Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM
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March 21, 2011
by Andrew Alexander
Canon released the 70-300mm ƒ/4-5.6L IS USM in August of 2010, the latest version of a traditional telephoto zoom lens. The version we're testing is the third generation of the lens, now an L-class lens, complete with the off-white finish, red ring and premium price tag.
The lens was designed to fill the 35mm sensor, and will work on all APS-C, APS-H and full-frame Canon cameras. 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 changes as you zoom:
The lens ships with a round lens hood, takes 67mm filters, and is available now for approximately $1,600.
The Canon 70-300mm ƒ/4-5.6L provides its best results for sharpness in the 100-135mm range, stopped down slightly. Issues noted above 200mm, particularly on full-frame cameras, suggest our sample could be slightly de-centered.
When mounted on the sub-frame 7D, the lens provides decent sharpness wide open at 70mm and ƒ/4; stopping down to ƒ/5.6 shows some modest improvement, and we see this performance continue at ƒ/8. Diffraction limiting starts in at ƒ/11; at ƒ/16 results are just slightly soft, and increasingly so until the lens is fully stopped-down at ƒ/32.
The lens continues to provide good, if not slightly better, results through to 135mm, however it should be noted that the area of major sharpness was the bottom left of the frame, suggesting some de-centering. Still, overall performance is very good, and the sharpness-to-softness dropoff is only very slight, even at wide apertures.
At 200mm performance falls off slightly. Used wide open af ƒ/5, there is a small sweet spot of sharpness in the center, moving to slight softness in the corners. Stopping down improves this performance, but doesn't provide tack-sharp results - best performance at this focal length is essentially tied between ƒ/8 and ƒ/11. At the full zoom extension of 300mm, performance is almost the same as that noted at 200mm.
Mounted on the full-frame 1Ds Mark III, the lens' performance is almost the same, with just slightly more noticeable corner softness. The only results which stand out strongly are found at 200mm and longer, where the lens' de-centering problems are more noteworthy - the left side of the frame shows distinctly more softness than the right. Stopping down does improve this performance, but doesn't come close to offering tack-sharp performance.
As usual, fully stopped-down performance, with the lens mounted on either camera, is very soft, more so as the lens is zoomed in towards 300mm.
The Canon 70-300mm ƒ/4-5.6L handles chromatic aberration very well, showing only light magenta-green fringing in areas of high contrast, and only noticeable in the corners of the image. These fringes are most noticeable with the lens used at either end of its zoom spectrum: at either 70mm or 300mm, with the best performance shown at 200mm.
Mounted on a subframe (APS-C) sensor camera, light falloff isn't noticeable with this lens. On a full-frame camera such as the 1Ds Mark III, light falloff is only noticeable with the lens being used wide open; in this case, the extreme corners are about 2/3EV darker than the center. However, just stop the lens down by one stop, and this light falloff drops below 1/4EV, or essentially negligible.
To its credit, there's hardly any distortion to be found on images when the 70-300mm ƒ/4-5.6L is used with subframe bodies such as the 7D. It's only when used on full-frame that any significant distortion is detected. In this case, it's the usual blend of barrel and pincushion, with the barrel (bloated) distortion found at the wide end, below 100mm, and the pincushion (squeezed) distortion most noticeable at 200-300mm.
As an L-class lens with Canon's USM focusing technology, there aren't many lenses which will keep up with the focusing speed of the 70-300mm ƒ/4-5.6L. It takes well less than a second to go through the focusing range. The lens makes almost no noise as it does this. As well, autofocus results can be overridden at any time by simply turning the focusing ring. The front element of the lens does not rotate during focusing, making life that little bit easier for polarizer users.
The 70-300mm ƒ/4-5.6L isn't design as a macro lens, with a close-focusing distance of 1.2 meters (just under four feet). At 300mm, the magnification ratio is 0.21x. The lens is compatible with Canon’s extension tubes EF12II and EF25II, but there are no compatible Canon close-up lenses for this lens.
Build Quality and Handling
Like all the white-body L-series Canon lenses, build quality on the 70-300mm ƒ/4-5.6L IS USM is exceptional, incorporating seals for weather and dust-resistance. This is a somewhat heavy lens (just under two and a half pounds), with the weight being kept down by the use of both metal and polycarbonate in its construction - not heavy enough to make hand-holding a pain, but enough that the use of the optional tripod mount (C-WII, ~$189) becomes quite useful. The body mount for the lens is made of metal, and the 67mm filter threads are plastic. In addition to being weather sealed, the lens is one of Canon's first to use a new fluorine anti-smear coating on the front and rear elements.
