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Canon Telezoom Lenses

Peter Kun Frary


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A typical telezoom begins its range from 70 to 100 mm and extends to 200 or 300 mm. The most popular early telezooms were 80-200 and 70-210 models. In the 1980s I would have given my left toenail for a Nikkor 80-200 4.5 AI. Today, 75-300 4.0-5.6 and 100-300 4.5-5.6 designs are the most popular and affordable telezooms. The well heeled and strong can shoot with extreme designs such as the EF 100-400 4.5-5.6L IS USM or EF 70-200 2.8L IS USM.

With so many focal lengths at your fingertips, the convenience of a telezoom is undeniable. But, like most things in life, a telezoom isn't a free lunch. The main drawback of most telezooms is a slow aperture. Typically, the aperture is variable, F3.5-4.5 or 4.5-5.6, making it difficult to use in low light conditions or to hand hold. Most prime telephoto lenses are a stop or two faster. Of course, fast zooms are available, but they are extremely large, heavy and expensive. For example, the EF 200 2.8L USM is relatively small and light at 136 mm L and 765 g. It costs about $650. In contrast, the EF 70-200 2.8L USM is 198.1 mm L and 1310 g, a real beast. It will set you back about $1200. Nevertheless, the best zooms are nearly as sharp as the best primes. However, the prime usually has an edge, especially in terms of flare resistant and aperture size.

Here are some of the telezooms I have kept in my bag.

Canon EF 70-210 3.5-4.5 USM

I bought the EF 70-210 3.5-4.5 USM in 1992 as a companion for my EF 28-105 USM. Its zoom range and large aperture (for a telezoom) make it ideal as part of a travel kit. Polycarbonate construction, but with a metal mount, keep it to a reasonable 550 g (19.4 oz). The twist action zoom is fairly smooth and does not creep, but feels a little rough compared to L series zoom action. Like most AF lenses, the manual focus ring is small and is not as silky or fine as the manual lenses of yesteryear.

This lens is well corrected for distortion and is more flare resistant than most consumer telezooms. This image would have several reflections (ghosts) of the blazing sun if shot with the EF 75-300 IS USM.

Mukilteo Sunset • Canon EOS Elan & EF 70-210 3.5-4.5 USM (210 mm)

It sports a ring-type USM (Ultrasonic Motor) that drives a rear lens group and, thus, AF smokes. Amazingly, it is slightly faster and quieter (no gear train noise) than the EF 70-200 4L USM. The front element does not rotate and the barrel does not expand or contract during focusing. Of course, being an USM lens, it is silent when focusing. It has FT-M, allowing you to manually focus without switching out of AF mode. If you prefocus manually, the distance window in meters and feet is very useful. The filter size is a modest 58 mm, making filters affordable and easy to share with common Canon lenses.

It is a wonderful lens for the Elan, Rebel and XXD series cameras. It isn't as well suited for the pro EOS cameras like the EOS 1D or EOS 1V as the variable aperture of F3.5 to 4.5 is too slow to activate their cross AF sensors.

Canon EF 70-210 3.5-4.5 USM • Cosmetically it's the twin of the EF 100-300 4.5-5.6 USM and is smaller than Canon's 75-300 offerings.

For a consumer telezoom, the EF 70-210 USM is sharp and contrasty, a level above the EF 75-300 IS USM or the EF 100-300 USM, and on a par with the EF 28-105 USM. If you stop down to F8, it is as sharp as a good prime lens at 70 mm. At 200 mm, it is slightly softer on the far edges of the horizontal, but still very good. There is little distortion and flare is well controlled for a zoom. Although some flare and ghosting may occur with bright sunsets, this lens is more flare resistant than any of Canon's consumer telezooms. It is noticeably better than the EF 75-300 IS USM and EF 28-135 3.5-5.6 IS USM in this regard. Of course, you should use the lens shade (ET-65II or ET-65III) to help keep flare in check.

This lens is out of production but used stock occasionally appears on EBay. Although a wonderful lens design, Canon probably discontinued this lens due to slow sales. Most folks are willing to settle for a slower and optically inferior design to gain the longer reach of a 75-300 lens. If you like this zoom range but want the best possible optical and mechanical performance in a beefy package, you may wish to consider the EF 70-200 4L USM.

