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Canon 85mm zoom lenses 70-200

Canon 70-200 VS 24-105 VS 28-300 – Lens Wars 85mm Zoom Lens – Episode 10

By Pye Jirsa on January 30th 2014


Welcome to Part 2 of the 85mm focal range of the Canon Lens Wars series. We have 7 lenses in this grouping and in the first part we discussed just the 85mm primes. In part 2 we are going to be covering the Canon zoom lenses that cross the 85mm focal range.

Finally, in Part III, we will again give our 85mm focal range conclusion.

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

Watch the 85mm Canon Zoom Lens Wars Video

Equipment Used in Canon 85mm Comparisons

Canon 85mm Zoom Lenses Tested

Image Quality of Canon 85mm Zoom Lenses at Wide Open Apertures

Again, we are going to start by doing some basic visual comparisons for each lens at their Wide Open Aperture (WOA). The images are viewed full screen on the Dell U2713HM 27″ IPS monitor.

1. Canon 70-200mm 2.8 Lenses

When we did the 70mm focal range zoom lens testing, we ended up with the Canon 70-200 f/2.8L IS Mark II and the 70-200mm f/2.8L without IS as our two favorite lenses because of their overall image quality. In fact, the performance of both lenses are very similar to each other. The major difference between these two lenses is the lack of image stabilization for the 70-200mm f/2.8 mark IS.

Let’s see if the same holds true within the 85mm zoom focal range. As you can see in the two images below, it is very difficult to tell which of the two 70-200 2.8 lens has a better image quality.

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

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

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

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

Next, when I zoom into the image, I immediately notice how much bokeh is created by both lenses. Both zoom lenses are capable of creating smooth, creamy bokeh when shooting wide open at f/2.8. Again, both lenses are very difficult to distinguish from one another visually.

bokeh Canon 70-200mm f2.8 II 70-200mm f2.8

Having a maximum aperture of f/2.8 puts both lenses at an advantage compared to the other lenses in this focal length, which all have a WOA of f/4 or higher. The difference in the amount of bokeh created by the two 70-200 f/2.8 zooms can be seen when we compared them to a zoom lens with a WOA of f/4 like the Canon 24-105mm f/4L, as seen below.

bokeh Canon 70-200 f2.8 II 24-105 f4

Additionally, the two 70-200mm 2.8 zooms do a better job at separating our model from the background, as seen below.

bokeh Canon 70-200mm f2.8 II 24-105mm f4

Overall, it is pretty easy to see that the 70-200mm 2.8 II and the non-stabilized 70-200mm 2.8 are clearly ahead of the rest in terms of aesthetics quality, the amount of bokeh, clarity and sharpness.

Detail Canon 70-200mm f2.8 II 70-200mm f2.8

Detail Canon 70-200mm f2.8 II 70-200mm f4

2. Canon 70-200mm f/4L

Even though the two 70-200mm 2.8 zooms are the frontrunners of the group, the Canon 70-200mm f/4L is not too far behind. In terms of image quality, the 70-200mm f4 still has a lot of the same pop and visual clarity that can be found in the 70-200mm f2.8 lenses.

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

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

And when we examine the detail resolution, we can see that the 70-200mm f4 retains a lot of detail in the dress, as seen below.

Detail Canon 70-200mm f2.8 II 70-200mm f4

Out of all the non-f/2.8 zoom lenses in this roundup, the 70-200mm f4 produces the most and best bokeh. It’s still not as good as the 70-200 2.8 zooms, but it’s not that far off either.

bokeh Canon 70-200mm f2.8 II 70-200mm f4

3. Canon 24-105mm f/4L and Canon 28-300mm f/3.5-4.6L

Finally, when it comes to image quality at wide open aperture, I notice once again that the Canon 24-105mm f/4L and the Canon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6L are at the bottom of my list.

Canon 24-105mm f/4 at f/4

Canon 24-105mm f/4 at f/4

Canon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6L at f/5.0

Canon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6L at f/5.0

When we zoom into the images above, we can see that just like their performance at the 70mm focal length, both the 24-105mm and the 28-300mm appear to be a little soft and lack the visual clarity that we have been seeing in the Canon 70-200mm models. The 24-105 being the worst by far the worst of the bunch as can be seen below.

Detail Canon 24-105mm f4 28-300mm f3.5-5.6

Both the 24-105mm, with a WOA of f/4, and the 28-300mm, with a WOA f/5.0, only render minimal amount of bokeh.

