A compact, high-magnification zoom lens with few aberrations and effective image stabilisation.The EF 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 DO IS USM is Canon's second lens with three-layer type Diffractive Optics (DO). It can be used with both 'APS-C' (where it covers angles of view equivalent to 112mm to 480mm) and 35mm-sized image sensors. Using three layers of diffraction gratings enables lens designers to almost completely cancel out chromatic aberration and subdue spherical aberration to a near-negligible point. The resulting lenses are smaller and lighter and can out-perform other zoom lenses with equivalent focal lengths and aperture ranges that use fluorite, ED or aspherical glass elements to controls these aberrations. . . [more]
The EF 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 DO IS USM is Canon's second lens with three-layer type Diffractive Optics (DO). It can be used with both 'APS-C' (where it covers angles of view equivalent to 112mm to 480mm) and 35mm-sized image sensors. Using three layers of diffraction gratings enables lens designers to almost completely cancel out chromatic aberration and subdue spherical aberration to a near-negligible point. The resulting lenses are smaller and lighter and can out-perform other zoom lenses with equivalent focal lengths and aperture ranges that use fluorite, ED or aspherical glass elements to controls these aberrations.
DO lenses can be identified by a thin green band around the front of the lens (a red ring delineates the L-series lenses). The 70-300mm DO lens consists of 18 elements arranged in 12 groups. It contains only lead-free glass and focuses by moving internal components, which means angle-critical attachments like polarisers and graduated filters can be used without re-adjustment when focal length is changed. Lens coatings have been applied to various elements to minimise ghosting and flare.
The green band around the front of the lens identifies the EF 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 DO IS USM as having Diffractive Optics.
The built-in image stabilisation system, now in its third generation, claims to offer a three stop advantage for hand-held shooting. It's equally useful for shooting with a monopod and can detect when the camera is tripod-mounted so you don't need to switch the IS off (although leaving it on consumes some battery power).
Build quality is well above average. High-density polycarbonate has been used for the lens barrel, while the mounting plate is made from stainless steel. The zoom ring is positioned at the camera end of the barrel. It's approximately 18mm thick, with a widely-ridged rubber coating covering three quarters of this width. Five focal length settings are engraved at the camera end of the zoom ring, covering 70, 100, 135, 200 and 300mm.
The focusing ring, which includes the green 'DO' band, is close to the front of the barrel and carries a 14mm wide narrowly-ridged rubber grip. Between the focusing and zoom rings lies a distance scale with feet and metre markings from 2 metres to infinity plus a Macro position marked by a yellow line. Closest focusing for this lens is at 1.4 metres.
An infinity compensation mark is provided for adjusting the infinity focus point, which may slip with changing temperatures. Infrared focus indices are provided for 70mm, 100mm and 135mm focal lengths but they are only relevant when the lens is used on film cameras for shooting with monochrome infrared film. They're not much use for digital photography.
To the left of the distance scale are three sliders. The first switches between auto and manual focusing, although like many recent Canon lenses, manual focusing is enabled in AF mode. The next slider switches the stabiliser on and off, while the third sets the stabiliser mode. Two options are provided: mode 1 covers all directions and is used for normal shooting, while mode 2 stabilises in only one direction and is used for panning.
On the opposite side of the distance scale is the zoom lock, a sliding button that holds the lens in place when the camera is carried pointing downwards. This lock can only be engaged in the minimum focus position, when two white buttons on the adjacent rings of the barrel are lined up. But, once locked, the lens is fixed in place, regardless of its orientation.
The 70-300mm DO lens has a small front element diameter, relative to the thickness of its barrel. It's threaded to accept 58mm filters, which are relatively cheap and readily available. Supplied accessories include the cylindrical ET-65B lens hood, E-58U lens cap and end dust cap and the LP1116 soft case.
The lens hood is 70mm long and has a maximum diameter of 96mm. It clips on with a bayonet fitting and is reasonably easy to fit and remove. It also reverses over the lens barrel for transport and storage and when the lens is not in use.
The review lens fitted easily - and snugly - onto the three camera bodies we used for our tests: the EOS 40D, EOS 5D and EOS 5D Mark II. With each camera, it proved to be well balanced and its size and weight-to-focal length range ratio was excellent. With any of these bodies, this lens would be an excellent choice for travellers or bushwalkers.
Both the zoom and focusing rings moved smoothly and positively. The zoom ring travels through approximately a quarter of a turn as you move from the 70mm to the 300mm setting. The focusing ring rotates through 360 degrees when the slider is set to AF and through about a third of a turn with the MF setting. It moves a little more freely than the zoom ring but still provides adequate scope for focusing precision.
Both focusing and zooming were virtually silent and the small size and black colour of the lens is an advantage in situations where you wish to be inconspicuous, such as when shooting wildlife and for candid street photography. The image stabiliser worked particularly well, producing a very steady viewfinder image and enabling us to use shutter speeds as slow as 1/12 second at 70mm and 1/30 second at the 300mm focal length.
