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Canon 200mm F/2.8L Prime Lens | Oldies But Goodies

By Anthony Thurston on November 11th 2013

Oldies But Goodies is a series where we focus on older lenses that you can pick up on the cheap and still use to capture amazing images. Finding info on older lenses can sometimes be a pain, the purpose behind these posts is to help give you the information you need to help make an informed decision.

Canon EF 200mm F/2.8L USM, An Oldie But A Goodie

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Today on OBG (Oldies But Goodies) we are going to be taking a look at an older piece of Canon L glass that you prime lens shooters out there may want to consider picking up. That lens is the Canon EF 200mm F/2.8L USM, a lens which has been replaced in Canon’s lineup by the newer Canon 200mm F/2.8L II USM.

Real World Performance

I have used this lens in various situations from portraits to college football and I can say that it is a beauty to work with. The constant F/2.8 maximum aperture makes this a great lens for virtually any portrait or sports setting, some have even been known to use this lens for landscapes and wildlife photography.

While using this lens over the weekend with my Canon 6D I found that the autofocus took a little longer to lock on that I am used to with my newer Canon lenses, but the version of this lens that I am using has been *very* well used by the previous owner – so it may just be my copy. I should also note that when I say it took a little longer to lock focus I am talking 100ths of a second, just barely long enough for me to even notice, the AF on this lens should be quick enough for most of you in most situations.

Overall I really enjoyed working with this lens. I was very happy with the images I was able to capture using it and have no real complaints about the performance of this lens other than the slight AF speed issue which I noted above.

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Build Quality

This is an older Canon L series lens, in other words: It is build like a tank. The body of this lens is mostly metal and heavy duty plastic (with exception to the rubber focusing ring) and had a built in “slide out” lens hood. Overall I would say this lens is about as solid as they come in regards to build quality.

This lens is pretty heavy for a prime lens, probably due to the mostly metal construction. But that said it is still tons lighter than any 70-200mm zoom lens you may be considering so that is a benefit.

Optical Quality

This lens suffers from a small bit of CA, but nothing that can not be corrected in Lightroom. So for me that is a non-issue. Other than a slight bit of distortion (which is also easily correctable), as you get with almost any telephoto lens, this lens lives up to is “L” designation.  Check out a few example shots from this weekend below:

Canon EF 200mm F/2.8L ReviewCanon 6D (hand-held), Canon EF 200mm F/2.8 L USM, 1/1000th, F/3.5, ISO 640

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Canon EF 200mm F/2.8L ReviewCanon 6D (hand-held), Canon EF 200mm F/2.8 L USM, 1/1000th, F/3.5, ISO 500

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I was happy with the quality of the images that I was able to produce with this lens. It was sharp enough for my liking, and the few “issues” (CA/Distortion) that cropped up were easily fixed in lightroom. Overall very happy with the image quality from this lens.

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Cost Effectiveness

Now for the important part, the cost effectiveness of this lens, because lets be honest here: The only reason you are considering older lenses is the fact that you cannot afford the latest versions (or at-least not easily). I am happy to report that not only does this lens perform very well, but it is relatively easy on the wallet too.

Used prices on this lens vary, and in fact you may have some trouble finding this lens due to its age, but generally you should be able to grab this for around $400 or $500 in excellent used condition.

To compare, version two of this lens (The Canon 200mm F/2.8L II USM) brand new is around $900, and you can pick them up used for around $700. A brand new Canon 70-200 F/2.8L II IS USM runs in the realm of $2500.

You may be able to find a copy of this lens at your local camera shop (here is my local shop – which currently has one of these available), or if they don’t have one you can always hit up KEH which has a great selection of old glass for sale.

Final Thoughts on the Canon EF 200mm F/2.8L USM

This lens is a great option if you are looking to get some good bang for your buck in the 200mm focal range. It has a great build quality, superb optics, and decent AF performance.

I see this lens as the most attractive to prime lens shooters like myself who do not own or can not afford an expensive 70-200. In my case it fits in perfectly with my current lineup of 50mm, 100mm and 300mm.

As always, when buying old glass over new glass you are going to be compromising on the latest optical features and things like image stabilization. But if you do not need these things, or can live without them, then older glass can in many cases produce results that are just as good and in some cases better than what you get with newer glass (Its not what you use, its how you use it). Only you can make the decision and decide if an older lens like this will work for you, the purpose of this post is just to help you flesh out your options.

Anthony Thurston is a photographer based in the Salem, Oregon area specializing in Boudoir. He recently started a new project, Fiercely Boudoir to help support the growing boudoir community. Find him over on Instagram. You may also connect with him via Email.

11 Comments

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  1. Michael Spence

    The 200mm II is an excellent lens on my 6D as it is sharp with fine colour and contrast and nicely out-of-focus backgrounds if you want them. But I have to shoot at 1/640 for consistently sharp images. I have steady hands and am conscious of my elbows, stance, etc, so be aware that you too may need to keep the speed well up. But with a full frame, particularly outdoors, it’s no problem to increase the ISO to help with speed. I very often wander with this lens and always find something that suits it. It’s a pleasure to shoot with such a good lens, or rather, to view the results. BTW, I’m an unregenerate pixel peeper. To put my comments into context, I own the 135mm, the 24-70f2.8 II, the 24-105 and some other nice lenses. The 200 kills the 24-105. Really, I’ve found that the 24-70 II and the 200 are my kit. It’s taken too much money to come to this point, but as long as you get there.

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  2. norman tesch

    im looking at buying the 200. i want it for landscape since i do multirow panos. i want to get closer to some waterfalls. i dont want to treck into the woods to get close to waterfalls then use wide angle to push it away.

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  3. Pawel

    as far as I know, the only difference between mk1 and mk2 versions is the hood. Other than that, they are identical.

    I’ve been using mk2 version for 2 years or so, no regrets

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  4. Liam Murphy

    Would love to find one of these, but I’m always so skeptical about buying used glass.

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    • Anthony Thurston

      That is a fear many people have. I used to be that way until I realized that I culd get great quality glass for way cheaper than new glass. One thing tough, never buy used glass without

      a.) Being able to test it out on your camera to confirm it works correctly.
      or
      b.) From a reputable website like KEH that has a good return policy.

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  6. Jacob delaRosa

    Lenses like this can make a great deal of sense for certain photographers. Chances are, if you’re a sports or portrait photographer, your 70-200 2.8 whatever is glued to 200mm anyway and you might want to consider if you really need the zoom capability. The closest thing Nikon has to this lens is the 180mm 2.8 which I have used and can attest that it’s still a banger of a lens especially for the price. I’ve seen them go for as low as $450 in ok condition. For my work, however, being stuck at 180mm was a little awkward so I opted for a shorter focal length lens (100mm 2.8 Macro from Tokina). Yes I have my 80-200 but that thing just screams during headshots.

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  7. Carlos Cabezas

    What an amazing lens, totally agree with you, I have the 80-200 2.8L and is old but the picture quality is hard to get with other lens, may be you can review it here,. thanks

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  8. Bryon Black

    How does it compare to the newer mk II in terms of image quality?

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    • Anthony Thurston

      Unfortunately I do not have the newer version II to compare it to. But from what I have heard it is not far off if at all. I am working on getting a version II though, so when and if that happens I will make sure to do a comparison.

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