When it comes to choosing a medium telephoto zoom lens, the following is the usual course of action. Decide on a 70-200mm zoom as its the most recommended lens for this focal range and has the best reputation.
Then, it’s a case of checking out the prices for the same-as-camera brand versions. Shock and awe are usually the next emotions to follow as the same-brand versions can be quite pricey, which leads us on to third-party 70-200mm lenses.
Because 70-200mm lenses are built with pro use in mind, third-party makers usually stick with the highest quality f/2.8 versions. This means there aren’t exactly budget options in this category and not too many to choose from. However, the ones that are available are definitely snapping at the heels of same-brand versions when it comes to optics and features.
This essentially means that third-party 70-200mm lenses can provide exceptional quality at a smaller price point. If you need any more convincing, many pros opt for third-party versions as they are so good at delivering in all departments.
1. Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Sports (Overall Winner)
It’s not uncommon for any 70-200mm zoom lens list to feature the highly capable Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Sports. Sigma is well aware they are scrapping it out with same-brand versions, so they had to cram in as much quality as possible.
Central to a quality 70-200mm lens is an f/2.8 aperture, which the Sigma features along with a higher-than-expected 11-blade rounded diaphragm.
A huge amount of glass is also contained within the very ample 1.8kg lens barrel, featuring 24 elements and 22 groups, one Special Low Dispersion, and nine F Low Dispersion (FLD) elements. All the lens elements have been treated to a Super Multi-Layer coating, along with water and oil repellent coatings on the front and rear elements.
A Hyper Sonic Motor (HSM) is employed to handle autofocusing, which has full-time manual override, with the other standout feature being the optical stabilization system.
It’s immediately apparent why this lens has such a good reputation, as it’s incredibly sharp with the aperture wide open all the way through to f/16. With distant subjects, the lens is extremely capable of producing wonderful bokeh, making it an ideal solution for portraits, action, and wildlife shots where the subject needs to be punched out from the background.
Essentially, if you can’t justify the cost of the same-as-camera-make versions, the Sigma should be your next stop-off point.
The Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 is another high-quality 70-200mm zoom lens from a renowned third-party manufacturer. This particular version features a constant f/2.8 aperture with a very impressive five stops of compensation stabilization system.
To make sure the light flow is consistent throughout the lens, the optics are arranged in 23 elements in 17 groups, with One XLD and five LD elements, along with a fluorine, eBAND and BBAR coatings to reduce the likes of lens flare and to increase image fidelity.
The VC image stabilization system has three modes of operation. These include a mode for general use, a mode for panning shots, and a third mode which is only engaged at the point of capture.
The lens barrel is weather-sealed and feels extremely robust when in use, bellied by its 1.49kg mass. Sharpness is outstanding from this lens at f/2.8 and fares extremely well at the extremes of focal lengths. Bokeh is also extremely pleasing, which is only beaten out by prime lenses with much larger apertures.
Just like the Sigma above, the Tamron is not just impressive for its price point, but definitely gives same-brand versions a run for the money.
Although the Sigma APO 70-200mm f/2.8 is a slightly older design to the offerings above, it still represents wonderful optical qualities with some very usable features.
As expected with a high-quality 70-200mm lens, it has a constant f/2.8 aperture and can also be used on APS-C cameras providing a 105-300mm equivalent focal length and a 112-320mm focal length on crop sensor Canon bodies.
As for the other pertinent specifications, the optics comprise two F Low Dispersion (FLD) and three Special Low Dispersion (SLD) elements, with a Multi-layer coating, Hyper Sonic Motor, and Optical Stabilizer with two modes of operation.
You can’t fault the sharpness of this lens throughout its aperture range, with the best results coming in at f/4 at 70mm and at 200mm. At 135mm the lens is very sharp at f/2.8 with a good degree of color saturation and contrast levels.
This lens may not have the discerning qualities of the same-brand versions or the ultimate levels of sharpness as the first two offerings. But considering the asking price and its reputation over the years, its a solid performer if you can’t justify the prices of the latest and greatest models.
If the lenses above don’t strike your fancy or you need something under a thousand dollars, the Tokina AT-X 70-200 f/4 FX VCM-S is a possible option. In this price range, an f/2.8 aperture is hard to achieve, so Tokina has opted for an f/4 version which also sports image stabilization with three stops of compensation. The lens can also be used on crop sensor cameras providing a 105-300mm focal range.
The autofocus motor is reasonably fast and quiet which will benefit the video types. Although the lens barrel isn’t weatherproofed in any way, it still has a solid enough build quality for regular use.
The lens is surprisingly sharp at f/4 and although it can’t compete with the higher-priced versions, it’s definitely a worthy candidate at this price point.
5. Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 Di LD [IF] Macro AF (Budget Winner)
When it comes to 70-200mm lenses under the thousand dollars mark with an f/2.8 aperture, it’s easy to be skeptical over the quality. First, let’s get the general specifications out of the way. The optics consist of 18 elements arranged in 13 groups, with two of these being LD glass elements and of course, the f/2.8 aperture.
Individual to this 70-200mm category is a macro mode, which features a magnification ratio of 1:3.1 and a maximum magnification of 0.32x at 200mm. It has a professional filter size of 77mm and a close focusing distance of 0.95m. The macro mode is all very well, but it should be seen as a bonus, as the majority of use here will be as a standard telephoto lens.
Sharpness and detail counts in this focal range, with the Tamron delivering respectable sharpness levels, but it will need to be stopped down to f/4 for the best results. Colors and contrast are quite neutral looking, without any oversaturation, with the general takeaway is that images have a respectable quality.
If this lens could be used on a professional photoshoot is another question. But considering you get all the workings of an f/2.8 70-200mm at this price point, this lens is quite impressive.
Seeking the Best Third-Party 70-200mm Lenses
As originally stated, a typical 70-200mm is aimed at the professional market, which calls for the best quality glass available. This in turn means professional prices, which may not be a concern for the working photographer, but for the budget-minded, this can be a problem.
If you don’t mind spending a chunk of change, the possibilities start to open up in this category, but at a lower price point, the options become trickier and the choices far fewer.
If there is any takeaway from this rundown, it would be to save up for the the best quality glass you can afford. You may have to hold on a little longer for your prized lens, but the quality results will be well worth the excruciating wait.