After having this lens for perhaps two weeks, today was the first chance I got to take it outdoors for a shoot. Previously I did some basic tests indoors and on a tripod, and the results were quite surprising in that this lens can produce images with good quality despite its very expansive and controversial zoom range:
Since a trip to the zoo is quite a big undertaking for me, I instead went to the Botanical Gardens, a nice pocket of peace and greenery. Here I ended up testing the 300mm end almost exclusively, and also shot subjects near the MFD. All these were done handheld, hence the subpar quality in some cases. After today's shoot I made a few observations.
This thing is a beast! It's extremely heavy. On a 1-series body the whole thing feels a little back-heavy but otherwise well-balanced. When extended fully it can be a challenge to handle for the not-so-strong. After handling it and shooting continuously for only three and a half hours, I'm now feeling the strain especially in my right hand.
It is a push-pull zoom, just like the popular 100-400mm. But Canon seems to have (consciously or unconsciously) added something else to the functionality of this zoom. In the past when I used the 100-400mm, I noticed that if I pointed the camera downwards without tightening the zoom friction ring, the lens would extend and finally stop with a hard 'clunk'. In the 28-300mm, there is some resistance between the 200-300mm mark. Hence if the lens is pointed downwards by accident, the lens seems to extend but stop short of hitting its end.
Conversely, once the lens is at the 300mm mark, there appears to be a 'soft lock' and if the camera is tilted upside down, the lens does not retract back even if the zoom friction ring has been completely loosened. This is a very nice feature! That said I always ensure I retract the lens completely and tighten the ring before moving anywhere.
Image quality, although good, obviously doesn't get anywhere near that of prime lenses, but it may be able to rival consumer zooms with much more conservative zoom ratios. RAW images needed slightly more aggressive sharpening (Level 4 in DPP), but once done the images get their 'pop', as can be expected. This lens is impressively sharp at the middle of its zoom range. It appears to be softer at either of its ends, but then again, not consistently. I suspect there's a learning curve involved.
I have no complaints about focusing speed, which is decent by any standards, and particularly impressive considering the zoom range. IS is a beauty...all three stops worth of it. It's especially important when you consider that the weight will eventually tire you, and handshake becomes even more severe. It allowed me to handhold at 1/8s for a photo of a small man-made waterfall...long enough to get a silky water effect.
This lens has excellent close-focusing abilities. While it won't get you frame-filling photos of small dragonflies, it is great for flowers and small animals still. Paired together with a 500D closeup filter, it might make for a good naturalist's lens. This lens, plus a 400mm f/5.6L or 500mm f/4L on a 1D-series is conceivably very nice for a safari.
So anyway, while I'm not sure how long this thread will last, and how long I'll keep this lens (because it's too heavy for me), here's some purely demonstrative (not meant to be artistic) photos from my first outdoor trip with the 28-300mm 'Perfect Partner'.
Fall in love.
This dragonfly is pretty small:
A waterfall at 1/8s:
Barrels of cactus at 300mm:
A toad at 300mm:
And the obligatory duck shot: