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Canon 70-210mm f/4
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Canon 70-210mm

Canon EF 70-210mm f/4 (covers all formats, 58mm filters, 20.4 oz./578g, 3.9'/1.2m close focus, about $75 used). enlarge. I'd get it at this link directly to them at eBay (see How to Win at eBay).

June 2014   Canon Reviews   Canon Lenses   All Reviews

 

INTRODUCTION

Top   Specs   Performance   Recommendations

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This is Canon's first autofocus tele zoom, introduced May 1987. Mine is from December 1988. This EF 70-210mm f/4 was replaced by the also discontinued 70-210mm f/3.5-4.5 USM in June 1990.

Lenses exported from Japan of this vintage have gold JCII inspection stickers to the right of the focus window. These stickers usually have fallen off, but if you see one it's a sign of a well cared for lens.

Today they sell for about $150 used.

I found this Canon EF 70-210mm f/4 in the local classifieds for $100, so I picked it up for fun. At almost 20 years old it still works great.

Good News:

1.) Good Optics: Very sharp and few, if any, color fringes.

2.) Easy to zoom, slides in and out as if it's on ball bearings.

3.) Close focusing: 3.9 feet / 1.2m.

4.) Lightweight.

5.) Solid build quality.

6.) Constant f/4, a stop faster than any current inexpensive tele zoom at the long end.

Bad News:

1.) No Image Stabilization, critical for hand-held use.

2.) Manual focus requires a moving switch.

3.) Easy zooming means it's prone to the zoom sliding when pointed straight down.

SPECIFICATIONS with commentary

Top    Introduction   Performance   Recommendations

Name: Canon calls this the Canon Zoom Lens EF 70-210mm f/4. EF means Electronic Focus, or that the focus motor is inside the lens. All modern Canon lenses focus with a motor in the lens.

Focal Length: 70-210mm. Used on a 1.3x camera it gives angles of view similar to what a 88-264mm lens would give on a 35mm film camera. On a 1.6x camera it gives angles of view similar to what a 114-340mm lens would give on a 35mm film camera. See also Crop Factor.

Maximum Aperture: f/4, constant.

Optics: 11 elements, 8 groups, one of which has been rumored to be a molded aspherical. This is a traditional push-pull zoom with front group focusing.

Diaphragm: 8 blades. Rounded up to f/8, octagonal from f/11 on. Stops down to f/32.

Filter Size: 58mm.

Close Focus: 3.9' (47" or 3' 11" or 1.2m) from the image plane (the back of the camera), measured.

Maximum Reproduction Ratio: 1:0.24

Infrared Focus Index? Yes, at 210, 135, 100 and 70mm.

Canon 70-210mm IR scale

Canon 70-210mm f/4 IR focus indices

Size (measured): 2.975" diameter x 5.423" extension from flange (75.57 x 137.75mm) at 70mm focused at infinity. The Canon 70-210mm f/4 gets longer as zoomed and focused.

It grows an additional 1.438" (36.5mm) at 210mm, for a total extension from flange of 6.860" (174.25mm) at infinity.

The front group extends as focused more closely. Focus operates independently of zoom. At the close focus stop, the front of the lens extends an additional 0.771" (19.59mm).

Therefore, at 210mm at the closest focus distance the Canon 70-210mm f/4 EF extends a total of 7.631" (193.84mm) from the flange.

Canon 70-210mm f/4 at 70mm and infinity. Roll mouse over to zoom to 210mm and focus at 3.9.'

Weight: 20.400oz. (578.0 g), measured, naked. I measured the Canon 70-300mm IS at 22.2 oz (630g) is 5.63" long for comparison.

Introduced: May 1987.

PERFORMANCE

Top    Introduction   Specs   Recommendations

Autofocus    Bokeh    Color    Color Fringes    Construction    Distortion

Ergonomics      Eyeblow      Falloff      Film      Filters      Flare      Macro

Program Mode    Serial Number    Sharpness    Sunstars    IS    Zooming

OVERALL

The Canon EF 70-210mm f/4 is sharp and works great. The optics are as good as similar current lenses in actual use, although it's soft at f/4 and 210mm. The reason to pay more for the newest lenses are features like Image Stabilization, not optical quality.

FOCUSING   back to Performance or back to Introduction.

Autofocus is excellent for the 1980s. It's why sports pros dropped Nikon and fled to Canon in the early 1990s. It has a reasonably fast internal motor to focus the lens, but it's noisier than newer lenses and you must move a switch for manual focus. Its very similar to the Canon 70-300mm IS.

Canon 70-210mm manula focus

Canon 70-210mm f/4 focus switch.

What Moves

The front barrel and filter ring rotate with focus.

