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

With a "II" in the product name, it is only logical that a version "I" of this lens existed and in this case, that lens is the Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM Lens. Interesting is that the version "I" lens was itself a replacement of a very similar lens, the Canon EF 75-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM Lens (only a slight change in focal length has kept us from a "III" version). That lens was an especially popular lens, in part because it was Canon's first image stabilized lens.

While the 2005-introduced 70-300 IS "I" was initially quite popular, it has lost some luster in recent years. Some incredible higher grade telephoto zooms have led buyers up stream and the Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM Lens has proven very attractive, especially for its optical quality to price ratio, to APS-C format DSLR owners. And, the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM Lens has always been a strong competitor to the 70-300 IS.

With the EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM Lens including an all-new optical design, the latest Nano USM AF implementation and an LCD (a first), Canon brings some polish back into this slot in their consumer lens lineup. The previous version lenses were popular because of their very useful focal length range, relatively small size and light weight, midrange price and Image Stabilization. The 70-300 IS II again provides these benefits along with improvements to this overall package.

Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM Lens Top View with Hood

Focal Length Range

Telephoto zoom lenses are typically purchased to cover the focal lengths longer than one's general purpose zoom lens and that is the case with the 70-300mm range. Many general purpose zoom lenses feature a 50-55mm max focal length and most will not worry about the small amount of gap in coverage between that lens and this lens' widest focal length, 70mm. While most can overlook a small gap in angle of view coverage, having an overlap in coverage (an 18-135mm range paired with 70-300mm for example) should also not cause concern as this focal length overlap is often very welcomed.

The 70-300mm focal length range has a wide variety of uses. Especially the wide end of this focal length range is excellent for portraits and the mid-long focal lengths provide great perspective for even very tightly cropped headshot style portraits. Wildlife photography, especially for relatively close medium-to-large-sized subjects, is another good use of this range. Parents will have a great time chasing their family around outdoors with a 70-300mm lens – at the beach, at the park, at the swimming pool or in the back yard.

The 70-300mm focal length range finds use at a large array of sporting events, including baseball, soccer, track and field, tennis, swimming and diving, equestrian events, etc. Note that this lens will work best for outdoor sports due to its max aperture opening (discussed below).

ASP-C/1.6x FOVCF sensor format DSLRs owners will find the 70-300mm focal length range to frame similar to a 112-480mm lens on a full frame body. While portraits are still within range of this lens' wider focal lengths on an APS-C body, the APS-C angle of view range is much more commonly used and welcomed for wildlife, sports, airshows, etc. With up to a 480mm-equivalent angle of view available, this lens can reach out into big sports fields and it can tightly frame smaller and more distant wildlife, airplanes, etc.

Following is this focal length range demonstrated on a full frame camera:

Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM Lens Focal Length Range Example

Note that the last set of examples were borrowed from the focal-length-range-sharing Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM Lens review.

Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM Lens on Tripod

Max Aperture

The f/4-5.6 in the lens name refers to the lens' max aperture opening, the relationship of lens opening to focal length. The lower the number, the more light the lens will allow to reach the sensor, enabling shorter exposures and/or lower, less-noisy ISO settings. Each "stop" in aperture change (examples: f/2.8, f/4.0, f/5.6, f/8, f/11) increases or reduces the amount of light reaching the sensor by a factor of 2x (a big deal).

Because aperture is measured as a ratio of lens opening to focal length and because this lens' maximum opening does not increase enough with focal length increase to maintain the same ratio, this lens has a variable max aperture. As the focal length increases, the widest available aperture measurement steps down. Currently, unless it is very large, heavy and expensive (the Canon 200-400 f/4L IS and Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 are examples), all zoom lenses reaching beyond 200mm have the variable max aperture feature.

Here is a chart showing the specific focal length ranges available at each 1/3 stop aperture step for a variety of lenses.

Modelf/4.0f/4.5f/5.0f/5.6f/6.3
Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM Lens55-63mm64-99mm100-154mm155-250mm 
Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM Lens70-103mm104-154mm155-228mm229-300mm 
Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM Lens70-76mm77-105mm106-175mm176-300mm 
Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM Lens70-84mm85-134mm135-224mm225-300mm 
Canon EF 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 DO IS USM Lens 70-94mm95-184mm185-300mm 
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens 100-134mm135-311mm312-400mm 
Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM C  150-179mm180-387mm388-600mm
Tamron 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD Lens  150-225mm226-427mm428-600mm

The 70-300 IS II goes 1/3 stop darker slightly faster than its predecessor, but likely few will find the difference significant.

