Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens Review
For most photographers, a high quality 70-200mm f/2.8 image stabilized lens is one of the most important and most frequently used lenses in the kit and Canon’s current version of this lens is always at the top or very close to the top of our most popular lens list. The reasons for this popularity include usefulness, performance and affordability.
For many photographers, the 70-200mm focal length range is second only to a general purpose normal zoom lens in terms of need and usefulness. Canon’s flagship 70-200mm lens is optically impressive and its excellent autofocus performance ensures that the full optical impressiveness is realized. Image stabilization adds to the already-great versatility and, on top of that, a great build quality – including weather sealing – makes this professional-duty lens reliable and fun to use. The relative affordability of this lens, especially compared to longer focal length f/2.8 options, is the reason that many choose this lens and the size and weight difference is similarly compelling.
Canon’s flagship 70-200mm f/2.8L IS Lens has long been one of my most-used lenses and my first choice for a great variety of needs.
When Canon introduces a replacement lens, it has always improved upon its predecessor and that is again the case with this lens. However, the advantages of this lens are not going to be wildly-compelling in convincing version II lens owners to make the upgrade to the version III option. Canon called it a “refresh” and it is just that. Still, it is an excellent and useful lens.
What are the Differences Between the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III Lens and the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II Lens?
- The III has ASC (Air Sphere Coating) in addition to Super Spectra Coating, designed to reduce flare and ghosting.
- The III has fluorine coating on the front and rear lens elements, keeping them cleaner and making them much easier to clean.
- The III has Canon’s newer, whiter paint color, matching the other recently-introduced telephoto lenses.
- The III has minor typographical changes including the words “Image Stabilizer” and “Ultrasonic” printed below the focal length range and next to the focus distance window. The gold “Image Stabilizer” has been removed from the mount area.
I know, at this point you are thinking that I’m missing many items from this list, but … sorry, that’s all that has been delivered. The optical design is the same. The internal build quality is the same. The IS system is the same. The overall lens design is the same.
A same-ness that we can especially appreciate is the price. Rarely has Canon introduced a new lens version without a solid price increase, but this lens, at least without rebates factored in, hit the streets at the same price point.
Fortunately, the “II” is a very impressive performer and the III is, as expected, that as well. As I said, the II has been at or near the top of our most-popular lens list for a very long time and the III, shown to the right of the II below, now takes the baton in that regard.
Focal Length Range
I have long-owned two Canon 70-200mm lenses and both of these zoom lenses are, individually, among my most-used, despite the fact that I also have other lenses covering significant portions of this focal length range. That this focal length range is so incredibly useful is the reason that I so often choose a 70-200 lens for whatever my need is.
What is a 70-200mm lens useful for? The list of uses for a short-mid-telephoto focal length range is incredibly long, but I’ll share some of my favorite uses.
At the top of my favorite uses for a 70-200mm lens list is portrait photography and if you are taking pictures of people, this lens has your name on it. Containing a superset of the classic 85-135mm portrait focal length range, 70-200mm lenses are ideal for capturing pleasing perspectives of people. This lens invites subject framing ranging from full body portraits at 70mm to tight headshots at 200mm and these mid-telephoto focal lengths naturally push the focus distances far enough away to avoid perspective distortion, including large-appearing noses, but not so far that communication with the subject becomes difficult.
A set of focal lengths illustrating portrait use is shown below (captured with a different lens).
The “portrait photography” designation is a broad one that covers a wide variety of potential still and video use at a wide variety of potential venues, including both indoors (home, church, school, etc.) and outdoors (yard, beach, park, parade, playground, etc.). Portrait subjects can range from infants to seniors, from individuals to large groups (if enough working distance is available). Engagements, weddings, parties, events, theater, stage performances including concerts and recitals, speakers, kids’ events, families, small groups, senior adults, graduating seniors, fashion, documentary, lifestyle … all are great uses for the 70-200mm focal lengths. There is often adequate space in even a small studio for portraiture with the angle of view provided by this lens. It is not hard to use this lens exclusively for portrait shoots.
