Monday, September 6, 2010

Early Preview: Canon EF 70-300 f/4-5.6L IS USM (PRE-PRODUCTION*)

On August 26th, DPReview first reported the upcoming Canon EF 70-300 f/4-5.6L IS USM lens via the Canon press release. Of course, any “one-size fits most scenarios” lens is always popular as people are looking to find the lens that defies physics so they can only buy one lens for most of their needs. After all, the Canon 100-400mm f/4-5.6L IS USM (which I own and love) is legendary for doing the impossible, so with all of the great technology available these days it’s easy to get excited – especially when Canon puts a red stripe  on that lens.

The “L” designation means that Canon believes the quality is worthy of pro use and in 2010 that bar is pretty high, so I’ll admit that even I got a bit excited to hear about this lens. When I got my hands on it at the Expo, I became even more excited to see if it met my very high expectations.

Exterior Shots

I was very surprised how small this lens was, but what I was more curious about was how it would zoom. Would it be a push-pull which I love, but many hate, or would it be a rear-focusing twist zoom that extends out like the 24-105mm. It turns out that it is a twist zoom and even extended it isn’t very large. Take a look:

Exterior Shot of the Canon EF 70-300 f/4-5.6L IS USM lens @ 300mm
Exterior Shot of the Canon EF 70-300 f/4-5.6L IS USM lens @ 70mm

If you can handle the size of the 24-105mm, then this lens should be comfortable to you as it isn’t a big lens despite its focal length.

The Ugliest Sample Shots You Will Ever See (PRE-PRODUCTION*)

It never fails that when you find yourself with a rare opportunity that it is a lot easier to screw things up than get them right, and getting my hands on one of the first Canon EF 70-300 f/4-5.6L IS USM lenses was no exception. Quite honestly I botched the opportunity as I thought I’d have more time to use it than I did so all of my shots were simply point and clicks to check out the basics. Sadly that’s all I ended up with so my apologies for the boring subjects and pictures of pictures. It should be noted that the lighting conditions were terrible so most are at ISO 1000 and I did not have a flash aimed properly. These were all shot with AWB & Evaluate Metering and not imaged in any way, so the colors and exposures are horrible. That’s my fault, not the fault of the lens!

70mm for 1/160 sec at f/4.0 @ ISO 1000 on a 1D Mark IV (580EX II OFF)
70mm for 1/160 sec at f/4.0 @ ISO 1000 on a 1D Mark IV (580EX II –1ev)
116mm for 1/160 sec at f/4.5 @ ISO 1000 on a 1D Mark IV (580EX II –1ev)
300mm for 1/160 sec at f/5.6 @ ISO 1000 on a 1D Mark IV (580EX II –1ev)
70mm for 1/160 sec at f/4.0 @ ISO 1000 on a 1D Mark IV (580EX II –1ev)
70mm for 1/200 sec at f/4.0 @ ISO 400 on a 1D Mark IV (580EX II –1ev)
300mm for 1/160 sec at f/5.6 @ ISO 1000 on a 1D Mark IV (580EX II –1ev)

I’ll admit that as a photographer I’m embarrassed to show these shots because they are so poorly done on so many levels. I was in manual mode just playing with the lens when I was asked to return the lens, so these were shots I planned on deleting. However, what you can take away from these shots is that this is pretty much as bad as they get on a 1D Mark IV, and I thought they were pretty darn good quality for a 70-300mm lens PRE-PRODUCTION lens.

The shots of the girl with the flower in her hair are a picture of a picture, so the softness you see there is in the original printed photo, not the lens. However, the 70mm versions have people under it so you can see some real detail in those photos. These shots give you a basic idea of the 70-300mm zoom distance on the 1D Mark IV’s 1.3x crop sensor.

All shots were done in Manual mode and when the 580EX II flash was used (in all but 1 shot) it was mostly ineffective because it was shooting to a high ceiling with only the white card extended so only minimal bounce made its way forward.

Why no RAW files?

I actually captured these images using a 1D Mark IV set to RAW mode, but I don’t have a good file server to host the RAW files (volunteers?). Instead, I converted the RAW files in DPP 3.8.1’s batch process feature with no modifications in DPP. I downloaded my copy of DPP on 9/6/2010 to ensure that I’d get the latest possible version with the best file conversion, and from what I can see it did a great job.

How did you get to use this lens?

Quite easily actually – I was at the Expo on a press pass and simply asked the girl who was showing the lens if I could put it on my camera and take a few shots. She said it wouldn’t be a problem and let me do it. After a few shots someone else informed me it was a pre-production lens and that I needed to take it off my camera, so I did. No one has informed me that I can’t use these photos for editorial purposes as they are used here, so I am sharing them with my readers to share my excitement about what appears to be a great new lens!

Your take away from this article

* = This article shouldn’t really be used to draw conclusions about how good or bad this lens is. Remember, this is PRE-PRODUCTION which means it will likely be as good as or very likely better than the copy I used. I always recommend that people go and try out a lens for themselves before buying, so consider this article like those end cap food demos at the grocery store that whet your appetite to go try out the real thing.


Here's some good info on Canon's web site about this lens:

Ordering Info

You can order this lens nowfrom B&H or Adorama.

More from the Canon EXPO 2010

Here’s other EXPO article you might enjoy:


I took all of the photos in this article using this lens with the permission of Canon personnel at the 2010 Expo in New York in plain sight of the Canon staff that is photographed. I may also get a commission if you use the sponsored links in this article, but I otherwise get no compensation for this article as it is for editorial purposes only. All photos are Copyright 2010 Ronald R. Martinsen and all rights are reserved. You may link to this article, but you may not link any photos directly.

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