Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM: Still a Classic

canon70-200

The EF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS is one of the go to lenses for medium telephoto focal lengths, with a huge range of applications. The second iteration of the lens came in 2010 as the IS II which brought updates to all areas such as optics, image stabilization and design. Although the lens now has a few years under its belt and an upgraded version is on the market, this lens is still a professional workhorse and a no-brainer for Canon users.

Design

The EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II looks almost identical to its previous version, being only slightly wider and longer by a a few millimetres, weighing slightly more (1720g/3.80lbs compared to the IS I at 1704g/3.75 lb) and the IS II having a larger focus ring. There are other minor design tweaks on the lens, but it’s in the glass where there’s the biggest difference.

canon70-200

The latest version has 23 elements in 19 groups, opposed to 23 elements in 18 groups in the older model, five UD elements instead of four with the addition now of a Fluorite element for good measure. Image stabilization has also increased from 3 to 4 stops and the minimum focus distance now being 1.2m instead of 1.4m. All focusing is done internally, with the zoom ring being very quick and precise. The wider focus ring allows manual focusing even in autofocus mode and can rotate 120 degrees. Aperture range goes from f/2.8-f/32, with a minimum focusing distance of 1.2m.

Being an L series lens, you’re guaranteed Canon’s top quality build and it definitely backs the adage of ‘feel the weight, feel the quality.’ You definitely feel like you’ve got a good chunk of quality glass in your hands. The lens has full weatherproofing with dust and moisture resistance and a rubber ‘O’ ring surrounding the camera mount for extra protection. This lens is a definite heavyweight at 1720g, so it won’t suit everybody, but the benefits are the f/2.8 aperture which definitely makes up for the additional weight bearing.

canon70-200

The rest of the lens layout feels very familiar as per Canon standards. The distance scale marks both feet and inches, with small red infra-red correction marks at 70mm and 100mm. There are four different switches on the side of the lens, the first being the AF range which can limit closest focus to 2.5m from 1.2m. This feature can essentially cut down on focusing time and hunting. Underneath is the manual/auto focus switch. The other two switches consist of one for stabilization on and off and the other switch for the two different stabilizer modes. ‘1’ for static subjects and ‘2’ for detecting panning motion.

A removable Tripod Mount Ring B is included which can’t be removed with the lenses attached, but an essential item on a tripod. Handheld the lens feels the most well-balanced on a heavy body such as the 1D, but operation wise works just as well on a 5D sized body. Full frame and crop sensor bodies are also accommodated by the lens, along with Canon Extenders.

The filter size is 77mm which has become the standard on the f/2.8L models. There’s no rotation when autofocusing so various filters can be fitted. The lens also comes with a petal-type ET-87 lens hood which now has a locking button, a nice addition to stop those accidental knocks.

Lastly, the improvement of one-stop with the image stabilization counts a lot in real-world use. Instead of using the same shutter speed as the focal length, you can get much lower down to 1/5th of a second at 70mm, rather than 1/70th and above with IS turned off. This results in a real-world higher hit rates.

Image Quality

The great thing about the L lenses is that they work equally well on a APS-C sensor as they do on full frame. Sharpness is great across the frame even when wide open. Stopping down sharpens up the corners, but the centre is sharp right across the focal lengths. At 200mm sharpness is only slightly less than other focal lengths, but still produces great images. Chromatic aberration and distortion is very low and easily corrected in postproduction.

Although the EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II works perfectly fine on a crop sensor, it’s on a full frame camera body where it excels. Sharpness is there across the frame from wide open up to f/11. It’s only after f/11 where diffraction starts to interfere, but still acceptable. Just as on a crop sensor chromatic aberration and distortion are very low.

One advantage of a f/2.8 lens is not just letting more light in but also to produce a quality background blur or bokeh. There’s a lot of glass in this lens to cover its focal lengths, so you won’t get background blur as creamy as a prime lens, but as long as you stick to simple backgrounds, the results will at least look pleasing.

 Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 IS I Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 IS II
Lens 23 elements/18 groups23 elements/18 groups/5 UD/1 Fluorite
Image Stabilization 3 stops4 stops
Weight 1470g1486g
Dimensions 86.2mm x 197mm89mm x 199mm

Conclusion

The Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II is definitely a worthy upgrade from the previous version, and that’s saying a lot for what is seen as a standard in the Canon lineup. The new version brings better optics, which works great across the aperture range, with only small amounts of distortion and chromatic aberration. If you’re a Canon user and want the best in quality as a zoom lens with this focal length, then it’s almost a no-brainer.

The increase of one stop with the image stabilization system has definitely expanded the lens’ usefulness. Coupled with the fast autofocus system, you are definitely going to get a high hit rate with this lens. The two different image stabilization modes further optimize settings depending on your shooting scenario.

The only really downside to this lens is that it can have a little less image quality at its minimum focus distance. However, although this lens can get close in the vast majority of its use will be shooting distant subjects.

Tamron and Sigma both do their own versions of a 70-200mm f/2.8, which are both excellent lenses, but it’s the Canon that has the edge. You’re probably paying less for a Tamron and the Sigma versions, but it’s the Canon that edges forward in overall performance. As a lens is usually a long-term investment, it’s definitely worth the extra pennies for the increased quality all around.

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