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The 300mm Lens Shootout – Canon Lens Wars Episode 19

By Pye Jirsa on February 17th 2014

Canon 300mm Lenses Thumbnail

Welcome to our final video in the Canon Lens Wars series. This is the 300mm lens wars, and we have 4 lenses that we will be comparing:

For those who are new to the SLR Lounge Canon Lens Wars series, be sure to check out the Lens Wars Teaser video, where we introduce the series and our testing methodology as well as all the other videos on each focal length.

Watch the 300mm Canon Lens Wars Conclusion Video

Equipment Used in Canon 300mm Comparisons

Canon 300mm Lenses Tested

Bokeh Comparison of 300mm Canon Lenses at Wide Open Aperture

Let’s start from the top with their aesthetic quality and sharpness at their respective Wide Open Apertures (WOA). Once again, this is a visual test of differences, not a technical test. So, we are trying to distinguish differences in appearance while viewing images full screen on a Dell U2713HM 27″ IPS monitor.

Canon 300mm f/2.8L II at f/2.8

Canon 300mm f/2.8L II at f/2.8

Canon 300mm f/4L at f/4

Canon 300mm f/4L at f/4

Canon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6L at f/5.6

Canon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6L at f/5.6

Canon 100-400mm f//4.5-5.6L at f/5.6

Canon 100-400mm f//4.5-5.6L at f/5.6

The funny thing about this focal length was that I think I had the toughest time trying to differentiate the images between these 4 lenses. It took several rounds of flipping through the images before I was able to really tell apart the Canon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6L and the Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L as I noticed they had slightly smaller and less defined bokeh as their WOA was at f/5.6.

WOA bokeh Canon 28-300mm f3.5-5.6L 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L

But trying to visually distinguish the 300mm f/4L from the 300mm f/2.8L II was almost impossible. The only thing that gave it away was that the bokeh appeared a bit more smooth, and the color and contrast rendered slightly better on the 300mm f/2.8 than it did on the 300mm f/4.

WOA bokeh Canon 300mm f2.8L 300mm f4L
But aside from that, these 4 images looked pretty similar to each other.

Sharpness Comparison of 300mm Canon Lenses at Wide Open Aperture

When I zoomed in, the difference in sharpness became much more noticeable. Around our model and her dress, I noticed that compared to the other lenses, the 300mm f/2.8 at its WOA of f/2.8 was absolutely tack sharp!

The 300mm f/4 was the next most sharp, but it was significantly less sharp than the 300mm f/2.8.

WOA sharpness Canon 300mm f2.8L 300mm f4L

As for our two zoom lenses, it was hard trying to figure out which was sharper between the 28-300mm and the 100-400mm, but one thing that is for sure is that both zoom lenses’ image are not as sharp than the 300mm prime lenses.

WOA sharpness Canon 28-300mm f3.5-5.6L 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L

Likewise, even the edge sharpness on the300mm f/2.8 was absolutely incredible compared to the other 3 lenses. Then again, you are talking about a lens that is approaching $7000 dollars, so it better be sharp everywhere!

WOA edge sharpness Canon 300mm f2.8L 300mm f4L

WOA edge sharpness Canon 28-300mm f3.5-5.6L 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L

Bokeh Comparison of 300mm Canon Lenses at Widest Common Aperture

At their Widest Common Aperture (WCA) of f/5.6, visual differences in bokeh dropped away for the most part. As you can see from the set of image below, it is hard to distinguish which lens has the best bokeh.

WCA bokeh Canon 28-300mm f3.5-5.6L 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L

WCA bokeh Canon 300mm f2.8L 300mm f4L

For the most part, the aesthetic quality of the bokeh for all 4 lenses was equalized at and beyond f/5.6

Vignetting Comparison of 300mm Canon Lenses at Widest Common Aperture

In addition, because the 28-300mm’s widest open aperture at the 300mm focal length is also at f/5.6, it exhibits some lens vignetting that actually suited our image.

Vignetting at f/5.6 - Canon 28-300mm f3.5-5.6L

Vignetting at f/5.6 – Canon 28-300mm f3.5-5.6L

Still, it was significant vignetting compared to the other lenses, including the 100-400mm whose WOA is also at f/5.6.

