Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS
Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS (67mm filters, 26.7 oz./756 g). enlarge. This one came from Adorama. Amazon is also excellent. Adorama pays top dollar for your used gear, especially the non-IS 70-200mm f/4. Using these links to get yours is what helps me keep adding to this site. Thanks! Ken.
Christmas 2013 deal: Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS USM for $999: Price at Checkout $1,199.00, Final Price after mail-in-rebate: $999.00. I haven't seen it this low since I bought mine back in 2007!
NEW: The only lens sharper than this is the much bigger, heavier and newer Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM. I own one of these Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS lenses, but if you don't mind paying and carrying two and a half times as much, the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM is even better.
Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II (2010-)
Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS (2001-2010)
Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L (1995-)
Canon 80-200mm f/2.8L (1989-1995)
Canon 70-200mm f/4L (1999-)
The Canon 70-200mm f/4 L IS is the sharpest zoom I've ever used. Not only that, but the ergonomics and operation are flawless, so flawless that I can shoot and zoom with only one hand.
Feel free to read this huge review, but if you'd rather be out shooting and have about a grand to spend on a lens, just go get one of these for yourself. If you'd rather spend less, I cover that at recommendations.
I'm addicted to IS because IS lets me leave my tripod at home. Even in broad daylight, IS is required to let me make consistently sharp images at ISO 100 hand-held at longer focal lengths. I wouldn't buy any new telephoto zoom without IS or Nikon's VR, so that narrows us down to the two IS versions, f/4 or f/2.8.
f/2.8 70-200mm lenses are beasts weighing three pounds each. The f/4 versions are only half that. I don't know about you, but I'd rather remove an extra pound and a half from around my neck and keep an extra $700 in my pocket. Of course all four of the current Canon 70-200mm lenses are excellent if you prefer them.
I used to haul my Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8 AF-S everywhere to shoot ISO 50 Fuji Velvia, but now with IS and digital cameras I'd rather have an f/4 lens in exchange for a fraction of the weight. Go lift any f/2.8 telephoto zoom and you'll see what I mean.
You may follow these links to my reviews of the Canon 70-200mm f/4 non-IS and the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 IS. I haven't reviewed the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 non-IS version, but you can read about and price it here.
1.) Excellent optics; the sharpest zoom I've ever used.
2.) Excellent Image Stabilization.
3.) Excellent one-finger zooming.
4.) Light weight.
1.) It sounds like there is a motor running or something boiling inside when the stabilizer runs. It clicks when it turns off or on.
2.) Other than that, this is a perfect lens. Pay your $1,050 and be happy.
Canon calls this the Canon Zoom Lens EF 70-200mm f/4 L IS USM.
EF: Electronic Focus. All modern Canon lenses focus with a motor in the lens.
IS: Image Stabilization, which means no tripod needed except at night. See Why IS Matters.
USM: Ultra-Sonic Motor: The focus motor operates silently.
Used on a 1.3x camera it gives angles of view similar to what a 88-251mm lens would give on a 35mm film camera.
20 elements, 15 groups, including a UD glass element and a fluorite element. These special materials help reduce color fringing.
8 blade rounded. It's circular through f/8 and octagonal from f/16 up.
Stops down to f/32.
4' or 1.2m from the image plane (the back of the camera), marked.
Maximum Reproduction Ratio
Infrared Focus Index?
YES, for 100mm and 70mm
Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS focus window
2.990" diameter x 6.77" extension from flange (75.96 x 172.0mm), measured.
26.668 oz. (756.05 g), measured, naked.
24 August 2006.
The Canon 70-200mm f/4 L IS is one of those lenses that just works and delivers great images without getting in your way.
Canon 70-200mm f/4 L IS side view on a Rebel XTi
The Canon 70-200mm f/4 L IS has a lot of slide switches. They are recessed and unlikely to get knocked, although pros often jam in toothpicks and tape them over to be sure.
Personally I could do without the focus range limiter in order to have fewer switches from which to select when operating them by feel. I also wish that Canon provided autofocus lock pushbuttons as my Nikon 80-200mm AF-S and the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR have.
Canon 70-200mm f/4 L IS switches
Stabilizer mode 1 is normal. Mode 2 is only for moving objects, especially women enjoying the good life in a Mercedes SL500, as shown in the illustration in the instruction book. More at the Image Stabilization section.
The auto and manual focusing is excellent. It's fast, easy, accurate and never gets between you and a great photo.
NOTHING. All the focusing happens inside the Canon 70-200mm f/4 L IS, so nothing moves or extends externally.
Focus Distance Scale
Depth of Field Scale
AF speed is the usual Canon hallmark of nearly instantaneous focus. It's as fast as my own eyes.
Ease of Manual Focusing
Perfect; just grab the ring at any time.
There's no need to move an AF/MF switch unless you want to stay in manual focus.
When you do grab the ring during AF, focus stays where you set it until you lift off and re-tap the shutter button to restart autofocus.
