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Canon Lens Wars 100mm Primes – Episode 17

By fotosiamo on October 9th 2013

Welcome to Part 1 of the 200mm focal range of the 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.

[full size]

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.

Bokeh Comparison

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.

[bokeh comparo]

But, 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.

[vignette example]

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 dress]

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.

[WCA full size]

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]

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.

[WCA detail]

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 detail]

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 contrast]

[f4 bokeh]

Canon 200mm Prime Lenses Recommendation

The Highly Specialized 200mm Prime Lens

The Canon 200mm f/2 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 300mm prime 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 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 70-200 f/2.8L IS Mark 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

Now, let’s talk about the Canon 200mm f/2.8L. With an $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.


So in the end, I would definitely avoid the 200mm f/2.8L. Save your money, go for one of the 70-200mm f/2.8s.

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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Joe is a fashion and commercial photographer based in Los Angeles, CA. He blends creativity and edge with a strong style of lighting and emotion in his photographs.

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