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Last updated on December 5, 2022 9:50 pm


Large-aperture telephoto L lens with a camera shake correction function, which is best suited to motor sports photography Developed as a successor to the EF500mm f/4.5L USM. The maximum aperture F value is set to F4 for large aperture and a fluorite lens and two UD lenses are used in the optical system to assure very high picture quality. This lens has also a protection glass and a rear filter as standard, which are included in the number of lenses. The camera shake correction has an effect of approx. two stops* in terms of shutter speed.

This lens has also “camera shake correction mode 2” which corrects shaking of the viewfinder image when, for example, shooting a moving object, and a tripod can be used with the camera shake correction function ON. High-speed autofocusing is achieved by the weight reduction of the group of focusing lenses and improvement of the autofocusing drive algorithm. A new AF stop function, which stops autofocusing temporarily, is adopted. Manual focusing is performed mechanically to save power. Main components are made of a magnesium alloy to reduce the weight of the lens, including the optical system, making it much lighter than conventional lenses. Rubber parts are used as mount and switch components to achieve excellent dust- and drip-proofness. The tripod mount can be removed, and the drop-in filter 52 (standard)

This review was created side-by-side with the Canon EF 600mm f/4.0L IS II USM Lens review. These are very similar lenses that arrived at the same time, so you are sure to see many similarities between these reviews. The 500 L IS II is essentially the smaller, lighter, less expensive, wider angle version of the 600 L IS II. Like the 600 L IS II, the 500 L IS II is an incredible lens, featuring outstanding image quality, extremely fast and accurate AF, impressive IS performance and superb build quality The wait for this lens to arrive seemed like forever. Canon issued a development notice for the 500 L IS II and 600 L IS II nearly two years prior (August 26, 2010). Formal announcement press releases were issued on February 7, 2011 with delivery expected in May 2011. It was not until June 2012 until the first of these lenses were delivered. I sold my being-replaced Canon EF 500mm f/4.0L IS USM Lens and Canon EF 600mm f/4.0L IS USM Lens promptly after the press release to fund the new lenses. I was of course expecting a timely delivery.

500 L II IS Side View on Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III DSLR Camera

With the long wait over … the Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM Lens review moves forward. The 500 L II IS replaces the circa 1999 500 L IS I in Canon’s line. While there is some resemblance between these two lenses, the II is a complete redesign featuring many significant improvements including noticeably better image quality (hard to believe, I know) and much lighter weight. With a 500mm focal length, the 500 L II IS will primarily see use in wildlife, sports, journalism and any other similar long-focal-length-need uses. When used on APS-C/1.6x FOVCF body, the resulting 800mm equivalent angle of view narrows the scenarios this lens will be used for even more. This list of uses very closely matches the 600 L II IS lens’ list of uses. As I said in the first paragraph of this review, the primary differences between these lenses is that the 500 is smaller, lighter and less expensive, while the 600 L IS II has a longer focal length. For many of these uses, and especially when using a full frame DSLR, the 600mm focal length is my preference.

But the weight difference, for portability and handholding reasons, will most frequently be the reason I choose the 500 L IS II over the 600 L IS II. I’m not saying that I will choose the 500 over the 600 most or more of the time – just saying that weight will be the reason why I will be selecting the 500 over the 600 for certain needs. Before the 500 L IS II and 600 L IS II arrived, I typically used the 600 L IS when shooting from a tripod or monopod and not traveling far from the house or car. The 600 L IS was uncomfortably heavy for longer periods of carrying. I used the 500 L IS for handholding and longer periods of hiking/holding. The 600 L IS II now has a weight similar to what the 500 L IS I weighs, so the lines of use become more blurred for me. Still, the 500 L IS II remains lighter by a noticeable amount. Handholding this lens is aided by a best-available-at-review-time 4-stops of image stabilization assistance (the 500 L IS I was rated for two stops). “The Image Stabilizer … has been enhanced through the incorporation of a rolling-ball-friction system in place of sliding parts in the compensation optics barrel for a minimum-friction structure” [Canon USA]

Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM Lens Artistic Close-Up

Shooting outdoors with no wind and solid footing, I am able to get a reasonable percentage of sharp handheld results at 1/20th to 1/15th of a second for an easy 4 stops (approaching 5 stops) of assistance. IS testing requires many hundreds of shots – and I work down toward the longer exposures. So my final shutter speeds are determined with a more tired arm. After a discussion I had recently, I’ll share a hint about getting good results with image stabilization. First, you need a stable stance with your feet about shoulder width apart. The shutter should be actuated with a slow, steady pressure being applied to the release button. You then need to hold the camera and lens as steady as possible until after the exposure is completely finished. Think target shooting if you are familiar with that sport.

