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Notes on a few inexpensive Canon EF Lenses.

PhotoNotes.org DonationsCopyright © 2000-2014 NK Guy

http://photonotes.org/reviews/ef-lenses/

First off, the main reason I put this information here is because when I was shopping for second-hand lenses I couldn’t easily find a lot of the information I actually wanted to know. Like whether a given lens had a distance scale, or a plastic or metal mount, or internal focusing or zooming. Hopefully these notes will be handy for somebody.

Now, I have used a bunch of pro Canon lenses, such as the 28-70 2.8L, the 70-200 2.8L, the 135mm 2.0L. But I don’t review them here because I don’t feel I have as much to say about them. They’re absolutely fabulous lenses. And they’re also extremely expensive. If you can afford them and don’t mind the weight and bulk, go for it and don’t waste your time with cheap consumer lenses like those reviewed on this page. But if you’re on a budget you may want to read on.

Next, this document consists of a listing of factual information about each lens (focal length, aperture range, number of diaphragm blades, etc) and some subjective personal opinions. There are no objective ratings (MTF numbers or whatever) here, nor are there any cross-lens test results. I did some general testing with each lens (shooting the same subject with different lenses using a tripod, etc) and these informal tests helped form my opinions, but my tests weren’t controlled enough to be particularly rigorous. If you want hard numerical data have a look elsewhere. Photodo is one site that provides such less subjective test information.

Finally, if you’re unfamiliar with some of the terms used in this document - such as prime versus zoom, focal length, aperture, etc., please consult my online dictionary of photographic terms.

Categories of Canon EF lenses.

Canon officially divide their EF-mount (EOS compatible) SLR lenses into just two categories - the “L” class lenses, which are heavy, expensive, professional lenses with red rings painted around the ends, and all the others. However, there are several basic unlabelled quality categories within the non-L glass as well. So here’s my summary of EF lens categories.

Category 1 - cheapies.

At the bottom of the consumer line are the cheapies - ultra-low cost, low-quality, slow lenses with plastic mounts and no distance scales. Most of the kit lenses - 28-80 and 28-90 lenses with typical aperture ranges of 4.5 to 5.6 - fit into this category. These lenses are built to be sold as inexpensively as possible and don’t have very good optical quality. The only exception to this basic rule is the 50mm 1.8 II - plastic lens mount - which has excellent optical quality despite its cheap build quality, because it isn’t a zoom lens like all the others. The cheapies are easily recognizable by their all-plastic construction and straight, parallel-sided lens barrels. Most of the new cheapies have a silver (chrome) ring around the end for looks.

I don’t deal with any of these lenses in this review because, at risk of sounding like a snob, I don’t believe most of them are really worth buying. As noted, Canon optimize them for cheapness. They want products to sell for peanuts in shopping mall camera shops and department stores. This market does not, it seems, place a great deal of value on image quality - cheap prices for impulse buys are everything. That’s great for Canon, but frankly, if I’m going to be dealing with the hassle of carrying around an SLR camera I want at least half-decent optical quality for the attached lens. Otherwise I think it’s a lot easier just to carry around a cheap lightweight point and shoot camera.

So what if you’re on a budget? Obviously, there’s no point commenting on how these cheapies don’t produce photos as good as an L series lens - one lens costs 1/10 or 1/15 the cost of the other. That’s true, but don’t forget there are many other options. You can buy a 50mm 1.8 lens, for example. This gives you crisp sharp photos and the ability to shoot in low light levels without flash. If you really miss the convenience of a zoom you could pick up a used 28-70 3.5-5.6 II for nearly the same price as a new 28-80 cheapie. You don’t have to put up with shopping mall quality just because you’re on a tight budget.

Category 2 - midrange zooms.

In the midrange are better lenses with improved optics, sturdier build quality, metal mounts and distance scales. These often have ring USM motors. The 24-85, 28-105 and 100-300 USM are typical examples. They’re decent consumer lenses but don’t have the optical clarity of the pro lenses. However, they generally cost a fraction of the price of the top of the line stuff. These lenses are generally fairly elegantly designed, with slightly rounded and tapered lens barrels.

There is also a number of older low-end zooms with decent optical quality, such as the aforementioned 28-70 3.5-4.5 II, which don’t use modern USM drives but which nonetheless offer good value for money on the used market.

Category 3 - inexpensive primes.