AF accuracy and consistency is excellent on my 5D and very good on my Rebel XTi.
I get perfect focus at f/4 at all focal lengths and distances on my Canon 5D, except at 200mm at f/4 at the closest focus distance where it sometimes will focus a half inch (1cm) behind the intended subject. I'd never see this except that I was deliberately testing this, and it's perfect at f/5.6.
Autofocus is less consistent on my Rebel XTi, which as I've seen from previous lens tests is about par for the course with my XTi.
Breathing is a motion picture term which refers to what happens as you pull (change) focus from near to far. I list this for people putting these lenses on their Canon XL-1s for shooting video.The Canon 70-200mm f/4 L IS increases magnification as the focus is pulled closer.
Bokeh is very neutral, with soft edges to the blur circles. No surprises here.
The Canon 70-200mm f/4 L IS is approved by the PPLFPA, Professional Patio and Lawn Furniture Photographers' Association, with a grade of "A." Go ahead and knock yourself out, there is no significant color fringing.
Just to make this as tough as possible on this excellent lens, these shots are all wide open at f/4 in the corner of my full-frame 5D. It will be even better, if you could imagine that, stopped down or on a smaller format camera. (see Crop Factor.)
Here are the full guide images from which the crops are taken:
The crops have had no additional sharpening added. If you printed the full image at this magnification you'd have a print 44" (1.1m) wide. This is as good as I've ever seen, and this is wide open at f/4!
I see no differences from my other Canon lenses.
It has a rubber gasket on the lens mount to keep crud out of your camera.
Filter Threads: Plastic.
Exterior Barrel: Plastic.
Front Ring on which "Canon Lens" is printed: Metal.
Focus Ring: Metal covered with a ribbed rubber band.
Zoom Ring: Metal covered with a ribbed rubber band.
Internals: Appear to be metal and plastic.
Noises when shaken: Moderate klunking. This is normal.
Made in: Japan.
The Canon 70-200mm f/4 L IS has typical distortion for this sort of zoom. It's trivial to correct in Photoshop CS2's lens distortion filter with the data I measured below, and DxO has a module for it.
Even easier, just shoot it at 100mm if you want zero distortion.
Here's the Wall of Shame:
Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS at 70mm, full frame 5D.
Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS at 100mm, full frame 5D.
Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS at 135mm, full frame 5D.
Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS 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 like incorporating into software or your own books. Thanks! Ken.
Excellent. The Canon 70-200mm f/4 L IS never gets in the way of great photos. Everything just works as it should. I can shoot and zoom with only one hand.
This is no small task, many other lenses like the 70-300mm DO IS have problems like balky zooms that require more work from me, or more hands, to make a picture. What might seem minor in a camera store grows to become a big pain, which is among the reasons I won't own a 70-300mm DO IS. The 70-200mm f/4 L IS has no problems; it just works.
I see no problems; everything is fine.
None. The rear element appears sealed, so no air blows in or out of the Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS as you zoom quickly.
Since it's also internal focusing, it is possible along with the weather sealing that this lens may be very well suited for use in dusty conditions, since unlike many other zooms it doesn't seem to suck air every time it's focused or zoomed.
Falloff performance is better than average. In actual shooting it's only visible at 200mm wide open. In fact, it seems that the f/4 IS lens wide open at f/4 is the same as the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS stopped down a stop to f/4, and the f/4 lens is better than the f/2.8 lens with them both at f/5.6.
This is another good reason not to want to haul the huge f/2.8 version around; this smaller one has the same performance at any given aperture so you can use it at f/4 and not worry. Call up both of my reviews on your screen (if you're a digital photographer you deserve a 30" screen to make this stuff easy) and you'll see I shot them at slightly different exposures. Don't look at the absolute brightneses, look at the difference between center and corner.
There won't be any falloff visible on smaller format cameras, except maybe with a blank wall at 200mm at f/4 on a 1.3x camera (see crop factor).
Here are shots of an Expodisc. Shooting flat fields and laying them on another flat field is a tough test which exaggerates even the slightest falloff. You'll never see it this bad in normal photography.
Hmm, looking at the chart above it looks like the f/5.6 at 200mm shot is off center, dragged to the left.
I got curious, pulled it into Photoshop from this page and hit auto levels, and it's fine. It's an optical illusion on this page because it sits between the darker f/2.8 shot and the lighter f/8 one.
On a Mac all you need to do is drag and drop from this page into your copy of Photoshop to see for yourself.
Perfect; it's designed for them, too.
The Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS has a generous 67mm filter size. As you can see below, the actual size of the glass is much smaller than the filter threads.
Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS, front view.
There's no problem using any filters, or stacking them. There's no need for expensive thin mount filters.
The Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS is so good that you won't want to use a filter with bad optical quality. This is trivial to check if you know how: hold the filter in front of a small telescope or binocular, and be sure the sharp image you see through the scope isn't affected by the filter. Even the slightest imperfection becomes all too apparent at the front of a scope.
