Lens Review Canon 300mm f4 Lens for Sports Photography

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Recently I went to a Little League baseball game and shot with my Canon 5D Mark III and my newly purchased, 300mm f/4 L IS. It was the first time shooting sports with my new camera, so I was eager to see how the body would perform as well as the lens.

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The 300mm is touted as one of Canon’s best sports lenses, so I was counting on it to deliver some quality images. The 5D Mark III, while not specifically a sports camera, is often considered a viable option by sports photographers because of its new autofocus system. I was eager to try it out, and see if I could handle shooting sports on a full-frame camera.

But this post is about the 300mm, not the 5D Mark III. So let’s get to the good stuff  – review Canon 300mm f4 lens.

300mm f/4L IS – weight and handling

When I first purchased the 300mm f/4L IS, I was surprised by how small and light it was. Bigger than my 70-200 f/4, yes – by a large margin. But it wasn’t a beast like I was expecting. If you’re familiar with the 70-200 f/2.8 IS, the 300mm is similar to that lens in size and weight. But it’s certainly not overwhelming, like the 300mm f/2.8. It’s actually comfortably hand-holdable.

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I brought my monopod to the game, thinking I would use it with the 300mm, but I never needed it. I handheld the 300mm comfortably the whole game, and I’m not super strong. I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to handle the lens. It fits perfectly in my camera bag’s long-lens compartment, and I can carry it over my shoulder when I’m walking around. During the game, I ended up sitting on the ground (I explain why here), holding the camera and lens up to my eye, for most of the game.

runnerTip: If your arms get tired from holding your camera up so much, a monopod will be your best friend.

The feel of this lens is like all Canon L-series lenses – solid. It’s all metal construction, and feels substantial in your hand. It features a built-in lens hood that you can expand and twist to lock. The lens hood doesn’t come off – when you’re not using it, unscrew and slide it back onto the lens.

Summary: Pleasantly surprised by the 300mm’s relatively light weight and easy handling.

Reach

300mm turned out to be the perfect focal length for the game I was shooting. As I mentioned above, reach was not a problem. I had anticipated wanting more reach than my full-frame sensor offered, so I brought along a Canon Rebel T3i too, but didn’t use it. For youth sports, 300mm was perfect. Of course, it depends on the sport you’re shooting – if you’re at a big soccer field, maybe you’d want to use 300mm on a crop sensor camera, while you might want a 70-200 if you’re doing something close like basketball. Could I have gotten lots of great shots with the 300mm on a crop sensor camera at this game? Of course. But many of the players were perfectly framed with 300mm on the full-frame.

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Now, if you have a crop sensor (APS-C) camera, I would still recommend the 300mm f/4L IS, but it depends greatly on your sport. If you’re not sure, I might start out with a cheaper 70-300 zoom lens and see what focal lengths you use most. If you find yourself always using the long end of the zoom, then that’s a pretty good indication that the 300mm f/4L might be a great choice for you.

At my game, I think 300mm on crop (480mm) would have been a bit long, but I could have always shot the farther action. If I had been using a crop sensor, a 70-200mm would probably have worked better. But the bokeh at 300mm f/4 was so nice compared to my 70-200 f/4, I don’t know if I could have gone back. The reach, power, and feel of the 300mm felt so far ahead of my 70-200 f/4L. I felt like a beast using it all night.

Summary: 300mm on full-frame was perfect for closer subjects. It also definitely works if you have a crop sensor. Think about the sport you’re shooting and how far away you’ll be from the action.

batter

Autofocus

The 300mm f/4L IS is an L-series lens, so it should come as no surprise that the autofocus is fast and snappy. The lens has USM, which stands for Ultra Sonic Motor – Canon’s fast autofocus motor. The USM autofocus on the 300mm is excellent, quiet and instant. Tracking is fast and it keeps up with the action.

The fast autofocus at 300mm is sort of a luxury to me. I have a bad habit of setting up for a specific shot (like the pitcher throwing the ball), getting the shot, then putting my camera down to look for the next shot. When a play happens, my instinct is to put my camera down and watch (bad, I know). But during the game, when I realized this was happening, I made a point to try to shoot spontaneously during plays. There was one play where I put my camera down but then saw a shot about to appear. Thanks to the fast autofocus, I simply framed the shot, focused, and snapped the photo in a few moments. I came out with this shot:

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Summary: I love the fast autofocus on the 300mm f/4. It responds to my every command, instantly.

Image Stabilization

I don’t have much to say on Image Stabilization (IS). I used it throughout the game, but I don’t think it was necessary. I was using a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the action. There’s really no need for IS when shooting action, because IS only helps with camera shake from your hands. You still need a fast shutter speed to freeze action, which means camera shake isn’t a problem at that point either.

Summary: Next time I’ll leave IS off. It’s not a necessary feature for sports shooters.

pitcher

Final Thoughts

Honestly, the 5D Mark III and 300mm f/4L IS was an amazing combination for shooting sports. The camera was nice and the lens performed flawlessly. It made sports photography a lot easier for me than previously, when I shot with the 70-200 f/4.

Overall, I highly recommend the 300mm f/4L IS as a sports lens. It’s the perfect focal length for medium to far distances. The autofocus is snappy and reliable, and the lens is easy to handhold. If you need a new telephoto lens for sports photography, I can wholeheartedly recommend the Canon 300mm f/4L IS.

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James Trent

is the sports-loving photographer, and founder of Youth Sports Photography Guide, a popular sports photography blog. He provides insanely practical tips that people like you can use to take professional sports photos. He also runs a popular Canon lens video review channel.

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