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Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 IS
Full-frame (2001-2010)

© 2011 KenRockwell.com

Introduction   Specs   Performance   Compared   Recommendations

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Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 IS

Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS. enlarge. This free website's biggest source of support is when you use these links, especially this link directly to them at eBay, where they sell for about $1,600 (see How to Win at eBay), or possibly at Amazon. It helps me keep reviewing these oldies when you get yours through these links, thanks! Ken.

NEW: Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L II IS. Adorama pays top dollar for your used gear, especially this original 70-200mm L f/2.8 IS. As of February 2010. I've heard that Adorama has been paying $1,000 for this original version, used. Of course this is still a current product, and an excellent one at that.

 

November 2011, December 2006    Canon Reviews    Canon Lenses    All Reviews

See also:

Canon 70-200 Comparison Table.

Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II (2010-)

Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L (1995-)

Canon 80-200mm f/2.8L (1989-1995)

Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS (2006-)

Canon 70-200mm f/4L (1999-)

 

INTRODUCTION     top   

Introduction   Specs   Performance   Compared   Recommendations

Adorama pays top dollar for your used gear.

B&H Photo - Video - Pro Audio

Ritz Camera

This was Canon's top professional tele zoom from 2001-2010. It has IS (Image Stabilization) and is the faster f/2.8.

In 2009, an even more expensive Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L II IS. was announced, whose prime advantage is closer focusing than this original version (4ft/1.2m versus 4.6ft /1.4m). To a full-time pro, those 8 inches are more than worth spending an extra $700 ($2,500 versus $1,800 for this lens). For everyone else, no big deal. The weights are the same.

This is the tele zoom toted by most Canon professionals. It's also the lens with which many the show-off shots in Canon's glossy brochures are shot. For instance, see a three-page fold-out spread of a Lotus on the inside front cover of "Canon EOS Digital For Professionals," 0054W868, printed August 2005.

This is a tough pro lens. It's a big, heavy professional beast, and it's fast and sharp under all conditions. If you don't mind hauling it around, you'll love the images!

I borrowed this sample from my friend humanitarian photojournalist Karl Grobl. He recently dropped it off an elephant to the cobblestones nine feet below while shooting in India. It landed hood-first and it, and his 1D Mk II, flipped end-over-end a few times. The elephant started to sniff around it before Karl could get off and retrieve it. This is the lens tested here; Karl loaned it to me to see if it still worked.

Not only does this dropped lens still work, it's one of the best lenses I've tested for real-world use. It's heavy and expensive as you'd expect, and it always gives fantastic images under all conditions.

What my static lab figures below don't tell you is that the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS makes getting sharp images easy. It's hard not to get a sharp image; its speed and IS and dead-nuts autofocus nail it every time, while other lenses often give me sloppier results in real-world use.

 

Good News:

1.) Sharp at every setting.

2.) Built like a tank. This one plummeted nine feet onto cobblestones and lived to be tested here.

3.) Accurate and consistent autofocus.

4.) Close focusing: 4.6' (1.4m).

 

Bad News:

1.) Big.

2.) Heavy.

3.) Expensive.

 

Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 IS

Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS. It has a lot of switches!

This lens has made tens or hundreds of thousands of images by a pro. Its images have been published around the world, and then it was dropped off an elephant. It has toothpicks, held by tape, in some switches to lock the stabilizer to ON and the AF range to FULL. A pro has no time for switches getting knocked accidentally which could lose a shot.

 

SPECIFICATIONS     top   

Introduction   Specs   Performance   Compared   Recommendations

Name: Canon calls this the Canon Zoom Lens EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS USM.

   EF: Electronic Focus. All modern Canon lenses do this.

   L: Expensive as L.

   IS: Image Stabilization. (Why IS Matters)

   USM: Ultra-Sonic Motor: The focus motor operates silently.

 

Focal Length

70-200mm.

Used on a 1.3x camera it gives angles of view similar to what an 88-251mm lens would give on a 35mm film camera.

On a 1.6x camera it gives angles of view similar to what a 114-324mm lens would give on a 35mm film camera. See also Crop Factor.

 

Maximum Aperture

f/2.8.

Optics

23 elements, 18 groups.

Four UD glass elements. UD glass is the same as Nikon's ED glass, which helps reduce color fringing.

 

Diaphragm

8 blade octagonal.

Stops down to f/32.

 

Filter Size

77mm.

 

Close Focus

4.6' (1.4m) from the image plane (the back of the camera).

 

Maximum Reproduction Ratio

1:5.9.

Size

3.4" diameter x 7.8" extension from flange (86.2 x 197mm).

 

Weight

51.890 oz. (3lb, 3.89 oz. or 1,471.1g), measured.

