Monday, July 27, 2009

Canon 70-200 Lens Comparison

One of the great workhorse lenses of the pro- and semi-pro photographer is the 70-200mm zoom. With its internal zoom and focus, wide maximum aperture, and great range most people quickly find that this lens is a must. Oh… and who doesn’t like a sweet lens hood on front?

I think Canon is winning the 70-200 competition by offering four versions of the lens with slight variation and covering a price range from $599 to $1699. Lately, a lot of people have been asking me about the difference between the 70-200 f/4.0L IS and the 70-200 f/2.8L (no IS). “They’re about the same price… which one is right for me?”

Here are my thoughts…

Shooters who are meticulous about avoiding marginal shutter speeds should look at the f/2.8 version. Camera shake is the great enemy of low-light, telephoto shooting. The rule of thumb for avoiding camera shake is to keep your shutter speed faster than the focal length of your lens… Thus, if you’re shooting at 200mm your shutter speed should be 1/200s or faster. Personally I try to avoid this line when at all possible—I’d much rather shoot a high ISO with a bit more noise than lose half my shots to the camera shake monster. If you’re the kind of shooter who notices how far you’re zoomed in, compares that to your shutter speed, and says, ‘Man… I don’t even want to risk it!’ Get the f/2.8. You’ll love the shallower depth of field, and a full stop more light to play with.

Now… shooters who don’t pay as close of attention, or who find themselves pushing those marginal shutter speeds a lot (e.g. 1/125s @ 200mm), you should probably consider the f/4 IS. Canon’s IS is excellent, and will save a lot of shots for you when you’re not really paying attention. The extra stop of light the f/2.8 gives you won’t help, because you’re going to keep shooting those marginal shutter speeds anyway, so I’d say to go for the stabilization.

One more factor is weight… the f/2.8 weighs almost twice as much as the f/4 version. If you’re of slighter build or find that shooting 9 hour weddings with a nearly 3lb lens to be a bit much, go for the f/4.

What do I have? Why, the 70-200 f/2.8L IS of course!

Rowan Gillson hard at work with his Canon 70-200mm lens near Ouray, CO in June, 2009.

Me... hard at work with my 70-200mm f/2.8L IS in Colorado. Photo courtesy of Kelsey Schweickert.

Canon 70-200 lenses at

Photography workshops from the Institute of Photographic Studies

1 comment:

Josiah E. said...

Great post Rowan! I feel special that I got to have basically the whole post e-mailed to me :)

I went ahead and got the 2.8 without IS, and I must say the extra stop is awesome! Of course one of the biggest reasons I went with the 2.8 is because I was able to get a killer deal on one, only paying $920 for it used in perfect condition! That being the case there was no way I was going to spend an extra $150 on the f4 even though I would have liked to try the IS.