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Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM Lens Review

Gary Wolstenholme reviews the Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM lens.

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Handling and features
Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM

Canon have given the 70-300mm range an L-series makeover and as a result this lens sports silent autofocus, with full-time manual override, weather sealing, optical stabilisation and tougher build quality than you might normally find on a lens covering this range. As a result the price is bumped up to around £1130. Is the premium price worth it? We'll take a good look in this review.

Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM


Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM Handling and features

Typical of Canon's L series lenses, this lens feels incredibly well-built and the tough white exterior finishes off the look. Sealing against dust and moisture has been applied to the lens, including a rubber gasket around the metal lens mount to prevent the ingress of moisture and particles into the camera body. Despite the excellent build, this lens isn't massively heavy, thanks to the moderate f/4-5.6 max aperture, and it weighs 1050g. As a result the lens balances well on the EOS 5D MKIII used for testing even without a battery grip attached.

Auto focus is powered by an Ultrasonic motor, and focusing is extremely fast and accurate as a result, especially when compared to most other lenses covering this range. Manual adjustments can be made quickly at any point by turning the focus ring. The focusing ring is smooth and precise, which makes fine manual adjustments a pleasure to apply. Minimum focus is 1.2m from the sensor plane, which is fairly typical for lenses covering this range.

As focusing is performed internally, the 67mm filter ring does not rotate, which makes the lens ideal for use with graduated and polarising filters. A deep circular hood is also provided, which is flock-lined on the surfaces inside to minimise the chances of unwanted light being reflected into the optical path.

Sharp hand held images are possible around half the time at an impressive 1/20sec, which is roughly four stops slower than the general rule of thumb for sharp images would allow.

Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM


Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM Performance

At 70mm and f/4, sharpness already approaches excellent levels across the frame and with the aperture closed down to f/5.6 sharpness reaches those excellent levels across the frame.

Sharpness is remarkably consistent throughout the zoom range as can be seen with the lens zoomed to 135mm. Sharpness remains very good across the frame at maximum aperture and rises to excellent levels in the centre by f/5.6. Peak sharpness across the frame is achieved with the lens stopped down to f/8 for this focal length. Here clarity is excellent across the frame.

Finally, at 300mm the performance of this lens holds up well. Many lenses covering this range display a marked falloff in resolution at maximum telephoto, but this lens is still capable of producing very good sharpness in the centre of the frame and good sharpness towards the edges at f/5.6. Stopping down to f/8 produces excellent sharpness in the centre of the frame although the clarity towards the edges remains good.


Resolution at 70mm
Resolution at 70mm
Resolution at 135mm
Resolution at 135mm
Resolution at 300mm
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 Mark III using Imatest.

Chromatic aberrations are very well controlled for a telephoto zoom lens covering this range, just exceeding 0.75 pixel widths at 70mm when stopped down to f/11 and f/16. Other aperture and zoom combinations result in lower levels of fringing that should pose few issues, even in large prints or harsh crops from the edges of the frame.


Chromatic aberration at 70mm
Chromatic aberration at 70mm
Chromatic aberration at 135mm
Chromatic aberration at 135mm
Chromatic aberration at 300mm
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 Mark III using Imatest.

Falloff of illumination towards the corners of the frame is kept in check throughout the zoom range. The corners are consistently 1.39stops darker than the image centre at either end of the zoom and visually uniform illumination is achieved one full stop down from maximum aperture.

Distortion is pretty well controlled throughout the zoom range. At 70mm 1.74% barrel distortion is present, which is replaced by 1.66% pincushion distortion at 300mm. The distortion pattern is uniform across the frame, which should make applying corrections in image editing software afterwards relatively straightforward.

The supplied lens hood is very deep and does an excellent job of shading the front element, as well as protecting the lens from bumps and scrapes. Contrast remains high, even when shooting into the light and the lens is very resistant to flare, even when the hood isn't used.

Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM Sample Photos


Value for Money

Although the thought of paying over £1000 for a 70-300mm lens with a slow and variable maximum aperture may seem a bit much for many, this lens does genuinely seem to offer greater optical performance and build quality than many other lenses covering this range.

Canon's own 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM may be a suitable alternative for many, especially if the build quality and weather sealing are not necessary. The optical performance may not be quite as good as this lens, but as it is priced at around £375, it may be a compromise many are willing to make.

Sigma offer a wide range of 70-300mm lenses, with the closest in terms of specification being their optically stabilised 70-300mm f/4-5.6 OS HSM lens, which can be picked up for around £290. Rather than list every 70-300mm lens currently available, there are plenty of non-stabilised budget zoom lenses covering this focal range available for around £100-£180 from Sigma and Tamron. None of these lenses deliver build quality and clarity of the level seen here, but may be better suited to photographers on a budget, or simply those building their first camera kit from scratch.

Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM Verdict

Although it may seem expensive for a slow 70-300mm zoom lens, this optic offers optical and build quality not currently matched by the competition covering this focal range. The slow maximum aperture also helps to keep the weight of the lens down, so this lens may be especially well suited to those looking for a high quality tele-zoom, without weighing themselves down too much.

Optical performance is remarkably consistent throughout the zoom range, which isn't often seen in a 70-300mm zoom, which is impressive in itself.

The Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM lens offers very good sharpness throughout the range.

Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM Pros

Excellent build quality
Very good sharpness that is consistent through the range
Low CA
Low distortion
Effective optical stabilisation

Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM Cons

May seem expensive for a f/4-5.6 zoom (although the premium is probably worth the extra in this case)



Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM Specifications

Lens Mounts
  • Canon EF USM
Focal Length70mm - 300mm
Angle of View6.5 - 29
Max Aperturef/4 - f/5.6
Min Aperturef/32 - f/45
Filter Size67mm
35mm equivalentNo Data
Internal focusingNo Data
Maximum magnificationNo Data
Min Focus120cm
Box Contents
Box ContentsNo Data

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brian1208 19 11.8k 12 United Kingdom
30 Oct 2012 2:35PM
I owned one of these as soon as it became available and it was my "Go To" lens for a lot of my work. My experiences with it match your report Gary - it is the one lens that made me think long and hard before selling up and moving to the EM-5
For anyone considering getting this - you won't regret it! Smile
NeilSchofield Plus
15 1.7k 1 United Kingdom
30 Oct 2012 5:00PM
I have had this lens since it came out and it never ceases to please/ amaze me, and I have and use a 300mm L 2.8 IS and a 70-200 L2.8 Mark ll

The only stupid Canon limitation is that it won't take Canon Teleconverters, however it is quite good with a Kenko DGX 1.4 T/C, Canon lost a few sales there
markjh 9 Singapore
2 Jun 2013 8:25AM
I changed to this lens, from the fabulous 70-200 f/4 when I upgraded to full frame.

While the IQ is NOT to the 70-200 standard, in terms of sharpness or vignetting, it is a great 'go to' lens for simple sports photography and I use it all the time for that now.

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