Small Town Photojournalism

A Photo Blog by Matthew Jonas

Canon 300mm F4 IS: A working photojournalists review and backstory

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300mm lens 0299
UPDATED SEE BELOW: I finally decided that I need to purchase a 300mm lens. I used to say that I could do about 90% of my daily assignments with 2 lenses: a 70-200mm f2.8 and a 16-35mm f2.8. And for a couple of years when I wasn’t covering a lot of sports or when I was working for a paper that had great pool equipment*, that was all I needed.

When I took my job at the Canyon Courier I brought with me all of the gear I had amassed as a freelancer on the east coast. Remember boys and girls Freelance is a nice way of saying unemployed. No job=no pool equipment or a freelancers trunk is the pool closet. I had the basic gear to complete any assignment from biz profile portraits to editorial work that the local papers or clients needed. A 300mm f2.8 was a luxury that I couldn’t afford and truly at the time I didn’t need.

Fast forward to my new job. We are a group of weekly papers based out of Evergreen, CO. Kind of small time compared to the 130,000 circulation daily that I was stringing for and previously an intern for at in Delaware. We have virtually no budget and no pool equipment at all. And we cover a lot (read 6 schools) of high school sports regularly. A luxury became a necessity over night.

I actually managed to work for a year without one. I begged, borrowed and stole any 300 I could find. But eventually that ran out.

Reluctantly I started my search for a cheap 300mm f2.8 that canon pro service would still work on. (I will have another post about canon pro service here in the future.) That lens, as many working pros probably know, is not something that comes up very often for sale. So I shifted my attention to something more affordable.

The Canon EF 300mm f/4L IS USM is the solution to my problem. I purchased the lens a little less than a month ago and could not be happier with the results.

Here is the breakdown on things that matter to me.

Pros:

  • It weighs significantly less than a 300mm f2.8
  • It is as easy to hand hold as my 70-200mm f2.8
  • The color reproduction is stunning
  • Image stabilization can help out in some circumstances
  • Auto focus is very fast
  • Built in lens hood (nothing expensive to lose)
  • Tripod collar is standard not an accessory
  • About $1250.00 new from reputable resellers
  • Very portable – can easily fit into a Think Tank Photo whip it out without the tripod collar for more reach when you need it
  • Uses a 77mm filter like a lot of the other L series lenses

Cons:

  • Not f2.8 – Although this is not really a con with great high ISO files but you have to watch your backgrounds more
  • I think my Bogen 680B monopod weighs as much as the lens – funny, but it makes the lens feel unbalanced on a heavy monopod
  • Auto focus not as fast as the f2.8 version but not noticeable unless the action is coming straight at you
  • Sometimes the focus will hunt for no reason, rare but it happens
  • No weather sealing (rant on this coming later)
  • Image Stabilization is as much of a gimmick as it is a feature
  • Actually expensive for as old as the lens design is

There is NO weather sealing. This is probably not a real problem for most folks. Photojournalists are not most folks. You really need to invest in a good rain slick if you are going to shoot in bad weather. I know that this lens was designed in the late 90s but all L series lenses should be weather sealed. I am hard on equipment but I will also pay for what I can depend on. Canon if you are listening, NO MORE L SERIES LENSES WITHOUT WEATHER SEALING FROM NOW ON.

Other than that, it has been completely reliable and has given me what I needed to do my job. Now I just have to figure out how to pay it off.

An example of a photo from that lens is on my Dave Sanders Invitational post from yesterday.

If anyone has any other specific questions, sound off in the comments.

UPDATE: Well, after using it for quite a few assignments, I can safely say that this was a fantastic lens. I use the the past tense (was) because after getting run over on the sidelines and having the lens knocked from hand onto the ground and then getting it repaired, It is not the same. Things just don’t line up the way they used to. Even after getting it repaired the tripod collar does not float freely and the autofocus seems to be having a few problems in high contrast light situations. I will probably be sending this back to Canon to be repaired AGAIN and then selling it to buy a 300 f2.8. It was nice while it lasted.

*Pool Equipment: is photographic equipment that is often owned by a paper or agency, made up of  longer, more expensive lenses and cameras that are available to any one on the staff to use, kept in the “Pool Closet”.

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Written by Matthew Jonas

October 8, 2009 at 10:02 pm

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