Mukilteo Sunset • Canon EOS Elan & EF 70-210 3.5-4.5 USM (70 mm)

If given a choice between the EF 70-210 3.5-4.5 USM or EF 70-200 4L USM, I'd pick the EF 70-210 3.5-4.5 USM. Why? It is smaller, lighter, black (instead of white) , less expensive and delievers 90% of the optical and AF performance of it's L series brother. At F8 or higher there is virtually no difference between both zooms in optical performance. Of course the L zoom is a little better wide open and build like a little bazooka.

When the EF 70-210 USM first appeared in 1990, it sold for about $325 (NY prices). During the mid-1990s it sold for $225 new and was a true bargain lens.

Here are more images I shot with the EF 70-210 3.5-4.5 USM:

 
 
 
   

Canon EF 100-300 4.5-5.6 USM

I bought the EF 100-300 4.5-5.6 USM in 1990 along with an EOS 10S. The 10S center cross sensor and ring-USM of the zoom produced jaw dropping fast and accurate AF. It was an earth shattering improvement after struggling for months with the slow and unreliable AF of a Nikon 8008. Polycarbonate construction, but with a metal mount, keep this zoom to a reasonable 550 g (19.4 oz). The twist action zoom is smooth but tends to creep after wearing in. Like most AF lenses, the manual focus ring is small and is not as silky or fine as the manual lenses of yesteryear.

Boogieboard Dude • Canon EOS 10S & EF 100-300 4.5-5.6 USM (300mm, AI Servo)

It sports a ring-type USM (Ultrasonic Motor) that drives a rear lens group and, thus, AF rips. Amazingly, AF is slightly faster and quieter (no gear train noise) than the EF 70-200 4L USM. The front element does not rotate and the barrel does not expand or contract during focusing. Of course, being an USM lens, it is silent when focusing. It has FT-M, allowing you to manually focus without switching out of AF mode. If you prefocus manually, the distance window in meters and feet is very useful. The filter size is a modest 58 mm, making filters affordable and easy to share with common Canon lenses.

Sleeping Girl Canon EOS 10S & EF 100-300 4.5-5.6 USM

The EF 100-300 4.5-5.6 USM is a nice lens for the EOS Elan series, XXD series or 5D series. It isn't as well suited for the pro EOS cameras like the EOS 1V or EOS 3 as the variable aperture of F3.5 to 4.5 is too slow to activate their cross AF sensors.

Canon EF 100-300 4.5-5.6 USM • Cosmetically it's the twin of the EF 70-210 3.5-4.5 USM and is smaller than Canon's 75-300 offerings.

For a consumer telezoom, the EF 100-300 4.5-5.6 USM is reasonably sharp and contrasty, a notch above the EF 75-300 IS USM. If you stop down to F8, it is as sharp as a prime lens at 100 mm. After 200 mm, the image gets softer but still makes nice 11 x 14 prints if your stop down to F11-16. Distortion is much better controlled than than the EF 75-300 IS USM. In fact, unlike the EF 75-300 IS USM, ocean horizons don't exhibit noticeable pincushion distortion! Moreover, flare is well controlled for a zoom. Although some flare and ghosting occurs if you shoot bright sunsets, this lens is more flare resistant than the EF 75-300 IS USM. Of course, you should use the lens shade (ET-65II or ET-65III) to help keep flare in check.

Hipscapes in Waikiki Canon EOS 10S & EF 100-300 4.5-5.6 USM

When the EF 100-300 4.5-5.6 USM first appeared in 1990, it sold for about $325 (NY prices). Now its about $250 new, a bargain. If Canon added Image Stabilization, this zoom would be a perfect balance of cost, ergonomics and performance. Heck, I'd gladly pay a couple hundred more for it.

Pray for Surf • Waikiki (August 1992) EOS 10S, EF 100-300 4.5-5.6 USM & Ilford XP2

Girl & Pet Pigeon • Waikiki HI EOS A2, EF 100-300 4.5-5.6 USM & Tri-X

Here are more images I shot with the EF 100-300 4.5-5.6 USM:

 

Canon EF 75-300 4.0-5.6 IS USM

In 1995 Canon rocked the camera world by releasing the first mass produced lens with Image Stabilization, the EF 75-300 4.0-5.6 IS USM. I bought this zoom in 1999 as a replacement for my EF 100-300 4.5-5.6 USM. It's slightly larger and heavier than the EF 100-300 4.5-5.6 USM, tipping the scales at 670 g (1.5 lb). The zoom action is not as smooth as the other telezoom is prone to creep. When used on sunny days, the plastic parts expand and make the lens feel loose. The manual focus ring is a nice size but feels undamped and gritty, as if Canon added sand to the gear train.