Focus Distance Scale

Yes, meters and feet.

Depth of Field Scale

NONE.

Speed

AF speed is quite reasonable, although the motor sounds like a toy car.

Sound and Noise

   Autofocus: The motor sounds like a toy car.

   Manual Focus: Sounds like gears sliding around.

Ease of Manual Focusing

It's OK, but you must slide a switch as you do on the the Canon 70-300mm IS. If you want to move between auto and manual focus simply by grabbing the focus ring, you need at least the Canon 70-200mm f/4L.

Autofocus Accuracy

I get perfect focus easily every time on my 5D.

On my Canon Rebel XTi I got varying results at f/4. It was fine at the wide end, but focused in front of the desired subject at the long end.

Autofocus accuracy varies from sample-to sample of camera and lens. Yours will be different than what I saw.

Focus Breathing

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. Its irrelevant for still photography.

The image gets slightly larger as one focuses more closely.

BOKEH   back to Performance or back to Introduction.

Bokeh is typical, varying of course with focal length and focus distance.

It's mediocre at f/4 at 70mm and 100mm (rolled-condom look to out-of-focus highlights behind the subject), near neutral at 135mm and neutral at 210mm. The lens' other aberrations play into the bokeh at 210mm, so the result is a rather undisturbing organic look instead of modern lens' harder look.

Here are examples of full images from a 1.6x format camera. The subject was focused at 10 feet (3m).

70mm f/4
100mm f/4
Canon 70-210mm bokeh
Canon 70-210mm Bokeh
Canon 70-210mm Bokeh
Canon 70-210mm Bokeh
135mm f/4
210mm f/4

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 a full-frame 5D, it has some minor color fringes at the shortest and longest ends in the corners, but none mid-range and none in the center.

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

Canon 70-210mm LCA Canon 70-210mm LCA
Full Image, 70mm
Full Image, 210mm

 

Canon 70-210mm LCA

Canon 70-210mm LCA
100% crop from 5D at 70mm
100% crop from 5D at 100mm

 

Canon 70-210mm LCA
Canon 70-210mm LCA
100% crop from 5D at 135mm
100% crop from 5D at 210mm

I see slight primary lateral chromatic aberration at 70mm (the red fringe going outside the main image) and slight secondary (green-magenta) at 210mm.

This is negligible. I had to create this torture test to see anything. I never saw it in real photography unless I deliberately shot trees against overcast skies at the ends of the zoom range. Photos of my white car were always perfect.

If you printed the full image the same magnification as these crops, you'd have 44" (110cm) wide prints!

The changes in color balance are from auto WB seeing more or less of the sky as I zoomed.

COLOR RENDITION   back to Performance or back to Introduction.

I see no differences from my other Canon lenses.

CONSTRUCTION QUALITY

back to Performance or back to Introduction.

Exterior: Plastic.

Filter Threads: Plastic.

Focus Ring: Ribbed soft plastic, which gives swell traction for the forces involved. One strong finger or two weak ones are fine for manual focusing.

Markings: Paint.

Switches: Plastic.

Mount: Metal.

Internals: Mostly metal.

Noises when shaken: Rattling and klunking, which is normal for an AF zoom lens.

Made in: Japan.

DISTORTION   back to Performance or back to Introduction.

Distortion is exactly as I expected: barrel at 70mm, perfect at 100mm, and pincushion at 210mm.

Here's the proverbial Bad Photographers' Wall of Shame on a full-frame (or film) camera:

Canon 70-210mm distortion
Canon 70-210mm distortion
At 70mm, full-frame 5D
At 100mm, full-frame 5D

 

Canon 70-210mm distortion
Canon 70-210mm distortion
At 135mm, full-frame 5D
At 210mm, 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.

 
20' (6m)
50' (15m)
Infinity
70mm
+3.1
+3.1
+3.5
100mm
none
none
none
135mm
-2.7
-2.1
-1.4
210mm
-3.2
-3.1
-3

These figures and examples are on full-frame. Performance will be better on 1.3x and 1.6x cameras.

ERGONOMICS   back to Performance or back to Introduction.

Poorer ergonomics compared to the newest L series lenses are why you can buy this lens for a fifth to a tenth of what you'd pay for a new 70-200mm L.

This is an easy to use lens, but the lack of image stabilization, a push-pull zoom instead of a ring and the need to move a switch to get manual focus tend to get in my way.

EXPOSURE ACCURACY   back to Performance or back to Introduction.

Exposure was fine, although it was a little underexposed at f/4 at 210mm. Even that is easy to compensate with the camera's exposure compensation control, or stop down a stop.

EYEBLOW

back to Performance or back to Introduction.

