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

The Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM is an EF mount L-Series zoom lens that provides a fast aperture of f/2.8 which does not get smaller when the lens is zoomed (a phenomena that occurs with most zoom lenses). It features highly effective image stabilization, as denoted by the IS designation, and covers what is arguably the most important focal length range for many professional photographers, zooming from perfect portrait to moderate telephoto.

Canon lenses are among the most popular in the world, with manufactured quantities hitting the 130 million lenses mark since the first EF lens was introduced in 1987. L-Series lenses are the best of the best from Canon. Every L-Series lens is marked with the distinctive red ring, the symbol of their select status. L-Series lenses are legendary with professionals and advanced amateurs alike, and many models, like this popular zoom, feature an off-white finish in place of the traditional black. Even casual observers of sporting events must surely notice that white Canon lenses dominate the press area.

The Canon EF 70-200 f/2.8L IS II USM construction incorporates specialized optical materials including one fluorite and five super UD glass elements plus high-precision aspheric lens elements. L lenses have earned the overwhelming support of demanding professional photographers by performing to the highest photographic standards.

Zoom Lenses
Zoom lenses have become the mainstay of professional and ardent amateur photographers’ arsenals. Combining many focal lengths in one device, they offer convenience, portability and efficiency. More important, zoom lenses allow the user to compose each scene precisely and without changing their distance from the subject. With the right zoom lens, a photographer can switch composition from a head shot to a head-and-shoulders shot with a simple twist of the wrist.

Focusing to less than four feet (1.2 meters), the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens delivers a subject reproduction ratio of 1:5. Close-focusing is of significant benefit when photographing people, wildlife and in many other situations. When used on a full-frame camera like a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, the focal length covers the ideal range for portraiture, sports, stage, street, nature, travel and general photography. The fast constant aperture combined with the image stabilization allows full usage indoors, even under dim light. When used with a cropped-frame camera with an APS-C size sensor, a Canon EOS 80D for instance, the focal length becomes the equivalent of 112mm to 320mm due to the 1.6X crop factor. As a 320mm f/2.8, this lens becomes a super-tele that is nothing short of sensational.

Features and Specifications
The all new Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens is a successor model and features improvements in speed, optical quality and overall performance compared to its predecessor. Canon’s hybrid Optical Image Stabilization delivers up to 4-stops of shake control and provides separate settings for normal shooting and for use while panning. The IS feature facilitates low-light photography and is of immeasurable benefit when shooting at telephoto settings, where shake is magnified, but is useful and available throughout the entire zoom range.

Like all Canon L-Series lenses, this popular zoom utilizes environmental seals, better known as dustproof and moisture proof sealing. While no one recommends exposing camera equipment to driving rain, it’s comforting to know that the moisture-resistant seals on the lens barrel provide an extra level of protection when required.

The Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM zoom focuses to less than four feet (1.2 meters), delivering a subject reproduction ratio of 1:5 and allowing for close shots of small creatures like this monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus). ©Jon Sienkiewicz

The optical formula is 23 elements in 19 groups, including fluorite and UD elements. The diaphragm is constructed of eight blades and the opening is truly circular for superior bokeh.  The diagonal Angle of View is 34° to 12° (at 70mm and 200mm). The physical length of this lens does not change during use because it uses an internal focus system. This means that the front of the lens barrel does not extend or rotate when focusing, or at any other time for that matter. This is a huge benefit when using polarizing or graduated ND filters, for example.

Focusing employs Ultra Sonic Motor (USM) technology for high speed and quietness. Also, there is a Focus Range Limiter which can be set to minimize focus-seek when shooting at predictable distances. Note that full-time manual focus is available at any time should the user desire to override the AF.

Physically, the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens measures approximately 3.5 x 7.8 inches (8.9 x 19.8 cm) and weighs about 3.3 pounds (1.5 kg). The compact size and excellent balance provide a comfortable bundle to handhold securely. The tripod mount collar, included with the zoom, allows quick and easy connection to a tripod and also provides an additional surface for gripping. There are four control switches on the lens barrel: Close Focus Limiter selector, AF/MF, Stabilizer On/Off, and Stabilizer Mode. Filter size is 77mm.

Image Stabilization was a major help securing this handheld image of an 8-point buck. As you can see from the cropped portion of the image below, even individual whiskers are sharp and distinct. Taken with the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM lens ©Jon Sienkiewicz

The Extreme Importance of Image Stabilization
Image Stabilization was a major help securing this handheld image of an 8-point buck. As you can see from the cropped portion of the image below, even individual whiskers are sharp and distinct. Taken with the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM lens ©Jon Sienkiewicz

The value of image stabilization cannot be overstated. Because telephoto lenses magnify the subject image, the effect of even the slightest camera movement is likewise magnified. The Image Stabilization incorporated in this 70-200 zoom counteracts up to four stops of shake. Therefore, shooting at 1/60 second is equivalent to shooting four stops higher, i.e., 1/1000 sec. (That is, 1/60 sec with one stop improvement equates to 1/125 sec; with two stops, 1/250 sec, etc., up to four stops which equals 1/1000 sec). Handheld shots at all focal lengths within the 70mm to 200mm zoom range are improved. Coupled with the fast f/2.8 aperture, telephoto shooting indoors in dim light without a tripod becomes a reality.

