Canon Lenses

Canon EF 70-300 f/4-5.6 L IS USM Field Review


The Canon EF 70-300f/4-5.6 L IS lens was introduced in the last part of 2010.  The 70-300mm focal length range is a popular one and Canon already produce a handful of cheaper zoom lenses with similar focal length ranges. The difference is that this 70-300 is the first such L-series offering in this focal length range.  This means that the EF 70-300L IS is a whole level higher in specification and performance than any of the ‘standard’ 70-300mm zooms that Canon already offer.

What Is New?

Well, apart from focal length, this lens shares little in terms of looks with any existing Canon lenses at the time of writing.  It is a fresh design. The lens barrel is constructed of metal, and it benefits from Canons recent design philosophy, which seeks to combine strength and lower weight.

Image Stabilization switches Canon lens

The recessed switches are not likely to be accidentally shifted.

There is a switch panel located close to the lens mount, on the left side of the lens.  It houses switches for AF/MF, and IS On/Off as well as the IS mode.  The switches are of the new, tucked-in type, and require deliberate pressure to move, which is good.   They won’t accidentally get bumped onto a different setting.

Lock switch Canon zoom lens

This switch stops the lens barrel from extending accidentally

There is another switch on the opposite side of the lens barrel, which locks the zoom ring and prevents the front portion of the lens from extending by itself whilst you are carrying the lens. Neither of two copies of the lens that I used were prone to the zoom creeping due to gravity, but it is still nice to have the lock if you need it.

The focus ring turns very smoothly.  The zoom ring is located ahead of the focus ring, and is wider with more prominent ridging than the focus ring.  This is different to the Canon 70-200 lenses, where the zoom ring is closest to the lens mount.  It takes a bit of getting used to if you are accustomed to shooting with the rings the other way around. The zoom ring has no play in it, and operates with a light and positive action.  The inner section of the lens barrel extends during zooming.  At 70mm, it is retracted, and the lens is extremely compact in this configuration.  When retracted, it is short enough to fit into my camera bag standing upright, which leaves lots more room for other things.

Retracted position Canon zoom lens

Canon EF 70-300L in retracted position

Canon Zoom Lens, Extended

Canon EF 70-300L with lens fully extended

At 300mm, the front section is fully extended and increases the size of the lens somewhat. The ET-73B lens hood attaches to the end of the inner section of the barrel by turning and clicking into place quite firmly.  It extends along with the inner section of lens barrel.  This hood is well-made, with Canon’s new scratch-resistant finish on the outside, and anti-reflective flocking on the inside to prevent stray light from entering the lens.  The hood is deep and also provides excellent physical protection for the front element from water, flying debris, dust and bumps.  I am hoping that this lens hood will not become loose and rattly in its attachment, as some of the older Canon lens hoods used to do.  It does not have the locking tab as found on the latest version of the Canon EF 70-200 f/2.8 IS II lens.

The 70-300L has 19 elements in 14 groups, and has two UD (Ultra Low Dispersion) elements that help to minimize or eliminate chromatic aberrations.  Super spectra coatings on some elements also help reduce flare and ghosting.

Front objective Lens Canon 70-300L

Frontal view of EF 70-300L

Both the front and rear elements are coated with fluorine, which helps repel dust, and water or other contaminants. This Canon lens is also fitted with a four-stop image stabilization system.  What the four-stop description actually means is that the new lens stabilization system will give the user a higher probability of getting sharp shots whilst handholding the lens at even slower shutter speeds than earlier Canon IS systems.

Cape Gannet in flight

Canon 1Dmk4, EF 70-300L, 1/8000s at f/5.6. -0.67 Comp. Iso 640


How Well Does It Work?

 The EF 70-300 L is far superior to any of the consumer grade 70-300 lenses that are made by Canon and is totally deserving of its L-series designation. The design is a little unusual in that the outer lens barrel is a lot thicker than the inner barrel that extends when zooming.    This gives the lens a quite different feel to other Canon zooms in this focal length range.  The inner barrel does not rotate when zooming in or out. The lens casing is smooth and cleanly constructed. When retracted the lens has a chunky, business-like look to it.

The lens is no lightweight at 1050g, but that is the cost of the high-quality construction.  It is still lighter than the Canon EF 70-200L f2.8 IS II and the EF 100-400L F/4.5-5.6 IS.

It works perfectly on any Canon dslr, but due to its weight,  seems best suited to the intermediate sized camera bodies like the 60D, 7D and 5D series, as well as the larger 1D series. I have been shooting the EF 70-300L on a Canon 1Dmk4, a Canon 5Dmk3 and a Canon 60D with excellent results.

This lens is weather sealed, which is a big plus.  Even if you don’t use your gear in bad weather, having a weather-sealed lens means that dust and moisture will not easily get inside the lens.  This is a reassuring feature for me as a wildlife photographer. For the weather sealing to be complete, the lens needs a filter to be fitted ahead of the front element, and it should be mounted on a similarly weather-sealed Canon dslr body.  The front element is 67mm in diameter.


Canon zoom lens 5Dmk3 dslr

The EF 70-300L is well-matched to a 5D body

The 70-300L does not come with a tripod ring.  The correct tripod ring for this lens is tripod mount ring C, and it is quite a costly accessory.

The lens feels solid in operation and it is straightforward to use.

The relatively light weight of this lens makes it quite comfortable for me to handhold for long periods, and I found that I became used to the ‘switched’ locations of the zoom ring and focus ring quite quickly.  When I am photographing moving subjects, I like being able to adjust focal length whilst tracking the subject and shooting, and the EF 70-300L made this easy to do.

There is no focus distance limiter, and once you have selected which IS mode to use, you can just get on with shooting. The IS system has two modes.  Mode 1 is for handheld shooting, whilst Mode 2 is for panning or tripod shooting.  The IS unit in the 70-300L is able to detect when it is on a tripod and will function accordingly.  There seem to be differing opinions on the value of IS when shooting from a tripod.  I have found no problem with leaving IS on when I am shooting at fast shutter speeds, in Mode 2.  Having it on makes a difference in how steady the image appears in the viewfinder, and can make shooting easier. However, with some Canon IS lenses, I have found that when I am shooting at very low shutter speeds from a tripod, for example less than 1/20s, that it is best to switch off the IS completely.

