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Rudy Winston
Rudy Winston

Rudy Winston has over 17 years experience with Canon USA's Pro Products team, and has been responsible during that time for training Canon's staff on new products, creating presentations for customers and dealers, numerous writing projects, and providing technical assistance to professional and amateur photographers.

Lens positioning article: EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM

March 29, 2011

The new EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM lens is perfect for pros who need the combination of superior optics and considerable telephoto power, along with moderate weight and excellent durability and build quality.

 

Many Canon EOS owners have either recently stepped-up or want to move into a new, higher-end digital SLR camera, and possibly elevate their lens system as well. Users looking to a camera like the EOS 60D or 7D often put a priority on reasonable weight and good handling, and this applies to their lenses as well as their cameras. Until now, Canon’s long zoom lens options have meant either putting up with lots of weight (EF 100-400mm L IS), living with possibly not enough telephoto power (the 70-200mm series), or a lens that didn’t really target the advanced user (EF 75-300mm f/4.5-5.6, etc).

Now, there’s a lens that addresses all these issues. The new EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM is perfect for the user who’s looking to step into a superb-quality, long-range zoom, with professional-grade build quality and durability — but with reasonable size, weight and cost. It’s great for travel, for nature and landscape shooting, for outdoor candid shots at events, and outdoor sports. And with an excellent Image Stabilization system, you can shoot at shutter speeds slow enough that it can even be used in some indoor conditions, as well.

While it’s a great match for full-frame cameras, like the EOS 5D Mark II, this lens really comes into its own when used with an APS-C size sensor camera, like the EOS 60D or 7D, or a Rebel series digital SLR. With these cameras, the effective 1.6x multiplier means its field of view is like a 112mm– 480mm lens on a full-frame camera. If you use a camera like these, as you read through the following information, consider the potential of this lens: it’s nearly equivalent to a 500mm telephoto, that you can easily hand-hold.

We’ll examine why this lens may be an ideal choice for advanced photo enthusiasts, especially those who have been shooting with SLRs for a while and want to raise the level of their lens system.

Strong, durable build quality

One of the first things the experienced SLR shooter notices is how a lens “feels” when he or she attaches it to the camera for the first time, and begins to work its controls. Compared to less-expensive lenses, the new EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM has that solid, smooth and quality tactile sensation that Canon’s high-end lenses have become renowned for. Zooming is achieved with a large, smooth zoom ring at the far end of the lens. Manual focus, always a good test of a lens’s mechanical quality, meets this challenge with a large, very precise-turning ring, with a broad rubber surface. An optional Tripod Mount C (WII) is available, and its operation likewise is both solid and smooth — easy to lock down, yet quick to position for hand-holding (and it can be easily removed, if you prefer).

The build quality extends to things you can’t see and touch, but will appreciate as you handle and actually work with this lens. The lens barrel assembly is stronger, and designed for greater structurally rigidity. There’s an extensive network of dust- and moisture-reducing gaskets, including at the lens mount, switch panel, and at both ends of the zoom and manual focus rings. A nature photographer out in the field, or a shooter who is traveling, can’t always work in ideal conditions. Here’s a lens that’s designed to take what the conditions dish out.

With its all-metal barrel construction and heavy-duty design, the lens weighs about 2.3 lbs (1,050g) — more than previous lenses like the EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM (non-L type), but significantly less than a lens like the EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM (3.3 lbs / 1490g).

First-rate optics

No matter what kind of pictures they take, serious enthusiasts and working professionals alike demand great image quality. Here’s a lens that’s a distinct step forward from previous compact long zoom lenses. The technology is one thing: the new EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM has two UD-glass elements, for superior color, contrast and sharpness; it has a “floating” optical system, so that corrections are made even at closest focus distance (3.9 feet/1.2m); and it’s thoroughly multi-coated to minimize risk of secondary reflections when used with digital SLRs.

But beyond the technical details, it’s a lens that simply delivers crisp, clear shots every time. The portrait shooter will notice the little fine details in a subject’s face, eyes and hair; the landscape shooter will quickly realize that he or she can shoot wide-open, and not be required to stop the aperture down to get corner-to-corner sharpness; the sports and event shooter will look closely and see the texture and even the stitches in the uniforms of the athletes they photograph. Chromatic aberration, or “color fringing”, is drastically reduced, compared to other compact tele zoom lenses, and the lens delivers that familiar L-series color and contrast that pleases the experienced user every time.

