When it comes to the longevity of camera lenses, some fall by the wayside, while others stand the test of time. One such lens is the Canon EF 300mm f/4L IS USM. The lens is part of Canon’s top-end L-series and will serve those looking for a long telephoto lens for the likes of sports or wildlife photography.
As per usual for top end glass, the price isn’t exactly low, but it’s still very affordable compared to other Canon telephoto primes. In this regard let’s check out the lens and see if it’s still a winner.
Firstly, this lens can be used on an APS-C or crop sensor body with a focal length working out to be 480mm. This in itself is an interesting proposition as it provides far more reach, especially for those wildlife photographers.
Inside the lens are 15 elements in 11 groups, which includes two UD (ultra-low dispersion) elements to reduce chromatic aberration and color fringing. A Super Spectra coating has also been applied to increase contrast and color in reduced light conditions.
The build quality of the lens is rock solid, made with a lightweight metal construction and built-in extendable hood. Up front, the Canon EF 300mm f/4L IS USM has a 77mm filter thread, which is the standard size for top-end Canon lenses.
There is a generously sized focus ring, with a very smooth action, the usual Canon distance scale, and a bunch of switches. These consist of a stabilization on/off switch, two different stabilizer modes, a focus limiter switch (1.5m to infinity and 3m to infinity), and an autofocus and manual switch. The stabilizer modes consist of normal mode and panning.
The minimum focus distance is 1.5m and a minimum aperture of f/32. The lens can also fit Canon’s 1.4x II and 2x II Extenders, along with the EF 12 II and EF 25 II extension tubes to further extend its usefulness and reach. The total weight of this lens is 1190g, which isn’t exactly lightweight but reflects the lens’ quality.
Canon EF 300mm f/4L IS USM in Use
As initially expected from this lens, the initial impressions are extremely good. When the focus is nailed, images are very sharp with a good degree of contrast. Being a long lens, a tripod is necessary, but it’s still very usable handheld, especially with the image stabilization – a needed feature at these focal lengths.
Although the maximum aperture is f/4, image stabilization helps loads with keeping down shutter speeds, rated up to four stops. This means low light action shots are more attainable and provide far more keeper images.
Autofocus is fast, which is down to the USM and its efficient workings. The only hunting for subjects was done in extremely low light or at very close distances. Close-up work is usually not a factor for this type of lens, but it’s good to know anyway. Obviously, manual focus override can be used on the focus ring or switched into MF mode whenever needed for close subjects.
As for lens anomalies, vignetting is kept well under control, showing only minimal levels. The same can be said for barrel distortion which only displays minimal amounts at all aperture ranges. As for flaring, this would only be a problem when the sun is completely in the frame. Not exactly a real-world scenario and the large lens hood helps immensely with keeping out distracting light sources.
The good news is on both full-frame and crop sensor cameras, corner and center sharpness are extremely good. This is especially true throughout the aperture range. Basically, this lens a consistent performer with a high degree of image quality, which is exactly what you need from a telephoto prime such as this.
How Does It Compare?
As per usual, there are other lens options available if you want top-end optical quality to cover the 300mm focal length range. One thing to bear in mind though is that the Canon EF 300mm f/4L IS USM remains high value for the money when compared to newer versions, which can cost twice as much.
One alternative is the EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM which is basically the f/2.8 version of this lens. This lens has better lowlight performance and nine diaphragm blades but weighs twice as much and costs a lot more. The decision here will be if you really need the extra low light performance.
On the other hand, Sigma has their APO 300mm f/2.8 EX DG HSM, which is a high-quality lens, but you are also paying the extra for the f/2.8 aperture. You could even factor into the equation Canon’s EF 400mm f/5.6L USM or even the EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens, but these also cost a lot more money.
|Canon EF 300mm f/4L IS USM||Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM|
|Blades||8 rounded||9 rounded|
The Canon EF 300mm f/4L IS USM is still a great performer today, producing fantastic images and sharpness with a rock-solid build. The linkup of the f/4 and image stabilization will be good enough for most situations bar the lowest of light conditions. Also, compared to other Canon telephoto lenses, the price is a very convincing factor.
300mm may not be long enough for many wildlife shooters on a full-frame body, but when used on a crop sensor the extra reach becomes a lot more enticing for the money. In many ways, it’s the price that is the significant factor here compared to other lenses, which means you are getting a lot of optical quality for the price.