Chuck Westfall
Chuck Westfall

Chuck Westfall is currently Canon USA's main media spokesman for professional imaging products. Recently, he has been developing content for online and on-site consumer education projects in Canon USA's Professional Products Engineering & Solutions Division.

Canon's Series II Super-Telephoto Lenses and Series III Extenders

March 31, 2011

The Image Stabilizers of the new 300mm and 400mm lenses can compensate for camera shake up to four full shutter speed steps compared to two for the previous 300mm and 400mm IS super-telephotos.

It may be hard to believe that it’s been more than a decade since Canon introduced its first generation of image-stabilized super-telephoto lenses, but it’s true. The EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM, EF 400mm f/2.8L IS USM, EF 500mm f/4L IS USM and EF 600mm f/4L IS USM, along with the Series II EF Extenders, were introduced in 1999. Even now, most photographers would agree that those products have been and continue to be state-of-the-art in terms of quality and performance.

However, there is always room for improvement. During the past 11 years, Canon has listened carefully to feedback from professional photographers, visiting various shooting locations around the world and making firsthand observations of the issues that are encountered by actual users. At the same time, the company has continued to invest significant funds in research and development, resulting in technology advancements that have made higher performance products possible.

Against this backdrop, Canon is proud to introduce its second generation of IS super-telephoto lenses: EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM, EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM, EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM and EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM. Along with the new lenses, Canon is introducing the Extenders EF 1.4X III and EF 2X III.

Target Audience

The new EF super-telephotos and extenders are bound to appeal to discerning professional and advanced amateur photographers and videographers in every specialty. Some of the key photographic specialties that will benefit from the new products are:

  • Professional and collegiate athletic activities, including football, baseball, basketball, hockey, swimming, golf, skiing, track and field
  • Motorsports of all kinds
  • Wildlife photography
  • Nature and Landscape photography
  • Photojournalism
  • Scientific photography
  • Law enforcement

With the growing popularity of EOS cameras for HD video capture, these lenses will also be attractive for any video project that requires long focal lengths.

The new lenses and extenders have been thoroughly improved in virtually every aspect: not only by reflecting the technology advancements that have occurred over the last 11 years, but also by incorporating the valuable feedback that Canon has received from photographers who use super-telephoto lenses regularly. The features of the 2010 products, both new and improved, are detailed in this article.

New Lens Features & Benefits

The number one request from professional photographers who use the current EF super-telephotos was to reduce the size and weight of those lenses while equaling or exceeding their optical performance and build quality. It was a tall order, but Canon’s lens designers rose to the challenge and managed to succeed brilliantly on all fronts. The new lenses are lighter, sharper, and better built than their predecessors, while at the same time they deliver superior image stabilization and add new features that make them more suitable for the requirements of professional videographers as well as still photographers.

Lighter Weight with Improved Build Quality

Compared with its predecessor, the new EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM is almost half a pound lighter, a weight reduction of approximately 8%. That’s a respectable improvement, and one that will be welcomed by many photographers who routinely shoot handheld photos with the current EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM lens. But the EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM now weighs just 8.5 lbs., a whopping 28% lighter than the current EF 400mm f/2.8L IS USM lens. The weight of the EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM lens has been cut by approximately 18% to 7 lbs., while the EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM weighs in approximately 27% lighter than its predecessor at roughly 8.6 lbs.

Most photographers would never have seriously contemplated shooting earlier versions of the 400/2.8L or 600/4L lenses handheld, but it’s a distinct possibility with the new lenses. In addition to such shooting benefits, the weight reduction of the new 400mm and 600mm lenses makes them much easier to travel with. Alternatively, the lighter weight could allow photographers to pack additional lenses and gear that might otherwise have been left behind, providing more creative options on location.

How did Canon reduce the weight of these lenses while improving their optical performance and build quality? It required a thorough redesign of both the optical and mechanical components. On the optical side, the lens formulas for all 4 lenses changed from 17 to 16 elements. Part of the reason for the difference is the fact that the front element is no longer a clear cover glass. Another weight reduction factor is the change from 1 fluorite and 2 UD lens elements to 2 fluorite elements. Fluorite crystal is lighter than UD glass, and its usage enabled the overall weight of the lenses, especially the 400mm and 600mm lenses, to be reduced.