Canon also build a number of prime (ie: non zoom) lenses with acceptable optics and average build quality (usually with noisy motor drives, metal mounts and distance scales), such as the 28mm 2.8 and 50mm 1.8 (metal lens mount). Despite their low cost and pretty unremarkable construction they nonetheless can provide quite decent photographic results. All lenses in this category are mostly normal or near normal lenses - no super wide angles and no long telephotos. These designs generally date back to the early days of the EOS lineup, so they tend to look a bit old-fashioned, style-wise. Canon just haven’t seen the need to update any of them.

Since it’s technically much easier - and cheaper - to construct an optically decent prime lens than it is an optically decent zoom lens you’re usually going to get much better optical quality for the same amount of money if you buy primes. Prime lenses also tend to be faster (larger maximum apertures) than zooms for the same reason.

The tradeoff is, of course, in convenience - you have to “zoom with your feet” and move around more when taking photos. But if you want optical quality a cheap prime is something to keep in mind if you’re on a limited budget.

Category 4 - good primes.

This is a group of prime lenses which offer excellent optics and decent build quality, but which don’t really need and thus don’t use ultra low-dispersion glass or calcium fluorite crystals or other hallmarks of L-class lenses. Remarkably good lenses like the 85mm 1.8 and the 100mm 2.8 macro fit into this category. Most have ring ultrasonic motors. They generally resemble the category 2 lenses - slightly rounded and tapered lens barrels. These are professional lenses in all but the name, though they’re usually not quite as heavy-duty as the fancier L lenses.

Category 5 - L series lenses.

Finally, Canon make a number of expensive lenses which they designate as L for “luxury.” These are intended for professional heavy-duty use by photojournalists, studio photographers and so on. The 16-35 2.8L USM, 28-70 2.8L USM and the 70-200 2.8L USM are popular lenses of this type.

All the L series lenses today are made of metal or heavy plastic, have ring USM drives and are identified by the characteristic red ring painted around the end of the barrel. Many, but not all, L lenses are painted an off-white colour rather than black. This is done partly because white lenses don’t get as hot in the sun and partly because it makes them easy to recognize at professional sports events and the like. All L class lenses have one technical design aspect in common - at least one fluorite (rather than glass) or ground aspheric (rather than moulded/replicated aspheric) or ultra-low dispersion lens element.

I don’t discuss most of the L series lenses for the reason mentioned above - they’re mostly great lenses but highly expensive and very heavy. The 100-300 5.6L reviewed here is one exception. Since it’s one of the first generation EOS lenses it’s of a considerably cheaper construction than the current lineup.

Category 6 - specialized lenses.

Canon also make a handful of expensive specialized lenses for unusual applications which I’ll just lump into this category for lack of anywhere else to put them. These include their tilt-shift TS-E lenses, the MP-E 65mm macro lens and the new DO (diffractive optics) lenses.

Roman numerals:

This lens categorization sometimes gets very confusing. For example, Canon release newer versions of lenses all the time, numbering them with Roman numerals. Sometimes the new lens is an improvement. Other times it’s not.

For example, the EF 28-80 3.5-5.6 USM isn’t a bad lens. It has a metal lens mount, similar build quality to the EF 28-105 and fits into the second of the six tiers listed above. However, the EF 28-80 3.5-5.6 II USM is an all-plastic cheapie which fits into the first of the six tiers above. (all 28-80 3.5-5.6 lenses from marks II through V are plastic cheapies, in fact) The EF 50mm 1.8, as noted below, is generally considered to be a better lens than the EF 50mm 1.8 II.

Sadly there’s no easy way to know the difference without a lot of careful research. Note also that the first version of a lens is often casually referred to as the mark I version, though Canon never identify lenses as such. Only post-I lenses (II and up) have the Roman numeral designation.

Canon also release updated versions of lens hoods using Roman numeral designations. Quite often the mark II version of a hood will fit the same lenses as its predecessor but will have a black flocked interior lining to reduce lens flare.

Motor types.

Canon employ a number of different motor technologies in their lenses. These are the basic types:

Arc-form drive (AFD). Generally used in a number of older lower-cost lenses, AFD motors are simply little electric motors which drive a geartrain. They’re somewhat noisy - electric buzzing and grinding of gears - and not terribly fast. This isn’t a big deal on smaller lenses since the distances the motors must move the focussing elements isn’t very far. However, telephoto lenses with AFD motors can be quite sluggish.