Antelope in Waikiki • Canon EOS A2 & EF 75-300 4.5-5.6 IS USM (shot at 300 mm)

The wind was howling but IS kept this image sharp.

A Micro Ultrasonic Motor drives the heavy front lens group and, thus, AF is painfully slow compared to the ring-type USM and internal focus of the EF 100-300 4.5-5.6 USM. The front element turns and the barrel extends/contracts during focus making use of polarizer filters frustrating. Furthermore, the AF mechanism lacks a clutch--primitive for an expensive lens--and, hence, the manual focusing ring rotates during AF. Watch your fingers! It lacks FT-M so you must flip a switch before manually focusing. If you want to prefocus manually, forget it because there is no distance window. The filter size is a modest 58 mm, making filters affordable and easy to share with common Canon lenses.

This is a good lens for the Elan series or A2/A2E, but balances better on the larger A2/A2E. It isn't as well suited for the pro EOS cameras like the EOS 1V or EOS 3 as the variable aperture of F4.5 to 5.6 is too slow to activate their cross AF sensors.

Canon EF 75-300 4.5-45.6 IS USM & ET 64 II Hood

Stopped down to F8 to 16, images are sharp and contrasty from 75 to 150, but get softer towards 300. However, image quality is fine for 11 x 14 prints (slight color fringing may be apparent at larger magnifications). The main problem at the long end is pincushion distortion. It's noticeable when shooting straight lines near the edges of the frame, e.g., ocean horizons or architecture. The EF 100-300 4.5-5.6 USM is better in this respect. Also obvious flare and ghosting will occur if you shoot bright sunsets, more so than the EF 28-105 3.5-4.5 USM. Hazy sunsets come out fine.

The ET64II lens shade is massive and should be used at all times. When installing the lens shade (it twists on), hold the manual focusing ring tightly so that the barrel won't turn (or turn off AF), otherwise you may damage the AF motor or gear train. Nevertheless, the AF motor in my lens failed and was replaced during the last month of the one year warranty.

This would be just another a mediocre 75-300 lens without Image Stabilization (IS). However, IS sets this lens apart from other telezooms. Small gyro sensors coupled to a CPU detect the degree and direction of camera shake and counteract this vibration by moving a compensating optical group. IS allows me to get sharp pictures two to three stops below my normal hand holding shutter speed. Racked out to 300 mm, I can consistently nail sharp images while hand holding at 1/60 sec., 1/30 if I brace myself. The IS mechanism in this lens emits a soft "grinding" noise, kind of like a muffled electric shaver. IS in my EF 28-135 IS USM is nearly inaudible.

Sunset Boys Canon EOS A, EF 75-300 4.5-5.6 IS USM & Ektachrome 100

Image Stabilization is not just for low light conditions, it helps eminently in any high vibration situation such as high wind, airplanes, automobiles or boats. When windy, I use Image Stabilization with a tripod mounted camera and it makes a major improvement in sharpness. The antelope image above was shot during gusty conditions with a tripod mounted EOS A2 and EF 75-300 IS USM lens.

Remember the old saying, "bad love is better than no love?" This lens reminds me of a terrible girlfriend I had trouble breaking up with. I hate the lack of ring-type USM, internal focus, FT-M and the distance window, but I can't live without the IS feature. Why couldn't Canon have just updated the EF 100-300 4.5-5.6 USM design with IS? That zoom has much better ergonomics and performance features, it just lacks IS. Canon designed it that way so you'll be impelled to upgrade to the $1600 EF 100-400 L IS USM.

Canon replaced this zoom with the EF 70-300 4.0-5.6 IS USM in 2006. It is reputed to be better optically but suffers from similar flimsy construction and slow AF.

Here are more images I shot with the EF 75-300 4.0-5.6 IS USM:

 

5/06/2002 • Updated 1/21/2011

©Copyright 2002-2013 by Peter Kun Frary • All Rights Reserved

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