Last week I borrowed the Canon 70-300L lens from Canon Professional Services and I will share my experience using this lens. It was used for today’s image.

I own the Canon 70-200mm 2.8 II lens. It’s an amazing, beast of a lens. It can’t be beat for low light events or portraits and it works great for landscapes and can be put into service for wildlife with extenders. But recently I’ve been leaving it at home when I shoot in Chicago. It is big, heavy, and cumbersome. Since I’ve been spending most of my time shooting Chicago and the surrounding area, I have considered selling the 70-200 2.8 for a lighter lens.The 70-300L seemed to be the answer, so I decided to take it for a test drive.

The 70-300L is as sharp as my 70-200, which means that it is as sharp as any zoom lens that Canon makes. But it is a 5.6 lens at 300mm, so this is not the best choice for someone that shoots handheld in low light or that needs an extremely shallow depth of field. But for a landscape and city shooter, this lens is a dream.

My favorite thing about this lens is that when it’s not extended it’s just a little longer than the 24-105mm. It fits in my backpack on it’s end. I don’t need to lay it on its side. It fits in the bottom of my sling bag. At one point I freaked because I thought it had fallen out. It turned out it was in the bottom of the bag, but because it was so light I thought is must have been missing.

I used the lens for most of my shots at the Milwaukee Museum of Art. 70-300mm is a huge range that covers everything that you need on the telephoto end unless you’re photographing wildlife often.

I also used the 70-300L to shoot some portraits of the kids. Although it is a relatively slow lens, it does great when paired with a flash. I used the 70-300L with a bounced flash for this shot of my son. It is as sharp as the 70-200 in this situation. Of course it will not blur the background as well as the f/2.8 lens, but you can work around that by putting your background further behind your subject.

I brought the 70-300L with me to the Shedd Aquarium hoping to get some shots in the Oceanarium show. The show is not well lit so the lens struggled to get a sharp shot even at ISO 6400. The 70-200 2.8 would have done a better job, but I can guarantee you that I would not have lugged that thing around the Shedd for a family outing.

The 70-300L was the ideal lens for my next family trip, which was to the botanic garden. It fit easily in the diaper bag. It was a great lens for capturing my daughter running around in the snow. And it even worked well in the greenhouses for flower photography.

The biggest complaint that I read for this lens was that the zoom and focus rings are switched from the typical Canon setup. I didn’t find this to be a problem. I was surprised how quickly I got used to it. And it seemed to make more sense when shooting on a tripod. When trying to carefully adjust focus in live view it was nice to have the focus ring right next to the camera.

The other common complaint is that this lens does not come with the tripod collar. So I shot it all week without a collar. The only time I found this to be a problem was when I was shooting at 300mm in gusting winds. I could see the image shake in live view. If I were to buy the 70-300L I would buy the tripod collar to go along with it. But it sure was nice to not need to use the tripod collar. When switching between my 17-40 and 70-200 I need take the camera off of the tripod, change lenses and then put the lens on the tripod. This ritual has become a huge pain and has caused me to miss too many shots in the past year.

Canon teleconverters are not compatible with the 70-300L, but I tried my Kenko 2X extender and it worked well. I was able to get reasonably sharp images at 600mm. The image quality was good enough that I would use this when I needed to have 600mm.

The bottom line on the 70-300L is that I am seriously considering selling my 70-200 to buy this 70-300L lens. From what I can tell there are two groups of people. There are those that do not like this lens and have never used it and there are those that have used it. Every person that I know that has actually used the 70-300L, loves it. You can add me to that list.


Why you should buy the 70-300L

  • Small compact size-very easy to pack and shoot
  • Sharp at all focal lengths
  • Handles lens flare very well. This is important if you are doing night photography in the city
  • Fast autofocus and excellent image stabilization


Why you should avoid the 70-300L

  • f/5.6 at 300mm – This will not work for indoor shooting without a flash
  • Get the 100-400mm if you’re shooting wildlife for the longer focal length
  • The 70-300L does not work with Canon extenders


If you’re shooting mostly outside or on a tripod, this is the lens to get. If you need to shoot in low light without a tripod, you should look elsewhere.

It was very sad sending the 70-300 lens back to Canon. So I have a decision to make. And I think that I may sell the 70-200mm.


Update: I did sell my 70-200 and I am now the proud owner of the 70-300L. I am loving this lens for everything from portraits to travel to architecture. I’m looking forward to using it for some soccer games and wildlife too. This lens is suh-weet!

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When I’m not staying up all night figuring out the details of our next Out of Chicago Conference, you’ll find me at the park with our son and daughter, playing my guitar, out on the golf course, or following my favorite (Detroit) sports teams. I love Chicago, but I’ll always root for my Tigers, Red Wings, Lions, Michigan sports, and Pistons.

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  • thanks for the review, Chris. I’m seriously considering getting this lens, along with the Kenko 1.4X TC. I’d like to shoot some wildlife/birds/air shows, that sort of thing. I’m torn between the 70-300L and the 100-400L. It sounds like the 70-300L is the better lens in all ways except for the long-end focal length. As long as I can autofocus at maximum aperture at 300 on the 70-300, I think I’m going with this combination. I’m curious–were you able to autofocus with the 2x extender you were using? Thank you.

    • Thanks, Don. With the 2X teleconverter that I have, the Kenko MC4 it tries to focus, but it almost never catches focus. You would never want to use this with wildlife or air shows. It works well with the Kenko 1.4x. But I think if you’re shooting the things you mention, the 100-400mm is still the better lens for you.