There are several control and information points on the lens that are worth noting. In addition to the focus and zoom rings, there are three command switches. From top to bottom, you have a switch to enable or disable autofocus on the lens ("AF / MF"); there are then two switches to control image stabilization. The first activates or deactivates the system ("ON / OFF") and the second selects the image stabilization mode, mode 1 (for stabilization both horizontal and vertical motion) and mode 2 (for stabilizing just vertical motion, suitable for panning shots). A window provides distance information in feet and meters, and while there is no depth-of-field scale, there are infrared index marks for 70mm, 100mm and 200mm.
Those upgrading from the previous version of the 70-300mm lens will note that the position of the zoom and focus rings have been swapped, and that the zoom ring is substantially smaller in width.
The focusing ring is 3/4 inches wide, rubber with fine ribs. The ring provides excellent manual focusing fidelity, with a slightly smooth resistance and plenty of travel. The ring ends in soft stops on both ends of the focusing spectrum, and will focus past infinity. Focusing operations will not rotate the front element.
The zoom ring is composed of rubber with large ribs, about 1 inch wide. The ring takes about ninety degrees of turning action to go from 70mm to 300mm, and again, the ring is very smooth, firm but not too tight; it requires two fingers to move. Zoom creep isn't a problem with this lens, but even so Canon has thought to include a zoom lock switch that keeps the lens parked in its 70mm position. There is some lens extension as the lens is zoomed in towards 300mm; at maximum length, the lens adds 2 inches to its overall length.
The ET-73B lens hood is a round, cup-like hood with interior flocking that attaches via a bayonet mount. The hood is just over three inches long, and can be reversed for storage on the lens. As previously mentioned, a tripod mount (C-WII) is available for this lens for approximately $189. One important thing to note is that Canon's current lineup of teleconverters (it calls them extenders) - the Canon EF1.4xII/III and 2.0xII/III - will NOT work with this lens.
The lens features image stabilization, the results of which will be available shortly.
Canon 70-300mm ƒ/4-5.6 IS USM ~$630
The previous version of the Canon 70-300mm wasn't an L-glass lens, but also offered image stabilization and USM focusing - and a much lower price tag. It also offered slightly better results for sharpness; the new lens, on the other hand, offers better tolerance to chromatic aberration. Results for distortion and lens shading are similar between the two lenses. The build quality on the new lens is in a different league, being an L-class lens.
Sigma 70-300mm ƒ/4-5.6 DG Macro APO ~$240
When kept in 'safe' areas - ie., the mid-range (100-135mm) and stopped down ƒ/8-11, the Sigma offered acceptable results for sharpness, but otherwise, it's obvious that the Canon is the superior lens - especially when you get into the 200-300mm territory. Results for CA, light falloff and distortion are all better with the Canon, although it does carry a significantly higher price tag - it's simply a different class of lens. Sigma has updated this lens to include OS (Optical Stabilization), but we haven't yet tested this version of the lens.
Tamron 70-300mm ƒ/4-5.6 Di LD Macro 1:2 AF ~$160
Despite the dramatically lower price tag, the Tamron actually produced as-sharp or sharper results than the Canon. The Canon handles CA better, especially at the long end, and is a bit gentler with distortion; there's also less light falloff to contend with on full-frame bodies. Tamron has also updated this lens with its VC (Vibration Control) technology, but we haven't yet tested this version of the lens.
The Canon 70-300mm ƒ/4-5.6L IS USM didn't produce tack-sharp results, but it produced a consistently good images at each focal length, with good control of chromatic aberration. While you can certainly spend less money to get the same range of focal lengths, the build quality and technological supremacy of the Canon reflects the price point - it's a lens you won't be afraid to take anywhere.
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 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM User Reviews
9 out of 10 points and recommended by etsy01 (1 reviews)Amazing zoomPricey
Highly recommended this len. Although I bought it a little over price but it's worth every penny.reviewed October 27th, 2015 (purchased for $1,350)
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10 out of 10 points and recommended by mikewhalen (2 reviews)excellent image quality, fast focus on a 5D3, built like a tankslightly heavy
I have used this lens extensively over the past several years with 5D2 and 5D3 bodies. I am always amazed of the speed to focus and the beautiful image quality. It is a class act and fully lives up to it "L" pedigree.reviewed May 1st, 2015
The only very minor negative is its weight which is slightly heavy. However, given the fact that it is built like a tank it will probably outlive most photographers.
