The Canon 70-300 f4-5.6 L IS was announced in September 2010 and made it to stores at the beginning of November. There already exists two 70-300s in the Canon lineup but neither of them have ever been showered with praise. The previous 70-300 f4.5-5.6 DO IS lens was incredibly small due to its difractive optics design, but image quality suffered and it never sold in large numbers. The 70-300 f4-5.6 IS (non-L) is a more budget oriented lens (approx. $550) and again never really turned any heads. I heard a lot of people cry “Oh my god a variable aperture L lens, what are Canon thinking?!” when this one was announced. But they seem to have forgotten that one of Canon’s most popular zooms has always been the 100-400 f4.5-5.6, and also the aforementioned 70-300 DO lens was only not designated an L lens because it bore the green ring of the DO system instead. So this is nothing new, and clearly Canon thought there was a desire for such a lens. Things like this are not designed without some considerable consideration. Now I’ve had some shooting time with the lens I’ll delve into who it’s aimed at a little further down the page.
IN STOCK @ B&H NOW! HERE
This is all you get, NO tripod collar!
Build and design
Make no mistake, this feels like a tank of a lens! At just over 1KG it is 300g heavier than the 70-200 f4 L IS. Given it’s shorter physical length it feels about as dense as a 70-200 f2.8 IS. Built quality is fantastic and on a par with the 70-200 f2.8 L IS II that I reviewed before. It feels much more solid in the hand than my 70-200 f4 L IS does and the zoom mechanism is silky smooth with a nice amount of resistance to it. This is not a cheap lens (more on that in bit too…) so you would hope for a good build but its great when you first impression is WOW. This is one of the nicest feeling lenses from Canon yet. It comes with a lens hood which continues with the new textured style we have seen on the 100mm f2.8 IS Macro and the 70-200 f2.8 L IS II and it also comes with the usual lens pouch. Noticeable in it’s absence though is a tripod collar and frankly I think this is unforgivable. This is a $1600 lens Canon! What are you thinking ? Now you want people to go out and spend $200 on a collar for it ? The similarly priced 100-400 comes with one so why not this one ? From a design point of view there are two notable things. Firstly the lens extends considerably when zoomed, not like the 70-200s which maintain their length. Apart from making the lens look rather odd when zoomed to 300mm I don’t have any particular problem with this element of the design because it undoubtedly contributes to the compact nature of the lens. The second thing that struck me though was that the zoom ring and focus ring are reversed in positioning compared to just about every other lens I have used. The zoom ring is at the front, and focus ring closer to the camera body. The result is that the focus ring is right where you want to rest your hand when supporting the lens. It is all too easy to acidentaly move the focus ring and you always find yourself reaching awkwardly forwards for the zoom ring when you need it. I can’t imagine what made Canon arrange things like this, it only took me a matter of seconds to see the shortcomings of this and this seems to be a common gripe from other users too. I would genuinely like to hear the logic behind it so if anyone from Canon wants to let us know in the comments below… I’m all ears. Having a tripod foot to hang onto instead would be preferable but you don’t get one of those either unless you pay extra.
No room for using teleconverters here…
Looks like a strange optical system but you can hardly fault the results.
I think most people are going to be looking at the 70-200 f4 L IS when considering alternatives to this 70-300. I listened to one review of this lens today when the reviewer constantly mentioned the 70-200 f2.8 IS but I think that is not the right lens to put this one up against. People buy an f2.8 lens because they want the faster shutter speed in low light or they want the subject isolating abilities of the wider aperture. If you need either of those things then a variable aperture lens like this is NOT the lens for you. Belittling this lens for not having f2.8 is pointless because an f2.8 70-300 would be a HUGE lens and for an entirely different purpose. However if you are considering the 70-200 f4 IS, then you are already conceding that you do not necessarily need that wider aperture, in which case this could be a worthy alternative. It is a little heavier and physically a little fatter, but it is also shorter. They both take 67mm filters and are both weather sealed to a similar degree and neither of them come with a tripod collar as standard. Though the 70-200 f4 IS is $400 cheaper, it offers far less reach and if you want to extent your 70-200 to 280mm by use of a 1.4X teleconverter that will set you back about $400 and give you an f5.6 aperture. Another option would be to use a 300mm prime lens alongside your 70-200 and I have compared both the 300 f4 L IS and the 300 f2.8 L IS in the past. The 300 f4 is great value and much smaller then the f2.8 but still a considerable addition to your pack compared to the 70-300. As you can see from my photo below, the 300mm f2.8 L IS is in a league of it’s own…! Personally I got rid of my 70-200 f2.8 IS and traded it for an f4 IS because I rarely used it below f4 anyway, and much prefer the smaller size and lighter weight. When I need wide apertures I have prime lenses for that.
