This 300mm prime lens from Canon is a popular choice among advanced amateur photographers as well as professionals due to it’s relatively compact dimensions and price tag. Available for inside the $1000 mark, we take a look at what you are getting for your money.
- Focal Length 300mm
- Max aperture f/4
- Min aperture f/32
- Filter size 77mm
- Closest focus 150cm
- Dimensions 90x221mm
- Weight 1.19kg
- Price £1049.99
Build and Handling
As a ‘white’ L class lens this Canon offering is built to last. The metal bodied barrel is of the ‘drainpipe’ type, being almost constant in diameter throughout its length. The slightly narrower collar just in front of the mount allows finger room next to the camera’s grip and on the opposite side carries the two switches for AF/MF and focus limiter that allows 3m to infinity and the full scope of 1.5m to infinity. Next up is the tripod mount collar with a single position foot and a ribbed knob for fixing. Strangely, although the collar has a central mark, there are no markings on the lens to line them up with.
Next along the barrel, on the left side, are the IS (Image Stabilisation) controls consisting of two slide switches. The lower, larger one is the on/off and the smaller, upper one controls the two modes. The first is for static shots and the second is for panned shots. Across the centre of the barrel in front of the manual focus ring is a standard distance window marked in metres and feet.
The manual focus ring is a good 50mm+ in size with a nice, rubberised ribbed surface that is easy to grip. The model I had had a slight forward and backward play in it, but this was not enough to be annoying. The autofocus is silent in operation although, for an L lens, it did seem a little sluggish even on a 1 series camera! The manual ring does not rotate during autofocus and is nicely torqued when over-riding or manual focussing.
Forward of the focus ring is a sleeved, built in lens hood that slides back and forth and is locked with a quarter anti-clockwise turn. Once locked, it stayed in position well.
The weight of the lens, not excessive for the type, gives a feeling of being fairly bomb-proof and solidly built.
Distortion is well controlled, with a pincushion effect of only 0.254% recorded with the Imatest module. Contrast and colour rendition are both up to Canon’s normal standards with a slightly warm colour and good contrast.
Out of focus highlights are nicely rendered and the resolution is maintained across the full width of the frame. The resolution is not stunning and this is an area where some of Canon’s older designs are starting to appear slightly dated in the digital age. The results, however, were very pleasant to the eye and the shortcoming will not be noticed on the majority of today’s cameras.
Canon claims two stops for the image stabilisation and I found no reason to doubt this. When shooting static subjects the IS is certainly a help, especially with this kind of focal length which is on the edge of where most people think they can hand hold.
The straight lens, set at f6.3 and taken at 1/320sec on the 1D makes a good length for Zoo work. Closing down just over one stop has given the right depth-of-field for this portrait.
The lens produces a nice effect on the OOF background. 1/250sec at f/6.3 and ISO 320.
At 1/320sec and f11 on a 1D this hand held shot, taken with a 1.4x converter attached, is nice and sharp.
Despite being mounted on a 1 series camera, the lens with a 1.4x converter attached never quite kept up with this eagle in flight. All shots 1/500sec at f/8. ISO 200
Click on each comparision photo below to view full size versions
300mm set at f/8
300mm set at f/4
Below is our lens test data. To find out how to use these graphs look at this article: How we test lenses
The build quality alone qualifies the price of this lens, which appears as though it will outlast any owner! The built in hood is a neat touch that just about escapes getting in the way of filters. The only let down is the slightly sluggish (for the class of lens) autofocus. Use of a 1.4x converter with it retains the AF but slows it even more. If you can live with that one drawback, it will last you a long long time!
In summary, the positive points of the Canon 300mm f/4 L IS USM are:
Excellent build quality
Good contrast and colour rendition
Retractable lens hood a nice touch.
The negative points are:
AF a little slow for class of lens
Resolution may not be up to future sensors (although pixel race has now slowed)
Check out the latest price for the Canon 300mm f/4 L IS here
Test by Ian Andrews www.wildaboutkent.co.uk