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Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens Review

Gary Wolstenholme reviews the Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens.

| Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM in Interchangeable Lenses

Handling and features
Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens Review: Canon 300mm L II (10)

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 EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens Review: Canon 300mm L II (6)

Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM Handling and features

The classic white finish applied to Canon's L-series telephoto lenses is unchanged, so Canon users will find the look and feel of this lens quite familiar. Thanks to a completely new optical design and the use of magnesium alloy and titanium in the lens barrel construction, this lens feels quite light and compact for a 300mm f/2.8 optic. In fact its weight of 2.4kg is 8% less than that of its predecessor and it balances well with the 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.

Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens Review: Canon 300mm L II (3)


Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM Performance

Optically, this lens puts in a superb performance. At f/2.8 sharpness in the centre of the frame is already approaching outstanding levels and towards the edges the clarity just falls short of excellent. Stopping down improves sharpness to outstanding levels across the frame between f/8 and f/11.


Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens Review: Resolution at 300mm

How to read our charts

The 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.


Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens Review: Chromatic aberration at 300mm

How to read our charts

Chromatic 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


Value for Money

This 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.


Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM Verdict

Lenses like this are never cheap, but £5500 may just be a step too far for many. For comparison's sake, 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.


Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens Review:
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 Pros

Incredibly 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 Cons

Tripod collar isn't removable



Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM Specifications

Lens Mounts
  • Canon EF USM
Focal Length300mm
Angle of View6.5°
Max Aperturef/2.8
Min Aperturef/32
Filter Size52mm
35mm equivalentNo Data
Internal focusingNo Data
Maximum magnificationNo Data
Min Focus200cm
Box Contents
Box ContentsNo Data

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