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Canon EF 75-300 f/4-5.6 IS USM

by Morten Rosenmeier, 2002 (updated March 2011)

This is no famous lens such as, for example, the Canon EF 70-200 f/2.8 L, 28-70 f/2.8 L or other high-end lenses. However, it already plays a remarkable part in the history of photography since it was Canon's first IS SLR lens. Many photographers consider IS to be revolutionary, and in a hundred years from now, when all cameras have anti-vibration systems beyond our wildest dreams, camera enthusiasts will wonder what technology started it all. One of the things that did is this lens: Canon EF 75-300 f/4-5.6 IS USM.

Where to Buy

Canon is now in their 3rd iteration of this lens. The review is of the 1st version, which may be available via the Photo.net Classified Ads section. Photo.net's partners have the Canon EF 75-300 f/4-5.6 IS USM III lens available. Their prices are fair and you help to support photo.net.

The 75-300 family

Tulips_small.JPG (5880 bytes) The lens is the third of a series of three Canon 75-300 lenses: EF 75-300 f/4-5.6 III, EF 75-300 f/4-5.6 III USM, and EF 75-300 f/4-5.6 IS USM. It is made of plastic, but it has a nice finish, and the build quality is fine. The lens gets quite long when you zoom in, and with the lens hood it grows to about 27 cm at 300 mm. People who are standing in front of such a lens will have no doubt that they are having their picture taken and will consider the photographer to be very professional!

Optical performance

Seagull_small.JPG (3438 bytes) Judged only on optical performance this may not be one of Canon's best lenses. Specifically the lens is not as sharp as some "L" series lenses at 300mm - though at shorter focal lengths sharpness may be excellent. This isn't a characteristic of just this lens of course, the same can be said of most consumer telephoto zoom lenses. Stopping down may improve sharpness slightly, though this isn't always practical. In my opinion sharpness is normally no big problem, and the picture quality is usually quite acceptable.

The quality of a photograph doesn't only depend on the optical performance of the lens of course, and if you point it in the right direction before you press the shutter there isno doubt that it is possible to take good pictures with a Canon 75-300 IS!

Image Stabilization (IS)

As already mentioned, this is the first Canon IS SLR lens, and according to Canon the IS allows you to handhold the lens at shutter speeds that are two stops slower than otherwise possible. In accordance with the classic "1/focal length" formula a camera with a 300 mm lens, for example, must have a shutter speed of at least 1/300 sec, but if you use a 75-300 IS at 300 mm Canon claims that the camera can have a shutter speed of about 1/75 sec. In my opinion it is difficult to say precisely how well the IS works in all situations, but Canon's claim seems to be fairly realistic. However, IS is no replacement for proper technique, so if you shake the camera the photograph can be blurred even if it was taken with IS, and a photograph that is taken at a slow shutter speed without IS can be fairly sharp if you hold the camera still enough. The IS of the 75-300 neutralizes both vertical and horizontal camera shake, so unlike some more expensive IS lenses it has no special IS mode that allows you to pan with the IS turned on. Also, unlike the IS of some "L" series telephoto lenses it does not work properly if the camera is mounted on a tripod, but it works fine with a monopod, and then the shutter speed can be at least 2-3 times slower than would otherwise be required without IS.

The USM motor

Unfortunately the USM motor is of the "micro ultrasonic motor" type, and unlike USM lenses with "ring ultrasonic motors" it has no "FTM" ("full time manual focusing"), so you have to press a small button on the lens to switch from autofocus to manual focus. This can be a problem on Canon bodies that have trouble with autofocus in low light conditions (e.g. EOS D30), because if the autofocus fails because of low light you can't switch to manual focus as fast as with lenses with FTM. Fortunately the problem only occurs under fairly poor light conditions, and normally everything works fine. Also, it is of course not all Canon bodies that have problems focusing in low light, and with EOS 1v, EOS 3 etc. the lacking FTM probably won't be important.

