Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM

Lens Reviews / Canon Lenses i Lab tested

Lab Test Results

  • Blur
  • Chromatic Aberration
  • Vignetting
  • Geometric Distortion
  • Blur
  • Chromatic Aberration
  • Vignetting
  • Geometric Distortion
300mm $6,099
average price
image of Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM

(From Canon lens literature) Telephoto lens newly equipped with an Image Stabilizer enabling hand-held shooting for easier movement. The fluorite element and two UD-glass elements effectively correct the chromatic aberrations prone to occur with telephoto lenses.

SLRgear Review
May 19, 2008
by Andrew Alexander

Released in 1999, the Canon 300mm ƒ/2.8L is one of Canon's group of fast image-stabilized long primes. This group includes the 200mm ƒ/2, 300mm ƒ/2.8, 400mm ƒ/2.8, 500mm ƒ/4 and 600mm ƒ/4 IS lenses. As an L-class lens, the 300mm ƒ/2.8 is constructed with a fit and finish which makes one appreciate its $4,000+ price tag.

On a Canon sub-frame sensor body, the lens will have an effective field of view of 480mm (300mm x 1.6).

The Canon 300mm ƒ/2.8 is one of the sharpest lenses we've ever tested. This is a lens designed to be used wide open at ƒ/2.8, and it shows in the test results. On a subframe 20D at ƒ/2.8, the far right edge of the frame barely reaches 1.5 blur units, and the rest of the frame edges just above 1 blur unit. This performance improves (as if it had much room to improve) by ƒ/4, where it is essentially tack-sharp across the frame. It's just as sharp through ƒ/5.6-8, and by ƒ/11 we begin to see the effects of diffraction limiting, though at this level to say that the sharpness is degrading needs some qualification. Sharpness hits 1.5 blur units at ƒ/11, and 2 units by ƒ/16. It's possible to shoot at ƒ/32, but here you actually encounter some legitimate softness issues at 5 blur units across the frame. This really isn't a lens you're going to be shooting at ƒ/32, though.

Performance on a full-frame 5D is equally impressive. The lens is really challenged by the full-frame sensor, with 1.5 blur units in the central region and just shy of 2 blur units in the corners at ƒ/2.8. This kind of performance is the norm through to ƒ/11, not getting any better or worse; at ƒ/11 things even out somewhat and you get a consistent 1.5 blur units across the frame. It never hits the ''tack-sharp'' results we saw on the sub-frame 20D, but the results are still excellent. By ƒ/16 diffraction limiting sets in, with sharpness showing up at 2 blur units across the frame, and the lens produces fairly soft images at ƒ/22-32 (2.5 and 4 blur units respectively).

The 300mm ƒ/2.8 is a lens which really takes advantage of the reduced-frame sensor on the 20D, where the sensor is using only the sweet spot of the glass. On the 20D the lens produces some amazingly sharp results when used in the larger range of its aperture selection. It's impressive on the 5D as well; I think it would be overly critical to say that the corners have issues with sharpness when reaching 1.5-2 blur units. It's not tack-sharp across the frame, but for such a long focal range, it is very impressive performance.

Chromatic Aberration
Canon has taken the reduction of chromatic aberration seriously in this class of lens, by employing a fluorite element for the highest optical quality. As further proof that the lens is optimized for shooting at large apertures, our test results for chromatic aberration show that CA is really only an issue when you stop the aperture down to ƒ/16 or greater. At that range you encounter some CA in the corners, around 6/100ths of a percent of frame height. Generally though, CA is not a problem for this lens and the sample images seem to bear this out.

On the full-frame 5D, CA is even less of a problem owing to the larger pixels of the full-frame sensor. CA still increases as the aperture is stopped down, but in this case, CA doesn't exceed 3/100ths of a percent of frame height, even at ƒ/32.

Shading (''Vignetting'')
The 300mm ƒ/2.8 has a touch of corner shading when set to ƒ/2.8 on a sub-frame sensor body, but one shouldn't get overly anxious over an image that's a quarter-stop darker in the corners than in the center. By ƒ/4, there's no light falloff to speak of.

On a full-frame body however, corner shading becomes a bit more problematic. Set to ƒ/2.8, the lens produces an image that is 3/4 of a stop darker in the corners than the center, which is relatively noticeable, especially in our sample images. By ƒ/4 this shading drops to a quarter-stop, and at ƒ/5.6 and greater corner shading is negligible.

