Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Sony A7R2 With The Canon 400mm 5.6 Lens

Dale Matson

Click On Images To Enlarge
Canon 400mm 5.6 With 1.4X Extender

In my never-ending quest to improve super telephoto image quality (IQ), I have gone from the Canon EF 100-400mm to the Sony SAL 70-400mm to the Tamron 150-600mm and now I am using the adapted Canon EF 400mm 5.6. Each prior lens had a honeymoon period before determining that the IQ (which is more than just sharpness) was unacceptable. Additionally, the zoom lenses were heavy for hiking in the mountains with a daypack. Someday (soon I hope) Sony, Zeiss or Sony/Zeiss will provide a native long lens. I have the FE 70-300 lens but it is too short a reach for bighorn sheep in most cases.
I am primarily a mountain landscape photographer but it occurred to me that for wildlife (almost exclusively mountain bighorn sheep) I always used the long end of the zoom anyway, so a single focus, prime lens was not really a limiting factor. The lens has a deserved reputation for being light, relatively inexpensive, and very sharp and would also provide an acceptably sharp image with the 1.4X extender, which then yields a 560mm lens. When the extender is used, there is loss of light, less depth of field and no autofocus.
This lens is not image stabilized but the A7R2 IBIS allows for hand held shots at 400mm. About half of the images I have provided were hand held. The rest were shot with a monopod or a tripod. The main trick with the lens is understanding how best to mate it with the A7R2. One reason for writing this article is that there is not a lot of information out there on the pairing of the A7R2 with the Canon 400mm 5.6.
In the adapter chart for Canon Lenses to E-Mount, Brian Smith developed, he shows “slow but accurate autofocus” with the Viltrox adapter (which is what I have). The Photodiox adapter does not autofocus. I can agree with him because I rented one to see if it would work better than my Viltrox adapter. The Viltrox adapter provides the file information including when you add the extender. It will say “560mm”. I don’t know about the Metabones IV adapter and if someone reads this, who uses one with this lens, please comment.
I would add that Brian Smith recommend selecting the “Phase Detection Auto Focus” (PDAF) in the Sony set up menu. I recommend “Contrast Detection Auto Focus” (CDAF). If I am patient, I can get autofocus most of the time with Contrast Detection. The lens sometimes ‘hunts’ but will eventually find focus. I found PDAF to be too undependable. When it works, great! But much of the time it doesn’t work.
There are two additional things worth discussing. One is the fact that the Sony A7R2 recognizes non-native lenses as cropped lenses. Check your image file sizes to make certain that you are getting full frame file sizes. If you are not getting 20+mb files you can turn off “auto crop” in the set up menu.
Another is dealing with manual focusing. For manual focus, I switch to aperture priority and move the lens switch from AF to MF. A 400mm lens has a small zone of focus and focus peaking IS NOT dependable on its own. This is where focus magnification becomes important. However, focus magnification is not practical without using a tripod when you go from 5X to 12X. If you zoom to 12X and refocus the image, you will have a good hit rate of sharp images. I can hand hold and zoom to 5X and refocus but it is impossible for me to keep the image in view at 12X.
I have found that practice is an important part of shooting with any non-native long lens. It also helps in the field to review photographs when possible using the magnify button to determine if the image is still sharp when magnified. When possible, auto focus is still the best avenue to a sharp photo but no guarantee either.
What have I found? The Canon 400mm 5.6 lens gives me the best IQ and portability of any adapted telephoto lens I have used. All of these photographs were sharp viewed actual size. The files are smaller for upload.   

 400mm 5.6 1/50  ISO 6400
 400mm 5.6 1/1000
 400mm f8 1/1000 
 400mm 5.6 1/500
 400mm 5.6 1/1000

400mm 6.3 1/500  
 560mm f8 1/500
 560mm f8 1/500
 560mm f8 1/500
 560mm f8 1/500
 560mm f8 1/500
560mm f8 1/500
560mm Crop
Big Moon Of 11-14-16 560mm f8 1/500 ISO 100
400mm 1/400 f5.6 4,000 ISO


  1. mmmm my Sony has never done auto crop on any of my adapted lenses but I have been using MB IV so perhaps that is the issue you have been experiencing?
    I will try finding this 400mm lens to check how it works as my current longest is the EF 70-200mm 2.8 IS ii.

  2. Yes, all of us would like to know how well the autofocus works with the adapted Canon 400 5.6 using the MBIV adapter. It is expensive but I would buy it if the autofocus worked well using it.

  3. Although a completely different animal, I find the 500/4L to work extremely well with the A7RII+MBIV. I have used the combination heavily in my last rugby championship, generally leaving my 1DX and 7DII in the bag. Subject tracking is pretty decent, and i find the A7RII to have better focus accuracy than the Canon cameras.

  4. Thanks for the comment. I'm sure this is a great lens for the professional or someone who is primarily a wildlife photographer. I can only imagine the reach with an extender too. I could not afford the cost (about $9,000.00) or the weight (about 7 lbs.) for the few times a year I photograph bighorn sheep in the mountains. I am surprised that the lens can focus better on the A7R2 then on the Canon cameras. Do you set the Sony to contrast or phase detection? Where do you set the mode dial?