Technical Data

Construction: 15 elements in 10 groups
Focus motor: USM
Closest focusing: 1.5m / 4.9 ft.
Filter size: 58mm
Lens hood: ET-64
Max. diameter and length: 78.5 x 138.2mm
Weight: 650g

Related Reviews

Canon 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM review
All Canon reviews

Where to Buy

Canon is now in their 3rd iteration of this lens. The review is of the 1st version, which may be available via the Photo.net Classified Ads section. Photo.net's partners have the Canon EF 75-300 f/4-5.6 IS USM III lens available. Their prices are fair and you help to support photo.net.

Text and pictures copyright 2002 Morten Rosenmeier morten.rosenmeier@e-box.dk

Readers' Comments

Add a comment

Bob Atkins , February 23, 2003; 12:04 A.M.

While the 75-300 series of lenses aren't as sharp as, for example, the 300/4L, I think some of the bad press that they get is due to technique rather than optics. These lenses tend to be purchased by beginners who ascribe their poor results to poor optics. I'm not so sure that poor technique isn't at least as responsible for shortcomings in the images.

I have a review of the 75-300 (and 100-300) Canon telephoto zooms on my website at http://www.bobatkins.com/photography/reviews/x-300.html which includes some sample images and comparisons between the 300/4L and 75-300IS.

I think the 75-300IS is a great lens for general use when you can't (or can't be bothered to) use a tripod. On a camera like the D30, even the D60, the difference in lens peformance between the 75-300 lenses and the 300/4L lens tend to be less noticable than, say, images shot on Velvia and examined under a 10x loupe.

I have the 75-300IS and I like it. In the hands of a good photographer it can yield "professional quality" images, just as a 300/4L in the hands of a poor photographer can yield junk!

Bob Atkins , February 23, 2003; 02:25 P.M.

Sometimes there are good reasons to shoot at 300mm handheld. This was taken with the 75-300IS lens, wide open at f5.6. The original is sharp.

As I said above, the bad rap this lens gets is in large part undeserved.

Stephen Lutz , February 24, 2003; 07:33 P.M.

I owned this lens for about six months and thought it performed well optically. I got rid of it when I traded it (and parted with a lot of cash) for a 35-350L, but I didn't have any real dissatisfaction with the optics of the lens. The main downside of the 75-300 IS was in operational matters. It was a touch leisurely when focusing, with the front barrel rotating, and it was sensitive to the weather. I used the 75-300 IS (on an EOS 3) at the zoo one day, and it started drizzling. The lens got wet, and the AF stopped working. Once the lens dried out, it worked fine, but even in light drizzle the AF wouldn't work.

The 35-350L, of course, is far more robust. I used it in fairly heavy rain (also on an EOS 3) and it worked fine. The only problem I had with the weather that day was finding a dry place to change film!

My bottom line advice to people who shoot EOS is that the 75-300 IS is an excellent lens, but watch out for the weather.

Stephen Lutz , February 24, 2003; 07:36 P.M.

A big, toothy smile

Here's a picture I shot with an EOS 3, 70-300 IS and Sensia II 400, before the rain started.

Zap Trax , February 24, 2003; 09:48 P.M.

I've had this lens for about 4 years. I bought it primarily to shoot my niece who is a junior olympian in rythmic gymnastics. The lens did a decent job of capturing her performances. That said, the lens is not very sharp, it seems to lack contrast, it is slow to focus, and at f/4 - 5.6 it is not very fast. To sum it all up: if you need to hand hold a long lens at slow shutter speeds and can't afford to buy the "L" series lens than this is your only choice. If you don't need the image stabilization feature than you should pass on this lens.

martin feldwick , February 27, 2003; 04:06 A.M.

I used the non IS version of this lens,coupled with a very groggy EOS 650, and whilst I agree with the reviews about image quality ,it was good enough to get me started in motorsport journalism.Indeed I've taken some stunning shots (mainly by luck) Its a good lense on a sunny day,but not so good if the sun dont shine .I am writing from the UK! Its also not for hard use . The autofocus starts to play up if the lens gets damp or takes a knock which is easy to do with its long "snout".My wife still loves this lens for her zoo shots coupled to a used EOS 100.She finds the weight much easier than my current EOS 3 and L lenses .

Bob Atkins , March 05, 2003; 07:14 P.M.

