Photo by Scott Bourne – Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs Creative Commons

I’ve used super telephoto lenses for almost two decades and I’ve been lucky enough to own or have access to just about every single lens in the category. When Canon announced this new 500mm lens more than a year ago, I became excited. The old version is more than a decade old and was overdue for a refresh.

Unfortunately, the tragic earthquake in Japan delayed the lens. Finally, a few copies have started to land on U.S. shores – 13 months late is better than never. Luckily, I got my hands on one and all I can say is..

OH MY GOD!

What a lens! There is a new IS mode that offers four stops of speed and three modes. New redesigned optics perform with almost no chromatic aberration. But the BIG difference is the lens is significantly lighter. The lens weighs a pound and a half less than its predecessor and it feels like a feather by comparison. If you’ve never used a lens like this you won’t understand how important this is but I used the lens for an hour before writing this post and every time I picked it up I marveled at its light weight.

Photo by Scott Bourne – Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs Creative Commons

I’ve never been able to reliably hand-hold lenses in this focal range. While younger men with stronger arms have less difficulty than I, even they can’t do so for long. But this new version of the 500 – even I can hand hold it. The two test photos in this post were both handheld.

The lens is solid, well-built, more durable, and offers better weather sealing than the old version. It still has a 52mm drop-in rear filter slot.

Lastly, Canon’s new lens features a fluorine anti-smear lens coating. The fluorine layer is mostly oil- and water-repellent. Most smears or water droplets on the lens can be wiped off quickly and easily using only a soft dry cloth.

All of this means nothing if the lens doesn’t perform in the field. But rest assured, it does that and exceeds all reasonable expectations. The new lens focuses extra fast and quietly which will be important for video shooters. The image quality is second to none and I will absolutely put one of these in my permanent arsenal. Combined with the latest version of Canon’s 1.4 TC and a crop-sensor camera, and it’s easy to take this lens to an effective focal length of more than 1000mm. If that’s not enough lens for you – then you need to get closer.

Now for the bad news. At $10,499 (about $1000 more than originally announced) it is a very expensive lens. But if you’re a regular wildlife or sports shooter, you’re going to be happy with the results. Highly recommended. An early favorite for lens-of-the-year!

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  1. [...] are always concise and synthetic, yet informative and pleasant to read. The same applies to his mini-review of the EF 500mm f/4L IS Telephoto Lens. Announced more than a year ago, and delayed because of the [...]

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