Also in this series: Canon 300mm f/2.8 vs 400mm f/2.8
Most of my spare time dedicated to photography has been tied up in some way evaluating what I feel are Canon’s top two super telephoto prime lenses, the EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM and the EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM. These two lenses represent the very best of DSLR lens optics and technologies currently available anywhere. They are both peerless in most if not every respect.
Canon makes a host of other super telephoto lenses but none boast an aperture of f/2.8 as well as some of the advanced features and manufacturing processes. They are also within a focal length range which allows them to be still somewhat versatile, multi-role lenses and not so highly specialized that you are limited to only specific types of photography (I have no interest in limiting my photographic expression).
The natural applications for these two lenses are sports and wildlife photography. How these two lenses perform in these two areas has been thoroughly explored and documented. There is no question there, so I will not be talking about those genres of photography. I’ve always thought such impressive optics should not just be limited to sports and wildlife. It would mostly likely be even more appreciated in landscape, fashion, portrait and astrophotography. These are the areas in which I am most active and will probably never find myself camping out in the woods, unless it’s for the stars.
The folks at Canon USA were kind enough to send me a copy of each lens for evaluation. I cannot say enough about how helpful they’ve been, as well as for this opportunity to really run these lenses through their paces. To truly understand what they are capable of and explore the upper limits of photographic expression in ways only possible with zero compromise tools like these. To all the folks at CPS (Canon Professional Services)… Thank you!
I do a lot of very high resolution landscape photography (approaching or exceeding gigapixel resolution) in the form of very wide panoramas of my subject, usually cityscapes and skylines at sunset. I also often shoot full bodyscapes of models. For this, you can never have enough reach. I typically use the EF 70-200mm f/2.8 IS II USM lens all the way at 200mm and traverse my subject to generate impressive amounts of detail.
The field of view is often compressed enough that the images can be stitched manually using layers in GIMP with minimal fuss. The EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM and the EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM both take this to an even high level of accuracy. None has the advantage in my tests here. They are both so accurate that complex subjects such as tree branches match seamlessly from one side of the frame to the other when stitching. It is just a matter of overlapping one image over the other and you are about done. The time savings here are incredible! Even compared to a very advanced and mature solution like PTGui.
Most of my landscape shots are at f/8 or narrower aperture where both lenses perform identically. The only advantage with the 400mm is that you can obviously extract more detail from your scene depending on distance and how many passes you use. Otherwise they are identical. The 300mm is almost half the size of the 400mm and much easier to carry around farther into locations where I would simply not venture with the 400mm.
Other than subtle differences in light levels between frames as the sun was setting, it is very difficult to find any seams. The panoramas above are composed of unedited shots and have been reduced to less than 1/10th of their original size. The detail is staggering. Both lenses are so sharp that you will be hard pressed to identify any image degradation before running into the actual pixels of the 5D Mark III sensor. This makes them ideal for high density sensors such as those in the 7D Mark II and 5DsR.
Below are some quick cell phone shots to show you my distance relative to the subject. In both cases the lenses were able to render details inside each office/room in the buildings as well as every nut and bolt on the Tower Bridge.
For more detailed, objective and in-depth analyses, I recommend reading Bryan Carnathan‘s reviews: