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Canon EF300mm f/2.8L IS USM review – Straight from the top drawer

By David Newton - Wednesday January 16 2013

Lens Review
Introduction | Canon EF300mm f/2.8L IS USM lens performance | Canon EF300mm f/2.8L IS USM versus competition | Conclusion

Canon EF300mm f/2.8L IS USM vs Canon EF300mm f/2.8L IS II USM vs Canon EF300mm f/4L IS USM all mounted on EOS 5D Mark II

With the introduction, in 2010, of the Mark II EF300mm f/2.8L IS USM, Canon created a problem – if you have the Mk I version of the lens, is it worth upgrading? Equally, if you are looking to buy should you pick up a cheaper Mk I or the more expensive Mk II? And finally, is f/2.8 really worth it when there is also the EF300mm f/4L IS USM lens available substantially cheaper? Putting them side-by-side on an EOS 5D Mark II, it is easy to see where the sensible money should be spent.

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Looking first at the overall score, it seems that price is an indicator of performance – the Mk II version scores 28.5 to the MkI’s 24.8 and the 300mm f/4L’s 17.2 – all three of which are very good scores. Equally, if we look at the P-Mpix scores, the EOS 5D Mark II has a nominal score of 21 P-Mpix. Using the EF300mm f/2.8L IS II USM, the score is 20.5P-Mpix so barely any reduction in quality, with the EF300mm f/2.8L IS USM it’s 17.2P-Mpix and with the EF300mm f/4L IS USM, it drops to 12.8 P-Mpix. Clearly, in terms of resolution, the two f/2.8 lenses win out.

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Looking at the field map, both f/2.8 lenses show exceptionally good resolution across the frame, with the Mk II version just beating it’s older sibling. With the aperture set to f/4, the EF300mm f/4L IS USM puts in a good performance, but it can’t match the two more expensive models. However, once the aperture is stopped down to f/5.6, the differences between the three lenses are less apparent. The EF300mm f/2.8L IS II USM is still the best, showing the best edge-to-edge resolution, however between the MkI lens and the f/4L version, there is little difference. Once the aperture closes down to f/11, the differences have all but gone, with all three lenses putting in equally good scores.

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It’s almost exactly the same story with the vignetting scores. The EF300mm f/2.8L IS II USM is the best of the trio, showing the least vignetting at both f/2.8 and f/4. Once again though, from f/5.6 all the way through to f/32, all three lenses show no vignetting at all.

As with the Mark I EF300mm f/2.8L IS USM, both the Mark II and the EF300mm f/4L IS USM show no chromatic aberration or distortion either.

In reality, both f/2.8 lenses are exceptional performers and the f/4 model is not that far behind given the price differential.

Canon EF300mm f/2.8L IS USM on EOS 7D vs Pentax smc DA Star 300mm f/4 ED (IF) SDM on Pentax K-5

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Attached to the APS-C sensored EOS 7D, the EF300mm f/2.8L IS USM once again puts in a strong performance, scoring a DxOMark score of 17, relative to the EOS 7D’s resolution of 18megapixels. Equally, the Pentax lens scores very well, managing 15 compared to the 16.3megapixels available on the K-5. Overall, this shows the EF300mm f/2.8L IS USM is as good as it’s made out to be, but in this comparison, the Pentax on a K-5 is not that far behind.