Image Quality

This lens takes very good pictures.  Check out sharpness in this 100 % crop from a 16 megapixel file from the Canon 1Dmk4, shot at 300mm and wide open at f/5.6.  This image is cropped to just 1 megapixel for the purpose of showing what detail the lens can resolve.  The crop was sharpened in Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop, the same way as I sharpen all my images.

Spotted thick-knee, bird, portrait, Canon

Spotted thick-knee. 100% Crop. Canon 1Dmk4, EF 70-300L at 300mm, 1/400sec at f/5.6. Iso 800.

It is sharp enough wide open, whether that be at 70mm and f/4.0 or at 300mm and f/5.6.   Stopping down improves sharpness a little.

There is some vignetting visible on the edges of a full-frame sensor when shooting wide-open at f/4.0 and 70mm focal length.  This lessens significantly by the time the lens is stopped down to f/5.6. At 300mm, and wide open at f/5.6 there is a bit less vignetting, and this also lessens when the lens is stopped down one or two stops.  It will only really be noticeable when photographing subjects against a uniformly bright background, like birds in the sky.  The vignetting is not at an intrusive level for my use, and what there is can easily be removed when processing the image.

When used on camera bodies with smaller sensors, which do not cover the outer edges of the image circle projected from the rear of the lens, there is no vignetting at all. This holds true for those Canon cameras with APS-C sized sensors like the 7D, 60D and 600dD as well as for the Canon 1DMk3 and Canon 1Dmk4 with their APS-H sized sensors. Chromatic aberrations are minimal, particularly around the central part of the image, which is the most important part for a nature photographer like myself.  In fact, the 70-300L has proven to be the best Canon lens I have used so far when shooting leaping marine mammals and the splashes of white water that they throw up.  Some of these splashes end up as small, overexposed circles of white, often with purple edges fringing them.  This purple is a form of chromatic aberration but images I have taken with the EF 70-300L  are the cleanest I have gotten so far. Distortion is also minimal, and not really anything to even mention as it is not field relevant for my requirements. Colour and contrast are good, even in less than ideal light. Overall, if I were to rate the image quality of this lens as it compares to the other current Canon mid-range zooms that I am very familiar with, I would make the ranking as follows:

  1. Canon EF 70-200L f2.8 IS II
  2. Canon EF 70-200L f4 IS
  3. Canon EF 70-300L f4-5.6 IS
  4. Canon EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6

This is a high-quality group of lenses under discussion here, and all four of them are either the best in their class, or close to it. All four of these lenses are more than sharp enough and produce image quality good enough for professional applications and what slight differences exist, may be hard to discern in normal use.

The modest maximum aperture of f/5.6 means that the lens will be used wide-open a lot of the time, especially when used handheld and in less than bright conditions. That maximum aperture of ‘only’ f/5.6 becomes less important if this lens is paired with a camera body that can shoot at higher iso sensitivities without sacrificing too much quality.  Raising the iso sensitivity becomes an option when faster shutter speeds are required. The EF 70-30L f4-5.6 IS surprised me with the speed of its autofocus.  The latest  microcomputers and motors in the lens do a great job of finding focus very quickly, accurately and quietly. Comparing the sharpness of consecutive frames taken in bursts, of flying birds, showed that the EF70-300L was able to provide several very sharp shots in a row. Although it does not always produce quite as many consecutively sharp shots as I get from my fixed telephoto Canon EF300f2.8L IS, or the EF 70-200 f2.8 L IS II, it was still easily good enough to get the job done and superior to the older EF100-400L IS in this regard.

Humpbacked whale breaching, Indian Ocean

Humpback whale. Canon 1Dmk4, EF 70-300L. Focal length 229mm. 1/4000sec at f/5.6. Iso 640

The EF 70-300L f/5.6 IS has become my lens of choice for marine photography. I photograph seabirds, as well as dolphins, and whales each year along the South African coast.  Shooting from a moving, pitching boat on the ocean isn’t easy, but the EF 70-300L can lock focus fast enough on a breaching humpback whale that I am able to capture the whale whilst it is still travelling upwards on its leap. Compared to the 70-200mm focal length that I used previously for this type of photography the EF 70-300L allows me to shoot for longer and spend less time moving the boat. Weather sealing is a big plus on this lens.  The front section of the lens extends during zoom movement, but is sealed where it enters the camera. Minimum focus distance is 1.2m which is good for a lens in this class, and gives decent magnification of small subjects.

Although the lens is not made to accept extenders, I have read reports of it being used with aftermarket manufacturers converters.  I prefer not to use extenders on lenses that are not designed for them.


Canon has quite a number of L-glass choices in the medium telephoto zoom lens.

Compare Sizes Canon Zoom Lenses

Canon EF 100-400L IS, EF 70-300L IS, EF 70-200L f/4 IS, EF 70-200L f/2.8 IS II

Perhaps the Canon lens most similar to the EF 70-300L is the Canon 100-400L f/4.5-5.6 IS.  If you really need that extra 100mm of focal length, then the 100-400L is the one to get.  It is also a little less expensive, especially if you factor in the significant extra cost of the tripod collar which comes standard on the EF 100-400L.  Potential buyers might consider the EF 70-300L for its weather sealing, lighter weight, faster autofocus, slightly better image quality, bigger aperture opening at the short end of the zoom range and a quieter and more effective image stabilization system when choosing between these two versatile lenses.

Canon also make four L-series 70-200mm lenses.  Two of the four have image stabilization, and two don’t.

The pair that are image stabilized are the EF 70-200L f2.8 IS II and the EF 70-200L f4 IS . The EF 70-200Lf2.8 IS II enjoys a wide-open aperture advantage that can be essential for blurring out backgrounds, and shooting in low light.  It should also be more robust, with the lens barrel not changing shape or size when zooming.  This lens also focuses faster, and delivers about the best image quality of any similar focal length Canon zoom.  It is heavier at 1490g though, and costs a lot more.  This lens also works well with a 1.4x converter, although it does begin to get quite heavy and large in that configuration. In comparison the 70-300L is lighter (1050g), cheaper and has that extra 100mm of focal length.

The second IS lens, the Canon EF 70-200L f/4 IS, is very close to the f/2.8 II version when it comes to autofocus speed and image quality.  It is much lighter though, at 760g , and costs a little less than the EF 70-300L.  It enjoys somewhat of a low light advantage on the 70-300L due to the bigger, constant f/4.0 aperture and it doesn’t change shape when zooming.  It is also weather-sealed. The 70-200L f4 IS can also be used with a 1.4x converter.

