Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM Lens Review
The Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM Lens is the highly-anticipated replacement for the long-discontinued but legendary Canon EF 200mm f/1.8 L USM Lens. This replacement lens was number 1 on my personal most-wanted Canon lens list – And I am in no way disappointed with it. It is an optically, mechanically and physically awesome lens. If you can manage the price and weight, this lens will impress you.
The Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM Lens and Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS USM Lens have been the two Canon lenses that have impressed me the most to date. I use both very frequently. I can count on them to deliver the ultimate shots in the most challenging conditions. And the Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM Lens now joins them in my regard.
As I write this review, I have two 200mm f/2L IS lenses – Both perform very similarly. Both are extremely sharp wide open from the center to the full frame corners. If you look real closely, you might be able to discern a slight sharpness improvement when stopping down, but the vignetting improvement is the more-easily-noticed change. The amount of vignetting is not unusual. There is some shading visible in full-frame body corners at f/2 with an evenly-colored subject (a blue sky for example). Vignetting is essentially gone by f/2.8. You can see the effect in the vignetting test results and also the aperture comparison below.
Color and contrast are very nice. Thanks in part to an 8-blade circular aperture, bokeh (foreground and background blur quality) rates very highly. Flare is well controlled. CA (Chromatic Aberration) and distortion are basically absent.
Basically, this lens delivers image quality at least as good as any other Canon lens I’ve used to date – and better than most. And again, both copies I have are performing similarly.
f/2, 1/1600, ISO 400, uncropped from Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III
The Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM Lens’ Ring USM (Ultrasonic Motor) driven AF is extremely fast and very accurate. AI Servo tracking of in-motion subjects is definitely a strength of this lens. The internal-focusing lens does not extend and does not rotate the front element – which does not matter in regards to filter use as this lens does not accept front-mount filters (even if they could be attached, they would cost a fortune). A fixed-size lens is nicer to use than one that changes size – most fixed focal length lenses do not extend. FTM (Full Time Manual) focusing is enabled.
A 2-position focus limiter switch allows the shortest focusing distance to be limited to 11.5′ (3.5m) to infinity (can reduce AF lock time in certain situations). Full range focusing is of course an option – from 6.2′ (1.9m) to infinity. The 200mm f/2L IS includes a Focus Preset feature. Set the Focus Preset to a specific distance – when your shooting needs require that specific distance, press the Focus Preset button.
Autofocus stop buttons on the black ring near the objective lens allow autofocus to be temporarily suspended. Those not used to this feature may need an example of a situation where it is useful … I often shoot sports in AI Servo AF mode using the center AF point only. At some point, I may want to grab a portrait using the focus and recompose technique – which does not work in AI Servo mode where the camera is constantly finding the correct new focus distance. So, I focus on my subject, press one of the AF Stop buttons, recompose and take the shot. I get my portrait and am immediately ready to go back to the action.
The 200mm f/2L IS is at its release the shortest fixed-focal-length (prime) lens to have Image Stabilization. This IS implementation is rated by Canon for a state-of-the-art up-to-4-stops of improvement – and I find the improvement to be as-rated. After a long day of physical labor (around the house), and after well over 250 shots taken handheld (this is a heavy lens), I could still take sharp handheld shots at 1/5 sec with this lens as demonstrated in the sample comparison below.
The IS benefit is obvious – I love it. The keeper rate has diminished at 1/5 second shutter speeds (5 stops of improvement), but sharp shots can still be captured. Note that Canon later changed the rating of this IS system to 5 stops. The press releases say 4 stops, but later material from Canon, including the owner’s manual, say 5 stops.
When activated, the amount of sound made by IS varies from lens to lens. This one produces a quiet, non-bothersome, whirring sound. Auto tripod-sensing is featured in this IS implementation with Mode 1 and 2 (panning mode) IS switch-selectable.
