I have quite a lot of gear, including quite a few L series lenses, but I am also interested in the non-professional units as there are a lot of people who cannot or choose not invest in such expensive units. I have had for some time the Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM Lens, a unit released in 2005 that has caused some controversy amongst users as they apparently have had mixed results with it.
Personally I have liked the images taken with it, (See the first image of the seagull taken with this lens) but it had some annoying traits, like the noisy autofocus and IS, and the way the lens would stick out of its fully retracted condition at random times. Still in its price point and time it was a valid update from the standard kit zoom of 55-250.
So recently I acquired the EF 70-300 F4.0-5.6 IS II USM and had the following impressions of this newer piece of kit.
1. It has had a major cosmetic upgrade. Gone the busy and lumpy control layout and in with a sleek smooth matt plastic shape that is bigger in diameter than the MkI - the old unit had a 58mm filter ring while the new one is at 67mm. The weight has been kept under control 710g from 630g is not too bad considering the changes "under the hood".
The buttons are now recessed more and it now sports a LCD display that offers DoF indicators for the currently selected focal length, or (press a button) the FoV of the lens - which seems superfluous considering lens focal length is printed on the focusing ring about 1 cm above. For those using an ASP-C body it DOES give the equivalent FoV values automatically. Finally after another press it gives you the degree of shake experienced by the lens. PERSONALLY I have little use for any of these so I would tend to leave the display off, but that's a personal choice.
2. The body is still not weather sealed but the rear element, located flush with the metal plate at the rear of the lens, is fixed in place, so it may offer some resistance to bellows effect. The lens still extends and retracts like the old one, but I have had no experience of it locking up in awkward places as before.
3. The auto-focus is blazingly fast thanks to the Nano-USM motor that combines best of STM and ring-type USM - I can see this appearing in more lenses. I did not find it was hunting as the MkI did on a few occasions. It is an amazing performer in this area.
4. IS offers 4 stops compared to the claimed 3 of the MkI and it seems to hold onto that. Which is just as well as my research and own experience indicates that the variable aperture of this lens loses its wider capacity significantly faster as one increases the focal length than the earlier model- essentially it is a slower lens across much of the zoom range. From what I have read this is seen as a result of the more complex optical construct of the lens.
Being almost silent it is likely a much more suitable candidate for video than the previous one that sounded like a tinker's cart in comparison! Still if you don't do video (as I don't) that is less of an issue unless you are concerned about disturbing your subjects - say at a wedding...
5 In terms of distortion, vignetting etc. I found both the lenses performed reasonably well in both areas - the focal range of tele-zoom is much less challenging than one going from wide to tele, such as the 24-105 or the 18-135. I had no difficulty in letting the PP software do its magic to make the appropriate corrections.
6. Performance on FF vs APS-C. This was interesting to me... I tried both the units on a canon 700D (T5i Rebel), a 60D, 80D, 7DII and 5DIII. I found the latter three units seemed to render similarly good results, especially considering they are two crop and a FF body respectively. I was less enamored with the Rebel and OK with the 60D. I will hazard no inference here simply report my own experience and perception.
Neither of these units could or should be compared to the fabulous Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM. This is one of my favourite lenses: relatively light, small form factor, incredibly sharp and responsive - but about 3 times the price of the new EF 70-300 F4.0-5.6 IS II USM, so I see these as aimed at completely different markets, and one has to consider that when judging them.
Being an EF rather than EF-S lens, the EF 70-300 F4.0-5.6 IS II USM is worth considering as a great upgrade lens for those leaving the standard kits lenses and considering one day moving up to a FF body and who need the extra reach of the 70-300mm rather than one of the 70-200 EF models.