The  70-200L f/4 (without Image Stabilization) is similar to the stabilized version in size, although it is a fraction lighter (705g) and is not weather-sealed.  It offers image quality quite close to the stabilized version and can be used with a 1.4x converter.  It is the lowest-priced L-series lens of this group of mid-range Canon zooms.

The EF 70-200L f/2.8 (non-stabilized) is an older lens model, and weighs in at 1310g.  It is only partially weather-sealed and offers the same large aperture advantages as the newer 70-200f2.8II IS described above.  It lacks image stabilization but sells for a much lower price than the newer f2.8 lens.  If you have to have the f/2.8 aperture this is the most cost-effective Canon way to do it.  Compared to the EF 70-300L which is the lens in review here, this lens probably holds a slight image quality advantage, as well as the obvious large aperture advantage but it is heavier, and lacks the extra 100mm on the long side of the focal length.  It will work with a 1.4x extender.

Another Canon L series zoom lens in this class is the Canon EF 28-300L f 3/5-f/5.6 IS.  This lens has a significantly wider focal length range than the EF 70-300L.  It too is weather-sealed.  If you only want to carry one lens that can do everything then you might want to consider the EF 28-300L.  In direct comparison to the EF 70-300L though, the EF 28-300L is heaver (1670 g), costs almost twice as much, and cannot quite match the newer lens when it comes to image quality over the focal length ranges that the two lenses do share.

Amongst such an array of L-series offerings from Canon, the EF 70-300L IS does not stand out as having the longest focal length, nor the biggest aperture.  However, it is an extremely versatile lens and that is where much of its strength lies.

Side view, Canon lens EF70-300L

The Canon EF 70-300 f/4-5.6L IS with lens hood ET-73B



The Canon EF 70-300L is a high-quality piece of equipment, and as such, it is a pleasure to use.  The lens has a lot going for it.  Its attributes include fast, accurate autofocus, very good image quality and effective image-stabilization.  Combine all of this with weather-sealing, in a compact and lightweight package, and you have one of those lenses that you just never want to take off your camera.  I enjoyed using this lens so much that after using a loan unit a couple of times, I actually went out and bought one for myself.

Burchells zebra, Equus burchelli, portrait

Burchell’s zebra. Canon 1Dmk4, EF 70-300L. Focal length 229mm. 1/1250sec at f/5.6. Iso 800

About the Author:

I am a guide and a photographer, with a deep interest in all things to do with nature. I am based in Cape Town, South Africa, but travel often to wild places whilst leading photographic safaris, and enjoying the outdoors.

127 Responses to “Canon EF 70-300 f/4-5.6 L IS USM Field Review”

  1. Dimitri Says: October 13, 2013 at 7:54 am

    Hi Grant,
    Great Review I have a question I have been taking pictures all my life but I decided to get into photography more seriously because I love it and I enjoy everything about it. but I have spend quite some money in lenses and I hope you can save me here. I am sure with your knowledge and wisdom you can help me out of my misery in 10 seconds. Here is my confusion and my mistakes.
    1. I bought a Rebel t3I and came with a kit lens, then I bought a 55-250mm f/4-5.6, and I thought wow I am doing better
    2 then I bought a 75-300mm 1:4-5.6
    3 then I bought the 100-400mm 1:4.5-5.6 at the same time I bought the 28-300mm 1:3.5-5.6
    4 then I bought the 70-200mm 1:2.8
    now I hear that the 70-300mm 1:4-5.6 is lighter and better than the 28-300mm 1:3.5-5.6

    I was happy with the 28-300 because is one lens and does a lot for me and the 70-200 for indoor sports or where there is not much light, I was thinking of selling the others with the exception of the ef 100-400 since it gives me long range options.

    Do I need to return my 28-300 and get the 70-300 or not I was thinking of selling mostly all of them and staying with the ones I said before and just add the 24-70 2.8 and that way I will keep only 3 lenses.

    Also is there a lot of difference between the 70-300 and the 28-300 besides money and weight?

    Sorry for the long email and my ignorance but please share your knowledge with me and give me your sincere advise. I will thank you for it.

  2. Moshe Says: October 19, 2013 at 9:52 am

    Hi Grant,

    Thank you so much for your answer!
    You have been very helpful!!
    Thanx again for sharing your knowledge and experience with others.


  3. aary birivi Says: November 3, 2013 at 11:20 am

    i have 70-300 lens but no image stabiliser is good or no..?

  4. Merrianne Says: November 30, 2013 at 1:37 am

    Hi Grant: I currently own a Canon Rebel t4i I believe it is the same as a 60D. I am currently using a 18-135mm lens. I thought it would be beneficial for taking wild life pictures. But unfortunately all my shots are such far shots. So I decided to do some research and I am looking at the EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM
    Telephoto Zoom. However I am interested in the EF 70-300mm lens that you are so happy with. I love taking wildlife pictures here in Canada, but I can it seem get close enough so need a good telephoto zoom lens.
    Which one would you recommend for this camera? I appreciate all your advice above but just want to make sure I am making the right purchase. Thank You for your time

    • Grant Atkinson Says: December 2, 2013 at 10:43 am

      Hi Merrianne, thank for writing, and glad you found the review useful. I would say that for distant wildlife, you may be better off with the 100-400L, given that wildlife photography can be extremely frustrating when subjects are very shy or are just too far away….
      The T4i is a great camera, and very similar in most regards to the 60D. It will work just fine with either the EF 70-300 or the EF 100-400L…

      The 70-300L is a little sharper than the 100-400L but if you are not close enough with it, you will end up cropping the images which will erode the slight sharpness advantage anyhow..
      Hope that helps

  5. Andrew Says: January 2, 2014 at 10:40 pm

    Great website an blog Grant. I am heading to a private reserve in Sabi Sands and would be interested in you suggestions for a good lens. I shot with a 70D mostly with an 18-135STM which is great for travel and a good walkabout lens.

    What would you go for on safari? I was thinking the 70-300L over the 100-400L, I believe at the private reserves we can get close to the animals and concerned I will miss good close shot change lenses as the 100mm is too long.

