The usual state of affairs is that if you cannot justify the cost or need the extra light-gathering abilities of the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 lens, the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM is the next wisest choice. The f/4 version has all the fun of the f/2.8 version, just with a smaller aperture. It benefits from being lighter weight and much less costly.
The other benefit is that this is a newer version out, though there is still stock of this original lens which means it can be found at a more cost-effective price than the rest. This means if you can do without image stabilization, you’re getting a whole lot of optics for the asking price.
Just like its f/2.8 big brother, the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM has some serious optics contained within the highly identifiable white L-series barrel. These include 16 elements arranged in 13 groups, with one fluorite and two ultra-low dispersion glass elements, plus a Super Spectra coating.
For the other main specifications, autofocusing is handled by a ring-type Ultrasonic Motor (USM), with an eight-blade rounded diaphragm, a constant aperture of f/4, minimum focusing distance of 1.2m, 67mm filter thread, and a very reasonable weight of 705g. The lens comes with a substantially sized Canon ET-74 lens hood, but you will have to buy the tripod collar as a separate item.
When the f/4 lens is lined up next to its f/2.8 sibling, it looks like it’s been on a severe diet. This is a positive point if you consider that the latest f/2.8 IS III version weighs in at a whopping 1480g.
Internal focusing is the order of the day with the EF 70-200mm f/4L, with a nonrotating front element. The lens is built to the usual L-series build quality, with full weatherproofing and a rock-solid outer shell. It’s possible to use one of Canon’s teleconverters, such as the Canon EF 1.4x (II) converter, but this reduces the maximum aperture.
The Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM in Use
I know heavyweight lenses usually provide the best optics and width of aperture, but it’s a relief to use a lighter weight lens. During these lockdown times when you’ve not been to the gym for nearly three months, it’s understandable why a light weight is key. Having a kilo less of lens to cart around all day doesn’t just save on bicep strains, it also takes up less room in a camera bag.
As for general lens anomalies, distortion levels on the 70-200mm f/4L USM are very low at the shortest focal length, with only small amounts of pin cushioning at 200mm. A good lens profile loaded in post-processing software will alleviate any aspects of lens distortion which are left.
Vignetting is well controlled with this lens, with only slight light falloff in the corners at 70mm and only a touch more at 200mm. To eliminate all aspects of light falloff, stopping down to f/5.6 does the trick.
Chromatic aberration is also well-controlled, with the smallest amounts being displayed at 70mm f/4 and only slightly increasing at 200mm at f/11. Basically, these values are well within acceptable limits.
One of the standout aspects of this lens is its solid resolution and sharpness at f/4. The corners and edges of the frame have excellent resolution at f/4. Stopping down to f/5.6 surprisingly only gave a slight increase in resolution, with plenty of detail, color saturation, and a pleasant degree of contrast.
Lastly, the 70-200mm f/4L can produce lovely background blur, or bokeh, especially when approaching the 200mm range, just not as smooth and creamy as the f/2.8 version. However, this goes with the territory when directly comparing an f/4 lens to its f/2.8 counterpart.
How Does It Compare?
While there is stiff competition in the 70-200mm f/2.8 lens zone, the options in the f/4 category are far less. This is mainly due to third-party lens makers being very aware that photographers diving into a 70-200mm lens are at least very serious enthusiasts who want the full-fat workings of the f/2.8 variety.
One possible option is the Tamron 70-210mm f/4 Di VC USD, which is a newer design of lens but is also incredible value for money. The lens features image stabilization and has a touch extra reach at the telephoto end. The optics on this lens may not be as ultimately refined as the Canon, but it still represents excellent value for what it offers.
|Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM||Tamron 70-210mm f/4 Di VC USD|
|Optics||16 elements / 13 groups||20 elements / 14 groups|
|Diaphragm Blades||8 rounded||9 rounded|
Considering today’s price point of the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM, this lens provides a remarkable level of quality. It doesn’t have image stabilization like the latest versions, which means when used hand-held, you won’t have as high a hit rate at 200mm compared to when using an IS version. Though, when this lens is mounted on a tripod, you will hardly notice the difference.
Ultimately, if you need a 70-200mm lens for everything but indoors or low light photography and can live without image stabilization, the EF 70-200mm f/4L USM is a good choice.