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Canon EF 100-300mm f/4.5-5.6 USM

 
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Lab Test Results

  • Blur
  • Chromatic Aberration
  • Vignetting
  • Geometric Distortion
  • Blur
  • Chromatic Aberration
  • Vignetting
  • Geometric Distortion
100-300mm $253
average price
image of Canon EF 100-300mm f/4.5-5.6 USM

(From Canon lens literature) Highly practical and portable telephoto zoom lens. The five zoom groups make the length only 4.8 in. (121.5mm). With rear focusing, the lens does not change length or rotate during focusing. Any filter effects therefore remain intact. It also makes autofocusing quick and quiet.

SLRGear Review
March 31, 2008
by Andrew Alexander

The Canon 100-300mm ƒ/4.5-5.6 USM telephoto zoom lens was originally released in 1990, and while Canon has moved on to a different cosmetic style for its newer lenses, it continues to produce this lens as one of its telephoto series.

Canon digital SLR cameras with sub-frame sensors have a ''crop factor'' of 1.6x. Thus, for this particular lens, it will exhibit an effective focal length of 160-480mm. However, the lens is an older design, created long before digital SLR cameras hit the market, thus the lens is fully compatible with full-frame sensors. The lens takes 58mm filters, and a lens hood is indicated as an optional accessory.

This lens isn't a ''constant'' lens, in that as you increase the focal length, both the maximum and minimum aperture sizes decrease. The following table reflects the change in aperture with focal length:

Focal Length 100-135mm 135-200mm 200-300mm
Largest aperture ƒ/4.5 ƒ/5 ƒ/5.6
Smallest aperture ƒ/32 ƒ/36 ƒ/40

The Canon 100-300mm ƒ/4.5-5.6 is available now, with an average retail price of around $270.

Sharpness
The 100-300mm shows its best performance with regard to sharpness at the wider end of its focal range; as you zoom in towards 300mm, we are seeing an increase in both corner and overall image softness. The lens achieves its best performance when stopped down to ƒ/8; at 100mm and 135mm, the lens is tack-sharp at both ƒ/8 and ƒ/11.

The lens sees problems with sharpness when used with its smaller apertures; unless you want a deliberately softened image, there's no reason to set the lens at anything smaller than ƒ/16 when set to 200mm or greater, or ƒ/22 for 100-135mm.

Set to 100mm, image sharpness is very good by ƒ/5.6, and at 135mm, excellent at ƒ/8. All other settings have some form of softness to them.

On a full-frame sensor body, results are similar, if slightly exaggerated: corner softness, while just notable on a subframe body, becomes extreme when set to ƒ/5.6 at 200mm or 300mm. Still, the lens performs well in its comfortable zone of ƒ/8 and ƒ/11, but your sharpest images will still appear when the lens is set to 100mm or 135mm.

Chromatic Aberration
I was pleasantly surprised by the lens' treatment of chromatic aberration, though only when the focal length was set to 100mm or 135mm, where we are seeing less than 2/100th of a percent of frame height of chromatic aberration. These are almost negligible levels. However, at 200mm or 300mm chromatic aberration becomes distinctly noticeable, appearing mostly in the corners. This performance is similar when the lens is mounted on a full-frame sensor body.

Shading (''Vignetting'')
Corner shading is not an issue when the lens is mounted on a subframe body, barely reaching a quarter-stop darker in the corners than in the center of the frame, and then, only when the lens is set to its widest aperture.

There's a distinctly different story when the lens is mounted on a full-frame body, however, with substantial (3/4 EV) corner shading appearing when the lens is used at its widest aperture, regardless of focal length. Only by ƒ/8 and smaller does corner shading become negligible.

Distortion
Distortion isn't much of a problem when the 100-300mm ƒ/4.5-5.6 is mounted on a subframe sensor body; a very slight pincushion (squeeze) type distortion in the center, and a slight barrel distortion on the edges, not exceeding 0.25%. This performance is echoed on a full-frame body, though slightly more prominent owing to the larger frame size. In that case, distortion is minimal when set to 100mm, but by 300mm there is 0.5% barrel distortion in the corners and 0.25% pincushion in the center.