    Can only really afford the one so need to make the right choice.

    • Grant Atkinson Says: January 3, 2014 at 8:40 am

      Hi Andrew
      I think both the EF 70-300L and the EF100-400L would be effective choices. I tend to prefer the EF 70-300L over the older EF 100-400L due to its slightly sharper image output, as well as faster and more accurate autofocus performance. In the Sabi Sands the 70-300mm focal length range is usually sufficient. The EF 70-300L also has noticeably superior image stabilization, especially when light gets low, and has a higher degree of weather resistance. I choose the EF 70-300L over the EF 100-400L about 80 percent of the time when I travel. On the other hand, there is a lot to be said for that extra 100mm of focal length that the EF 100-400L provides. It makes for an exceptionally versatile lens with a focal length range that makes tight portraits possible, as well as some bird photography for larger or nearby species. The EF 100-400L outsells the EF 70-300L and there are many great photos made with it.

      Hope that helps.

  6. Pieter Says: February 12, 2014 at 4:00 pm

    Hello Grant,

    For my upcoming trip to Botswana I’m looking for a lens to complement my 70-200L 2.8 (non IS). I’m considering the 100-400L and 300 (fixed) f4 w/ 1.4 extender type 3. Now that I read this review, a third option might be to buy the 70-300L and take only that one (leave the 70-200 at home). What is your experience in terms of focal length? Is 300mm enough for places like Moremi, Chobe, Savuti, or would you recommend 400mm? Body = 6D.

    Thank you for your thoughts.

  7. Grant Atkinson Says: February 12, 2014 at 5:30 pm

    HI Pieter, thanks for writing. I would say that you would be better off with 400mm. You can get there with the EF 300f4L IS plus 1.4x extender, or the EF 100-400L f5.6 IS , or the EF 400L f5.6 (no IS). All are very good lenses, with the fixed 300 and fixed 400 having slight sharpness advantages over the 100-400L. Although the EF 400L f5.6 does not have IS, it will also hold a sharpness and AF speed advantage over the EF 300Lf4 plus 1.4X Extender combination…
    Tough choice to make but all are good lenses.
    Given that you already have the very good 70-200f2.8, I would myself choose one of the two primes, 300f4L or 400Lf5.6
    Hope that helps

    • Pieter Says: February 12, 2014 at 7:31 pm

      Thank you for your quick response, Grant. Tough one indeed. I didn’t even consider the 400/f5.6 before (mostly for being a non IS lens). The 300/f4 + 1.4x extender combo gives me 2 focal lengths vs 1 focal length of the 400/f5.6. But then again, changing lenses and extenders in the field is something to keep to a minimum, so the flexibility of having 2 focal lengths (with the 300/f4 + 1.4x extender combo) might actually turn out to be a disadvantage once in the field…? Only time and experince will tell 😉 AF speed advantage of the 400/f5.6 sounds like a big plus for fast moving subjects. Cheers, Pieter

  8. Vivek Khanna Says: February 13, 2014 at 2:58 pm

    I had originally planned on buying a 70-200 f/4 IS L and the 100-400L.

    After reading this post by Grant Atkinson in mid last year I first bought the 70-300 L instead of the 70-200 f/4 IS and recently bought the 400mm f/5.6 L instead of the 100-400L.

    It’s a superb combination for wildlife and birds. For birding (specially Bird-In-Flight) nothing beats the 400mm f/f.6…. very light and easy handling and superb image quality. Both lenses are insanely sharp…. so much so that people want to know what I do in PP to get such sharp pics on FB 🙂

    • Grant Atkinson Says: February 18, 2014 at 9:10 am

      Hi Vivek, very nice of you to share your experience with the two lenses you have mentioned, and I am happy to hear that you are getting great results out of both of them. Certainly think that your approach is a good one, and those two lenses pair very well as a combination, the one providing lots of versatile zoom range, whilst the other is a no-compromise fixed lens that focuses fast, and creates very sharp images. These days, with camera sensors becoming ever better at high iso settings,, so the lenses with a maximum aperture of f5.6 become more useful and feasible options.
      Thanks again for writing, always reassuring to read other’s good experiences.

      • Pieter Says: February 18, 2014 at 10:33 am

        Thank you both for your remarks and experiences, I just bought the 400/5.6 !!
        Can’t wait to take it to Africa 🙂
        Cheers, Pieter

  9. Harry Says: March 28, 2014 at 5:17 am

    Dumela Grant, (lived in Botswana for a spell)
    I am very impressed with your photos with the 70-300. I live in Florida, and often shoot in the Everglades. I do most of all my shooting outdoors and I use a Canon 6D. Colony birds are most of what I would shoot. I also do some traveling each year and carrying gear around is a concern

    The other concern I have is if I will miss out on the 100-400 extra reach. However, your pictures don’t show a problem with that . How did you make out using the 70-300 on safari?

    I did borrow a 100-400 and had some issues with the weight. At the end of an hour my hands were shaking pretty good. Of course this would be an indicator to me that a tripod must be used.

    Can the 70-300 accommodate a Canon or Kenko Extender (1.4)? Have you tried one?


    • Grant Atkinson Says: March 28, 2014 at 6:58 am

      Dumela Harry 🙂
      Thanks for writing with your experiences. I am currently writing up a review of the EF 100-400L with some direct comparisons in it to the EF 70-300L. If you find that you are shooting at 400mm focal length most of the time with a 100-400L, then a 70-300L might not be enough glass. Unless you are photographing very large or very approachable birds, 300mm is typically not enough.
      In use the EF 70-300L is only a little bit lighter than the 100-400L.
      On safari the EF 70-300L does a great job, and I basically replace the 70-200 f2.8 with it. I almost always have a longer lens (500f4, or 300f2.8 plus 1.4x extender, or 200-400L), to pair with it and to cover the more distant subjects.
      I have found the EF 70-300L to benefit me when compared to the 70-200 in that I need to crop much less and on my safaris, I am often working in the 200-300mm focal length range.
      In our family, we own the EF 70-200f4L IS, the EF 70-200 f2.8L IS ii, the EF 70-300L f4-5.6 IS and the EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS. Whilst the EF 70-200f2.8L IS ii is undoubtedly the best lens in that group when it comes to AF speed, image quality and build quality, I usually end up taking the EF 70-300L about 75 percent of the time, as my zoom lens on safari.
      I have not tried to use a 1.4x extender on the EF 70-300L, but I have read of a number of people that have managed. Apparently you would want to not have the lens at full extension (retracted I think) when trying to mount or operate the extender as the rear element of the lens moves during zooming and may come into contact with the extender. I think a 1.4x extender, on the EF 70-300L paired with the 6D, would work reasonably well, especially in good light
      Hope that helps

      • Ed Says: March 2, 2015 at 9:03 pm

        Excellent discussion so far! Photography really is all about the tradeoffs.

