The Canon 300mm f/2.8 L IS II USM is the absolute best performer in the Canon telephoto lens lineup when it comes to autofocus speed and sharpness. Note that this review reflects my opinion, based on my own experience. Follow me on the bird photography blog to discover my field and image processing tips. The Canon 300mm f/2.8 L IS II USM might not be the work horse lens for a serious bird photographer at first glance, but its superb performance with both 1.4x and 2.0x extenders is a hard fact to consider. While it is my go to lens for the Alaska Bald Eagle photography tour thanks to its wider aperture at 2.8, there are many other options that cover the same bases… One might look at the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 IS II USM or at the Canon EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II USM as other heavy weight contenders.
Take a peek at where this lens falls in the Canon L series lens lineup:
|Lens||Weight||Min. focus distance||Magnification||Dimensions w/o hood||Filter||Year|
|Canon 300mm f/2.8 L IS II||5.19 lbs (2.35kg)||6.56 ft (2m)||0.18x||5.0×9.8″ (128x248mm)||52mm drop-in||2010|
|Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS II||3.62 lbs (1.64kg)||3.2 ft (0.98m)||0.31x||3.7×7.6″ (94x193mm)||77mm||2015|
|Canon 400mm f/5.6 L IS||2.76 lbs (1.25kg)||11.48 ft (3.5m)||0.12x||3.5×10.1″ (90x257mm)||77mm||1993|
|Canon 400mm f/4 L DO IS II||4.28 lbs (1.94kg)||11.48 ft (3.5m)||0.12x||5.0×9.2″ (128×232.7mm)||52mm drop-in||2001|
|Canon 400mm f/2.8 L IS II||8.49 lbs (3.85kg)||8.86 ft (2.7m)||0.17x||6.4×13.5″ (163x343mm)||52mm drop-in||2011|
|Canon 500mm f/4 L IS II||7.04 lbs (3.19kg)||12.14 ft (3.7m)||0.15x||5.7×15.1″ (146x383mm)||52mm drop-in||2012|
|Canon 600mm f/4 L IS II||8.65 lbs (3.92kg)||14.77 ft (4.5m)||0.15x||6.6×17.6″ (168x448mm)||52mm drop-in||2012|
|Canon 800mm f/5.6 L IS||9.86 lbs (4.47kg)||19.68 ft (6m)||0.12x||6.4×18.1″ (163x461mm)||52mm drop-in||2008|
The Canon 300mm f/2.8 L IS II USM Image Stabilizer
The Canon 300mm f/2.8 L IS II USM is equipped with the second generation Image Stabilizer, which gives a gain of 4 f-stops when hand holding. This gives a chance at short hand holding this long lens with good results. The big talk is around the introduction of a 3rd Image Stabilizer mode. Mode 1 helps with both horizontal and vertical stabilization, while mode 2 helps with panning by automatically picking horizontal or vertical stabilization based on the panning direction, and in mode 3 the image stabilization starts only when the shutter is released. The latter mode helps with keeping track of subjects with erratic movements by not applying stabilization during the tracking itself: a very useful mode for birds in flight! Also, the lens automatically senses when being used with a sturdy tripod and disengages the stabilization for shutter speeds longer than 1 second.
The Canon 300mm f/2.8 IS II Autofocus and Sharpness
The Canon 300mm f/2.8 L IS II USM has a state of the art built, as one would expect for a lens of this category. Most importantly, the Canon 300mm f/2.8 L IS II USM is the fastest focusing lens. Sharpness has even been improved over the previous generation, making this lens the sharpest of the Canon Lineup. This best in class prime lens still focuses extremely fast with a 1.4x extender and a 2.0 extender when coupled with a 1d body. There is a slightly perceptible slowing down with the 2.0x extender when coupled with a body that does not use the higher power batteries of the 1d bodies. This opens the door to a few very interesting comparisons versus other longer lenses.
Canon 300mm f/2.8 II versus Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 IS II
The Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS II USM is certainly a superb lens. While being 1.57 lbs lighter than the Canon 300mm f/2.8 IS II, the latter remains easy to handhold even with extenders so that it is not a major disadvantage. In short, the Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 IS II is cheaper, lighter and more flexible of use thanks to the zoom. However, the Canon 300mm f/2.8 IS II focuses faster, has a larger aperture and is sharper. I would go for the Canon 300mm f/2.8 IS II 80% of the time if I were given the choice.
Canon 300mm f/2.8 II versus Canon 400mm f/4 DO IS II
Here, we are comparing lenses of the same price category, which makes for a much tighter comparison. The Canon 400mm f/4 DO IS II focuses nearly as fast and is nearly as sharp, with the advantage of being almost 1 pound lighter (it feels even lighter as there more weight in the rear of the lens) and it can reach 800mm with a 2.0x extender for very close results in image quality than the Canon 300mm f/2.8 IS II with the 2.0x extender.
Thick lines are for contrast and thin lines are for resolution. Black lines are for aperture wide open and blue lines for f/8. And yes, both lenses perform very close to one another with extenders! It really comes down to your use for the lens. While shooting in Alaska, where it is often overcast, I would prefer to use the Canon 300mm f/2.8 IS II. That being said, if I did not own a 600mm, I would be very tempted to buy the Canon 400mm f4 DO IS II as it is easy to handhold and performs very well with a 2.0x extender, making it the lightest 800mm effective reach out there.
Sample images with the Canon EF 300mm f/2.8 IS II USM
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