On the mechanical side, the new lenses use a higher percentage of magnesium alloy in their barrels and other components than their predecessors. Magnesium alloy is stronger than aluminum and lighter in weight. Use of titanium in some parts also contributes to reduced weight. The shape of the lens barrels both inside and out was also reengineered to provide superior strength, rigidity and toughness compared to the previous designs.

Image Quality

Most photographers who’ve used them would agree that Canon’s previous 300mm, 400mm, 500mm and 600mm IS super-telephoto lenses were very sharp and contrasty, with excellent neutral color balance. But the new lenses are even better because they have 2 fluorite elements instead of 1 fluorite and 2 UD glass elements. More fluorite results in better image quality because it reduces chromatic aberration (CA for short) to a greater degree than UD or even Super UD glass. The further reduction of CA leads to superior resolution, contrast and color fidelity. The overall improvement in image quality is noticeable at every aperture, but it is perhaps even more impressive when the new Type III Extenders are used, especially when compared to the previous lenses with Type II Extenders. (For more information about the Type III EF Extenders, see below.)

Additionally, the new IS II super-telephoto lenses feature a 9-blade circular diaphragm, compared to an 8-blade conventional diaphragm in their predecessors. The new circular design results in a smoother appearance for specular highlights in areas of the image that are outside the depth of field for the main subject.

New Lens Coatings

For the first time in the history of super-telephoto EF lenses, the new IS II super-telephoto lenses incorporate both SWC and Fluorine coatings in addition to Canon’s standard multi-coating for improved performance. SWC (Sub-Wavelength Structure Coating) is applied to 4 internal groups in each lens to significantly improve resistance to flare and ghosting, especially when specular light sources are within or near the field of view. A new Fluorine anti-smear coating is applied to the front and rear elements of each lens, on top of the anti-reflection multicoating layers. This new coating, which also appears on the Series III EF Extenders as well as the new EF 8-15mm f/4L USM Fisheye Zoom and EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM telephoto zoom lenses, is extremely oil-and water-repellent. It easily deflects these liquids so that they can be wiped off with a soft, clean, dry cloth with no need for lens cleaning solutions. The Fluorine coating on the new lenses is similar in composition to the Fluorine coatings found on the exterior surfaces of the LCD ClearView screens for current EOS models like the 1D Mark IV and 7D, as well as the surfaces of the anti-aliasing low-pass filters found on most EOS models equipped with the EOS Integrated Cleaning System. Canon’s Fluorine lens coating is completely transparent and neutral in terms of color balance, so its effects are expected to be completely beneficial to photographers using the new lenses and extenders.

Focusing Improvements

The new IS II super-telephotos feature several improvements related to focusing:

  • Closer minimum focus: The minimum focusing distance for the new 300mm lens has been reduced from 8.2 to 6.6 feet, resulting in increased magnification from 0.13x to 0.18x. The corresponding improvements for the new 400mm lens are minimum distance reduced from 9.8 to 8.9 feet, resulting in increased magnification from 0.15x to 0.173x. Close focus for the 500mm IS II lens is reduced from 14.8 to 12.1 feet, improving magnification from 0.12x to 0.15X. Finally, close focus for the 600mm IS II lens is reduced from 18 to 14.8 feet, with magnification also increased from 0.12x to 0.15x. Numbers aside, the closer focus settings will improve the usefulness of all IS II super-telephoto lenses, especially for nature and wildlife photography
  • Power Focusing (PF): A new Power Focusing mode (PF) has been added to the focus mode switch on the IS II super-telephoto lenses. This feature is primarily intended for use by videographers. It allows manual rack focusing to be operated smoothly and silently by turning the playback ring normally used for the focus preset function. Power Focusing can be operated at low or high speed, depending on how far the playback ring is turned.
  • Fast Autofocus plus Full-Time Manual Focus and AF Stop buttons, etc.: Professional sports photographers in particular will appreciate the fact that the IS II super-telephoto lenses are equipped with a totally new high-speed CPU and an optimized focusing algorithm that achieves maximum AF drive speed when these lenses are used with EOS-1D and 1Ds-series camera bodies. Full-time mechanical manual focus, Focus Preset and Focusing Distance Range switches as found in previous EF super-telephoto lenses are maintained, and the new lenses also feature a set of 4 AF stop buttons that can be programmed to achieve various functions including Spot AF and One-Shot/AI Servo AF mode switching via custom function control.