        I currently own a T4i (aka 650D) with a 55-250 and the original 100-400L. I find the 100-400L quite heavy and I find myself not taking it unless I’m sure I’m going to see something, and even then I find a monopod or a tripod a necessity. I’m looking at replacing the body with the 7D Mk II and adding either the 70-300 non-L or perhaps the 70-300L along with the kit 18-135.

        I’m curious as to why you take the 70-300 with you on trips and leave the 100-400 at home. If you’re often working in the 200-300 range, why not take the 100-400 so you’ve got the reach when you need it?

        If I do purchase the 70-300L, should I also take the 100-400 if I’m heading out on safari? We’re planning a safari trip for 2017 (from the US) but haven’t picked a destination yet.

        Thanks again for the great insight!

        • Grant Atkinson Says: March 15, 2015 at 8:04 am

          Hi Ed, thanks for your post. I find the original EF 100-400L f5.6 IS (push-pull) to focus a little slower, and be a little less sharp, than the EF 70-300L f4-5.6 IS. And I usually pair whatever zoom I take with me, alongside the fixed EF 500L f4 IS ii prime lens. So I give up that extra 100mm of zoom ability, by choosing the 70-300L over the older 100-400L, still with the knowledge that I have the 500 on hand for extra reach. This year I have been carrying the new EF 100-400L f4-5.6 IS ii, as my main zoom lens in my bag. I am finding it to focus just as fast as the EF 70-300L, and to be just as sharp, if not sharper.
          As to your question, if you already own the original 100-400L, then there is no need to carry the EF 70-300L as well, specially on safari when weight for aircraft flights can be a consideration. The new EF 100-400L mk ii makes a great replacement for both of the 70-300L, and the older 100-400L push-pull 🙂
          Busy working on a full review of the new 100-400L ii, just have been guiding and in the field a lot of the time the past six months with little time for writing.

          • Ed Says: March 16, 2015 at 2:40 pm

            Thanks Grant. I ended up buying the 7D2 along with the70-300L. So far, I love it! I haven’t had the chance to put the old 100-400 on it yet and couldn’t quite justify replacing it with the newer one (which is still hard to get a hold of here and is also nearly twice the price of the 70-300L).

  10. Will Goodlet Says: May 8, 2014 at 11:53 am

    Hi Grant,

    Great site and review. I keep coming back to see what’s new… 🙂

    Just wanted to say that it was really nice to run into you at Mombo and chat over dinner. Thanks so much for all the good advice (very lucky to meet you on the first night so we had time to put it into practice!!)

    I bought the 70-300L based on your review and the comments above and was in a quandary for a while versus the 70-200 F4 L IS (or sticking with my 300 F2.8)

    The 70-300L was the right choice by a mile for me. What a brilliant lens for the back seat of a dusty safari vehicle! It wasn’t as long or as expensive as the Nikon 200-400 used by the guy in front of me but it caught MUCH more of the action. The IS and AF worked brilliantly when bumping around chasing dogs. I was also very glad to have the extra 100mm on tap.. The F5.6 was barely an issue when compared to the mobility and IQ packed into this little lens. There may be better tools for birds etc… but there is not much to beat this as a general purpose safari lens where you can approach the wildlife.



    • Grant Atkinson Says: May 8, 2014 at 1:45 pm

      Hey Will
      Definitely good to meet again at Mombo, and also I am very happy to hear that you guys got to spend some time with the wild dogs…:-), we missed those guys completely on my last trip.
      Thanks for the feedback on the website, I am currently busy with some more real-world reviews, and looking forward to getting them shared.
      Glad to hear that your 70-300L did the job, it is definitely a very productive focal length range for Southern African safaris. It also focuses fast enough that it can be used for action without giving up too much to many bigger, heavier and more expensive lenses.
      Hope to see some of your images from the trip..
      Thanks again

  11. Pingback: My thoughts on the Canon 70-300mm f4-5.6 L IS USM

  12. Chandra Says: May 20, 2014 at 5:37 pm

    Hello Grant,

    Awesome blog with great amount of personal experiences. Your review is of the highest quality. I have a 60D and am planning to purchase a 70-300 IS USM or a used 70-300 L series lens. I will be travelling to SA & Kenya in Aug and hoping to have an unforgettable experience (this will be my first).
    Used 70-300 L series is difficult to find in India and hence wanted to know whether I can find them in Cape Town ( my first halt).

    Thank you again for maintaining this informative blog.


    • Grant Atkinson Says: May 20, 2014 at 7:41 pm

      Hi Chandra
      Glad you liked the reviews. I am not totally familiar with all the camera retailers in Cape Town, but I can recommend a company called Orms. Their website is and I would suggest you contact them shortly before travel to find out if they have any used versions of that lens in stock.

  13. Chandra Says: May 21, 2014 at 3:34 am

    Hello Grant,

    Thank you very much for the reply.

    Can you provide any photography tip which I should follow or practice during Game drive at Mara?


    • Grant Atkinson Says: May 21, 2014 at 8:23 am

      Hi Chandra,
      The one thing I see that seems to go wrong most often with folk taking African wildlife pictures for the first time is shooting with too slow of a shutter speed. Try keep your shutter speed at a minimum of 1/640 sec with a zoom tele lens like the 70-300, and faster than that for action.
      There are more posts on this website under the Wildlife and Techniques sections describing in more detail some wildlife photography things to look out for that might be useful

      • Chandra Says: May 22, 2014 at 3:37 am

        Thank you very much for your valuable tip. I am checking the posts under the wildlife and techniques and some of the pictures are awesome (especially the one taken from elephant bunker)

  14. Ray Says: May 22, 2014 at 1:47 am

    Hi Grant,

    This is the second time I am on this discussion list.