I also own the Canon 70-200 f/4L (which is also a outstanding performer), but this is always the one I grab due to the extra reach. I have never been disappointed.
10 out of 10 points and recommended by hdhani (14 reviews)Build quality (it handles well and very robust), relatively compact size and lightweight, takes 67 mm filter, highly versatile, MFDVariable aperture
Used to be undecided between this lens and 70-200 f2.8 IS, but finally settled on this lens due to its relatively compact size and lightweight. It balances very well with a 7d, 5D, 1D and it's build like a tank.reviewed December 13th, 2013 (purchased for $1,100)
This is a great family/ walkaround/ travel/ zoo lens... The only drawback is the variable aperture, but at 70-300 focal length you should've expected this (ever wondered how much a 70-300 f4L IS USM will cost you?). There's always trade-offs somewhere. You can always compensate the exposure with external flash or raising you camera ISOs.
The image quality is great, unless you pixel-peeping. Zooming in at 300 mm and keeping the subject distance at 1.2 m yields a wonderful bokeh IMO. If you need CREAMY bokeh then 85L and 135L will definitely serve you better.
10 out of 10 points and recommended by Apricane (6 reviews)Sharp as hell, good contrast, hefty, quick and accurate AF, pleasing bokehA tad slow, comparatively heavy, sizeable, and somewhat expensive
This lens is simply awesome. It checks every box in the image quality department: it is sharp, has good contrast, essentially normal distortion for such a long zoom, and very little to no chromatic aberration (that I could notice on the shots I took so far). It is also hefty, making it easy enough to handle for handheld shots (I'm thinking of the 55-250 which, although it is light, also blows in the wind when it is strong enough). I'm not too worried with that happening with the 70-300L.reviewed January 5th, 2013 (purchased for $1,099)
Build quality is also seemingly excellent. Both the focus and zoom rings are smooth (the focus ring might be a tad too soft, but nothing bad), and the barrel extends normally. I haven't noticed any zoom creep so far, and the lens has got a lock anyway. The IS is seemingly very good in operation, but I hear it a bit when I begin to have trouble shooting handheld due to arm fatigue (I don't know how audible it would be when shooting video). Yes, this lens is heavier than what I'm used to!
From my still limited experience with the lens, the AF is quick and accurate.
All in all, I'd say this lens is very good and worth every penny it sells for that I hugely recommend to those who can afford the rather steep admission price. I'd also wish the lens would be a tad faster, but it is already expensive and heavy enough as it is!
10 out of 10 points and recommended by regima (1 reviews)build as a tank, sharp even at 300mm, fast AF, sealing, Compact.Only kenko extender are compatible,
I really like this lens 'cause it is very compact. I also have a EF-70-200 mm f/2.8 IS II USM and I love it but it is a lot too heavy and big to travel with it in equatorial & tropical countries. The 70-300 mm IS USM is just perfect for me and the overall quality is outstanding.reviewed April 4th, 2012 (purchased for $1,500)
10 out of 10 points and recommended by MartinM (31 reviews)Sharp, Fast AF, Weather Sealing, Compact SizePrice
I bought this lens toghether with my 5D Mark II. I used it at the Airshow just a few days after.reviewed June 22nd, 2011 (purchased for $1,900)
The results were impressive. Very sharp even at 300mm.
I was soaked by the rain in the morning, walking around with the lens. The sealing had no issue.
I love the size of this zoom. I can easily fit it in my jacket pocket.
A pitty that Canon genuine externders cannot be used. But as test showed, the Kenko 1.4x DGX does deliver better IQ anyway. So why not to get that one.
For the IQ I reduced to 9, cause my 100mm L Macro is sharper.
9 out of 10 points and recommended by vittorio fracassi (1 reviews)excellent construction and sealing, well balanced, fits well in bags, sharp at all focals (more from 70 to 200mm), very fast AF and broad shouldered IS, very good general image qualityimpossible to add extenders, no tripod ring in kit, expensive.
like all good zooms it has a wide field of application both on FF and APS-C cameras. My personal experience disagrees with the results of the resolution results in this Review, probably there are differences in various samples as it often occurs in newly introduced lenses. I had a "good copy" 100-400 and sold it for the liability of weather sealing (the "pump" effect collects moisture and dust) and the, for me, uncomfortable zooming solution. I prefer the 70-300L to it in all respects.reviewed March 22nd, 2011 (purchased for $1)
8 out of 10 points and recommended by Gothmoth (2 reviews)great build quality, low CA, a joy to useprice, not as sharp as i thought above 150mm
i agree that this lens has a great build quality.reviewed March 22nd, 2011 (purchased for $1,400)
it´s a great traveling lens i love to use.
but i also agree with the SLRGear reviewer about the sharpness.
i owned a 70-300mm IS 4-5.6 non L before and it was as sharp if not sharper from 150mm onwards.
other review sites seem to agree with my opinion. but some also praise sharpness for this new L lens.
so in the end i have to say: this is a great lens but image quality from 150mm to 300mm is not better then the older non L model.
