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I have been photographing for the last 23 years and nature is my inspiration for creating photos. Finding beauty in the small world of nature is my favorite discipline when photographing the natural world.

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Canon 70-300mm IS MK II review

This is about the new Canon 70-300mm\ 4-5.6 IS II Nano USM lens, Canon finally updated their consumer grade version of the 70-300mm. I did owned the previous version (70-300mm IS USM), it was a good lens for the price but the IS was loud and clunky, this new version will certainly be better in that department. As soon as it was available I pre-ordered one, I currently own the 70-200mm/4 L (non-IS) which is a very good lens but i’m often in needs for more reach and i’m missing the IS. Also I have a big gap between my 70-200mm and my 400mm/5.6 L.

My expectations for this newer version of this lens are: better AF, better IS and better IQ than the older version.

OVERVIEW

Canon still doesn’t supply lens hood with their consumer lenses compared to Pentax and Fuji (2 brands that I’ve owned or still use, which supplies hood with virtually all their lenses). Unfortunately the hood of my 70-200mm/4 L (non-IS) doesn’t fit even if the filter size of both lenses is the same 😦  So I had to buy the Canon ET-74B for 73$ (Canadian), this hood have a release button on it, so the hood is really solidly locked to the lens, good design but is missing a window to turn polarizer filters.

The minimum focusing distance is closer than the previous version (1.2 meter versus 1.5 meter) but the magnification ratio is the same 0.25 x which means that the version II is framing wider than the MK I version.

The LCD display on the lens is something new in lenses, ZEISS have it and now Canon. Is it a gadget, will it endure years of field abuse ….. only time will tell but the LCD on my 7D is still working and if the quality of the LCD on the 70-300mm is equal it should last the life of the lens ! Personally I don’t see any use for it on such a lens …… maybe on a Wide angle zoom lens the DOF marks for the f-stop would be useful but not on a telephoto zoom lens, and focal lengths are not useful to me since they are already marked on the lens barrel, but I find it more useful in the EXIF data anyway. As for the IS info it’s completely useless in my opinion !

Build quality is very good, certainly a good step above the MK I version. The lens feels solid in the hands and the zooming ring is well dampened but the focusing ring is more like most AF lenses a little loose but I’ve seen worst than this one.

The lens have a button to lock the zoom ring at 70mm for transport, it would have been great if it could be locked at different focal lengths …… maybe too much to ask 🙂

Autofocus

I really like the new Nano USM AF system, very silent and fast, certainly better than the one on my 70-200mm/4 L non-IS ! Works quite well up to now. The Nano AF system will be very useful for video shooting.

Image Quality

All the photos posted here were taken with my old 7D in RAW. In short the IQ is quite good at every focal length, it’s not as good as an L series lens but better than a consumer grade lens….. a good compromise in term of price versus IQ and size.

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Taken at 300mm at f/5.6 in RAW with IS activated.

 

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Here is a crop of the photo taken above with no PP and no sharpening.

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Taken at 300mm/5.6 during a snowstorm at a local ZOO.

 

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Taken at a local Zoo at 250mm at f/5.6

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One of the reason i bought this lens was because of it’s close focusing ability. Here is a “close-up” of ice taken at 213mm at f/10

Lens Flare 

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Here is a backlit photo taken at sunrise, it was -20°C no lens flare, the sun was just out of the frame on the top. Taken at 176mm at f/10

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Same location and morning as the above shot but with the sun directly in the frame, still no flare. Taken at 81mm at f/10.

Up to now i have to say that i’m really satisfied with the flare resistance of that lens, certainly better than my 70-200mm/4 L (non-IS). As you can see in the photos above even with the sun directly in the frame the lens didn’t show any flare.

70-300mm IS MK II vs 70-200mm/4 L (non-IS)

One of the reason I bought that lens is because that I often missed the 200mm to 300mm range. I don’t expect the IQ of it to be as good as the 70-200mm/4 L (non-IS) , especially wide open, but if it’s close enough it will be worth it.

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70-300mm MK II at 200mm at f/5.6

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70-200mm/4 L at 200mm at f/5.6

You can see from the crops above that there is not much difference in details resolution, the 70-200mm/4 L (non-IS) is a little sharper but not by much. The 70-300mm produce more CA in the OOF areas and at the same setting it’s wider than the 70-200mm and the 70-200mm produce a smoother “Bokeh”. I will not post many crop because it’s always nearly the same difference in framing and sharpness between the two lenses.

Conclusion

This is my impression after about 1 month of field use, i will post updates as i gain more field experience with that lens but it’s already proved to be a very useful and versatile lens.

