A brief review of the Canon EF70-300mm f4-5/6L IS

After briefly testing this lens when it was launched in late 2010, I finally purchased one the following April. I have now used it enough to be able to post a useful review.

When first announced this lens came in for some criticism simply for being what it is a fairly heavy variable aperture telephoto zoom. On paper perhaps not a particularly exciting addition to Canon's lens range - unless of course it's exactly what you've been waiting for!

Previously I had to carry both a 70-200mm f4 L IS and a 300mm f4 L IS when shooting landscapes. There were other options available but I felt that this was the best setup in terms of image quality, weight and versatility. The 70-300mm has now replaced both of these in my camera bag when I'm out shooting landscapes, albeit with some compromises.

The compact size of this lens makes it ideal for travelling

The good points:
    •    Exceptional image quality for a zoom lens, across the whole frame
    •    Virtually no colour fringing
    •    Compact size (albeit still quite heavy)
    •    Excellent build quality
    •    Extremely effective new image stabilization

The not so good points:
    •    Tripod collar not included
    •    Vignetting at wider apertures may be an issue for some
    •    Tripod collar not included
    •    Loss of contrast at minimum focusing distance
    •    Tripod collar not included
    •    Significant loss of magnification at minimum focusing distance
    •    Perhaps worst of all there is no tripod collar included!

Lets look at these points in a little more detail.

This lens really does provide exceptionally good image quality, easily the best I have seen from a telephoto zoom lens (even better than my old 70-200mm f4 L IS). Distortion is well controlled and there is no discernable colour fringing. On a full frame camera there is hardly any drop off in quality in the corners of the frame. Whilst there is a little vignetting, this is easily dealt with in post processing. Flare is also very well controlled. If this is what we can come to expect from all future Canon "L" series lenses I will be very happy.

The construction of this lens is also very impressive. It feels extremely robust, especially considering that the lens extends as you zoom. The downside of this is that it's quite a heavy lump to carry around. Fortunately it's pretty compact, shorter in fact than my old 70-200 f4, making it easy to slot vertically into a photo backpack.

The new image stabilization is simply brilliant. This is not a feature that I make much use of myself, but it you do you won't be disappointed. It's noticeably more effective than the IS on any of my older lenses.

Now, why do I make such a big deal of there being no tripod collar included? If you're only going to handhold this lens when photographing subjects such as sports or birds in flight then this obviously isn't going to be an issue for you. However, for me as a landscape photographer, this lens will spend most of its time attached to a tripod. My initial tests demonstrated very clearly that a tripod collar is absolutely necessary when using this lens in breezy conditions in low light. It's not possible to use the image stabilization when shooting longer exposures (longer than about ¼ second) from a tripod as the IS causes the image to drift during the exposure. Unfortunately, with such a heavy lens supported only at the lens mount (i.e. camera attached to the tripod) I found it impossible to take sharp images around dawn and dusk in all but the lightest breeze. For me the lens collar was a necessity. This is an expensive lens and I feel that it's crazy of Canon not to include the collar with the lens. Instead they insist on charging around £165 for it! What a complete rip off! I wouldn't have minded too much having to pay a reasonable amount of money for an accessory collar, but £165 is not a reasonable amount of money by any stretch of the imagination! There are much cheaper alternative collars available but I have never found these to be very good and have always ended up buying the Canon version in the end. The ones I have used never seem to fit the lens tightly and therefore don't eliminate wind-induced vibration. Unfortunately, if you intend to use this lens for landscape photography, you will need to budget for the ridiculously priced Canon lens collar as well.

The 70-300mm focal range is ideal for achieving the perfect composition in-camera

I feel that the versatility of this lens is slightly compromised by its performance close to its minimum focusing distance. It focuses down to a respectable 1.2 metres but unfortunately the image quality suffers a little with a slight reduction in contrast. Vignetting also becomes more apparent when shooting a close subject using a wide aperture. However, the most significant issue with its close focusing abilities is that the magnification is quite severely reduced. This is normal with most telephoto zoom lenses due to their design, but it seems particularly bad with this lens. When the lens is zoomed to 300mm at MFD it's only providing the magnification expected from a 200mm lens.

Overall this is an extremely impressive lens and one that I thoroughly recommend for landscape and travel photography.

Update: Having now used this lens for 3 1/2 years my opinion hasn't changed. It has become one of my favourite and most used lenses. It stands up to professional use extremely well......but the price should still include a tripod collar!

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