OFF is another IS mode – one I typically use for sports. IS is one of my most-prized lens features, but I found it to not be helpful for most of my action sports photography. The lens is constantly trying to stabilize the image while I am constantly trying to keep an erratically moving subject in my viewfinder. These two tasks are fighting each other. However, for portraits and other still-camera shots, IS will deliver a much higher percentage of sharp shots in low light situations. Or, it will allow a lower ISO setting to be selected, which also improves image quality. Note: Most people are not motionless enough to be captured sharp at 1/5 of a second.
The f/2 aperture sets this 200mm lens apart – f/2 allows action-stopping shutter speeds in low light and creates a very shallow depth of field. For a couple of aperture comparisons, I employed (cost me $1.00) a very cute young model. In case you couldn’t tell, she acted as her own stylist.
The first set of images are shot in more flattering light, but the second set show the background details better. Drag your mouse from right to left across the aperture labels and watch the background melt away. Manual exposure settings were used with ISO increased 1 stop for each aperture change. The camera used was a Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III.
Canon’s 2008 Super Telephoto lens lineup is shown above. Beautiful, aren’t they? The shortest lens standing on its rear cap in the center is the Canon EF 200mm f/2.0L IS USM Lens. To its left is the Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM Lens. Continuing left, the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS USM Lens is shown resting on its tripod ring. Moving the top-most lens – this is the Canon EF 800mm f/5.6L IS USM Lens. Below it is the Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS USM Lens and the bottom-most lens is the Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS USM Lens.
Here is another look at this beauty …
ModelDimensions w/o HoodWeightMFDMM Canon EF 200mm f/2.8L II USM Lens3.3 x 5.4″(83 x 136mm)1.7 lbs.(765g)4.9′(1.5m).16x Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM Lens5.0 x 8.2″(128 x 208mm)5.6 lbs.(2,520g)6.2′(1.9m).12x Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM Lens5.0 x 9.9″(128 x 252mm)5.6 lbs.(2,550g)8.2′(2.5m).13x Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS USM Lens6.4 x 13.7″(163 x 349mm)11.8 lbs.(5,370g)9.8′(3.0m).15x Canon EF 400mm f/4 DO IS USM Lens5.0 x 9.2″(128 x 233mm)4.3 lbs.(1,940g)11.5′(3.5m).12x Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS USM Lens5.8 x 15.2″(146 x 387mm)8.5 lbs.(3,870g)14.8′(4.5m).12x Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS USM Lens6.6 x 18.0″(168 x 456mm)11.8 lbs.(5,360g)18.0′(5.5m).12x Canon EF 800mm f/5.6L IS USM Lens6.4 x 18.1″(162 x 461mm)9.9 lbs.(4,500g)19.7′(6.0m).14x
MM (Maximum Magnification) is not a strength of any current-at-this-time Canon Super Telephoto lens. And the Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM Lens fits right in – turning in a relatively low MM of .12x. But, .12x is just tight enough for full frame head shot style portraits, so few owners of this lens will find this spec to be a significant limitation. And if they do, extension tubes come to the rescue. MM is extended to .19x and .26x with 12mm and 25mm extension tubes respectively. Of course, infinity focus is lost with ETs in place. MM can also be increased by the use of extenders – 1.4x and 2x extenders increase the MM by their named amounts. Extenders do not prevent infinity focus, but degrade the image a bit more.
All current-at-this-time Canon Super Telephoto lenses are compatible with Canon’s Extenders. And the 200mm f/2L IS performs better with the Canon EF 1.4x II Extender and the Canon EF 2x II Extender than most other compatible Canon lenses. Adding the 1.4x creates a still-impressive 280mm f/2.8 IS lens but the extender adds CA, some barrel distortion and some full-frame body corner softness. Adding the 2x creates a nice 400mm f/4.0 IS lens that easily retains autofocus on all Canon EOS bodies. Results with the 2x show some additional degradation (especially in contrast), but the combination is usable – especially when stopped down a stop or so. Extenders reduce the AF speed somewhat but IS still functions with the extenders installed.
