Music Photography by Joe Papeo

Review: Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L II IS

Review:  First my disclaimer.  I shoot Canon.  And while that doesn’t mean I don’t like Nikon, Canon, to me, just feels better in my hands.  Both companies make great gear that any photographer would love to shoot with.  But I can’t shoot with both systems so I chose Canon.  Each company has something in their line-up that stands out just ahead of their counterpart, like Nikon’s D700 12.1MP Digital SLR.  But for lenses, Canon trumps all with their ~1 year old EF 70-200mm f/2.8L II IS Telephoto Zoom Lens.

I was a long-time user of the 70-200mm f/4 L IS.  For a little over $1,000, it may have been Canon’s sharpest lens ever made; but is was definitely their sharpest zoom ever made.  I needed an f2.8 zoom in this range but Canon’s offerings were just good enough.  And I was not spending my money on “good enough”, especially after owning the f4 IS.

When the 70-200 2.8 IS Mark II was released I gave it some time to read the reviews, both from review sites, and users who actually field tested it.  After all the glowing reviews (I couldn’t find a bad one) I knew it was time to take the leap (a $2,500 one) and pick up the lens I have been waiting for.  I’ll try and be brief with my comments.


Sharpness– This lens is tack sharp throughout the range and at every single f-stop.  Most lenses will be a bit softer at wider apertures (like 2.8) but get sharper once you stop them down a bit (like to f8).  But this lens is sharp even wide open.  And not “sharp enough”.  It’s tack sharp.  Sharp enough to make you giggle even when pixel peeping at 100%.  As sharp as the f4 IS, although some say sharper.

Bokeh– Beautiful and dreamy.  Yeah, I used dreamy.  Go grease lightning.

Colors– Colors are rendered beautifully.  Color rendering is one of those things that cheaper lenses suffer from.  Colors will look flat and need a boost in post production.  Not with this lens.

Contrast– Another place you need to spend money on a lens to get good contrast and this Canon does a great job with it.  I like extra contrast in my shots so most still get a boost in post from me.  But most people will love the contrast right out of the box.

Auto Focus– Lightning fast.  There is no focus hunting at all.  Press the shutter and focus locks in immediately.

Build Quality– Like the majority of Canon L lenses, this is built like a tank.  Pro photographer who put their euipment through the ringer will have nothing to ever worry about.  And if you do?  You have Canon’s excellent support team to lean on.

IS (Image Stabilization) – Canon rates this lens at 5 stops of IS.  That means, with a still subject, whereas at 200mm you would normally have to have a shutter speed at 1/200 in order to prevent motion blur, the IS will allow you to go as slow as 1/5 and not get motion blur.  I haven’t tested it that slow, but I have come close, and avoided motion blur while doing so.  Moving subjects is a different story.  Just turn that IS off when shooting KORN.


Weight– It’s heavy.  This is a tough lens to carry around with you all day.  Know what you are getting yourself in to.  I shoot 3 songs.  That’s about 15 minutes unless I am shooting Phish which may mean about one hour.  But hey, you get used to it.  I’ve carried it around at weddings for 10 hours before.  Just get a proper strap like the Black Rapid RS7.

Price– At just under $2,500, this is one expensive lens.  But it’s worth it.  Maybe not for a casual shooter, but for a pro that relies on his equipment to get the shot they need, you get your money’s worth.


Is this lens for everyone?  Absolutely not.  If you need the range but don’t need the f2.8 you have many other great options, including he 70-200 f4 IS which weighs less that half of this lens, costs half, and gives the same performance without the extra stop.  Anyone who shoots concerts, weddings, or any low light event knows how important that extra stop can be.

But for those searching for an f2.8 lens in the 70-200 range, this lens is simply the best.  And not just the best from Canon.  It’s the best from any camera company.


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2 Responses to “Review: Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L II IS”

  1. admin says:

    I was trying to avoid making it a review based on just concert photography, although I think I covered that in the IS section when discussing still v. moving subjects. But if I have to explain it, then I wasn’t clear enough in my wording.

    But IS is absolutely not the reason to buy this lens. Even with IS off, it is head and shoulders above the Canon 70-200 2.8, NON IS. Image quality blows it away. IS is just a bonus.

  2. You might want to mention that the IS/VR model is pretty much useless in the concert world because the subject is constantly moving. A photographer looking to save a couple bucks would be just as well suited buying the non-IS equivalent or the Nikkor 80–200 for far less money. As long as it’s f/2.8, it’s solid. The only reason to spring for this lens is if you are shooting static of fairly still subjects.

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