The article has been updated, with new images, so two comments related to earlier image quality have been removed. This isn't meant to be censorship, just that they no longer apply since the images have been changed. The posters of the deleted comments are most welcome to comment again on the article and images as they currently stand.

Lee Shively , March 07, 2003; 10:38 A.M.

Canon's consumer telephoto zooms have long suffered bashings. I have the 100-300/4.5-5.6 and I had actually begun to believe the bad press on this lens. I put it away when I got a 70-200/2.8L and 1.4x extender (98-280mm, effectively). I planned to sell it eventually. Then one day, I tried it again--mainly because I had a Nikon 5T close-up lens to fit it and I had never gotten one of the Canon 77mm's to fit the 70-200. Laying down in the dirt and wildflowers with this lens proved to be a pretty interesting experience. Photos made with the lens wide open at 300mm were as sharp as could be hoped for. I gained new respect for the lens and decided to keep it as a lightweight alternative to the more expensive, heavier zoom. These are certainly capable lenses if the photographer does his part.

R Scott Steube , March 09, 2003; 09:46 A.M.

I first teamed up an Elan IIe with the EF 75-300 IS USM may be 4-1/2 or 5 years ago. I am now a devout, life-long believer in Canon IS technology, with just one caveat. That miracle IS on my first lens (the subject of this thread) went permanently schizophrenic on me for no apparent reason. When ever I half-depressed the shutter button, for the IS to startup and lock onto my composition, the “gyros” never settled down, but remain wandering idiots… I never did send it in for Canon Service, but I did try for awhile to get help on help from their website’s troubleshooting data base. No Luck. Actually if anyone else out there has had this same problem, I’d REALLY like to hear from you! Now please keep in mind that I happily shot a couple 1000’d rolls of film over those years, mostly with that EF 75-300 IS USM. And for handheld ski & mt. bike shooting, the Canon EF IS’s are awesome! Some much so, I ultimately secured a 70-200mm L IS, a 300mm L IS, and the newest non-L 28-135mm IS.

Axel Farr , March 17, 2003; 09:42 A.M.

Neue Seite 1

What the relatively short review did not cover are the following points:

  • The lens has a rotating front element which moves out when you are close-focussing.
  • The main flaw of the lens at its longer end is not its sharpness, the overall contrast of the image is quite bad compared with other consumer zooms lenses from Canon. This flaw can not be cured even when using the lens hood.
  • Astonishing good is the lens' image quality when focussed to closer distances up to some 30 feet (10m). I got some very nice close-ups and macros shot with this lens
  • The IS, even if it is first-generation, is able to stabilize even panned images: The trick is to start panning BEFORE you press the camera's shutter halfway down, so that the lens stabilizes the panning motion.

I own the lens for two years now, before I had the EF 75-300mm 1/4-5.6 I (the first version with micromotor). The only reason why I bought it was the IS. In my opinion, at least the image contrast and the handling could be improved by Canon with only few extra costs, and I will never understand why Canon used the "cheap" 75-300 for the first lens with IS, it would be better if they would have taken the more luxury EF 100-300mm 1/4.5-5.6 USM with ring-USM and none-rotating front element.

The only alternative lens, the EF 100-400mm 1/4.5-5.6 IS L USM, is much too expensive for my needs. So because of the IS I will stay with my lens.

The reduced image contrast is probably due to Canons lens coating; maybe there are some areas inside the lens which are not "black" enough and become visible to parts of the lenses when zooming to 300mm.

Greetings, Axel


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Joe Lempkowski , April 02, 2003; 08:10 P.M.

I've owned this lens for a couple of years and the non-IS version before it. I've never been disappointed by the lens. Any problems that I've had have always been operator-induced. The IS version solved a lot of problems for me without needing to drop the big bucks on L series lenses.

andre kusumo , September 23, 2003; 05:32 A.M.

I bought this EF 75-300 III USM (no IS) a week ago for my EOS 10D, coz its cheap to me, and of course before I buy it I read this forum first, I like the pro and contra about this lenses.My 3 days experience using this lenses is the AF is bad in low light but sharpnes is okay even you pull it to 300.If I got some more money I'll buy an 2X extender for this lens....is it work OK with an extender,,,?