So, take one lens and a pair of extenders and you get three long and fast IS lenses – the equivalent of which would cost significantly more to acquire individually. But, after becoming used to the awesome image quality from the bare 200 f/2 L, it is hard to be completely satisfied with the still decent performance with the extenders. It is usually best to buy the focal length you need the most and use extenders to gain less frequently-needed focal lengths.
While it is the smallest current-at-this-time (just in case a smaller one is released and I forget to update this review) Canon Super Telephoto lens, it weighs the same amount as the Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM Lens. The size and weight of this lens must be considered. It simply takes a lot of glass to create a 200mm f/2 lens and glass is heavy.
While the fast-aperture-with-IS combination lens allows handholding in very low light levels, most of us will get tired when holding a 200mm f/2L IS in a ready position for long periods of time (your back, arms and shoulders may tell you about it for a few days). I like using a monopod such as the Gitzo GM5540 for sports and similar photography situations/events. A strong tripod such as the Gitzo GT3530LSV Carbon Fiber Tripod is another good option. Similarly, a strong tripod head such as the Arca Swiss Z1 Ball Head should be employed. Better yet, mount the body and lens on a Wimberley Sidekick or a full Wimberley Head. The risk for the lens being damaging by flopping over while tripod-mounted is significantly reduced with the gimbal-type mounts. I am using a Wimberley P20 Lens Plate on this lens.
It is large and heavy, but the Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM Lens is also really well built. I don’t see any corners that were cut. Featuring a magnesium alloy lens barrel, this lens is made to take the punishment of full-time professional use.
Like its Super Telephoto siblings, the 200 f/2 is fully weather sealed. The protective front element can be replaced relatively inexpensively should something unfortunate happen and completes the sealing without the additional protective filter required by Canon’s current non-Super Telephoto sealed lenses. Currently, only Canon 1-Series bodies are fully compatible with this sealing.
When purchased from a reputable dealer, the Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM Lens arrives packaged in a very-expensive-to-purchase-separately Canon Lens Case 200 hard lens trunk/case as seen below.
The case measures 12.75 x 8 x 9.5″ (324 x 203 x 241mm) (L, W, H). As the trunk is not sized to accommodate a camera body in addition to the lens, I am carrying my 200 in a Lightware z300 Long Lens Case when I need a body mounted. Many backpacks are easily capable of holding this combo – and many more cases are able to hold the lens alone.
The included lens neck strap (I don’t use them) can be seen coiled below the lens in the case-open view above. Also shown is the included leather-like lens cover/cap. This cover provides an objective-lens-protecting rigid cap inside a lens-hood-covering pouch-shaped cover. It is a bit of a pain to use, but functional.
Lens hoods are included with all Canon L Lenses. The 200 f/2L comes with the ET-120B Lens Hood. The 5.7 x 4.9″ (145 x 125mm) (WxL), 7.2 oz (205g) ET-120B Lens Hood takes the overall 200 f/2 size of the out to 12.4″ (315mm) and weight to 6.2 lbs (2812g) in ready-to-use position. The thumbscrew on the hood adds about .6″ (15mm) to the hood width. One of the two ET-120B hoods I have is very tight – the other is easier to get on/off.
A non-removable tripod ring is also included. It allows smooth rotation of the lens balanced on a tripod or monopod and allows various brackets (including flash brackets) to be mounted. Detents at 90 degree intervals make finding a level position easy.
Like all of Canon’s current Super Telephoto lenses, the 200mm f/2L IS accepts 52mm rear drop-in filters in the included holder. The filter holder comes with clear glass in it – you can see it near the lens mount. The silver buttons squeeze toward each other to release the filter holder. I like that the clear filter helps prevent dust from getting into the rear lens element deep in the lens body. The only filter I personally use in these lenses is the Canon 52mm Drop-in Circular Polarizer Filter.