Micromotor (MM) drive. Generally used on a few older lower-cost lenses. Similar to AFD - slow and noisy and based around an electric motor driving a geartrain.

Ring ultrasonic (USM) drive. The kind you want. These motors consist of two metal rings which vibrate at a very high frequency, causing ultrasonic vibrations inaudible to humans. (have a look here for photos of these rings) Ring ultrasonic lenses are great because they focus quickly and silently and also support full-time manual (FTM). This means you can touch up the focus manually without first having to switch the lens from autofocus to manual focus mode. The majority of L series lenses use ring ultrasonic motors, as do most of the lenses in categories 2 and 4 above.

Micromotor ultrasonic (USM) drive. This is the kind you generally don’t want. It’s a form of USM motor that Canon designed for their cheapie lenses so they can bill them as ultrasonic for marketing purposes. However they lack most of the advantages of ring USM lenses. Micromotor USM lenses are moderately fast and fairly quiet, but (with two notable exceptions - the 50mm 1.4 USM and the 28-105 4-5.6 USM mentioned below) do not support full-time manual focussing.

Also, a couple of points here. First, all lenses with “USM” in the name contain an ultrasonic motor. Canon do not, however, distinguish between ring and micromotor USM drives in the name - you have to look up the specs for the individual lens to find that out. Second, all non-L lenses with USM drives have striped gold lines painted around the end of the barrel. However, all L lenses have red lines painted around the end, whether or not they use USM.

Image stabilization (IS). This is not a lens focussing technology, but I mention it here since it doesn’t fit conveniently anywhere else. IS is a Canon-developed technology that stabilizes the image optically. In other words it uses a complex system of gyroscopic sensors, computers and servomotors to compensate for camera shake. IS lenses therefore let you take sharp photos with handheld cameras at shutter speeds you couldn’t ordinarily use - typically up to a couple of stops slower. Canon make a number of midrange to high-end lenses with IS technology. I don’t review any such lenses here.

Third party lenses?

I only look at a few Canon EF lenses. EF stands for “electrofocus” and is Canon’s technical designation for the line of lenses they sell which are compatible with EOS cameras. Virtually all of the EF lens range is autofocus (AF) capable with the exception of a few unusual and specialized lenses, so you sometimes see EF lenses referred to as Canon AF lenses.

I don’t deal with third party lenses, such as those made by Tamron, Tokina and Sigma. These third party makers build a wide range of lenses designed to work with EOS cameras, but I’ve chosen to stick with Canon for compatibility reasons. Canon sometimes redesign new cameras in such a way that third-party lenses no longer work with them, but to date all Canon EF lenses work with all Canon EOS cameras. (though to be fair, it should be noted that Tamron have an excellent track record to date and all Tamron lenses work with all Canon cameras, unlike some Tokina and Sigma lenses)

I’m sure there are many decent third-party lenses out there but you’ll have to look elsewhere for information on them since I have no experience with them.

Lenses reviewed:

Mainly lenses in the second and third categories above. I don’t own any of the rock-bottom Canon lenses. I owned a 28-80 3.5-5.6 II cheap zoom for a few days, but the quality was rather depressing so I quickly took it back to the shop.

Prime lenses:

Canon EF 20mm 2.8 USM
Canon EF 28mm 2.8
Canon EF 50mm 1.8

Zoom lenses:

Canon EF 28-105mm 3.5-4.5 USM
Canon EF 100-300 4.5-5.6 USM
Canon EF 100-300 5.6L

The idea was to try and cover the basic shooting range (20mm to 300mm). I want as many prime lenses as I can, since prime lenses invariably offer higher quality than zooms at the consumer level - the obvious tradeoff being convenience.

My next planned lens purchase is the 100mm macro lens, since it’s said to offer both excellent macro capabilities and also sharp general-purpose performance. It’s quite a bit more expensive than the other lenses I own, however, so it’ll be a while before I pick up one of those.

EF 20mm 2.8 USM.

I bought this lens for a number of reasons. I do landscapes a lot and I wanted a super wide-angle so I could get in sweeping vistas and the like. Wide-angle lenses also have good depth of field, so you can do interesting near-far photos. And finally I wanted to try making QuickTime VR panorama photos on my computer. This lens isn’t as dramatic as a 14mm one, but it’s also within my budget.