The 300mm ƒ/2.8 shows almost no distortion on a subframe sensor body, at least, none to get worried about: we're talking less than -0.1 pincushion distortion. On a full-frame body, this performance is essentially the same: -1.5% pincushion distortion.

Autofocus Operation
The 300mm ƒ/2.8 focuses extremely fast, and also very quietly. As a USM lens, you can override focus results at any time by just turning the focus ring. The lens is also equipped with a focus preset system, which allows the lens to ''memorize'' a given focus distance, and return to that focus distance when the dedicated present ring is tapped. Finally, the lens is equipped with a focus limiter switch, enabling the focus performance to be improved by limiting the range of distance being focused upon. Focus limiting options are 2.5m to 6.4m, 6.4m to infinity, and 2.5m to infinity.

With a maximum magnification of 0.13x and a minimum close-focus distance of 2.5 meters (8', 2'') there are better choices for macro work.

Build Quality and Handling
Strap yourselves in, there's a lot to talk about with this lens.

The 300mm ƒ/2.8L IS epitomizes the saying of something being ''built like a tank''. Like all L-series glass, the 300mm is dust- and weather-resistant, built with great attention to detail. The lens ships in a hard case with a protective interior, and given the price of this lens, it is indeed a welcome part of the kit. In addition, there's no front cap for this lens - rather, there is a leather-like lens hood to protect the whole front half of the lens.

The lens offers a recessed and windowed distance scale marked in feet and inches. A depth-of-field marker is provided, but is only marked for ƒ/32. Given the focal length of this lens, this is hardly a surprise (the depth-of-field for any aperture setting less than ƒ/32 is hard to register on such a limited scale).

The focus ring on the lens is compose of raised rubber ribs, and is about 1.25 inches wide. It has very nice feel, and with a travel of almost 180 degrees through the focus range, its smooth operation makes manual focusing very easy.

There are an impressive amount of switches and buttons at the disposal of the shooter, the majority of which are inset into a command panel along the left side of the lens barrel. From top to bottom, we have a 3-stage focus limiter switch, AF/MF selector, Image stabilizer selector (both activation and mode selection), and finally the focus preset system.

Given the weight of the lens (5.6 pounds) there is some discussion about the usefulness of image stabilization; there is only so long that most of us are going to hand-hold such a lens. The image stabilization system on the 300mm ƒ/2.8L is designed to work with tripods as well, especially useful as even on a tripod camera shake can be a problem with such a long focal length. Image stabilization comes in two flavors, mode 1 and 2, which allows stabilization to be introduced to counteract movement in both directions (mode 1) or just in the vertical, for panning actions (mode 2).

There has been some discussion about the focus preset system, in that the preset ring can be too easily depressed, leading to an inopportune re-focusing to the memory setting. Apparently it is possible to increase the friction of the switch to increase the pressure required to activate the system, but you'll have to take apart the panel to do so.

The 300mm ƒ/2.8 doesn't use a forward filter ring system, as the front element is huge. Instead, it employs a 52mm drop-in filter system, which can accept an internal polarizer as well as gelatin filters. The lens hood for the 300mm ƒ/2.8, the massive ET-120, is a plastic cylinder, 5 3/4 inches long by 5 3/4 inches wide. It attaches by means of a rotating locking knob. Don't lose this: it will set you back over $500 if you need a new one!

The lens comes equipped with a rotating tripod mount, which can easily be removed. Unfortunately there are no click-stops at 90 degrees for easy transitions between portrait and landscape-style shooting. However given the weight of this lens, you may be better off buying a Wimberly lens mount to allow for optimum support, and provides a better method for going between portrait and landscape shooting. You'll also need some serious tripod legs to support the whole package. This is the high-class problem with owning anything expensive of high quality; the accessories to use them properly also expensive, as well, but are almost required to get optimum performance.

Speaking of accessories, some allow you to get closer to your subject in a variety of ways: the 300mm ƒ/2.8 is compatible with Canon's EF12 and EF25 extension tubes, as well as 1.4x and 2x tele-extenders. With a 2x tele-extender attached, on a subframe body, the lens could produce an effective field of view of 960mm (but having a maximum aperture of ƒ/5.6).


Sigma 300mm ƒ/2.8 EX DG HSM APO ~$2,600
We haven't yet tested this Sigma comparable. It is only slightly smaller and lighter, takes smaller drop-in filters, and has an additional diaphragm blade in the aperture (9 vs Canon's 8). Does not employ an image stabilization system.

Tamron SP AF 300mm ƒ/2.8 LD IF ~$2,900
Tamron also produces a comparable lens; we have not tested it. It is heavier than the Canon 300mm, takes smaller drop-in filters, and has an additional diaphragm blade in the aperture (9 vs Canon's 8). Does not employ an image stabilization system.

Canon EF 300mm ƒ/4L IS USM ~$1,200
If you don't need the maximum aperture of ƒ/2.8, consider saving yourself $3,000 and look at the ƒ/4 version of the 300mm L-series. We haven't tested it, but user reviews are very positive. Also employs Canon's twin-mode image stabilization system and takes regular 77mm filters.

Optically, the 300mm ƒ/2.8L IS produces extremely sharp images, almost free from chromatic aberration, distortion and corner shading. This is most evident when used on a sub-frame sensor body and larger apertures over smaller. On a full-frame sensor body, the lens is almost as good, though corner shading is a bit more evident at ƒ/2.8 and sharpness, while very impressive, is never ''tack-sharp'' across the frame. It's been said before in other reviews, but is worth saying again - it doesn't get much better than this.

For the focal length achieved, Canon has really worked wonders with this lens, which offers excellent performance not only optically but with all the options available to really optimize the photographer's shooting performance. I suspect buyers looking for a lens in this category will actually have some difficulty settling on the right focal length, given that Canon has such great choices between 300mm-600mm. When you're looking to drop several thousand dollars on a lens, you want to be sure you're buying the right one. The most we can offer is if you settle on the 300mm ƒ/2.8L IS, your only regret will be that you didn't buy it sooner.

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 300mm f/2.8L IS USM User Reviews

9.8/10 average of 9 reviews Build Quality 9.9/10 Image Quality 10.0/10
  • 10 out of 10 points and recommended by (1 reviews)
    It takes sharp images really fast!
    Well glass is heavy!

    Well, I must start by sayingt hat this lens is amazing. I havent had the chance to compare it to the newer mark II but it takes really good images. I use it on a H sensor camera and the speed and lens combo is perfect. I get the 390mm at f 2.8 and there is no reason to use a higher f stop number. It is havy and i use it as a carry arowned lens for sports and wildlife. it works fine for me beeing an x triathlete but it gets to the heavy point at some times. I woudlent recomed that you walk further than 10 miles with it on your shoulder. The foces is really fast and the abilaty to take shots ad 1/400 of a sec in dusk is pretty awsome. I would higley recomend this lens.

    reviewed May 21st, 2012 (purchased for $4,000)
  • 10 out of 10 points and recommended by (4 reviews)
    Sharp & Fast
    Heavy (non IS)

    Here's some pics I have taken with the lens....

    A couple of years ago I picked up a non IS 300 2.8l. I love this l ens a lot. I rented one some years back, so I knew I could get by without IS. The person I bought it from worked for a newspaper, so this thing has been used a lot, but is in good condition. Focuse s fast, really sharp, and fun to shoot with. It is one heavy SOB!

    reviewed March 13th, 2011
  • 9 out of 10 points and recommended by (1 reviews)
    awesome, unbelievable, stunning image quality. great case.
    awkward hood attachment. MFA likely necessary but no mention in manual.

    Until recently my main telephoto lens was a very old (1994) 300mm f/4L non-IS, partnered with my 7D for shooting wildlife especially birds. Results have always been extremely impressive, meaning I’d take a picture, look at the camera viewing screen and think, “not bad”. Then download onto computer, and “wow”. Sharpness and IQ amazing.
    Then I was able to afford a brand new 300mm f/2.8L. I took it out into the field and I couldn’t have been more disappointed. Every shot, including literal “sitting ducks” 10 metres away, were significantly out of focus even at 1/3000th second. I couldn’t believe it, having read all the raving about it here and elsewhere.
    So I did a little research and read about Micro Focus Adjustment (MFA) and that it seems to be actually required for any high quality lens. I followed the procedures, found optimum focus at a setting of +9, and FINALLY I understand what all the fuss is about.
    Now in the field I look at the back of the camera and think, like before, “not bad”. I download the images, and simply cannot believe the images. Even the most mundane subjects leap off the screen with the colour, sharpness and contrast. Quite incredible.

