On the eve of Photokina in August 2010, Canon introduced an expansion for the acclaimed L-series professional lenses: Canon EF 70-300mm IS USM f/4-5.6L. This Canon 70-300 lens offers a 4.3x telephoto zoom range with a variable aperture of f/4-5.6 and a compact size with a total length of 143 mm. For both professionals and advanced (wealthy) amateur photographers, this versatile lens offers beautiful portraits, nature and action images. The Canon 70-300 mm L lens can also be used with a full frame camera, but in this review, we examine the performance of this lens with the Canon 650D.
Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM @ 300 mm
The field of view of the Canon 70-300 L telephoto zoom on the Canon 650D, which is equipped with an APS-C sensor, corresponds with a field of view of a 112-480 mm zoom lens on a camera with a full frame sensor. The large zoom range enables you to show a heron, which is clearly visible zoomed to a focal length of 300 mm (right) but virtually invisible at a focal length of 70 mm (left).
The Canon EF 70-300mm IS USM f/4-5.6L, like the other lenses in the L-series, comes with a hood and a nice, soft lens pouch. If the lens will be used on a tripod, you may want to buy an additional collar C (WII). With many other lenses in the L-series, this collar is standard, unfortunately not with the Canon 70-300 L.
Construction and autofocus
The Canon 70-300 mm L is solidly built and therefore quite heavy. The lens is additionally protected against splash water and dust. At a focal length of 300 mm, the lens becomes about 1.5 times as long as with a focal length of 70 mm. On the lens, there are three switches: AF / MF, IS on / off and IS Mode 1 / Mode 2. The first image stabilization mode stabilizes in two directions, while the second mode is intended for image stabilization while the camera is panned with a moving subject.
As with all Canon L-series lenses, manual focusing is always available, even when the AF motor is enabled. With a minimum focal length of 1.2 meters over the entire zoom range, photographers can take pictures of even nearest photographic subjects.
The USM Autofocus motor focuses quickly and silently. The USM works in conjunction with the lens CPU and advanced AF algorithms, in order to provide accurate and reliable focusing under all circumstances.
The image stabilization of the Canon 70-300 mm L is so quiet. You almost do not hear that the stabilization is turned on. Canon’s advanced optical Image Stabilizer (IS) provides a genuine gain of at least four stops, as you can see on the graph to the right. One at a focal distance of 70 mm from hand held shooting at a shutter speed of 1/100 second is as sharp as a stabilizer-captured image at a shutter speed of 1/6 second. Unfortunately we have not tested the stabilization at even slower shutter speeds, so we do not know whether the Canon 70-300 mm L to more capable.
We rarely encounter such a good performance for image stabilization in our lens reviews.
In-camera lens correction
When testing jpg files we try in-camera correction of lens aberrations as much as possible. We also analyze the performance of RAW files, without lens aberration corrections applied. The lens aberration correction profile for the Canon EF 70-300 mm IS USM was available for the Canon 650D test camera. The test results of jpg files obtained with the correction of brightness edges and chromatic aberration enabled.
The Canon 70-300 mm L is designed for cameras with a full frame sensor. On a camera with a smaller APS-C sensor, little vignetting is expected. Nevertheless, the Canon 70-300 mm L performs exceptionally well for the absence of vignetting. With this lens on an APS-C sensor camera, you will never suffer from vignetting. That is not because we had the lens correction for jpg files switched on at the Canon 650D: the uncorrected RAW files also showed no vignetting when used on the Canon 650D.
Move your mouse over the image to see our measurements of uncorrected RAW files.
Distortion at the telephoto lenses is usually not a big problem and with the Canon 70-300 mm L too, this remains reasonably controlled. The distortion is slightly barrel-shaped at 70 mm, the near absence of light at 100 mm and barrel-shaped at the top of the focal lengths 125 mm. Moreover, if you still suffer from distortion, it can easily be corrected using software.
An eight-blade circular aperture results in an excellent bokeh, which is ideal for portraits. The background looks nice, especially if you take into account the fact that this f/4-5.6 lens is not very fast.
In the image to the right, you see the bokeh at a focal length of 70 mm. Move your mouse over the image for a larger magnification. The Canon 70-200 mm L IS f/2.8 is a better choice all if you care for beautiful bokeh.
Ghosts and flare
The Canon 70-300 m L lens uses Canon’s Super Spectra coatings to prevent internal reflections and flare. In addition, a lens hood is supplied.
Avoidance of ghosts and flare does not seem to be the strongest point of the Canon 70-300 mm L. During our filed test, we did not encounter flare or ghosting. Nevertheless, these images were taken on a cloudy day, when we did not encounter high contrasts. In the studio, we observed ghosting and flare. In the image to the right, you see such a ghost in the form of a green dagger. Having some flare and ghosting with this lens is not surprising when you consider that this lens contains 19 elements in 14 groups.
Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM @ 300 mm
The Canon 70-300 mm L in combination with the Canon 650D showed very good performance in terms of resolution over the entire zoom range. Normally, telephoto zoom lenses show lower sharpness at the longest focal length. However, this difference is very small for the Canon 70-300 mm L: it still provides a high resolution. Over the entire zoom range and at all focal lengths, the center resolution (blue bars) is only a little bit higher than the resolution in the corners (red bars). You will not see a difference with the naked eye.
Canon 70-300 vs Canon 70-200 2.8
The Canon 70-300 mm L scores even better for jpg file resolution in our charts than the Canon 70-200 mm f/2.8 does. This difference is mainly caused by the lower resolution of the Canon 70-700 mm in the corners at full aperture (f/2.8). At the lower focal lengths (70 mm -135 mm), the sharpness in the center is higher for the 70-200 f/2.8 than for the Canon 70-300 L. With RAW files, the difference in sharpness between the 70-300 and the 70-200 is smaller, but still the Canon 70-300 mm wins. When you do not need the fast f/2.8 aperture, this Canon 70-300 L lens is a cheaper alternative for the Canon 70-200 f/2.8.
Chromatic aberration in jpg files is low at all focal lengths and apertures. This can partly be explained by the good performance of the Canon 650D in-camera lens correction. However, in a visual assessment of RAW files, we encountered no visible chromatic aberration either. Very good!
Conclusion Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM review
- Very high image quality
- Very solid finish
- Highly effective image stabilization
- Beautiful bokeh for f/4-5.6 lens
- High price
- Somewhat susceptible to ghosting
The Canon EF 70-300mm IS USM f/4-5.6L keeps the good name of the L-series in honor and is very good. The Canon 70-300 mm L lens is ideal for professionals and wealthy, advanced amateur photographers. The Canon 70-300 is very well built and protected against dust and splash water. The autofocus is fast and the image stabilization showed an excellent performance in our review. All optical properties vary from good to excellent. If you do not need the fast f/2.8 aperture, the subject of our current Canon 70-300 mm review is a cheaper alternative to the Canon 70-200 f/2.8.