Why Every Photographer Should Have a 100-400mm Telephoto

There are staple telephoto lenses, such as the 70-200mm, but this photographer believes the standout winner and the most underrated Sony lens, is a 100-400mm.

My first telephoto lens was a 75-300mm f/4-5.6 and it was woeful. In fact, I was so inexperienced as a photographer that I thought the softness and dreadful autofocus was just part and parcel of longer-range telephoto lenses, so I steered clear of them. As I learned more, I realized that the problem was that specific lens, and I invested in a Canon 70-200mm f/4. I was immediately converted (eventually swapping it for a 70-200mm f/2.8) and on many occasions, I've mulled over the idea of an even longer telephoto lens.

On various trips I've taken to test photography equipment for companies, I've had access to telephoto lenses with a longer range and they never fail to surprise me with just how much coverage they have. However, I'm also never sure that I would put it to much use outside of trips. Though one long telephoto that has caught my attention a couple of times is the Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS. Chris Hau, in this video, dubs it as the most underrated Sony lens, and it's easy to see why. With such reach, you have so much control over the composition. And while 400mm is more than far enough for most people, 100 mm is close enough that you wouldn't need to switch out your lens every time.

What do you think? Is the 100-400mm a great telephoto zoom to own, or is it too niche for most photographers? Do you own one? If so, what do you use it for mostly?

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12 Comments
Eric Robinson's picture

No.....not every photographer needs "fill in the need for today". I do wish Fstoppers would stop publishing such totally stupid headlines, what is the point? So this chap likes his Sony 100-400, well good for him. In my opinion a 100-400 is the most awkward of focal lengths, not enough reach for Wildlife but possibly OK for sports, but I am sure like all things everyone will have a view on this, but defiantly not a must for every one.

PS.... I have a Sony 200-600, and no not everyone needs such a lens.

Adam Rubinstein's picture

Yes, it is a somewhat awkward FL range though it can be used for a variety of things from portraits to landscapes, etc. The MFD is an attractive characteristic of this lens. Usually, it is a companion for my longer prime when shooting wildlife and it's great for those situations when a critter comes in close. For those who don't have the funds to purchase a long prime, it is a usable alternative with a 1.4x TC though I think the IQ suffers. Is it a definite must? For a Sony user who wants a WL lens, the 200-600 is a wiser option whereas a Canon aficionado is better served with the 100-500.

Casper Maarly's picture

"Every Photographer Should Have"

It won't fit my Sinar or my Hasselblad.

Get real, you have little real world experience.

With small format work I often shoot with the 400 f/2.8. News Sports shooting. Love the lens and it works for me but that does not mean "everyone" needs one.

Alexander Petrenko's picture

That 400 end is so tempting for studio photography... I will need to rent a stadium and can add extreme macro closeups to my offerings. Thanks for a great advice! So sad I can’t buy it right now as it is available online only. But I will order it and will wait patiently for Monday morning to expand my creativity.

Mark Forman's picture

I have been using the FE 100-400mm GM lens since it came out and love that lens. It is extremely sharp and contrasty everything I need to get the shot. The only thing I would wish for is that would go to f/2.8 but then again that wish could only be fulfilled with a tremendous increase in size and weight.

Steven Gotz's picture

Stupid headline. I have a 70-200mm f/2,8 so why would I want a 100-400mm when I could have a 200-500 instead?

That said, there are times I prefer my 120-300mm f/2.8

Ziggy Stardust's picture

Yes, I use one for birds and find it versatile and high quality.
It pairs very well with the 1.4 TC and in good light or close conditions does OK with the 2.0 TC. Depending on the body there are max f stop wrinkles here though that dampen the joy.
Its close minimum focus is also a strength as is its compactness (800mm in a small package makes it ideal for active photographers).

Bryce Milton's picture

I have the Fuji XF 100-400 4.5-5.6 which makes it a fairly portable 150-600mm equivalent (only $1025 used!) - Exceptionally useful range for many situations, but not everyone will want to carry one of these around everywhere they want to go.

Cameron Hanks's picture

where it may not be used as much as a prime or wide angle, my Tele (70-300) is one of my most versatile lenses. its a great way to introduce compression and scale in landscapes and also isolate a subject that may be in a messy composition. I love my telephoto.

Bob Locher's picture

I pretty much agree with the uses of the lens. I own the Sony 70-350 f4.5 - f 6.3 G APS-C lens, and use it on an A6500. Where the situation calls for it, it is a terrific lens, super sharp right out to the end of its range, something few zoom lenses manage to accomplish. And in terms of FF, it is the equivalent of 105 - 475mm.