The Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens has been around for a few
years now but considering the long product life of its workhorse predecessor, which debuted in 2001, expect this essential zoom to be kicking
it for quite a while. Announced, for some reason, in the lead up to the
Consumer Electronics Show in 2010, the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 IS II is
the kind of lens every pro photographer has in his or her bag but, perhaps,
never fully appreciates.
I tested the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 II recently while reviewing the Canon
EOS-1D X for the November 2012 issue of PDN and though Canon’s loaded new
flagship DSLR provided the initial dazzle, it was my experience with the 70-200mm
II that has stuck with me. Here’s what I liked about this solid and versatile zoom lens.
BODY AND BUILD
At first glance, the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 II looks remarkably like its predecessor
but that’s to be expected: Pro lenses don’t vary dramatically in their appearance
through the years. But look closer at this EF-series Canon white lens and you’ll notice
some subtle changes.
Specifically, there is the wider, rubber focusing ring on top of the lens barrel,
which I really appreciated when shooting while wearing gloves. The small ribs on the
ring helped me get a good grip to set precise focus adjustments both with gloves
on and without.
The same was true of the zoom ring, which seemed about the same size as on
the previous model, with larger rubber ribs that also offered a good grip. Zooming
in and out with the lens was smooth but firm, and I experienced no lens creep issues with the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 II (i.e., it did not inadvertently extend from
its own weight).
Speaking of weight, the 70-200mm f/2.8 II is on the heavy side, weighing in at
over three pounds and, believe me, you feel every ounce of it. I used the lens as part
of an ongoing wildlife photography project I’ve been shooting, which requires a lot
of trail riding on mountain bikes. Stuffing the lens and DSLR combo into a photo
backpack seemed like a good idea at first but after a day on the trails, my backside
was feeling it. You also probably don’t want to hand-hold this lens for extended
periods of time so I’d suggest also bringing a monopod or tripod.
There’s a reason behind that weight: This lens is built tough. With weather and
dust sealing throughout, the 70-200mm f/2.8 II is designed to withstand a variety of
shooting conditions. For my wildlife photography project, which took me to foggy,
moisture-rich swamps and marshes, the lens experienced no problems. If you anticipate you’ll be stuck in some heavy downpours though, I’d suggest bringing some
fully waterproof rain covers for both your camera and lens.
The 70-200mm f/2.8 II has a new bayonet mount on the front that lets you lock
on the included lens hood so it doesn’t accidentally go askew or slip off.
IMAGE STABILIZATION: THE NEX T GENERATION
As indicated by its model name, the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 features new IS
(Optical Image Stabilizer) technology, which Canon says offers up to four stops
of correction against camera shake across the entire focal range. In contrast, the
previous version of IS in the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 offered only a reported three
stops of correction.
While this spec is notoriously hard to test—it depends on what your definition
of an acceptably sharp image is—I was very impressed with the new IS, which is
actually the third generation of this technology for Canon. With the Optical Image
Stabilizer engaged on the new 70-200mm lens, I got a larger number of useable
images at 200mm when shooting at slower shutter speeds of up to one-tenth of a
second hand-held than any other zoom I’ve tried.
Again it depends on your definition of useable and how shaky a particular photographer’s hands are, but I’d say at least 75 percent of my hand-held shots at up
to one-tenth of a second were acceptable. Admittedly, as the day went on and my
hands got more tired holding the heavy camera and lens, that percentage went
down but results were pretty remarkable nonetheless.
As indicated by its model name, the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 features new IS technology, which
Canon says offers up to four stops of correction against camera shake across the entire focal range.
I was also impressed with the Canon 70-200mm II’s autofocus system, which was
fast and incredibly quiet; a perfect combination when photographing wildlife. Part
of this faster focusing is likely due to a new AF algorithm Canon’s deployed in the
70-200mm II. Overriding autofocus takes just a turn of the ample focus ring to bring
the lens under manual control.
Speaking of focus, the lens’s close-up ability has improved from the previous
model. Though it’s hardly an ideal macro lens, the Canon 70-200mm II has a minimum
focusing distance of just under four feet throughout the entire zoom range, letting
you get closer to your subject while keeping the image sharp and tightly cropped.
This should come in handy for portrait and headshot photographers.
FRINGE ELEMEN TS
The other big change to the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 II is its new internal optics. The
lens now uses one fluorite element and five UD glass elements designed to boost
contrast and resolution while reducing chromatic aberrations.
I got excellent image quality results with almost no chromatic aberrations,
which are sometimes identified by the purple fringing you see in areas of high
contrast such as branches against a sky. It was hard to pick out any chromatic
aberrations in my outdoor wildlife shots, even when zoomed in to 100 percent in
photos ringed with trees.
Meanwhile, the overall contrast in my images was strong and natural looking,
giving my shots that crisp, life-like look that’s a sign of good glass.
THE BOT TOM LINE
If there’s anything I can say against buying the EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM it’s
that there’s a reason the previous lens was in Canon’s line-up for so long. The older
70-200mm f/2.8 is an excellent piece of glass and the type of workhorse that’s hard
to put out to pasture. But if you’re in the market for a new 70-200mm, this version
II sharp shooter from Canon is probably the best investment you will make. Yes, it’s
expensive and heavy but the improvements in the lens’s Optical Image Stabilizer, its
speedy-but-silent autofocus and the superior new internal optics, make this versatile EF-series zoom from Canon a real thoroughbred.
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM
ProS: Improved Optical Image Stabilizer lets you hand-hold lens at
slower shutter speeds while getting sharp results; excellent sharpness
overall; fluorite and UD glass elements nearly eliminate chromatic
aberrations; fast and quiet autofocus; wider focus ring lets you adjust
while wearing gloves
ConS: Previous lens is still a very solid option; heavy; expensive