    I own a Canon 60d and a 70-300 mm f4-5.6. Two weeks ago I fell down while clicking pics and though my camera did not hit the ground but it definitely got a jerk and some dust also went in, Now I am facing two problems.

    1. Though the sensor and the lens is squeaky clean I see 3 dust stops through the view finder.

    2. Pictures are no more sharp and crisp like before. I cleaned the mirror too while cleaning the sensor. Is that the reason ? Or something has gone wrong inside the camera or the lens ? If I send it to the Canon repair in Ontario, Canada will they actually be able to fix it and send me my camera back safe and sound ?

    Please reply. Thank you for your time Grant.

    • Grant Atkinson Says: May 22, 2014 at 4:28 pm

      Hi Ray, sorry to hear about your misfortune. The three dust spots that you can see, are most likely just a few spots of dust that have fallen onto the autofocus screen. That screen is positioned above the mirror, and those spots are unlikely to show up in the image. They can be easily blown away.
      Pictures not sharp are more serious, and I think you may have a lens element out of alignment…
      Best will be to take it back to Canon, they will easily be able to get it back to perfect. Make sure to tell them how the damage happened so they are aware of what kind of impact took place

  15. Barbara Saberton Says: May 22, 2014 at 3:43 am

    Thank you so much, this is perfect for me, and I really appreciate your views, given I too am a Whale/Dolphin and bird photographer (amateur, with high standards of what is acceptable in my images). This has found me longing for the 70-300mm lens. I will be following your site more in the future. Thanks again, you answered it all for me. Cheers

    • Grant Atkinson Says: May 22, 2014 at 4:30 pm

      Thanks Barbara
      Glad the information on the website was useful Barbara,
      and send a link where we can see some of your images..

  16. Barbara Saberton Says: May 24, 2014 at 11:06 pm

    Hi Grant, your review was extremely helpful. I don’t have a website but use Flickr to share some of my photos, and have entered that above. I hope you enjoy them too 🙂 I can’t wait to get the new lens, and add to it further.

  17. Leo Says: December 29, 2014 at 2:26 pm

    Hi Grant,
    Awesome site, great work. You are very generous with your time.
    I’ve destroyed a 400D and am upgrading to a second hand 7d ,available here in Australia for about $700-800 body only. ( Your comparison of 70D vs 7D was excellent too)
    I have an old EF 70-300 ; must be 20yrs old but still ok.
    But, this L series seems a real improvement on my old lens and they are available here for approx $1000 in good nick.

    So, before I lash out and blow some hard earned, are there any budget zooms in that 70-300 class that you think I should look at? Tamron?? Mate, just a very quick reply will be much appreciated.

    I used to shoot proper wildlife but now, with four small kids, we have wildlife in the home

    • Grant Atkinson Says: December 29, 2014 at 5:40 pm

      Hi Leo, thanks for the feedback on the website, for the last six months I have been spending so much time shooting and traveling that i have not been able to update it for a while. I think the budget zooms are quite similar in their performance, that being the Sigma and the Tamron, 70-300mm models. Cannot vouch for their reliability, as I have not owned or used either for very long. They also focus quite slow. If kids are a major portion of your subject matter, why not see if you can pick up a used EF 70-200L f4 (non IS) can be had for not too much money. That way, at least you get a decently sharp lens to match up with the 7D, and just as important, you get a reasonably wide max aperture for blurring backgrounds and creating better portraits…just my thoughts.

  18. Arnab Sarkar Says: August 31, 2015 at 3:57 am

    Hi grant, thank you for your excellent review and I have read all your responses, they are simply great. I have some doubts in my mind… I am using a crop sensor camera now (canon 1200D) and normally I take photos of landscape,architecture (fort, palace etc.) and street photography kind of thing. Sometimes I take photos of birds and animals. Could you tell that which lens is best suited for me 70-200 f4 is or 70-300 is l usm. Another thing I am really confused that whether the full frame lens can give good/excellent image quality in crop sensor camera. I mean if I attach any of the above mentioned lenses to my camera, will it the able to produce very good image? Could you please help me with these doubts.. Actually depends on your suggestions I will buy one of those two lenses and my next camera (either 70D or next version of 6D) thank you ?

  19. Tom Says: September 20, 2015 at 12:57 pm

    Despite all of this good information I still cannot decide between the 70-200 f/4 L IS (lighter, constant f/4, fixed length) and the 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 (shorter minimum length for easy packing, extra 100mm reach). [The 100-400 and 70-200 f/2.8 are both out of the question … too heavy and too bulky].

    I have both full frame and 1.3x crop factor EOS 1-series cameras. My main lens is a 24-70 f/4L which stays on my FF camera body almost all the time. For more reach I have been using the ancient 70-210 f/4 EF that I bought for less than 100 pounds sterling and which, despite its age, gives superb image quality. It was good enough to cover a couple of stages of the recent Tour de France, but for wildlife it lacks reach. It extends a lot, and it is useless with a polarising filter as the front element rotates. It also lacks IS and weather sealing, and focusses noisily and rather slowly.

    I am a minimalist. I don’t like to duplicate equipment. I like to have just the right items, neither more nor less. The less agonising about what to put in the camera bag each day, the easier.

    Can anyone help me to make the right choice?

    Or, as it seems almost impossible to choose, does that mean that I’d be happy with either, and might as well toss a coin.

  20. Tom Says: September 20, 2015 at 1:11 pm

    Whoops. I meant, of course, the 70-300 f/4-5.6L as reviewed here (not the 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 as I accidentally wrote in the previous post)

    • Grant Atkinson Says: September 27, 2015 at 3:45 pm

      Hi Tom, you seem to grasp most of the major differences between the two lenses, and I would have to think that if it were me, that I would go for the EF 70-300L which will give you extra reach, which I think in most cases is more useful for wildlife unless you have access to wildlife subjects that are very approachable. Compared to your current 70-210, you will find the EF 70-300L to be a massive upgrade in all respects expect the max f-stop, and for that f-stop you lose, you gain 100mm of magnification.
      I also think you are correct in your take that you would be happy with both.
      I can also say that we have finally sold our 70-200L f4 IS, in favour of a 70-300L as we were just not using it for our wildlife trips when there was a choice between those two lenses…
      Hope that helps

  21. rob Says: October 30, 2015 at 11:59 am

    Hi Grant
    I am very pleased with my recently purchased 70-300 f4/5.6 L IS lens. However I could use a bit more reach. Would you recommend the Kenko 1.4, seeing the canon extenders don’t fit? Body 1 D Mk 3


    • Grant Atkinson Says: October 31, 2015 at 6:39 am

      Hi Rob
      I have not used the Kenko extenders so I am not able to offer any kind of first hand opinion on this. There do seem to be quite a number of folk who do use the Kenko extenders with some success out there. I think it is possible to attach a Canon 1.4x extender to this lens, but only when the zoom or focus is in a position that the rear element is not all the way back in the lens barrel. f you do need more reach, the ultimate solution would be the new EF 100-400L Mk2 as it matches the performance of the excellent EF 70-300L you already have just with an extra 100mm of focal length.