Although fast autofocusing and competent image stabilisation were strong features of the review lens, our Imatest tests also showed it to be a strong optical performer at all lens apertures and the focal lengths we were able to assess (our test set-up can't accommodate lenses longer than about 200mm). Best performance was between one and two f-stops down from maximum aperture and up to f/18. At smaller apertures, diffraction appeared to reduce image quality.
Overall sharpness wasn't quite as high as we've seen in some lenses we've tested and, although Imatest showed resolution to be high, it also confirmed that images were slightly undersharpened. We believe this lack of sharpness is associated with reduced acutance, rather than a loss of resolution and found that images were easily restored to a pin-sharp appearance with a small amount of post-capture sharpening, either when processing raw files or by using unsharp masking on JPEGs.
As well as indicating high general resolution, Imatest also showed the test lens to have a relatively flat image field, with only small levels of edge and corner softening detected. Although edge softening increased at around f/18 with the 135mm and 200mm focal lengths in our Imatest tests, it wasn't obvious in test shots taken at f/22 with the 300mm focal length setting (see samples below). The graph below shows the results of our Imatest tests.
Lateral chromatic aberration was largely negligible, with low levels of CA revealed at wider apertures for the 100mm and 135mm focal lengths and at the smallest apertures for all focal lengths we tested. We found no evidence of coloured fringing in test shots and feel this aberration is unlikely to be visible in prints made from images at any aperture or focal length setting. The graph below shows the results of our tests. (The blue vertical line marks the border between 'negligible' and 'low' CA.)
Vignetting could be seen at all focal length settings when the widest apertures were used but disappeared when the lens was stopped down one or two f-stops. It was more obvious at the shorter focal lengths and only just visible at 300mm. Rectilinear distortion could not be seen at shorter focal lengths but slight pincushioning was evident at 300mm.
Diffractive optics are inherently flare-prone, although the use of several layers of diffraction diaphragms cancels out most effects. With the test lens, the amount of flare was directly related to the amount of direct light striking the front element of the lens. Fortunately, for most contre-jour shots the lens hood provided effective flare control and the camera delivered bright, punchy images. In shots where contrast was low, we were able to compensate by shooting raw files and adjusting the images when we converted them to TIFF format.
Close-up capabilities are limited because this lens cannot focus closer than 1.4 metres. With larger subjects, our close-up tests produced some attractive shots. Although some reviewers have commented unfavourably about the soft "dream-like" bokeh associated with DO lenses, we found the tests lens produced attractive-looking out-of-focus backgrounds that would be particularly appealing to wedding and portrait photographers.
Performance like this comes at a price - and the EF 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 DO IS USM is far from cheap. However, it substantially out-performs the 75-300mm kit lens in image quality and is a much more robust and comfortable lens to use. It's also an equally good match for Canon's "full frame' and "APS-C" sensor DSLR camera bodies.
Buy this lens if:
- You require a relatively light and inconspicuous long zoom lens for travelling and/or outdoor photography.
- You want a telephoto lens with fast autofocusing and effective stabilisation.
- You like soft-looking out-of-focus backgrounds.
- You require distortion-free images.
Don't buy this lens if:
- You shoot lots of close-ups and/or low-light shots.
- You're not prepared to use the lens hood.
Vignetting at 70mm f/4.5; shot taken with EOS 5D.
No vignetting at f/8; EOS 5D 70mm focal length.
The same subject photographed from the same position with the EOS 40D showing the effect of the smaller sensor's crop factor; 70mm focal length, f/8.
Changing the zoom range on the EOS 5D; 100mm focal length, f/8.
EOS 5D; 135mm focal length, f/8.
EOS 5D; 200mm focal length, f/8.
EOS 5D; 300mm focal length, f/8.
The same shot position and focal length with the EOS 40D; 300mm focal length, f/8.
EOS 5D; 70mm focal length, f/4.5 - full frame.
Crop from corner of the above shot.
Crop from centre of the above shot.
EOS 5D; 300mm focal length, f/22 - full frame.
Crop from corner of the above shot.
Crop from centre of the above shot.
Differential focusing: EOS 5D, 160mm f/5. (Note slight vignetting.)
Differential focusing: EOS 5D, 160mm f/11.
EOS 5D; 300mm 1/166 second at f/5.6; ISO 100.
EOS 5D; 300mm 1/15 second at f/16; ISO 100.
Flare: EOS 5D, 160mm f/5.6.
EOS 5D Mark II; 300mm 1/500 second at f/11; ISO 200.
EOS 5D Mark II; 300mm 1/500 second at f/8; ISO 100.
EOS 5D, 70mm, 1/12 second at f/8 ; ISO 100.
EOS 5D; 300mm 1/40 second at f/5.6; ISO 100.
EOS 5D; 300mm 1/160 second at f/5.6; ISO 100.
Picture angle: 29 degrees to 6 degrees 50 minutes
Minimum aperture: f/32-38 (f/32-40 for cameras featuring 1/3-stop increments also)
Lens construction: 18 elements in 12 groups
Lens mount: Canon EF
Image stabiliser: Yes; two modes
Diaphragm Blades: 6 (circular aperture)
Minimum focus: 1.4 metres
Filter size: 58mm
Dimensions (Diameter x L): 82.4 x 99.9 mm (max length 159.1mm)
Weight: 720 grams
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