Image Attachment: Shd 299.jpg

Qiang Lin , October 01, 2003; 04:57 P.M.

I haven't used this lens but have a question regarding the sharpness. According to photodo.com , they rated this lens as 2.9 while 28-105/3.5-4.5 USM was rated as 3.3. But when I looked at photos shown by you guys, this lens is sharp. Did they do anything wrong at photodo.com? What is more interesting is that they rated the non-IS version (i.e. II) as 3.1. Does that mean IS feature actually degrade the performance when it is perfectly vibration free? Well it is not uncommon in electrical engineering that compensation hurts the performance when there is nothing to compensate. But I was surprised that they did observe such not-so-small difference.

Goldwyn T , October 20, 2003; 03:54 A.M.


The sharpness of the photos as seen on a computer monitor is really not an accurate representation of the lens quality. As mentioned in other threads many times over, you have to sit down with the original slide and a good loupe to really make a judgement. For a telephoto at 300mm, it's no surprise that MTF test (on photodo.com) will rate the 28-105 better than this lens considering the glass inside are of similar index.

Paul Hart , December 02, 2003; 07:22 P.M.

Young Robin

This lens seems to offer very satisfactory performance and is remarkable value for money. Here's one of my early efforts...

Kurt Thompson , December 10, 2003; 02:06 P.M.

I've had this lens for about a year now. I think the quality is just fine at closer distances, not fully extended. But I don't believe I have a single shot wide open at 300mm that's sharp.

I was just thinking about selling it, but after reading the other comments, my guess is that this is due to operator error.

So...time to test the thing: wide open, 300mm, tripod, IS off, subject distance 10, 20, and 30 meters. I'll let you know the results.

Hunor Demeter , March 23, 2004; 03:05 A.M.

Lens reliability - possible design error? Both my Cannon lenses suffered the following problem after 3 year of use: the zooming gets blocked, focusing does not always work. A screw fell out inside the lens, blocking mechanical elements. My lenses: Cannon EF 28-135 IS/USM Cannon EF 75-300 IS/USM

Tommy Seagrave , June 04, 2005; 10:15 P.M.

I used my girlfriends 75-300 111 while on holiday and was pleased with results, I took quite a few pictures of Birds at a santuary wide open at 300 on a D60, some of them behind wire and the results were excellent. I usually use sigma 70-200 2.8 but didn't want to carry the weight abroad, the Canon was light and could easily be stored in a jacket pocket. I enjoyed using it so much that I've decided to buy the IS version.

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Rene R , August 13, 2009; 04:02 P.M.

I am glad I found this site to share my Canon experience. I am new to the world of SLR cameras. My sister owns a Nikon SLR and got me really interested it.

I bought my first SLR, a Canon EOS Rebel XS1000D nearly two months ago and I admit, when I first got it I thought, "it's a lot of camera." I own a Kodak Z712 IS with a couple of lenses as well, and a Nikon Coolpix - small camera, however, they do not provide the type of sharpness and quality I'm looking for to suit the purpose of a particular project. Don't get me wrong, my Kodak out performs the Nikon Coolpix by a long shot, and there are a lot of lenses available for it, at the same time, I needed a camera that would perform in areas where my other cameras fell short.

After having taken some amaturish pictures with it, I found that the quality of the camera is well beyond my other cameras and far exceeded my expectations. In learning to use it, the picture quality is good, it has a long battery life if not used regularly and based on some of the reviews I read before I purchased this camera, it is a good camera, one of the best I've had. However, it is heavier than what I expected, but that is fine. It's easy to hold and has good image stabilization. I like the auto focus feature and the camera is actually easy to learn how to use if taken the time.

Ok, so I picked up the Canon EF 75-300 III lens just yesterday. But I am reading a lot of good reviews about the IS USM. I Took a few pictures in different light situations, and outside to get a feel for the lens and the quality the photos, using suitable settings, met my expectations. It adds weight to the camera, but I am used to it by now. the focus is good and the zoom in is superb. It is ideal for the projects I am working on and adds a high level of sharpness to my photos. The workmanship of the lens is good. If taken care of properly it can have a long life.

I can say that I'm a proud owner of a Canon EOS Rebel XS1000D.

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