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Canon 200mm Zooms

Canon 70-200mm vs Zooms at 200mm – Canon Lens Wars Episode 17

By Pye Jirsa on February 12th 2014

Canon 200mm Zooms

Welcome to Part 2 of the 200mm focal range of the Canon Lens Wars series. In part 1 we discussed just the 200mm primes. Here in part 2 we are going to be covering five zoom/telephoto lenses that cross the 200mm focal range.

Finally, in part 3, we will again give our 200mm focal range conclusion.

For those that are new to the 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 Zoom Lens Wars Video

Equipment Used in Canon 200mm Comparisons

Canon 200mm Zoom Lenses Tested

Image Quality Comparison of 200mm Zoom Lenses at Wide Open Aperture

We are going to start with each lens’s Wide Open Aperture (WOA) by doing some basic visual comparisons by viewing the images full screen on my Dell U2713HM 27″ IPS monitor.

Canon 70-200mm f/4L at f/4

Canon 70-200mm f/4L at f/4

Canon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6L at f/5.6

Canon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6L at f/5.6

Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L at f/5.0

Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L at f/5.0

Through the 70mm to 100mm focal lengths, we ended up with the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS Mark II and the 70-200mm f/2.8L without IS as our two favorite lenses for their overall look and image quality. So, we are going to see if everything is still the same at 200mm.

Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L II at f/2.8

Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L II at f/2.8

Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L at f/2.8

Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L at f/2.8

At our 200mm focal length and each lens’ WOA aperture, the 70-200mm f/2.8L Mark II and 70-200mm f/2.8L non-IS stood out once again. Now, our non-IS version of the lens appears to have some sort of light entering the lens which is creating a bit of a flare, but we know from our previous comparisons that in image quality, the 70-200 f/2.8L non-IS version is incredibly similar in terms of image quality to the 70-200 f/2.8L IS II. So, let’s just assume the same here for now.

Bokeh Comparison at Wide Open Aperture

In viewing the images full screen, it was difficult to distinguish the contrast, color, and sharpness. The amount of bokeh shown is probably the most notable difference between each image, with the 70-200s and the 70-200 f/4 displaying the most bokeh out of the group.

WOA bokeh Canon 70-200mm f2.8L II 100-400mm f4.5

WOA bokeh Canon 70-200mm f4L 28-300mm f3.5

Sharpness Comparison at Wide Open Aperture

Sharpness was actually pretty tough to distinguish as well. I could only differentiate sharpness when zoomed in and comparing images side by side. Even then it was still difficult to pick out a clear winner. If anything, the 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L produced softest image of the group.

WOA sharpness Canon 70-200mm f2.8L II 100-400mm f4.5

WOA sharpness 70-200mm f4L 28-300mm f3.5

Most likely, the reason why the lenses are looking more similar at this focal length is due to the lens compression of being at 200mm. At 200mm, we get a little more powerful bokeh in each lens, but still, once again, I end up preferring the Canon 70-200 f/2.8 IS Mark II.

Image Quality Comparison of 200mm Zoom Lenses at Widest Common Aperture

So, let’s step up to our Widest Common Aperture (WOA) of f/5.6. Here, the Canon 70-200 f/2.8 IS Mark II jumps in front of the crowd. In terms of image quality and sharpness, it becomes obvious that at full screen the 70-200mm f/2.8 Mark II seems better than the pack.

Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L II at f/5.6

Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L II at f/5.6

Canon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6L at f/5.6

Canon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6L at f/5.6

Canon 70-200mm f.4L at f/5.6

Canon 70-200mm f.4L at f/5.6

Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L at f/5.6

Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L at f/5.6

This can be verified as we zoom in to look over our model and her dress.

WCA sharpness Canon 70-200mm f2.8L II 100-400mm f4.5

WCA sharpness 70-200mm f4L 28-300mm f3.5

Interestingly, while the 70-200 f/2.8 Mark II had the most bokeh when at Wide Open Aperture, once stopped down to f/5.6 the lens seems to fall into second place just behind the Canon 70-200mm f/4.

WCA bokeh Canon 70-200mm f2.8L II 100-400mm f4.5

WCA bokeh Canon 70-200mm f4L 28-300mm f3.5

Nevertheless, as far as the overall look, contrast, and clarity, the 70-200 f/2.8 Mark II is still my favorite in the pack.