That portrait photography is one of the best revenue-producing photography genres helps justify the acquisition cost of this lens (you cannot buy stock photos of most people) and you likely noticed the paid applications in the just-shared list of portrait uses.
Canon U.S.A’s president and C.O.O, Kazuto “Kevin” Ogawa, introduces the Canon EOS R. I was attending a Canon announcement event and, aside from expecting some new gear to be announced, only vague information was provided about the event. With needs mostly unknown, a lens (or lenses) that would cover a wide range of assignments was needed. The Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM was my chosen lens and it was the perfect choice.
People are also frequently photographed participating in sporting and other action scenarios using this focal length range (the image above was captured with the II). While the 200mm focal length may be modestly too wide for large field sports photography, it works very well for closer action such as that found at track and field meets and on the basketball court. Basketball is typically played indoors and with the f/2.8 aperture (more on this soon), indoor action sports are within this lens’ capabilities.
By virtue of the longer focal lengths and aided strongly by the wide f/2.8 aperture, the background of 70-200mm images can be diffusely-blurred and that attribute is especially great for portraits captured where the background cannot be fully controlled, including at sporting events and performances captured from a seat in the audience.
While portrait photography generally refers to images of people being captured, some of us also refer to certain types of wildlife photos as portraits. These images typically include the animal at least nearly filling the frame and for that task, this focal length range often falls short of the need. Unless the wildlife subject is very large and/or very close, the longest native focal length in this lens (I’ll discuss the teleconverter options later in the review) will usually be found too short for this task (without cropping). If capturing environmental wildlife portraits or captive (zoo) wildlife, this focal length range may be perfect. This is a great focal length range for photographing pets, including dogs and cats.
When landscape photography is mentioned, many immediately think of wide angle lenses. However, telephoto focal lengths are an extremely important part of a landscape kit. Telephoto focal lengths can create excellent landscape images, especially when there is a distant subject to be emphasized, rendered large in the frame, such as a mountain. It is so easy to take great telephoto landscape images that it feels (slightly) like cheating.
Here is a 200mm sample image (again captured with a different lens) showing a compressed landscape, emphasizing lines and colors over depth:
Another great use of telephoto lenses for landscape photography is to focus on closer details, allowing a strong background blur to isolate those within the image. This focal length range is especially great for capturing clouds and sunsets.
Cityscapes are essentially landscape images with cities in them and this focal length range is often a great choice for more-distant city views. Street photography, often done in cities, is another great use for the 70-200mm range.
A 70-200mm lens is my most-used studio lens, working especially well for product images and many other general studio applications. Most of the product images on this site were captured within the 70-200mm range and this range is ideal for larger products including vehicles (this example set was captured with this lens’ predecessor).
Here are a couple of additional 70-200 focal length range examples (all captured with other lenses).
Mount a 70-200mm lens on an APS-C-format camera and the angle of view becomes like that of a 112-320mm lens on a full frame camera. While the narrower angle of view does not greatly change the uses list for this lens, these angles of view make wide-framed portraits less ideal and most will prefer this angle of view range for sports and wildlife pursuits.
The entire set of sample images captured with this lens’ predecessor are directly applicable to this review as well.
This lens has a very wide f/2.8 max aperture and that this fixed max aperture is available over the entire focal length range is a huge asset. What are the advantages of a wide aperture? More light reaches the imaging sensor, allowing action (both subject and camera) to be stopped in lower light levels via a faster shutter speed and/or a lower, less-noisy ISO setting to be used. In addition, a wide aperture permits a shallower, better-subject-isolating depth of field to be created.
