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GEAR: Canon EF 70-300 f/4-f5.6 IS
Canon EF 70-300 f/4-f5.6
Review by Justiceiro
The Canon 70-300 f/4-f/5.6 lens is the first "quality" lens I've owned, if you define quality as "a lens that costs about as much as a cheap DSLR." Actually, this lens currently retails for about $550 at B&H, so as far as the higher end Canon lenses go it isn't too bad.
General Info: This is the latest version of the 70-300 IS, with 2 modes of Image Stabilization. Mode 1 operates in all directions, and is designed to be used while shooting stationary objects in low light. Canon claims that its good for about 3 stops- I don't know if that's the case, but the results are obvious even on the screen of my 20d.
Mode 2 is used for action shots, the stabilization operates horizontally and is designed to be used while panning. This gives the object being "followed" greater clarity.
Physical Dimensions: The first thing I noticed when I got the box is that it is heavy; 1.4 pounds (640 grams) is more than you might think, particularly when its attached to the already weighty 20d. It is manageable, however.
Above show it looks with the zoom rolled all the way back at 6.5 inches . The specs say 5.6 (14.3cm), but I measured it at a bit longer than that.
Fully extended the lens measures 8.8 inches. That's pretty big.
Hoods and Filters
The recommended lens hood is the ET-65B. However, with the ET-65B attached the lens can come in at almost a foot long. That's exceedingly clumsy, not to say conspicous.
Additionally, the lens hood, though it has a lovely bayonet attachment system, is ridiculously overpriced. It's risibly flimsy, and huge- very much a case of overkill. To my mind you can spend your $50 elsewhere; I returned it to B&H that day (what a joy these people are to shop with) and traded it for 2 hood hats, a generic rubber hood (pictured) and a very nice tripod carrying case. That's a lot for just one hood.
The filter size is 58mm. that's a nice standard, and a lot of the filters I aleady have will work with it.
Performance, The Positives: Image Stabilization, at least in Mode 1 (stationary objects) really works. Take a look at this shot, taken without the image stabilizer engaged.
It's pretty soft, at 300mm you need to be rock steady, and just looking through the viewfinder can make you a bit seasick- the "view" bounces around quite a bit.
Now here is the same shot with the stabilizer engaged.
The difference is extraordinary. It was obvious even when reviewing the shots in camera, but blown up the improvement is even more obvious.
IS mode 2 is a little more iffy. Or it could be that I'm not the best judge of it. I do almost zero action or sports shots, so I'm not too proficient with panning, nor am I experienced with what's really good or bad stability in this situation, but here is a panning photo for those who are a bit more knowledgable than me to evaluate.
For 1/40th of a second on a rapidly moving target, it doesn't look too bad to me. Then again, it's not up to the level of Bodwik & Company's motocross shots, but that's likely more to do with the photographer than the lens in this case.
Zoom Range: a 70-300 zoom range is pretty nice. I would prefer a little more on the wide end, but for less than $600, I can't really complain. Here's an example of the extreme wide and tele ends, taken about a mile away from the Goldman-Sachs tower in Jersey City.
70mm (effectively 112mm)
300mm (effectively 480mm)
On a full frame this range would be really nice.
Color and Light properties: The lens has a nice look to it, with pleasing colors and good "natural" sharpness. I didn't see any vignetting at all, but then again, I'm using it with an APS sized sensor. Here's a "warm" shot of City Hall.
I can't describe this quantitatively, but I like the representation of the green here better than I do with, say, my 17-55 kit lens. It's on par with my 300mm Orestegor, but the lens doesn't weigh 15 lbs.
Here's another one, maxed out at the long end of the zoom.
Very crisp as well, you even get good detail inside the windows.
The lens has eight aperture blades, a decent amount, so the bokeh is pretty nice.
Granted, it's widest aperture is only f4.
There is a bit of flare visible here, (OK, lets be honest, a lot of flare) but I am pointing it directly into the setting sun, which is a pretty stupid thing to do. Even so, its not that bad. I've had worse flare from other lenses in much better conditions.
Not as fast as one expects from USM: This USM lens isn't nearly as fast to focus or quick to acquire targets as some of the other lenses in the USM line. Even my venerable 35-135mm is faster out of the gate than this one. It has "micro USM" rather than "ring USM"; which is technospeak for "it isn't as fast as other USM lenses, but it costs a lot so we are going to slap the USM label on it. Perhaps that isn't fair. After alll, its still better than the kit lens, or the 50mm f1.8 mark II. As I tend to shoot street rather than "action" this isn't much of a problem for me. For sports or cycling fans it could be irritating.
Weight and Length: This is a heavy lens. It's also long and very noticeable, and tends to cry out "hit my owner over the head and steal me." I can also imagine it bumping into stuff if carried over the shoulder-all the more reason not to get the ET-65B lens hood.
I would much prefer the length of the 70-300 IS Diffractive Optics lens, which is about half as big. As soon as I get that phat job at National Geographic, I'll be sure to buy one. Seriously, the real advantage of the DO seems to be faster USM and shorter barrel length. It is, however, $1300 rather than $550.
Summary: A Great "Bazaar Lens". Is it a perfect lens? No, but its very, very good. The quality of the glass is nice, the IS system works well, the zoom range is good. And the price is right. For $550 this represents an excellent value; and until I can convince my spouse/CFO to let me spend $1300 in the 70-300 IS DO, or I win the lottery and buy that 28-300 L lens, this will be an important part of my tool bag.
I bought this principally to do people shots in markets and places like the bazaars I like to shoot when I am travelling. With the IS, you can take decent shots of people that are tightly composed, from a distance that is unobtrusive, and still retain a good level of sharpness, even when the light isn't perfect. I've been looking for a "bazaar lens" for some time, and I am pretty sure that this one is it.
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