  22. Jobu Joseph Says: November 3, 2015 at 6:38 pm

    Hi Grant,
    I am a hobbyist photographer with 70D and 3 kit lenses, 50mm 1.8, 18-135 IS STM and 75-300 non IS. Would like to be more serious and wish to upgrade my telephoto lens. Currently most of my photography is limited to portraits, landscapes and a few macros. Wish to take some photos of birds and even wildlife in future. Could you please suggest one among the 70-300L IS USM or 100-400L IS II USM (considering I already have 18-135) or 70-200 f4 L with extenders. I am a short guy with average physique and wish to carry a lighter lens without compromising IQ……
    Thanks in advance, Jobu

    • Grant Atkinson Says: November 4, 2015 at 6:50 am

      Hi Jobu Joseph
      If you wish to photograph birds, then I would be strongly inclined to get the EF 100-400L IS II USM as it will give you a 100mm increase in focal length over your current gear. For sure it will be a little heavier but for that you will get a noticeable improvement in image quality over your current lenses, faster and more accurate autofocus, along with the best image stabilizer system that Canon have yet made. I am also very small of stature and have no trouble managing the 100-400L IS ii for handholding situations.
      I would avoid the 70-200f4 with extenders and the 70-300L IS, whilst offering a big improvement in image quality, focus speed and accuracy and great IS performance wont get you any more focal length reach than your current lens.

  23. Jobu Joseph Says: November 5, 2015 at 8:02 am

    Hi Grant,
    Thanks for your fast response. I am leaving in Oman and the price of 100-400L IS II USM is almost the double (OMR 815 = USD 2090) than 70-300L IS USM (OMR 445 = USD 1140). Does it make sense to buy such an expensive lens for occasional birding/wildlife. Would like to know ur opinion about the following combination of lenses with 70D – Sigma 18-35 f/1.8 A (not planning for FF upgrade in near future) + Canon 50 f/1.8 + one telephoto which can serve macros and occasional birding/wildlife (hope 70-300L can do this or Sigma 70-200 f/2.8 which I can get for almost same price). May trade off my 75-300 non IS as the image quality is below par. Any suggestions and better lens recommendations highly appreciated.
    Thanks and regards,

  24. Bastiaan Storm Says: December 21, 2015 at 6:14 am

    Hi Grant,

    First of all, great blog!! Very helpful and you seem very patient and elaborate with your responses to questions.

    I recently bought a Canon 7d camera with 2 lenses, the EF 28mm f1.8 USM (for portrait, street) and EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM (for landscape and architecture/interior).
    However my main reason for being more serious about photography is the Wildlife Photography side. I have worked with birds of prey most of my life, recently moved to Australia (from Amsterdam) and unfortunately due to Australian law, I won’t be able to hands on actively work with raptors.
    To continue with my passion for birds of prey, I am going to dedicate my free time to birds of prey photography (just imagine the potential of the Wedge-tailed Eagle, the Grey Goshawk, The Brahminy Kite and the rare Black Falcon (if i’m ever lucky enough to find one)).

    Now to my question:
    I am considering these tw telephoto lenses:
    – EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM
    – ef 70-200mm f/4l is usm lens (my budget is up to around 1500 AUD)

    The environment in which I will be shooting will be:
    (city) parks, woodland, farmland, arid areas, mountain forest

    I think I will be shooting on early mornings and sunsets as Australia has beautiful skies so I would need to be able to shoot in lower light conditions.

    I would like to be able to shoot quality close up shots but also in flight distance shots as birds of prey have impressive wingspans and beautiful feather coats.

    I am planning to buy a tripod as well for the bird photography (any recommendations?)

    I would very much appreciate if you could provide me with your opinion / recommendation regarding my lense query.

    Please let me know if you require more details.
    Thank you!
    Bastiaan Storm

    • Grant Atkinson Says: December 21, 2015 at 8:30 am

      Hi Bastiaan,
      Thanks for reading and also sharing your situation. I would choose the EF 70-300L over the 70-200 for birds, without any hesitation. Unless you have some method of getting incredibly close to those wild birds, then you may do fine with the 70-200L f4 IS. But certainly in all the places I have photographed wild birds, without the use of special hides, 300mm was superior to 200mm. I have found on a crop-sensor camera, that 300mm is the very minimum focal length that can work for me, when it comes to birds, and even that, is often not enough.
      I do understand your concern about shooting in low light, but the EF 70-300L matches the 70-200L at a maximum wide open aperture when both lenses are at 70mm focal length. After that the 70-300L gives up a little low light aperture advantage to the 70-200. If landscapes were to be your main use for the lens, then perhaps the 70-200 extra f-stop at 200mm would count for something but if birds are important, then I would have no doubts getting the 70-300L. It is also a newer lense, and focuses and performs a level above what one might expect from its specification.
      It also retracts for carrying, making it easy to carry around ones neck on a strap if you need to do that.
      Tripods, there are a large number to choose from, Slik offer a good value product that is tough enough for heavy use and reasonably priced here..Cheers Grant

  25. Bastiaan Storm Says: December 22, 2015 at 10:10 pm

    Hi Grant,

    Thank you so much for your prompt response, very much appreciated!

    I’m going to take on your advice and go for the 70-300L lens.

    I reckon I do need the zoom capability and I’m really going for the birds and less so for the landscape. I’ll be shooting predominantly in day light so the aperture is good enough and I can always shoot in a higher ISO setting in low light situations.
    For any close up shots (like the birds on a falconer glove – Sydney Taronga Zoo), I can also use this lens and even get that close that I would be able to use a 28mm (with some well trained birds).

