The Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM is a cost-effective, mid-range telephoto zoom which packs a lot into this package. A generous focal range, optical image stabilization, fast autofocus motor, and is happy to work on both APS-C, full-frame, and even mirrorless camera bodies with an adapter.
This latest version adds another stop of stabilization to the mix and although it costs a little more than its predecessor, the slight upgrades could be worth the extra money.
Covering a wide range of focal lengths means there needs to be a lot of glass inside this lens. 17 elements in 12 groups, with one ultra-low dispersion (UD) glass element. Less glass than the Canon L-series, thus the lighter weight.
Inside are nine curved diaphragm blades for smooth background blur and a minimum focus distance of 1.2m. There’s also a new Nano USM which is meant to combine the best bits from USM and STM for better speed and quiet operation.
On the outside of the lens, the solidly built barrel has a rather cool LCD panel, which displays three modes via a mode switch. The focal length, stabilization readouts, and the focus distance. You can also swap between dark and light displays or switch the thing off completely.
A nice addition to the lens, but how practical it is in real life is debatable, especially when you’re looking through the viewfinder. However, it’s there if you need it.
The lens barrel has a very wide zoom ring, with a thinner focus ring upfront, both turning very smoothly and accurately. There are also three other switches on the lens for zoom locking at 70mm, switching between auto to manual focus, and on and off stabilization.
The lens is slightly bigger than its predecessors at 145.5mm long and 80mm wide and weighing in at a reasonable 720g. The front of the lens has a 67mm filter thread which can fit an ET-74B hood, which you will have to, unfortunately, buy separately. There’s also no weather sealing with this lens, but the build quality is good enough to take into moderately good conditions.
So much packed into the tin here. Let’s see how the lens performs in real life.
Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM in Use
It’s immediately apparent on the Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM that the Nano autofocus system is very quick and quiet. Manual focus can be adjusted in real-time without flicking over the focus switch and in live view can be adjusted constantly. The aperture range only goes to a moderate f/4-f/5.6, but unless you’re in extremely low light conditions, the lens does a great job of snapping into focus.
At its widest of 70mm, there is some corner softness, but stopping down to f/8 gives the most clarity within a stop either way. Zooming in gives more clarity in the corners, but the overall center sharpness is quite good throughout the range.
At the other end of the spectrum, the lens can go to as small as f/45 at 300mm, but the usefulness this extra range gives is debatable as natural diffraction starts to step in at these lengths. Images at these lengths have good center sharpness, but the smaller the aperture goes, the softer the images become.
One of the most useful aspects of this lens will be the image stabilization which allows for slower shutter speeds and lower ISO levels. In total, the lens provides four stops of stabilization which is a much-needed aspect if you are shooting at the longer focal lengths handheld. The lens was very adept at getting down to 1/10th of a second at 70mm, which is impressive.
There’s also a small amount of vignetting with the lens when wide open at 70mm, but reduces when you approach 200mm. There’s also barrel distortion at its widest, which becomes more pincushion-like going up to 300mm. Chromatic aberration is also apparent in the corners for high contrast areas, but as per usual, these aspects can be rectified in software.
As for background blur or bokeh, the longer focal lengths produce the best results, with a reasonably smooth transition of colors. This lens isn’t a bokeh specialist with a minimum aperture of f/4.5, but it’s there if you need it.
How Does It Compare?
For a mid-range, telephoto lens, the Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM provides a lot of scope, but there are also alternatives on the market. The Tamron SP 70-300mm F/4-5.6 Di VC USD has a lot of similar features and comes in around about the same price point. Both have image stabilization, quiet and fast AF motors, and comparable optics.
As both lenses are at the medium points of the optics spectrum, the choice here will ultimately come down to if you want a Canon specific lens as both are quite evenly matched in functionality and results.
|Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM||Tamron SP 70-300mm F/4-5.6 Di VC USD|
|Elements||17 elements in 12 groups||17 elements in 12 groups|
The latest incarnation of this lens brings a more efficient autofocus system, better image stabilization and ever so slightly better optics. The improved image stabilization system is much-needed at the longer focal lengths and although a simple system, works very effectively.
The lens is built extremely well and although there isn’t any weather sealing and no seal around the lens mount, the lens is solid enough for general use. The lens is obviously not perfect, but what it is good at is being a good all-rounder that will produce good results in a variety of conditions.
If you’re a sports or wildlife photographer who needs a lightweight telephoto lens that can produce good quality images with reasonable optics and price, then this lens is worth checking out.