach+Weather sealed
Reasons to avoid
-Not as fast as Panasonic's-Some sharpness issues

Although Micro Four Thirds lenses and bodies can of course be used interchangeably, users of Olympus cameras might want to consider the Olympus 100-400mm F5.0-6.3 IS. Granted, it's got a maximum aperture of f/5, as opposed to the Panasonic which tops out at f/4, but it's got impressive weatherproofing, and its compatibility with Olympus's 2x Teleconverter MC-20 and 1.4x Teleconverter MC-14 means you can extend that colossal reach even further!

The sharpness is generally okay; we found it a little lacking in our lab tests, but not enough to seriously compromise performance. Results from the Olympus 100-400mm F5.0-6.3 IS are generally pleasing in a host of different situations, and its relatively compact dimensions make it a good partner for Olympus's small OM-D cameras. 

Some MFT users may prefer the greater flexibility of the Panasonic lens, but if you're using Olympus cameras, this M.Zuiko lens will probably provide a better overall user experience. Still, the MFT system is designed to let you craft your own setup, so ultimately it's down to you which lens feels best!

Pentax

9. HD Pentax-D FA 150-450mm f/4.5-5.6 ED DC AW

The best 100-400mm for Pentax DSLRs

Specifications
Mount: Pentax K
Full-frame compatible: Yes
Autofocus type: DC motor
Optical stabilizer: No
Minimum focus distance: 2.0m
Maximum magnification: 0.22x
Filter thread: 86mm
Dimensions (WxL): 95x242mm
Weight: 2,000g
Reasons to buy
+Impressive build quality+Fits full-frame and APS-C bodies
Reasons to avoid
-Relatively big and heavy -Not the quickest autofocus

Compared with typical 100-400mm lenses, this Pentax sets its sights a little higher, with a 150-450mm zoom range. It gives you generous telephoto reach on full-frame cameras, boosted to an effective 230-690mm range on APS-C format bodies.

We’re used to seeing robust kit from Pentax with impressive build quality, and this lens is no exception. It feels particularly solid and has a durable, weather-sealed construction. The flipside is that it’s physically larger and noticeably heavier than competing lenses, weighing in at 2kg. That’s nearly twice the weight of the Sigma and Tamron 100-400mm lenses, although they’re only available in Canon and Nikon mount options.

The Quick-Shift autofocus system has switchable auto/manual priority for override, along with a three-position range limiter switch. It also benefits from four focus buttons around the mid-section of the lens barrel, which you can use to start or stop autofocus, or to apply a preset focus distance. Based on an internal DC motor, autofocus isn’t quite as quick as most ring-type ultrasonic systems but is nevertheless quicker and much quieter than in Pentax lenses that rely on an AF motor in the host camera.

Sony

The best 100-400mm for Sony E-mount mirrorless cameras

Specifications
Mount: Sony FE
Full-frame compatible: Yes
Autofocus type: RDSSM + LM
Optical stabilizer: Yes
Minimum focus distance: 0.98m
Maximum magnification: 0.35x
Filter thread: 77mm
Dimensions (WxL): 94x205mm
Weight: 1,395g
Reasons to buy
+Brilliant all-round performance +Effective image stabilization
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive for a 100-400mm lens-Feels big and heavy

Built to do full justice to Sony’s prestigious Alpha A7 and A9 series full-frame mirrorless cameras, this lens also works a treat with APS-C format E-mount bodies, where it gives an effective zoom range of 150-600mm. Build quality is fabulous, with a really solid yet refined feel to the construction and a more comprehensive set of weather-seals than is fitted to Sony’s 70-100mm G-line lens for it’s A-mount cameras.

A full set of switches is on hand for AF/MF focusing, an autofocus range limiter and dual-mode optical stabilization for static and panning shots. Buttons around the forward end of the lens enable a autofocus-hold function. The zoom ring has variable friction damping, applied via a separate ‘zoom torque adjustment ring’.