 

Image Stabilizer Improvements

The Image Stabilizers in the new IS II super-telephoto lenses feature several significant improvements compared to their predecessors:

  • Improved Camera Shake Compensation: The Image Stabilizers of the new lenses can compensate for camera shake up to four full shutter speed steps compared to two for the previous IS super-telephotos. This is made possible by newly designed IS mechanisms and control algorithms.
    • The IS Units in the new lenses feature a very low friction design that combines V-grooves with a ball that rolls down a slide in the lens barrel. The IS Units in the previous lenses were larger and heavier, and they used sliding electromagnets which were noisier and less efficient.
    • The IS control algorithms in the new lenses have been optimized to take advantage of the new IS Units. This results in quicker and more effective response to camera and lens movements.
  • Improved Performance During Tripod Use: Unlike many other IS lenses that essentially shut off the IS function automatically when tripod use is detected, the new IS II super-telephoto lenses automatically compensate for subtle camera vibrations at shutter speeds from 1/30th to 1 second. Therefore, it is unnecessary to shut off IS during tripod use. This feature will be particularly welcomed by nature and landscape photographers who often use tripods for field work, and who also often use relatively slow shutter speeds. (The IS mechanism is automatically disabled when tripod use is detected and the shutter speed is longer than 1 second.)
  • Improved Performance for Videography: The Image Stabilizer units in the new EF IS II lenses are much quieter than the IS units in previous EF super-telephoto lenses, making the new lenses easier to use when capturing handheld video with current EOS Digital SLRs. Additionally, when tripod use is detected and the camera is set for movie mode, the IS mechanism is automatically shut off to eliminate operational noise and conserve battery power.
  • Newly Added IS Mode 3: The new IS II super-telephoto lenses are the first to introduce Canon’s new IS Mode 3.  This new stabilization mode is similar to IS Mode 2 in the respect that it can detect and correct for panning by shutting off IS correction in the panning direction, but the difference is that IS correction occurs only during the actual exposure in IS Mode 3. (As in IS Modes 1 and 2, camera shake and panning detection occurs whenever the shutter button is pressed halfway.) As a result, the image in the viewfinder moves more naturally while panning, and battery power is conserved. This feature is expected to be welcomed by sports photographers as well as those who photograph birds in flight.
  • Improved Operation in IS Mode 2: A revised control algorithm reduces the occurrence of unnatural movement in the viewfinder during panning sequences. This maximizes the performance of the Image Stabilizer in a variety of common shooting conditions, and it is effective for video as well as still captures.

Operability and Appearance Improvements

As mentioned earlier, improvements to the strength and rigidity of the lens barrels have improved the build quality of the new IS II lenses. Here are some additional improvements to lens operability and appearance:

  • Improved Revolving Mechanism: A newly designed non-removable tripod collar has stronger moving parts and is easier to operate due to improved lubrication. This feature is beneficial for sports photographers as well as nature and landscape shooters.
  • Improved Mode Switch Shapes & Positioning: The shapes of the mode switches allow them to be easily operated and more space is provided between them for easier operability. In addition, the IS mode and other switches have been moved closer to the lens’ center of balance to avoid inadvertent operation.
  • Dust- and Drip-Proof Construction: The new lenses are thoroughly sealed against moisture and dust at the front elements, lens mounts, switches, switch panels, focusing rings, playback rings, distance windows, AF stop buttons, and drop-in filter slots. This feature is effective for all types of outdoor photography, including football, soccer, golf, and motorsports as well as nature and landscape.
  • Neutral White Tone: A highly durable white leather-tone coating on exterior lens barrel surfaces minimizes heat build-up and protects the body of the new IS II lenses in a variety of environments. This is a new, more neutral shade of white compared to earlier lenses. It is intended to indicate that the IS II lenses have evolved, making them suitable for a wider range of imaging applications including video as well as still captures.
  • New Security Slot: A new slot is installed under the cap of the tripod mount lock nut for attaching a security cable. This feature has been added as an anti-theft precaution.

