From time to time, I write about this topic.  It is the topic of how the masses perceive each other and how there is almost nothing you can do about it.  That's right, I said there is nothing you can do about it.  Let me explain this in detail.

I was born into a normal middle class household in the northern tier of  Pennsylvania.  My genetics are made up of Swedish (that's important), Italian, Irish and English.  Your basic European mutt.   My dad was a salesman and my mom took various jobs to help pay the bills.  I was brought up to respect others, but also to stand up for myself and not lie just to appease others.  But there is more to the story than that.  You see, what I didn't realize as a child is that biology was going to play a major role in how others perceived me and how I interacted with others.

Looks are Very Deceiving 
By the time I became a teenager, I knew I was different than everyone else.  I had plenty of friends, but I knew people perceived me differently.  There was something about how I looked that made me more polarizing.  Those around me either really liked me or really didn't.

As I grew older and went through high school and college I noticed that if anyone got in trouble in a room, it would be me.  People would tend to look at the floor, rather than engage me directly in conversation.  Oh how I longed for good conversation and still do to this day.  I longed for good friends and still do to this day.  So why you may ask have people treated me so differently?

It wouldn't be until about 2008 that I found my answer.  One day my manager told me that the workers found me intimidating.  I honestly laughed out loud when I first heard this because it was so ridiculous to me. After multiple sources from different companies and even some friends told me this, I soon realized that there must be something to this.  Another term I heard bandied about is, "you seem very intense."  What the heck does that mean?

At this point, I began to do research on how people look and how they are perceived and I found some very compelling evidence to suggest that the way our head and body is shaped does indeed affect, profoundly, how we are perceived.  Combine looks with self confidence and you have a soup made for disaster.

Just as someone who is beautiful seems to get all the breaks, the guy who has harsh, strong features is thought of as someone not to be messed with and to be avoided.  It is some weird innate thing that we simply can do nothing about.

The Big Brow
Studies have shown that when someone looks at you for the first time, they often hone right in on your eyes.  This means, that your whole eye and forehead structure comes into play within the first 5 seconds you meet someone.  With some men, the first thing they see are deep set eyes and a large brow.  Humans seem to know innately that someone with a big brow is stronger and tougher.  They know innately that you are not the person they want to hang out with or that you are a person they want for protection.  In fact, studies have shown  that big brow does more than just stick out of your forehead!  That brow actually reinforces your entire facial structure to prevent your skull from taking damage.  So there seems to be some science to support their innate feelings toward me and others like me.  Of course, you guessed it.  I have a big brow.  This is the number one factor in looking intimidating!

Big Chest Cavity and Shoulders
This one is common sense and we see this all the time.  What does a body builder have that makes him look tough?  A big strong chest, abs and shoulders. So when someone sees a man with a big chest and shoulders, they can be intimidated and even more so for women (who seem to be the worst offenders).  We see football players and wrestlers and military fall into this category.  So again we have a very polarized attraction here. Either others are completely intimidated and run away from you or they see you as someone to protect them.  These of course are both the wrong reasons to befriend someone.  Again, you guess it, I have a big chest cavity and shoulders.

Deep, Booming Voice
Those who have big voices get lots of attention and for many this is simply a turn off and for others it can be intimidating.  So this is strike three for me.  I was made with a big voice that you can hear from one side of the building to the other.  This does make me a fairly good singer though!

Being a Big Guy is Not Intimidating
Having big shoulders or height does not make you intimidating.  They are fairly normal traits.  Intimidation (by looks) is all in the head structure and vibe you give off.  Notice I am not talking at all about personality.  That is a topic for another day.  Personality really gets into the psychological which is above my pay grade most likely.  I will say, however, that if people tell you that you are big and tough long enough, you will eventually play the part.  Watch out for that!

Other Warning Signs You Might be Intimidating

  • People see you as making a good police officer or military man when choosing a career.  This is a big warning sign!
  • People look at the floor in your presence.
  • People won't confront you directly, but instead immediately escalate the issue to the next level at work.  
  • People always email you and never call you (not always because of this but could be a warning sign).
  • People may say you are unapproachable (even though they have never approached you).
  • People refer to you as "big guy" even though you are of average height.

The Good News
The good news is that generally, none of the above speaks anything about who I really am in my heart of hearts.  People around you will try to shape you into a monster because that is how they perceive you.  They will try to compartmentalize you because that is what people do.  There is nothing you or I can do about this in general.  The only thing you or I can do is be the best person we can be. You can win people by utilizing the parts of your personality that are in fact likable.