Autofocus Operation
Autofocus performance for the 100-300mm is very quiet and very fast. While autofocus speed will depend on the particular body being used, we can report that the lens moves from closest focus to infinity in well under a second on our 5D body. As a USM lens, it's possible to override autofocus at any time by just turning the focus ring.

Macro
As a telephoto lens, the 100-300mm makes a poor macro choice; one only has to look at its magnification ratio of 0.20x to imagine there are better choices. As well, the lens has a close focus distance of 150cm (4', 8'').

Build Quality and Handling
The 100-300mm ƒ/4.5-5.6 feels like a good solid lens. While it's clearly not a metal body, the operation of the lens is still very smooth. Given the lens' price point, there are no dust or moisture seals. The zoom ring is wide (35mm) and rubber-coated, with large oblong depressions and small ridges in the middle. This isn't as good a grip as fine ribs, but it's still no problem in practice to control the zoom operation. By contrast, the manual focus ring is narrow (7mm) with finer ribs. Manual focus operation isn't quite as smooth, it feels a bit more ''draggy,'' for lack of a better word. However, there's no trouble focusing, with a good range of travel (maybe 140 degrees), so it's easy to achieve proper focus.

The zoom operation of the 100-300mm is very smooth, needing only a quarter turn to go from 100 to 300mm. That said, the lens is VERY prone to zoom creep: at the shorter end it'll creep even without jiggling. When zooming, the barrel extends about 45mm when zooming, adding another 50% to the lens' overall length.

The front threads on the lens take a 58mm filter, and are plastic. However, the front mount doesn't rotate while focusing or zooming, so good news for polarizer users. The rear lens mount is metal. The lens has a distance scale and a AF/M switch. There's no aperture ring, so it may not work well with older film bodies that can't set the aperture of a lens.

Alternatives

Canon EF 70-300mm ƒ/4-5.6 IS USM ~$550
At double the price of the 100-30mm, the 70-300mm doesn't disappoint; consistently sharp along focal lengths and apertures, even wide open, good resistance to chromatic aberration, negligible corner shading and reasonable distortion. With both IS and USM built-in, this lens is worth the extra dollars, if you have them to spend.

Canon EF 75-300mm ƒ/4-5.6 IS USM ~$150-400
There are several versions of the 75-300mm design, and unfortunately, we haven't tested any of them.

Canon EF-S 55-250mm ƒ/4-5.6 IS ~$275
We haven't yet tested this lens, but it is an APS-C design with image stabilization; as an EF-S lens, it's really only worth considering if you're using subframe digital SLR bodies exclusively.

Tamron 70-300mm ƒ/4-5.6 Di LD Macro 1:2 AF ~$150
The Tamron is sharper is more focal length/aperture combinations; CA performance is slightly worse at 100-150mm, but better at telephoto; similar performance considering distortion and vignetting. You pay less for the Tamron, but focus speed will be slower, as it's not a USM style lens; however, you do get 0.5x magnification in the lens' macro mode.

Conclusion
While this lens may have been very capable in its day, it's fairly easy to argue that technology has marched on and left this lens in its wake; as a 100-135mm lens it works very well, but it shows soft results with noticeable chromatic aberration at anything more telephoto than that. A good lens to have in a collection if you find a good deal, but there are other, better options to actively seek out.

Sample Photos

The VFA target should give you a good idea of sharpness in the center and corners, as well as some idea of the extent of barrel or pincushion distortion and chromatic aberration, while the Still Life subject may help in judging contrast and color. We shoot both images using the default JPEG settings and manual white balance of our test bodies, so the images should be quite consistent from lens to lens.

As appropriate, we shoot these with both full-frame and sub-frame bodies, at a range of focal lengths, and at both maximum aperture and ƒ/8. For the ''VFA'' target (the viewfinder accuracy target from Imaging Resource), we also provide sample crops from the center and upper-left corner of each shot, so you can quickly get a sense of relative sharpness, without having to download and inspect the full-res images. To avoid space limitations with the layout of our review pages, indexes to the test shots launch in separate windows.

