Real World Lens Test: Canon’s 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM
This is one of Canon’s absolute best L-series lenses, superb glass. This is also the level of lens that I dreamed of when I bought my first digital SLR camera, the Rebel XT back in 2005. And it’s true what they say, camera bodies come and go, but lenses are forever.
Canon’s 70-200mm L-series telephoto zooms come in four flavors. Basically, it’s available as either f/4 or f/2.8, and both are available with or without image stabilization. The pick of the litter, then, is the f/2.8 IS version. But if you’re on a tight budget, the f/4 without IS is no slouch, assuming you’ve got plenty of available light.
f/2.8 IS III = $2,099
f/2.8 = $1,349
f/4 IS II = $1,623
f/4 = (no longer listed?)
(all prices US at Canon and B&H websites 8/30/22)
After years of lust, I finally bought the f/4 IS II. B&H PhotoVideo has a nice overview of the lens at their site, as does DP Review, and the reviews should convince you to buy one. In this price range, I’d recommend renting one for a week – try it before you buy it. RentGlass.com or LensRentals.com are two shops that I’ve used to check out lenses I was thinking of buying.
I’ve been pressed into shooting two weddings and had rented the f/2.8 IS on both occasions. The f/2.8 versions perform better with less light, obviously. There are nothing but glowing reviews about that lens and it has never disappointed me. For my own purposes, and because I’m cheap, when I decided to pull the trigger, I went with the f/4 IS II version you see here. (And it was on sale.)
Let’s get to shootin’. A few photos from this lens, untouched other than cropped from a larger image and resized, all taken with the EOS 80D. The deer was about 60 feet from the back door. The cardinal was taken through a patio door at a distance of about 25 feet. The pod of dolphins was off of Cape May, NJ at quite a distance. Each photo links to a version at 1920×1080.
One reason I decided to upgrade to the EOS 80D was for high def 1080p video, through whatever lens is attached. Here’s a short clip taken with the 70-200mm on automatic setting. This is just a typical tourist shot on the fly, but it’s a good example of the clarity of this lens. (Untouched, unedited.)
Next is a compilation of short videos of a birdfeeder at a distance of about 15 feet. EOS 80D is mounted on tripod with remote shooting by app over home WiFi. The large woodpecker is an infrequent but welcome guest.
Canon, you know I love you, but these tripod mounting rings for the L glass are ridiculously overpriced. (Currently $168.) And it’s a necessary accessory, to boot. I also ordered an additional mounting plate for my tripod, because I’m too lazy to keep swapping it out between cameras and lenses.
For the most part, the L lenses have been outstanding for me. The 100mm macro needs to be on a tripod for close-up work. The 17-40L is a wonderful walk-about lens, always sharp and suited to a wide range of subjects. The 70-300L replaces the older 70-300 (non-L), which was largely a disappointment. And the 70-200L instantly becomes my favorite. You would think there’d be some redundancy with the 70-300L and the 70-200L, but the latter is sharper, cleaner than the former. (Oh – hiding in the back somewhere is the 50mm f/1.8, the Bang for the Buck Canon lens that every photographer should have.)
As advertised, the 70-200 f/4 IS II is very quiet, very fast. I tend to shoot a little dark – my exposures are usually a couple of ticks to the left of dead center on the light meter. This lens responds well to that, so that backgrounds aren’t blown out and skies are still blue.