While those photographing landscapes with this lens may not find the wide f/2.8 aperture mandatory (and those hiking to remote landscape destinations may not appreciate the weight that accompanies an f/2.8 lens), those capturing portraits or photographing low light events, including sporting events, will definitely appreciate the faster shutter speeds and/or lower ISO settings made possible by the additional light reaching their imaging sensors. F/2.8 is the widest aperture available in a 70-200mm zoom lens and, even with the improvements we’ve seen in DSLR cameras’ high ISO performance, f/2.8 remains the narrowest aperture I want to use when photographing many indoor activities. In addition to stopping action in low light, the wide aperture invites handholding the camera in much lower light levels.
I often talk about the compositional advantages of a clean border and one way to achieve such is to blur whatever is in this location into oblivion. This lens has that feature. Zoom to 200mm, open the aperture wide to f/2.8, move in close to your subject and watch even a very busy and distracting background melt away.
This is the specific aperture required to enable the higher precision AF capabilities (most often the center AF point) in some cameras, further aiding in ideal image quality. An additional f/2.8 advantage is the bright viewfinder image it makes available.
What are the disadvantages of a wide aperture? Increased size and weight accompany this attribute. The other wide aperture disadvantage one can count on is increased price over similar focal length range lenses with narrower apertures. From my perspective, the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages for most uses.
Here is a link to a complete 70-200mm focal length and aperture comparison.
The above image illustrates this lens’ ability to create a strong background blur at 200mm f/2.8.
Image stabilization has now been available in camera lenses for a long time, but I still love this feature and I often count on it making a clear improvement in my images. The Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens receives the same IS system as in the version II lens.
Canon rates the EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens’ IS system for 3.5-stops of assistance and that rating of course carries over to the III. I did not re-test the IS system in the III, but testing with the version II lens showed that I need a shutter speed of 1/80 to get a high percentage of sharp 70mm images when using the Canon EOS 5D Mark III. Turn on IS and my shutter speed requirement dropped to about 1/4 second which is slightly better than 4 stops of help. At 200mm, my shutter speed requirements were 1/160-1/200 without IS and 1/15-1/20 with IS, for between 3 and 4 stops of help.
My test results for this lens did not show a hard floor to the acceptable handheld-with-IS shutter speed but there is a definite diminishing rate of sharp images as the shutter speed lengthens beyond the just-reported speeds. I could achieve good 200mm results at 1/6 second but the sharpness rate was only about 10% in those attempts. Note: few awake people can remain motionless enough for a sharp photo at these shutter speeds, just in case you were thinking about that application.
This IS system makes an audible, slight-drawn-out click upon startup and again at shutdown with a faint whir heard while IS was active (in-camera audio recording will pick up these sounds). The image in the viewfinder does not jump at startup and shows very little drifting. That the scene in the viewfinder becomes motionless is highly desirable for composing an image and the camera’s AF system has better precision when seeing a stabilized image. Canon contends that this is true even with a subject that is in motion and at action-stopping shutter speeds.
This IS system is tripod-sensing. IS modes I (normal) and II (panning) are provided.
As usual and perhaps more than usual with this particular lens, image stabilization greatly increases the versatility of the lens.
As mentioned, Canon has informed us that the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens has the same optical design as the II. That made predicting the III’s image quality easy, especially since I’ve used the prior version of the lens for over 8 years by this time.
When I am carrying the extra weight of an f/2.8 lens, I want that lens to deliver sharp images at f/2.8. Otherwise, what’s the point? Perhaps only that an f/2.8 lens can (often) be expected to produce sharper results at f/4 compared to a similar quality f/4 max aperture lens at the same setting.
Is the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens sharp? Yes, quite so. At f/2.8, this lens is very nicely sharp in the center of the frame, especially for a zoom lens, and that description works for the entire focal length range. F/2.8 center of the frame results at the ends of the focal length range are slightly less sharp than throughout the central range of focal lengths, but still quite good.
Even with an ultra-high resolution Canon EOS 5Ds R behind it, this lens shows only very slight sharpness degradation into the mid and periphery areas of the image circle at f/2.8. The 200mm corners look remarkably sharp at 200mm f/2.8.