None. Zooming in and out didn't blow air out my viewfinder.

FALLOFF (Darkened Corners)

back to Performance or back to Introduction.

Falloff performance is normal and as expected.

Falloff is obvious on a full-frame camera at f/4 at 210mm. Otherwise it was invisible zoomed out, stopped down, or shot on a 1.3x and 1.6x camera. (see crop factor for why falloff is less of a problem on smaller format cameras.)

Here are shots of an Expodisc, which greatly exaggerates falloff and exposure issues.

 
f/4
f/5.6
f/8
f/11
70mm
100mm
135mm
210mm

 

 

USE ON FILM CAMERAS   back to Performance or back to Introduction.

It works perfectly. Practical digital SLRs were still ten years in the future when this lens was introduced.

USE WITH FILTERS   back to Performance or back to Introduction.

Like almost all telephoto lenses, filter thickness doesn't cause vignetting at any setting.

FLARE AND GHOSTS  back to Performance or back to Introduction.

It's pretty good. I only see ghosts if I 1.) shoot into light sources, and 2.) leave a black foreground to highlight the ghost, and 3.) overexpose to bring up the ghost.

Ghosts will materialize and evaporate as you zoom in and out. You'll see the ghosts in your finder as you compose, so if you are bothered by one, change the zoom setting.

Canon 70-210mm
Canon 70-210mm
At 210mm at f/8, full-frame 5D
The same, 2-1/3 stops overexposed.

This is a swell lens for shooting into the light or for sunsets. The image on the left shows natural God beams, not a lens artifact.

MACRO   back to Performance or back to Introduction.

Macro performance is decent. Optics are fine, and autofocus is accurate.

These examples are from my full-frame Canon 5D. A 1.6x camera like the 30D or Rebel would get 1.6x closer (see crop factor).

Canon 70-210mm

at closest focus (3.9') at 210mm, full image. (note tender care taken with my Olympus)

 

Canon 70-210mm

100% crop from above, no extra sharpening.

Since I shot against white, I can see some falloff in the full-frame image. The biggest distraction from image quality is hand jitter since there is no image stabilization. This shot is at f/8 at 1/640, and at this magnification (100%, or a 44" [110cm] wide print) about a third of the shots were blurry from hand motion.

Also note the paper-thin depth of field as every other macro shot. The watch face is in focus, but the hands are not.

PROGRAM EXPOSURE MODE

back to Performance or back to Introduction.

My 5D chooses faster shutter speeds and larger apertures as I zoom to longer focal lengths. It does this to counteract hand tremor.

SERIAL NUMBER and DATE CODE   back to Performance or back to Introduction.

The serial number is engraved into the outside of the plastic barrel, on the bottom near the lens mount flange. It is filled with white paint, making it extremely legible and difficult to remove or alter.

The date code is stamped on the back of the lens in gray ink. Mine reads UC1204, meaning it was made in December 1988. (See Canon Date Codes.)

Canon Lens Date Code

1988 Canon EF 70-210mm f/4 Date Code.

Canon Lens Date Code

UC1204: The C means 1988 and 12 is December.

SHARPNESS  back to Performance or back to Introduction.

In actual use I see no difference between this old soldier and my brand-new $1,000 Canon 70-200mm f/4 L IS. On test charts the difference is dramatic wide open and in the corners, but not in the middle of the image at normal apertures where we actually use these lenses.

Ryan Rockwell

Canon 70-210mm at 120mm and F/8, Canon 5D, ISO 50, full image.

Ryan Rockwell

Crop from 100% image, no additional sharpening. Full image would be 44" (110cm) wide at this magnification.

The Canon 70-210mm f/4, like most decent lenses, is sharper than the abilities of most digital cameras. It's trivial to count eyelashes on my 7-month-old baby, and see which umbrellas I used to light him.

Sharpness is great from 70 - 135mm at every aperture. 90% of your image is within the region I call "center" in my table below.

It gets a bit softer at 210mm wide open, as expected. My sample gets very soft at 210mm on the left side.

So long as you stop down a stop or two, your technique, especially hand-holding and shutter release technique, will be your biggest barrier to sharp photos. I have a page on How to Get Sharp Photos.

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

Sharpness on Full Frame 5D:

 
f/4
f/5.6
f/8
f/11
70 mm
E - F - P
E - F - P
E - G - F
E - E - VG
100mm
E - G - F
E - E - E
E - E - E
E - E - E
135mm
E - E - VG
E - E - VG
E - E - VG
E - E - E
210mm*
F - F - F
VG - VG - G
VG - VG - G
VG - VG - G

* Rated on the left side; my sample was poor on the right side.