And then, there is also the opposite sex and how they are attracted or not attracted to you.  Just as there are people who innately seem to hate you without knowing you, there are women who find the "big guy" to be attractive.  I would assert that it is not looks they find attractive per say, but rather that this is someone who can protect them and be their strength.  It cuts both ways however.  Just as there are women who find these traits irresistible, there are probably more who find it detestable (especially in modern times).  Good luck guys.

Realize this, there is simply nothing you can do about your looks or how people perceive you. Also, to a large degree there is nothing you can do about your personality.  I didn't really get into that topic here because it is such a huge can of worms, but your personality is what God gave you and it really cannot be altered for the most part.

When we judge someone by mere appearance we make ourselves the worst kind of person.  Furthermore, realize that you will suffer setbacks based on your looks.  Work will become harder and it will be harder to make friends and keep them.  Also, be aware that if you are also an introvert, you have just about doomed yourself to a life of solitude (for the most part).  That may actually be desirable for you :)  I hope at some level though, you do seek the company of others.

Those who really know me, know that I am not intimidating at all.  One of my friends told me that he just doesn't understand why people tell me that.  It is really simple, if you don't know someone, you judge them by their appearance and that is always a big mistake!

Unfortunately, a huge portion of the world's society hasn't gotten the memo that you simply cannot judge a book by its cover!

Within the Canon umbrella of luxury(L) lenses, there is a lens which sleeps quietly among a handful of fairly affordable telephotos.  It is a lens which can be used for modest action photography and even as a close focusing butterfly lens.  It has been used by greats such as Arthur Morris and regular Joes across the world.  That lens is the Canon EF 300mm f4 L IS USM.

Canon EF 300mm f4 IS USM

For those that do not know, Canon L lenses are steeped in the tradition of being the best that Canon has to offer.  The telephoto luxury line, in particular, are often easily spotted due to their white or cream colored lens barrel.  Photographers tend to buy these amazing lenses for two reasons.  First, there are those who covet the idea of being in the "L" lens club.  These are the folks that will stop at nothing to own the best lenses Canon has to offer.  I find this, mentality, a parallel to the car collector who accumulates stunning vehicles and parks them in the garage.  These folks don't care about image quality, but just want drooling looks from fellow photographers.  Secondly, serious photographers who want no excuses and want the best of the best in Canon engineering and image quality, collect these lenses regardless of stress on their bank accounts.  These photographers are often pros or semi-pros who can recoup the cost of the lenses by selling and showing their images.

This article, part of a series of articles on Canon L glass, will pick apart these lenses with  real world shooting conditions.  I will start with micro-adjusting the lenses to my Canon 7D Mark II body and end with actual shots taken from the field.  Having shot many lenses over the years, it is my sincere desire to  look at this with an open mind and without the "Canon fan boy" bias.  You can count on this article to be the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Canon EF 300mm f4 IS
A view of the Canon EF 300mm F4.  The lens comes with a strange looking but functional lens case.

Overall Specifications of the Lens

  • Weight - 2.6 Pounds (1.2 Kg)
  • Length - 8.7 inches
  • Image Stabilized - Mode 1 Stabilizes X and Y axis.  Mode 2 Stabilizes during horizontal and vertical panning. Provides roughly 2 stops of image stabilization.
  • Lens Construction -15 Elements in 11 Groups 
  • Focal Length - 300mm (prime) 
  • Image Magnification - 1:4 
  • Closest Focusing - 4.9 feet (1.5 m)
  • Filter Size - 77mm
  • Built in Lens Hood
  • Removable Tripod Collar
  • Aperture - f4 to f32
  • Street Price - $1,349.00
  • Used Price - $619 to $800

Micro-Adjusting to the Canon 7D Mark II
I think a big mistake some reviewers make is not micro-adjusting the lens to the camera.  How can you sincerely test the lens in the field without making sure the auto-focus of the camera is calibrated to the lens?  With this lens I performed the calibration and it was spot on. So right out of the gate, I know that if the lens isn't sharp, it is not a calibration issue.  Below is the actual calibration shot.

Micro-adjustment/Lens Calibration was not necessary with the Canon EF 300mm F4.  The focus was perfect. 

Build, Fit and Finish
Canon began manufacturing of the 300 in 1997, and it was officially released in December of that year.  In reality it was an upgrade to it's sister lens the Canon EF 300 f4 L (non-is).  Interestingly enough both of these lenses remain in production as of the writing of this article in August 2018.  That's a whopping 21 year run!

