Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS Lens Review


Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS Lens ReviewBasic Rundown:

  • List Price: $2,499
  • Filter Size: 77mm
  • Weight: ~3.3 lbs (1.5 kg)

The Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II lens is the cream of the 70-200mm Canon crop.  Canon actually makes 4 L lenses of the 70-200 mm focal range variety, but this one tops the line.  The other models are either a full stop slower at f/4, or lack image stabilization or both.

I rented this lens for a long weekend of outdoor action photography at a horse show and I wasn’t disappointed.  For about $75 at, I got to experience first hand what it’s like to use a professional lens without the professional cost.  I highly recommend renting a lens, particularly an extremely expensive one, before buying. and I have no financial relationship (other than me paying them money to rent their lenses)

The first thing that struck me about this lens was its heft.  At almost three and a half pounds, it dwarfs the weight of even my Canon 6D body.  This shifted the weight balance of the lens and camera forward onto more of the lens itself.  I found that I was less steady hand holding this lens then with my 24-105 f/4L, particularly when I was standing.  I used a monopod or found myself in a crouched position, where I could steady my left elbow on my knee, the majority of the time.  By the end of the day my shoulders were definitely feeling the extra weight as well.

However, the weight is well worth it.  I had always thought that prime lenses were far sharper than any zoom lens and yet I was blown away with the sharpness of this lens.  At 200mm wide open at f/2.8 the lens was tack sharp, even when I magnified an image on my computer.  The sharpness and resolution at 200mm and f/2.8 was noticeably better than anything I have shot at any telephoto focal length on any other lens I have used (the 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS; the 75-300 f/4-5.6 IS and even the 24-105 f/4L IS).  And, I didn’t need fancy lens tests, or 4X magnification to tell.  While some zoom lenses have slight degradation of image quality at the extremes of focal length, or extremes of aperture, I didn’t notice any changes whether I was shooting at 200mm or 70mm.

The MTF charts (from Canon’s website) confirm high levels of sharpness/resolution and contrast at both ends of the focal length spectrum and throughout the entire image field.  (For an explanation, in layman’s terms, about how to interpret a MTF chart, please see this article.)

Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II Lens Review MTF Chart

The other aspect of this lens that I loved was its autofocusing speed.  The lens never hunted for focus.  With the 6D and this lens, I could lock on immediately to a moving subject, and through a rapid fire sequence of shots, maintain focus.  Granted, I was shooting fairly large subjects (horses, and with a camera, not a gun), but the lens locked on fine to small birds and other small subjects I aimed for.  I would consider this lens a premier lens for large subject action photography for this reason and its only limitation for nature and bird photography would be that at even at 200mm, small subjects such as birds may still be “too far away.”

All in all, I understand why this lens is at the top of the 70-200mm line, and why it costs about $2,500.  I had actually considered renting the 70-200 f/4 IS instead as the list price is significantly cheaper and therefore if I liked it enough, could justify buying it in the future.  My recommendation if you plan on purchasing the lens is first to try it out because it is heavy.  I have no doubt you’ll love the image quality, but is it something you’ll want to lug around everywhere?  Second, strongly consider if you need the extra aperture.  From f/2.8 to f/4 will save you over a thousand dollars.  If you’re shooting in low light, really want to blur the background, or are considering attaching a tele extender (which causes you to lose 1 or 2 stops on the aperture), the Canon 70-200 f/2.8 IS is probably the better choice.  Otherwise, you could save yourself some money to put towards more lenses! 🙂

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