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The new version of Canon's 300mm f/2.8L super-telephoto professional lens sports a lighter build, a three mode 4-stop image stabiliser, a ring-type ultrasonic focusing motor with full time manual override and power focus, sub-wavelength lens coatings to minimise flare and improve contrast and costs a whopping £5500 as a result. Is this update worth the high price tag? We'll investigate in this review.
Canon EOS 5D MkII body used for testing, even without the addition of a battery grip. A substantial non-removable tripod collar is provided, with the added feature of a Kensington-compatible locking point, so that the lens can be tethered to an immovable object, or yourself, to help prevent theft. Needless to say, the lens is weather resistant and built to take the rough and tumble of daily professional use in its stride.
Autofocus is powered by a ring-type ultrasonic motor, and focus speed are incredibly quick, locking onto static subjects almost instantly and performing well when tracking erratic moving subjects too. Manual focus adjustments can be made at any time, whether the lens is set to AF or MF. A new PF, or power focus mode has also been added, which is optimised for use when recording video. In this mode the ultrasonic motor focuses the lens to enable smoother focus transitions and for making pull-focus effects easier to perform. Focusing can be performed by either moving the focusing ring slowly or by slightly twisting an additional knurled metal focus ring, which is located ahead of the normal focus ring. The focusing motor then focuses the lens more smoothly than would be possible by turning the focus ring manually. The standard focusing ring is well damped and has a smooth action, which helps to make fine adjustments easy to apply. Four focus lock buttons are also located on a rubberised ring around the front of the lens.
Specialised 52mm filters can be used via a drop-in attachment system located near the lens mount. Closest marked focusing is two metres and the lens is fully compatible with Canon's range of teleconverters and extension tubes.
The image stabiliser system on this lens promises to allow sharp hand held photography at shutter speeds up to four stops slower than would be possible without. The system performs very well, keeping the viewfinder image very steady in modes one and two. Mode three only initiates the stabilisation system when the image is being taken. With care, sharp hand-held images are possible around two thirds of the time at 1/20sec, which is roughly four stops slower than the usual rule of thumb would allow.
How to read our chartsThe blue column represents readings from the centre of the picture frame at the various apertures and the green is from the edges. Averaging them out gives the red weighted column.
The scale on the left side is an indication of actual image resolution. The taller the column, the better the lens performance. Simple.
For this review, the lens was tested on a Canon EOS 5D MkII using Imatest.
Chromatic aberrations barely figured in testing, with all values recorded during testing remaining well under a quarter of a pixel width. This extremely low level of fringing should not be noticeable, even in very large prints, or harsh crops from near the edges of the frame.
How to read our chartsChromatic aberration is the lens' inability to focus on the sensor or film all colours of visible light at the same point. Severe chromatic aberration gives a noticeable fringing or a halo effect around sharp edges within the picture. It can be cured in software.
Apochromatic lenses have special lens elements (aspheric, extra-low dispersion etc) to minimize the problem, hence they usually cost more.
For this review, the lens was tested on a Canon EOS 5D MkII using Imatest.
Falloff of illumination towards the corners of the frame is quite well-controlled for a fast super-telephoto lens such as this. At f/2.8 the corners at 1.78 stops darker than the image centre and visually uniform illumination is realised when stopped down to f/5.6 or beyond.
Pincushion distortion is present in images taken with this lens, but if you're able to spot 0.0381% pincushion distortion, then you'll be glad to know that this low level is uniform across the frame, so should be relatively easy to correct in image editing software afterwards.
A whopping-huge bin-type lens hood is supplied with the lens along with a flight case for transportation and a sock-type lens cap. This lens can happily be used without the lens hood attached as it is very resistant to flare and contrast levels remain high, even when shooting into the light. It seems the sub-wavelength coating applied does an excellent job.
Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM Sample Photos
Shooting at f/2.8 is not an issue with this lens, even at the minimum focus distance of two metres | 1/250 sec | f/2.8 | 300.0 mm | ISO 160
Stopped down to f/8, this lens delivers outstanding sharpness | 1/500 sec | f/8.0 | 300.0 mm | ISO 100
Focusing is blisteringly fast and even erratic subjects aren't a problem | 1/320 sec | f/4.0 | 300.0 mm | ISO 400
The sub-wavelength coatings maintain contrast, even when shooting into the light | 1/400 sec | f/8.0 | 300.0 mm | ISO 100
1/250 sec | f/7.1 | 300.0 mm | ISO 320
1/320 sec | f/11.0 | 300.0 mm | ISO 400
1/320 sec | f/4.0 | 300.0 mm | ISO 2500
1/250 sec | f/8.0 | 300.0 mm | ISO 500
Value for MoneyThis lens certainly won't be turning up in the bargain bucket at your local camera store any time soon. Priced at around £5500, this is a serious piece of professional equipment, built for those who can't afford to compromise.
Those who can afford to compromise may wish to look at Canon's 300mm f/4L IS, which can be picked up for a much more reasonable price of around £1100. Although this lens is a stop slower, lacks IS mode 3 and the power focus features of the lens reviewed here, it should still provide excellent sharpness for a much lower price.
Sigma currently offer a few lenses that may be of interest for those looking for a fast 300mm lens. Their 300mm f/2.8 EX DG HSM seems a bargain by comparison, as it is available for around £2180. If the added flexibility of a zoom appeals, then Sigma's 120-300mm F/2.8 OS EX DG HSM may also be on your shopping list. It is also substantially cheaper at around £1900.
Nikon's flagship 300mm f/2.8 lens also includes a four stop image stabiliser and Nano Crystal lens coatings, but is around £1500 cheaper, retailing for a shade under £4000.
If you can't live with compromise, and need a 300mm f/2.8 for your Canon camera, then this lens is a truly amazing performer. Expensive as it may be, it is sharp, rugged, fast to focus, has little distortion, is resistant to flare and doesn't suffer badly with chromatic aberrations. It works exactly as you'd expect a lens costing this much should do.
|The Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens is a truly amazing performer.
Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM ProsIncredibly rugged magnesium and titanium build
Lightweight for a 300mm f/2.8
Very effective IS system
Very, very sharp
Low CA, distortion and falloff
Novel locking point on tripod collar
Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM ConsExpensive
Tripod collar isn't removable
|VALUE FOR MONEY|
Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM Specifications
|Angle of View||6.5°|
|35mm equivalent||No Data|
|Internal focusing||No Data|
|Box Contents||No Data|