REAL WORLD Lens Test 70-300 L
These lens tests are designed to show you what a rank amateur can do with these lenses.
Very little adjustment has been done to these images and, in certain photos, actual straight-from-the-camera images are provided. In other words, if "I" can get these results, you should be able to, as well.

After renting some of the L series lenses, my own 70-300 telephoto lens seemed somewhat lacking. So when the 70-300L came out, it immediately went onto my wish list. And now I own it.

First impression

All of the L series lenses have a solid build quality to them. For instance, this L version weighs in at 37 ounces, compared to the 22 ounce midrange 70-300 it replaces. Also has a much more metal feel overall than the plastic of the black model. The lens hood looks huge (it is), but it never interferes with the shot. And the image stabilization is immediate, with immediate results through the viewfinder.

Note: Canon also has the DO (diffractive optics) variant of this lens with image stabilization for $1399.00, and an entry-level model at $649.99.

Canon 70-300L

On the barrel are the requisite switches to choose from two stabilizer modes and to turn stabilizer on or off, a switch for auto/manual focus, and a lens lock. Twist one ring for zoom, twist the other for focus.

Canon 70-300L

Not happy with the results at the 300mm end of things, I bought my first "real" tripod, expressly for this lens. It didn't help. Images are not as clean and clear as I would expect at this price, and full-size, unprocessed images (below) are telling. When kept to screen size, images look very nice, and they "dress up" well with a little enhancement here and there in sharpening, saturation, and levels.

Canon 70-300L

The two following images show the range of the zoom from 70mm to 300mm.
Click "left" or "right" below each image to see the original straight-from-camera JPG.

Canon 70-300L sample

f/10, 1/13sec., ISO200 at a distance of about 30 feet     left     |     right

Canon 70-300L sample

f/16, 1/30sec., ISO200 at a distance of about 20 feet     left     |     right

And how does the lens react to aperture? Below are side-by-side images at f/25 and at f/6.3. The all-important "bokeh" fails at full size.

at a distance of about 8 feet     left (f/25, 1/20sec., ISO200, 300mm)     |     right (f/6.3, 1/320sec., ISO200, 300mm)

Still, images can be very pretty, when reduced in size. Here are a few quick samples. Click each image for full out-of-body experience.

f/8, 1/160sec., ISO200, 221mm

f/9, 1/400sec., ISO800, 300mm

f/11, 1/100sec., ISO200, 188mm

f/9, 1/400sec., ISO800, 300mm

f/10, 1/80sec., ISO200, 300mm

SAMPLES: See a slideshow of various images from the 70-300mm L telephoto zoom

Canon User Manual for the 70-300mm, for those who want it (PDF)

bottom line

I want to like this lens. I want the image clarity that I get from my $100 50mm lens, or my 100mm macro, or my 17-40L. I'm just not getting it. Like I said, if all you want are monitor-sized JPGs, this lens will do very well for you. But if you need full-size crops or prints, the clarity just may not meet your needs. Results are, of course, much better in well-lit or sunny applications (true for all lenses, no?), and many of the accompanying images here are very good (at 1920 x 1080). But at $1,349 you're within spittin' distance of the $1,699 100-400mm lens. Save your pennies.

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dwight munroe
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