It’s a very good lens that delivers very good results in the field, good contrast, Bokeh is not too bad and sharpness is certainly very good. This lens is doing good to very good in most department but it’s not an “L” lens, if you want the best IQ possible in all department then buy the 70-300mm L IS lens, but if you don’t want or need the “L” version this 70-300mm IS MK II is worth considering. I already like it and can’t wait to use it for photographing my Frog friends next summer !

Weekly photo of 17 April 2016

This week it’s not a photo from the Natural world as usual, it’s a photo of humans. I took that photo of my 11 years old girl at the Rossetti store with Mr. Sean, her pointe shoes needed some adjustments before her next ballet lesson.I love that store, it has a lot of “cachet”, very photogenic (It’s on St-Denis street). I waited until my girl talked to Mr. Sean to explain where her shoes were hurting her. The first shots were OK but then i saw their reflections in the mirror and zoomed my lens to a wider setting and adjusted my composition.

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Canon 7D with my 10-18mm STM set at 11mm, ISO 800, 1/6 sec. at f/5.0, handheld with IS activated. 

One of my photo in a Canadian Geographic article.

Today I received an E-Mail from the Canadian Geographic society that one of my Beaver photo was published in an article on their web site ! You can read the short article by following this link: http://www.canadiangeographic.ca/blog/posting.asp?ID=1946

My photo is the one with the Beaver swimming on a foggy morning, my name is at the bottom of the photo.

Weekly photo of 28 March 2016

I went to the Omega Park with my wife and my 2 girls on Easter day, we like to visit that ZOO at least twice a year. It’s different than a regular ZOO, you drive your car in the forest while the animals are free to go where they want except some animals like the predators (wolves, bears, coyote and arctic foxes). The animals are very tame so you can get close to them in general, at around mid point during the visit you can stop and get out of your car and walk with the White-tailed Deer close to the road. Around my house it’s difficult to get close to a Deer to get a good photo even with a 400mm lens, so I decided to get a different view and used my 10-18mm zoom lens to show the Deer in it’s environment.

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Canon 7D with 10-18mm STM, at 15mm, f/7.1, handheld.

Weekly photo of 20 March 2016

This week the temperature was up and down, the morning I took that shot it was very foggy and the Old Canal was particularly interesting. I waited until the sunrise so i would be able to include it in my composition. I didn’t push the contrast too much during the processing since I wanted to keep the mood of that morning.

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Taken with my Canon 7D and 24mm STM, ISO 100 at f/10.

Weekly photo of 12 March 2016

Spring is coming and the Ice is melting on the lake, so I stopped on the shore of a lake to see if I could photograph something interesting. I found that ice pattern with an Eagle head that you can see in the upper right corner of the ice. I had to take the photo handheld at arms length, so I took short burst of 3 to 4 shots. When I took the photo I knew I wanted to convert it to B&W, I played with the curves and contrast as well as the dark slider in LR.

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Taken with my Canon 7D and 24mm STM, 1/25 sec. at f/9.0, ISO 800

Canon 24mm STM review.

I love “Pancake” lenses because they don’t take too much space and don’t add a significant amount of weight in my camera bag ! A Pancake lens needs to have some compromise optically to be so small, so you can’t have it all for such a small lens and low price. Usually they are slower lenses, it’s inevitable if you want a pancake lens, if you want a fast lens it will be bigger and heavier. I’ve owned some Pancake lenses over the years, very good ones like the Fuji XF 27mm and some not so good like the Sony E-mount 16mm.  Pentax makes some great Pancake lenses in the DA Limited series, currently I own the Pentax DA 40mm/2.8 XS which is a derivate of the Pentax DA 40mm/2.8 Limited but even smaller …. it’s the smallest lens available for an APS-C camera.

Canon finally came-up with two Pancake lenses, the 24mm STM and 40mm STM. For me the 24mm was more interesting since I already had the Pentax DA 40mm XS in my bag and also because of the close focusing ability of the 24mm which is interesting for it’s focal length. So I bought one last fall (2015) and I now have enough experience with it to share my thoughts with you.

The built quality is not as good as the Pentax Limited lenses which are all metal construction, even the front lens cap is made of metal. But for a plastic lens at that price it’s quite good, especially if you compare it to Canon’s 50mm/1.8 or the 18-55mm kit lenses !

Here are my two Pancake lenses that I have in my camera bag: on the left side the Pentax DA 40mm/2.8 XS and on the right side the Canon 24mm/2.8 STM.

This photo was taken the next morning I bought the Canon 24mm. It was -4°C and all the vegetation was covered with a thick layer of frost. Taken at f/11 on a tripod.