9 out of 10 points and recommended by logaandm (6 reviews)Very good image quality. Sharp at all focal lengthsZoom ring reversed from standard Canon. Bokeh is not as nice as some other lenses.
An excellent lens.reviewed January 9th, 2011 (purchased for $1,390)
I have 100-400L, 50L, 35L, 135L and 100L macro. I sold my 70-200f4L after buying this lens. Also I have the 70-300DO.
Bad: Heavier than 70-200f4L. Bokeh is not as nice as 70-200f4. White, larger and noticable compared to the street worthy 70-300DO. I would like to see a version with similar black colour and texture of the 100L macro. No tripod ring (shame on you Canon). Hood doesn't go on smoothly. Stupid Canon lens caps. Get with the times Canon and give us center pinch to make it easy to take off the lens cap when the hood is on. Allows you to make a smaller hood as well!
Good: Very sharp at all focal lengths. Very good colour and contrast. Very fast AF. Excellent IS. I can handhold 300mm down to 1/30 regularly. Focuses quite close. More reach than 70-200 without much loss of speed. Pixel sharp on 5DII and 7D. Maybe a little heavy, but I am willing to carry all day. I like the slighly more subdued white colour. I like the zoom ring near the end of the lens although this is revesed compared to other Canon zooms. Very well balanced with most of the weight close to the camera so it handles like a lighter lens than it actually is.
Not for regular indoor or night use but few long zoom lenses are.
I thought I would never give up my 70-200f4L but for my vacation/street type photography this is my choice. For regular portraits one might prefer the 70-200f4 because of the more pleasing bokeh.
This is a winner lens and makes the vision of a two lens kit that much closer. Now all I need is a 24-70f2.8IS.... come on Canon I've been waiting 4 years!
9 out of 10 points and recommended by pj1974 (7 reviews)Very sharp wide open corner to corner on APS-C . Useful range. Confident 4-stop IS. Fast, accurate AF. Bombproof build.No tripod collar included. Bit expensive, but you pay for what you get.
What a L lens! It is super sharp, and has also great contrast at all focal lengths and aperture settings from wide open to f13 on my 7D. Then starts to soften due to defraction. I love the 35mm equivalent of 480mm, and can crop heavily still giving great images.reviewed December 21st, 2010 (purchased for $1,600)
Colours are vibrant and accurate. The focus and zoom rings work well for me (I like holding the lens by the zoom ring and/or end of the barrel, and having the focus nearer the camera, as some of my other lenses have, eg Canon 15-85mm).
My previous telezoom was a Canon 100-300mm USM. Didn't have IS (so handholding required high ISO or good light). The 100-300mm does not have good sharpness or contrast beyond about 170mm. The 70-300mm L is just such a different beast, being sharp at any setting.
It's noticeably heavier, but I find with the weight and 4 stop IS allows good photos (I even have some good photos at about 1/30 sec at 300mm) . It's extra handy that lens IS stabilises the image in the view finder, to allow more confident composition.
I love Canon's true ring-type USM focus (as opposed to micro-USM), and the 70-300mm L lens doesn't disappoint in that regard either - lightning fast & truly accurate. Even faster than my 100-300mm's already fast USM focus.
Bit of a shame for the price the tripod collar isn't included, but I'll probably buy a non-Canon brand one for about $25 from ebay rather than $200 odd from Canon. The lens hood is deep and works well. It makes the lens look even more impressive with the lens hood being on it.
Very little flare problem, low vignetting and minimal chromatic aberrations (the latter two are correctable in post processing anyway). Bokeh can be quite good, especially when the subject is relatively close up.
The lens just reduced in price the day I visited a camera shop, and I received a good deal (including a 67mm Hoya Pro CPL) - so decided to buy it, and very happy with it's performance! Balances well on my Canon 7D (even will sit on my sturdy Manfrotto tripod ok without tripod collar). When used with my Canon 350D, it feels like I'm attaching the body to the lens - and the smaller grip makes it somewhat uncomfortable. However I will be using it with my 7D 99% of the time anyway. Highly recommended!