 

Hood

ET-86.

 

Case

LZ1324, the same case as the 70-200/2.8 non-IS.

 

Introduced

September 2001.

 

PERFORMANCE     top   

Introduction   Specs   Performance   Compared   Recommendations

Autofocus   Bokeh  Color  Color Fringes    Construction    Distortion    Falloff    

Filters   Flare   Flash       Macro    Serial #    Sharpness     IS    Zooming

 

OVERALL

It's a giant, high-performance lens. This is the general purpose tele zoom used by most pros who use Canon. Of course Canon is going to ensure that this lens is as good as it can be, since it's the lens by which most pros judge an entire camera company.

 

FOCUSING   back to Performance or back to Introduction.

Nothing moves externally when focusing; everything is done internally.

Autofocusing is just about perfect. Accuracy is better than most Canon lenses. It's accurate all the time even at f/2.8, and it's fast.

There is a dedicated manual focus ring.

 

Speed

AF speed is fast. That's how Canon works. I've never heard anyone complain that Canon is too slow; that's what people say about Nikon.

 

Sound and Noise

It's pretty quiet.

Manual Focus: It makes some sliding sounds, along with some crunchy sounds caused by whatever crud has collected inside from Karl's travels to every dusty disaster area around the globe. This thing has been covered in crud at one time or another.

Autofocus: The same, without the crunching crud from moving the manual focus ring.

 

Ease of Manual Focusing

Very good. Just move the ring for instant manual focus override. All it takes is one moderately firm fingertip.

 

Autofocus Accuracy

I get perfect focus at f/2.8 every time, which is much better than other Canon lenses which may miss occasionally in exchange for speed. It's dead-on 99% of the time on my 5D, and about 95% of the time on my Rebel XTi.

 

Focus Breathing

Breathing is a motion picture term which refers to what happens as you pull (change) focus from near to far.

This 70-200mm f/2.8L IS changes its magnification as one pulls focus.

 

BOKEH   back to Performance or back to Introduction.

Bokeh is very good wide open.

Here are two full images of an in-focus subject at 10' (3m) and a series of point light sources 50' (15m) behind it:

Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L Bokeh
Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L Bokeh
Full image, 5D, 70mm at f/2.8
Full image, 5D, 200mm at f/2.8

Here is a crop from the 70mm image at 100%.

I had to reduce the 200mm images by 3 times to include complete blur circles below. The subject and I stayed in the same place. This is unintentionally educational. When I changed the image magnification by 3x I just happened to keep the subject size constant as I changed the focal length. See how the blur circles become much larger at 200mm? This is why depth of field is so much narrower as focal length increases.

Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L Bokeh
Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L Bokeh
Crop from 100%, 5D, 70mm at f/2.8
Crop from 33%, 5D, 200mm at f/2.8

Here is are the same shots at f/4. Notice the octagonal shapes of the diaphragm, especially at 200mm.

Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L Bokeh
Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L Bokeh
Crop from 100%, 5D, 70mm at f/2.8
Crop from 33%, 5D, 200mm at f/2.8

 

COLOR FRINGES
(Lateral Chromatic Aberration or LCA)

back to Performance or back to Introduction.

This lens is approved by the PPLFPA, Professional Patio and Lawn Furniture Photographers' Association, with a grade of "A."

On my full-frame 5D it has no color fringes, except a tiny bit at 200mm which you'd never see unless you were trying to see it with a devious test like this one. It does the same thing on my Rebel XTi, which I tested, but am not bothering to show here.

Here are the full images from which the crops are taken:

lca 70mm lca 200mm
Full Image, Full Frame, at 70mm
Full Image, Full Frame, at 200mm

 

70mm

100mm
100% crop from 5D at 70mm
100% crop from 5D at 100mm

 

135mm
200mm
100% crop from 5D at 135mm
100% crop from 5D at 200mm

 

COLOR RENDITION

I see no differences from my other Canon lenses.

 

CONSTRUCTION QUALITY

back to Performance or back to Introduction.

It has a rubber gasket on the lens mount to keep crud out of your camera. God only knows, Karl needs this with the places he takes this lens.

Exterior: Metal.

Filter Threads and Hood Mounting Bayonet: Anodized Aluminum.

Focus and Zoom Rings: Ribbed rubber over metal.

Markings: Paint (serial number engraved).

Switches: Plastic.

Mount: Metal.

Internals: Metal.

Noises when shaken: Dull klunking. This is normal.

Made in: Japan.

 

DISTORTION   back to Performance or back to Introduction.

Wall of Shame at 70mm, full-frame 5D. Mouse over to see after correction.

