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

At first glance, the all-new Canon 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM may just appear to be a glorified white-coated telephoto zoom, but beneath the skin is far more than meets the eye.

Canon 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM 

Canon 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM 

When Canon first announced this new 70-300mm L-series optic, we weren’t really sure why it was being added to the range. Initially we thought it was just another 70-300mm lens but with some optical improvements and white plastic added to make it look and feel more professional. But this couldn’t have been further from the truth, as this lens is something very special indeed...

Build & design

To date, the Canon 70-300mm range has appeared in a traditional black finish. This new optic crosses the gap and becomes an L-series model for the first time in this focal length. The advantages are that this lens has a much improved and more robust build, with dust and water resistance. Optically, there’s a significant change over previous versions of this focal length, with two UD elements included within the 19 that make up the lens (14 groups). These UD optics deliver improved control of image quality, sharpness and suppress chromatic aberration. The quality optics make this lens a tad chunky and a bit weighty, but we really think this minor element will prove no major issue when you see the image quality it delivers. We’re pleased to see the latest Canon Image Stabilisation technology built into this lens, as it gives up to 4-stops advantage in reducing image blur during handheld use. Add to all that the USM motor technology for fast and quiet delivery of AF, and an eight-blade circular aperture for more pleasing background bokeh delivery, and you start to see why this lens has great potential.


The first time we put this lens on our camera we realised it was special. It feels really well made and the focus ring is wonderfully smooth. The zoom is controlled by a front rotating ring and extends out from the front. At the base of the lens are the controls for the image stabiliser and AF/MF selection. Switching the stabiliser on, we were really quite surprised by how good it was. Just looking through the lens we could see it snap into action. We tried to see just how slow a shutter speed we could get away with, and almost managed a handheld 1-second exposure. The lens was really fast to focus and as quiet as anything else we have used. The results from the test chart were outstanding for a telephoto zoom. Edge detail at the widest apertures was really impressive and the lens was wonderfully sharp. You may feel it’s a bit expensive for the focal length, but we can’t think of any other 70-300mm lens that comes close.


We’d be hard pushed to find a weakness in this lens. The only negative we can find is the edge sharpness at 300mm with a wide aperture selected, but we’re clutching at straws to be honest. This Canon optic is very impressive.


  • Street price: £1029 (As of July 2016)
  • Maximum aperture: f/4-5.6
  • Filter size: 67mm
  • Autofocus motor: USM
  • Aperture blades: 8
  • Lens hood supplied: Yes
  • Image stabilizer: Yes (4-stop IS)
  • Minimum focus distance: 120cm
  • Weight: 1050g
  • Dimensions: 89x143mm
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This review was first published in the August 2011 issue of Digital Photo - download back issues here.