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Canon IS Lenses

by Bob Atkins, 2004

One of the most popular question on web forums is some variation on "what should I buy" or "Is it worth it". This article addresses some aspects of the issues of which 300mm lens to buy and whether IS is worth it! Is it worth an extra $200 to upgrade from a Canon EF75-300/4-5.6 lens to the EF75-300/4-5.6 IS version? Is it worth the extra $400 to upgrade the EF75-300/4-5.6 IS to an EF 300/4L (used, since it's not made anymore) or $700 to upgrade to a 300/4L IS lens? I'm not going to directly answer that question because "worth it" is a highly subjective condition. It depends a lot whether $700 if your life savings or the amount you'd normally spend on a meal and a bottle of wine. However I will present some images which might help YOU to make up YOUR mind on the issue.

So let's start off with a shot taken on a typical New Jersey suburban street, since that's part of my lens testing range!

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Above is a full frame shot with a street sign centered. I shot three frames with IS on and 3 frames with IS off, and the results are shown below:

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Pretty clear that IS works! The top row of images, shot with IS on, are consistantly sharp. The bottom row of images, shot with IS off, demonstrate that I can't hold a 300mm lens steady enough at 1/80s to give a sharp image. Some shots are better, some are worse, but they all show significant blurring.

Below is a shot of a cooperative rabbit in my garden. This was for a comparison of a 300/4L prime lens and the 75-300/4-5.6L, hand held in low light. The ISO setting on the 10D was ISO 3200. The shutter speed was 1/30s with the 75-300 wide open at 300mm (f5.6) and 1/80s with the 300/4L wide open (f4), so the "L" prime had a 1.3 stop advantage. Would this be enough to make the "L" images better than the IS images?

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Below are two typical frames. The noise is due to the ISO 3200 setting. As you can see, the IS image is sharper than the 300 "L" series non-IS lens image. Note that I did say "typical" frames. If you shoot enough frames, some will be less sharp, but some will be sharper. If you shot 10 frames with the "L" lens, it's quite possible that one of them would be better than anything you could get with the IS lens, though 2 of them might be similar and 7 of them might be worse! Shoot enough frames hand held at almost any reasonable speed and sooner or later you'll get a sharp one.

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While I think the above images have addressed whether IS works (it does) and whether and IS lens can beat and "L" series lens in actual use under some conditions (it can), there remains the question of just how much image quality you lose going from an EF 300/4L to a 75-300/4-5.6IS under good conditions where the IS function does not come into play. The images below answer that question. They were taken using an EOS 10D at ISO 100 with the camera/lens mounted on a sturdy tripod (Bogen 3051) using a sturdy ballhead (Arca Swiss B1), with a shutter speed of 1/400s and an aperture of f5.6. IS was not used. The deer was in my garden and was highly cooperative, since it stood there motionless (the rabbit moved a bit..) and staring at me while I switched lenses!

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Above is the full frame shot. It happens to have been taken with the 75-300IS, but at this scale the image from the 300/4L would look identical. The more interesting images are below

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You can see from the above shot sthat the image from the 300mm prime "L" series lens is sharper. Significantly more detail is visible in the fur. Contrast is higher (blacks or blacker). This isn't a matter of one being in better focus either. Repeat shots looked the same and from the foreground/background detail in each image it was evident that focus was the same for both lenses. This is pretty much the expected result. The image quality of an $800 "L" series prime lens is better than that of a $400 consumer zoom IS lens (or the equivalent $200 consumer non-IS zoom lens). For the web (see the small full frame shot above), the difference doesn't matter, but once you start cropping the image significantly or making large prints, the difference becomes clear. The difference is even larger at the edges of the frame, where the 75-300 becomes softer and shows more chromatic aberration. It it "worth it" to spend $600-$700 for this difference? Only you know the depth of your wallet. The "L" lens is nicer to use, has smoother focus, a tripod ring, a built in lens hood, doesn't rotate or extend duing focus and is a stop faster. All these things come into play along with image quality when answering the "is it worth it" question. The one stop faster speed means you can shoot with a shutter speed twice as fast. This means nothing with a static subject, but if your subject is moving, you want a fast shutter speed and IS won't help here. Of course the 75-300 also covers the 75-299mm range that the 300mm prime doesn't, plus it's smaller and lighter. More factors to consider when asking the "worth it" question.


The conclusion is that IS works. With the 75-300/4-5.6IS lens, you probably gain at least 2 stops, probably three stops, of hand holdability. Under the lowest light conditions, the consumer zoom IS lens can outperform an "L" series non-IS lens (though it wouldn't beat the 300/4L IS lens!). On a tripod, the "L" lens is a clear winner, but for web images the difference will most likely not be visible.

©Copyright 2004 Bob Atkins. Visit Bob Atkins Photography at WWW.BOBATKINS.COM

Readers' Comments

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Yaron Kidron , March 17, 2004; 01:12 A.M.