WCA detail Canon 70-200mm f2.8L II 100-400mm f4.5

WCA detail 70-200mm f4L 28-300mm f3.5

Lens Recommendation

Best Overall Canon Zoom Lens at the 200mm Focal Length

Canon 70-200mm f2.8 II So, at 200mm, we still end up with the same conclusion as the other zoom lens shootouts. The Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS Mark II is going to give you the best image quality, aesthetics and low light performance with its fixed 2.8 aperture across its focal range and image stabilization.

All of this performance does cost a pretty penny, and the 70-200mm f/2.8L IS Mark II will set you back $2,499.

The Best Canon Zoom Alternative to the 70-200mm f/2.8L Mark II Lens

Canon 70-200mm f2.8L Now with the 70-200mm f/2.8L IS Mark II we realize that its price tag may not fit into everybody’s budget. Luckily, you can get the majority of the image performance of the 70-200 f/2.8 Mark II with image stabilization with the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L without image stabilization for only $1,449.

This non-stabilized f/2.8 lens matches the sharpness, bokeh quality, color, and contrast of the more expensive 70-200mm f/2.8L II with image stabilization.
So if image stabilization is not as big of a concern, then this lens is your best value.

The Two Versatile, But Compromised Lenses

Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L The $1,699 Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L and the $2,689 Canon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6L zoom lenses are relatively adequate in sharpness and performance, and also have image stabilization. But with a maximum wide open aperture at 200mm of f/5 and f/5.6 respectively they are stuck with having 1.5 to 2 stops less light than the f/2.8 fixed lenses.

In addition, at the other focal lengths, they are also just middle of the road performers in terms of bokeh aesthetics, sharpness, and so forth.

Canon 28-300mm f3.5-5.6L Still, if I needed the ultimate flexibility in focal length, I would chose the 28-300mm over the 100-400mm since its overall focal range is more useful to more people than the 100-400mm’s focal range.

Of course, one thing to note is that the Canon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6L is the most expensive zoom lens we have here at $2,689. Versatility does not come cheap.

The 70-200mm Zoom Lens That We Can’t Really Recommend

Canon 70-200mm f4L The only lens here I would avoid is the $1,349 Canon 70-200mm f/4L. In truth, its image performance is actually pretty solid.

But for the money and compared to the other lenses in this shootout, you are better off in terms of image quality and low light performance with the $1,499 Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L without image stabilization.

Only if you absolutely must have image stabilization at the 70-200 focal length, and you can’t step into the 70-200mm f/2.8L IS Mark II that would I say that it is worth getting the 70-200mm f/4L.

Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed the 200mm zoom/telephoto lens focal range in the Canon Lens Wars series. Be sure to check out part 1 of the 200mm focal length shootout, as well as the rest of the SLR Lounge Canon Lens Wars Series.

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About

Founding Partner of Lin and Jirsa Photography and SLR Lounge.

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Q&A Discussions

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  1. Hoya Eagle

    Nice article. Very helpful Thank you.

    Curious where the version 1 of the 70-200 f/2.8 IS would fit in here? Better than the non IS but below version II of the IS?

    I just picked up a used version 1 of the 70-200 f/2.8, and It is indeed soft wide open at 2.8 but sharpens up after that at various zoom lengths according to my test shots this weekend on both the 6D and the 70D.

    Would you prefer the non-IS for another $250?

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  2. Marius Pavel

    I just bought Canon 70-200 f2.8 L IS II – and it’s exactly like all people say, a superb lens + tank build + super sharp. Great review! Thanks – i read the Canon lens wars series before i bought it – great help! Thanks again!

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  3. Kurk Rouse

    Nikon lens wars please

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  4. Thomas

    Awesome comparison!

    I think it is important to point out that everyone has to apply your conclusions to the local prices for these lenses.

    If I convert the prices for new 70-200 L lenses here in Germany at the moment the 70-200/4.0 without IS has (!) to be considered, but the decision between 2.8 and 4.0 IS becomes even easier:

    70-200/4.0 = ~760 USD
    70-200/4.0 IS = ~1440 USD (vs 1349 USD)
    70-200/2.8 = ~1510 USD (vs 1499 USD)
    70-200/2.8 IS = ~2800 USD (vs 2499 USD)

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  5. Dana

    So, help me know if I need image stabilization or not. I’m looking for a lens to shoot youth soccer. I need longer focal lengths, often all the way to 200mm. At 200 mm, if I’m shooting at shutter speeds of 1/500 sec or faster, is IS important?

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