Vignetting at f/5.6 - Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L

Vignetting at f/5.6 – Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L

The 300mm f/4 and 300mm f/2.8 had pretty much no vignetting at 5.6.

Vignetting at f/5.6  - Canon 300mm f4L

Vignetting at f/5.6 – Canon 300mm f4L

Vignetting at f/5.6 - Canon 300mm f2.8L II

Vignetting at f/5.6 – Canon 300mm f2.8L II

Overall Sharpness at Widest Common Aperture

Finally, looking at the images at full screen at f/5.6, although their sharpness quality is fairly similar to each other, the 300mm f/2.8 was still noticeably sharper.

Canon 300mm f/2.8L II at f/5.6

Canon 300mm f/2.8L II at f/5.6

Canon 300mm f/4L at f/5.6

Canon 300mm f/4L at f/5.6

Canon 100-400mm f//4.5-5.6L at f/5.6

Canon 100-400mm f//4.5-5.6L at f/5.6

Canon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6L at f/5.6

Canon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6L at f/5.6

Lens Recommendation

The High End 300mm Prime Lens with a High End Price Tag

Canon 300mm f2.8L II For overall image quality, aesthetics and performance, the Canon 300mm f/2.8L II was obviously the clear winner.

But it also costs a staggering $6,769, so your wallet is not the clear winner! That is 2.5 times more than the 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6L, which is the next most expensive lens in this line up.

Compared to the 300mm f/4L, you are paying $5,000 more with the 300mm f/2.8 in order to gain a single stop more light and a bit better image quality.

So just like the similarly expensive Canon 200mm f/2L, once again we have another highly specialized lens that is also large and in charge. You will also need a monopod in order to keep this lens stable.

Also like the 200mm f/2, I can really only see this lens as being a justifiable purchase if that extra stop of light is required for very specific shooting situations like sports photography or wildlife photography.

The Best Value in 300mm Telephoto Prime

Canon 300mm f4L Now, for $1,449, you can get the Canon 300mm f/4L with Image Stabilization, which will give you that 300mm focal length and pretty good low light performance.

It’s visual and aesthetic performance was very similar to the 300mm f/2.8. In fact, I would say that you will get 90 or 95% of the 300mm f/2.8’s performance for a much lower cost!

This makes it probably the best deal in the 300mm lineup in terms of overall image quality, aesthetic quality, and performance and this is the one in the group I would recommend.

The Zoom Lenses

Canon 28-300 f3.5-5.6L The Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L and the Canon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6L are both good lenses at the 300mm focal length.

But their real advantage is in their versatility, not in their image quality. Compared to the 300mm primes, these two zoom lenses are not as sharp and they do not offer the same aesthetic quality of the bokeh.

Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L Additionally, with a maximum WOA of only f/5.6, they allow in 1 stop less light than the 300mm f/4.

They aren’t necessarily inexpensive either as the 28-300mm will set you back $2,689 and the 100-400mm will set you back $1,699 dollars.

So, you have to decide if the convenience of having less lenses is worth the overall reduction in performance.

Conclusion

We have one final note on these lenses. All four lenses do posses Image Stabilization, which is definitely needed when shooting at the 300mm focal length.

I hope you enjoyed this conclusion to the 300mm focal range in the SLR Lounge Canon Lens Wars series, be sure to check out the the rest of the Canon Lens Wars series.

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About

Founding Partner of Lin and Jirsa Photography and SLR Lounge.

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Q&A Discussions

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  1. Joe Marshall

    I would love to see a canon lens wars comparing the 70-200 2.8 with extender to some of these lenses- many of us already own this lens, and if it compared well with the 300 f4 (which I doubt it could be that close) That would be wonderful to know, and worth the investment in the extender (1.4 or 2x)

    Don’t know till you test it!

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  2. John

    I wonder why you guys kept leaving out the excellent 70-300 IS L lens. I have had persistently high keep rate of photos from this lens than my 70-200 2.8 ii. I ended up selling the 70-200 and keep the 70-300 L.

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