I have to admit that when a 200mm focal length is needed, thoughts always jump to the highly regarded Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III. This is not just because this zoom lens is so versatile, but with its f/2.8 aperture and image stabilization, it more or less covers all the bases needed in this area.
The 70-200mm is an expensive lens, which is where the Canon EF 200mm f/2.8L II USM comes into play. This lens provides L-series optics at a fraction of the price.
As the EF 200mm f/2.8L II is a prime lens, it has its own working criteria. This equates to intimately knowing the reach of the lens, so you get the right viewpoint for every shot.
However, with a little practice, this lens should provide all the optical goodness of the 70-200mm and with a little luck, that extra sliver of detail found from most prime lenses.
Technically, the Canon EF 200mm f/2.8L II USM can be used on both full-frame and crop sensor camera bodies, providing a 320mm equivalent focal length on the latter. On a crop sensor, this is long enough for most types of wildlife, action, and event photography.
Optically, the lens is comprised of two ultra-low dispersion elements and a Super Spectra coating, wrapped around an arrangement of nine elements in seven groups. The lens also features an eight-blade rounded diaphragm, with a ring-type Ultrasonic Motor. It features a full-time manual override and the usual amounts of L-series weatherproofing for venturing into all types of weather conditions.
Canon EF 1.4X and EF 2X teleconverters can also be used with this lens to further extend the reach. But also be aware that these little units will drop the maximum aperture.
Lastly, the lens barrel has the traditional Canon distance scale included, along with an AF/MF switch and a focus limiter which restricts the distances from either 1.5m to infinity or 3.5m to infinity.
In all other respects, this is a very traditional Canon L-series lens. It has a reasonable weight of 765g and comes with front and rear lens caps and a Canon ET-83BII Lens Hood.
The Canon EF 200mm f/2.8L II USM in Use
An f/2.8 aperture is generally very good at achieving creamy bokeh effects, while at the 200mm focal length, the depth of field becomes ever so narrow. This is very much of benefit for separating a subject from the background, but it needs special care for making sure your subject is completely in focus. The 200mm f/2.8L II USM produces wonderfully smooth bokeh when needed, making for a very good portrait lens.
Autofocusing on the Canon EF 200mm f/2.8L II USM is generally very quick to snap into focus, especially for distant subjects. There were times when it did hunt for focus in very low light conditions or with close-up subjects. But this was pushing the lens beyond its intended use, as in the majority of cases the autofocus system works as intended.
When it comes to sharpness levels from this lens, it’s remarkably accurate with the aperture wide open at f/2.8. Images are wonderfully sharp from the center to the corner of the frame at it maximum width.
With the aperture stopped down to f/4, ultimate sharpness levels are achieved. However, there’s a reason why the 70-200mm zoom has such an advanced image stabilization system built-in. It’s very much needed at this long focal length, which is sadly lacking on this lens.
This ultimately means that very careful handholding is needed for the sharpest shots or ideally for the lens to be mounted on a tripod. That’s unless you really want to crank up the ISO levels, which kind of defeats the purpose of the most accurate images.
When this lens nails accurate focus, image quality is spectacular, with a nice degree of compression for all images. It also excels at producing a good level of contrast due to its natural compression, without too much haze at long distances. The lens handles anomalies very well, with only small amounts of chromatic aberration and vignetting with the aperture wide open.
How Does It Compare?
The Canon EF 200mm f/2.8L II USM is kind of in a league of its own, with its only contemporary being the extremely expensive Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM. It would be unfair to compare these two lenses together as they are totally different propositions, especially with one lens costing hundreds and the other thousands.
Other Canon L-series prime lenses generally come in at shorter or longer focal lengths, as with third-party offerings. This means the most likely, nearest candidate for comparison is the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM. At the 200mm end of the range, the 70-200mm does a sterling job of capturing highly detailed images, and it has the added benefit of image stabilization.
As previously mentioned, these two lenses are completely different propositions. But if you can’t stretch to the cost of the 70-200mm and still need the 200m focal length, then the Canon EF 200mm f/2.8L II USM is a great option at almost a third of the cost.
|Canon EF 200mm f/2.8L II USM||Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM|
|Optics||9 elements / 7 groups||23 elements / 19 groups|
The Canon EF 200mm f/2.8L II USM may not be the first prime lens you jump to for all-round usage. A 50mm or a 100mm usually gets the first look in as all-rounder prime lenses, but as a stand-alone 200mm lens, it provides amazing quality.
The other deciding factor is that this lens doesn’t really have any direct competitors, which means it’s a simple decision if you are dead set on this focal length. Obviously the 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM is the usual port of call when a 200mm lens is needed, but its cost and bulk may not fit absolutely every situation.
This makes the EF 200mm f/2.8L II USM one of the less talked about alternatives for shooting high-quality wildlife, action, and event shots. If you want that extra-long reach in a more affordable package, the Canon EF 200mm f/2.8L II USM is a very viable option.