Review of Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM Lens

The following lens tests were run after acquiring a new Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM lens to use as a light-weight telephoto zoom lens for travel with Canon APS-C cameras. I had low expectations for this consumer zoom after having tested several 70-300mm range zoom lenses in 2004. Tests with the 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS showed it to be a superb compact and light-weight performer at a very affordable price.

Resolution and 50% MTF Performance Data

Methods used with a APS-C camera - EOS 400D Digital Rebel XTi

Indoor performance tests suggest that the 70-300 IS gives excellent performance at the level of L-zooms if you can stop it down one f-stop. As expected, performance is weakest at 300mm. However, even at 300mm, resolution is good (55 line pairs per mm) and microcontrast is excellent if the lens is stopped down to f/8

50% MTF was run at the same working distance as the 200mm test, so results at 300mm can only be compared between the two lenses at this focal length.
Taxidermy Chicken Target Test
Resolution and 50% MTF tests indicate that the 70-300 IS should give excellent performance when shot at f/8 at either 200 or 300mm. I tested image stablization and lens sharpness using a taxidermy specimen. The 70-300 was shot hand held at 200mm and 300mm at f/8 using shutter speeds of 1/15th and 1/13th seconds. Results compare very favorably with images produced by L-lenses. Image stabilization on this lens is very effective.

Corner Performance

The EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS has weaker corner performance than L-lenses at 200mm and 300mm.


EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS Gallery

Lens performance was excellent in selected applications with wildlife photography over two days at 300mm and f/8. The lens also tested well in infrared photography with a converted 20D and a Hoya R72 filter.

A few comments on construction and the need for a hood: Canon engineers have designed a very light and compact lens with high optical performance (Thank you! Thank you!). It has a few design quirks such as a rotating front section that extends and retracts on a helical focus mechanism, no depth of focus or distance scale, no full-time manual focus. It has typical Canon consumer lens grade construction. So it probably won't stand up to heavy physical use (abuse), dust and water as well as an L-lens. I'm very happy to give up these professional lens characteristics to get an light, compact, inexpensive lens for travel that has great optical performance. There is a lock on the lens to prevent lens creep when carrying the lens on your camera pointed down.
The lens does not come with a stock lens hood. I went out with the lens and shot directly into and near the sun and had a hard time getting it to flare. It would only flare for me when I shot directly into the sun. A lens shade wouldn't prevent this. I have no intention of buying the optional lens shade since I don't think the lens needs it. I put a clear, multicoated protective filter on the lens to protect the front element.


The EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM is an excellent lens for use with light Canon APS-C cameras. It is compact, light-weight, relatively inexpensive and perfect for travel. It's superb image stabilization allows you to stop it down to f/8 and still get high quality images. L-lenses will outperform it with wider aperture capabilities and better corner sharpness. However, slip this lens in your travel bag or light weight kit, and it will deliver excellent images that you would not have been able to obtain otherwise.

Relevant Specifications for the Lenses Used in the Tests

EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS USM EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L USM EF 300mm f/4 L IS USM
Non-IS lens used is no longer available.
Price (Imported) $530 USD $1,699 USD $1,140 USD $1,120 USD
Weight 1.4 lb (630 g) 3.2 lbs (1,470 g) 2.9 lbs (13,10 g) 2.6 lbs (1,190 g)
Size (largest dimensions)
3.0 x 5.6 inches (76mm x 143mm) 3.4 x 7.8 inches (86mm x 198mm) 3.3 x 7.6 inches (85mm x 194mm) 3.5 x 8.7 inches (90mm x 221 mm)
Elements # in Group # 15 elements in 10 groups 23 elements in 18 groups 18 elements in 15 groups 15 elements in 11 groups

Other reviews of the EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM:

Equipment Review Index

© 2007 William L. Castleman
Posted 07 June 2007, Updated 08 June 2007