There’s not really any point considering the 70-300 DO as competition either, this new lens seems to be the final nail in that one’s coffin. It never performed well, has old IS technology and at $1200 it was overpriced too. Because this lens is priced out of reach of most amateur photographers there is also no point weighing up the pros and cons of the much cheaper zoom lenses in the same focal range. Before I even tested it I knew this would far out perform those lenses because Canon would not charge this price unless they really believed people would pay for the quality it produces. I’m guessing 90% of people considering this lens are making money from their photography and they will also appreciate the solid build quality and the reliability that comes with that. There might be some people that consider the 100-400 f4.5-5.6 alongside this one though. The 100-400 is physically larger and heavier but offers a longer reach for the same price. I haven’t ever used this lens though but it is a much older design and constantly the subject of new lens rumors. It probably is due an update sometime soon but its still a hot seller for Canon, mostly for people who want to get into shooting wildlife and can’t afford the big white prime lenses. For wildlife and bird shooting you need every mm of reach so 400 will be likely be a better option in that instance, though updated image stabilization and newer lens production techniques will probably yield sharper shots in the range of this 70-300. The 100mm Macro (see my review) in the image below is purely for size comparison, but also interesting to note the difference in construction between the two. The new macro lens is also one of Canon’s newer designs and actually one of the lightest weight L lenses they make, with the primary construction material being a high grade engineering polycarbonate. Tough as nails but it doesn’t inspire confidence because it feels a bit cheap in the hand. I’m glad to see Canon didn’t attempt to make this 70-300 in a similar way, the physical heft of this lens is great and it balances very nicely on a 1-series body.
Canon 100mm f2.8 L IS Macro , Canon 70-300 f4-5.6 L IS , Canon 70-200 f4 L IS
The other way to get to 300mm. Canon 70-300 f4-5.6 L IS , Canon 300mm f2.8 L IS
This is how the aperture changes along with the focal length.
70-103mm f4, 104-154mm f4.5 , 155-228mm f5.0, 229-300mm f5.6
4-stop tripod sensing IS
Testing compared to the 70-200 f4 L IS
All the usual things apply to my testing. I used a $5 bill as my test subject and set the camera on a tripod with a cable release and mirror lockup. I used liveview to focus manually at 10x magnification to avoid any front or back focus issues and all shots were repeated several times and the sharpest one chosen to show here. Instead of just showing the 70-300 I figured I might as well put it up against a know and trusted quantity, my 70-200 f4 L IS which I regard very highly. All the 100% crops were taken right from the middle of the photo and this time I didn’t perform any corner sharpness tests simply because there were already so many permutations I figured you’d all get bored and not look at them anyway! I did perform all the tests at 70mm, 135mm, 200mm, 300mm and in the case of the 70-200 for comparison I used a 1.4 TC to achieve a 280mm to go up against the 300mm. Plenty to consider, take it for what you will obviously there is always jpeg compression and human error to take into account but I think it gives a pretty good idea what’s going on.
Analysis of testing
UPDATE : More full sized images from this lens now posted on FLICKR to study and download HERE
70mm – Wide open at f4 the 70-300 is sharper than the f4 IS. From f5.6 onwards they are on par with each other and above f11 both start to suffer severely from diffraction issues.
135mm – To my eye the 70-300 is sharper at every aperture. Diffraction issues kick in a little later at this focal length. Both lenses produce extremely sharp images.
200mm – Again I believe the 70-300 is marginally sharper at every aperture. Both are very very sharp though.
300/280mm – Both lenses appear to be nearly identical across the range. Notably good for performance with a TC on the 70-200. (UPDATE full sized samples at 300mm available on FLCKR appear to be much better than the above test would suggest.)
300mm real world sample – Click to go to full sized image via flickr. Lens tests are easy to get misled by. There is no substitute to real world usage. Take a look at this image at 300mm straight out of camera f6.3 HERE
I urge you to click the image above and check out the full sized version!
Now this is pretty interesting! The 70-300 is sharpest in the middle of its range, razor sharp in fact at 135mm and 200mm. I love my 70-200 f4 IS and I was never expecting this lens to be sharper! Very impressive. Even at 70mm is does a great job, matching the 70-200 and even beating it wide open. Results are less impressive at 300mm though where it matched the 70-200 with the 1.4x teleconverter. Unexpected that, especially considering the stellar performance at shorter lengths. Its worth noting though that its not so much the 70-300 being that bad, as the 70-200 being VERY good with the 1.4x TC. Sometimes you just get a lens and a teleconverter that seem to have been designed for each other and I have such a pair right here. Now I know what some of you are thinking then….. whats the point of the 70-300 is you can get 300 ( or near enough) looking good with the teleconverter ? Auto focus speed and accuracy suffer badly with the TC, in backlit situations with the TC it’s hard to get it to lock focus at all and I wouldn’t really trust it to track a moving object. But the AF speed of the 70-300 seems to be very snappy , and of course that applies right through the range from 70 to 300mm. Personally I hate using TC in the field too, they are just fiddly things with more lens caps to worry about and when its an added fuss to get it out take lens off camera potentially getting snow/dust in there and put the TC on just to have a look and see if your framing looks better like that. Then you realize it doesn’t so you have to reverse the process again…. you get my point. Fiddly. With the 70-300, just turn the ring and you are right there.