Better is to rest against something solid while shooting. I often rest my elbow on my body when using big lenses, but do not do so for IS testing.

The Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM Lens has three IS modes. Mode 1 is typically used for stationary subjects. Just the stabilized viewfinder this mode provides at 600mm is extremely helpful.

Mode 2 IS is used for panning with a subject. In this mode, only 1 axis of stabilization is provided – allowing a linearly-moving subject to be tracked.

The new mode available on IS version II super telephoto lenses is “3”. Mode 3 is designed for tracking action. When mode 3 is selected (via a switch – see below), image stabilization is active and ready for use the moment the shutter releases, but actual stabilization is not in effect until that precise time. The view seen through the viewfinder is not stabilized, and you are able to follow your erratic subjects without fighting against image stabilization designed to prevent you from doing the same. IS Mode 3 is designed to detect panning motion. When panning motion is detected, Image Stabilization will only be applied at right angles to the direction of the detected movement (like IS Mode 2).

Mode 3 IS was first seen on the Canon 300mm and 400mm f/2.8L IS II Lenses. Using these lenses, I found mode 3 to be to my liking and have made this mode my default action IS mode. I gave mode 3 a significant amount of workout with those lenses and have made mode 3 my standard action setting. As I have said before, off was my previous choice as I usually need a faster-than-handholdable shutter speed to stop the action I am shooting. Mode 3 on the 500 L IS II is working excellently for me.

When IS is active, you will hear some clicking and whirring in this lens, but the IS implementation is very well behaved. The image in the viewfinder does not jump around when the system activates/deactivates. In Mode 3, IS sound will be heard when the shutter release is half-pressed, but the image is not stabilized until the precise moment that the shot is taken.

Canon’s super telephoto lenses continue to have a secondary IS mode that automatically senses a tripod being used and, at shutter speeds between 1/30th and 1 second, adjusts to compensate for mirror slap, shutter and other subtle tripod-based vibrations. The IS system automatically disables itself during tripod use when shutter speeds longer than 1 second are used. I have not used a big white Canon L IS lens that I did not like, so my expectations were of course quite high for the 500 L IS II. Canon’s theoretical MTF charts strongly hinted that the Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM Lens’ completely redesigned optics would deliver impressive image quality – as the other version II super-telephoto lenses being released in 2011/2012 have shown.

There is no need to stop this lens down for better sharpness/contrast – the Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM Lens is extremely sharp at f/4 – right into the full frame corners. Stopping down to narrower apertures makes very little difference in resulting image quality – other than some vignetting clearing in the corners. I tested two retail-purchased 500 f/4L II IS lenses. They performed very similarly – results from both are included in the ISO 12233 chart tool (link at the top of this review). About 1.6 stops of vignetting is present in full frame corners at f/4 – an amount very similar to the 500 f/4 IS I. A barely-perceptible .6 stops of vignetting remains at f/5.6 and essentially no vignetting remains at f/8. APS-C body owners will not likely notice any vignetting – even at f/4. The 500 f/4L II IS is essentially distortion-free. CA (Chromatic Aberration) is very well controlled showing slightly less than the 600 L IS II and about the same as the 400 L IS II.

The II lenses have proven to be far greater resistant to flare than the I lenses, but don’t expect a standard 500mm flare test from me. Don’t point this lens into the sun, but do expect better backlit-subject performance from the version II lens.

The 500 L II creates a nice quality background blur (bokeh) and delivers a solid amount of blur due to the long focal length and wide (relative to that focal length) aperture. Like it’s big white L IS II siblings, the 500 IS II has a 9-blade circular aperture.

“The optical elements also feature Canon’s latest Super Spectra Coatings, optimized for both the position and type of each lens element. A SubWavelength Structure Coating (SWC), which uses microscopic cone-shaped structures smaller than a wavelength of visible light, reduces ghosting caused by light bouncing back from the imaging sensor and resisting flare. SWC is applied to four internal groups in the lens.

Front and rear lenses elements utilize a Fluorine coating that repels dust and dirt – and makes cleaning easier. The coating is also water repellent, keeping the front element free of water marks and smearing by ensuring water runs off the lens quickly

The SWC coating works. Along with the reduced flare, this lens turns in very impressive contrast and great color – even at f/4 – as seen in the other similar lenses. The Fluorine coating benefit is easy to see from a cleaning standpoint – fingerprints specifically are much easier to remove from a lens coated in this manner. I rarely use these lenses without the hood, so getting fingerprints onto the front lens element takes concerted effort. Dust does get blown into the large lens hood hole – and cleaning the dust from the Fluorine-coated front lens element is very easy.

