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Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM

Review Date: Feb 19, 2014 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $5,700.00 | Rating: 9 

Pros: Sharp, Beautiful Bokeh, Efficient and silent IS, Fast focus, Great handling,
Heavy, Pricy

I have had my new EF 300mm f/2.8 IS L ii for six months now. This review will focus on a specific question; should current owners of the EF 300mm f/2.8 IS L "upgrade" to the mark ii version?

The short answer is "no". But there are other reasons than "upgrading" to consider, and a special case for those who shoot film. So read on.

Picture Quality
Stunning. But not anymore than its predecessor. Frankly, you would be hard pressed to see the difference. It's there. And I know some tell-tale signs pixel peepers can look for. But no one can seriously argue that's its worth an upgrade for the picture IQ.

Autofocus speed
Same thing as before. I've seen claims the new lens is faster. Well, mine is not. Definitely not. I shoot a lot of tracking shots, and just as before I take 3 to make sure 1 is spot on. That's still pretty fast. And its quite impressive for all the glass that needs to move around - just not lightning fast.

Here you get a noticeable upgrade. At least one stop. Also it settles faster. There is a new setting type "3" mode IS, which I personally prefer for most sports type shots. But remember that if the shutter speed is high enough its even better to turn off the IS. Finally, its somewhat less noisy than the original, which could be an important reason for film makers to upgrade.

A slight advantage for the newer model. If I shot birds for a living maybe a consideration. But then I would certainly go with a 400mm - so not sure how important this is (YMMV). I do not use 2.0x so no comments on that except to note that several reviews mention the mark ii as a slight upgrade.

Handling & design
This is where I feel I got the most from the upgrade. Its only a little lighter, but its just that much lighter to make a difference when you are hauling it for several hours. Also, the recessed buttons are so much better. I hated it when the old ones got pushed accidentally - and it happened too often to me. The new focus function is highly useful for filming. Pre-focussing is the same, and I'm personally not a big fan of Canon's implementation now or then. I disliked the new foot design when I first used the 200mm f/2.0 IS L ii, but on the EF 300mm f/2.8 IS L ii it feels "right" because I always use it with the foot on. I also use the 90 degree clicks to position the lens, a nice, practical design detail. The hood is slightly different and handles better, but there still that awful knob to contend with.

As an upgrade the better IS implementation and improved handling does not match the significant price differential between the original and the mark ii. At least not for photography. If using extenders is very important to you - than just maybe. Maybe. However, if you're shooting film - go for it if you can.

The market place seems to confirm this answer. Judging from review counts on the net and the flickr pool for this lens not that many EF 300mm f/2.8 IS L ii's are flying off the shelves. I also seldom see any of these in the wild - not even at sports events. Probably a side effect of the brutal cost cuts in the traditional news industry.

But there is more to the story. The original EF 300mm f/2.8 IS L is getting older every day. Some are still relatively new, but a lot are getting ready for their 10.th anniversary. With the very good used prices you can still get for your original lens and factoring in the cost of one major repair such as the IS will bridge a lot of the gap. In addition one day Canon will not repair these anymore - just ask 200L IS L f/1.8 owners about that sad scenario. And you get a short but welcome guarantee period that could be useful.

Remember that not even Canon lenses last forever. And IS lenses simply tend to fail more than non-IS lenses.

There is still some time for current owners to enjoy their original lens. Just remember to check the market place so you are not caught off guard and miss the boat when used prices begin to drop faster. If Sigma pulls off a great 300mm f/2.8 OS with three years warranty as they have just announced - that could hurt the old used lens prices a lot.

It looses overall for missing out on value. Purely optically its still a winner for sure.

Accessories I Recommend:

Don Zecklens Cap
Black Rapid shoulder strap or similar

Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM

Review Date: Jan 8, 2010 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

Pros: colors, fast focus, build, bokeh,

This lens delivers wonderful results. It is the perfect standard lens for a crop camera and it creates beautiful pictures on FF.

The bokeh is great, it's truely razor sharp from f/1.8 and only marginally soft wide open. It's focus is soundless and lightning fast.

I shoot mainly portraits with the 35L wide open and at f/1.6.and people are really impressed. Have also had many pictures published in all kinds of media from book covers over newspapers to TV with this lens.

Did I mention that the colors are deep and saturated too?

It can go close and take pictures at available light from amazing perspectives. For indoor use is shines at taking pictures of family and friends with both crop and FF.

Of all my lenses it is the one I will always bring along - and the one I use the most. It's worth every cent you pay for it.

It may show some CA, PF etc. wide open as others have mentioned, but so does the 50L, 85L and the 135L (a sacrifice made to improve the bokeh). For this reason I often tend to shoot @ f/1.6 for just a little better colors and contrast.

The 35mm 2.0 is a close as Pluto when it comes to functionality and image IQ.

Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM

Review Date: Aug 29, 2009 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

Pros: Cheap, light (comparably), durable, fast focus, very sharp, great colors, built-in hood, tripod mount included.
No IS, f/5.6 is slow if you like to shoot hand held.

For pure optical performance it does not get better than this.

If you are looking for the best 400mm on a budget or for a light weight alternative to the 400L f/2.8 this is the lens to get. No compromises in sharpness, color or clarity. It is an amazing lens for its price point.

The downside is no IS, no zoom and f/5.6. Thus there is a very real difference shooting with the 2.8 and the 5.6, just as you will not get the flexibility of a zoom like the 100-400mm, which is also excellent lens and comes with IS.

Canon has so many great choices for 400mm. Use the one that fits your situation the best.

(Remember to check your lens for front/back focus, my sample needed -8 to be on spot with my 5Dii. It makes a visible difference even @ f/5.6.)