Image quality and overall performance are excellent in all respects. Autofocus speed is very rapid, based on a system that includes both linear motors and a ring-type ultrasonic actuator to drive different groups of elements. The effectiveness of the optical stabilizer is enhanced when used in conjunction with sensor-shift stabilization, featured in later Sony bodies. Good control over ghosting and flare is aided by a nano-structure coating.

(Image credit: Future)

Sigma adapts its 100-400mm lightweight zoom to fit Sony and L-mount cameras

Specifications
Mount: Sony FE, Leica L
Lens construction: 22 elements in 16 groups
Angle of view: 24-6 degrees
Optical stabilizer: Yes
Minimum focus distance: 1.12-1.6m
Maximum magnification: 0.25x
Filter thread: 67mm
Dimensions (WxL): 86x197/199mm (L/SE)
Weight: 1,135/1,140g (L/SE)
Reasons to buy
+Relatively compact and lightweight+Good handling 
Reasons to avoid
-Fairly narrow aperture rating-Pricey compared to other versions

Nicknamed the ‘light bazooka’, Sigma launched a relatively compact and lightweight 100-400mm zoom for Canon and Nikon DSLRs back in 2017. Three years down the line, this new ‘DN’ edition is now available for Sony E and Leica L-mount mirrorless cameras. The optical path is upgraded and includes a top-notch FLD (‘Fluorite’ Low Dispersion) element, in addition to four SLD (Special Low Dispersion) elements. Other enhancements include a customisable Focus-lock button and a TS-111 tripod mounting ring, which is available as an optional extra (£139/$130). We’ve found the new DN lens to be sharper than its older sibling, throughout the entire zoom range. Overall, it’s an excellent performer at a very attractive price.

12. Sony 70-400mm f/4-5.6 G SSM II

Still shooting with a Sony Alpha? This is the best lens in this focal range

Specifications
Mount: Sony A
ull-frame compatible: Yes
Autofocus type: Ultrasonic (ring-type)
Optical stabilizer: No
Minimum focus distance: 1.5m
Maximum magnification: 0.27x
Filter thread: 77mm
Dimensions (WxL): 95x196mm
Weight: 1,500g
Reasons to buy
+Pro-grade build and handling +Long focal range
Reasons to avoid
-No optical stabilization -No weather-seal in areas

Going shorter even than the Nikon 80-400mm, Sony’s A-mount super-tele zoom kicks off at just 70mm. It’s full-frame compatible and gives an extended ‘effective’ reach of 105-600mm on APS-C format bodies. The ring-type SSM (Super Sonic wave Motor) gives typically quiet autofocus with the usual full-time manual override, and is four times faster than in the original lens. The Mark II also adds Nano AR coatings to further reduce ghosting and flare. Build quality is of a pro-grade standard, typical of Sony G-line lenses, with a dust- and moisture-resistant construction. 

The AF/MF switch also acts as a range limiter, with an extra mid-point position for locking out short range autofocus. Three buttons around the forward end of the lens enable a handy ‘focus hold’ function for freezing the action of autofocus. As with the competing Pentax 150-400mm lens, there’s no optical stabilizer. Image quality is pretty impressive in all respects although we found outright sharpness to be good rather than great.

More lens guides
The best 150-600mm lenses
The best 50mm lenses
The best 70-200mm lenses
The best budget telephoto lenses
The best macro lenses
The best fisheye lenses
The best Canon lenses
The best Nikon lenses
The best Fujifilm lenses
The best Sony lenses
The best Micro Four Thirds lenses for Olympus or Panasonic cameras

Matthew Richards

Matthew Richards is a photographer and journalist who has spent years using and reviewing all manner of photo gear. He is Digital Camera World's principal lens reviewer – and has tested more primes and zooms than most people have had hot dinners! 


His expertise with equipment doesn’t end there, though. He is also an encyclopedia  when it comes to all manner of cameras, camera holsters and bags, flashguns, tripods and heads, printers, papers and inks, and just about anything imaging-related. 


In an earlier life he was a broadcast engineer at the BBC, as well as a former editor of PC Guide.