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Canon 200mm Primes Thumbnail

Canon Lens Wars 200mm Primes – Episode 16

By Pye Jirsa on February 11th 2014

Canon 200mm Primes Thumbnail

Welcome to Part 1 of the 200mm focal range of the SLR Lounge Canon Lens Wars series. We have 7 lenses in this grouping, so in this first part, we will be discussing just the two 200mm Canon primes:

In part 2, we will be comparing the zooms/telephoto lenses that can match the 200mm focal length, and finally in part 3, we will compare the zooms/telephotos to the primes.

For those that are new to the SLR Lounge Canon Lens Wars series, be sure to check out the teaser video where we introduce the series and our testing methodology as well as all the other videos on each focal length.

Watch the 200mm Canon Prime Lens Wars Video

Equipment Used in Canon 200mm Comparisons

Canon 200mm Prime Lenses Tested

Image Quality for Canon 200mm Prime Lenses at Wide Open Aperture

Let’s start from the top with their aesthetic look and sharpness at their respective Wide Open Apertures (WOA). Once again, this is a visual test of differences, not a technical test. So, we are trying to distinguish differences in appearance while viewing images full screen on a Dell U2713HM 27″ IPS monitor.

Canon 200mm f/2L at f/2.0

Canon 200mm f/2L at f/2.0

Canon 200mm f/2.8 at f/2.8

Canon 200mm f/2.8 at f/2.8

Now, I don’t know how fair of a comparison this is because the Canon 200mm f/2.8L Mark II is a $800 lens, and beastly Canon 200mm f/2L is a $6000 dollar lens. But, to heck with fair, let’s go ahead and compare anyway.

Visually, it is quite easy to identify the Canon 200mm f/2L with a WOA of f/2 compared to the f/2.8 of the standard 200mm prime, there is simply so much creamy bokeh to go around. The way that the 200mm f/2L compresses images at its telephoto focal length combined with a wide open aperture of f/2 creates a look that is completely amazing.

WOA bokeh Canon 200mm f2 200mm f2.8

In addition to the additional bokeh-liciousness, the 200mm f/2 also has noticeably more lens vignetting when wide open than when compared to the standard 200mm f/2.8. But, again in many situations that kind of plays into the look and appeal of the image, and if undesired, it is easily corrected.

WOA vignette Canon 200mm f2 200mm f2.8

Sharpness Comparison

It should come to no surprise that the 200mm f/2 is much sharper than the 200mm f/2.8. Of course, at 7x the cost, it should be more sharp, and it is! This is particularly noticeable when you zoom into the area of our model and her dress. Color rendition and contrast is also better on the f/2 as well.

WOA detail Canon 200mm f2 200mm f2

Image Quality for Canon 100mm Prime Lenses at Widest Common Aperture

Let’s go ahead and move up to their WCA of f/2.8 and see if the visual differences still hold up.

Canon 200mm f/2 at f/2.8

Canon 200mm f/2 at f/2.8

Canon 200mm f/2.8 at f/2.8

Canon 200mm f/2.8 at f/2.8

Now while the contrast and color of the Canon 200mm f/2L still are better than the Canon 200mm f/2.8, the differences in the aesthetic quality of the bokeh and image have equalized very quickly. The only thing that is noticeable is that when you zoom into areas of bokeh, you can see on the Canon 200mm f/2 that the bokeh is just a bit softer, smoother and better shaped than the 200mm f/2.8.

WCA bokeh Canon 200mm f2 200mm f2.8

But, again those are differences that are only perceivable when zoomed in. However, the image is still noticeably more sharp on the Canon 200mm f/2.

WOA detail2 Canon 200mm f2 200mm f2.8

Image Quality for Canon 100mm Prime Lenses at f/4 Aperture

At f/4, sharpness equalizes a bit more for both lenses, although for edge-to-edge sharpness is a bit better on the Canon 200mm f/2 than the 200mm f/2.8. But, is it $6,000 dollars better? Not really.

f4 detail2 Canon 200mm f2 200mm f2.8

Contrast and color is still ahead a bit on the Canon 200mm f/2 throughout all of the stops, but visually, in terms of the aesthetic quality of the bokeh, have really equalized beyond f/2.8.

f4 bokeh Canon 200mm f2 200mm f2.8

f4 contrast Canon 200mm f2 200mm f2.8

Canon 200mm Prime Lenses Recommendation

The Highly Specialized 200mm Prime Lens

Canon 200mm f/2L The Canon 200mm f/2L is a very specialized lens made for very specific purposes, and that is primarily to show off. I am totally kidding, but its price, focal length, size, and weight does impose limitations.