Nice article, Bob. IS/VR technology does work. It does not however, replace a tripod, as it only eliminates camera-shake. What I'd like to see however, are the implications of using more glass (and IS/VR hardware) in such a lens on flare-resistance, etc. All is well with an IS/VR lens if your subject is front-lit; what interests me is how IS/VR lenses handle scenes that include a bright light source.

Bob Atkins , March 17, 2004; 01:48 A.M.

When I had both a 75-300 and a 75-300 IS lens I did some tests and found there was no significant difference in resolution or contrast. I didn't specifically look for flare.

I did look for flare differences between a 300/4L and 300/4L IS. Under extreme condition, e.g. with the sun in the frame, the IS lens did show a little more flare, presumably because of the increased number of elements. In normal use I didn't notice a difference (but I may not have looked hard for it either!). The non-IS lens was also fractionally sharper when used wide open, but the difference was slight.

Either way, the number of shots in which IS is a benefit probably far outweighes the number of shots in which it is a problem!

I agree a tripod is better (and cheaper) than IS. However if I'm wandering aorund NYC, I'll take my 28-135IS and leave my tripod home.

Alistair Windsor , March 17, 2004; 04:36 A.M.

I have also found IS useful in shooting from unstable platforms. I shot a bunch of pictures recently from a boat on Lake Windermere on a heavily overcast day. The boat was rocking but most of my shots taken with the 28 - 135 IS are sharp.

In the enlargements of the deer that you posted (nice garden by the way - well trained wildlife - I am guessing it's not downtown Newark) I noticed that the background of the shot taken with the 75-300mm appears sharper than that taken with the 300mm which, given they were both at f5.6, makes me suspect that the 75-300mm is focusing beyond the subject.

Black Bloke , March 17, 2004; 06:10 A.M.

Well I guess all the people who like the IS feature, but don't want to pay the money for it, are really excited about the Minolta DSLR.

Karim Ghantous , March 17, 2004; 06:12 A.M.

Perhaps one day soon a major SLR camera manufacturer is going to build IS into the sensor - that is, the sensor will physically counter camera shake. You could do a 'virtual' IS by reducing the effective border of the image and use the outer segment of the sensor as a kind of 'cushion' area. I think some video cameras use this method.

The advantage of getting the sensor to counter shake is that all your lenses don't need to be changed. It's a similar principle to what Contax did when they brought out an AF SLR which moved the film plane in and out for focusing. This meant that you could use AF with your manual lenses. That was a bit clunky but the principle is interesting.

Erich Budeshefsky , March 17, 2004; 08:49 A.M.


A manufacturer is working on a 6 MP digital with 'in sensor' stabilization. The product was announced at february's show in Las Vegas, and it is going to be out for consumers this fall. I can't wait for it since Minolta always had a great user interface(i.e. easy to operate under shooting conditions).

So yes, if you have maxxum glass, all of your lenses are going to be anti-shake/Vibration-resistant. I still don't think it is going to cause a revolution, since no one followed Contax lead when they made the AX auto-focus camera. So Canon and Nikon people will still have their systems. Still think both Contax and Minolta should have put it out three years before, but that's that.

Bob Atkins , March 17, 2004; 12:50 P.M.

Minolta's idea of moving the sensor to compensate for camera motion is interesting. Once their DSLR with the system is available it will be interesting to see if it proves to be as reliable and effective as VR/IS technology. For example will it have the frequency response range that IS has to reduce mirror induced vibations with long telephotos? Will it give 1, 2, 3, 4 or more extra stops of "hand holdability" (IS/VR give in the region of 3 stops).

I'm guessing that Canon/Nikon might claim that putting it in the lens allows it to be optimized for each lens, much in the same way as putting the focusing motor in the lens allows it to be tuned for optimum performance, rather than having one motor in the body which has to deal with all lenses.

We're just going to have to wait and see before passing judgement on it.

Something a lot of people would like to see woul be an IS/VR "TC". Perhaps a 1.2x TC which would provide an IS function for all lenses it was attached to. Technically possible, but might affect sales of IS/VR lenses!

Tim Adams , March 17, 2004; 01:19 P.M.

Very nice, it does indeed show how much sharper it is when you crop. Too bad you couldn't have thrown in the "Holy Grail" of 300mm's the f/2.8L IS. Man do I lust after this baby, though it is not even on the same planet price wise to the lenses compared here.

I had one of the cheaper Canon consumer 75-300 zooms without IS, and when I made the jump to the 300 f4L (without IS), and the 70-200 f/2.8L (with IS), I could see the difference even before cropping. It is true, you get what you pay for.

Jack Floyd , March 17, 2004; 01:33 P.M.


I'm more of a Big Sur than an NYC tourist, but your point about the 28-135 IS is well taken and needs to be stressed.

No the IS won't increase depth of field, no it won't help with "moving targets", no it's not steadier than a $500 tripod and head combo, no it's maybe not as sharp etc. than a bagful of primes that match the focal lengths. But when you're tired, windcd, on foot just touristing around, it WILL get those suddenly appearing shots that we've all lost without it. And my 300 f4 IS is great for stalking water birds that keep moving in and out of the trees

Were I just a landscape shooter, I'd have gone to medium or large format a long time ago

Anh Tran , March 17, 2004; 01:33 P.M.