Like the rest of the Canon super telephoto lenses, the Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM Lens turns in phenomenal AF performance. Driven by Ring USM (Ultrasonic Motor), the 500 L IS II focuses extremely fast and very quietly. Some quiet shuffling movement can be heard inside the during focusing.

All Canon super telephoto lenses focus internally and have FTM (Full Time Manual) focusing available.

  • These lenses also include a Focus Preset feature. Set the Focus Preset to a specific distance and when your shooting needs require that specific distance, simply turn the white spring-loaded knurled playback ring on the end of the lens. The Focus Preset switch settings include an audible focus confirmation setting.
  • The 500mm f/4L II IS’s manual focus ring is very large, is nicely damped, has a very nice rate of adjustment and is very smooth with no play. The subject size in the viewfinder changes slightly over long focus pulls, but most of the size change is related to the subject turning into a blur. The change in focusing in this lens is solid and predictable.
  • New on the 2010 and later-announced super telephoto L lenses is the third focusing mode: “PF” or Power Focusing.
  • The closer and faster the subject is moving, the harder it is for a camera and lens to drive AF fast enough to maintain focus. A galloping quarter horse at a small-rider full-frame-filling distance is very challenging (challenging for me also).
  • The 5D Mark III settings for this shot were 1/1600, f/4 and ISO 320. The RAW image capture was processed in DPP using the Standard Picture Style with no adjustments made other than sharpness being reduced to only “2”.
  • Since the shot will be framed too low even with a peripheral 5D III AF point placed directly on the rider’s eyes, I am generally placing a peripheral focus point around the shirt collar for these shots. You will see that the chin strap and ears are slightly better aligned with the sharp plane of focus than the eyes, but the eyes are still sharp – that’s what counts. The 500 f/4L II IS delivered very sharp eyes over and over again.
  • ull frame Canon EOS DSLR camera owners will find the 1.4x III extender an especially useful accessory for bird and small animal photography. When mounted behind the 500 f/4L II IS, the 1.4x III very slightly reduces wide open aperture contrast/sharpness and slightly increases barrel distortion. Stopping this combination down to f/8.0 results in only very slightly better image quality.

Adding the 2x III Extender to the 500 L IS II impacts sharpness/contrast more substantially. A 1-stop narrower aperture results in only slightly improved image quality – and the aperture is now f/11 in this case. Little distortion is present with this combination. With an f/8 max aperture, the 500 + 2x combo will autofocus only Canon 1-Series bodies (as of review time) – and only using the center AF point. Update: the Canon EOS 5D Mark III is expected to receive a firmware update to allow it to join the 1-Series bodies in the f/8 AF capability.

Note that the Canon USA press release does not specifically say that the series III extenders would deliver better image quality (though features were added that could) – but that they would deliver better AF performance. Although the AF improvement will not result in better than the optical capability of the lens-plus-extender combination, better AF performance does indeed deliver better image quality overall.

Also note that Canon Europe CPN has stated “To get the best out of the new lenses and the Mark III extenders photographers must ensure they attach the extender to the lens first, before attaching the whole unit to the camera. This ensures that the combined lens information is transmitted correctly to provide the optimum image quality and focus performance.”

For the uninitiated, the Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM Lens’ price tag is going to be a bit shocking. The price may fall over time, but it may also go up – this lens’ price went up $1,000.00 from when it was first announced until it hit the streets. Such price increases along with strong used product demand historically have made the high Canon super telephoto lens price tags much easier to tolerate. It is very possible that you could use one of these lenses for 7 years or more and sell it for a price similar to what you paid. I was able to make a nice profit on my 500 f/4L IS – and I sold it for a very fair price – and I sold far too early for the best price.


Brand Name Canon
Focus Type Autofocus (lens motor)
Lens Mount Canon EF
Lens Type Telephoto / Long
Max Focal Length 500mm
Min Focal Length 500mm

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Reviews (1)

1 review for CANON 500MM F/4 L IS USM EF MOUNT LENS {52 DROP-IN PL-C}

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  1. Debra

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    + PROS: I'm really loving the theme/design of your site. Do you ever run into any internet browser compatibility issues? A few of my blog visitors have complained about my blog not operating correctly in Explorer but looks great in Safari. Do you have any tips to help fix this problem?
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