Canon EF 100-300mm f/4.5-5.6 USM User Reviews

6.0/10 average of 8 reviews Build Quality 6.9/10 Image Quality 5.5/10
  • 3 out of 10 points and not recommended by (4 reviews)
    None.
    Extended on its own, terrible IQ at 300 end.

    When I bought my first Canon SLR in 1998, the Elan IIe, I purchased the 28-105 f/3.5-4.5 USM, this 100-300, and a 50/1.8 prime. I took this kit around Europe, and the results I got from the 100-300 were poor, to say the least. I bought it to add range, but found that it only had usuable image quality at the 100mm range. Over about 150mm, I found the lens to have unusable lack of sharpness, poor contrast and terrible CA. Build quality was not great either, and the lens extended/retracted on its own if not held level. I had to put a fat elastic on the zoom control just to make it usable on my trip.

    I sold this lens as soon as I got home, good riddance!

    reviewed December 7th, 2010 (purchased for $300)
  • 7 out of 10 points and recommended by (1 reviews)
    Silent, Affordable, Good Reach
    Relatively slow aperture range, Loose zoom ring

    There's more to a good picture than sharpness. Although I don't have any experience with other EF lenses in this range, for my own work I've found the EF 100-300mm f/4.5-5.6 USM to be totally sufficient.

    It's a long lens with a slow maximum aperture and no IS. Big deal! Bring a tripod. CA is well-controlled and distortion is non-existant. Out of the dozens of pictures I've taken with this lens wide open at 300mm, I haven't found any that lack the sharpness to be "usable". Critical focus at 300mm is much more important. Of course the proof is in the pudding, as they say:

    http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3225/3135792193_68aeab3b7a_o.jpg

    The bottom line is: If you need to stop motion or shoot without a tripod, this lens probably isn't for you. If you can allow yourself to work within its limitations, I can think of few advantages the EF 300mm f/2.8 has that could justify the difference in price.

    reviewed December 26th, 2008 (purchased for $75)
  • 7 out of 10 points and recommended by (10 reviews)
    Usable at the short end, relatively cheap used
    Not really usable at 5.6/300 mm

    Optical quality on 35 mm camera: Not bad at 100 mm, then the picture quality gradually deteriorates, at 300 mm it is hardly usable unless stopped down. It is quite cheap used, and you will be able to make good photos with it if you avoid 5.6/300 mm.

    The build quality is not brilliant either, but it has fast and silent USM focusing, retouchable manually, very useful at photographing distant objects.

    reviewed January 8th, 2007 (purchased for $300)
  • 6 out of 10 points and not recommended by (16 reviews)
    Long focal range, light.
    Not really sharp, poor build quality.

    This lens can be useful if you need a long focal range, especially on a DSLR (160-480mm equiv).
    However, I can't say I've been happy with it.
    Build quality is poor (it is subject to lens creeping), and it lacks in contrast and sharpness, and sometimes you can't stop it down because of its long focal lenght and lack of IS.
    For this price, the Sigma 70-300 may be a better alternative.

    reviewed January 4th, 2007
  • 7 out of 10 points and not recommended by (6 reviews)
    long focal length
    everything else LOL

    This was the first canon lens I bought waaaay back when I was in college... somewhere in the forgotten 90's. I was doing a lot of sports photography (soccer, football, baseball) and it was excellent for its purpose (newspaper publishing) but it really is showing it's age now.

    I rarely use this lens now. It isn't useful indoors at all, with the apperture being so slow and with no IS it is impossible in low-light. And I do most of my shooting now indoors.

    The one place this is decent would be outdoor wildlife. You might be able to get shots of birds and such that you just can't with anything under 300mm. But image quality is pretty sad. I'd recomment people get the EXCELLENT 70-200mm F4 L lens which doesn't cost THAT much more. With that lens you'll be able to use for candid shots outdoor and good in wildlife, and with the sharpness on the F4L, you can crop the images and probably will be better in quality than this 300mm.