The IS is obviously working great. But you said in the last line "For the web" , the non-L is great too.

However, if only for the web, we don't need to conduct a whole test and even I can buy the Phoenix cheapo lens , It will show the same on the web compare to L lens

Bob Atkins , March 17, 2004; 02:06 P.M.

The Canon 300/2.8L is not much better than the 300/4L. I've tested them side by side. The 300/2.8L will give very slightly sharper images on fine grain slide film (e.g. Velvia), but the difference is pretty small and would be lost on scanning and web display. On a 10D (maybe even a 1Ds) you wouldn't be able to tell the difference. I sold my 300/2.8L and kept my 300/4L. Virtually identical images, much smaller, much lighter, much cheaper.

Yes, almost any lens is good enough for small web images as long as you don't need to crop and you keep display size down to 640x480. The Canon lenses, even the humble 75-300 is WAY better than that. Once you start to crop your images though, quality counts, even on the web.

Petru Lauric , March 17, 2004; 02:56 P.M.

"Minolta's idea of moving the sensor to compensate for camera motion is interesting. Once their DSLR with the system is available it will be interesting to see if it proves to be as reliable and effective as VR/IS technology. For example will it have the frequency response range that IS has to reduce mirror induced vibations with long telephotos? Will it give 1, 2, 3, 4 or more extra stops of "hand holdability" (IS/VR give in the region of 3 stops)."

BTW, this technology is already in use in Minolta's bridge digicams (A1 and A2). It seems to provide 2-3 stops of latitude. And speaking of stabilized lenses, Panasonic has a digicam (Lumix DMC-FZ10) with a very interesting "35-420mm" f/2.8 Leica lens. The lens has a stabilizer, probably inherited from Panasonic's camcorders. Several reviewers have reported consistentlty sharp results at the long end when exposing at 1/10 to 1/25 seconds. Try that with a Canon 400/2.8 IS while wandering around NYC, Bob :)

Bob Atkins , March 17, 2004; 03:34 P.M.

Stabilizing by moving a tiny little sensor in a digicam is a whole different ballgame from stabilizing a large (or even full frame) sensor in a DSLR. I'm not sure you can extrapolate performance.

Like I said, we're just going to have to wait and see how well a DSLR with a moving sensor works.

" Panasonic has a digicam (Lumix DMC-FZ10) with a very interesting "35-420mm" f/2.8 Leica lens. The lens has a stabilizer, probably inherited from Panasonic's camcorders. Several reviewers have reported consistentlty sharp results at the long end when exposing at 1/10 to 1/25 seconds"

Think you're overlooking a bunch of stuff here. First it's not a 420mm lens. It's a lens with the same field of view as a 420mm lens would have on a 35mm SLR. Second, the "300mm" lenses I tested above are "480mm" lenses if you want to compare them with the Panasonic due to the 1.6x crop on the 10D. Some of the shots above, with IS, were taken at 1/30. So yes, I can quite easily see me walking around NYC with a 480mm (equiv) lens and shooting hand held at 1/30 with a Canon IS lens. No problem at all. I can even do it at ISO 3200 and get fairly decent images. Try that with a small sensor digicam!

Michael Nigro , March 18, 2004; 12:40 A.M.

I think you all miss the point. Long lenses should be mounted on a tripod and a cable release should be used. Period!!!

Bob Atkins , March 18, 2004; 12:52 A.M.

And which stone tablet did you find that chiselled into?

Maybe it's the 11th commandment but they only had room for the first 10?

Michael Nigro , March 18, 2004; 02:55 A.M.

Hey Bob: It's not the 11th commandment. And, using a tripod is not chisseled into any stone tablets. It's just the wisdom of a very accomplished photographer named Bryan Peterson, who just happens to have published a wonderful 147 page book entitled Understanding Exposure, Amphoto Publications, ISBN 0-8174-3712-6.

Mr. Peterson provides detailed descriptions of how his images were exposed and in each description he says...with my camera securely mounted on a tripod...

Does this help any Bob? You see, I can be as condescending as you, Bob.

And, maybe we can pick up this discussion in the event that you put together and publish a book as good as that published by Mr. Peterson.

Oskar Ojala , March 18, 2004; 03:38 A.M.

A nice article, I did enjoy the comparisons and the "is it worth it?" question. Personally, I've been looking at image stabilized lenses for some time, but the more I shoot the more I shoot in larger formats and in general with focal lengths from 24 mm to 135 mm (in 35 mm, same angle of view but a slightly narrower range for larger formats), so spending $$$ on a high-quality fast IS telephoto would not really be for me. Maybe other people share this experience? Anyway, I think it's good to note that in different situations people have different lens needs.

Michael Nigro , March 18, 2004; 10:01 A.M.

Yes Panagiotis. Those sports photographers use monopods the object of which is to control camera shake and prevent blur. Kinda the same effect one gets by using a tripod, huh?. You don't see those people trying to hand hold their cameras now, do you? Also, why do you figure lens manufacturers go to the trouble of putting a tripod mounting ring on the barrels of their long lenses. Think it might have something to do with stabilizing equipment to prevent shake and blur? C'mon, your an engineer. Do the math.

