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Canon EF 100-300mm f/5.6L Lens Review - Performance

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Canon EF 100-300mm f/5.6L Performance

Starting at 100mm, central sharpness is very good from f/5.6 to f/16, good at f/22, but soft at f/32. The edges are only fairly sharp at f/5.6 and f/8, but crisp up and are very good at f/11 and f/16. There is fair edge sharpness at f/22 and the image again softens at f/32.


At 200mm, the central area is very good from f/5.6 to f/16, good at f/22 and soft at f/32. The edges are good at f/5.6, very good from f/8 to f/16, fair at f/22 and soft at f/32.

At 300mm, the centre sharpness is good at f/5.6, very good from f/8 to f/16, good at f/22 and soft at f/32. The edges are soft at f/5.6, fair at f/8, good at f/11 and f/16, fair at f/22 and soft at f/32. The edges at 300mm are where the lens gives up a bit on sharpness, although centrally placed subjects will still be crisp.


Canon EF 100-300mm f/5.6L MTF Charts

How to read our MTF charts

The blue column represents readings from the centre of the picture frame at the various apertures and the green is from the edges.

The scale on the left side is an indication of actual image resolution as LW/PH and is described in detail above. The taller the column, the better the lens performance.

For this review, the lens was tested on a Canon EOS 5DS R using Imatest.

CA (Chromatic Aberration) is virtually banished at the centre of the field and the edges are generally well contained. There is the most obvious edge fringing at 300mm and it may well be necessary to reduce this using software, depending on the subject matter. Trees against bright sky, scaffolding and similar will definitely show fringing.


Canon EF 100-300mm f/5.6L Chromatic Aberration Charts

How to read our CA charts

Chromatic aberration (CA) 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 5DS R using Imatest.


Distortion measures -0.04% barrel at 100mm, which is close to perfect and would be impressive even in a macro lens. 200mm shows +1.56% pincushion and this increases to +2.07% at 300mm. This is clearly visible when straight lines are near the image edges and may need correction in software.

Bokeh had not been invented in 1987, although of course it was still there, but happily the out of focus areas are smooth and have very nice gradation.

Flare is an area where improvements in coating technologies have made huge advances. This lens is multi-coated but even so bright light sources near the corners will produce a glorious array of multi-coloured artefacts. This may be a defect, but it is something that could be used to creative advantage as lenses will no longer throw up effects like this. In normal use, the lens behaves well and produces saturated images without degradation by flare.

Vignetting is quite modest for a zoom lens, being around –1 stop at 100mm, reducing to -0.9 stops at 200mm and -0.5 stops at 300mm.

In summary, the lens holds its head up high and performs very well. It is certainly absolutely usable on modern DSLR cameras and is probably better than some of the less expensive options currently available new.

Canon EF 100-300mm f/5.6L Sample Photos


Canon EF 100-300mm f/5.6L Aperture range

You can view additional images in the Equipment Database, where you can add your own review, photos and product ratings.

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13 Apr 2019 1:39PM
Message to John Riley,

I always enjoy your lens reviews, and really appreciate the level of detail you provide, with useful charts and example photos. For Canon users the potential of a very low cost 32 year-old lens on a modern 50mpixel body is surely fascinating.

However, I'm sure I'm not alone in wondering when there might be some reviews from ePhotozine of Nikon Z-mount lenses on a Nikon Z 7 body.

I appreciate that is not so easy, as you would need to have access to a Nikon Z 7 body as well as the lenses. But the bodies and some of the lenses have been out for quite some time: launched August 23rd 2018 - more than seven months ago. And there are more lenses arriving all the time; 24-70 f/2.8S in the shops now.

So it must be high time for ePhotozine to get a shiny new Z 7 and start doing some tests, get the GAS responses going for your readers!

Many thanks in advance.

Regards, DaveR43

14 Apr 2019 1:12AM
Stellar optic. The FD L version is very good too as its the same optical formula, which I use. The negligible amount of chromatic aberrations and the sharpness of this vintage lens is great. A tripod mount foot would of been nice with these lenses.
randomrubble 16 3.0k 12 United Kingdom
3 Sep 2019 6:13PM
This is an interesting review, but worth adding that (I believe) this first EF L-series is one of the few AF lenses that was a straight carry-over of it's FD antecedent (introduced 1985) and therefore can be found in a the traditional manual focus trombone style too if desired.

Also, not to grumble but... While this is probably the first EF L-series the actual first L series lens was the 24-35L in 1979 - which was are-badge of the earlier 24-35SSC.

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