It’s funny though because when I was seeing these results and some of the photos I was taking I was kind of surprised. And I think that’s the stigma of the variable aperture lens there. But when you think about it this is a bloody expensive lens and it had better be damn good for that kind of money and why shouldn’t it be better than the 70-200, it costs $400 more! I know for some people they just won’t be able to get their head past the varying aperture but canon have clearly gone to great length to make sure that even if the aperture is changing, you can shoot wide open at your desired focal length and still be satisfied that the image is going to be sharp. There is only marginal improvement by stopping down to f5.6 or f8.
I took the lens on a bit of a walkabout too and shot all manner of detailed things, just trying to find faults with it. I shot into the sun with no appreciable flare, I shot trees with backlit branches wide open to try and get some chromatic aberration, again no luck. Due to what must be a fairly complex optical system I was concerned about both these things but the concerns appear to be unfounded. Overall I have also been very impressed with the contrast of the images from this lens and in a backlit scenario it marginally outperformed the 70-200 f4 IS. I did however find one thing that I did not like much at all and that is the bokeh produced by specular highlights. The image below is a 100% crop and boy is that some ugly bokeh! This is clearly where the clever and compact optics are fighting back. Those of you who follow my work will know that I shoot action sport, mostly skiing and for me I can’t see when this bokeh would ever be a problem for me. Zoom lenses always have the ugliest bokeh, there has to be a price to pay for the versatility, as you can see the actual rings are only visible when you zoom right in. I can’t say for sure whether it is appreciably worse than most other zooms though, I know my 300mm f2.8 L IS would have made that look creamy though but for a price!
I wish I had a few better sample shots but the weather is not cooperating here right now in BC. I’ll update this with new images over the next couple of weeks though as I know a lot of people were dying to hear first impressions on this one. This next shot though is a good example of how sharp this lens is.
230mm @f6.3 on a Canon 5dMKII
Canon70-300 f4-5.6 @200mm f5.6Canon 70-200 f4 IS @200mm f5.6
This example at 88mm shows that even though my previous test showed results at 70mm seem a tiny bit softer, it’s still performing well at the lower end.
Who is this lens for ?
I’ll narrow this down a bit first by telling you who it’s not for. NOT for people who want to shoot field sports or indoor sports, the 300mm range is nice but really you’d be better with a fixed, smaller aperture and you can forget indoor sports with f5.6 at 300mm that’s never going to work out too well unless you are using strobes for basketball. This is also not a lens for people wanting to shoot wildlife because 300mm will rarely be long enough and there is no ability to add a teleconverter for occasional extra reach. The 100-400 will be better for that. Landscape and nature shooters will like this one though, the 70-200 f4 IS is popular for that group, and this one improves on the sharpness of the 70-200 and being limited to f4.5 or f5.6 will not be an issue as they’ll be stopping down past f8 normally anyway. The relatively close focusing distance (1.2m) means that you can get macro type shots of plants and flowers pretty well too and the lens maintains a good sharpness at the minimum focus distance, unlike the 70-200 f2.8 L IS II that I tried a few months back (see my review). Whilst it is a bit heavier than the 70-200 f4 IS, its more compact length makes it very easy to fit into a small bag or even a large jacket pocket. Travel shooters are also going to love this lens and it would be a formidable dual lens setup when paired with a 24-70 f2.8 as you would have wider aperture for shooting people, street and architecture, and then the reach of 300mm for details and landscapes and occasional wildlife shots too. I know there are a lot of people that follow my work in the snowsports industry and for skiing and snowboarding photos I think this is going to be a real winner. The contrast is excellent which is always great for picking out graduations in the snow, the range (70-300) is perfect for 75% of what I do and the other 25% is really wider angle stuff, I rarely need to go longer than 300mm. Being outside all the time means I’m rarely shooting with a wide aperture anyway and most of my shots are between f5.6 and f8. Even wide open at f5.6 at 300mm it is nicely sharp. I do own a 300mm f2.8 L IS though which will always kick this ones ass at 300mm but it’s a beast of a lens to carry in your pack all day long. For snowmobile and helicopter access work I don’t worry about it but I don’t like to go hiking, touring or even just freeskiing all day with the 300mm f2.8 if I’m doing laps of a resort. For those situations this lens looks to be a winner. People with a big enough budget who want a good lens to capture shots of their kids are also going to love the flexibility of this range and the speed of the auto focus. I also think this is going to be a winner for those people who are shooting video with Canon DSLRs. The video shooters often have nice wide aperture primes in the low focal length range to take advantage of the big sensors and wonderful DOF, but I know many people want at least one lens to cover longer lengths where a wide aperture is often too difficult to manually focus anyway. The IS and AF are particularly quiet on this lens which again adds to it’s usefulness for video shooters. I expect to see this one being used by Canon wielding action sports filmers in the near future.