Petru Lauric , March 18, 2004; 10:52 A.M.

"Stabilizing by moving a tiny little sensor in a digicam is a whole different ballgame"

Of course. But I would think that Minolta's engineers have thought about this issue before the company announced that they will use this technology in a DSLR ...

"Think you're overlooking a bunch of stuff here. First it's not a 420mm lens. It's a lens with the same field of view as a 420mm lens would have on a 35mm SLR."

Duh! Why do you think I used quote marks when I indicated the focal lengths?

"So yes, I can quite easily see me walking around NYC with a 480mm (equiv) lens and shooting hand held at 1/30 with a Canon IS lens. No problem at all. I can even do it at ISO 3200 and get fairly decent images. Try that with a small sensor digicam!"

C'mon Bob, there's no reason to feel attacked ... I was just making a comment about how this other stabilization technology can help get sensational results with a very compact and cheap camera. Cheap on many levels: low price but also low ISOs, low signal to noise ratio etc.

I assume that many if not most readers of your photo.net articles are very intelligent and informed and they know what the pluses and minuses of a digicam are. No reason to remind them that a $500 digicam is only usable at ISO 100-200 and that the results cannot compare with those from a high end system. Also, there's no reason for me to remind you what the cost and the weight of a long fast lens is. I was just making a little fun trying to picture you lugging a 400/2.8 lens in NYC, that's all!

Thanks for an excellent review, btw.

Frank Uhlig , March 18, 2004; 10:59 A.M.


your analysis and conclusions on IS lenses is first rate. However, i would like to ask you to do one further test on the 35 mph speed sign: What happens if you reshoot this with and without IS activated from a monopod? Common wisdom says the L lens at 1/80 sec should give sharp images. Is that true? Does the IS lens prosper from a monopod, too?

I say this, because these lenses are both a bit long and heavy and I would prefer to use them on long stands with a monopod. Others might want to, too. Thanks!

Peter Bednar , March 18, 2004; 05:18 P.M.

I would've liked to see the deer shot with the 75-300USM IS stopped down to f8 and f11 in comparison to the L glass. The EF 300mm lenses are notoriously soft wide open and all the way out.

as Canon's very low noise CMOS sensors give us High-ISO performance better than film, Stopping down to get consumer grade glass sharper seems to be a possible option.

Panos Voudouris , March 18, 2004; 05:18 P.M.

"Long lenses should be mounted on a tripod and a cable release should be used. Period!!!"

Quick! Somebody tell all those fools, those sports photographers who use big long white lenses on monopods without cable releases and they even have the nerve to MOVE them (imagine that!) to get this...this...dreadful pan effect...Blasphemy!


"Also, why do you figure lens manufacturers go to the trouble of putting a tripod mounting ring on the barrels of their long lenses. Think it might have something to do with stabilizing equipment to prevent shake and blur? C'mon, your an engineer. Do the math."

They put the hole under the lens ring for the same reason they put the IS mechanism in the lens! Besides, not everyone carries a tripod around, nor one is very useful on a boat or other moving places. Ever tried taking a shot from a vaporetto platform in Venice?

Michael Nigro , March 18, 2004; 08:20 P.M.

Panagiotis: The point is that people SHOULD carry around a tripod or at least a monopod when using long lenses. And, as far as shooting on a moving boat or vaporetto platform there are just some places where a long slow lens is inapropriate and you mentioned two of them. Good reasoning!

Eric Carter , March 18, 2004; 09:39 P.M.

"I think you all miss the point. Long lenses should be mounted on a tripod and a cable release should be used. Period!!!"

Well, that may be the last word for you, and it may be the last word for a lot of very good photographers - but it doesn't mean that it is the way everyone HAS to do things.

While I like primes on 'pods myself, there are times when the flexibility of a good long IS lens would have been very welcome. There are times when a tripod is very tricky - just try shooting using longer glass in many cities... they aren't very friendly to tripods, so IS may be a good alternative.

Not everyone wants to be "chained" to a 'pod, and IS glass provides them with something of an alternative - especially nature shooters and hikers for whom space and weight may be at a premium. The 'pod is great for when you're sitting and waiting, but if I'm out and I see something - like wildlife - do I use an IS lens and get the shot, or pray it won't move while I whip out the 'pod to set up? Or do I just keep the camera connected to the pod while I dig through brush to get where I want to go... I've done that, and it's a bit unwieldy.

I'll keep my 'pod, sure... but gimme the option of IS too.

Vesa Perala , March 19, 2004; 04:26 A.M.

Sorry Bob, but the zoom image is backfocused.

Of course this is just my opinion but everyone can make her/his own by looking at the last pair of example photos. Carefully look between the ears of the deer. You see there are white thin branches of the bush (and/or highlights in thicker branches). Compare them in each photo.

The deer looks sharper in the 300/4L photo but the background looks sharper in the zoom image, doesn't it? And the further the braches are the clearer the difference is, imo.