The big advantage of the variable aperture design is that the size of the lens can remain compact and light even with long focal lengths included and along with the small size comes affordable price. One downside is that a manually-set 70mm wide open exposure cannot be retained throughout the entire zoom range. Another downside is the relatively narrow f/5.6 aperture found over the long end of the focal length range (225-300mm for the predecessor). At f/5.6, expect the viewfinder to darken slightly. Though f/4 at 70mm is moderately bright, even the middle focal length range will not be considered "fast" and will make decent lighting a requirement to stop action without resorting to crazy-high ISO settings.

Wide apertures are useful for creating a strong background blur, but the telephoto focal lengths in this lens can create the strong background blur even without especially wide apertures. Here is a 300mm aperture comparison example.

Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM Lens Aperture Comparison Example

Even at f/11, the background is strongly blurred.

Image Stabilization

Wide apertures are also advantageous for shooting handheld in low light. While this lens does not have that advantage, it has another sometimes-even-better feature for this purpose. That feature is of course image stabilization (IS). As mentioned, this lens' distant ancestor was the first Canon DSLR lens to have this feature and the technology has come a long way since then.

While IS is not going to help stop subject motion, it does wonders for stopping camera shake. It is especially helpful stopping the shake of a light, long focal length telephoto lens. Not only does IS enable handholding in very low light levels, but it also allows handholding in medium and low light levels with a stopped down aperture selected to gain depth of field or other image quality improvements.

IS is very useful for stabilizing the viewfinder, aiding in optimal composition. IS is also useful for video recording.

The Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM Lens' IS system is rated for 4 stops of assistance. At 70mm, testing under ideal conditions with an ultra-high resolution EOS 5Ds R, I am able to get a healthy percentage of sharp images at a 1/5 second shutter speed with a gradual decline in keeper rate until about .5 seconds for an impressive roughly 4-5 stops of assistance. Sporadic keepers were showing up until 1 second, but the keeper rate is quite low at this point.

This IS system performs equally impressively at 300mm with a very good keeper rate at 1/20 second exposures and a still reasonable rate at 1/13 for an experienced 4-5 stops of assistance. The percentage of sharp exposures drops quickly beyond this exposure duration and of course, experience under less-ideal conditions will mean shorter exposures are needed for sharp images.

Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM Lens Image Stabilization Example

The above image was captured handheld while standing in New York City on a winter day with a heavy coat and pack on my back. There is no way that I could get a sharp 300mm image handheld at 1/8" second without the assistance of IS.

To think of the IS benefit another way, consider that an equivalent focal length range lens without IS would need to have an f/1-1.4 aperture range to offset a 4-stop-rated IS system in this 70-300 IS II. I can't imagine the size, weight or price of such a lens.

In addition to performing extremely well at its primary task of stopping shake, this system is also very well-behaved, referring to the stability seen in the viewfinder including during startup and shutdown. A short click is heard at startup and shutdown, but this system is very quiet during use, with only a faint hum heard by an ear placed next to the lens.

The 70-300 IS II's IS system features automatic panning detection. The owner's manual is vague on whether IS should be used when tripod or monopod-mounted, but Canon support clarified that this lens cannot detect when a tripod is in use and should be turned off in this case.

Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM Lens Front View

Image Quality

Some of Canon's latest consumer zoom lenses, such as the Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM Lens, are delivering excellent price:performance ratios and this full frame telephoto zoom lens shares that consumer-friendly characteristic.

Not so long prior to this review, we tested a decade-newer copy of the 70-300 IS I and received a lens that performed significantly better than our original test model, raising the bar on what I expected from the Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM Lens and its new optical design featuring 17 elements (including 1 UD element) in 12 groups. The image quality delivered by a lens can make or break its inclusion in your kit and success in the marketplace and I was optimistic for this one.

What we discovered is that, basically, the 70-300 IS II is optically similar to, or slightly softer than, the last 70-300 IS I lens we tested. In the center of the frame, at wide open apertures, the II is slightly soft with a noticeable improvement in contrast being seen with a 1 stop narrower aperture. Performance is rather similar over the entire focal length range. With relatively narrow max apertures, stopping down quickly reaches the aperture where the effects of diffraction begin to become apparent on the latest camera models. Still, this lens' center of the frame performance is looking especially good at f/8.

