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

John Riley reviews the first Canon L series lens, the Canon EF 100-300mm f/5.6L, with the 50mp Canon EOS 5DS R.

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Canon 100 300mm F5,6L Top View At 100mm

Everything has to start somewhere, and this lens is where the Canon L Series started. Released in June 1987, this is the very first L Series lens, aimed at being the pinnacle of performance within the Canon system. It is a full frame lens, so let's couple it up with the 50mp Canon EOS 5DS R body and see how it matches up and whether it is still a viable options after 32 years.


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Canon EF 100-300mm f/5.6L Handling and Features

Canon 100 300mm F5,6L On Canon 5DSR

Weighing in at 695g, the lens is not over heavy and balances well with the 5D SR body. The sleek black looks good and the plastics involved are of high quality. Construction is of a very good standard. A lens hood was supplied when new, but sadly is now missing, so a screw in hood was used for the review. There is a standard 58mm filter thread.

The first operational quirk is immediately apparent in that the lens front rotates whilst focusing. This makes life difficult for users of polarising or graduated filters, although to be fair they are less likely to be used with a telephoto zoom such as this anyway.

The distance scale is beneath a clear plastic window, marked in both metres and feet. In common with some other Canon lenses even today, the metres scale is easily seen in white markings but the feet scale is relegated to a dull green that is much harder to view. There are two Infra Red correction marks on the barrel, for 100mm and 135mm focal lengths. In a way this is a little odd in that Canon have sometimes not been particularly IR-friendly, even using IR light as a film transport counter at one point. This obviously precluded the use of IR film in such cameras. However, it may now be more useful again.

Behind this is the narrow plastic manual focusing ring, which only operates when the lens is set to MF. It has a very gritty feel to it, but nonetheless it works just fine. Closest focus is 1.5m, or 4.92 feet. This is reasonably close, especially at 300mm, but hardly justifying the description macro.

Canon 100 300mm F5,6L On Canon 5DSR Top View At 300mm

Focusing is set by a sliding switch, and has three options, full AF, a limiter to 2m-infinity or manual focus. Another oddity is that the whole zooming action is controlled via the entire lens barrel moving in a trombone action. There is nothing wrong with this per se, but anyone used to a trombone action manual focus lens will be expecting it to turn as well, to focus.

Of course, as befits its era, there is no weather sealing, nor is there any Image Stabilisation, but we do have a fairly compact, light and very useful range in this lens. Modern zooms going to 300mm often start at 70mm or even 55mm, but for most subject matter this isn't much of a problem. The lens is actually really pleasant to use. Focusing is a bit jittery and not as fast or slick as more modern optics, but it still locks on reliably, every time.

Optical configuration is 15 elements in 10 groups, with an 8 bladed diaphragm. There is one synthetic fluorite glass element, plus one Ultra Low Dispersion. In its day, this would be cutting edge technology.

Using older lenses on newer cameras can throw up glitches, but this one reports its EXIF correctly and behaves like any modern Canon lens. Some third party lenses of the same era may need re-chipping to achieve this compatibility, if that of course is possible.

Canon 100 300mm F5,6L Rear Oblique View

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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 18 3.1k 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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