Lens Review: Canon 70-200mm f/4.0 L

This is one honkin' lens!

My CFO recently gave me the go-ahead to purchase some new lenses for my camera, so I purchased two: a Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 and a Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0L USM.  Both lenses are the highest quality that I have ever owned.  I’ve been using the Canon 70-200 for about two weeks and I’m very impressed so far.

The 70-200mm is an “L Series” lens, which is Canon’s designation for its professional grade lens line. So what’s so great about it? First off, L series lenses include Canon’s highest quality glass, meaning that they produce photos with exceptional contrast, sharpness, and color.  L series lenses generally have a constant aperture throughout the zoom range to improve low-light performance.  They feature both a metal lens mount and metal body as well.  This makes them extremely durable.  In the case of my 70-200, the front element of the lens doesn’t rotate when focusing (good when using a polarizing filter that is sensitive to rotation) and in fact the lens itself doesn’t even extend when zooming.  All L series lenses include an ultrasonic focusing motor (USM) that provides fast, quiet autofocus.  And as with many other L series lenses, the 70-200 is an off-white cream color that catches attention when attached to a black SLR body.

Build Quality

The lens is very well-built but not too heavy, despite its metal body.  It doesn’t dramatically offset the balance of my camera so I can still shoot one handed if I want to.  Physically, this is one long lens, coming in at about 10 inches with its lens hood attached.  Due to its length and color, it definitely attracts attention.  Whether that is a good thing depends on if you think it makes you look more professional or if you think it makes your camera more desirable to thieves:) Overall build quality is stellar, the lens is pretty well balanced, and light for having metal construction.

Focusing

Autofocus is fast and quiet and even allows manual adjustment without switching to manual mode (a useful feature of all USM lenses).  The only negative of the lens from a focus standpoint is the minimum focus distance of 1.2 meters.  That’s about 4 feet, which can make it a bit difficult to get a shot in a confined space.  When I first started using it in my house, I thought that the autofocus was broken because I wasn’t aware of the long focusing distance.

Image Quality

Color, sharpness, and contrast are far better than any of my other lenses and my photos already look more professional.  The lens is pretty sharp at f/4 as long as the shutter speed is fast.  Stopping it down to f/5.6 makes things really sharp. Images do not exhibit much flare, even when zoomed to 200mm (a refreshing change from my Sigma 18-200mm).  Color and contrast look very nice.  I’ve taken several photos of trees with it and the lens captures the details of the bark well.  Bokeh is good. Out-of-focus areas are smoothly blurred and look pleasing to the eye.  I’m sure it’s not as smooth as Canon’s top tier L lenses, but it’s much better than anything else I’ve had.

Overall Value

From a price perspective, the Canon 70-200mm f/4.0 L is a bargain.  Canon makes four, yes four, different versions of its 70-200mm L lens that range anywhere from $700 – $2500 dollars.  The f/4.0 model is a bargain because it provides the same image quality as the other lenses in the lineup but costs the least.  The other lenses are an f/4.0 with Image Stabilization ($1500), and f/2.8 ($1300), and the all mighty f/2.8 with Image Stabilization ($2500).  In fact, the 70-200mm f/4.0 is one of the least expensive L series lenses available period.  Other than image stabilization, one stop less light sensitivity, and much lower weight, the 70-200 f/4.0 L is a great pro-grade lens at a great price.

Verdict

The whole reason that I bought this lens was because I was dissatisfied with the quality of photos I took with my Sigma 18-200mm.  I wasn’t intending on purchasing an L series lens until I found out that this one was only $700. That’s not saying it’s a cheap lens by any means, but it carries a very competitive price for such a high quality lens.  If you are considering upgrading from your kit lens (most likely an EF-S 55-250mm IS), consider this lens.  What you miss in image stabilization you will gain tenfold in image quality.  This is a fantastic lens.

Sample Shots

Below are sample photos that I’ve taken with this lens over the past few weeks.  The subjects include flowers, animals, landscapes, plants, trees, and people both indoors and outdoors.

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