The Image Stabilization has two settings for normal and panning. Panning, or swinging the lens through an arc to track a moving subject, can confuse stabilization systems which can misperceive the smooth movement. Mode 1 corrects for still images and Mode 2 for the extraneous up and down movement created when panning. By using the Mode 2, shots taken during this operation come out sharp and free of shake disruption.

Cropped portion of the above image. Taken with the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM lens ©Jon Sienkiewicz

Build Quality
Commenting on Canon’s build quality is akin to assessing an eagle’s ability to fly. That is to say, all Canon lenses in general, and Canon L-Series lenses in particular, are built to the highest possible standards. Professionals and ardent amateurs rely on Canon lenses every day for consistent and reliable performance. The solid design, plus the durable environmental seal structure, ensures excellent dustproof and moisture proof performance.

Canon has manufactured more than 130 million interchangeable EF lenses as well as more than 90 million EOS Series cameras, two milestones reached in October of 2017.

Included Accessories
The Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens is supplied with a Canon ET-87 lens hood, Canon LZ1326 lens case, removable tripod mount collar and front and rear caps.

As noted above, the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM is an extraordinarily versatile lens that is highly useful in a wide range of situations from family photos to wildlife. It’s ideal for portraiture for several reasons. It covers the classic portrait focal length range which is generally described as being roughly 80mm to 105mm. Lenses in this range, when used on a full-frame digital or 35mm SLR camera, provide the most flattering perspective. Longer focal lengths tend to flatten features; shorter ones tend to make nearer subjects appear larger. Lately, however, it has been popular for photographers to use longer lenses up to 200mm for head shots. In these instances, the 70-200 zoom still shines.

The large f/2.8 aperture allows photographers to selectively use limited depth-of field and thereby isolate the subject from the background to create a floating, nearly three-dimensional “pop.” This technique is widely used by portrait photographers. Taken with the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM lens. ©Jon Sienkiewicz

The f/2.8 aperture allows portrait photographers to use limited depth-of field and thereby isolate the subject from the background and create a floating, nearly three-dimensional “pop.” Additionally, the eight-blade circular aperture diaphragm produces pleasant bokeh, adding a dreamy softness to out-of-focus areas of the photo. This effect is especially popular with portrait photographers and makes this lens even more desirable for that application.

Operation and Handling
Operation is intuitive and easy, and requires no special learning or technique. As with all lenses, it’s advisable that the photographer’s arms and elbows remain pressed against their body for the steadiest shooting position. Focus is very fast and definite, and the large f/2.8 aperture affords more than adequate light transmission to create a bright viewfinder image from edge to edge. Because the lens does not extend during focus, operation seems even faster. Also, the entire zoom range can be covered with minimal rotation of the zoom ring, so precise composition is a breeze.

The weight (about 3.3 pounds) is flawlessly balanced when attached to a Canon DSLR. The camera bodies used during this test review ranged from an aging 3.1-megapixel D30 to the latest Canon EOS 5D Mark IV.

Real World Performance
The Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM zoom is invigorating to use and in fact energizes photo sessions of all types. The zoom range allows for precise creative composition and the images are consistently top-notch. Aberrations sometimes seen when using inferior lenses—like purple fringing and fuzzy corners—do not appear even under some of the most challenging situations. Photographers can use this lens with confidence that their best efforts are being supported by the best hardware.

See the Difference a New Lens Can Make
Professional photographers know how vitally important it is to have a fast zoom lens in this range. All forms of photography: news, street, wildlife, commercial, stage—the list is endless—receive an immediate boost from this optic.

And although it may sound like a cliché, the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM zoom opens new doors of possibilities for all photographers of any skill level. Shooting children’s school stage performances are a snap, casual (and orchestrated) portraits are noticeably improved, shots of birds, pets, family, etc., are dramatically enhanced.

The all new Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens is an upgraded successor to the original Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L USM lens. Replacing a zoom that ranked as a worldwide all-time favorite was not an easy task, but Canon managed to do it with grace and style. The new version is better than its predecessor, one of the most highly acclaimed lenses in the Canon EF line, with superior performance, increased speed and improved optical quality.

If you are a professional who already owns the previous version of this lens, you will find that the improvements made to the all-new model are well worth stepping up. If you are an aspiring pro, or an ardent amateur—or even a casual shooter who wants superb quality combined with maximum versatility—the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM zoom lens belongs in your arsenal.