Here are static images of the Bad Photographers' Wall of Shame:

70mm
100mm
At 70mm, full-frame 5D
At 100mm, full-frame 5D

 

135mm
200mm
At 135mm, full-frame 5D
At 200mm, full-frame 5D

Plug these figures into Photoshop CS2's lens distortion filter to correct the distortion. These figures are for you to enjoy in your photography. These took me hours to calculate and are all © and registered, so you'll need permission to use these figures for anything else. Thanks! Ken.

1.6x XTi at 50' (15m)
Full-Frame 5D at 50' (15m)
70mm
+1.0 barrel.
+2.5 barrel.
100mm
none.
none.
135mm
-0.2 pincushion.
-0.5 pincushion.
200mm
-0.5 pincushion.
-1.5 pincushion.

Smaller format cameras only use the middle of the image, so distortion is better controlled. (see Crop Factor.)

 

FALLOFF (Darkened Corners)

back to Performance or back to Introduction.

Falloff is invisible on a 1.6x camera like a 30D or Rebel.

Falloff is gone by f/4 on 1.3x cameras, and very mild at f/2.8.

Falloff is visible at f/2.8 on full-frame cameras, and insignificant by f/4

Here are shots of an Expodisc on a full-frame 5D. This is a tough test which shows even the slightest falloff. You'll almost never see this in normal photography. Ignore the minor exposure variations between frames.

 
f/2.8
f/4
f/5.6
f/8
70mm
100mm
135mm
200mm

 

 

USE WITH FILTERS   back to Performance or back to Introduction.

Like almost all telephotos, there's no problem with vignetting with any filter, even on full-frame cameras.

 

FLARE AND GHOSTS  back to Performance or back to Introduction.

The 70-200mm f/2.8L IS has 23 elements. That's a lot of glass. Flare and ghosts aren't a problem in normal photography, but this isn't the best lens for pointing into the sun.

This isn't a sunset; it's a very bright sun above a ridge. I could have gone blind doing this. Flare isn't a problem if shooting into a sunset dim enough to see without squinting.

70mm
200mm
At 70mm, full-frame 5D
At 150mm, full-frame 5D

 

USE with FLASH   back to Performance or back to Introduction.

There's no problem with shadows from the built-in flash of my Rebel XTi even at 4.6' (1.4m) at the widest 70mm setting.

 

MACRO   back to Performance or back to Introduction.

70-200mmm f/2.8 IS macro

at 4.6' (1.4m) at 200mm, full image, full-frame 5D.

Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 IS

Crop at 100% magnification from above, no extra sharpening.

The 70-200mm f/2.8L IS gets close for a tele zoom, but not that close. Focus seems to be a tiny bit behind the subject, but within the depth of field. It did this consistently: the back of the watch is in focus, but not the right side which I chose not to include in this crop.

This is on a full-frame 5D. On a smaller format camera like a 30D or Rebel it will give larger images; see Crop Factor.

 

SERIAL NUMBER  back to Performance or back to Introduction.

The serial number is engraved on the bottom outside of the barrel near the lens mount. The numbers are filled with black paint.

 

SHARPNESS  back to Performance or back to Introduction.

Sharpness is superb. Even after falling nine feet to its presumed destruction, it still makes spectacular images.

Your technique will be your biggest barrier to sharp photos. I have a page on How to Get Sharp Photos.

Letters correspond to center - side - corner. Possible ratings are E - VG - G - F - P. These are subjective. Don't fret over differences between adjacent grades.

Diffraction is usually the sharpness-limiting factor for all lenses, especially digital SLRs, at about f/11 and above. See also How Sharpness Varies with Aperture.

On a full-frame 5D:

f/2.8
f/4
f/5.6
f/8
70mm
VG - P - P*
VG - P - P
E - P - P
E - F - P
100mm
E - F - P
E - G - F
E - VG - VG
E - E - VG
135mm
VG - G - F
E - G - G
E - VG - VG
E - VG - VG
200mm
VG - F - P
VG - F - P
E - F - P
E - G - F

* These are the worst-case numbers for a lens that fell 9 feet! This lens was softer on the left side with my flat-field tests, due to some misalignment. The right side was spectacularly good and scored almost all E! With real, 3D subjects this dropped lens is spectacular.

On a 1.3x 1D Mk II (also dropped 9 feet!):

f/2.8
f/4
f/5.6
f/8
70mm
VG - P - P*
VG - P - P
E - G - F
E - VG - F
100mm
E - F - P
E - VG - VG
E - VG - VG
E - E - VG
135mm
VG - G - F
E - G - G
E - VG - VG
E - VG - VG
200mm
VG - F - P
VG - G - F
E - VG - F
E - VG - G

* These are the worst-case numbers for a lens that fell 9 feet! With real, 3D subjects this dropped lens is spectacular.