I don't say there isn't difference in sharpness but these sample images leave some doubts.

Never trust AF. At least I don't.

kind regards Vesa

Alistair Windsor , March 19, 2004; 05:41 A.M.


There are innumerable situations where a long lens cannot be tripod mounted and triggered with a remote release. As Panagiotis Voudouris pointed out panned shots are often done with long lenses and even if you mount them on a tripod you will not be using a remote release. Fritz Polking, who has published at least 3 books that I am aware of, observed that if the camera was mounted in portrait format then triggering by hard produced less blurring than using a remote release. The reason is that the mirror and shutter exert force perpendicular to the axis of the tripod rather than parallel to it as is the case when the camera is in landscape format. In this case the use of the hand acted as a damper.

Canon's second generation IS functions on a tripod and acts to stabilize the lens further. It is certainly beneficial on a monopod and for panned shots.

I am sure that Bob does not object to the notion of using a long lens on a tripod. It is your inability to accept that there might be situations in which you might want to use a long lens without a tripod and/or a remote release. I have given you a situation, quite common, where using a remote release is actually counterproductive. Previous posters provided other examples where working photographers take shots using long lenses without cable releases.

Vesa Perala , March 19, 2004; 10:05 A.M.

Background crop.

To be more clear: I was thinking of this area of the photo (see the attachment photo: 300L left, zoom right).

Also want to add that the IS comparison was great to see. I've been too lazy/busy to make anything similar myself. Thanks Bob.

Bob Atkins , March 19, 2004; 11:48 P.M.

Well I took a bunch of shots of different subjects with both the 300/4L and 75-300 IS at 300mm and they all showed a similar difference. I even took some shots of resolution test targets using MF and AF and came to the same conclusion. I thought the deer made a better and more interesting (and real world) subject for comparison, but its certainly possible there was a slight focus shift between those two particular images. Without strapping a tilted scale to the deer's back it's a bit hard to tell for certain! I don't think they are quite that tame...

I actually don't see any evidence of back focus. For example I don't really see less sharpness loss in the ears than the nose. To me the backgrounds look pretty damn similar. If you note, the deer has moved its head slightly from side to side. It may also have moved it slightly closer (or further) from the camera, which could account for a very, very, very, subtle shift in backround sharpness though I doubt the AF would have responded to such a small shift. The DOF of a 300mm lens at f5.6 on a 10D at a distance of around 60m is approximately +/- 4m around the focus point. (see the DOF calculator on my website).

I also tested these lenses on film some years ago. As I recall the 300/4L resolved around 80 lp/mm and the 75-300 IS resolved around 60 lp/mm at 300mm (75 lp/mm at 75mm if I remember right).

However I'm pretty firm in my conclusion - and I'm pretty sure nobody would disagree - that the 300/4L is sharper than the 75-300 at 300mm. If it didn't think that, my 300/4L would be up for sale!

Ilkka Nissila , March 20, 2004; 12:27 P.M.

The background of the zoom image does look sharper than that from the prime on a first look but the backgrounds are not identical so it's not possible to conclude anything based on that. It's possible that this is a visual illusion - the background of the image taken with the zoom looks sharper because the main subject is so soft, and vice versa. Vision is all about local contrasts. I don't really think it's a question of misfocusing.

Vesa Perala , March 22, 2004; 05:50 A.M.

Hi Bob and Ilkka

I can only say that my crops (did you look at them?) of Bob's crops are both made from the area between the ears (of the deer ;-) and they show the same area (with about 60-70% identical coverage).

The thick branch with highlight (tilted left) on the lower left corner is the same, the small white dot in the top left corner/quarter is the same and the white thinner branches in the middle of my crops in V-shape (tilted to the right) are the same, aren't they?

But the small white branches which I mentioned above (and which are in the middle of my crops) are clearly sharper in the zoom image (the right one).

The thick branch is closest to the camera and the thin ones are further back.

I'm not saying that the L prime isn't better, I'm just saying that in a court room, with this evidence, I wouldn't judge the zoom in punishment. I would free it because of insufficient evidence.

Vesa Perala , March 22, 2004; 06:29 A.M.

additional crops

Sorry, forgot to add these additional crops of the crops. 300L still at the left and the zoom at right.

In my eyes the zoom photo has always sharper background, if not quite exactly then at least almost by the same amount as the deer is sharper in the 300L photo.

Patrick Eden , March 22, 2004; 07:41 P.M.

Panagiotis: The point is that people SHOULD carry around a tripod or at least a monopod when using long lenses. And, as far as shooting on a moving boat or vaporetto platform there are just some places where a long slow lens is inapropriate and you mentioned two of them. Good reasoning! -- Michael Nigro, March 18, 2004

I have been shooting marine images for over twenty years, the Image Stabilsing feature of the 300 f4l IS allows pictures to be taken in rough conditions which would be imposible to get without this feature. It is not just a case of being able to keep the camera still in order to get a sharp image it is also being able to hold the composition until you see the picture.This feature is an absolute godsend and in these particular situations it is the difference between getting the picture and not. It is the insurance that gives you the confidence to get the job done. The idea of IS is to free you from the encumbance of a tripod or monopod. I hate using "crutches" which restrict my mobility it is an anathema to the way I like to work. If I want more support I crouch down on one knee, then rest my elbow on my thigh, the IS adds that extra confidence. I must admit I am lucky to be able to afford the 300 f2.8L IS but I have payed the extra because this lens is sharp wide open, and my clients are not interested in excuses as to why I did not get the shots. I think the extra money payed out for the IS versions is money well spent.