I liked it. It was pretty sharp, had very low distortion, had the quiet USM motor with full-time manual focusing. It was reasonably big for a consumer lens, particularly when the petal-shaped lens hood was attached. I didn’t get the 20-35 USM, even though it costs basically the same, mainly because I didn’t see myself using much more than the 20mm end. I already have a 28mm prime and a 28-105 zoom. The 20mm is also said to have less flare and distortion. It used rear focussing, so the end did not extend or rotate. It had a floating group and so its near focusing is pretty close.

However, you’ll note that I’ve been using the past tense here. My house was burgled and this lens stolen.

Here’s a photo that I took with this lens. Note the huge depth of field. A bunch of my QuickTime panoramas were taken at 20mm as well.

Canon EF 20mm 2.8 USM  
Focus drive type. USM (ring ultrasonic motor with full-time manual).
Diagonal angle of view. 94°.
Groups and elements. 9 and 11.
Aperture range. f/2.8 - f/22.
Diaphragm blades. 5.
Maximum magnification. 0.14x.
Close focus distance. 0.25m or 0.8'.
Filter diameter. 72mm.
Hood type EW-75 bayonet-mount “perfect” (petal-shaped) hood.
Length. 71mm or 2 13/16".
Weight. 405g or 14.3 oz.
End rotates when focussing. No.
End extends when focussing. No.
Distance scale. Yes.
Metal lens mount. Yes.
Other features. Full-time manual, rear focus, floating group.

EF 28mm 2.8.

I bought this lens primarily because it was pretty cheap. As noted above, I do landscapes a lot, and 28mm is useful for that. It isn’t really wide enough to give trippy wide-angle effects, but is quite a bit wider than a normal 50mm lens. It uses a slow and noisy arc-form drive for focusing, but since I tend to use it on a tripod for landscape purposes, that’s rarely an issue. The end does not rotate, which is convenient for polarizing filters, but the lens does extend during focusing. (about a half centimetre from near focus to infinity)

However, I find I don’t use it very much these days since I end up just slapping the 28-105 zoom on my camera out of laziness. When I do more landscape stuff in the summer I’ll hopefully find more use for it, since I’ll then have more time to exchange lenses at leisure. Landscapes don’t run around the way people do.

The 28mm 2.8 has a 52mm filter thread. I use the EW-65 II clip-on hood, which fits fine, though it’s intended for the 35mm 2.0. The only difference between the EW-65 and the later EW-65 mark II hood is that the II has some black flocking on the inside surface to reduce reflections.

This lens was one of the earliest models released when the EOS lineup was introduced. It uses, therefore, a more-dated feeling type of plastic for the lens barrel and design-wise looks a bit old-fashioned. Newer lenses like the 28-105 use a different type of plastic which feels a bit less brittle and slightly more resilient and better able to absorb blows.

Canon EF 28mm 2.8  
Focus drive type. AFD (arc form drive).
Diagonal angle of view. 75°.
Groups and elements. 5 and 5.
Aperture range . f/2.8 - f/22.
Close focus distance. 0.3m or 1'.
Diaphragm blades. 5.
Maximum magnification. 0.13x.
Filter diameter. 52mm.
Hood type EW-65 II clip-on hood.
Length. 42.5mm or 1 11/16".
Weight. 185g or 6.5 oz.
End rotates when focussing. No.
End extends when focussing. Yes.
Distance scale. Yes.
Metal lens mount. Yes.
Other features. Aspherical lens element (probably moulded glass; possibly replicated).

EF 50mm 1.8.

I bought this lens because optically it’s an amazingly sharp lens that costs virtually nothing. Sure, it’s a modest 50mm focal length, but there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s relatively easy for manufacturers to make a 50mm lens, since that focal length is quite close to the diagonal of 35mm film (42mm or so) and the optics are thus less complex. And this example is really quite crisp and sharp optically. Good colour and contrast. Like the 28mm 2.8 the end does not rotate during focusing, but it does extend outwards a half-centimetre or so. Unlike the 28mm 2.8, however, it has a very deeply recessed lens. You could probably get away without using a hood if you wanted, assuming you weren’t using a filter.

Mechanically it’s a pretty ancient design with a noisy slow micromotor drive, but I don’t usually find that to be a huge hindrance. Lack of full-time manual focusing is a minor inconvenience, though. Basically I find myself using this lens in low-light conditions a lot, when the slow 28-105 (at f4 or whatever it is at 50mm) isn’t much use.