Extenders EF 1.4X III and EF 2X III

Extenders EF 1.4X III and EF 2X III have been newly developed in conjunction with the new Series II Image Stabilizer EF super-telephoto lenses. They can also be used with all previously announced extender-compatible EF lenses, but maximum performance is achieved when they are used with the new 300mm, 400mm, 500mm and 600mm lenses. The following sections provide more detailed information.

Image Quality

There are two significant improvements related to image quality when using the new Series III Extenders with the new IS II super-telephoto lenses:

  • Anomalous dispersion glass elements are used in both new extenders to effectively reduce chromatic aberration to the greatest possible extent. This results in higher resolution and contrast, especially when the new extenders are used with IS II super-telephoto lenses.
  • Each Series III Extender features a newly developed microcomputer that increases AF precision when the extenders are used with an IS II super-telephoto lens. AF precision remains the same as the Series II Extenders when the Series III Extenders are used with earlier extender-compatible EF lenses.

As a result of these improvements, users of the new IS II super-telephoto lenses can expect significantly improved image quality when using Series III Extenders.

New Lens Coating

The front and rear elements of both Series III Extenders feature Canon’s new Fluorine anti-smear coating. The new coating is extremely oil-and water-repellent so that the front and rear elements can be cleaned without lens cleaning solvents using a soft, dry cloth.

Durability Improvements

The Series III Extenders are significantly more durable than earlier models due to the following improvements:

  • Seven screws instead of four are used to attach the lens mount to the body of the extender.
  • The lens lock pin and lens mount stopper pin have been improved for higher endurance.

The Series III Extenders are equivalent to the Series II Extenders in terms of weather resistance, with gaskets on both the front and rear lens mounts as well as the lens mount release switch.

The durability improvements of the Series III EF Extenders were made in response to feedback from professional photographers who use EF super-telephoto lenses and extenders regularly in their daily work.

Lens Compatibility A list of compatible lenses for the new Series III Extenders is provided below:

 

 

Focal length/Effective Maximum Aperture
( ) indicates 1/3 stop display

Extender-compatible lens

Catalog Status

EF 1.4X III

EF 2X III

EF 135mm f/2L USM

Current

189mm f/2.8

270mm f/4

EF 180mm f/3.5L Macro USM

Current

252mm f/4.5 (f/5.0)

360mm f/6.7 (f/7.1)

EF 200mm f/2.8L USM

Discontinued

280mm f/4

400mm f/5.6

EF 200mm f/2.8L II USM

Current

280mm f/4

400mm f/5.6

EF 200mm f/2L IS USM

Current

280mm f/2.8

400mm f/4

EF 200mm f/1.8L USM*

Discontinued

280mm f/2.5

400mm f/3.5

EF 300mm f/4L USM

Discontinued

420mm f/5.6

600mm f/8

EF 300mm f/4L IS USM

Current

420mm f/5.6

600mm f/8

EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM

Current

420mm f/4

600mm f/5.6

EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM

Current

420mm f/4

600mm f/5.6

EF 300mm f/2.8L USM*

Discontinued

420mm f/4

600mm f/5.6

EF 400mm f/5.6L USM

Current

560mm f/8

800mm f/11

EF 400mm f/4 DO IS USM

Current

560mm f/5.6

800mm f/8

EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM

Current

560mm f/4

800mm f/5.6

EF 400mm f/2.8L IS USM

Current

560mm f/4

800mm f/5.6

EF 400mm f/2.8L II USM*

Discontinued

560mm f/4

800mm f/5.6

EF 400mm f/2.8L USM*

Discontinued

560mm f/4

800mm f/5.6

EF 500mm f/4.5L USM*

Discontinued

700mm f/6.7 (f/6.3)