Jim Jamieson , March 22, 2004; 08:25 P.M.

I hate to even bring it up. Yes, I'm a Nikon user left wondering when, if ever, they will introduce a VR 500mm or 600mm lens. I really like my Nikon gear (particularly the D2H), but I too have been viewing all the Canon technology with great interest. It would seem the 1D Mark II at 8MP with the 500mm IS lens would be the perfect combination for bird/wildlife photography. Switching over is expensive for sure. My question is, is Canon really worth it?

Dan Barthel , March 23, 2004; 02:13 P.M.

It should be noted that the 75-300IS is the absolutely worst IS lens in the Canon lineup. TO really see what IS can do, try an L series IS lens or for that matter even the 28-135 non L which does very well too. I would not recommend the 75-300IS to anyone with a digital body.

Dan Barthel , March 23, 2004; 02:17 P.M.

"Long lenses should be mounted on a tripod and a cable release should be used. Period!!!" This must come from someone who has never owned a long lens. Proper technique: Sturdy tripod, IS ON, left hand pushing down on front of lens, right hand pulling down on body with cheek against camera back to put the whole thing in tension. Then squeeeeeeeeeeeeeze the shutter release. With a cable release, even with mirror lockup, small breezes will affect the lens stability. In tension, not.

Ilkka Nissila , March 23, 2004; 03:23 P.M.

Proper technique is a function of the shutter speed. At a speed of 1 s or longer, I'm quite sure that a self-timer or a cable release is the way to go, and having your hands on the lens is asking for disaster.

Dan Barthel , March 24, 2004; 08:32 A.M.

Ilkka, you're probably right, although I doubt that any shutter speed that slow with a long lens and IS would produce a sharp image except during dead calm. I've never tried.

Erb Duchenne , March 24, 2004; 11:54 A.M.

Excellent article Bob. Although I am hoping there'd be a part2 to this article covering more examples and pushing results both ends of the stop, like testing at extremely slow speeds handheld (like one second or more) or high speeds (like 1/300 or more on the 300mm)

On the back-focusing issue I tend to agree with those who think it's there. For a poor lens with lousy contrast it's churning out a background bush not just as clear but visibly clearer than an L lens. I've noticed on my 75-300mm that at 300mm autofocus is unpredictable and can be 'off' a large portion of the time. Not way off. But refocussing the same shot on the tripod over several shots does produce slight inconsistencies seen only at 100% or larger.

Also... between L and non, I'd like to see more cross comparisons, like tripod shots, handheld with and without IS at various shuttespeeds on both L and non.

Overall though, I think people are wondering if the extra $$$ for IS, or an L lens, is worth it and not if they should banish the thought of IS and carry a tripod because that's how it's 'meant to be.' And I think Bob's article addresses this quite well.

Canon makes tripod mounts for people who want to mount them on tripods, and IS for those who don't. So I don't understand why people keep asking stupid questions, like, "Why do you think they made IS?" or, "Why do you think they made a mount for tripod?" But seeing they invested quite a bit more in IS technology, it would seem to me that they take handheld customer's wants very seriously!

Michael Nigro , March 25, 2004; 07:08 A.M.

Dan Barthel: Who in hell do you think you are belittling me for expressing an opinion about using a tripod with long lenses.

You suggest my opinion "must come from someone who has never owned a long lens" when you don't know me, my work or the equipment I use to make my images.

In your next post, you say you doubt that a one second shutter speed with a long IS lens would produce a sharp image. Then, in your own words, you say you "never tried" a one second shutter speed with a long IS lens on a tripod.

You know, it's people like you that mislead others coming to this site to show their work and learn methodology.

Since you are so smart and talented why is it that none of your work is posted to this site? You've been shooting in all formats since the sixty's. Surely you have some fine work for us to view, critique and learn by, especially your images captured using a long lens on a camera you had on a "sturdy tripod, IS on, left hand pushing down on front of lens, right hand pulling down on body with cheek against camera back to put the whole thing in tension... and then squeeeeeeeeeeeze the shutter".

Such awesome methodology must have resulted in a superb portfolio and I think you should share your work with us as freely as you share your baseless and ignorant opinions.

In closing, let me suggest that the next time you post something here you might want to think before you dribble.

Patrick Eden , March 25, 2004; 09:04 A.M.

Have just added an image taken with my 300f2.8L IS +1.4+2x converters, probably, should have used a tripod but I think the IS certainly help me get the shot. I think the shutter speed was about 125th sec wide open.

Dan Barthel , March 25, 2004; 10:40 A.M.