Let me say I expected this lens to be built well.  I mean, you have to expect a luxury lens to feel luxurious, right?  Well, yes and this lens did not disappoint me.  First, the aluminum construction of the lens barrel just feels more rugged than lenses like my Sigma 150-600.  I feel that if I dropped this lens it might just recover.  Of course, I would not recommend dropping any lens!  

The 300 has several switches on the side used for turning on image stabilization, setting stabilization modes and setting the focus limits.  They, as expected, felt solid. On the top of the lens near the rear is, in my opinion, a ridiculously large metal plate displaying the name of the lens and who manufactured it.  Some find this an interesting design.  I find it to be one more thing to reflect light and frighten my subject.   Moving toward the front of the lens, I found a feature which I think should be on all prime lenses.  This lens has a build in lens hood.  No need to worry about it falling off or the possibility of it falling out of my back pack.

Being completely honest, I did find several disappointing build issues with this lens. First, the lens barrel is completely smooth.  When I had the lens and body resting on my bean bag, the lens constantly slipped around.  Several times this slipping flushed the birds I was photographing.  Next, I found the white lens to also be distracting to my subject.  When moving my lens, the bright white reflection drew the attention of my subjects to the lens.  This also contributed to flushing the birds.  Next, I did not like that the focusing ring moved so freely.  Because of this design, when resting it on a bean bag, the focus constantly moved as I moved the lens around on the bag. Buying a lens coat for this lens should solve most of the problems with the lens slipping.

Finally, and the biggest concern I had with this lens happened when  mounting it on my tripod.  On my Bogen 3030 head, the clearance between my camera body and the plate was not far enough.  I had to actually remove the battery grip to get it to sit flush in the plate.  Actually, I found this odd since the lens was built in the late 1990s.  This was also when Bogen made the 3030 head and it was very popular.  I suspect as newer Canon bodies were released with battery grips, many people ran into this problem.  This is also a problem with mounting it on a 1 Series body. The tripod foot is simply to far toward the rear of the lens.

Sharpness and Optical Quality
What you are not going to find in this review is a sharpness test pointing at some lens chart.  There are plenty of those available on the web.  What you are going to see is how this lens performs against real subjects.  My working genre in the photography world is wildlife and I specialize in bird photography.  So that is where I will concentrate my tests.  Always stick with what you know when testing a lens.  Since this is a 300mm lens, I think it would be somewhat unfair to test it with birds in flight, so these tests will be on static birds.  Make no mistake though, static birds are still very fast and unpredictable.

The sharpness of the lens was certainly on par with my Sigma 150-600 when shooting at 300mm.  I think this lens may have a slight advantage in sharpness, but it is so close as to not even be something to worry about.  If you are buying this lens strictly for having a sharp lens, then there are more economical solutions out there.

The lens is quite sharp at f4 and I would have no reservations at shooting at f4, but with most lenses, it is a tad sharper at f5.6 and even more so at f8.  This is the nature of almost every lens ever made.  I am sure there is some kind of physics at work here, but that is for another article.

Canon EF 300mm 100% crop
100% Crop of a Common Grackle
Being a lens design of the late 1990s I expected to see more chromatic aberration.  In the shot above, you can see the aberrations around the bird's bill.  This was easily removed in LightRoom and frankly chromatic aberation is of little concern with modern post processing software. Comparing this with my Sigma 150-600, the Sigma has almost no chromatic aberration.

Common Grackle Canon EF 300mm f4 IS USM
Image of the Common Grackle with the Canon EF 300mm f4 L
f5.6, 1/500th of a second, ISO 800

Although not the fastest auto-focusing lens in Canon's lineup, the 300 can hold its own.  This is especially true when coupled with the Canon 7D Mark II or a 1 Series camera.  The focus was right on in most cases.  Perhaps when compared with the 300 2.8 the auto-focus is slower, but for most people I think it is more than adequate.  I did find, however, it did tend to hunt a bit too much and liked to grab the background.  This can be remedied by using the second auto-focus case on the 7D Mark II or 1DX Mark II.

There are two modes which can be used to help achieve faster auto-focus.  There is a focus limiter switch on the side which can be switched from 1.5 meters to infinity or 3 meters to infinity.  See the image below to view the switches. Essentially, you would use the 3 meters to infinity when shooting birds in flight or animals at a greater distance.  This will keep the lens from hunting as much.  In my case, I was shooting quite close, so I kept it at 1.5 meters to infinity. 