1000mm f/9.5 (f/9.0)

EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM

Current

700mm f/5.6

1000mm f/8

EF 500mm f/4L IS USM

Current

700mm f/5.6

1000mm f/8

EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM

Current

840mm f/5.6

1200mm f/8

EF 600mm f/4L IS USM

Current

840mm f/5.6

1200mm f/8

EF 600mm f/4L USM*

Discontinued

840mm f/5.6

1200mm f/8

EF 800mm f/5.6L IS USM

Current

1120mm f/8

1600mm f/11

EF 1200mm f/5.6L USM*

Discontinued

1680mm f/8

2400mm f/11

EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM

Current

98-280mm f/5.6

140-400mm f/8

EF 70-200mm f/4L USM

Current

98-280mm f/5.6

140-400mm f/8

EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM

Current

98-280mm f/4

140-400mm f/5.6

EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM

Discontinued

98-280mm f/4

140-400mm f/5.6

EF 70-200mm f/2.8L USM

Current

98-280mm f/4

140-400mm f/5.6

EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM

Current

140-560mm f/6.7-8 (f/6.3-8)

200-800mm f/9.5-11 (f/9.0-11)

*AF may not focus accurately when a Series III EF Extender is combined with certain discontinued EF lenses marked with an asterisk in the table above. This problem can be resolved through AF Microadjustment on EOS cameras equipped with that feature. Manual focusing is recommended when using Series III EF Extenders with those particular lenses on compatible EOS bodies that do not have an AF Microadjustment function.

Camera Compatibility

The new Series III Extenders are compatible with all EOS Digital SLRs as well as the EOS-1V 35mm SLR. However, they cannot be used with other film-based EOS cameras because their signal relay system is not compatible with those models.

Other Operational Issues

The new Series III Extenders are basically the same as the Series II Extenders in terms of operation with compatible cameras. Here are a few bits of information related to usage and performance:

  • The Series III Extenders support autofocus when used with compatible master lenses and EOS cameras, with some restrictions as follows:
    • With most EOS cameras, the maximum aperture of the compatible EF lens/EF extender combination must be f/5.6 or larger to support autofocus. With EOS-1 class digital SLRs, autofocus with the center focusing point is supported for compatible EF lens/EF extender combinations with maximum apertures of f/8 or larger.
    • AF may not focus accurately when a Series III EF Extender is combined with certain discontinued EF lenses marked with an asterisk in the table above. This problem can be resolved through AF Microadjustment on EOS cameras equipped with that feature. Manual focusing is recommended when using Series III EF Extenders with those particular lenses on compatible EOS bodies that do not have an AF Microadjustment function.
  • Usage of Series III EF Extenders has no effect on AE (Automatic Exposure) or IS (Image Stabilizer) functionality.
  • Canon does not recommend stacking Series III EF Extenders because the extenders’ optical performance and AF precision cannot be guaranteed in such cases.
  • Similarly, Canon does not recommend combining a Series III EF Extender with an extension tube because the extenders’ optical performance and AF precision cannot be guaranteed in such cases.
  • As with previous EF Extenders, usage of Series III EF Extenders lowers AF drive speed to improve AF performance. When Extender EF 1.4X III is used, AF drive speed is reduced by 50%. When Extender EF 2X III is used, AF drive speed is reduced by 75%. This may seem like a drawback, but in reality subject tracking performance remains quite high when Series III Extenders are used with IS II lenses. This is due to improvements in AF precision made possible by the new microcomputer in the extenders.

Conclusion

With the new Series II EF super-telephoto lenses and Series III EF Extenders, Canon has achieved the remarkable feat of improving optical performance, image stabilization and build quality while reducing size and weight and adding many new features. The new lenses and extenders are easier to use for still photography, and they have been optimized for video capture as well. These new products significantly upgrade the EOS System and make it more compelling than ever for creative imaging professionals in every specialty.

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