The Canon 70-300 f/4-f/5.6 lens is the first "quality" lens I've owned, if you define quality as "a lens that costs about as much as a cheap DSLR." Actually, this lens currently retails for about $550 at B&H, so as far as the higher end Canon lenses go it isn't too bad.
This is the latest version of the 70-300 IS, with 2 modes of Image Stabilization. Mode 1 operates in all directions, and is designed to be used while shooting stationary objects in low light. Canon claims that its good for about 3 stops- I don't know if that's the case, but the results are obvious even on the screen of my 20d.
Mode 2 is used for action shots, the stabilization operates horizontally and is designed to be used while panning. This gives the object being "followed" greater clarity.
The first thing I noticed when I got the box is that it is heavy; 1.4 pounds (640 grams) is more than you might think, particularly when its attached to the already weighty 20d. It is manageable, however.
Here's how it looks with the zoom rolled all the way back at 6.5 inches . The specs say 5.6 (14.3cm), but I measured it at a bit longer than that.
Fully extended the lens measures 8.8 inches. That's pretty big.
Hoods and Filters
The recommended lens hood is the ET-65B.
However, with the ET-65B attached the lens can come in at almost a foot long. That's exceedingly clumsy, not to say conspicous.
Additionally, the lens hood, though it has a lovely bayonet attachment system, is ridiculously overpriced. It's risibly flimsy, and huge- very much a case of overkill. To my mind you can spend your $50 elsewhere; I returned it to B&H that day (what a joy these people are to shop with) and traded it for 2 hood hats, a generic rubber hood (pictured) and a very nice tripod carrying case. That's a lot for just one hood.
The filter size is 58mm. that's a nice standard, and a lot of the filters I aleady have will work with it.
Image Stabilization, at least in Mode 1 (stationary objects) really works. Take a look at this shot, taken without the image stabilizer engaged.
It's pretty soft, at 300mm you need to be rock steady, and just looking through the viewfinder can make you a bit seasick- the "view" bounces around quite a bit.
Now here is the same shot with the stabilizer engaged.
The difference is extraordinary. It was obvious even when reviewing the shots in camera, but blown up the improvement is even more obvious.
IS mode 2 is a little more iffy. Or it could be that I'm not the best judge of it. I do almost zero action or sports shots, so I'm not too proficient with panning, nor am I experienced with what's really good or bad stability in this situation, but here is a panning photo for those who are a bit more knowledgable than me to evaluate.
For 1/40th of a second on a rapidly moving target, it doesn't look too bad to me. Then again, it's not up to the level of Bodwik & Company's motocross shots, but that's likely more to do with the photographer than the lens in this case.
A 70-300 zoom range is pretty nice. I would prefer a little more on the wide end, but for less than $600, I can't really complain. Here's an example of the extreme wide and tele ends, taken about a mile away from the Goldman-Sachs tower in Jersey City.
70mm (effectively 112mm)
300mm (effectively 480mm)
On a full frame this range would be really nice.
Color and Light properties
The lens has a nice look to it, with pleasing colors and good "natural" sharpness. I didn't see any vignetting at all, but then again, I'm using it with an APS sized sensor. Here's a "warm" shot of City Hall.
I can't describe this quantitatively, but I like the representation of the green here better than I do with, say, my 17-55 kit lens. It's on par with my 300mm Orestegor, but the lens doesn't weigh 15 lbs.
Here's another one, maxed out at the long end of the zoom.
Very crisp as well, you even get good detail inside the windows.
The lens has eight aperture blades, a decent amount, so the bokeh is pretty nice.
Granted, it's widest aperture is only f4.