People who share my view that a lens in tension is much more stable than a lens simply mounted on a tripod: Art Wolfe, Art Morris, Moose Peterson, Greg Downing, etc. If you want to see my work, primarily with the 500 and 1.4x, visit naturescapes.net.

Michael Nigro , March 30, 2004; 01:29 P.M.

I must say Mike Spinak's recent piece goes a long way to explain sound methodology for capturing sharp images.

Michael Nigro , April 02, 2004; 06:32 P.M.

Dan Barthel: I visited naturescapes.com and your images were nowhere to be found. Care to provide us with a link?

Michael Nigro , April 03, 2004; 08:57 P.M.

Jay Dougherty , April 21, 2004; 08:50 P.M.

Michael Nigro: Dan is right.

Anyone who doesn't understand the value of IS hasn't used the technology. It's the most important development in photographic equipment since automatic focus, and many photographers, including myself, have largely abandoned Nikon because the company lags Canon terribly in implementing image stabilisation in its line of long lenses. I hasten to add that IS/VR can be extremely useful in short focal lengths, as well, and I look forward to the time when it's a part of the camera body itself or of the entire range of lenses.

The new mantra of the modern photographer should be this: A tripod is no replacement for IS.

Ilkka Nissila , May 15, 2004; 05:19 P.M.

Jay, could you show some shots which cannot be made with a tripod and a high-quality non-IS short lens, and can be done with the IS lens, and which have desirable qualities? I guess we're mainly talking about the 28-135 and 24-120 since they're (not surprisingly) the only ones on the market right now.

Warren Marts , May 23, 2004; 07:31 P.M.

The advantages of an IS lens over a tripod apply when the situation does not allow you to use a tripod -- examples from my own experience would include:

Interior of St. Peter's Basilica, Rome -- tripods not permitted
Ski slopes -- No way to carry most tripods, and no good surface to put it on
Candid people shots -- tripod would be too obtrusive, too slow to set up

About the "debate" over the focus point for the deer photos above, I have a very good theory: The 75-300 zoom is probably not a true f/5.6 at 300mm. If it were say, f/6 that would certainly cover the miniscule differences in background sharpness.

Ilkka Nissila , May 24, 2004; 03:59 P.M.

Does IS really help with candid people photography? I find that in order to ensure sharpness of the subject, I need a fast shutter speed (1/125 with luck, 1/250 is good if the subject isn't moving). However, to obtain such a shutter speed, a f/3.5-5.6 lens isn't always able to deliver the goods while a 50/1.8 does nicely.

Ryan Joseph , June 15, 2004; 04:17 P.M.

1/200th at 400mm, AND its a 33 percent crop. So much for your "laws" Michael.

To poke a few holes in Michael Nigro's reasoning, I would like to point out that Understanding Exposure was writtend in approximately 1992, 5 years before any IS lenses existed!

Melissa Hyland , June 21, 2004; 06:39 P.M.

Hi Everyone,

All of the comments posted on this topic have been quite interesting but here is my issue. I am an amateur photographer (26-year old graphic designer) who is looking to invest in new (or used) equipment. I took photography in college and regained an interest in it again two years ago. Now, I try an take my camera everywhere.

I am looking to buy the new Canon 7N/NE, along with a Macro lens and larger zoom lens. I was looking at the Canon 75-300 IS lens that is up for debate, but now I am not sure what to do. I came to this site hoping to find some advice/recommendations and clarity.

I do a lot of traveling abroad and to car shows and race tracks. I take photos of the concourse cars (new and vintage Ferraris, Porsches, etc..) in a more artistic manor, and I would like to attempt to photograph the races. I also travel for pleasure so I take a lot of landscape and location shots. Just recently I joined a photography club to the NY Botanical Gardens and shot with a 180mm/3.5 Macro (rented along with a Canon 7E). I plan on experimenting more with a Macro lens since I loved the results I got.

I certainly understand the importance of using a tripod because when I rented the camera and Macro lens, I actually couldn't even hold up the camera because it was too heavy. I borrowed a wonderful Bogen tripod which was fantastic. The big issue... you cannot use a tripod in the Conservatory, which I did not find out until the day of the shoot. I was able to manuever the tripod without extending the legs, but it was a pain in the a**. Granted, this has nothing to do with the IS lenses, but in many cases, tripods are forbidden.

I am looking into the IS lenses because of the situations I will be shooting in... my 28-80mm lens has been fine but I have felt the need for a larger zoom lens and cannot use a tripod in most of my situations, especially when I travel. Is the 75-300 IS a good match for me?? I am concerned about shooting the car races. I need to obviously shoot at a higher speed, but will the lens be able to handle that?? Does anyone else have any other recommendations?? Is the IS worth it for me??

Considering the backlashes that have been going on, please be kind. I know I have a lot to learn, but I am just trying to be a smart photographer and do my homework before I start spending.

Any feedback would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks, Melissa Hyland

Clayten Hamacher , August 18, 2004; 02:47 P.M.

Melissa: Yes, I think IS would help you. What I'd recommend (it's what I did) would be to get the 28-135IS, it's a better lens than the 75-300, so it's where I decided the extra $250 or so for the IS was best spent. Then I'd get a cheaper 70-300 because much of what you want to take pictures of at a long range is outside and much brighter than the inside of a museum, for instance.

