Review: Canon Telephoto EF 300mm f/4.0L IS Lens

Jay and I wanted to be able to photograph the wildlife in Glacier National Park – but our lens collection is geared towards wide-angle landscapes and macro photography. For shooting wildlife – especially when you can’t (or don’t want to) get too close to your subject – you want to have a long lens. But lenses are expensive – so rather than purchasing one we won’t use regularly, we rented a Canon 300mm f/4.0 from Of course, we didn’t think about renting a lens until the last minute (go figure), so we weren’t sure they could get it to us on time. We emailed to find out if they could do it, and they assured us they could. We put in the order Monday afternoon, requested overnight shipping, and the lens arrived Tuesday afternoon… so it was packed and ready in plenty of time for our 4am departure Wednesday morning.

I have to say, we were really impressed with – the service was excellent, the website was clean and easy to navigate, and the ordering process was simple. The lens was clean and in perfect condition when it arrived. And perhaps most importantly, their prices are more than reasonable. You can expect to pay extra for overnight shipping, of course – but they ship two-day standard… so plan a little better than we did, and you won’t have to take on that extra expense.

So, I know what you’re thinking (because I’m a little bit psychic)… you’re wondering why we didn’t choose a longer lens… or a wider one… or a zoom. Actually, the 300mm f/4.0 is perfect for us. It’s small enough to fit neatly in our camera bag – 22.1 cm long (8.7 in) without the lens hood extended, and weighing in at 1.19 kg (2.62 lb). That’s important since we do a lot of hiking and we don’t want to be lugging around a huge lens everywhere we go. It’s also smaller and lighter than the f2.8 version. As for zoom capability – we just don’t need it. We can use the lens on a full frame body for a 300mm focal length, or put it on our 1.6 crop factor body for 480mm. If we need more length, we can add our 1.4x extension tube – for a total focal length equivalent to 672mm… and that’s more than enough for our needs. When we are on location, we don’t want to bring more than we need. The 300mm f/4.0 was just right.


All right – let’s get down to the good stuff. This is one gorgeous lens. It’s an L-series (L is for Luxury) lens with first generation Image Stabilization capability. It’s beautifully sharp and quick to focus… which is great when your subject isn’t likely to hold still for long. It also has an integrated lens hood – easy to store and no fumbling with the dang thing when you need it. It just slides right into position. Image stabilization has two modes – one for dual-axis camera-shake correction, and one that handles a single axis for use when panning. In the latter case, the lens will automatically determine your panning direction – pretty cool. Minimum focusing distance is 1.50 m (4.92 ft).

Take a look at this shot of a ground squirrel. (No – not that photo… that’s Jay. The one below!) It’s incredibly sharp, and the soft background is a testament to the beauty of shooting with a wide aperture. You can see that f/4.0 is wide enough to get that soft background, but we’re still getting enough depth of field to get the animal in sharp focus. I took this shot from about ten yards away – and cropped a bit to get the squirrel out of the center.

Glacier National Park - Montana, USA

And here’s a 100% crop to show you how much detail we are getting out of this lens… click to see it full size. Keep in mind that this is completely un-sharpened. (Image Specs: f/4.0, 1/400, ISO 200) The finished image above has been prepared for web viewing and sharpened accordingly.

Take a look at some of the other photos we took with this lens during the trip…
The Bighorn Sheep were gathered near the Logan Pass visitor center on our first evening in the park. (Image Specs: f/4.0, 1/80, ISO 400) Jay took this shot with a tripod – be sure to turn off the Image Stabilization if you are using an IS lens on a tripod.

A few minutes later, a family of Elk wandered into the area. Jay took a few photographs in the fading light. (Image Specs: f/4.0, 1/160, ISO 1600) Even at a high ISO, the photos look excellent!

You can get creative with this lens, too – it’s not just for wildlife portraits. While waiting for construction vehicles to move aside, we took a few photos of the wildflowers blooming on the mountainsides. (Image Specs: f/6.3, 1/800, ISO 200)

And last – but not least – here’s a shot that just makes me smile. (Image Specs: f/4.0, 1/400, ISO 100) Sometimes the wildlife ham it up for the camera.

Glacier National Park - Montana, USA

To sum it all up – this is a beauty of a lens. Relatively lightweight, great for wildlife and other creative shots, and so so sharp. What’s not to love? And once we were home, we packed the lens back up in the box it arrived in, slapped on the shipping label provided, and dropped it off at UPS for shipping. Now, I’m ready to rent a couple of tilt-shift lenses for Iceland! We’ll write up reviews for those when we return!

6 replies
  1. Ilija Veselica
    Ilija Veselica says:

    Hi, this article is nice but there’s one question for you… “be sure to turn off the Image Stabilization if you are using an IS lens on a tripod” – Why is it necessary to turn the IS off? Maybe it won’t help but I don’t see how it could hinder either.

    Thanks for the answer in advance.

    Kind regards,

    • Varina Patel
      Varina Patel says:

      Good question, Ilija! Sometimes, the Image stabilizer will actually add blur to an image if there is no camera shake to compensate for. The older, first-generation IS we’re sometimes a problem with that. It’s not such a problem with the newer generations. :)

  2. Jostein
    Jostein says:

    Im saving up for this lens as i think it would be great for surf photography where i normally shoot. Surfers are not too far away so i think 300 is “enough” even for my full frame 5dmkii. Would be helpful if you also wrote what camera you used (full frame/cropped)under the pictures above

    • Jay Patel
      Jay Patel says:

      Hi Jostein,

      We have two camera bodies that we switch lens on: Canon 7D and Canon 5D MKIII. The lens work equally well on both the camera. If we need the extra reach we would use the crop factor body. You can find out what camera was used by dragging the images on your desktop and looking at the EXIF information. Hope this helps.

    • Varina Patel
      Varina Patel says:

      You can certainly photograph landscapes with this lens, Meyer – but most landscape photographers prefer a wide-angle lens to capture broad vistas. This lens is designed to capture photos of subjects that are far away.


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