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Review – Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM Mark II Telephoto Lens

Update for the Venerable EF 70-200mm f/2.8 IS Telephoto Zoom

The Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM Mark II replaces the original (and discontinued) Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM [review] that has been a staple workhorse for Canon users since 2001. It has proven itself to be a sturdy, high-quality, reliable, and capable performer on the field.  However, its is a very old lens optimized for film cameras. A decade later, chinks of its armour start to reveal itself when paired with digital cameras and photographers who have the means to pixel-peep beyond standard print sizes.

canon70_200_mkII_review-28

Canon released the EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS Mark II version in January 2010, promising improved performance in almost every aspect. The primary upgrade would be in the internal optics as well as auto-focus (AF) and closer minimum focus distances.

There also is a significant jump in price, at the time of the launch, the older version was selling for about US$1800 while the MKII launced at US$2500. Many are wondering if it’s a worthwhile upgrade.

Specifications

Let’s start off with some published specifications from Canon:

Focal length 70-200mm
Diagonal Angle of view 34º – 12º
Aperture Range F2.8 – F32
Lens Construction • 23 elements/19 groups• 1 Fluorite element

• 5 UD glass elements

Number of diaphragm blades 8
Minimum focus 1.2m (47″)
Focus Motor Type • Ring-type Ultrasonic Motor• Full-time manual focus
Maximum Magnification Ratio 0.21x
Image stabilization • 4 stops claimed benefit• Normal and panning modes
Filter thread • 77mm
Supplied accessories • Front and rear caps• ET-87 Lens Hood

• Tripod mount ring

• LZ1326 Lens Case

Weight 1490g (3.28 lb)
Dimensions 89mm diameter x 199mm length(3.5 x 7.8 inches)
Lens Mount Canon EF only
Other

• Dust and moisture sealing

• Supplies distance information for E-TTL II flash metering

Physical Attributes and Build Quality

The Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS Mark II (hereon referred to as MKII, for brevity’s sake) looks very similar to the older version but it is actually lighter (1490 g vs. 1570 g), larger in diameter (89mm vs. 86.2mm), and slightly longer (199mm vs. 197mm). There are subtle changes to how the buttons are positioned and the feel of the barrel is a different compared to the old version. The focus and zoom rings, for example, have virtually zero play unlike the first version, the switches are perfectly flushed as well.

canon70_200_mkII_review-25

canon70_200_mkII_review-26

The MKII comes with the following standard accessories:

1. Canon LZ1326 lens case

2. Canon ET-87 lens hood

3. Tripod collar ring

The MKII is a large lens and is very well built, you wouldn’t have to worry about scratching or dinging it in normal or heavy-duty (sensible) use. If you’re an on-the-go, on-location photographer, having a pro-grade lens with weather-sealing is indispensable.

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Auto-Focus

Auto-focus (AF) is speedy, near-silent, and accurate, as expected with any lens of this caliber. The success rate for correct AF locking and tracking is very high even with a slow AF system like the one on the Canon EOS 5D Mark II. The lens locks focus a lot faster with an EOS 40D compared to the 5D Mark II, so expect even better performance on newer AF systems on the EOS 60D, 7D, and the 1D series.

I had my son running towards the camera at his full speed with the camera’s AI-Servo mode, center AF point activated. About 90% of the shots were accurate in focus and only slowed down when the crop was too tight and lacked areas of contrast (close to minimum focus distance).

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM Mark II

AF tracking at f/4 on Canon EOS 5D Mark II

In this photo, the free-fall cage was reaching terminal velocity at this point, the AF picked it up with no problems even against the bright sky. Notice how much detail in the photograph as well, this is an uncropped image.

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM Mark II

AF tracking at f/2.8 on Canon EOS 5D Mark II

I don’t know how to shoot birds, so I left the camera’s AF to full-auto (all points ON) and let the camera and lens lock the focus for me for this shot.

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM Mark II

AF tracking at f/2.8 on Canon EOS 5D Mark II

Image Stabilization

The Mark II sports a “third-generation” IS system with a claimed 4-f/stops of hand-holdability. The IS system has 2 modes; a static shooting (x/y axis) mode and panning mode (one-axis stabilization only, automatic panning detection) mode. It also offers a tripod detection mode, so there’s no need to turn off the IS system when mounted on a tripod.

A ‘real world hand-held scenario depicts a solid 4-5 stops efficiency at 200mm, naturally, this depends on the actual user’s ability to steady a camera during a shoot. I have relatively shaky hands and twitchy fingers, so I have to ‘consciously’ steady myself when I know I’m using a slow shutter speed. The samples below start at 1/200 at 200mm, ISO is increased and shutter speed slowed down to equalize the exposure without adjusting aperture setting.

IS test 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM Mark II

Subject - Full Image 1/200

IS test 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM Mark II

Subject - Cropped 1/200

IS test 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM Mark II

Subject - Crop Image 1/100

IS test 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM Mark II

Subject - Crop Image 1/50

IS test 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM Mark II

Subject - Crop Image 1/25

IS test 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM Mark II

Subject - Crop Image 1/6

IS test 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM Mark II

Subject - Crop Image 1/3

As you can see, four stops (1/6 sec @ 200mm) is quite incredible for such a large lens and camera combination. I’ve said it before, but all lenses will benefit from IS mechanisms, if it helps you take sharper photos in all conditions, we should embrace such additions to modern lenses.