Is IS worth it? Depends. If you shoot flower macro shots in quiet gardens, maybe not. If you shoot anything on the spur of the moment, like travelling light, want to be unobtrusive, etc, probably yes.

For me, IS was a no-brainer because I bought a $1000 camera, a $250 extra isn't much. If I'd bought a used film body for $100 it might not have been so obvious.

Bob: Thanks for the mini-review. The speed-limit signs are a perfect example I can show to my friends to illustrate the difference. I've never turned IS off except for tripod-mounted macro work and while an 85 f1.2 would probably get the same picture, I don't have one, or the other primes I'd need, or the space to carry them. Easily worth double what I paid to read it. :)

Michael: ... I don't know where to start. You're wrong of course. It's the results that matter and I've seen many great shots that weren't taken on a tripod, and many that were taken where tripods weren't allowed. Perhaps you should perform a blind test - as I said, it's the results that matter.

Walt Z , September 05, 2004; 07:52 P.M.


Thanks for an unbiased review of the 75-300 lens. Many of the newsgroup contributors around the net claim the 75-300 is a piece of junk. I almost believed them until I demo'd one at my local camera shop. Even at 300mm, the images had plenty of detail and contrast. I'm sure it doesn't perform as well as an L series lens, but I didn't pay for an L, either. It doesn't get as much camera time as my 28-135 IS, but that's more a function of the difference in zoom ranges than any significant deficiencies in the longer lens.

Don O'Connor , January 31, 2007; 12:57 P.M.

First, Patrick Eden...I checked your website...nice stuff!

Dan Barthiel...I'm afraid Dan is right fellas and gals. You don't even have to make the image to see what IS does and that putting pressure on the camera/lens system helps. You need all the stabilizing you can get both IS and technique to get the most out of long lenses. Something else that helps dampen vibration is placing a sandbag on the lens where it joins the camera.

Another method that works well both with and without IS is to use the sandbag by itself...pushing the lens hard into the bag. Jamb the bag down onto something solid and it will equal anything you can do with a tripod; or use it jambed up against the side of a tree for similar results (trees and boulders are every bit as stable as any tripod). If you're out where there is nothing solid (the Namib desert comes to mind) then a tripod is your only option.

Using a long lens mounted on a tripod and releasing with either an electrical or mechanical shutter release, without restraining the system, will get you soft images every time unless you're able to use high shutter speeds. Unfortunately, even with the 300mm f2.8 IS, you will more often than not be unable to use those high speeds in real-life shooting.

Tom Rose , April 30, 2007; 02:22 P.M.

So the conclusion is that you need an L spec' lens, with IS

J. Harrington USA (Massachusetts) , October 11, 2007; 05:36 P.M.

This good article on the benefits of IS, is a great help for people trying to determine if IS is worth it.

Certainly, IS does not eliminate the "need" for tripods but it makes image making more convenient for photographers everywhere.

I enjoy night/dusk photography and I often travel by bicycle on my night photo outings. A tripod would make traveling more difficult on a bike and make picture taking more time consuming.

To demonstrate the effectiveness of IS on my 24-105L I've created an on-line slide show (using LightRoom) with the shutter speeds under each image. Not every image is super sharp, but without IS (or a cumbersome tripod) most would have been blurred beyond usability.

My point is, if a tripod had been required, I would not have made this outing at all. BTW all images were made in a standing, non-braced posture.


Abner Sonnenburg , May 16, 2008; 05:12 A.M.

Wow!!! I love the heated debate going on. I honestly don't think I'm experienced enough to try and school anybody on IS lenses or the use of a tripod. I love photography and that's all I know. I just bought a Canon 40D and I found this site because I am looking to purchase a good lens for it. I have a 28-35mm IS lens that came with the kit. I am mainly into landscape and outdoor photography. Any suggestions?? (only Canon lenses). I have been absorbing an extraordinary amount of information since I got my camera. I have read a book recently called The Digital Photography Book (parts 1 & 2) by Scott Kelby-check out www.scottkelby.com (his credentials are unsurpassed) It is a fresh alternative to most photography books that I have read. It's very easy to understand. He discusses the use of a tripod to make sure you get the best possible image quality. He (and quite a few other pro's) also says that when using a tripod to turn IS off because IS in itself will usually cause some movement. However, I can see that in some cases how it can be good to leave it on-like when shooting a sunset in the wind. So I guess it really all depends on what you're shooting and the conditions. What I am getting from all this is that if you are serious about your work- -invest the extra money in the IS lens so if you need it then it is there for you.

John Parsons , September 30, 2008; 08:03 A.M.

Geez Micheal Nigro get over yourself!

Tom Reynolds , December 13, 2009; 04:27 P.M.

"Yaron Kidron , March 17, 2004; 01:12 A.M.

Nice article, Bob. IS/VR technology does work. It does not however, replace a tripod, as it only eliminates camera-shake."

What does a tripod do? Slow down the subject?

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