Whether a photographer is traveling, shooting nature, or simply documenting things at work, there are times they need to focus close. And while the 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM isn’t a macro lens, it will focus down to 3.9 feet (1.2m), allowing you to fill the frame with a subject about the size of an SLR camera body.

As mentioned above, the use of a “floating” optical system means that as the lens is progressively focused closer, other lens elements continually change position to preserve image quality throughout the focus range. (Many lenses are optimized for best quality at or near infinity, and as focused closer, there’s a drop-off in contrast and sharpness… that’s not the case with this new lens).

And photographers can expect additional benefits with this lens, too. Background blur has a nice, smooth quality to it. An 8-blade aperture mechanism, with curved-shaped blades, gives clean, rounded out-of-focus highlights, even as the lens is stopped-down. Lens flare in strong backlit situations is minimal; contrast and sharpness in these backlit conditions are strong. As an L-series lens, a dedicated Canon ET-73B lens hood is included with the lens, further enhancing its performance in backlit and near-backlit conditions.

An enhanced focusing experience

A photographer moving up to this lens is in for a treat when it comes to autofocus performance. With Canon’s powerful ring-type Ultrasonic motor, you’ll find focusing is nearly silent, super-smooth, and quick. Unlike some less-expensive lenses, the new EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM doesn’t use an internal gear train to connect the focus motor to the lens elements. The result is nearly silent AF, as well as Canon’s “Full Time Manual Focus” — a feature common in Canon’s professional lenses, which allows full use of manual focusing by just turning the focus ring, even if the lens is still in its AF mode.

Like the solid feel of the lens and its operating controls, the focus performance is something that separates this lens from less-expensive alternatives. And it’s something that almost any shooter will appreciate and be able to take advantage of in his or her work… whether it’s getting that sharpness a second earlier to capture that great expression on a bride’s face, tracking that fast-moving subject in AI Servo AF at a sporting event, or nailing that critical focus on an elusive animal at a National Park.

Upgraded Image Stabilization makes the lens even more practical

Canon was the first camera maker to offer Optical Image Stabilization in an interchangeable SLR lens, with the first EF 75-300mm IS lens back in 1995. Here’s the latest version: the updated EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM, now with up to four stops of effective stabilization. In everyday photographic terms, this means that instead of being limited to about 1/250th as the slowest shutter speed most users could realistically hand-hold safely, users can now get sharp hand-held photos at speeds up to four stops slower. With this sharp, compact zoom lens, you can now potentially shoot stationary subjects at shutter speeds as slow as 1/15th of a second!

This opens the door to some outstanding capabilities, even in dim lighting conditions. Travel shooters who often don’t or can’t use tripods on-location can now consider a telephoto lens for indoor, dawn or dusk shots, or sometimes even for city lights at night. Nature photographers can shoot earlier in the morning, or well after sunset, and have the reach of a long telephoto lens at their fingertips. Especially with the excellent high-ISO performance of many of today’s digital SLRs, the improved Image Stabilization makes this lens doubly practical, even with its compact design and modest maximum aperture.

Summary:

For years, Canon owners who have wanted to step into a higher equipment league have found that there wasn’t really a high-end, functional equivalent for the popular 75-300mm class lenses that they often owned. Light and practical, these affordable, entry-level lenses served many photographers well… but they weren’t L-series lenses. Now, there’s an option that doesn’t require putting up with extreme size and weight, yet preserves the 300mm telephoto capability many shooters really need. The new EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM lens is perfect for pros who need the combination of superior optics and considerable telephoto power, along with moderate weight and excellent durability and build quality. And it’s a near-perfect fit for the advanced enthusiast, delivering on its promise of better images, great durability and overall usefulness.

The beauty of this lens is that it does nearly everything better than more-expensive alternatives. It’s sharper, focuses faster, is more durable and weather-resistant, and has better Image Stabilization. Users will be reminded of the smooth mechanical design and strong build quality every time they bring it up to their eye and zoom or focus with it. Priced well within reach of many serious photographers, the EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM is a great investment for high-quality images with EOS SLRs.