- Excellent image quality even wide open
- Extremely solid build
- Physically compact size
- Shows very little CA (if any?)
- Good resistance to lens flare
- Great contrast even in back lit situations
- 4-stop IS is very quiet
- AF speed is quick and also very quiet
- No tripod collar included in a lens that cost $1600
- It costs $1600
- Variable aperture
- Poorly located focus ring easy to accidentally move
- Performance at 300mm not as good as the rest of the range UPDATE: More time with this lens now is producing beautiful real world images at 300mm. This is no longer a concern.
The two things that people will likely fixate on first with this lens are the variable aperture and the price. I heard people say this was going to be a lens for people to get as their first L zoom, or a lens designed for APS-C users. Frankly I don’t agree though, the $1600 price is prohibitive and given that the new 60D is around $1000 I don’t see many of those users paying $1600 for a lens. What I can say though is that Canon HAVE done enough to justify the price tag in my opinion. I was very pleasantly surprised to see that it exceeded the image quality of my favorite 70-200 f4 L IS and it feels like a much more solid package. This is a fantastic lens so long as you are not planning on using it in low light. If you think you need f2.8 then don’t even give this one a second look, they are different beasts. But for nature, travel shooters and action sports guys this is a great lens if your budget permits it. Wherever space and weight are at a premium this offers the best image quality and flexibility of any Canon lens I have ever used. Now imagine if Canon did come out with a 24-70 f2.8 IS …… that would be a dream 2 lens combo!
If you enjoyed reading this post please consider ordering the lens from one of the links below. It helps me to continue adding to the site. Thanks!
good read. amazing how sharp it is!
An excellent review of the lens, I have had mine for nearly 2 weeks and bought it mainly for travel as I also find that my 300mm 2.8 althoug great is too heavy. Very pleased with the results so far. I have put a few shots on http://www.pbase.com/mjlamoon/canon70300l if any one is interested.
I’m still buying the 300 DO IS after christmas from B&H they have thee best price.I’m just a hobbiest and fell in love with this lense when i first seen it.I think it will go verry nice with my canon 40D camera.The price in Canada for the 70-300 DO is 1.700.00 . Just to much to pay with the dollar at par. We get ripped of here and everyone is buying from B&H, God bless them.Ihope these camera stors go broke here in Ontario.Thanks for the Review…….Hammy
Actually the DO is about $1350cdn right now. I bought one a few months ago and am very happy with it.
I can second that, stores in Ontario are complete rip-offs. Any major lens purchases I have ever done are either price matched to rediculously good prices or bought from B&H. With our dollar basically at par it is a slap in the face to be paying upwards of $500.00 more for just about any high end lenses locally. Aden is the only one that seems remotely competitive but they no longer have a return policy which means they can sell you a broken lens and you have no choice but to go straight to Canon for repairs.
Interesting. The contrast difference is quite remarkable, as seen in two comparison images of the bare tree branches. I’m wondering Dan, if you have noticed any colour balance differences between the 70-300 and 70-200 and also compared to your other lenses? I’ve typically found that the 70-200 f/4 IS has a slight magenta shift, and in some of these comparisons it looks as though the 70-300 might be a touch more magenta than the 70-200.
There have been comments that the 70-300 has considerable focus breathing at close focus distances and this can be seen in the $5 bill crops. (how close were you?) As the lens is zoomed to the long end details are definitely smaller in the 70-300 crops. The snowflake at 300mm is about the same size as the 280mm crop… But personally, I don’t think that would be a huge issue for me.
What I’d like to see is an indication of corner/edge performance at the longer focal lengths
HI Ron thanks for reading, the lens was about 3x MFD so approx 4m away.
Have you checked the bokeh with the the IS turned off? I’ve read that due to the way IS works it can degrade the quality of the bokeh on some lenses.
I can’t see why that would make a difference ? What was the reasoning behind it ?
Having the focus ring closer means I can focus manually without having to worry about moving the zoom at the same time: my thinking is, you first zoom in, then you focus (perhaps manually), not the other way around.
I guess many people don’t manually focus any more.
The problem is the focus ring is very loose compared to the zoom ring so it is very easy to knock your focus off.
It looks like re-desiged version of DO and the bokeh is indeed ugly, but it has other good sides.
