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Hands On: Canon 400mm F/2.8 L IS USM II and 300mm F/2.8 L IS USM II

Today at Canon Expo 2010, I got hands-on time with the new 400mm F/2.8 L IS USM II and 300mm F/2.8 L IS USM II. Though we weren’t allowed to put cards into the cameras, the image quality and features of the lenses will make them the envy of every photographer out there that would require these focal lengths.

400mm F/2.8 L IS USM II

The Canon 400mm F/2.8 L IS USM II is a gorgeous beast of a lens. In all honesty, I never thought that I would be able to hand-hold a lens and capture a stable shot at a very far range. Part of the reason for this is because of the fact that I’ve got shaky hands. This lens didn’t disappoint at all—figure skaters gracefully dancing around the ice rink that Canon set up not far away were captured with easy, no camera shake, and extremely sharp wide open.

Color rendition of the images that this lens is capable of producing is absolutely stunning. I haven’t seen anything like this since my old 80-200mm F2.8 L which I still swear by in my camera bag today. This lens is even better. The fluorite elements really seem to do the job well.

Ergonomically, the lens has a great feel to it. It is considerably lighter than its predecessor and this helps greatly with being able to shoot hand-held. Additionally, although the lens is still a bit on the heavy side it is still remarkably balanced. Sure it’s big. Sure, if you painted it black it would look like an old musket/blunderbuss from the revolutionary war days, but the ergonomics still stand up well.

Now here is the really, really cool part: the new power-focus mode that I talked about back during the announcement. As a reminder, this feature allows the photographer to focus much more smoothly when shooting video. I saw the different when holding the set button down and then focusing. In fact, it felt as buttery smooth as a Leica or a Zeiss cinema prime. Perhaps this could hint towards what Canon may be doing in the future with their lenses.

On top of this, there is also the IS 3 mode, which is brand new. This mode allows the user to only see the image stabilization in their viewfinder when they are autofocusing or half-press the shutter button down. The effect is really quite cool and helps the user to see just how much camera-shake there could potentially be.

Autofocusing is quiet as well, so if a wildlife photographer wants to photograph a young doe, there is no way that she will be scared away.

300mm F/2.8 L IS USM II

The 300mm F/2.8 L IS USM II is the smaller of the two lenses, and considerably so actually. Though it probably wouldn’t fit into any of the camera bags I own, it could probably fit into a backpack type format bag attached to the body—but even that could be a stretch.

Those ergonomics work very well for it. The 300mm actually seemed a lot more like a lens that I would perhaps want to carry around if I were able to justify it for any of my work. For Fashion Week users that shoot with primes, this would probably be a lens that you’ll want to get your hands on. The 300mm feels exactly like the 400mm but smaller in every shape and form. That isn’t a bad thing at all though: the focusing rings and switches are all still sized very well and are very easy to get to with a finger.

This lens, like its bigger sibling, delivers sharp and contrasty images that are just simply beautiful. Once again, the fluorite elements really come into play here. The rendition of deep blues, reds and yellows must really be noted here.

Like the 400mm, this lens also has the IS 3 mode and the power focus option for videographers and cinematographers.

Autofocusing once again is very quiet. For any photographers looking to upgrade their big primes, these two lenses are the ones that you’ll want to give serious consideration to.

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