    BUT, if you really need 300mm at any cost (any cost being CHEAP) this is the only option available.

    Another thing that comes with the camera is that at 300mm this thing is SO LONG that people will think you're cool even without a white lens. (well, the people being classified as people who don't know cameras) But we all know that SIZE doesn't matter... it's how well you use it... or... how good the glasses are lol.

    reviewed December 25th, 2006 (purchased for $300)
  • 4 out of 10 points and not recommended by (6 reviews)
    Lightweight, an inexpensive way to get a long focal length zoom (160-480 eq. on a 1.6x crop)
    Uninspiring detail, contrast, subject to flare, subject to zoom creep

    I pull this lens out form time to time, but the results are so uninspiring I just can't recommend this lens.

    It's a fairly slow lense, the price of the compact design.


    Contrast & detail are disappointing.

    Then again, I don't have much experience with long focal lengths, so my expectations might be unreasonable.

    The lens will creep out towards 300mm if you tilt it. This can make you want for a third hand to hold it in pace, in some instances.

    reviewed December 8th, 2006 (purchased for $290)
  • 7 out of 10 points and recommended by (5 reviews)
    light weight, inexpensive, sharp images
    not very sharp at 300mm Does not work with ef 2x converter

    I bought it because of the 100 to 200 image quality. It does photograph at 300mm but it isn't nearly as sharp at that length. I doesn't work with the Canon 2x converter because they won't physically fit together.

    reviewed November 28th, 2006
  • 7 out of 10 points and recommended by (7 reviews)
    USM, zoom rangle, reasonable price, sharp enough
    no IS , lacks some constrast

    This is the 4th lens I own and compliments my existing lenses well. I initially bought my Canon 350D / XT with the kit lens (18-55mm), use the Canon 28-135mm lens as my walkaround lens, and also bought the Canon 50mm f1.8 lens too.

    After half a year I wanted a zoom lens and ended up deciding on buying this lens. I've found it is a very handy telephoto zoom rangle of 100-300mm- I definitely wanted more than just a 200mm limit. This 100-300mm range is especially good on an APC DSLR with it's 1.6x "crop factor"; bringing zoom to a 35mm equivalent of 160-480mm.

    I enjoy using this lens a lot. It's great to be able to zoom up on wildlife well, use for sports or to use for outdoor portraits (with a pleasing bokeh wide open). My copy of this lens is especially sharp (even wide open) between 100 and 240mm, and still quite good between 240-300mm.

    I was toying up between this lens and the Canon 70-300mm IS or a Sigma 70-300mm lens. In the end I got this lens because the "portrait problem" of the 70-300mm Canon lens hadn't been resolved at that time (in the UK during May 2006, and Romania where I live doesn't cover Canon service) PLUS the 100-300mm lens was around half the price of the 70-300mm IS. IS would of course be very handy, but in many situations you can still get good handheld results without having IS if you know how.

    For the performance and build quality I really think the Canon 100-300mm USM lens has a very reasonable price (I bought it for around £200). There were cheaper versions of Sigma telezoom lenses available (and there were cheaper Canon lenses I tried too, e.g. the 90-300mm Canon lens) but none of them had the USM which I really wanted and the "sturdier feel" that I like so much about this lens. (It basically has the same build quality of my 28-135mm lens, which I'm very very happy with!)

    USM provides fast and accurate focussing (especially useful for sports or moving animals). Initially I was a bit worried if the lens' optical quality would be good enough, but in the end I'm happy enough with it. There is a bit of a lack of contrast and colour, but I find with some post processing (mainly a simple contrast & saturation adjustment) I can get really good results! That's one of the great benefits of digital photography!

    It's great for my needs and by bumping up the ISO (to 800 or 1600) I can get good lower light photos handheld (and I can reduce the noise by software if needed). OR, if the situation is needed, I can get fantastic results using my tripod too. but I'm happy enough with this lens. It's size is great too, I have my camera, and all my 4 lenses in a small camera bag which I can take with me anytime I want.

    reviewed October 20th, 2006