Don't let my tests mislead you. For real subjects, this lens, even after being dropped and presumed destroyed by its owner, is fantastic. If you're shooting test charts, get the 100mm Macro.

 

RATED MTF

Canon rates it as fairly good. See Canon's MTF curves as printed in Canon EF Lens Work III.

 

IS (Image Stabilization)

back to Performance or back to Introduction.

It sounds and feels like a motor is running inside the lens when IS is active. There is a klunk when it starts, and another when it stops.

This lists the percentage of sharp shots I get with IS ON.

1
1/2
1/4
1/8
1/15
1/30
1/60
1/125
70mm
0
5
20
50
85
100
100
100
100mm
0
0
15
50
50
80
100
100
135mm
0
5
10
15
30
60
100
100
200mm
0
0
0
0
30
50
100
100

Now let's chart the slowest speed to get 50% sharp shots at each focal length.

Lowest Speed sharp 50%
Marketing
Stops Improvement
70mm
1/8
3
100mm
1/8
3-2/3
135mm
1/25
2-1/2
200mm
1/30
2-2/3

Since my friend Karl has his IS switch welded to ON, I couldn't turn it off and couldn't measure the real improvement from IS OFF to IS ON.

"Marketing Stops Improvement" isn't comparing the speed I can use from IS OFF to IS ON, but instead comparing the speed I can use with IS ON to the old-wives-tale speed of 1/focal length. That's called Lying with Statistics, and that's par for the course for marketing departments. I usually can hand-hold successfully far below the old wives' tale figures.

TIP: In dim light, fire several shots in the continuous shutter mode and pick the sharpest later. Blur is a random event, so if you fire enough shots, you'll eventually get a sharp one even at slow speeds!

Read Why IS is Important to understand more about these ratings mean.

 

ZOOMING   back to Performance or back to Introduction.

There is a dedicated zoom ring. Nothing moves externally while zooming. It's all done internally.

Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 IS zoom ring

Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 IS Zoom Ring

The zoom ring is very manly. It's 3.3" (84mm) in diameter. It isn't a dainty thing that one can flick with a finger. It can be zoomed with one fingertip, but requires force, not a flick.

It is heavily damped and feels as if it works through a straight-cut geartrain. This thing starts to remind me of Canon's behemoth $100,000, 100:1 zoom ratio broadcast TV zoom lenses.

The focal lengths are spaced evenly along the zoom ring. Nothing is cramped together.

 

Zoom Creep

None. Nothing's going anywhere on this lens unless you move it.

 

Focus Shift while Zooming

Focus shifts very little, if at all, with changes in focal length. If you feel lucky, go ahead and don't bother to refocus after zooming in or out.

 

Focal Length Encoding Accuracy

The EXIF data always agrees with the settings marked on the lens at 70, 135 and 200mm. It may vary a few mm at 100mm, but so what; I don't know where the center of the "100" marking is anyway.

I have not correlated the accuracy of the markings with actual focal lengths.

 

COMPARED     top   

Introduction   Specs   Performance   Compared   Recommendations

See my Canon 70-200 Comparison Table.

 

RECOMMENDATIONS     top   

Introduction   Specs   Performance   Compared   Recommendations

If you shoot with the 70-200mm range, want the best possible images and are willing to pay in cash and weight, get this lens now! My lab results hide the fact that in real shooting I get a higher percentage of sharp shots with this 70-200mm f/2.8 IS lens than with many other lenses.

If you just want great shots, the 70-200mm f/4 L (non-IS) works as well 90% of the time for one-third the price and one-half the weight. Personally I'm addicted to IS for hand-held use, so I bought the Canon 70-200mm f/4 L IS for myself. I prefer the much lighter weight.

My Is It Worth It? page explains that if you use this lens full time for a living, of course get this Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 IS because you'll appreciate its benefits every day, long after you forgot what you paid for it. If you worry about the cost and don't use it all day, every day, you'll probably appreciate the cash left in your pocket with the less expensive lenses and the lighter weight.

An additional benefit is the unseen durability built inside this lens. If Karl wasted his money on a Sigma lens, I'm sure it would be sitting in a trash can in India after that elephant drop, instead of continuing to help Karl earn his living.

This particular sample is above being reviewed. Karl has carried this beast all over the world and had images made with it published everywhere. If you've seen Karl's images (see his website) you can see exactly how well this lens works.

Karl seems to have no complaints carrying this beast all over Kingdom come and living with it day and night as he travels in dangerous areas. If you want one, get it and you'll love it. Its performance is exemplary.

 

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Thanks for reading!

 

 

Mr. & Mrs. Ken Rockwell, Ryan and Katie.

 

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