The 200mm f/2 is really for those individuals that absolutely need the additional stop of low light performance at the 200mm telephoto focal length.

So, for instance, if you are shooting sports in a stadium at night from the sideline, this or the Canon 300mm f/2.8L II could be great options. But for most people, it just isn’t going to make cents enough to justify the purchase price.

Now, if you what you are looking for is sheer bokeh, then something like the Canon 85mm f/1.2L will give you more bokeh and even better low light performance.

In addition, the 200mm focal length by itself is a bit difficult to use, as it requires a lot of movement and positioning. The Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L II will give you a more versatile focal range to work with, while providing good low light performance as well.

The zoom lens also weighs far less than the gigantic Canon 200mm f/2L.

The 200mm Canon Prime Lens We Can’t Recommend

Canon 200mm f/2.8L Now, let’s talk about the Canon 200mm f/2.8L. With a $819 price tag, this lens is affordable, and it provides excellent image quality and good bokeh as well. But, the problem is why would you get this lens if you already have a Canon 70-200mm f/2.8?

The 200mm f/2.8 prime doesn’t have image stabilization either, and as mentioned above, the 200mm focal length for a prime lens is rather difficult to shoot with because of the lack of focal length flexibility.

If you have a 70-200mm f/2.8 (either the Mark II with IS or the Mark I without IS) you will get the same look and image quality in a much more functional and versatile lens.


In the end, I would definitely avoid the 200mm f/2.8L. Save your money, go for one of the 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom lenses.

When it comes to the Canon 200mm f/2, I also have reservations. At a retail price of $5,699, it really is only going to be for those that absolutely need the extra light at the 200mm focal length. For anyone else, there are more convenient and less expensive lenses that will create more bokeh or give you good telephoto low light performance.

And if you are planning on shooting for more than 5-10 minutes with this lens, you will want to at least use a monopod.

I hope you enjoyed part 1 of the 200mm prime focal range in the SLR Lounge Canon Lens Wars series. Be sure to check out the rest of the SLR Lounge Canon Lens Wars Series.

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Q&A Discussions

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  1. Timothy Nguyen

    The 200mm f2 is a beast lol!

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  2. Rafael Steffen

    It would be great to get some comparison between the 70-200 Canon vs Nikon 70-200 to teste the differences.

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  3. Kurk Rouse

    Great post video and break down but once again i’ll have to echo Nikon lens Wars please

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  4. Andrius

    200mm f2.8 is much lighter as 70-200 f2,8 monsters. With 70-200 most or time i still shoot at 200mm, so only one drawback of 200 F2.8 L is lack of IS.

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  5. Eric

    Your summary on the 200 f/2 IS, particularly bokeh, is a little misleading. It is true that the 85 f/1.2 usually has a smaller DOF than the 200 f/2 with comparable framing, giving the perception of better bokeh for objects just barely out of the focus plane (like the vines pictured here). However if you examine the blur more than a few feet behind the focus plane, you’ll find the 200 f/2 blur is spectacularly stronger and more pleasing than any prime below 200mm. And it does so with far superior sharpness, and less chromatic aberration than the 85L.

    You can evaluate how well a lens truly blurs a background (not near focus objects) by comparing the entrance pupil sizes. The 85L has a large entrance of 71mm. But the 200 f/2 has a huge entrance of 100mm – which gives it the large barrel and blur qualities. So while the 85L will have less of the image in focus, the 200/2 will go from in focus to complete blur much faster, giving a cleaner look in many cases.

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  6. Ito

    Why did you skip over the 135mm f/2.0? That was actually the comparison I was most looking forward to.

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    • Pye

      We skipped over certain focal lengths where there was only 1 differing lens, just because we felt it was already getting repetitive. So 40mm was skipped, 135mm was skipped, tried to stick with the most common focal lengths and lenses. But, next time we may approach it differently and include more.

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  7. Carlos De Armas

    The article is very detailed but the video has to be changed since it is evaluating the 100mm lens comparison.

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