I can't get it to ghost or flare, which is quite an accomplishment with 20 pieces of glass inside the Canon 70-200mm f/4 L IS between me and my subject.
Here's a typical shot made for me by a blind friend directly into the noonday California sun. It's not apparent in the photo, but the subject was absolutely blinding.
Canon 70-200mm f/4 L IS at 200mm at f/11 at 1/1,600, Canon 5D at ISO 50.
I can almost see a little bit of a rainbow ghost on the left, but only if I really look for it.
The Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS L is far better than the tele zooms of the 1980s, which had even fewer elements to cause problems. Canon really did their homework on this lens.
The Canon 70-200mm f/4 L IS focuses to 4 feet (1.2m), as close as the other Canon 70-200mm lenses, which is about a foot closer than my similar Nikons.
It doesn't get that close. Here's what it does on a full-frame camera. Smaller format cameras like the 30D and Rebels will give a much bigger image (see crop factor).
I find that at 4 feet and 200mm that it tends to focus a little behind the intended subject, making for softer images than intended.
If you really want macro, the Canon 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens is worlds better.
at 4' at 200mm, full image, full-frame 5D, 1/250 at f/11.
100% crop from above, no extra sharpening.
It's fine for normal photography, but even here at f/11 it's not as good as other lenses like even the $100 Canon 18-55mm EF-s II, if you're on a small format camera.
The serial number is engraved and filled with black paint in the recess of the mating surface of the lens flange, only visible with the lens off the body. It will take some skilled machining for some loser to remove the serial number before reselling stolen ones on eBay.
Closeup of my Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS Serial Number. Try Dremeling that!
The date code is hot-stamped (or laser cut, but it looks too sloppy for laser) into the black plastic on the very back of the lens mount, also only visible with the lens removed from a body.
Canon 70-200mm f/4 L IS Date Code.
My date code reads UV0503, meaning it was made in May 2007. I bought it in July 2007. (see Canon Date Codes.)
The Canon 70-200mm f/4 L IS is the sharpest zoom I've ever used. See my separate page of Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS Sharpness Examples.
It's tough getting sunstars due to the curved diaphragm blades of the Canon 70-200mm f/4 L IS.
If you can get them, they should be 8-pointed stars at small apertures.
Here's the best I could do, bribing a blind friend to point my camera into the noonday California sun. Night shots probably could show this better.
Canon 70-200mm f/4 L IS at 180mm at f/11 at 1/1,000, Canon 5D at ISO 50.
See my separate page of Canon 70-200mm f/4 Image Stabilization Performance.
Canon 70-200mmm f/4 L IS Zoom Ring
Zooming is perfect, another reason the Canon 70-200mm f/4 L IS is so much better to use than to read about.
The zoom is smooth, well spread out and perfectly balanced.
I can hold my camera in my right hand, and use my pinky to change the zoom for one-handed shooting.
The zoom ring is spaced at a constant 3 cm/octave. It is easy to set any precise focal length, and it flicks easily from one extreme to the other.
Focus Shift while Zooming
There is little to no focus shift as you zoom, at least on my camera. This can vary from sample to sample of lens and body, and on mine I can change the zoom after I focus and not have to refocus.
Focal Length Encoding Accuracy
The EXIF data agrees with the settings marked on the lens at 70 , 100, 135 and 200mm. Sometimes 100mm will read out as 97mm, but I doubt I can set the lens that precisely anyway.
I have not correlated the accuracy of the markings with actual focal lengths.
Focal Length Encoding Precision
I see every five millimeters or so accounted for in the EXIF data. It's not exactly by fives; I'll see 111mm and 116mm and 138mm appear, for instance.
Just get one, I did and I love it.
The Canon 70-200mm f/4 L IS is as perfect a zoom lens as I have ever used, and its ergonomics are also first-rate, never getting in the way of a great photograph.
I wish all telephoto zooms focused more closely, to about 1.5' (0.5m) instead of 4' (1.2m), but no similar high performance zoom does any better.
If you'd rather spend $550 instead of $1,050, I'd get the excellent 70-300mm IS instead. The 70-300mm saves you $500, 4-1/2 ounces (127g) in weight and 1-1/8" (29mm) in length and gives you an extra 100mm of zoom range and makes excellent images. What you lose with the 70-300mm IS over this 70-200mm f/4 L IS is a stop of speed at the long end and dorky manual focusing. The 70-300mm isn't as sharp in the lab, but in real use it is still spectacular.
I would certainly spend a grand on this 70-200mm f/4 L IS over spending that same grand on the 70-300mm DO IS.
Even if the price and weight were the same, the $1,700, three-pound f/2.8 IS lens doesn't offer me that much more. If you look at the falloff of the 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS in my review, f/2.8 has far more falloff than this f/4 at f/4, so the one stop for which you're paying dearly isn't really f/2.8 except in the center of the image. Also I need a second hand to zoom the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS, instead of a flick of a fingertip with this f/4 L IS. The f/2.8 has more flare.
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