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EF70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM Telephoto Zoom Lens Review

The new EF70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM is equipped with Nano USM, an ultrasonic motor technology that enables seamless AF drive, as well as an LCD lens information display panel, which is introduced for the first time in the EF lens series. In addition, enhancements have also been made to the lens construction and layout of the elements for better depictive performance. In the following, let us look at the appealing features of this lens using examples from rail photography. (Reported by: Koji Yoneya)


Advanced design and easy operability

The focal length range of telephoto zoom lenses varies very widely. When we use a focal length of 70-200mm on a 35mm full-frame camera, we may sometimes encounter scenes where we wish the focal length at the telephoto end could be slightly longer, and this applies to landscape, sports, as well as rail photography.

When faced with such a situation, the four Canon lenses with a zoom range of 70-300mm (EF70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM, EF70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM, EF70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM and EF70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 DO IS USM) are able to cater to our needs by offering a slightly longer focal length. When used with an APS-C format camera, the focal length becomes even longer (equivalent to 112-480mm in the 35mm format), so this zoom range may be an ideal choice for capturing certain subjects.

Many new technologies have been introduced on the EF70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM, but the best example would be the use of the Nano USM technology for AF drive. The ultrasonic motor (USM) developed by Canon has been transformed into thin chips to achieve faster and smoother AF. Also, for the first time in the EF lens lineup, the EF70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM comes with an LCD panel that displays lens information.


The EF70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM adopts a lens construction of 17 elements in 12 groups, and the layout of the lens elements, including the position of the UD lens, has also been renewed. Additionally, it comes with 9 aperture blades, and the IS effect has also been upgraded to about four stops.

With the rear-focusing system that the EF70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM employs, the front of the lens does not move or turn during focusing. Full-time manual focusing is also supported on the lens.

The wide zoom ring is located at the centre, while the focusing ring at the front of the lens. The design is chic with almost no protrusion in the switches and a flat cylindrical shape that tapers toward the mount.


Shooting information displayed in the lens information display LCD panel at the top

The focusing distance display.


The shake amount display.


One eye-catching feature of the external appearance is the LCD lens information display panel at the top of the lens. Besides information including the focusing distance and focal length, the panel also shows the amount of camera shake, which is a completely new addition. This display mode displays the amount of angular shake that the lens is experiencing in both the vertical and horizontal directions, and is likely to come in handy during movie shooting using the Live View function.

A mode switch is available at the bottom left corner of the lens information display panel, and can be used to switch between the three modes. If the lens is attached to an APS-C format camera, the Focal length display mode shows the equivalent focal length in 35mm format.

Other than the mode switch, other selection switches include the focus mode switch for selecting AF or MF, Image Stabilizer switch, as well as the zoom ring lock lever on the right side of the lens. The zoom ring lock lever locks the lens to the wide-angle end to prevent it from extending out on its own while you are carrying the lens.

Next, let us take a look at some examples of rail photos taken using the EF70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM and the EOS 5D Mark IV.


At high shutter speed

I set out on a journey on an early winter morning to the Mishima and Shin-Fuji high-speed rail stations along the Tokaido Shinkansen line. Here, you can enjoy capturing shots that feature both Mount Fuji and the Shinkansen high-speed rail.

EOS 5D Mark IV/ EF70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM/ FL: 160mm/ Manual exposure (f/8, 1/4,000 sec, EV±0)/ ISO 1600/ WB: Daylight

Faced with a condition unfavourable to the lens where the front of the bullet train was at the left corner of the composition, I took a shot under the mild light of the rising winter sun with the focal length set to 160mm. The settings I chose were ISO 1600, 1/4,000 sec. and f/8. Although the train was positioned at a corner, the lens was not only able to capture the areas around the headlights. The wheels (brake discs) that appeared “frozen” with the use of a high-speed shutter was so clearly reproduced that I could even see the dimples on them.


EOS 5D Mark IV/ EF70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM/ FL: 70mm/ Manual exposure (f/4, 1/8,000 sec, EV±0)/ ISO 200/ WB: Daylight

This shot was taken at the wide-angle end with a focal length of 70mm. Although a slight amount of light fall-off and barrel distortion is observed, these can be corrected during post-processing. What surprised me more is the excellent depiction at the four corners of the image.



Left: f/5, 1/2,500 sec
Right: f/11, 1/500 sec
Both images: EOS 5D Mark IV/ EF70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM/ FL: 118mm/ Manual exposure (EV±0)/ ISO 200/ WB: Daylight

In rail photography, we may sometimes want to capture a bird’s-eye view of moving trains with a magnificent landscape in the backdrop. Even though the train may appear small in the image, rail enthusiasts will still want to capture it in detail as much as possible.

Both shots in the above example show a bird’s-eye view of Satta Pass, a place that has been a strategic traffic hub since the olden days. Here, you can make a comparison between a shot taken at the maximum aperture of f/5 (left) and one where the aperture was stopped down to f/11 (right).

The destination that the train was bound for was displayed at the front, and by enlarging this part to life size, we can see that the words “Shizuoka” are still identifiable in the left example taken at f/5 although the focus is slightly blurry. Meanwhile, in the right example where the aperture has been stopped down to f/11, the focus is sharp with the words “Atami” identifiable. From these examples, we can conclude that the depictive power of the lens is good enough to handle the resolution of the EOS 5D Mark IV, which has approximately 30.4 million effective pixels.


EOS 5D Mark IV/ EF70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM/ FL: 70mm/ Manual exposure (f/8, 1/2,000 sec, EV±0)/ ISO 400/ WB: Daylight

This shot was taken at the wide-angle end (70mm) with the aperture set to f/8. Besides the train at the left corner of the image, even the scenery on the opposite shore at the centre of the image was depicted clearly.