Let me add my voice re: camera stores in Ont. They’re robbery in a broad daylight, but Vistek is the worst.
Thanka Jack, I agree about Vistek. I have had all my worst camera store experiences with them.
I agree though Ugly bokeh is likely a result of some of the space/weight saving optics and I’ll take that compromise in this lens.
Dan, I only wonder how many victims of Vistek are there who are too ashamed to admit they were ripped-off big time.
Vistek is a chain store run by crooks. People should be made aware of this.
Some sties like Luminous Landscape promoted Vistek, but LL like many other, who wear shop logos (most often B&H), are just internet sale brigade – nothing else. Some are more open and honest about it, while others are trying to present themselves as photographers with mission. They get their cut by sending customers. Their so called “equipment reviews” are most often hype and verbal diarrhea.
Dan, I’d like to ask a question about printers.
I’m printing in batches every few weeks or even months.
I didn’t want to pay any longer for expensive inks wasted for daily routine maintenance, so I turned the printer off which means clogged heads. This is still cheaper to clean heads than let printer empty the inks cartridges.
Is there a printer which is frugal with inks during printing (Epsons are thirsty hogs) and doesn’t waste inks for head maintenance and inks agitation every 24 hrs. if the printer is idle. Or is there a strategy to periodic printing to avoid clogs and cost of ink waste?
A requests to others reading this. Please refer to the topic. Don’t write about how wonderful is your new printer as compared to ….(whatever brand).
tell me what you are printing ? Color photos? Black and white documents ? Bit of both ?
Dan, Only color and occasionally mono. I used both Epson and HP B9180 Pro (nice and frugal with inks).
Tricky one that Jack. I was hoping you would say mono office documents because then I have a solution. I used to have the very same issues you are having and in the end I just stopped printing color altogether and switched to a mono wireless Brother laserjet that gets about 1500 pages printed per cartridge. Fine for letters etc though no good for photo printing at all.
I’m afraid I’m not the best person to ask.
Dan, “I don’t know” is certainly a better and honest answer than advising me to take my files to CostCo : -))) Thanks.
I also stopped printing color. The cost of inks and papers are surreal – what a rip-off – especially the printers with dies inks.
I’d appreciate some more details on mono. I’ll go back to it. Unfortunately Brother brand doesn’t strike me as terribly good, but I may be wrong.
The explanation or my view re: ring reversal on this 1kg monster is manufacturability. As I wrote earlier it is mechanically re-designed 70-300 DO (maybe optically tweeked too), which allows manufacturing it with tighter tolerances (I hope). I had 2 samples of DO both poor (de-centered), but it was the optical design with potential to be at least as good as 70-200/4 if made right.
I Should have clarified. When I said mono I meant just printing black and white documents (invoices and letters etc, boring office stuff for which Brother does a great job). I take all my photos to a pro printers in Vancouver now. They do a better job than I could have done and I dont have to worry about ink.
Dan, For printing of docs. my 14 year old Apple Laserwriter still does the job.
I’ve had this lens for a week or so now and have tried to put it through its paces for how I would use it.. I’m very pleased with it. Here in the US they’re still not widely available, but a few dealers have them. I think you hit a bunch of nails right on the head in your review. One thing I would add is that I put out the extra $200 for the tripod collar and am glad I did. Yes, it’s ridiculous that Canon didn’t provide it for the price, but that’s the way it is. Even when hand holding the lens I think I will leave the collar on all the time. The collar rests comfortably in my palm and makes both the zooming and focusing rings fall in a natural place that are easy to use. The IS is excellent, but everyone has their limits. On a tripod the IS is useless and the image won’t be sharp at any shutter speed. I found that you really have to turn it off on a tripod. For landscapes you still have do to it the old fashioned way with the mirror lock and a cable release.
Thanks for the comments Bob! Glad you like yours too.
Dan, excellent review of this lens. I have owned this lens for about a week, and I agree the positioning of the zoom and focus rings is exceeding odd – takes time to get used to it. I also owned the 100 – 400 mm L lens, and have found the 70 – 300 mm L lens is quite a bit sharper. The contrast on the 70 – 300 mm is much better as well, but the bokeh is worse (the 100 – 400mm had much nicer bokeh). I actually traded my 100 – 400 mm L lens in for the 70 – 300 mm L lens, so I cannot post any side by side comparisons. My observations on sharpness and contrast between the two lens is strictly through comparison of real world photographs. I will say this, I have absolutely no regrets in trading the 100 – 400 mm for the 70 – 300 mm lens, and am extremely pleased with the new lens. The 100 – 400 L mm lens was just too big and heavy. Plus, I could never get used to the push pull zoom (you want to talk about fiddly – always adjusting the tension ring on the push pull, so it would zoom smoothly and not slip out to full zoom when held down).
