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Canon EF 300 4L USM

Petite Great White

Peter Kun Frary

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The EF 300 4L USM is my only great white lens and my largest optic. I bought it in the early 90s and it endured hard tours of duty shooting sunsets, candids and surfing at Waikiki and Ala Moana. I lost interest in telephotos and the 300 4L languished in my cupboard for a decade. I recently pulled it out and, after a few initial zips and bumps, found it as sharp and fast focusing as ever.

Runner at Sunset | EOS A2, EF 300 4L USM, Manfrotto 190 & Sensia 100

Build
It's a beefy hunk 'o glass with burly metal barrel but balances well on larger EOS DSLRs. You don't want to drop this puppy on your foot. The 77 mm filter size makes filters expensive, but I rarely use filters on telephotos. Incidentally, the front element is a protective filter, so not a good idea to add another on top of it. Finally, the slide out hood is handy, especially since it's attached to the lens and can't be misplaced.

When using large lenses, lift the rig by the lens, not the camera, or you may stress the camera's lens mount. It's also a good idea to not use a shoulder strap on the camera. Instead, put the strap on the lens or use a bag. A few pounds of metal and glass bouncing up and down all day isn't good for your camera's lens mount or optical alignment.

Canon EF 300 4L USM | With black Tripod Mount Ring A


Rear element focusing insures that the front element does not rotate and barrel length remains constant. AF rips due to silent ring-type USM and rear focus design. It has an AF distance limiter, but I've found it unnecessary as AF is accurate and rarely hunts on the cameras I've owned.

Like all ring-type USM lenses, it has FT-M and a distance window. The manual focusing ring is wide, grippy and turns almost as smooth as manual lenses of yesteryear. My main complaint is that it only focuses down to 2.5m, close enough for head and shoulder shots, but not close enough for small mammals and birds.

Jogger and Banyan | Canon EOS A2, EF 300 4L USM, Manfrotto 190 Tripod, Kodachrome 200

Hand Holding
In bright daylight, I can hand hold this lens with consistent results if I brace myself against something or sit down. However, it's at its best on a tripod or monopod. The detachable tripod mount takes the weight and stress off the camera and allows a rapid transition from horizontal to vertical framing. The jumbo size and off-white finish attract attention, so it's difficult to use when stealth is required.

Canon EF 300 4L USM | Image courtesy Canon

Optical Quality
After years of laying dormant in my cupboard, I mounted the EF 300 4L USM on a 5D MKII and walked out the door. Initial images were soft although I recall it being silly sharp on my 10D/20D and film cameras. I checked the AF Microadjustment (AFMA) menu and it was set to +5 for this lens. I did a session with a focus target and it was pin sharp with AFMA calibration set to -2. Not sure how it got set to +5 but all is well now!

With the new AFMA calibration I found this eight-element design to be razor sharp, contrasty and reasonably flare resistant. In the 1990s, I shot thousands of blazing Hawaiian sunsets with this lens using film there was little or no flare and zero ghosting (internal reflections). My "Runner at Sunset" image is a testimony to the EF 300 4 L USM's amazing resistance to flare when using film. Most zooms have ghosting problems with shots like this, usually several mirror images of the sun in the frame (I remove filters before shooting sunsets).

Oddly, on the 5D MKII, there's a modest amount of flare and ghosting with bright sunsets. The ghosting puzzled me since it never happened with film or APS-C (1.6X) cameras and wasn't visible in the viewfinder. The 5D MKII's large CMOS sensor is shinny and I suspect is reflecting the sun's disk back to the rear element.

Wave | Canon EOS A2E, EF 300 4L USM, Sensia 100

Tripod Collar
The EF 300 4L USM shipped with Tripod Mount Ring A (white, #2889A002). A collar makes tripod use easier, especially verticals, and prevents the weight of the lens from stressing the lens mount. If your lens is missing the tripod collar (mine was), you can save a few bucks by purchasing the Tripod Mount Ring A (black, #2888A002). It's the same as Tripod Collar "A" (white) except for the black finish. The tripod collars are interchangeable between the EF70-200 4L USM, EF80-200 2.8L, EF200 2.8L USM, EF300 4L USM and EF400 5.6L USM. The Tripod Mount Ring B will not fit. If you're on a tight budget, there are Chinese Tripod Mount Ring A clones galore on Ebay.

Extenders
I often use the EF 300 4L USM with the Extender 1.4x (original) and it gives up little in terms of sharpness. Wide open at F5.6 it's pin sharp across the frame but with oh so slight softening in extreme corners. At 420mm and F5.6 it's not a hand holding combo for me and I need a beanbag or tripod to render sharp images. The Extender 1.4x didn't flare any more than the bare lens, even with a blazing Hawaiian sun in the frame.

Incidentally, the EXIF data incorrectly indicates the lens in the images below is the EF 300 4L IS USM. It's the EF 300 4L USM. The lens is so old EXIF readers can't read it correctly!

Nuuanu Valley | EOS 5D MKII, EF 300 4L USM & Extender 1.4x (F5.6)

Pixel level crop | 100% detail from center frame

Pixel level crop | 100% detail from lower right frame

Gotchas
The EF 300 4L USM was discontinued in the late 1990s and replaced with the EF 300 4L IS USM. What that means in 2016 is there are few parts for the EF 300 4L USM and Canon no longer services it (independent shop might). Also, DPP lacks a lens profile and, thus, digital optimization isn't available for images taken with this lens.

Surfer Girl | EOS A2, EF 300 4L USM, Fujichrome, LS-1000 Scanner

Last Blurb
Although the "old man" of my lens cupboard, the EF 300 4L USM holds its own against newer optics: tough, fast focusing and amazing image quality. For outdoor sports, landscapes and candids this lens deliverers quality without breaking the bank and can take more knocks than typical plastic 75-300 zooms. Used EF 300 4L USM go for $400-700 depending on condition. If you find yourself mainly using the long end of a 75-300 telezoom, the EF 300 4L USM may be for you.

Specs

First marketed: 1991

Focal Length: 300mm

Aperture: F4-32

Lens Construction: 8 elements in 7 groups with 2 UD elements

Min. Focusing Distance: 2.5m

No. of Diaphragm Blades: 8

Filter Size: 77mm

Maximum Magnification: 0.13x

Diameter and Length: 90 D x 213.5 mm L

Weight: 1165g

Included Accessories: Hard Case

Cost: $400-700 depending on condition

 
     

6/21/2001 | Revised 07/09/2017

©Copyright 2001-2017 by Peter Kun Frary | All Rights Reserved

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