Full frame corner sharpness performance is quite good at the wide end, with good sharpness showing even at f/4 and some improvement realized at f/5.6. Corner performance is reduced to mediocre over the mid and long focal length ranges. Subjects in the plane of sharp focus running through the corners are not turned into mush at wide open apertures, but they are not totally stellar either – and show very little improvement at narrower apertures.

For perspective, here is a comparison between this lens and one of Canon's finest telephoto zooms. This comparison is not completely fair in that the L zoom is in a different league in terms of price (especially), size and weight. But, seeing the image sharpness difference is certainly educational.

Taking the 70-300mm IS II outside ... I'll share some 100% center-of-the-frame crops captured with an EOS 5Ds R. These images were captured in RAW format and processed in DPP using the Standard Picture Style with sharpness set to "1" and cropped to 100% resolution. The second set of 70mm aperture examples were made under heavy cloud cover and I added a contrast layer (in Photoshop) of +5 to just slightly offset the low contrast lighting.

Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM Lens Sharpness Comparison Example

As you likely guessed, the second set of 300mm images (of a cookie) were captured indoors and at minimum focus distance. This last set of images was lit by a tungsten light.

This lens has some rearward focus shift at the 300mm end of the focal length range, but the subject stays within the depth of field.

The images shared below were taken from the extreme bottom left corner of the frame and processed the same as the above, but with no contrast added.

Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM Lens Corner Sharpness Comparison Example

300mm:  f/5.6  |  f/8.0 

As usual, corner results become brighter and take on better contrast as the wide open vignetting clears with narrower apertures. Stopping down does not otherwise create a significant improvement in corner image quality. Not everyone has equal need for sharp corners. Landscape photographers care greatly while some wildlife photographers may not care much as all.

Though some vignetting can be observed clearing with narrower apertures in the above comparison, the amount of vignetting exhibited by this lens is quite mild. With a wide open aperture, close to 1.5 stops of corner shading is present over much of the focal length range, though the amount drops to about 1 stop at 100mm before increasing again. While the long end of the focal length range is wide open at f/5.6, the wide end shows some expected shading reduction at this aperture, to about .7 stops in the deep corners at 70mm. At f/8, vignetting amounts range from .4 stops at 70mm, even less at 100mm, .4 stops at 135mm, and increasing up to .6 and .7 stops at 200mm and 300mm respectively. The longest focal lengths see another nice corner shading drop at f/11.

APS-C format cameras will see negligible vignetting when using this lens, regardless of aperture and focal length.

Another corner defect seen above is lateral (or transverse) CA (Chromatic Aberration). Lateral CA shows as various wavelengths of light being magnified differently with the effect being increasingly noticeable toward the image circle periphery, causing the most-affected area of the image to appear less sharp due to misaligned colors. Look for the strongest color fringing along edges of strongly contrasting lines running tangential (meridional, right angles to radii) near the corners of the frame, generally irrespective of the aperture used.

With the camera oriented at a 45° angle and white stair railing balusters in front of a very dark room in the corner of the frame, this lens defect becomes very obvious. There should only be black and white colors in the following samples.

Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM Lens CA Example

What we see here is moderately strong latCA at 70mm. The CA diminshes to a negligible amount in the mid focal lengths and shows up again in a modest amount at the longer focal lengths with the colors reversed. Fortunately, lateral CA is easily software corrected (often in the camera) by radially shifting the colors to coincide.

A relatively common lens aberration is axial (longitudinal, bokeh) CA, which causes non-coinciding focal planes of the various wavelengths of light, or more simply, different colors of light are focused to different depths. Spherical aberration along with spherochromatism, or a change in the amount of spherical aberration with respect to color (looks quite similar to axial chromatic aberration, but is hazier) are other common lens aberrations to look for. Axial CA remains at least somewhat persistent when stopping down with the color misalignment effect increasing with defocusing while the spherical aberration color halo shows little size change as the lens is defocused and stopping down one to two stops generally removes this aberration.

In the real world, lens defects do not exist in isolation with spherical aberration and spherochromatism generally found, at least to some degree, along with axial CA. These combine to create a less sharp, hazy-appearing image quality at the widest apertures.

A neutrally-colored subject again makes these defects most apparent. Look for fringing color differences between the foreground and background in the following 100% crop samples.

Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM Lens Spherical and Axial Aberration Example

At 70mm, there is a noticeable amount of purple fringing in the foreground and green fringing in the background. By f/8, these defects are mostly gone. At 200mm, the foreground fringing is more red-colored and, with f/5.6 being the widest-available aperture, the fringing is still noticeable at f/8. Fringing colors are not as obvious at 300mm.

Flare effects can be very destructive to image quality and telephoto zoom lenses, with lots of magnification and lots of lens elements, are generally not the best choice for avoiding such. With the sun in the corner of the frame at 70mm, this lens shows very little flaring effects even stopped down significantly. Much more significant flaring is seen at 100mm and beyond. Fortunately, longer focal lengths take in a narrower angle of view, making it easier to keep bright lights out of the frame in the first place. And, the amount of flaring seen in 70-300 IS II images is slightly less than seen in 70-300mm IS I images, despite the addition of 2 lens elements.

This lens has barrel distortion at the wide end that transitions into negligible distortion and on into pincushion distortion at the long end. That statement can be dropped into most zoom lens reviews and it applies to this one. The amount of distortion is modest at the focal length extremities and negligible around 100mm. While a distortion-free lens is always ideal, how much distortion matters in a lens depends somewhat on the subjects intended to be captured with it. Aside from the horizon in some locations, most straight lines in the world are man-made. Here is a look at a man-made downspout running along the top of full frame images (images are of course rotated 90°).

Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM Lens Distortion Example

As already discussed, this lens, via the long telephoto focal lengths made available, can create a very strong background blur. The quality of that blur, referred to as bokeh, is very good and an example can be seen in the aperture comparison shared earlier in the review.

The 9-blade aperture, when stopped down, creates 18-point sunstars from point light sources. But, don't expect this lens to produce the biggest stars. Here is an f/16 example:

Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM Lens Sunstar Effect Example

Overall, from an optical quality standpoint, the Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM Lens is a mid-level performer and especially if used at f/8, the optical quality combined with a very good overall package and low price makes it a good value.

Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM Lens Side

Focusing

The EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM is Canon's second lens to get a Nano USM (Ultrasonic Motor) driven AF system (the Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM Lens was the first) and expectations for performance similar to the first implementation were realized. Nano USM acts like heavily-caffeinated STM AF, combining the benefits of a high speed Ring USM actuator with an STM system stepping motor's quiet and smooth, direct, lead screw-type drive system. Like Ring USM driven AF systems, Nano USM focuses extremely fast. Like STM AF systems, Nano USM focuses almost silently, with only faint sounds heard with one's ear next to the lens. And, Nano USM focuses very smoothly.

Canon U.S.A.'s Rudy Winston states: "Canon’s new Nano USM technology uses a completely different form factor, but achieves focus results within the lens via the same principles of ultrasonic vibration energy, transmitted here into linear (rather than rotational) movement within the lens. This tiny new Ultrasonic motor achieves the combination of fast, near-instant response during still image shooting, with the smoothness required for good focus during video recording."

While Ring USM remained Canon's preference for the review-time-latest high end lens designs, these lenses do not generally focus so smoothly in Movie Servo AF. While the review-time-latest Canon DSLRs are able to focus a Ring USM lens with decent smoothness, these lenses still do not compare to the smoothness of STM lenses and there is considerably more focus chatter sound during Movie Servo AF. Nano USM combines the best of both systems in these regards. I mentioned in the EF-S 18-135mm IS USM review that the AF performance from the first Nano USM lens predicted more Nano USM lenses coming. The second is here and I'm glad to see it.

Accuracy from the Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM Lens has been excellent, both in One Shot and AI Servo modes. I expected the same from the 70-300 IS II and it delivered. This lens very reliably focuses accurately. While the relatively narrow max apertures are not so stressing on the accuracy requirement, the longer focal lengths make it especially important and AF accuracy is critical for achieving good image quality.

Like STM, Nano USM utilizes a focus-by-wire or electrical manual focus design (vs. a direct gear-driven system). The manual focus ring electronically controls the focus of the lens. FTM (Full Time Manual) focusing is supported (it was not available in the 70-300 IS I) in AF mode with the camera in One Shot Drive Mode, but the shutter release must be half-pressed for the focus ring to become active. Note that FTM does not work if electronic manual focusing is disabled in the camera's menu (if this option is present). The lens' switch must be in the "MF" position and the camera meter must be on/awake for conventional manual focusing to be available.