Panning shots

EOS 5D Mark IV/ EF70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM/ FL: 200mm/ Manual exposure (f/22, 1/80 sec, EV±0)/ ISO 100/ WB: Daylight

This lens comes with the Image Stabilizer (IS) feature, which can be turned on or off using the switch on the left side of the lens barrel. Other lens models generally come with options such as Mode 1 for normal still shots and Mode 2 for follow shots, but these are not available on the EF70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM. Instead, the lens automatically performs IS correction optimally after determining whether it is a normal or panning shot.

Learn more about how to take panning shots here:
How Do I Take Panning Shots?

In this example is a follow shot taken at 1/80 sec. As it is difficult to “freeze” the motion of the Shinkansen train which is moving at a very fast speed, having a feature like this to assist in shake correction is very helpful indeed.


EOS 5D Mark IV/ EF70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM/ FL: 165mm/ Manual exposure (f/11, 1/30 sec, EV±0)/ ISO 200/ WB: Cloudy

This is a panning shot of a steam locomotive, its black exterior turned lacquer-shiny by the rain.


At the telephoto end, and with bokeh

EOS 5D Mark IV/ EF70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM/ FL: 300mm/ Shutter-priority AE (f/9, 1/1,000 sec, EV-0.3)/ ISO 400/ WB: Daylight

In this photo is a Gakunan Railway train that used to serve on the Keio Inokashira line (Shibuya to Kichijoji). I captured the front of the train, which I thought resembled an adorable face, with the 300mm telephoto end while using AF tracking in AI Servo AF. The depiction at the telephoto end is flawless.


EOS 5D Mark IV/ EF70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM/ FL: 219mm/ Manual exposure (f/8, 1/800 sec, EV±0)/ ISO 400/ WB: Daylight

I spotted little signs of spring in an industrial district that is served by a minor railway line. Activating the AF to set focus on the plum blossoms that were just starting to bloom, I was taken aback by how quickly AF operated. I took the shot at f/8, which created a bokeh effect that is natural and not deliberate.


EOS 5D Mark IV/ EF70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM/ FL: 219mm/ Manual exposure (f/5.6, 1/200 sec, EV±0)/ ISO 400/ WB: Auto

A steam locomotive of the Oigawa railway line that was about to depart. There was a message hanging in front of the train that was directed to students sitting for entrance examinations. The foreground bokeh effect was also quite pleasant.


Close-up shots

EOS 5D Mark IV/ EF70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM/ FL: 70mm/ Manual exposure (f/8, 1/40 sec, EV±0)/ ISO400/ WB: Auto

I set the lens to almost its closest focusing distance to capture the wheel of a steam locomotive. Although this shot was taken handheld at 1/40 sec., the IS feature was able to address camera shake effectively. We can see that the lens also excels at depiction from a close distance, clearly depicting the dull lustre of the metal parts that were covered by water droplets.


In low light

EOS 5D Mark IV/ EF70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM/ FL: 238mm/ Manual exposure (f/5.6, 1/160 sec, EV±0)/ ISO 1600/ WB: Shade

Under the dim twilight, there was a moment when AF was hunting for focus, but nonetheless it was able to establish focus successfully.


EOS 5D Mark IV/ EF70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM/ FL: 244mm/ Manual exposure (f/8, 1/5 sec, EV±0)/ ISO 1600/ WB: Daylight

The high-beam headlight formed a very strong light source and might have caused ghosting, but as shown in the example, ghosting was minimised to a negligible level.


EOS 5D Mark IV/ EF70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM/ FL: 83mm/ Manual exposure (f/4.5, 1/8 sec, EV±0)/ ISO 3200/ WB: Auto

It was fun to capture the Gakunan Railway train together with factory nightscapes. At the maximum aperture, the bleeding lights create a beautiful effect.


EOS 5D Mark IV/ EF70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM/ FL: 96mm/ Manual exposure (f/11, 20 sec, EV±0)/ ISO 200/ WB: Auto

To create a light trail, I used a long exposure of 20 seconds to photograph a train travelling through an industrial district. The details of the factories were beautifully reproduced. I was worried at first that the EF70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM might require a tripod, but perhaps because of the light weight of the lens, no camera shake was observed in the image.


Summing up

As camera performance advances, so too do that of lenses. The EF70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM offers eye-opening features such as the fast AF speed of Nano USM, while the new lens information display panel is also fun to use. Not only so, depictive performance is also enhanced with changes made to the lens construction and layout of the elements. These basic advancements are the key factors that contributed to the greater appeal of this lens.

Personally, I use the EF70-200mm f/4L IS USM, but I always need to attach an extender as the telephoto focal length is too short. Taking into account the image quality and maximum aperture value, I think the EF70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM is good enough for situations where you want travel light. If you are planning to purchase a telephoto zoom lens, this will be one of the options to consider.

Still wondering if this lens is for you? This article might help:
What is the difference between a 200mm and 300mm telephoto lens?

If you love photographing trains, you might also be interested in this article:
How to Capture an Impressive Shot of a Moving Train with Continuous Shooting


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Digital Camera Watch

Digital Camera Watch

Delivers daily news related to topics such as digital cameras and peripheral devices, and imaging software. Also publishes articles such as reviews on the use of actual digital camera models and photo samples taken using new models.

Koji Yoneya

Koji Yoneya

Born in 1968 in Yamagata, Yoneya has been travelling around Japan and the world in search of the connection between people and railways in rail photos that reflect the daily life. In June 2017, he will hold a solo exhibition based on the theme of scenery captured from train windows.