Bokeh Canon 24-105mm f4 28-300mm f3.5-5.6

In addition, while it isn’t distracting or super obvious, I do notice a tiny bit more barrel distortion with the 24-105mm and the 28-300mm.

This is more noticeable when which can be seen when you compare the 28-300mm with the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L image. Particularly when they are overlaid with one another.

Canon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6L at f/5.0

Canon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6L at f/5.0

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

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

Image Quality of Canon Zoom Lenses at 85mm and Widest Common Aperture of f/5.6

Let’s take a look at these lenses at their Widest Common Aperture (WCA) of f/5.6 and see if the gap in image quality has shrunk.

1. The Canon 70-200mm lenses

Once we get f/5.6 with the 70-200mm telephoto lenses, it becomes very difficult to visually differentiate which lens is sharper towards the center of the frame. All 3 lenses are really solid, with perhaps the 70-200mm 2.8L II and standard 70-200mm 2.8 slightly edging out the 70-200mm f4.

Center sharpness Canon 70-200mm f2.8 II 70-200mm f2.8

Center sharpness Canon 70-200mm f2.8 II 70-200mm f4

Another notable difference between the 70-200mm lenses and the rest of the pack is color rendition and contrast. In comparing at full screen, I find myself preferring once again the 70-200mm 2.8 II and the non-stabilized 70-200mm 2.8. Both of those lenses appear to have better contrast and color rendition over the other lenses.

contrast color Canon 70-200mm f2.8 II 24-105mm f4

contrast color Canon 70-200mm f2.8 II 28-300mm f3.5

2. Canon 28-300mm f/3.5-6.5L

In second-to-last place we have the Canon 28-300mm, which is quite visibly better than the 24-105mm, but still not quite as good as the other telephoto lenses at the 85mm focal length.

Dress 28-300mm f3.5 24-105mm f4

Dress 28-300mm f3.5 70-200mm f2.8

3. Canon 24-105mm f/4L

Finally, the Canon 24-105mm f/4 falls into last place when it comes to sharpness. This is very noticeable when we take a look at the model and her dress as seen in the image below. Compared to the image taken with the 70-200mm 2.8L II, the dress detail on the image taken with the Canon 24-105mm f/4 appear soft and has less contrast.

Dress 70-200mm f2.8 II 24-105mm f4

Edge Sharpness at 85mm Focal Length

The difference in sharpness becomes more noticeable as we extend to the edge of the frame. This is where the two 70-200mm 2.8 II telephotos step ahead, with the 70-200mm 2.8L II slightly edging out the 70-200 f/2.8 without IS.

edge sharpness Canon 70-200mm f2.8 II 70-200mm f2.8

The Canon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6L is also quite sharp at the edge of the frame at f/5.6 as well, which is quite impressive.

edge sharpness Canon 70-200mm f2.8 II 28-300mm f3.5

The middle-of-the road performer at the edge was the Canon 70-200mm f/4L, and once again, in last place is clearly the Canon 24-105mm f/4L which is noticeably soft at its edges, even at f/5.6.

edge sharpness Canon 24-105mm f4 70-200mm f4

Lens Recommendation for the Canon 85mm Zoom Lenses

Ok, at the 85mm focal length we ended up with the same conclusions about these lenses that we had earlier when we compared them at 70mm.

The Best Canon Zoom Lens Overall at 85mm

Canon 70-200mm f2.8 II If it is in the budget, then the lens that will give you the best image quality, the most bokeh, the best low light performance including image stabilization is the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L II.

Once again, you do pay the price for quality, and this lens is a $2,499 investment. However, this is a case where we are comfortable with the performance versus the overall price as it does offer substantially more features and functionality than the other lenses in this group.

The Best Alternative Zoom Lens

Canon 70-200mm f2.8 If you can do without the image stabilization, then you should get the $1,449 Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L without image stabilization.

This lens is an excellent alternative that will offer you virtually the same image quality and performance as the 70-200mm 2.8 II at a much lower price point. So between the $1,500 and $2,500 price points, you can get nearly the same image quality. Giving up image stabilization is a little bit of a tough pill to swallow. But for me, that is a far better option than giving up image quality to keep image stabilization.