One very strange problem I had occurred when holding down the auto-focus button (I use rear button auto-focus) on AI-Servo and firing in burst mode.  I noticed that the burst rate on my Canon 7D Mark II actually slowed down to what seemed like 6 fps or there about. I never did remedy this problem.  This problem does not exist when my Sigma 150-600 is mounted.  I am probably going to check with Canon on this and see what they say.

House Finch taken with the Canon EF 300mm f4 lens.
f5.6, 1/320th, ISO 800

Image Stabilization (IS)
Image stabilization is provided on this lens, but it is an early version of IS.  Because of this, expect to only get about 2 stops better low light performance.  Because it is an early version, you can also expect louder mechanical sounds coming from the lens when it is engaged.  Because my testing was done resting the lens on a bean bag, I couldn't fully test this feature, but it performed well for me at 1/250.  I suspect you should be able to get down to 1/60th or 1/125th of a second without issue.  Remember though that it only stabilizes your hand holding.  Subject movement can still produce blur in your images.

As with all Canon IS, there are two modes of operation.  Mode 1 stabilizes both the vertical and horizontal axes while mode 2 only stabilizes vertical movement of the lens.  All my tests were performed with mode 1 engaged.  If you want to pan with a bird in flight, then you would selected mode 2.

The Canon EF 300mm F4 IS USM has two modes of image stabilization(IS). Mode 1 was used for all of my testing.

Uses for this Lens
One of the most obvious uses for this lens is wildlife photography.  What makes a good wildlife lens is sharpness, great auto-focus and focal length.  This lens is sharp and has good auto-focus, but may not be the ticket if you are a bird photographer.  For static bird photography, I believe it will be fine, but for those who spend a great deal capturing birds in flight, it will, in many cases be too short.  Now, I am not saying you can't photograph birds in flight with a 300mm, because you can. I used a 300 for several years before upgrading to a 600mm.  It is just not an ideal solution for flight photography. 

Although I did not test its close focusing capability, this lens is known for it's ability to do so.  It focuses so closely in fact, that it is used by butterfly photographers to get more distance from the subject.  For that capability, I can recommend it as an insect lens with the one exception that it is not a full macro 1:1 lens.

Next, I think the lens would be fine as a general purpose medium telephoto.  It would be a good lens for your children's sporting events, for example.  The focusing is fine for fast moving subjects, although most likely not as fast as say the 600 f4. I could even see this lens being used for picking out a distant landscape feature.  

Final Verdict
Let me start by saying that you really can't go wrong here.  This lens, although long in the tooth, does what it is advertised to do.  It is a great all purpose lens that is well suited for most subject matter requiring a medium telephoto.  But that might also be its greatest weakness.  As with other primes, you must buy more primes in order to fill in the gaps.  You could easily spend 8 or 10 thousand on a set of primes that (for all practical purposes) could be handled by one zoom lens.

However, those big zooms like the Sigma 150-600 are not fast glass.  This lens, at an f4 aperture, could still be used to supplement in low light conditions or flight shots with a triggering device.  For that reason, I might consider a lens like this in my future kit, but let me reiterate that I would not use this as my primary birding lens.  I hope that Canon soon comes out with a version II of this lens to address some of the optical and IS concerns.

Let me take a bit more time to write about using this as a birding lens.  Remember, you only working with a 300mm focal length.  On my 7D Mark II that equates to a 480mm effectively (due to the 1.6x crop factor).  Even at 480, I had to get quite close to the birds and sometimes that can flush the more skittish species such as woodpeckers.

Where I think this lens really shines (no pun indented) is taking advantage of the f4 aperture and shooting birds in flight with an IR trigger.  This would allow higher shutter speeds up up to 1/5000th of a second.  To capture songbirds in flight, you must use a high shutter speed or use a very short flash duration.

Quick Summary
  • Great build quality
  • Image stabilized
  • f4 aperture makes shooting in lower light easier
  • Sharpness is fine
  • Adequate to above adequate auto-focus, but could be better.
  • Decent price considering it is an f4 L lens
  • Built in lens hood
  • White color could draw unwanted attention from your subject
  • Focusing ring was great when hand holding, but slips when on a bean bag
  • Smooth finish was slippery on a bean bag mount.
  • Slower burst rate in AI-Servo?  Was this the lens or the camera?

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