Image Analysis

The 70-200mm focal range is highly useful for almost any application, particularly if outdoors where there’s space to move about. Here are two samples for 70mm and 200mm coverage with the camera about 15 feet from the subject.

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM Mark II

70mm @ f/2.8

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM Mark II

200mm @ f/2.8

Bokeh

Bokeh is highly subjective, but in general, the smoother the blur – devoid of harsh edges is preferred. The MKII offers really nice and smooth bokeh characteristics, trailing only to wide-aperture prime lenses primarily due to the extra amount of glass elements present as well as aspherical lenses utilized.

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM Mark II

200mm @ f/2.8

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM Mark II

200mm @ f/4

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM Mark II

100mm @ f/2.8

Vignetting

At f/2.8, both 70mm and 200mm show about 1.5 stops of light fall-off at the extreme corners of the image on a full-frame camera. With a cropped sensor camera, the vignetting drops to about half a stop. At f/3.5-4, no vignetting is visible.

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM Mark II

FF 70mm @ f/2.8

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM Mark II

FF 200mm @ f/2.8

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM Mark II

Cropped 70mm @ f/2.8

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM Mark II

Cropped 200mm @ f/2.8

Flare Control

My apologies for not having sample images for this, but the flare control of the MKII is dramatically improved over the first version due to improvements in coatings of the lens elements. Gone are the complex, 6-8 group of flare rings that the original lens exhibited. Subjectively, the MKII has 70% or so less flare orbs than the original.

Sharpness

The older EF 70-200 f/2.8L IS USM suffered from soft images at f/2.8 when shooting at 70mm and noticeably on 200mm. While it was ‘acceptable’ by many, do remember that this was supposed to be a top-of-the-line lens and if an f/2.8 lens needs to be stopped down by over a stop for optimal performance, it is a huge compromise to pay when you can buy the much cheaper and stellar EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM [read review]. Take a look at the review of the older 70-200mm f/2.8 at 200mm f/2.8 on the street sign sample [read review ]

The new MKII is sharp, crisp, and punchy at f/2.8 on all focal lengths, which is wonderful and how the lens should perform even on a high-megapixel camera like the EOS 5D Mark II. Stopping down from f/2.8 to f/4 doesn’t really change the image much.

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM Mark II

200mm @ f/2.8

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM Mark II

200mm @ f/4

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM Mark II

135mm @ f/2.8

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM Mark II

135mm zoomed

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM Mark II

200mm

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM Mark II

110mm

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM Mark II

200mm @ f/2.8

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM Mark II

70mm @ f/2.8

Frequently Bought Together

Conclusion

Needless to say, I’m utterly impressed with this lens unlike the impression that the original EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM left me. This EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM Mark II stands proud as Canon’s premium mid-to-tele fixed aperture zoom lenses that almost all photographers will find useful regardless of field.

The combination of proven build quality, AF speed, weather sealing, image stabilization are now paired with matching optics that perform flawlessly regardless of aperture setting and focal length.

To answer those who are asking whether this is worth the extra 30% compared to the older version, I give a resounding “YES” to that question with the following reasoning:

1) Lenses like the 70-200mm f/2.8 are NOT mid-tier lenses, they’re premium, top-of-the-line workhorses that should deliver premium quality. Settling for the older and flawed 70-200mm f/2.8L’s shortcomings at 70 and 200mm wide open is a waste of US$1800 as the much cheaper f/4L IS version is much sharper at f/4 than the original 70-200mm stopped to f/4.

It’s like saying “I’ll buy a Rolls Royce” but only settling for a Ghost instead of a Phantom… (Weird analogy, I know, but you get my drift?)

Most users of the 70-200 will be using the two extreme ends of the focal lengths (70 and 200mm), and most will be using it at wide-open apertures (f/2.8) as well. The original version’s shortcomings are at 70 and 200mm @ f/2.8…

2) As we move up the scale of premium lenses, the differences are more and more subtle but noticeable. Improving a good lens to a stellar one require more effort than improving a mediocre lens to a respectable one. The price increase my seem high between the older version and the MKII, but the difference is worth it.

3) It’s designed and optimized with modern cameras in mind. You spent quite a bit on your high-end bodies with high megapixels and AF technology, why cripple it with an old (yet expensive) lens?

4) The Nikkor version went through the same upgrade for their 70-200mm lens, clearly, both manufacturers saw the need to update these workhorses to meet current demands.

While many will still stick to the older lens, it won’t be because of the MKII not being good enough but more like the unwillingness to accept a loss of value in their current, discontinued lens. For first-time 70-200 f/2.8 buyers, the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM is as good of a fast tele-zoom you can buy for a Canon body. Apart from the inevitable price, weight, and size concerns, it clearly is one of the best lenses in Canon’s line-up right now.

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