    Considering that I’m not a very experienced wild life photographer (yet), I am realistic and know that I will need to get some good hands-on experience first before moving on to “better” gear.

    I’ll let you know how I go, if you’re interested to hear about it.

    Again thank you for your valuable insights.


    • Grant Atkinson Says: December 24, 2015 at 9:02 am

      Hi Bastiaan
      I would also hope that you might find that even if you do change camera bodies, as I have over time, that the EF 70-300L is good enough to keep you happy even on more expensive, or newer cameras, and not just a ‘stepping stone’ kind of lens. My own EF 70-300L I still own and use on wildlife safaris with no qualms about image quality, focus speed or AF accuracy. The lens will outperform the EF 70-200f4 L when it comes to near-macro work as well, for up-close portraits etc as it focuses closer. My wife and I still own an EF 70-200L f2.8 IS ii, and an EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii, and we make our choice depending on where we will be going and what our needs will be.
      Always happy to hear how things work out for you

  26. Radim Says: January 2, 2016 at 10:38 am

    Hi Grant.
    Unfortunately, I can not in English, so I do not know whether I will understand.
    I searched the internet to know whether 70-200 / 4 (once I had it and I was thrilled optics) or 70-300 L. You gave me a clear answer. 70-300L is almost clear choice.
    I read your review and answer questions. You amazingly patient and many avid photographers and a draw you helped solve, like me, a dilemma.
    Thank you very much

  27. Moritz Says: February 8, 2016 at 12:39 pm

    really nice shots. I’m thinking of getting this lens myself now! Thanks for sharing!

  28. Sarel Says: December 8, 2016 at 6:59 am

    Hi Grant,
    I like this review, but now I am even more confused…..
    I have got the 300 F4 L IS lens ( and a 1,4x extender) on a 550D body. So happy with the results, Excellent.
    But sometimes i wish i have got some zoom.
    So i was looking to replace this lens with either the 100-400L mK 1 or 2? annd this 70-300 L lens.
    Reading on internet makes me crazy because this person says this, another that. After reading your reviews on oll these lenses(Not the 300 F4 L ??) I deceides to write you, please help me out of my misery.
    I am not a professional, but with the 300 F4 i know what quality images are….so degrading would not be a very good thing, but on the other hand i know that if you replace a prime with a zoom you will loose some quality(or so “they” say)
    Money plays a role so i am not looking for the most expensive lens at all.
    What i am looking for is: What zoom would replace the 300 f4 L the best? I read that the 100-400 mk1 is extremely slow(Slow USM). is that right? how does the USM compare to the 300f4?
    I realy don’t know. i prefer the 100-400, but it is quite big, the 70-300 is smaller, so quite handy.
    Most importand is: What quality do i get on this 300mm length? Is there a possibility to compare this? to put pictures of the 300F4, 100-400 mk1 and mk2, 70-300 L nest to each other so you can see the differences?
    WIll i be extremely disappointed to replace the 300 with a 70-300? or 100-400mk1?
    Looking forward to your answer. hope youhave got a shorter answer tham my question………haha

    • Grant Atkinson Says: December 8, 2016 at 7:39 am

      Hi Sarel
      Thanks for writing. I have responded to your email separately. Unfortunately i dont have identical, test quality images taken in the same conditions, same bodies etc between the three lenses you mention. But, I do have lots of experience either using or owning those lenses and using them for my kind of wildlife photography. Between the 100-400 IS (version 1), the EF 300L f4 IS, I always use to prefer to own the EF 300L f4 IS because it focused more accurately, and faster. It also gave me sharper images, even at f4, than i usually got from any of the three copies of EF 100-400L IS that i worked with (but never owned for long). I found that the EF 70-300L IS was about as sharp in real life situations if not sharper than the EF 300L f4 IS, given that I handhold a lot, and IS helps a lot, especially the newer versions. So right now my wife and I own an EF 70-200L f2.8 IS ii, an EF 70-300L f4-5.6 IS, and an EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii. The EF 100-400ii is the best of the lot for our kind of wildlife needs but the EF 70-300L IS is almost as good, just lacking 100mm in comparison.
      Hope that helps

  29. Sarel Says: December 8, 2016 at 7:47 am

    Thanks Grant,
    I appreciate your answer and for me it is clear.
    I am going to have a big think now to decide between the 70-300L and 100-400L ii…
    there is quite a price difference…..but then quality is a important thing as well….
    not confused anymore, but you just leave me to make a difficult decission…haha!
    Thanks for your clear answer and help, much appreciated!

  30. Tom Says: December 8, 2016 at 2:20 pm

    Hi Sarel. After trying many Canon lenses I opted for the 300mm f/4 as an affordable wildlife lens. It is more it is light, focusses very fast, and has IS. With the 1.4x extender on an APS-C body it has great reach too.

    The only reason I considered the 100-400 or 70-300 is for convenience, but after a lot of research and experiment I decided that I preferred the 70-200 f/4 IS over the 70-300. Ideally I’d have liked to complement it with a 400mm prime, but could not justify the cost.

    Overall image quality from the 300mm is better than any of the zooms, whether you are making a subjective judgement or making actual tests of resolution, freedom from defects, colour balance, bokeh and all the rest. I think you might be disappointed if you were to replace it with a slower and heavier zoom.

    What does Grant think?

    • Grant Atkinson Says: December 8, 2016 at 8:48 pm

      Hi Tom, Grant thinks that the new zooms, EF 70-200L f2.8 IS ii, and EF 70-300L IS, and EF 100-400L IS ii, are good enough that in real-world usage, they usually match older fixed lenses like the EF 300L f4 IS, certainly for his way of shooting, which involves a lot of handholding where IS is helpful, and also often in lower ambient light situations..:-)
      So for sure if you compared an older zoom lens like the original EF 100-400L IS (push-pull) or even the EF 28-300L (push-pull), then I agree, that the EF 300L f4 IS will outperform both of them in AF speed, in image quality, all the above metrics mentioned. But newer zooms have made the biggest strides in terms of image quality, AF speed, great IS, and also more accurate autofocus than before. The autofocus advantages are helpful with any Canon dslr body but more so when paired with those bodies that really do well with the modern lenses – the 7dmk2, 80D, 5Dmk3, 5Dmk4, 1DX and 1DXmk2.
      But that is just my take on things

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