Canon 70-200mm f2.8 L IS II USM Lens Review

Announced in early 2010, the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS II USM lens is the successor to the very popular EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS USM. It joins the Canon 70-200 family and sits firmly at the head of the table. The other members are the f/4, f/4 IS, and the f/2.8 non IS versions. It’s a huge variety, giving us photographers a great choice. The f/4 versions give you a relatively small and lightweight travel option, and their bigger brothers, the f/2.8 versions, give you an incredibly versatile, albeit larger and heavier alternative.

This lens is naturally going to be compared to its siblings. The previous version, the f/2.8 IS mark I, came under criticism for not matching up to the sharpness of the f/4 IS. It’s safe to say Canon has not only addressed this, but they have delivered prime like sharpness to the new zoom. Not only that, but this is seen wide open at f/2.8. Stopping down may increase sharpness marginally, satisfying pixel peepers, but in real world shooting it’s not likely to be noticed. The sharpness is also consistently sharp throughout the zoom range, so no need to worry about avoiding the extremes. The bar has now been set very high for zooms and this lens certainly delivers.

Build Quality

The lens is extremely well built. On mounting it to my Canon 5D Mark II for the first time I noticed this straight away. The metal gives it a tank like feeling and it will easily deal with the knocks and bumps of daily life. The great built quality is complimented by weather sealing. This is a really useful feature and one I always look out for when buying new lenses. Of course, you need a weather sealed body to be safe, but it’s great to have peace of mind when the rain comes. You can watch others scurry around returning equipment into their bags while you carry on shooting. It might make the difference between getting the shot and not, and in this case, you can’t blame the weather.

The high-end build quality of the lens is also noticeable in the switches, focus ring and zoom ring. The switches all have a solid feel to them. A nice amount of resistance before they move, along with being recessed will help prevent accidental switching, and a pleasing click confirms operation. The recessed switches also add to the overall sleek appearance of the lens. The focus and zoom rings are both smooth and firm. The zoom ring started off a bit stiffer but soon loosened up to offer a perfect resistance. One thing to note if you’re not familiar with the predecessor is that this is a fixed length lens. That is, when zooming and focusing, the physical length will not change.

The lens has an image stabilisation (IS) system for helping reduce camera shake. Canon rates it as 4-stop assistance, which is a full stop improvement on the 3-stop system found in its predecessor. What this means is that you should be able to handhold shots at considerably slower shutter speeds. For example, the common rule of thumb is that you can handhold a lens and get a sharp photo with no camera shake at about 1/[effective focal length] or faster. So with this lens at 200mm the slowest shutter speed you would expect to get sharp images at is 1/200s. However, once you start to get slower than that you are likely to notice your photos become less sharp as camera shake comes into play. With the 4-stop IS system you should be able to handhold shots at 200mm and get no camera shake at 1/13s. This is a really great feature to have if you expect to be shooting in low light.

Image Quality

I mentioned earlier that this lens is sharp. It is. Very sharp. The image quality is another area where this lens exceeds expectations. It’s not the sharpness alone that excels. The contrast the images have is something that jumped at me straight away. Even when reviewing on the back of the camera I could tell this was something special. When you zoom all the way out to 200mm, the combination of sharpness, contrast, coupled with the beautifully rendered bokeh (thanks to the rounded 8-blade aperture), you can get some stunning images that really pop. The depth of field is very shallow at this length and the background just melts away.

Helping to get your images in focus is a very fast and near silent Ring USM (Ultrasonic motor) autofocus (AF) system. The speed at which it snaps into focus is a joy, and the accuracy I found perfect. It gives you a lot of confidence and allows you to focus (pun intended) on the other elements that make a photo.

I also tested the lens with the Canon 1.4x extender. This makes the lens effectively a 98-280mm f/4 lens. The image quality was still great and whilst the AF slowed slightly, it’s still more than usable even for sports or wildlife photography. The extenders give yet more options to what is already a very versatile lens. With the 2.0x extender you’re looking at effectively 140-400mm f/5.6, which will really appeal to wildlife photographers and the like.

...and the rest

The only negative comment I have is the size. I found it fine for events where you’re there to take photos, but as a casual walk around lens they don’t get much more conspicuous. I took a walk through the town centre and it’s not a lens that will go unnoticed. If you want something for street photography, where blending into the crowd matters, this is definitely not the lens for you.

So what else is in the box? A very nice lens case is included and gives you a secure place to store the lens incase for some reason you decide to take it off your camera! Also included is a removable tripod ring. I found I left it on even when not using a tripod/monopod as it doubles as a convenient handle. There’s also a petal style lens hood and even this oozes top quality. It’s a normal bayonet mount but there’s a release switch, which means the hood is held firmly in place until you press the button and twist to avoid accidental loosening or removal. The interior of the hood is finished with a flock type material to ensure that absolutely no light is reflected by it. The petal hood also finishes off the lens aesthetically whilst also providing that often-essential protection to the front element.

Conclusion

You can see why the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS II USM is such a popular lens with pros and keen amateurs alike. It is perfect for everything from portraits, sports and weddings to events and photojournalism. The versatility and beautiful image quality will mean you’ll be reaching for it more often than not, and given the top build quality it sure won’t let you down in a hurry. And you never know, it might even save you some trips to the gym with all that heavy lifting.

Ratings

Build 10/10 You expect a certain quality with L lenses and this might almost surpass that
Handling 6/10 It's big & heavy, no doubt about that. It's also not the most inconpicuous lens
Performance 10/10 4-stop IS, very quick and accurate AF thanks to USM.
Image Quality 10/10 Great contrast, focus is razor sharp & parts out of focus are dreamy.

Overall score:

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