I am a little confused on why you state the 70 – 300 has “no ability to add a teleconverter” ? Canon has just released two new versions of their teleconverters (Extender EF 1.4X III and Extender EF 2x III). Even though Canon does not list compatibility with the new 70 – 300 mm L, I am hoping this is due to it being such a new lens and these teleconverters will actually work with it.
No need to be confused Rick “I am a little confused on why you state the 70 – 300 has “no ability to add a teleconverter” ?”
Unfortunately it’s a fact. They don’t fit. The Canon teleconverters have a protruding element that goes into the rear of the lens. On the 70-300 there is not enough room for this to fit. I have both teleconvertes and it does not work. Canon does not state the compatibility because there is none.
Thanks for the comments though, glad you like the lens!
Does the Tamron teleconverter fit? It seems in many cases it fits where the Canon version does not. And the quality is virtually the same.
Good question Pete, I have been wandering that myself but I don’t know the answer yet. If you find out please let me know!
By the way – great review!
Hey Dan, thanks for the great review, I’m tossing up between the 7-2 f4 IS and this one, but I’m interested to know why you said “NOT for people who want to shoot field sports”. Please excuse my ignorance about this but why no good for field sports? Amongst other stuff, I did want to shoot soccer, athletics etc outdoors. Thanks
Fine question greg, the only reason Isaid that is because with field sports photos look much more aesthetically pleasing with a more blurred background to isolate the players. with the aperture available on this lens it isnt enough to get a GREAT background bokeh. An f2.8 lens would do a better job. That said though it also depends if you are taking the pics for fun, or professionally for profit where you would be more worried about it.
I see, some of you have already the 70-300L.
Mine is arrived yesterday and the focus ring has a lot of play in focus direction as well as a little front-back play !
Is that normal (for that price) ???
Mine does not do that.
I have been using the 70-200L F4 IS on a 1.4 TC for a couple of years to shoot wildlife, mainly birds. I’ve been quite happy with it on a Canon 50D, but just switched to a 1D Mark IV and now find I’m struggling to focus and not getting super sharp images – I don’t know if that’s because of the reduction in crop factor between the bodies (1.6X to 1.3X thus effectively 450mm down to 360mm). I believe I was on the lower limit of focal length with my previous setup and the new setup does not quite work. Do you think getting the 70-300L might help rectify this problem on the 1D, because you say the TC I’m using affects autofocus speed and accuracy? I’ve been waiting for Canon to bring out something new that can be hand held and lugged around on hikes, and never got interested in the decade old technology push-pull 100-400. I do still plan to get the new 300/2.8 but will need a lighter option for those longer treks. Do you recommend it even for someone already owning the 70-200 F4 & 1.4TC?
I really dont see any need to have both. It should focus a little quicker yes. But then it doesnt give you any more reach and I do believe its too short for wildlife. Honestly you might just be better saving up your pennies for a 400 DO or one of the SIgma big zooms. Its really unfortunate that Canon has not updated the 100-400 because I am just like you, I can’t being myself to buy it!
i think you should pay attention to out-of-focus part of photos.It looks really terrible.Could you upload a photo with grass background?
Yes I have already pointed that out. I don’t want to post multiple photos to illustrate one point. Its not good, but then zooms never are even close to primes in that respect. There are further full sized photos in my flickr account .
Well done review, observations and conclusions. I think you just saved me $1600 bucks. At age 71 I find I must use at least a monopod for any field work. I have the 70-200 f4 (plus 1.4x TC) and the 100-400, thought this might be a replacement for both. Might have continued to think about it except I refuse to pay $200 – 250 for a tripod ring. Only thing I find of interest is the minimum focus. With the 100-400 I keep backing into a cactus or off the edge of a stream bed. Much appreciated. Look forward to your future work.
Regarding bokeh and IS, this site explains the relationship.
The idea is that due to the nature of IS objects in front of and behind the plane of focus will move while the in-focus items do not move. If the camera moves side to side (for example) then the unfocussed objects will have side to side artifacts while the in focus items are sharply focused. If a tripod is used and IS is turned off you should see the best possible bokeh from a given lens.
Based on the results on opticallimits.com, 70-200mm is better then 70-200mm f/4 at shorter focal length, but the result is reversed at longer focal length. This may has to do with the fact that the former is an extendable lens and the latter is not.
You had me wanting to trade my (lovely but HEAVY!) 70-200 f2.8 IS for the f4 for all my mountain biking shooting, but after reading this I’m very tempted to go the 70-300 instead! Thanks for a great review, and for comparison to your favourite 70-200 f4.
