Canon EF 70-300mm f4-5.6 L IS USM Lens

      Photo Review 8.8

      In summary

      A high-performance zoom lens that covers a popular focal length range and provides up to four f-stops of stabilisation plus attractive bokeh.Canon announced the EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM, on 26 August, 2010 in the lead-in to September’s Photokina Trade Show. Targeted at professionals and advanced amateur photographers it’s surprisingly compact for its specifications and usable with all of the company’s DLSR cameras. The 4.3x zoom range of 70-300mm on the ‘full frame’ models (112-480mm with ‘APS-C sensors), with a variable aperture of f/4-5.6. . . [more]

      Full review


      Canon announced the EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM, on 26 August, 2010 in the lead-in to September’s Photokina Trade Show. Targeted at professionals and advanced amateur photographers it’s surprisingly compact for its specifications and usable with all of the company’s DLSR cameras. The 4.3x zoom range of 70-300mm on the ‘full frame’ models (112-480mm with ‘APS-C sensors), with a variable aperture of f/4-5.6.


      The Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM, shown without the front cap.(Source: Canon.)
      There are currently two lenses in Canon’s EF line-up with similar specifications (70-300mm f/4-5.6) – but subtly different specifications and varying price tags. The new lens, which is a third of a stop faster than the DO (Diffractive Optics) lens, which we reviewed in January 2009 but carries the same price tag. It also claims superior stabilisation. But, it’s significantly larger and heavier, as can be seen in the comparison table below.


      EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM

      EF 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 DO IS USM

      Release year



      Current RRP




      19 elements in 14 groups (two UD elements)

      18 elements in 12 groups (one glass-mould aspherical element)


      up to 4 f-stops

      up to 3 f-stops

      Focus drive

      Ring USM

      Ring USM

      Minimum focus

      1.2 metres

      1.4 metres

      Filter size

      67 mm


      Dimensions (dxl)

      89 x 143 mm

      82.4 x 99.9 mm


      1.050 kg

      720 grams

      Build quality is in line with expectations for an L-series lens and the pale grey metal barrel has a slightly textured surface and feels very solid, while the mounting plate is made from stainless steel.

      The zoom ring is positioned near the front of the outer barrel. It’s roughly 30 mm wide with a 25 mm wide, deeply-ridged, rubber coating. Zooming drives out the inner barrel, which moves smoothly and positively.

      Focusing is internal and the front element doesn’t rotate when either focus or focal length is changed. This means you can use angle-critical filters like polarisers without having to readjust them, which is handy as the cylindrical lens hood makes this impossible when it’s in place.

      Five focal length settings are engraved at the trailing (camera) edge of the zoom ring, covering 70, 100, 135, 200 and 300mm. Behind them, on the outer barrel itself, is a sliding zoom lock. The zoom lock can only be engaged when the lens is set to 70mm and, once locked, the lens is fixed in place, regardless of its orientation.

      The focusing ring, which is 23 mm wide, begins just behind the zoom lock. It’s almost totally covered by a ridged rubber grip. It rotates through just over one quarter of a turn and can be used in both AF and MF modes.

      Behind the focusing ring is an 18 mm wide strip that’s free of controls. This is where the optional C (WII) tripod mounting collar is fitted. This would enable the lens to be switched quickly from vertical to horizontal and back, without having to reposition the camera body on the tripod.

      Between this strip and the mounting plate are a number of controls and indicators. A distance scale with feet and metre markings from three metres to infinity tucks in just below the camera’s pentaprism housing. It carries a yellow line just before the 3 m point that indicates the lens’s ‘macro’ range (1.3-3.0 metres).

      To the left of the distance scale are three sliders. The first switches between auto and manual focusing. The second 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.
      This lens is sealed against moisture and dust, allowing it to be used in demanding environments. A new Fluorine Coating on the front elements also makes the lens easier to clean by minimising smearing and streaking.
      The optical design comprises 19 elements in 14 groups and includes two ultra-low dispersion (UD) elements to reduce chromatic aberrations and optimise resolution and contrast. A floating lens group maintains high image quality throughout the zoom range.

      This lens also features Canon’s Super Spectra coatings, which suppress ghosting and flare. The advanced optical Image Stabiliser (IS) enables users to shoot with shutter speeds up to four EV (exposure values) slower than they could with an unstabilised lens.

      An independent lens-based CPU handles autofocusing and stabilisation and special AF algorithms have been developed to support consistent and accurate autofocusing in all shooting conditions. In line with other L-series lenses, full time manual focus override is possible in AF mode, even when the AF motor is engaged. The lens will focus down to 1.2 metres throughout the zoom range, making it usable for taking close-ups of medium-sized flowers and animals. Maximum magnification is 0.21x at the 300mm focal length.

      Like the DO lens, the new lens doesn’t maintain the same aperture as it is zoomed in. Instead, it goes from f/4 at 70mm to f/4.5 between 100mm and 135mm, to f/5 at around 160mm, ending up at f/5.6 at around 240mm.

      The eight-bladed iris diaphragm closes to a circular aperture, which offers excellent bokeh for portrait photography. A zoom lock is provided for preventing unwanted extension of the inner barrel when the lens is carried pointing downwards.

      The lens is supplied with the ET-73B cylindrical lens hood, which attaches via a bayonet mount, but can be tricky to fit and remove because tolerances are pretty tight. Front and end caps are also provided, along with the LP1424 soft lens case. The front of the lens is threaded for 67 mm filters and users can attach either of Canon’s EF 12 II or EF25 II extension tubes to extend the shooting range and magnification.

