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Preorders begin for Canon's costly 200-400mm 1.4x lens

At $11,799, the flexible supertelephoto lens remains out of reach of all but the wealthiest photographers. Some pros shooting sports and wildlife are bound to pay up, though.

Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x
Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Lens with Internal 1.4x Extender

After keeping wildlife and sports photographers waiting for years, Canon has put a price tag on its 200-400mm supertelephoto lens with an unusual built-in 1.4x telephoto extender.

And it's not cheap: $11,799, at least on B&H Photo's preorder page for the Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Lens with Internal 1.4x Extender.

Canon one-ups Nikon's $6,400 200-400mm lens with the 1.4x extender, which changes the Canon lens range to 280-560mm with a f5.6 aperture.

The built-in extender can be engaged by flipping a lever, a rapid operation that makes the lens more adaptable. And because it's built in, the extender is geared specifically for the lens' optics. Both traits set it apart from ordinary telephoto extenders that photographers must laboriously attach between lens and camera.

Excited photographers should rein in their expectations, though. "Due to high demand we anticipate being unable to fulfill all customer orders with our first allocation. Product supply from Canon is very limited," warns Amazon on its preorder page.

Canon announced the 200-400mm 1.4x lens in February 2011. A company representative said last year that Canon hoped to begin selling it in 2012.

It's a very hefty lens, weighing 8.3 pounds (3.6kg) and measuring 14.4 inches (36.6cm) without its lens hood on. It's got a close-focus distance of 6.6 feet (2m) with or without the 1.4x extender.

It's got 25 lens elements, including some made of fluorite and ultra-low dispersion (UD) glass; that increases to 33 elements with the 1.4x extender engaged. It's also got Canon's SubWavelength Structure Coating (SWC) and Super Spectra Coating technology to minimize reflections and glare inside the lens when shooting into bright light.

The lens is weather-sealed and has image stabilization good enough to let photographers shoot for four stops slower than they ordinarily would. At least for stationary subjects, that means a photographer could shoot without camera shake at 1/60 sec. rather than 1/1000 sec., or alternatively, shoot at ISO 100 instead of ISO 1,600. Note, though, that camera manufacturers' shake reduction claims can be optimistic.