Just came back from holiday withe the 70-300L. I am so impressed I sold my next favorite zoom, the 70-200f4L. It is at the limit of what I am willing to pack around on my camera all day tho…
Just a good word in for the 70-300DO. Yes it is not rellay sharp, yes it doesn’t have good contrast. Yes it is quite soft at 300mm, BUT, it is a small black lens that doesn’t attract attention when shooting on the street. It isn’t that bad, it’s just that Canon’s L zooms are so good.
Thanks Andrew! I just sold my 70-200 too !
Thanks! I’ve been very happy with my Sigma 100-300mm f/4, but IS would certainly be nice. I do wish that Canon had made it compatible with their TC’s. I’m going to have to try one side by side with my Sigma.
Dan, thanks for the very informative and objective review.
Dan, congrats on a great review — very well done. I think this is going to be a lens I’ll be adding to my kit for rainforest photography.
Thanks for a great review. I was about to buy a 2nd hand DO version of this lens (you know what I mean) on a whim when picking up a tripod this morning at a local camera store in Perth, but ended up having a discussion with a tech there and was talked into the 70-300 IS L instead.
Got home, shot half a dozen cat pics and am blown away the sharpness, the colour and just the general look of the images. Very happy. My 70-200 f4 IS will stay at home next trip! I’ll take my 24-70 L and the 16-35 and I think I’ll be set!
Good choice Simon. The old DO versions is not a good lens at all so you made a good call!
Nice review, but one thing really made me wonder. You say you didn’t compare corners because they were so equal in the center. Thats too bad because if you compare the 100% crops of these two lenses you see that corner performance @ 300mm is much better on the 70-300 than on the 70-200
Hi, very good and useful review!!!
Good review. I have just got mine today. Hoping it is the goldilocks solution. I also have the 70-200 f4 IS which is light and excellent but I need a bit more zoom and a shorter lens. Also have the 100-400 but it is a big bugger. and really 400 is only 25% more reach than 300. So if the 300 is sharper and steadier (better IS) I am hoping this is a winner. Having put the 70-300L on my 60D it does feel a bit heavy for it (be better on the 5D). The 70-200 was perfect, weight wise. Time will tell.
I have the 70-200mmL whitout IS and consider the 70-300L IS, thanks for the good review! Greetz from The Netherlands!
Super merci pour cette revu.
I’m still undecided… it seems that on other reviews the 70-200 F4 is is way sharper than the new 70-300… could your lens be a bit softer than normal?
Thanks again for your review
I haven’t seen these other reviews so hard to say really. But I’ve always considered the images coming out of my 70-200 to be very sharp. In the mid range the 70-300 is sharper though. In the reviews I have read, they did not directly compare it to the 70-200 but confirmed at least that the 70-300 is VERY sharp in a lot of it’s range. I don’t think you’d be disappointed in either of them to be honest. Both very good options.
Are you sure you didn’t mix up the 280mm and 300mm samples above? In the review you state that the 70-300L looked better than the f/4 IS + TC (which is what I have found in my own testing, even when using the 1.4x TC III) but in the photos above the ones under the f/4 IS clearly look crisper. In my testing I also found the f/4 IS to be sharper at 135mm and barely so at 160mm. Looking at your photos above it seems to me that even on your test the f/4 IS looks a tiny bit sharper at 135mm although in the text you say the opposite.
As you, I definitely found the 70-300L to be sharper at 70mm, especially at the more wide open apertures, across the entire frame. By 100mm the advantage was slight. By 135mm the f/4 IS definitely did better (aside from the far edge where the 70-300L way better wide open and slightly better stopped down). By 165-170mm the f/4 IS advantage was down to slight. And I believe that at 200mm the 70-300L actually may be just a trace sharper, as you found as well, very close though, and at the edge the 70-300L may be slightly worse. At 280mm/300mm I found the 70-300L to be noticeably better than the 70-200 f/4 IS +1.4x TC III across the frame (and remarkably so at the edge on FF if you use the 1.4x TC II or competitors instead of the III). Only about the same as the tamton at 300mm edges, but noticeably better in the center.
Anyway, it seems to me you must have reversed the 280mm/300mm samples no? And I have to say I found the exact opposite, the mid-range is where the f/4 IS really shines in my tests (and on photozone.de) and the place where it beats the 70-300L. And even on your samples I could swear I see crisper detail in the detail on the kids coat, especially at f/5.6 which would be somewhat more in line with my findinds and photozone, so I’m not sure your samples disagree if the review text does. I know doing these tests can make eyes go buggy though.
But yeah it holds up quite well indeed, much better at 300mm and not too far behind overall at 70-200 (and sometimes ahead). More convenient too than the TC swap mess but far.
The lack of a collar at this pricing is an utter disgrace though. One of the worst cases of raw greed yet shown by Canon. Simply diabolical. Had they tossed in the collar and priced it $1399 (or at least the original pre-release $1499) and not $1599 with no collar, I bet it would be getting tons of great praise all over the net instead of all the jibes and question marks, since it really is quite a solid optic.