      The review lens was an excellent match for the EOS 5D body we used for our Imatest tests. It was also well-balanced on the EOS 40D we used for some of our shooting tests and would be equally comfortable on large EOS bodies, such as the 60D and 7D, although somewhat big and bulky for the entry-level models.

      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 about a third of a turn and moves a little more freely than the zoom ring, while providing adequate scope for focusing precision.
      Autofocusing was very fast and quiet thanks to the ring-type USM AF motor. The image stabiliser worked particularly well, producing a very steady viewfinder image and enabling us to use shutter speeds as slow as 1/8 second at 70mm and 1/20 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 across the range of lens apertures and 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 about f/16, when diffraction began to affect image quality.

      Resolution for JPEG shots was above expectations for the sensor on the EOS 5D camera we used for our Imatest tests. Imatest also showed the test lens to have a relatively flat image field, although not quite as flat at the widest apertures as the EF 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 DO IS USM we tested in early 2009. The graph below shows the results of our tests.


      Lateral chromatic aberration was negligible with almost all aperture and focal length settings and generally very low. We found no evidence of coloured fringing in test shots. The graph below shows the results of our tests. (The red vertical line marks the border between ‘negligible’ and ‘low’ CA.)


      Vignetting was evident at all focal length settings when the widest apertures were used but had largely disappeared by the time the aperture was stopped down a couple of stops. Examples taken at the widest aperture are shown below.


      Vignetting at 70mm.


      Vignetting at 100mm.


      Vignetting at 135mm.


      Vignetting at 200mm.


      Vignetting at 300mm.

      Close-up capabilities were significantly better than the ‘DO’ lens, thanks to a closer minimum focus and an optical design that lends itself better to close focusing. Bokeh was smooth and very attractive when large apertures were used.

      Rectilinear distortion was also minimal, with only slight barrel distortion at 70mm and no visible pincushioning at 300mm. Backlit subjects were generally handled very well, with little loss of contrast due to veiling flare in shots taken with the sun just outside the field of view.

      Buy this lens if:
      – You require a ruggedly-constructed long zoom lens for travelling and/or outdoor photography, which can also be used for close-up work.
      – You want fast autofocusing and effective stabilisation that also supports panning.
      – You like soft-looking out-of-focus backgrounds.
      – You require distortion-free images.
      – You’d like a lens that requires no readjustment when you fit polarisers and graduated filters.
      – You require high resolution across a wide focal length range, along with good flatness of field.

      Don’t buy this lens if:
      – You need a compact, lightweight zoom lens.

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      Based on JPEG files from the EOS 5D camera.




      Focal length comparisons of shots taken with a camera with a 36 x 24 mm sensor(left column) and a 22.2 x 14.8 mm sensor (right column). From the top, the focal length settings are as follows: 70mm, 100mm ,135mm, 200mm, 300mm.


      Close-up with the EOS 5D: 300mm focal length, 1/60 second at f/5.6, ISO 200.


      Close-up with the EOS 40D: 300mm focal length, 1/1000 second at f/5.6, ISO 200.


      Panning with EOS 5D: 300mm focal length, 1/10 second at f/22, ISO 200.


      Stabilisation test with EOS 5D: 70mm focal length, 1/8 second at f/4.5, ISO 200.


      Vignetting with EOS 5D: 160mm focal length, 1/800 second at f/5.6, ISO 200.


      EOS 5D: 300mm focal length, 1/200 second at f/9, ISO 200.


      EOS 5D: 300mm focal length, 1/800 second at f/5.6, ISO 200.


      EOS 5D: 300mm focal length, 1/500 second at f/5.6, ISO 200.


      EOS 5D: 70mm focal length, 1/100 second at f/11, ISO 200.


      EOS 5D: 300mm focal length, 1/400 second at f/6.3, ISO 400.


      EOS 5D: 100mm focal length, 1/400 second at f/14, ISO 200.


      EOS 40D: 300mm focal length, 1/500 second at f/5.6, ISO 200.


      EOS 40D: 300mm focal length, 1/1250 second at f/5.6, ISO 200.


      EOS 40D: 300mm focal length, 1/240 second at f/5.6, ISO 200.


      Backlighting; EOS 40D: 176mm focal length, 1/1000 second at f/5.6, ISO 200.


      EOS 40D: 300mm focal length, 1/640 second at f/6.3, ISO 200.


      EOS 40D: 300mm focal length, 1/200 second at f/9, ISO 200.




      Picture angle: Horizontal: 29 º – 6 º 50′; Vertical: 19 º 30′ – 4 º 35′; Diagonal: 34 º – 8 º 15′
      Minimum aperture: f/32-f/45
      Lens construction: 19 elements in 14 groups (two UD elements)
      Lens mount: Canon EF
      Stabiliser: Built-in, up to 4 f-stops compensation
      Diaphragm Blades: 8 (circular aperture)
      Focus drive: Ring USM (Ultra-Sonic Motor)
      Minimum focus: 1.2 metres
      Maximum magnification: 0.21x (at 300mm)
      Filter size: 67 mm
      Dimensions (Diameter x L): 89 x 143 mm
      Weight: 1.050 kg





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      Rating (out of 10):

      • Build: 9.5
      • Handling: 8.5
      • Image quality: 9.0
      • Versatility: 8.5
      • OVERALL: 8.8