With electronics driving AF, the rate of focus change caused by the focus ring can be electronically controlled and it can be variable, based on rotation speed. That was the case with the 18-135 IS USM and I am not be surprised to see the same again with the 70-300 IS II USM. But, the longer I use these lenses, the less I appreciate this attribute.

I thought that I would adjust to the variable MF drive speed, but I instead find it increasingly frustrating. Because of the dual speed MF ring, large focus distance adjustments can be made very quickly while precise fine tuning is made available. But, an inconsistent focus ring rotation rate change can prove somewhat maddening when trying to quickly rock the focusing ring back and forth to fine tune focusing. Using marked focus ring pulls with this lens requires a skillful rate of turn, both in setup and execution of the pull. I'd rather have a single focus ring drive rate.

Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM Lens Angle View with Hood

The 70-300mm IS II USM lens' focus ring is very nicely-sized, ideally positioned (forward of the zoom ring) and is very smooth with no play. Turn the focus ring slowly and ... it requires more than 360° of rotation to go from MFD to infinity.

Manual focus adjustments are smooth and centered with no unusual framing shift happening – alignment remains tight. In regards to subjects remaining the same size during focus adjustments, this is one of the better lenses available. Subjects remain consistently sized as they go into and out of focus.

With the camera powered off, this lens is dramatically far from being parfocal - the scene goes from in sharp focus to very strongly blurred and back into focus by changing focal length from 70mm to 300mm. However, when the camera is powered on and awake, the lens makes an attempt to be parfocal and is very close to being completely successful. Movie Servo and AI Servo AF modes will compensate for this change automatically, but otherwise, it is a good idea to refocus after a focal length change.

Cameras featuring Hybrid or Dual Pixel CMOS AF and Movie Servo AF make video recording very easy and the STM lenses are very well-suited for this task. The smooth focusing makes focus distance transitions easy on the viewer's eyes and the sound of the lens focusing is not picked up by the camera's mic. Even the STM lens' aperture changes are quiet and smooth. This Nano USM AF implementation again capitalizes on those same strengths.

The 70-300 IS I extended with focusing and much worse, its front element rotated. This attribute required circular polarizer filters to be adjusted after focusing instead of the preferred before-focusing adjustment. We have not tested any lens introduced after 2011 that has this usability issue and the EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II and EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS II stablemates were the only Canon lenses introduced since 2007 that have this problem. This lens, replacing the 2005-era 70-300 IS version I, eliminates this issue. It does not extend with focusing and hopefully puts the nail in the coffin of rotating filter threads.

Overall, the 70-300 IS II's Nano USM implementation is a big upgrade over the Micro USM AF system in its predecessor.

With a 47.2" (1200mm) MFD (Minimum Focus Distance), the 70-300 IS II delivers a 0.25x MM (Maximum Magnification). This is a very nice MM spec, though only average for this lens class. There are some interesting differences shown in the chart below. For example, the IS II focuses closer than its predecessor, but the two lenses share the same MM. Also, the 70-300 L IS focuses considerably closer than the IS II, but it has a lower MM, indicating that it gives up some focal length at close focusing distances.

ModelMFDMM
Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM Lens33.5"(850mm)0.31x
Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM Lens47.2"(1200mm)0.21x
Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM Lens47.2"(1200mm)0.21x
Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM Lens47.2"(1200mm)0.25x
Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM Lens59.1"(1500mm)0.25x
Canon EF 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 DO IS USM Lens55.1"(1400mm)0.25x
Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM Lens47.2"(1200mm)0.21x
Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G AF-S VR Lens58.8"(1494mm)0.25x
Tamron 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di VC USD Lens55.1"(1400mm)0.25x
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens38.4"(980mm)0.31x
Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM C Lens110.2"(2800mm)0.20x
Tamron 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC G2 Lens86.6"(2200mm)0.26x

With a 0.25x MM, this lens will be able to capture medium-sized flowers large in the frame and tightly-framed headshot-style portraits are not an issue for this lens. The plate of cookies shown in the focal length comparison earlier in the review was focused at 300mm's MFD (this lens can focus slightly closer at 70mm where it tested to 41"/1042mm). The plate is 13" (33cm) and the cherry cookies are about 2.25" (5.7cm) in diameter. Just in case you are not yet salivating, I'll share another uncropped/reduced 300mm MFD/MM image.

Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM Lens Maximum Magnification Examples

To reduce the MFD and thereby increase the MM, mount an extension tube behind this lens. Infinity and long distance focusing are sacrificed with an ET in use, but a nice increase in MM can be obtained. With a 12mm extension tube in place, the magnification range spec goes to 0.25-0.17x and to 0.47-0.38x with a 25mm extension tube II being used.

Sorry, but with the rear element being positioned very close to the lens mount, this lens is not compatible with Canon extenders – they will not physically mount.

Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM Lens Extended Top View with Hood

Build Quality & Features

The Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM is a consumer line lens and the build quality reflects this. Though it does not receive the pro-grade L-lens treatment (including weather sealing), it is nicely built, as was its predecessor and other current Canon consumer lenses. This lens is perhaps most similarly built to the EF-S 18-135 IS USM lens.

Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM Lens Product Images

MFD |    MFD |    w/ Hood:  MFD |    MFD |    Rotated        Compare »

This lens, like all others in its class, extends a significant amount when zoomed to the longest focal length. The zoom ring is very nicely sized, is smooth and affects focal length at an ideal rate.

Though just over one decade younger, the 70-300 IS II appears more like 2 decades more modern.

Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM Lens Compared to Version I Lens

Especially with the significantly-raised switch banks, I didn't regard the version I lens as being most attractive. Moving the AF/MF switch in line with the IS On/Off switch and making panning detection automatic are two nice upgrades. Also seen in the switch area is the new mode button, designed to control what is shown in the also-new LCD.

Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM Lens LCD

Very interesting and not seen before in a Canon DSLR lens is a digital readout LCD information display on top of the lens, near the mount. Selected via the mode toggle button, focal length, focus distance or a camera shake meter can optionally be displayed on this LCD. When this lens was announced, I questioned whether the LCD was a gimmick or a very useful feature and promised to withhold my final determination until I had the lens in my hands.

Well, obviously I've had the lens in my hands. Here are my thoughts:

First, on a full frame body, showing me the identical focal length graphics in the LCD as I see on the zoom ring seems to be ... a complete waste of a mode. On an APS-C model, the 1.6x angle of view equivalent focal length is shown on the LCD scale. While I don't find this information much more useful, there is at least a little more merit in this mode from an APS-C perspective. Better would be to provide a digital focal length number readout such as "192mm".

Sorry, but I totally don't understand the purpose of the camera shake meter. I cannot see the shake meter when the camera viewfinder is at my eye or when I'm looking at the camera’s rear LCD screen. If I'm looking at the meter, I'm not likely going to frame the scene accurately. If I was shooting from a tripod, I could look at the meter, but ... then there wouldn't be any camera shake to measure.

The manual says that "Even if no shake is indicated, it does not guarantee that images will be in focus." We're not talking about "in focus" here, but I'm guessing that the manual writer meant "sharp" and ensuring sharpness would be the benefit of such a meter. The meter also does not indicate the effectiveness of the image stabilizer. Basically, I don't see any value to having the meter. Just because you can show it doesn't mean that you should.

That means there is only one mode left and that renders the mode button itself of little value, though the display can be turned off by holding down this button for more than 2 seconds (reducing battery drain very slightly). And, the non-illuminated monochrome display colors can be inverted by a 1-2 second button press for cosmetic purposes.

To the contrary, the third mode is quite useful. This mode shows a focus distance scale similar to that of most of Canon's better grade lenses. In addition, DOF markings are included for f/8 and f/22 (though the latter is a somewhat-seldom-used aperture) and an advantage to the LCD is that these settings adjust as the focal length is changed. This feature has value and having the focus distance information available is a nice upgrade from the scale-less version I lens. Giving me the option to show a specific distance as a number, such as 26', might garner my interest.

I don't see an advantage to having the LCD over a typical focus window from a usability standpoint. However, with the focus ring located at the front of the lens, the digital presentation likely has some advantages from an engineering perspective. I set my LCD mode to focus distance and didn't change it again.

The LCD turns off after a period of inactivity (normally 10 seconds) unless the camera is in Live View display and, as mentioned, it uses a small amount of electricity – but not enough to matter to me.

Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM Lens Mount

This lens is not advertised as featuring weather-sealing and obviously there is no lens mount gasket. Seen in the image above is the recessed lock switch, enabling the lens to be locked into retracted 70mm position (only). The lens in my hands does not gravity extend even if I shake it firmly, so ... at least until it receives a lot of wear, I don't foresee needing this switch.

While it may not be Canon's strongest-built lens, the 70-300 IS II's relatively light weight is one of its advantages. The II gained a small amount of size and weight over its forerunner, but the difference is negligible.

ModelWeightDimensions w/o HoodFilterYear 
Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM Lens13.2 oz(375g)2.8 x 4.4"(70 x 111.2mm)58mm2013
Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM Lens26.8 oz(760g)3.0 x 6.8"(76 x 172mm)67mm2006
Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM Lens24.9 oz(705g)3.0 x 6.8"(76 x 172mm)67mm1999
Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM Lens25.0 oz(709g)3.2 x 5.7"(80 x 145.5mm)67mm2016
Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM Lens22.2 oz(630g)3.0 x 5.6"(76.5 x 142.8mm)58mm2005
Canon EF 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 DO IS USM Lens25.4 oz(720g)3.2 x 3.9"(82 x 100mm)58mm2004
Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM Lens37.1 oz(1050g)3.5 x 5.6"(89 x 143mm)67mm2010
Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G AF-S VR Lens26.3 oz(745g)3.1 x 5.6"(80 x 143.5mm)67mm2006
Tamron 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di VC USD Lens27.0 oz(765g)3.2 x 5.6"(81.5 x 142.7mm)62mm2010
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM55.4 oz(1570g)3.7 x 7.6"(94 x 193mm)77mm2014
Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM C Lens68.1 oz(1930g)4.1 x 10.2"(105 x 260.1mm)95mm2015
Tamron 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC G2 Lens71.0 oz(2010g)4.3 x 10.2"(108.4 x 260.2mm)95mm2016

For many more comparisons, review the complete Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM Lens specifications using the site's Lens Spec tool.

While this lens is relatively light and can be carried for a long period of time, it has enough weight to be noticeable. Without a tripod ring available, it will also show some sag on a tripod after a ball head is tightened.

Comparing some of the table-included lenses visually:

Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM Lens Compared to Similar Lenses

Positioned above from left to right are the following lenses:

Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM Lens
Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G AF-S VR Lens
Tamron 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di VC USD Lens
Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM Lens

The same lenses are shown below with their hoods in place.

Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM Lens Compared to Similar Lenses with Hoods

Use the site's product image comparison tool to visually compare the Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM Lens to other lenses.

The 70-300 IS II accepts 67mm filters, a step up in size from the version I lens' 58mm threads, but still not large and the 67mm size is a common one.

Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM Lens Side View with Hood

The compatible Canon ET-74B Lens Hood is optional with this lens. Most of Canon's non-L lenses do not include the hood and this practice has not been changed with the introduction this lens. I can't imagine that lens hoods cost much to produce, I strongly endorse their use, I think that they are over-priced and I think that Canon should include them in the box. The ET-74B is attractively designed and substantially-sized, offering significant protection to the front lens element and from flare-causing light. The push-button release makes installation and removal easy, permitting the hood to be installed or removed from a tripod-mounted setup without affecting the subject framing (such as to install/remove/adjust a filter).

Also missing from the box is a case. While lens cases are similarly not costly to produce, there is a wide range of individual needs in this regard and Canon's pouch-style cases primarily offer only dust and scratch protection. I often recommend Lowepro Lens Cases as very nice and affordable solutions for single lens storage, transport and carry.

Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM Lens Cap

Price and Value

Like its predecessor, the Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM Lens is very affordably priced and, once stock of the predecessor sells out, will become Canon's least expensive full frame-compatible telephoto zoom lens. With decent image quality in a relatively light lens with an excellent AF system and high-performing IS system, the value is there.

As an "EF" lens, the Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM Lens is compatible with all Canon "EOS" cameras (though the EOS "M" models require an adapter). The evaluation lens was obtained online/retail.

Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM Lens Top View

Alternatives to the Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM Lens

Keep in mind that, as of review time, the 70-300 IS II is the only lens in its class to have Nano USM AF, giving it a strong advantage for Video Servo AF use vs. the other lenses being compared below (except the EF-S 55-250mm IS STM Lens).