This photo of an old canal was taken on a cold morning, I used a Polarizer to obtain a longer exposure. Taken with the Canon 24mm at f/11 on a tripod.

I arrived at the Rouge River in Grenville before sunrise in late October, suddenly close to sunrise the clouds behind me took a pink/orange color that casted that warm glow on the landscape. Taken with my 7D and 24mm STM, ISO 100, 25 sec. at f/11, tripod.

The IQ of the Canon 24mm STM is quite good at normal distances and also at the closer focusing distances but some distortion can be seen. It’s not as good as my Pentax DA 40mm XS but it’s not the same focal length, maybe I should try a head to head battle between my Pentax and the Canon 40mm STM ( would have to buy one first) !!! So, in term of sharpness I would rate it as very good.

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It was useful at the ZOO to take close-ups of more accessible animals.

 

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This is a crop of the previous shot after processing and some sharpening, it was taken at 1/640 sec. at f/6.3, ISO 400.

 

 

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If you look carefully you can see that the Canon 24mm STM still produce some CA along the edge of the ice even when stopped down to f/11. But it’s easily removed in LR.

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Another shot taken at sunrise along a frozen river, at f/11.

 

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A more abstract shot, this is a rock covered with snow. Taken at f/11

 

I find the new STM AF system “strange”, it take some times to get used to it, the lens tend to hunt in some situations. I’m using it mainly in LV and on a tripod so even if the AF is not top notch I don’t mind. Keep in mind that i’m using it on a 7D, so a more modern 70D or the new 80D certainly are better cameras to take advantage of the STM motor.

With this photo I was able to test the close focusing ability of the Canon 24mm. The Bokeh at f/7.1 is not too bad.

Again, the close focusing ability of the Canon 24mm was useful to get the composition I wanted. I usually don’t place my subject in the center but this time it was what worked the best to my eye.

A small river in a forested area, I used a Polarizer to remove the reflection off the water’s surface. Taken at f/11.

What I like about that lens is when i use it for “close-up” shots, it produces a feeling of being more intimate with the subject compared if I had used a longer lens like a 100mm Macro lens which produce a more compressed look due to being a telephoto lens. The minimum focusing distance of 0.16 meter gives you a maximum magnification of 0.27, which is very good for a 24mm lens. Most of the 24mm lenses don’t focus close enough, i think manufacturers could make an effort to design more lenses with a closer minimum focusing distance. Tamron new SP 35mm/1.8 VC and 45mm/1.8 VC are very good examples of lenses that focus closer than the competition and really interest me.

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This photo of Cedar leaves was taken on a cold Canadian morning (-28°C and with the wind chill factor it was -38°C). Another good example why I really like that lens for more intimate shots. Taken at f/11.

 

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A leaf on a road covered with ice. This is the kind of subject that I really like to photograph and the 24mm STM is a very good choice to render the perspective I want. Taken at f/11 on a tripod.

 

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Ice fishing cabins in B&W, taken at f/10.

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Freezing rain was still falling when I took that shot of a frozen Blueberry shrub with a rock in the background. I converted it to B&W and processed it until it looked how I wanted. I was able to handhold it at 1/100 sec. at f/11, ISO 200

Update on CA

I wanted to update my review about the CA that I didn’t talked much about. It might not be evident on regular subjects or even on more prone subjects like high contrast but during this winter I was able to find some CA on ice and snow shots. Sure it’s not visible at regular viewing but when zooming in you will see it but it’s easy to correct in LR.

As you can see there is more to a lens than sharpness, sure I like very sharp lenses but when buying a lens i also look at the lens in general, not just how much details it can resolve. Usually i prefer a lens that will focus closer to a lens that is the sharpest lens on earth but can’t focus close enough for my needs. It’s because of my shooting style, it will probably be different for another photographer.

Conclusion

The more I use that lens on a crop sensor camera the more I realize that I like shooting at that focal length. It’s a very useful FOV and especially with the closer focusing of the 24mm STM it makes a great all around lens. I now see more and more potential photos as I become more familiar with it. At one moment it’s a “Wide angle” lens and then it becomes a Close-up lens.

Canon came out with a very good lens with some compromises (CA and distorsion), but because of it’s small size, very good IQ and minimum focusing distance, it now have a place in my camera bag with my other Pancake lens, the Pentax DA 40mm XS, especially since I paid less than 300$ Canadian for 2 lenses ! I can’t wait to use it for photographing Frogs up-close next summer and I think it will do a great job even if there is no IS incorporated. The only thing i’m missing now to take full advantage of it’s small size …… is a Canon SL1 !

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This shot was taken around sunrise along a frozen river. Taken at f/13.