The Canon EF 200mm f/1.8 USM Lens was long-discontinued (due to lead in the manufacturing process) when the Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM Lens was announced. The 200 f/1.8 was one of the few discontinued lenses that I purchased simply to evaluate for this site – it is legendary. Unfortunately for my credit line, I bought it before the 200 f/2L was announced and sold it before the 200 f/2.0L price was established. So, I don’t have the 200 f/1.8 in front of me for a direct hands-on comparison. I found the 200 f/1.8 to be a sharp lens, but not as sharp as the 200 f/2.0L wide open. The 200mm f/1.8 L has less-advanced focus-by-wire electronic manual focusing and did not yield the AI Servo autofocus hit-rate that the 200 f/2 is delivering for me. The 200 f/1.8 was not as comfortable for me to hold and shoot with (I found it to be front-heavy), and I did not care for the tripod ring location. The 200mm f/2.0L focuses closer (6.2’/1.9m vs. 8.2’/2.5m) and has 4-stop IS. The 200mm f/1.8 has a 1/3-stop wider aperture. Canon no longer services the 200 f/1.8.
Few people are going to buy the Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM Lens to shoot only stopped down. Canon already has a very strong-performing 200mm prime lens in the Canon EF 200mm f/2.8L II USM Lens. Though not as amazing as the 200 f/2, it performs well wide open and even better stopped down. The 200 f/2.8 has some pincushion distortion, is not as crisp in the corners and has more corner CA. However, the 200 f/2.8 is significantly lighter and smaller and costs significantly less. The f/2.0 aperture lets twice as much light in as the f/2.8 can and the smaller lens does not have IS. So in theory, the 200 f/2.0L IS can shoot stationary subjects handheld in as little as 1/32 the amount of light (5 stops of difference) required by the 200 f/2.8.
Prior to the 200mm f/2L IS, the shortest Canon Super Telephoto Lens was the Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM Lens. These two lenses are very similar optically and, aside from length, physically. Both perform amazingly well. The 200’s aperture opens 1 stop wider than the 300’s, giving it a big advantage. However, if you need 300mm, the 300 is the better choice. As I mentioned before, adding a 1.4x extender to the 200 f/2 gives you a 280mm f/2.8 lens, but the 300 f/2.8 is the better performer in this comparison. The 300 f/2.8L shows very, very slight pincushion distortion – the 200 f/2.0L does not.
Indoor sports photographers were one of the groups craving this lens. The Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM Lens is the sharpest Canon lens above 100mm at f/2 and delivers the ultra-high optical and physical performance required for professional indoor sports action. The f/2.0 aperture enables action-stopping shutter speeds in 1/2 as much light as an f/2.8 aperture. Night football, length-of-court basketball, swimming, equestrian/rodeo arena events …
Outdoor action photographers will also find the 200 f/2L extremely useful. The f/2 aperture allows very fast shutter speeds long after sunset, allows lower ISO settings on dark days and delivers a beautifully-blurred background free of distractions. Tennis, motorsports, cycling, track and field, skiing … the list is huge.
Wedding and portrait photographers join the sports shooters in welcoming the 200mm f/2L IS to market. The long focal length compresses facial features and creates a beautiful background blur. The f/2.0 aperture creates a shallow depth of field (further diffusing the background) and again, allows action stopping shutter speeds in low light. I find myself paying more attention to the color and shape of the background objects than to what the objects actually are. Let the lens create a blur out of them. IS allows handheld shooting in extremely low light levels – this is very frequently helpful for people shooting.
Many other groups of photographers will join the aforementioned ones in owning this lens. Dance and stage performances, fashion shows, speaking engagements, event candids or even dad’s little girl running in the back yard … will be captured by the Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM Lens.
If you are not used to using a lens of this size and weight, expect a short learning curve. The shallow DOF (Depth of Field) at f/2 also requires good technique to insure sharply focused subjects at shorter distances. But the image quality far outweighs any of these minor challenges. This is one of those lenses that can set you and your work apart from the competition. The price is harder to swallow.
This site and my family depend on your support. Can you help right now?