10 out of 10 points and recommendedImage Quality, Mode 3 IS, Build Quality, Sharpness With Extenders, Colors/Contrast, AF Performance, Weight BalanceCost
This lens is simply phenomenal. This is my first step into the “big whites” and I am sure will be in my collection for many years to come. Optically, it is practically flawless. The sharpness is out of this world and unlike any other lens I have had the pleasure to use and own (such lenses as the 24-70 II, 70-200 II, 35L, 85L, 135L, 300 f/4L, 400 5.6L…. And many more). The 300mm f/2.8L II is in a league all its own. Some of those lenses come close, but are not quite to the same level. The IQ with the 1.4x III is just as good with no loss in quality that I can see. I still need to buy and try it with the 2x III…reviewed February 26th, 2014 (purchased for $6,400)
The attention to detail in the build quality is stunning. First, the lens just feels great in the hand. Focus ring moves smoothly with no play. Switches have a nice snap to them and positioned well enough that you won’t be bumping them into the wrong position (something I do often with my 70-200 II and have to use gaffers tape to cover them!). The tripod ring with the 90-degree indents are a really nice touch. The buttons have a high quality feel to them. The lens was also well lubricated (as you can hear the lubricant when you move the focus ring and the power-focus ring slightly). This lens is for sure a step above the high end L’s in the sub-$3,000 range in terms of build quality.
The colors and contrast are fantastic straight out of camera. The isolation given from the 300mm and f/2.8 is really quite awesome, even at great distances. The 3-D “pop” is also present with this lens, thanks to the isolation ability and extremely high resolution and contrast. The minimum focus distance is really nice, I am glad Canon was able to improve it over the Mark I. I did not run into many instances where I had to backup to get the lens to focus.
I am simply fascinated by the mode-3 IS… I was confused on how this worked, as I never really read a clear description of it. To clarify for others, when you start to meter (say half-pressing the shutter or back button focusing) you hear the IS kick on as you would expect. However, the viewfinder does not stabilize. It appears like the IS is completely off. But when you go to take the image it instantaneously kicks on and stabilizes the image perfectly with no visual delay. I could not get over this! A really cool feature. Overall, the IS works extremely well and is actually really quiet (even more so than the 70-200 II). You hear a confident “chirp” when it turns on/off, but nothing during operation (unless you lay your ear on the lens). Big improvement over the Mark I when I rented it. The IS also behaves extremely well on a tripod to help combat faint vibrations when using telephotos on a tripod. No reason to turn off IS on this lens, as it actually benefits with tripod use! I think unless you are doing exposures over 1-second, the manual recommends to leave it on.
The AF performance of this lens appears to be extremely good. Shot-to-shot sharpness is very consistent and I have yet to get an image that was randomly out-of-focus for reasons other than my own. My lens did require microadjustment on my body, around +9 for the lens alone and +12 with the 1.4x III. As a reference, every single lens I own requires positive MA values… My 16-35 II is at +6/+7, 24-70 II at -1/+4, 35L at +6, etc… So it is not that abnormal compared.
The weight is surprising with this lens… I rented the original IS and it was a hefty lens (as is this one), however the Mark II appears to be better balanced and not as front-heavy making it feel lighter than it is. I have no problem what-so-ever handholding this lens for long periods of time. For reference, this lens along with my 5D3+Grip comes in at 8lbs and 15oz. I don’t plan to use the tripod much at all with this lens, there really is no reason to if you are able to support the weight… A good camera strap (I recommend Op/Tech) are extremely comfortable for supporting heavy loads.
The case included with the lens (along with keys) are nice additions. I will use mine often when transporting and storing the lens. The new lens cap is a HUGE improvement over the old version, far less clumsy and easy as can be to use. Canon did great updating this.
The only downfall of this lens would be the price… While it is the cheapest of the Mark II super-telephotos, it is still a very expensive lens. However, as expensive as it is (even as a hobbyist only) I don’t feel cheated. The performance and build quality of the lens help curb the sting a bit.
I highly recommend this lens to those who can afford to splurge on it. You won’t be disappointed.