The Sleeping Giant's Sea Lion

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I got my first DSLR about a week ago (600d) + af-s 18-135mm kit lens, but I want another lens with greater focal length. So I thought about this lens:

CANON 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM

  1. How does it compare with my current lens? Will I see any improvements on image quality?
  2. The price in stores around me is 570$. Is that cheap?
  3. How does this lens perform for wildlife photography?
  4. Should I get the 75-300mm instead? They are the same price.
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possible duplicate of Should a telephoto zoom be my next lens after the kit lens? –  mattdm Oct 16 '12 at 17:36
1  
IMHO, that is not a duplicate. This one asks specifically for wildlife and the other question is kind of vague. –  Itai Oct 16 '12 at 17:50
    
Maybe an edit to focus the title on this lens for wildlife? –  mattdm Oct 17 '12 at 3:43

3 Answers 3

I own that lens. It is, indeed, a solid performer at that range for the money it commands. You'll find a lot of grey area when evaluating whether it's the right next lens for you, but I'd certainly encourage you to stay away from the 75-300; it's just not a good performer when stacked up against low/mid-range lenses like the 55-250 or 70-300.

You may find this lens to be "ok" for wildlife, but it's pretty likely you'll be wishing for even higher quality if you do any serious wildlife photography. Unfortunately, just as with sports / action photography, high-end glass pays serious dividends in wildlife photography. There are a number of alternatives that offer either higher quality or better reach than this lens does, but as you go down the list, you'll start to see that the 70-300, while not the sharpest or the longest, is a pretty decent compromise, and a fine value compared to some of these other kits:

  • 70-200 f/4 -- comparable in price to the 70-300, but without IS. Widely considered to be a great value in the "L" lineup, with very good sharpness. Missing a fair bit of reach compared to the 70-300, though, and no IS (which is typically a big deal, but may not impact you quite as much for wildlife photography if you work to keep your shutter speed up).
  • 70-200 f/4 IS -- Adds IS, but you're approaching twice the price of the 70-300, and you're still missing 100mm of reach.
  • 70-200 f/2.8 + 1.4 or 2.0 TC -- The faster f/2.8 lens works better with a teleconverter (which gets your reach back), but obviously adds cost as well.
  • 70-200 f/2.8 IS + TC -- a nice, versatile kit, and a big hit to your wallet.
  • 100-400 f/4-5.6 -- popular among wildlife photographers. Not super-fast optically, but a very useful range. About 3x the price of the 70-300.
  • All the rest of the big Canon primes are also staples of pro wildlife photographers, but these lenses start to get really expensive.

At this point, you might begin to appreciate that (1) wildlife photography can get pricey in a hurry, and (2) the 70-300, even with its imperfections, is a pretty decent value lined up against some of these alternatives.

As is usually the case, your best bet is to lay your hands on a copy and take it for a spin, if at all possible. There's nothing like real-world usage to help you understand the performance envelope of a piece of equipment like this.

FWIW, here are a couple of photos from this lens. This first one is wide-open (f/5.6) at 300mm:

IMG_8298

Sharpness is fair at best here. Bokeh is ok, but nowhere near the creamy results you'd expect from better lenses. Next, here's one stopped to f/6.3 at 190mm. Since this lens isn't super-fast optically, I'm not above using a bit of fill flash to help out a shot like this:

Below the dam

Sharpness is better when the lens is stopped down a bit, but not "L" sharp, of course. Finally, an action shot (although not wildlife) shows good autofocus performance, provided you've got sufficient light. This lens will focus-hunt when light is dim. This shot is 170mm at f/6.3.

Brembo

For carrying, by the way, I use the Lowepro Lens Case 2S, which fits the lens & hood (reversed) very well.

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ok thank you very much. im going to austria in less than a month so if it will be any cheaper than in my country ill get it. thanks again to all of you! –  user13074 Oct 17 '12 at 15:30
    
If you're going to compare with 70-200s, especially with TCs I'd add in the 70-300L, which is pretty similar to 70-200 f/4 + 1.4TC (without the need to add/remove TC). –  drfrogsplat Oct 18 '12 at 6:16
    
Good point. The 70-300L doesn't seem to be as popular as the 70-200 cousins, but it's another good lens to consider on that price/performance scale. –  D. Lambert Oct 18 '12 at 14:31

Despite being as cheap at it is and variable aperture, the Canon 70-300mm F/4-5.6 IS USM is a pretty good lens between 70 and 200mm. It is quite sharp at those focal-lengths.

It shows virtually no vignetting and very little distortion. From 250 to 300mm it is rather soft and no amount of stopping down will help you unfortunately.

Since you intend to shoot wildlife, you will certainly want to shoot long, so you should consider the L version instead which is sharper at the long end and particularly so stopped down to F/8 or so.

Keep in mind that neither of these lenses is fast and if you shoot wildlife in action or in low-light as is often the case on Safari, you will get blur from your subject's motion. For one-off events, you may consider renting since fast & long lenses are very expensive.

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thank you for your replay. i think im gonna use this lens at bright days.. and if im going to a safari or even in a trip to africa i want to shoot with these settings: iso 400, shutter speed 1/1500 and about the lowest aperture. im using this setting outside of my house and very pleased with the results. so i guess this lens will work for me? I dont havy the money for an L lens (im only 16) but i want to get some decent results. –  user13074 Oct 16 '12 at 18:23
    
Guess I have to say good enough for what you can afford. On Safari a lot of action happens in low-light, so that one won't cut it. If you are shooting ISO 400 then there is no way you will get an exposed image at 1/1500s under such conditions. However, ob bright days, there wont be much problem. Just stop down a bit to get maximum sharpness at the long end of the zoom. –  Itai Oct 16 '12 at 18:42
    
ok. thank you very much both of you. just one more question: will it fit in my bag? i have a lowerpro toploader zoom 50 aw.. currently my 18-135 + 600d body just fit well, but i dont know how long this lens is. so will i need to get another bag? –  user13074 Oct 16 '12 at 19:13
1  
Sorry this time, I am not sure. I think you need the Topload Zoom 65 for that lens and camera. In any case, a camera bag should not prevent you from getting the lens you need :) –  Itai Oct 17 '12 at 2:08

I used to own the non-IS version of this lens, got it as part of a kit with the EOS 350D! Although it did me fine in the early days of getting into DSLR photography, it never really lived up to my expectations as regards to IQ. I figured maybe it was down to the older technology of the 350D, with it's 8mp sensor and not very good AF system, but when I eventually upgraded my camera to the 7D, I noticed no improvement in the image quality from the 70-300. Images were the same as before with regards to softness, etc.

Eventually I got rid of the 70-300 and replaced it with the EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS USM, and IMMEDIATELY noticed a huge difference. The two are worlds apart.

It's so versatile from wildlife, to aviation, to lunar photography. It also makes for an interesting portrait lens believe it or not (as long as you can get far enough back).

If you can save a little longer, I'd really recommend trying to pick one of these up. I can't recommend it enough.

In the interests of fairness I should point out some potential pitfalls of it though. The main one is the slow f/4.5-5.6 aperture, which, in low light, may mean shutter speeds sufficiently slow to introduce blur. The other thing is the push-pull zoom mechanism which is different to any other lens I've used. But this is a minor issue and you get used to it very quickly.

Have a look on eBay - that's where I got mine second hand - and at a bargain price too (£820)...

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