The ES-65 clip-on hood was sold for use with this lens, though I just use the same EW-65 II clip-on hood as my 28 mm 2.8. The EW-65 isn’t quite as deep as the recommended hood, but it’s compatible with my 28mm lens as well, so I went for that. Actually, the ET-65 II clip-on hood that I use with my 100-300 USM 4.5-5.6 fits onto the 50mm 1.8 as well, though it’s rather oversized. I’ve heard that it doesn’t vignette despite the size, but I’ve never tried it. You could also use the hood designed for the newer 50mm 1.8 II, but I don’t see the point - the newer hood is a clumsy screw-on design that requires you to install an adapter on the filter threads.

This lens was one of the earliest models released when the EOS lineup was introduced. It uses, therefore, a more-dated feeling type of plastic for the lens barrel and design-wise looks a bit old-fashioned. Newer lenses like the 28-105 use a different type of plastic which feels a bit less brittle and slightly more resilient and better able to absorb blows.

Note that this lens is no longer available. It was superseded - or downgraded to - the 50mm 1.8 II lens. The mark II has a plastic lens mount, no distance scale, cheaper build quality and a crappier lens hood design. Optically it’s said to be identical, though its focus speed is slightly faster. Because the first version of this lens (the non II one) has better build quality it tends to command ludicrously high prices on online auction sites - often more than the price of a new mark II.

Canon EF 50mm 1.8  
Focus drive type. MM (micromotor drive).
Diagonal angle of view. 46°.
Groups and elements. 5 and 6.
Aperture range. f/1.8 - f/22.
Close focus distance. 0.45m or 1.5'.
Diaphragm blades. 5.
Maximum magnification. 0.15x.
Filter diameter. 52mm.
Hood type ES-65 clip-on hood.
Length. 42.5mm or 1 11/16".
Weight. 190g or 6.7 oz.
End rotates when focussing. No.
End extends when focussing. Yes.
Distance scale. Yes.
Metal lens mount. Yes.

EF 28-105mm 3.5-4.5 USM.

This lens is generally held as being a very convenient all-purpose decent lens. So I bought one. But I have to say I was not overwhelmed. Though not as execrable as a cheap 28-80, its optical quality is visibly much weaker than the primes. It’s nowhere near as sharp and the colour saturation and contrast are quite poor. Oh well. It’s still an okay lens when you consider how inexpensive and convenient it is. The build quality isn’t bad - the lens feels nice and solid compared to the really cheap lenses. It’s got a USM drive with full-time manual focusing. It’s large compared to the dirt cheap lenses, but isn’t as awkwardly large as an L lens. Here are some photos of the inside.

It has a two-touch zoom (ie: the zooming is adjusted by turning a ring - it’s not a push-pull design) and does not use internal zooming - the lens extends outwards as you zoom out. This design means air and dust get sucked into your lens and camera each time you zoom in or out. However, it does use internal focusing, so it doesn’t extend outwards or rotate when you focus.

It’s fine as my general-purpose wander-around-with lens. Useful for snapshots of friends at parties, etc, though admittedly it’s a bit big for that, particularly with the hood on the end and extended out to 105mm. Ultimately I’d like to replace it with the 28-135 IS. Image stabilizing would be nice for low-light conditions, and I often find the 105mm end to be too short for snapshots of friends and the like, since people generally don’t like having cameras shoved in their face. (though the 28-135 IS is much bigger than the 28-105, so perhaps I’d be no further ahead in terms of not intimidating camera-shy friends)

There are three versions of this lens. There seem to be two versions of the first generation (non II) 28-105, and in late 2000 Canon definitely replaced them with the 28-105 3.5-4.5 USM II. The version II of this lens is apparently only cosmetically upgraded - the plastic barrel has been modified slightly but the internal optics supposedly remain unchanged.

As noted, there is allegedly a notable difference between the two versions of the first edition of this lens. The earlier version is said to have the flower macro icon printed on the barrel and has a 5-blade diaphragm. The later version, which is the one I have, has instead the word MACRO printed on the barrel and has a 7-blade diaphragm. With a 7-blade diaphragm out-of-focus highlights appear has near-circles, whereas with 5 blades they appear as pentagons, which can be distracting. All things being equal, I prefer 7 blades. Note that this information is based on info I’ve read online - I can only personally confirm that my lens has the word MACRO and has 7 blades.

