Field Review - Canon EF 600 F4 IS II L

In the world of iconic and big wildlife lenses, one needs to look no further than at the far end of the massive Canon EF line.  In my mind, there is no other glass that has received more accolades from wildlife photographers than the Canon EF 600 F4 IS II L.

In a recent trip to Florida to photograph the wildlife there, I had an opportunity to use this lens for several days.  This post is a culmination of my thoughts during that trip.  I will examine everything from build quality to the final images.  I hope find it useful and enjoy reading it.

Canon EF 600mm F4 IS L II (Photo courtesy of Canon USA)


  • Focal Length:  Fixed, 600mm
  • Maximum Aperture:  F4
  • Image Stabilized:  Yes, 4 stops
  • Lens Construction: 16 elements in 12 groups (Fluorite)
  • Drop in Rear Filter: Yes, 52mm
  • Closest Focusing Distance: 4.5m/14.77 ft.
  • Weight: 11.45 lbs
  • MSRP:  $11,499

As I handled this lens day after day, the one word that kept coming to mind was "Tank."  This lens is a tank of a lens.  Additionally, my brother, who also accompanied me on this trip, used that word probably as much or more than I did to describe the lens.  

Those who follow my work, know that I am a run and gun wildlife photographer.  Although I do use a tripod, I do not like it slowing me down, making me miss valuable shots.  You must accept that bias when reading this and understand your style may be different than mine.  Personally, I found the weight of 11.45 lbs to be un-handholdable (is that a word?) for more than 20 seconds at a time.  Most of the time, I would lean against a tree/car or shoot entirely from the car when using it.  I had to be tethered to something the entire time I was shooting.  There was simply no way to run and gun.  I did find it to be great as a "car blind" lens.  I was able to rest it on my Grizzly Bean Bag and the weight really helped with the stability.  

Having said all that, the build was astoundingly rugged.  The lightweight aluminum shell was very strong, manual focusing was buttery smooth and all of the buttons easy to access.  All in all, it is what I have come to expect from a high end "L" lens.  Understand, that the weight does not come from the metal used in its construction, but from the massive front element and other glass elements. 

This lens is also a fully weather proofed, sealed lens, so the photographer can shoot in adverse conditions all he wants, as long as his camera is just as weather proof.  It is a nice feature, but in today's world, even many of the lower priced options also are equally weather proofed.  

I found the build of the 600 to be identical in quality to that of the Canon EF 400mm L.  Click here to read that review.

As one would expect from a lens in this category and expense, the sharpness and contrast was excellent.  This allows the beauty of the subject to pop in the images you will take with it.  I don't know of any way to describe optical quality as it is something that needs to be seen.  The images below speak for themselves.  What do you think? Is the quality worth 11K? I will share my thoughts on that in the conclusion section.

Little Blue Egret - Canon 7D Mark II, ISO 200, F4, 1/400th (Image Stabilized, resting on bean bag)

100% Crop (Roughly) of the above image.

Florida Alligator (Cropped Vertical 50%) Canon EOS 7D, F 7.1, 1/500th of a second, hand held

In the photo of the alligator, pay particular attention to the eyes and around the eyes.  The level of detail is astounding!

The AF on this lens is second only to that of the 400 f2.8 in the same line.  It is fast, so fast in fact that you can barely even see it focus. The focusing of the lens is almost silent as one would expect.  In cloudy conditions, the Canon powerhouse outperformed my Sigma 150-600 time and time again.  

If this lens was such a great focusing lens, then where are the flight shots?  Well, there are none with this lens, because it does not fit my style for flight shooting.  I want a lens I can hand hold.  It can be the fastest lens in the world, but if I can't hold it in my hands, pivot with each bird flying, then I am not interested in it.  With this lens, it all comes down to your own style and how this lens fits that style.  The quality is a given with any high end luxury lens.  In the shot below, I was stunned at how fast and how sharp the image was. Even heavily cropped, this image maintained its quality!

Stunning in optical and build quality, the Canon EF 600 mm F4 IS II is everything I would ever need in those respects.  However, the massive weight at 11.5 pounds, combined with the $11,000 price tag, keeps it from being a run and gun contender for my wildlife photography.  

In my opinion, this lens could act as a primary wildlife lens if you only shoot from vehicles or shoot only from a tripod.  For those folks who have the money, I would take a hard look at purchasing this lens.  It was a true pleasure to shoot with it and be able to provide you with a fact based, field test report. The next section contains a quick list of the pros and cons of this lens.


  • Build to astounding quality
  • Great image stabilization up to 4 extra stops of hand holding (too bad it is so heavy)
  • F4 aperture provides extra low light performance
  • Super sharp with great resolving power
  • Blazing auto-focus
  • Smooth manual focus ring


  • Extremely heavy (Imagine holding two newborn babies on one arm out in front of you for long periods of time)
  • Extremely high priced ($11,000 MSRP (US Dollars))
  • Manual focus ring can cause your shots to shift focus when resting on a bean bag
  • 14.7 ft minimum focusing distance


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  1. I'm enjoying your website. I can only dream of using this lens. You got some great shots!

    1. Thanks Parallaxview! It was a beautiful lens to work with. My brother was with me that week I shot with it and he loved it also.