    I do have two slight problems:
    1. There is no mention in the lens or camera manual of the very high likelihood that focus adjustment will be actually essential, when many forums seem to indicate that is the case. After this experience, I calibrated all my other lenses too, and found I was able to improve almost every one. Interestingly, the only one that required no adjustment was my old 1994 300mm f/4 mentioned above.
    2. The lens hood is a real pain to attach and detach, maybe I’ll get the knack in time. Introducing it to the front of the lens, it jams very easily and you have to be VERY careful not to touch the glass when attaching it in reversed mode (i.e. to get it back into its case).

    reviewed June 25th, 2010 (purchased for $5,250)
  • 9 out of 10 points and recommended by (12 reviews)
    Great optics, mechanics...
    IS is showing a bit of age

    Here's my sharpness comparison of the 300 2.8 IS and the currently USD 700 more expensive Nikon 300 2.8 VR (both on a 5D Mark II):

    Here's also a bokeh comparison of the 300 2.8 IS vs. Nikon 300 2.8 VR and Sigma 120-300 2.8:

    Considering these points and the age of this lens, it's a real bargain.

    Compared to newer lenses like the 200/2L IS and 800/5.6L IS, this lens is showing its age, mainly in the IS department.

    If anyone's wondering whether a 200/2L+1.4x TC is just as good as a 300 2.8L IS... the short answer is no. The bare 200/2L is optically a bit better but adding a 1.4x TC to it will take that lead away. Get the 300 if you want the reach.

    reviewed June 17th, 2010
  • 10 out of 10 points and recommended by (12 reviews)
    Fast, Sharp, Excellent IQ, Mad Bokem, Built like a tank, Beautiful Build Quality...WOW worth every dime...
    Doesn't come with CP and a nice storage place in hard case or nice soft case, picky huh :-)

    Ok, first of all got this beauty for a GREAT price. (Still had that new lens smell ) Totally unmarked with all the parts, UT date code. I've shot and played with it for a couple of months before I gave this review. This lens is the BOMB, it's fast to focus and EXTREMELY sharp. I can see why everyone raves about this lens. I shot some HS Baseball & Soccer with it last week. This is my first Great White and it's excellent it also takes the 1.4tc extremely well. I bought a nice Domke J-612 and Canon CP for it. I'm planning to get a 2x II also for a 600/5.6is. All I can say is WOW it's worth every dime...

    reviewed April 14th, 2009 (purchased for $3,000)
  • 10 out of 10 points and recommended by (11 reviews)
    The BEST lens money can buy!

    Most photos I have shot are with Extender 2X. Judge it yourself here…

    reviewed January 19th, 2008 (purchased for $4,150)
  • 10 out of 10 points and recommended by (9 reviews)
    Image stabilization, sharpness

    Outstanding lens in every way. Image quality is first rate, construction quality is equally excellent. Image Stabilization opens new photographic opportunities. I routinely handhold this lens at 1/60th and 1/30th with acceptable results, which makes it great for places where tripods and or lights are not acceptable (churches). I routinely use it with the Canon teleconverters. With the 1.4 there is no loss of quality to speak of (pixel peepers might disagree) and focusing speed is still first rate. With the 2X there is a slight loss of sharpness and contrast and, on the 5D, it vignettes noticeably. But it cleans up nicely by f5.6 and is still quite usable for most applications.

    reviewed December 16th, 2006 (purchased for $4,500)
  • 10 out of 10 points and recommended by (5 reviews)
    THE best lens Canon ever produced
    expensive hood if broken

    Never ever I have seen such a magnificent lens. While it does benefit from stopping down, the increase in resolution is very slight as the lens is almost as good at 2.8 as it is at 5.6. Nothing else to say. This is THE lens.

    reviewed November 7th, 2006 (purchased for $4,000)
  • 10 out of 10 points and recommended by (7 reviews)
    Professional tool with oustanding IQ

    IQ wise this lens is great even wide open.
    Still great with the TC 1,4
    just good with the TC 2 (but a bit better on the 5D, than the 20 D)
    The AF is fast (just average with the TC2 : you should limit the AF range here)
    The build quality is fantastic
    You can handhold it , but not during minutes.
    The IS is a fine improvement especially in this focal range.

    This lens is one of the best 300 mm lens, and one of the best canon lenses. Wide open it's the sharpest of nearly all canon lenses.

    reviewed August 17th, 2006 (purchased for $6,000)