Sharpness on 1.3x 1D Mk II: (center - corner)

 
f/4
f/5.6
f/8
f/11
70 mm
E - F
E - F
E - G
E - E
100mm
E - G
E - E
E - E
E - E
135mm
E - E
E - E
E - E
E - E
210mm*
F - F
VG - VG
VG - VG
VG - VG

Sharpness on 1.6x Rebel XTi: (anyplace in frame, predicted. My sample's focus offset limited the sharpness I got. )

 
f/4
f/5.6
f/8
f/11
70 mm
E
E
E
E
100mm
E
E
E
E
135mm
E
E
E
E
210mm*
F
VG
VG
VG

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.

SUNSTARS   back to Performance or back to Introduction.

The Canon 70-210mm rarely adds much in the way of starpoints to bright specular highlights. I really had to push it.

Mercedes E430

Sunstar on The Star, 210mm at f/16.

The shine of the sun off the metal was quite blinding in person. It's next to impossible to get this effect with this lens. I found the maximum at f/16; it dissipated at larger apertures.

IS (Image Stabilization)

back to Performance or back to Introduction.

The Canon 70-210mm f/4 has NO image stabilization. For curiosity's sake I measured the slowest speeds at which I could hand hold it. Read Why IS is Important to understand what these ratings mean.

There is no IS, making use of the longer focal lengths iffy in anything but the best light.

This chart lists the percentage of perfectly sharp shots I get hand holding. Perfectly sharp means perfectly sharp at 100%. For normal use, you can get away with much slower speeds.

 
1/8
1/15
1/30
1/60
1/125
1/250
1/500
70mm
0
2
40
72
100
100
100
100mm
0
0
33
58
88
100
100
135mm
0
0
20
40
70
100
100
200mm
0
0
5
20
50
88
100

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

 
Slowest speed for 50% perfectly sharp shots
70mm
1/40
100mm
1/60
135mm
1/80
200mm
1/125

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!

ZOOMING   back to Performance or back to Introduction.

Zooming is push pull. The good news is that it slides slicker, straighter and smoother than a rail of ball bearings on Astroglide. The bad news is that the Canon 70-210mm f/4 will slide all the way to one stop or the other anytime you point the lens up or down.

More good news is that it is very easy to zoom in and out all day long, and that it's also very easy to select the exact desired cropping or focal length.

Canon 70-210mm Zoom

Canon EF 70-210mm f/4 Push-Pull Zoom

I love evenly-spaced focal lengths on the zoom ring, and my Canon 70-210mm f/4 delivers. It is 3 cm/octave at the wide end and 1.65 cm/octave at the long end.

Zoom Creep

This will vary from sample to sample. My 70-210mm slides if if you point it more than about 60 degrees up or down. So long as you have the lens pointing at a more reasonable angle up or down, it stays put.

Focus Shift while Zooming

Focus shifts a bit, so focus after composing and zooming.

Focal Length Encoding Accuracy

The EXIF data agrees exactly with the settings marked on the lens at 70, 100, 135 and 210mm.

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

Observed Encoded Focal Lengths

The Canon 70-210mm f/4 encodes focal lengths to about the nearest 5mm.

It's impressive that this 20-year old lens encodes focal lengths perfectly with today's latest digital cameras, since it came out with the very first film autofocus cameras which had no way to record this data.

I've seen 70mm, 75mm, 80mm, 85mm, 90mm, 95mm, 100mm, 107mm, 115mm, 120mm, 125mm, 130mm, 135mm, 140mm, 145mm, 150mm, 153mm, 157mm, 160mm, 165mm, 170mm, 173mm, 177mm, 180mm, 185mm, 190mm, 195mm, 200mm, 205mm and 210mm appear in my EXIF data.

RECOMMENDATIONS

Top    Introduction   Specs   Performance

Sunset

For use on a tripod, or with studio strobes, this lens is great; just stop it down at 210mm if you need the sharpest results.

The reason to pay more today are to get features I consider critical for hand-held use. Features lacking on this classic lens, compared to today's newest and most expensive, are:

1.) Image stabilization, without which it's hard to make sharp images at the long end hand-held without a tripod.

2.) Ability to focus manually simply by grabbing the ring.

3.) I prefer a zoom ring over push-pull zooming.

For $500 more than this used lens you can get a brand-new 70-300mm IS which will add IS (still no instant manual focus) or a 70-200mm f/4L (no IS).

Spend $900 more than this used lens and get the 70-200mm f/4L IS and it will solve all these.

If you have the cash, by all means the newer lenses are better. If not and you can live with these inconveniences, this Canon 70-210mm f/4 lens is as sharp and focuses as close as modern lenses, except at 210mm at f/4. Live it up!

 

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

 

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14 July 2007