To confuse things somewhat, in autumn 2002 Canon announced two new lenses with the 28-105 focal length and discontinued the 3.5-4.5 lenses. The new lenses are inexpensive lenses targeted at the low end of the consumer market rather than the advanced amateur/upper end of the consumer market like their predecessors. The new 28-105 lenses are optically slower and not as sharp (ie: they’re in the “cheapie” category).

The new lenses are the EF 28-105 4-5.6 and the EF 28-105 4-5.6 USM. The latter of these lenses has a cheap micromotor USM focus drive and the former has an even cheaper non-USM motor drive. (though interestingly enough the USM version has full-time manual focussing even though it uses a micromotor drive)

So when you specify a Canon EF 28-105mm lens it’s vitally important to get the maximum f-stop (lens aperture) for the lens correct, as this is the only way to differentiate between the earlier lens design and the newer, less expensive and cheaper design. This review is of the 3.5-4.5 lens only, not the 4-5.6 lens.

Finally, note that not everybody shares my not entirely positive opinions of the 3.5-4.5 lens. Check out Russ Arcuri’s Photo.net review for a different point of view (he loves the lens).

Canon EF 28-105mm 3.5-4.5 USM  
Focus drive type. USM (ring ultrasonic motor with full-time manual).
Diagonal angle of view. 75° to 23° 20'.
Groups and elements. 12 and 15.
Aperture range. f/3.5 - f/22 and f/4.5 - f/27.
Diaphragm blades. 5 or 7 (see above).
Maximum magnification. 0.14x.
Close focus distance. 0.5m or 1.6'.
Filter diameter. 58mm.
Hood type EW-63 bayonet-mount “perfect” (petal-shaped) hood.
Length. 75mm or 3".
Weight. 375g or 13.1 oz.
End rotates when focussing. No.
End extends when focussing. No.
End extends when zooming. Yes.
Zoom control type. Two-touch (zoom ring).
Distance scale. Yes.
Metal lens mount. Yes.
Other features. Full-time manual, internal focus.

EF 100-300 4.5-5.6 USM.

I bought this one since there are times when I want to shoot in the 200-300mm range. Unfortunately it’s not particularly impressive optically, particularly at the longer end. I don’t know why Canon don’t make 200mm or 300mm primes in the consumer range anymore. (They used to make 200mm and 300mm non-L primes back in the days of FD mounts.) This lens has the same decent build quality and is made of the same type of plastics as the 28-105, but optically isn’t that great. Still, I bought it since it lets me take photos I wouldn’t otherwise be able to take.

The 100-300 4.5-5.6 does not have internal zooming - it extends outwards as you zoom. As noted above, this design means dust gets sucked into the lens. However, it uses two-touch zooming (ie: a zoom ring, not push-pull), it uses internal focusing and the end does not rotate or extend during focusing. The USM autofocus drive is wonderfully fast and precise, and it was great having full-time manual.

This was actually the second Canon lens in this range that I’ve bought. The first was the 75-300 II USM. It didn’t really suit me, however, since it lacks a distance scale, has a rotating end, lacks fulltime manual focusing (it uses a cheaper version of USM, not the ring USM) and has a lower build quality than the 100-300. Optically the 100-300 seems very slightly better, but not by much. They’re both pretty weak lenses, especially at 300mm. However, this lens was also stolen from me, so I no longer have it.

The recommended hood is the clip-on ET-65, though I’ve found that the EW-65 clip-on I use for my 28mm 2.8 and 50mm 1.8 lenses fits the 100-300 also. Which is convenient, since the EW-65 isn’t a small hood. Even when reversed onto the lens it sticks out a bit. Though of course the smaller EW-65 is much more shallow and thus affords considerably less protection.

Canon EF 100-300mm 4.5-5.6 USM  
Focus drive type. USM (ring ultrasonic motor with full-time manual).
Diagonal angle of view. 24° to 8° 15'.
Groups and elements. 10 and 13.
Aperture range. f/4.5 - f/32 and f/5.6 - f/38.
Diaphragm blades. 8.
Maximum magnification. 0.26x.
Close focus distance. 1.5m or 4.9'.
Filter diameter. 58mm.
Hood type ET-65 clip-on hood.
Length. 121mm or 4 3/4".
Weight. 540g or 1.2 lb.
End rotates when focussing. No.
End extends when focussing. No.
End extends when zooming. Yes.
Zoom control type. Two-touch (zoom ring).
Distance scale. Yes.
Metal lens mount. Yes.
Other features. Full-time manual, internal focus.