While it remains available, this lens' predecessor, the Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM Lens is an alternative worth considering. As determined earlier in the review, the 70-300 IS II is optically similar to or slightly softer than the last 70-300 IS I lens we tested. While the new lens does not bring us a big jump in image quality, it does bring significantly better AF and IS systems along with a considerably more modernized package. Surprisingly, the newer lens is priced $100.00 USD lower than the older lens, making the decision easy ... until the clearance-level instant rebate on the older lens is factored in.

For APS-C format camera owners, the Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM Lens is a very strong competitor to the 70-300 IS II. Though it shifts the focal length range to the wider side, the 55-250 IS STM has a price:performance ratio that is hard to beat. The 70-300's Nano USM AF system is better/faster than the 55-250's STM system, while the 55-250 has a higher maximum magnification spec (0.31x vs. 0.25x). Though smaller, about 1/2 the weight of the IS II and priced considerably lower, the EF-S lens is not full frame compatible and that factor closes the door for many considering the 70-300 IS II. The image quality comparison between these two lenses is coming soon, awaiting 70-300 IS II results from the 7D Mark II. The 55-250 shows more peripheral shading than the 70-300.

Many cheers went up when the Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM Lens was introduced and it has long been a much-loved lens. The L lens has a better build quality than the IS II, including weather sealing, but downsides are its heavier weight and considerably higher price tag. Though not terribly far off, the 70-300 IS II does not reach the L's level of optical performance. The L has a 1/3 stop wider max aperture over some of the range and the IS II has a higher MM (0.25x vs. 0.21x).

Performing at a much higher level than both of these lenses is the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM. However, this lens is in a different class. The 100-400 L II is an incredible-performing lens and is significantly sharper than the 70-300 IS II over the entire shared focal length range. All will prefer the 100-400's image quality, many will find giving up the 30mm of range on the wide end worth gaining the 100mm on the long end and none will prefer the higher price, the heavier weight or the larger size of the L lens.

I have never been a big fan of the Canon EF 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 DO IS USM Lens due to its mediocre image quality. However, there is a lot to like about this lens otherwise, including its compact size. At well-under half the price, having a better IS system and having notably better image quality (especially at the long end), the 70-300 IS II seems like the obvious choice on most accounts.

Canon makes a handful of 70-200mm L lenses, but the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM Lens is the one that has introduced many to the L-grade lenses and has been a very strong upgrade/competitor to the 70-300 IS I. The 70-200 f/4L choice should remain a strong consideration for those considering the addition of a 70-300 IS II lens to their kit. The L has the best build quality but this model lacks image stabilization and the 201-300mm range of focal lengths found in the 70-300 IS II (without an extender). The image quality comparison will become a very strong influencer in this decision and the L lens takes this one. The L lens, with its fixed f/4 aperture, is as much as 1 stop wider depending on the focal length and costs modestly more.

The Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM Lens version adds IS, better image quality and a higher price tag to the equation. It is a fantastic lens that I was anxious to optically compare to the 70-300 IS II and am not surprised by the outcome. The L lens easily outperforms the 70-300 IS II optically, but it wears a 2x higher price tag.

The Tamron 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di VC USD Lens is a strong competitor to the Canon 70-300mm IS II. I'll make an image quality comparison between these two lenses once we have the Canon tested on the 1Ds III, but ... don't look for any strong differences. I prefer the Canon's forward-positioned focus ring to the Tamron's rear-positioned ring. The Tamron has slightly stronger vignetting at 300, has less barrel distortion at 70mm and wears a noticeably lower price tag. My experience is that the Canon's AF system is better, including more consistent accuracy.

Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM Lens Angle View

Summary

It seems like everyone's kit can make great use of a telephoto zoom lens and with the Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM Lens being the least expensive Canon full frame option, it garners attention. The technology upgrades appearing in this lens make it potentially a better choice than even some higher-priced lenses for at least some applications including video. Those already having a high end telephoto zoom lens in their kit may still be interested in having a light weight, low cost alternative available for casual photography opportunities. The attractively-designed 70-300 IS II features great AF and IS systems, but it is the excellent price-to-performance ratio that makes it an easy choice and worthwhile addition to a great many photographers’ kits.

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My Recommended Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM Lens Retailers

Where you buy your gear matters. You expect to get what you ordered and you want to pay a low price for it. The retailers I recommend below are the ones I trust for my own purchases. Get your Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM Lens now from:

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Adorama
Amazon.com
the Canon Store (new)
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