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Canon 70-300mm DO IS
© 2007 KenRockwell.com

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Canon 70-300mm DO IS

Canon 70-300mm DO IS. enlarge

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More Canon Reviews

July 2007

SHARPNESS

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The biggest barrier to sharpness with the Canon 70-300mm DO IS is that its Image Stabilization system doesn't work as well as my other Canon IS lenses at 300mm where I need it.

This means that at ISO 100 in daylight I often get slightly blurred shots at 200mm and 300mm. This is unfortunate, since for half the price, the Canon 70-300mm IS (not DO) is much better hand-held and makes sharp shots at 1/15 of a second at 300mm.

Yes, I had the IS ON and could hear it whirring. Performance was much worse with IS OFF. In defense of the 70-300mm DO IS, my experience with other long but short and light lenses, like mirror lenses, has been abysmal. This is because short, light lenses jitter about in my hands because they lack the rotational inertia (length and weight) to resist natural wiggling.

If you have a lot of magnification (long focal length) in a light, short package, it's asking for trouble. My Nikon 80-400mm VR is a foot long when zoomed out to 400mm and much heavier, and my Nikon 600mm f/5.6 was so long, and had its weight concentrated at the far end, that passive rotational inertia stabilized it quite well.

If you're worried about laboratory sharpness, I'd skip the Canon 70-300mm DO IS because you'll need a tripod to get the best results, and if you're bringing a tripod, why pay a premium for the compact DO version of this 70-300mm?

I get the best results wide open, since the faster shutter speeds counteract camera-shake blur. Like other good lenses, the Canon 70-300mm DO IS is almost as sharp wide open as it is stopped down.

If you're looking with a microscope, the similarly priced 70-200 f/4L IS is much sharper, and has better IS.

Diffraction is usually the sharpness-limiting factor for all lenses, especially digital SLRs, at about f/11 and above. See also How Sharpness Varies with Aperture.

Center, Wide Open, Full-Frame Canon 5D

These are crops from 100% images. Prints of these complete images at this magnification would be 44" (1.1m) wide.

Canon 70-300mm DO IS Disortion
Canon 70-300mm DO IS Disortion
70mm at f/4.5 (wide open)
100mm at f/5.0 (wide open)

 

Canon 70-300mm DO IS Disortion
Canon 70-300mm DO IS Disortion
200mm at f/5.6 (wide open)
300mm at f/5.6 (wide open)

The Canon 70-300mm DO IS is very sharp in the center at every setting at anything other than macro distances.

Corner, Wide Open, Full-Frame Canon 5D

These are crops from 100% images. The complete images would print 44" (1.1m) wide at this magnification.

Canon 70-300mm DO IS Disortion
Canon 70-300mm DO IS Disortion
70mm at f/4.5 (wide open)
100mm at f/5.0 (wide open)

 

Canon 70-300mm DO IS Disortion
Canon 70-300mm DO IS Disortion
135mm at f/5.6 (wide open)
200mm at f/5.6 (wide open)

 

Canon 70-300mm DO IS Disortion
300mm at f/5.6 (wide open)

If you're looking at it through a microscope as is easy to do here, the Canon 70-300mm DO IS is softer wide open at the wide end. I show the same shots at f/11 above under color fringes, which are much sharper.

This is an extreme test. In real shooting none of this is visible, but you may see camera-shake induced blur at the longer end, even with IS.

IS (Image Stabilization)

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The Canon 70-300mm DO IS is the only IS or VR lens I've ever used whose stabilization didn't work astoundingly well. It certainly improves the image over no IS, but even with IS ON it's not good enough to let me get perfect results all the time at ISO 100 in daylight at 300mm, and I have hands of iron.

It works great at the shorter focal lengths. The problem is that it's the least effective at 300mm where it's the most critical, giving me a real improvement of only 1-2/3 stops.

The Canon 70-300mm DO IS is so light and short, like a mirror lens, that it's much more prone to shaking that heavier or longer lenses with more rotational inertia.

Canon 5D, IS OFF, Percent Perfectly Sharp Shots, Hand-Held

This lists the percentage of sharp shots that I get at each setting. Sharp means perfect sharpness at 100% (44" or 1.1m wide prints). For normal size prints one can use much slower speeds and not see anything wrong.

 
1/2
1/4
1/8
1/15
1/30
1/60
1/125
70mm
0
0
0
40
70
100
100
100mm
0
0
0
0
33
50
67
135mm
0
0
0
0
33
80
80
200mm
0
0
0
0
16
33
100
300mm
0
0
0
0
10
0
80

Canon 5D, IS ON, Percent Perfectly Sharp Shots, Hand-Held

 
1/2
1/4
1/8
1/15
1/30
1/60
1/125
70mm
5
15
40
100
100
100
100
100mm
0
10
50
83
100
100
100
135mm
0
0
50
67
100
100
100
200mm
0
0
40
72
80
80
90
300mm
0
0
0
10
70
60
100

Now let's chart the slowest speed to get 50% sharp shots at each focal length, and with that, we can calculate how many stops we gain with IS.

"Real Stops Improvement" are how many extra stops I got, IS ON compared to IS OFF.

"Marketing Stops Improvement" isn't comparing the speed I can use from IS OFF to IS ON, but instead comparing the speed one can use with IS ON to the old-wives-tale speed of 1/focal length. That's called Lying with Statistics.

Slowest Speed with 50% Perfectly Sharp Shots, Canon 5D

 
IS OFF
IS ON

Real
Stops Improvement

Marketing
Stops Improvement
70mm
1/20
1/8
1-1/3
3
100mm
1/60
1/8
3
3-2/3
135mm
1/50
1/8
2-2/3
4
200mm
1/80
1/12
2-2/3
4
300mm
1/100
1/30
1-2/3
3-1/3

TIP: In dim light, fire several shots in the continuous shutter mode and pick the sharpest later. Blur is a random event, so if you fire enough shots, you'll eventually get a sharp one even at slow speeds!

Canon Rebel XTi, IS ON, Percent Perfectly Sharp Shots Hand-Held

 
1/4
1/8
1/15
1/30
1/60
1/125
1/250
70mm
0
16
16
67
100
100
100
100mm
0
40
50
50
100
100
100
135mm
0
10
50
82
90
90
100
200mm
0
15
15
60
70
80
100
300mm
0
5
20
20
80
50
80

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