Simple question: Which lens is better?

The L Series (non-IS) Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM or the Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM?

I am an enthusiast and usually shoot landscape, my kids playing indoors and out, some people and architecture.

Already have the Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS that came with my 60D but also purchased the Canon EF 50mm f1.4 USM Lens only because I like this focal length and the speed of this lens.

I am not thrilled with the budget EF-S 18-135mm and need something that is better quality and has more reach. Eventually I would also like to get a better wide angle and get rid of the kit lens all together but that will be in next year's budget. For now I am deciding between the two above. I am leaning towards the L-series lens but cannot afford the IS in this class. The Canon EF 70-300mm comes with IS. Is the IS on the L series really that important?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Glad to see your question, I am contemplating the same. \$\endgroup\$
    – fmark
    Commented Jun 20, 2011 at 3:46

3 Answers 3


I tried both, and purchased the L lens. One thing to note, is that the IS USM lens is 5.6 at 300mm, and something between at 200mm (don't recall exactly). The L is f4 at 200, always. As you probably have discovered, both lenses are quite close in price.

True, the IS USM is 300mm, and it is IS. IS is nice when trying to shoot at 300mm and handheld, especially when you do not have a tripod and especially when your shutter speed is near 1/300 or lower. So, if you expect to find yourself in these situations often, then perhaps you should lean in this direction.

However, the L lens is brighter, focuses impossibly fast, has manual focus override, and it zooms internally, so it stays the same size always, never extending. But, even with all that, the difference in sharpness and clarity are simply amazing, and still, after thousands of shots and 3 years, bring a smile to my face, and causes giddy pixel peeping every time.

The 70-200 f4 L lens, is, in my opinion, the best bargain among the L lineup, and just maybe the entire Canon lens list. I can highly recommend this lens, and unless you absolutely must have 300mm, you should purchase this lens.

To see these differences in clarity and sharpness, be sure to look at these comparisons that are available on the-digital-picture.com. Compare the images at 70 and at 200mm.

On the other hand, there is a 70-300 f4 L lens available, but its just a tad more expensive (!)

  • \$\begingroup\$ I really wish you could favourite answers. I like your review of the L lens. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 2, 2011 at 14:41
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Also, the front element of the 70-300 rotates while focusing. If you are using a polarizer you will need to adjust the polarizer's rotation after every non-trivial focus. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tristan
    Commented May 2, 2011 at 23:39

True, the 70-200 f/4.0 L is probably one of the best lenses in any respect available for canon. In fact, the IS version is even a tad better, but this shouldn't be of concern here since this is not part of your question.

If this is really your only option then I'd rather go for the 70-200 than the 70-300 since it is better build, has better image quality, is sharper and faster. I worked with both lenses and they are not really the same league.

But strangely enough I've stumbled upon an article recently that changed by mind completely towards telephoto. Since then I am regretting my recent bought of the 70-200 f1/4 IS. But maybe thats just me.

Anyway, read the following article before you decide: Why Telephoto is for Cowards

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks. Kind of what I needed to hear. Am leaning towards the "L" but it is re-assuring to hear something like "not in the same league" Interesting article. My candits are at the bottom of my list and those I do are of my family. Don't think i will be putting a portfolio for Magnum anytime soon but I very much agreed with most points. As for me, I rather like the telephoto "perspective compression". \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 2, 2011 at 14:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ The link you posted is broken, any other way to read it? \$\endgroup\$
    – MACC
    Commented Sep 28, 2022 at 13:08

You asked a "simple question", which lens is better. The 70-200mm f/4 is better. The 70-300mm provides more for the money, but the 70-200 is optically better.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.