Canon EF 500mm F4L IS II USM Lens Review


Canon EF 500mm F4L IS II USM Lens Review

The Canon EF 500mm F4L IS II USM is an incredible lens for any photographer, especially a wildlife photography. Here we cut through the technical details (you can get that anywhere) and explain exactly what makes this lens so good.

The previous version of this lens became available in 1999 and has alway been considered to be an excellent lens producing pin sharp images – very difficult to beat…

….that is, until now. The Canon EF 500mm F/4L IS II USM was made available in 2012. Its main features are:

4 stop Image Stabilisation (IS)

This allows you to work hand held at slower shutter speeds such as when there isn’t much light. For example, when used with a camera body that has a 1.3 crop factor, without IS the minimum shutter speed would be 1/1000 s, with 4 stop IS it would be 1/60 s.

There are three IS Modes:

Mode 1 is typically used for shooting stationary subjects.

Mode 2 is for panning in one direction.

Mode 3 Is new and is for tracking a moving subject. Image Stabilisation does not engage until the shutter is fully pressed. This results in easy panning, allowing the viewfinder to be more natural while tracking.

Image Quality

What can I say – The image quality of the Canon EF 500mm F4L IS II USM is outstanding!

Focus Speed

Focuses extremely fast, very quietly and very reliably.

Internal Focusing

Everything in this lens is internal. When it focuses nothing moves externally.

Build Quality

The build quality of the the Canon EF 500mm F4L IS II USM is superb. It is very rugged and ideally suited for use harsh environments. It is weather sealed so can handle rain but not immersion in water. It has double the impact resistance of its mark I predecessor.

Background Quality

It is often desirable to blur out the background when photographing in order to make the subject stand out. The background blur quality of this lens is extremely good.

There are a number of improvements to this lens over its predecessor:

  1. Improved Image Stabilisation – 4 stops rather than 2.
  2. Significant weight reduction – 136.5 oz to 112.5 oz.
  3. Better optical performance.


Why not buy the Canon EF 600mm f/4 L IS II USM instead?

Canon also have a 600mm lens available so you’re probably wondering why buy the 500mm when you could buy the 600mm and benefit from its greater reach? There are three compelling reasons.

  1. It is cheaper.
  2. It is Smaller.
  3. It is lighter – 730 g lighter. The 500mm weighs in at 3190g (7.05 lbs) and the 600mm at 3920g (8.65 lbs).

Because it’s smaller and lighter it is easier to use when hand-holding and when you are carrying it around a lot. Having said that, it is still a big lens and for longer periods of time a tripod or mono-pod will make it even easier.

This makes is an ideal choice for any photographer that needs to be mobile, such as a wildlife photographer, as it’s a perfect compromise between being lightweight and its reach.

To get this lens for a decent price head on over to B&H. The current price for it is shown to the right.

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