EF 100-300 5.6L.

I replaced the stolen 100-300 USM lens with an older lens with the same focal range - the 5.6L. This is actually quite an elderly lens by EOS standards. It came out in the late 1980s and represents a typical EOS lens for the time. In fact, it’s barely an L series lens. It may have a fluorite element, a low-dispersion (UD) element and decent optics, but its construction isn’t anywhere near as good as any modern L lens. It uses the older-style hard black plastics and just feels kind of clunky.

The 100-300 5.6L design is basically of the same era as the 28mm 2.8 and the 50mm 1.8. It’s got an all-plastic barrel, a noisy and slow AFD (arc-form drive) focus motor and has a poorly damped manual focussing ring. It’s nothing like the hefty metal and silky smooth 70-200 2.8L, say. It’s also optically slow, with a maximum aperture of only f/5.6. It has a three-position focus mode switch - manual focus, autofocus and autofocus limiter. In regular autofocus mode the lens will focus across its full range. In limiter mode the lens focusses from 2 metres to infinity only. (ie: it doesn’t try to focus any closer than 2 metres) Unfortunately this switch is very stiff, isn’t raised very far above the lens barrel, and is generally irritating and fiddly to adjust when the lens is mounted onto a camera.

The lens is also of the push-pull design. This means that you simply slide the outer tube back and forth to adjust the focal lens. Unfortunately it does not have the more convenient rotating ring setup of a two-touch zoom lens such as the 100-300 4.5-5.6 USM. Push-pull zooms suck in a lot of air and dust every time you zoom by definition. The lens also suffers from zoom creep if it’s tilted up or down - the weight of the lenses causes the lens to slide, zooming inadvertently. The lens isn’t compatible with Canon’s teleconverters - they physically do not fit.

The recommended hood is the clip-on ET-62 or ET-62 II, which are included with the lens along with a strange-looking lightweight ribbed soft lens case. I don’t know what the difference is between the ET-62 and the ET-62 II, as the latter does not have a flocked interior, which is common with mark II lens hoods. Note that the lens ships with an unusual removable rubber ring at the end, and this ring must be removed for the lens hood to fit. Disappointingly, no tripod mount is included with the lens nor is one available from Canon. This is a real shame, since the lens is just long and heavy enough to benefit from a tripod mount on the lens rather than relying on the one on the camera body.

In short, this lens is kind of annoying to use, particularly if you’ve spent any time using any similar lens with an ultrasonic motor and full-time manual focussing. When the lens can’t achieve focus, which is often, it racks back and forth quite slowly, making high-pitched buzzing noises. Grm. However, it’s the only 100-300 EF lens which Canon has ever built which offers half-decent optics. And, since it’t discontinued, you can buy used examples of this lens for about as much as a new 100-300 USM.

So your choice basically comes down to convenience versus image quality. Since I generally try to use an inconvenient tripod with a lens this long and slow anyway, I’ve opted for image quality.

Canon EF 100-300mm 5.6L  
Focus drive type. AFD (arc-form drive).
Diagonal angle of view. 24° to 8° 15'.
Groups and elements. 10 and 15.
Aperture range. f/5.6 - f/32.
Diaphragm blades. 8.
Maximum magnification. 0.26x.
Close focus distance. 1.5m or 4.9'.
Filter diameter. 58mm.
Hood type ET-62 II clip-on hood.
Length. 167mm or 6 5/8".
Weight. 695g or 1 lb 8 1/2 oz.
End rotates when focussing. Yes.
End extends when focussing. Yes.
End extends when zooming. Yes.
Zoom control type. Push-pull (no zoom ring).
Distance scale. Yes.
Metal lens mount. Yes.
Other features. Focus limit switch, nice red ring painted around end.

Links:

The Canon (Japan) Camera Museum page is authoritative, though some older lenses are missing:

http://www.canon.com/camera-museum/camera/lens/ef/f_ef.html

Canon USA maintain a site with marketing information:

http://www.usa.canon.com/eflenses/

Swedish site Photodo have a list of MTF curves (lens testing data) for most Canon lenses. I wouldn’t make a lens purchasing decision solely on the basis of MTF data (there are many other factors to consider), but it’s interesting to look at:

http://www.photodo.com/

German site Photozone.de have a useful Canon lens FAQ:

http://photozone.de/2Equipment/canonFAQ.htm


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- NK Guy, PhotoNotes.org.

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