The Highly Flexible Zoom Lens

Canon 28-300 f3.5-5.6L The $2,689 Canon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6L has been hard to ignore throughout the Canon Lens Wars series simply because of its incredible focal range flexibility, and overall good performance throughout.

It is the most expensive lens of the bunch, but if you were limited or could only have one lens in your kit, this would be the lens I would go for.

Nevertheless, even though the lens is versatile, its performance at each range is good, but not necessarily great.

The Lenses to Avoid

Canon 24-105mm f4 Again, I would skip over the Canon 24-105mm f/4L. Even though it is the least expensive lens of the group at $1,150, it is still not necessarily “cheap.” Spending over a thousand dollars on a lens is quite a bit, especially given that it just doesn’t really do anything better than the other lenses. For the money, you are better off jumping up a few hundred dollars to the 70-200 f/2.8L non-IS at around $1,500.

Unfortunately, the 24-105mm f/4L has not performed that well across all the focal lengths that we’ve covered so far, so its a tough lens to really recommend. I know this stinks because it is a lens many people own simply because it has been a kit lens for quite a while. But, the good news is that by selling this lens, you will be 60-70% of the way to a far better alternative.

Canon 70-200mm f4 Likewise, there isn’t much reason to buy the Canon 24-70mm f/4L IS, unless you really just need the image stabilization. At $1,349, it is close to the price of the non-stabilized 70-200 f/2.8L, which will give you an additional stop of low light performance, more bokeh, and overall better image quality over the 70-200 f/4. But, if you were choosing between the 24-105 and the 70-200 f/4 because you need image stabilization, I can easily say that the 70-200 f/4L IS is a better option and only $200 more expensive.


So to wrap it up, the number one choice among the telephoto zoom lenses at the 85mm focal length is the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L II. If you are on a tighter budget and you are willing to skip image stabilization, you can save yourself $1000 and go for the 70-200mm f/2.8L.

Until then, I hope you enjoyed part 2 of the 85mm focal range in the SLR Lounge Canon Lens Wars series. Be sure to check out part 1 of the 85mm focal length shootout, as well as the rest of the SLR Lounge Canon Lens Wars Series.

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Q&A Discussions

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  1. Derek Grant

    I have to say as an owner of the Canon 70-200 f2.8 L IS II I would not swop this lens for anything (relatively) – the sharpness, speed and versatility is awesome – like others I don’t find the lens too heavy, I leave the collar on and use the foot plate as a handle and it works for me. For all those who think this lens is heavy then consider a Black Rapid strap – you will never go back to hanging a camera around your neck.

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  2. Austin Swenson

    I don’t think there is a better substitute for a good 70-200 f2.8… I hear people talk about the pro lenses being heavy, but I don’t think it’s too bad, it’s not like it’s 10 pounds or something, you just have to get used to holding the lens in your hands to where you support the weight of it more. I got used to it pretty quick anyway.

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  3. 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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  4. Ujwal

    Hi Pye , i am sure that the 24-105 you tested was a dud.This lens was the only reason i stuck with canon.Mine was tack sharp, strong AF and great colours on mkii and apsc cameras as well.

    Staying away from this lens is a terrible advice its a gem in Canon lineup and now sells for about $700 only new!
    No lens is as versatile as well as optically “pro grade” as this one.
    Versatility – no comparision among pro lens
    Reliability- mine has dropped head on into concrete with 40d and only the hood cracked. Prrformed flawlessly for next 2 years until the ribbon gave up
    Optics- sharp, great colour contrast and flare resistant. Good closeup.
    Makes excellent studio, portrait and wedding/ event lens.

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  5. jarek

    I think You have received broken 24-105 f/4. I have this lens and it is xtremely sharp. OK, it is quite dark, but with still at the long end I can have nice bokeh. You can say everything about this lens, but not that it is not sharp. For me it is a “walkaround” lens – light enough to have it always at my camera. I can not imagine going for vacation or a walk without it. For portrait job I use 50’ties 1.2. 70-200 2.8 is usm it is a dream lens – and I CAN effort it. So why I do not have it? – It is F#$$#king heavy!! I tried and definitely if You’re not sport photographer – this thing is just to heavy to carry around. If You are not focused on sports – it is better to invest in 50′ 1.2.

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  6. Luke

    how about “Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS”?

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  7. Al Case

    Are you going to do this for Nikon lenses at some point?

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  8. Disillusioned_Banker

    Thanks for the test, very interesting as always.

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