So, if in this article: https://dancarrphotography.com/2010/09/03/canon-70-200-f2-8-l-is-ii-review-mk2-vs-f4-comparison-is/ you say that 70-200 f2.8 II is not so much sharper than 70-200 f4 L IS, would you say that this new lens is near to the 70-200 f2.8 mkII? I speak in terms of sharpness, not of other concepts.
Well relatively speaking they are all fairly close because as zoom lenses go, the three you are considering are basically the best. So the differences are small and due to them being zooms the quality varies throughout. IMO the 70-300 is the sharpest of the 3 in the middle of it’s range. Sharper than then 70-200 II. BUT at the beginning and end of it’s range it’s about the same sharpness as the 70-200 II.
Dan’s obviously a paid for preacher so the only way to test the results is to rent or borrow. The 70-200 F4 IS is reputably the best lens pound for pound. Using the EX 1.4 is really not a reliable way to go. Who’s going to go out for a tele shot and have to rely on the extender unless u simply don’t have the 300 prime? And who would be able to afford or need the 2.8 300 and even be thinking this zoom as an alternative? Nobody. But comparing a Nissan Sentra to a Ferrari gives it street cred in some minds. The newish zoom may be ok or good. But really what everyone who has ever used 70-300 lenses reveals about their experience is they end up using the long end for the vast majority of their shots. But I’ll say if u only want to carry one lens or possibly couple it with a short zoom or wide prime it could be a worthwhile marriage. Meanwhile two plus years later and no one is bragging about it. The only good shot Dan took is the dog. The rest are mediocre and any decent lens could match it. The comparison with the shorter zoom looks cooked and the only diff is the longer zoom is darker. A little adjustment and there’s no diff. I for one like the weight of the shorter one and the prime but I admit I wish there was a walk around all around normal lens for this price. since Canon chose to price it where it did I’d say it’s a gimmick to get amateurs excited to spend for what they dream will be the last lens they’ll ever need. Now downsize the 2.8 and adjust the price in here and I’ll bless it. Till then Canon will have to sell it 2 someone else.
I’m not really sure where you are coming from Pete, I’m not ‘paid for’ in any way. I have purchased these lenses with my own money for my own business. I own the 70-300 the 70-200 f4 IS and the 300 2.8 IS. If you want to see results from my work then look at the portfolios.
So to burst your bubble right away I have the 70-300 and the 300 2.8 sitting here right in front of me now as I type this in the media room for the Le Mans 24 hours. Also take a look at the commercial images in my portfolio and you’ll see commercial shots for companies like Nike which were shot with the 70-300! Plenty of people using it to great effect.
I also know MANY people who use the extenders because they simply can’t afford anything longer. For a lot of people it’s an acceptable solution if the photos are not for a professional purpose. No I wouldn’t rely on it, but I need my photos to be blown up 15ft high for some clients so I need all the sharpness I can get but for some people it’s fine to use the extenders.
Funny some idiots like
VolumeSavings just because he’s got the 70-200 doesn’t mean it has to be the best. Sad case. And yes I can shoot dam good alright
Neededto check with all the utility of this lens in serious but amateur birding. I have tried 100-400 but seemed too heavy for me. This lens seems to fit the bill and of course some cropping can be done at processing level. Also I’m told that the kenko Pro DG extenders work with this lens….so occasionally could use that combination of course in broad daylight.
Statistically, this lens is not sharper than 70-200mm f/4 IS. Your copy is just in the bottom line.
The zoom ring is to the front on several Canon EF lenses, especially all those 3.5-4.5 USM Zoom lenses from the 1990s – from the 20-35 to the 70-210. Therefore it didn’t strike me as at all unusual. Can’t say that I have worked with a lot of L series zooms yet. Until now, I only knew the other arrangement from the very cheapest, plasticky lenses they make 😉 But is it really such a great issue?
In the grand scheme of things it isn’t a huge issue but in my three years using the lens it was an annoyance when six other lenses in my bag were the other way around. I didn’t know they used to have them that way on older lenses. They have also released some newer lenses which are that way around since I wrote this review. It’s not a deal breaker of course, but I did find it annoying.
Well, I’m super late to this party, but some responses have said the 70-200 f/4 copy Dan has must’ve been a bad one if the 70-300L is sharper. Well, I have both, and a 135L to compare with. Statistically, the 135L trumps them both in overall sharpness, but in my humble tests, the 70-300L @ 135mm is consistently SHARPER than the 135L! I know, heresy, but it’s true. It is just like Dan said, the 70-300L is VERY sharp in the middle.
This party lasts forever, Daniel! Thanks for confirming my thoughts. Appreciate you taking the time to join in 🙂