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Canon EF 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6L IS USM Lens Review

Canon EF 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6L IS USM Lens Review

The Canon EF 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6L IS USM Lens is the right choice for those times when you need a wide range of focal lengths but only one lens can go with you and both lens and image quality cannot be compromised. The 28-300 L is the best Canon do-everything-with-one-lens lens available.

I always recommend that you consider the focal lengths you need as the first criteria in selecting a lens. Aside from the ultra wide angle focal lengths, there are not many general purpose focal lengths missing in this super long 28-300mm range. And because of its super long focal length zoom range, the 28-300 L has a super long list of uses, including: landscapes, group pictures, portraits, outdoors sports, zoo animals (and shots of your kids while you are there), wildlife, flowers (.3x maximum magnification is great for a non-dedicated macro lens), sunsets … Carrying and changing between multiple lenses to get your shot is not necessary with this lens. And less dust on the sensor is a great side benefit to not changing lenses. The 28-300mm focal length range covers most of the most commonly used focal lengths in a single lens.

As this is a Canon L Series Lens, it should have no problem holding up to professional use. It is very solidly built. Moving parts have a high quality feel to them and the lens looks great. As it often is, weight is the downside to this build quality.

ModelWeightDimensions w/o HoodFilterYear Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM Lens33.5 oz(950g)3.3 x 4.9″(83 x 124mm)77mm2002 Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM Lens23.7 oz(670g)3.3 x 4.2″(83.5 x 107mm)77mm2005 Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM Lens19.1 oz(540g)3.1 x 3.8″(78 x 97mm)72mm1998 Canon EF 28-200mm f/3.5-5.6 USM Lens17.6 oz(500g)3.1 x 3.5″(78 x 90mm)72mm2000 Canon EF 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6L IS USM Lens59 oz(1670g)3.6 x 7.6″(92 x 194mm)77mm2004 Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0L IS USM Lens26.8 oz(760g)3 x 6.8″(76 x 172mm)67mm2006 Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM Lens51.9 oz(1470g)3.4 x 7.8″(86 x 197mm)77mm2001 Canon EF 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 DO IS USM Lens25.4 oz(720g)3.2 x 3.9″(82 x 100mm)58mm2004 Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM Lens48 oz(1360g)3.6 x 7.4″(92 x 189mm)77mm1998

At .6 lbs (0.20kg) heavier than a Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS Lens and .7 lbs (0.31kg) heavier than a Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS Lens, the Canon EF 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6L IS USM Lens reaches the heavyweight class in my personal opinion (3.7 lbs / 1.67kg). It is not huge in size, but definitely feels substantial in your hand.

Canon 28-300 Lens Size Comparison

Surrounding the 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM Lens above (center) is the 28-300 L retracted and zoom-extended out to 300mm.

As made obvious in the above picture, the Canon EF 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6L IS USM Lens is a push/pull zoom. I personally am not a big fan of this design. I find it hard to keep the lens stable and on my eye and on my subject as I push and pull. Loosening the zoom friction rings helps, but this allows the lens to extend and smack on the end of its travel when it is hanging. A big benefit to the push/pull design is that your supporting hand remains centered under the lens at all times. Some people love push/pull zoom, some don’t. You will need to make your own decision on this matter.

I did find the tension ring to work better on this lens than I did on the very similarly sized and designed Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS Lens. I found myself constantly adjusting the zoom tension on the 100-400 when manually focusing the lens. I am either getting better at it – or the 28-300 L has a better design. The longer I use the 28-300, the easier I find the push-pull zoom feature to use. So, practice helps with this design.

Another feature that Canon has gotten better at over the years is IS (Image Stabilization). It is an excellent feature that I am happy has found a home on the Canon EF 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6L IS USM Lens. Canon advertises being able to handhold at 3 f-stops less than with a non-IS lens. That is a really nice feature on a slower lens such as this. Mode 1 and 2 (panning mode) IS are available.

The IS version on this lens is tripod-sensing. The 28-300 L knows that a tripod is being used when vibrations go below a certain level. Keep IS turned on when mounting the 28-300 on a tripod to take advantage of this secondary IS mode – reducing mirror slap, shutter and tripod vibrations.

The Canon EF 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6L IS USM Lens is a variable maximum aperture zoom lens. Maximum aperture starts at f/3.5 at 28mm, narrows to f/4 near 50mm, to f/4.5 near 55mm, to f/5 around 70mm and finally to f/5.6 approximately 115mm. Slightly annoying to me is that AV and M modes gives two clicks for f/5 at 70mm. These maximum apertures indicate that the 28-300 L is not a “Fast” (wide aperture) lens. While IS helps greatly with motionless subjects, you will need a reasonable amount of light (or flash) to stop action with this lens.

With a wide open aperture, the Canon EF 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6L IS USM Lens shows good center sharpness throughout the entire focal length range. Wide open full frame sensor corners are quite sharp over most of the focal length range but become somewhat soft from 200 to 300mm. 1.6x APS-C sensor bodies will see similar corner performance. As usual, stopping the lens down about 1 stop from wide open improves overall sharpness a noticeable amount though 200 to 300mm corners remain the weakest at f/8. There are a lot of focal lengths to discuss here, so review the results in the ISO 12233 lens image quality comparison tool if you want to see the details. Overall, you can expect very good sharpness from this lens – excellent for the focal range it covers.

Not unusual for a super-zoom lens is distortion and distortion is indeed one of the 28-300 L’s weaknesses. Barrel distortion, at 28mm, is very strong. You can see how the image details of the top-most 28mm ISO 12233 chart sample are enlarged when you compare them to a distortion free lens or focal length (the 200mm f/2L IS USM Lens for example). Some barrel distortion remains at 35mm, but it is greatly reduced. Strong pincushion distortion is present over the rest of the focal length range. You will want to avoid straight lines (the horizon over the ocean, the sides of tall buildings …) appearing at the edges of a full frame image when using this lens.

The Canon EF 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6L IS USM Lens has CA (Chromatic Aberration) in the full frame corners from 28mm up to about 50mm and again at 300mm. Moderate vignetting is also apparent in this focal length range – widest (less than 35mm) and longest focal lengths are the worst. As usual, APS-C sensor bodies see no vignetting from the EF-mount (full frame) lens.

This is a super-zoom lens. Creating such a lens with perfect image quality in a package that is affordable and carryable by mortals is proven impossible as of this review date. If you want all of those focal lengths in one lens, you must accept a compromise. And as of this date, the 28-300 L is as good as it gets. And as good as it gets in this case is quite good.

One more as good as it gets feature in the 28-300 L is Canon’s Ring USM (Ultrasonic Motor) AF system. This lens internally focuses fast and quietly. Important to filter users is the non-rotating front element.

Along with many of Canon’s other L-Zooms, the 28-300 L has a 77mm filter size. Like many of the newer L-Zooms, the 28-300 IS is weather sealed. Unfortunately, and unlike most of Canon’s other white L-Zooms, the 28-300 IS is not compatible with the Canon EF 1.4x Extender or the Canon EF 2x Extender.

Well, not compatible according to Canon – and not fully compatible, but extenders can indeed be used with this lens as proven by the 420mm and 600mm ISO 12233 chart results for this lens. If the 28-300 L is zoomed out to 50mm or longer, the rear element retracts into the lens far enough for the Canon 1.4x and 2x extenders to physically mount onto the lens. Once installed, zooming in to 50mm will result in physical contact between the front of the extender (likely the rubber ring surrounding the glass lens element) and the rear element of the lens. You obviously want to avoid this.

You will also likely want to avoid the image quality that the 2x III extender combo delivers at 600mm. The results are not pretty. At 600mm, this is an f/11 max aperture lens that will not AF even on a 1-Series body (tried it – AF didn’t work). Better, but still not impressive are the results with the 1.4x III at 420mm where this is an f/8 max aperture lens. Autofocusing with the 1.4x attached is very, very slow and very frequently fails completely on the EOS 1Ds III being used for testing.

The extender and lens combo’s focal length reported properly in EXIF, but the aperture did not.

Canon EF 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6L IS USM Lens Product Images

When purchased from a reputable retailer, the Canon EF 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6L IS USM Lens comes with a nice Canon lens case, a removable tripod collar and a lens hood. This one-size-fits-all-focal-lengths lens hood is a compromise (primarily effective at 28mm – where it is most needed) but still worth using.

If the weight and the price are not too much for you, the Canon EF 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6L IS USM Lens makes a fine option when … You can (or want) to take only one lens with you. You are not able to change lenses fast enough to catch a subject that needs the full focal length range. Environmental issues (dust, salt water spray …) prevent you from changing lenses. Or you just want the convenience of a single lens for all of your needs. Otherwise, you can expect to get somewhat better image quality with the lighter (not combined) and much faster Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM Lens or Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM Lens and the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM Lens or Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM Lens combination.

With its huge range of available focal lengths, the Canon EF 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6L IS USM Lens is going to get pictures for you that you might not otherwise have captured with any other set of shorter focal length range lenses – because of the effort/time required to carry/change lenses. Travel photography is an excellent use for the 28-300 L as you often do not know what will be encountered on a trip to somewhere new to you.

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