Stop down to f/4 and sharpness improves slightly with the most noticeable differences seen at 70mm and 200mm. This lens is very impressively sharp at f/4 and razor sharp defines the entire f/5.6 experience with this lens.
In addition to our standard lab tests, I like to share some real world examples. The images below are 100% resolution crops captured in RAW format using a Canon EOS 5Ds R. The images were processed in DPP using the Standard Picture Style with sharpness set to “1”. These examples are from the center of the frame.
Look carefully to identify the center of the plane of sharp focus in these images, especially in the 200mm f/2.8 where depth of field is very shallow. I wasn’t completely satisfied with the 200mm f/2.8 pumpkin image, the closest-focused of the 200mm samples. The other two samples show better performance, especially the longest distance example, the tree trunk.
At 70mm, there is a rearward focus shift at narrower apertures. The subject remains in sharp focus, but the foreground does not gain sharpness until about f/8. The focus shift was less noticeable at 100mm and 200mm with subject remaining nicely centered in the depth of field at 135mm.
Taking this examination to the extreme full frame corners, we find a touch of sharpness at f/2.8 with f/4 results looking very nice.
These are 100% crops from the bottom right corner of EOS 5Ds R frames with pocessing identical to the previous examples. Again, be sure to find the center of the plane of sharp focus.
Mount a full frame lens on a full frame camera and vignetting can be expected at wide apertures and we see that attribute with this lens. But, the amount of vignetting is what matters most and, in that regard, this lens shows a very low amount. At f/2.8, peripheral shading in full frame corners ranges from 1.2 stops at 70mm up to nearly 2 stops at 200mm. These numbers are quite low, but high enough to be sometimes-noticeable.
Stopping down reduces the shading and at f/4 the amount range drops to about .6 at 70mm and around 1 stop over the rest of the range with the 1-stop number often being considered the line between noticeable and un-noticeable shading. The worst-case shading amount (extreme corners) range at f/5.6 is about .4 to .7 stops deep in the corners. These are nothing-to-be-concerned-about numbers and peripheral shading is practically gone at f/8.
The effect of different colors of the spectrum being magnified differently is referred to as lateral (or transverse) CA (Chromatic Aberration). Lateral CA shows as color fringing along lines of strong contrast running tangential (meridional, right angles to radii) with the mid and especially the periphery of the image circle showing the greatest amount as this is where the greatest difference in the magnification of wavelengths exists. Zoom lenses used at their max and min focal length extents typically show the most lateral CA and that is the case with this lens.
While lateral CA is usually easily corrected with software (often in the camera) by radially shifting the colors to coincide, but it is of course better to not have it in the first place. Any color misalignment present can easily be seen in the site’s image quality tool, but let’s also look at a set of worst-case examples, 100% crops from the extreme top left corner of ultra-high resolution 5Ds R frames.
There should be only black and white colors in these images and the additional colors are showing lateral CA. The amount at 70 and 200mm is moderate while the amount at 100mm and 135mm is mild. A relatively common lens aberration is axial (longitudinal, bokeh) CA, which causes non-coinciding focal planes of the various wavelengths of light, or more simply, different colors of light are focused to different depths. Spherical aberration along with spherochromatism, or a change in the amount of spherical aberration with respect to color (looks quite similar to axial chromatic aberration but is hazier) are other common lens aberrations to look for. Axial CA remains at least somewhat persistent when stopping down with the color misalignment effect increasing with defocusing while the spherical aberration color halo shows little size change as the lens is defocused and stopping down one to two stops generally removes this aberration.
In the real world, lens defects do not exist in isolation with spherical aberration and spherochromatism generally found, at least to some degree, along with axial CA. These combine to create a less sharp, hazy-appearing image quality at the widest apertures.
The examples below show 100% crops of f/2.8-captured images with both foreground and background blur. The specular highlight fringing colors being different in the foreground vs. the background and different from the subject color shows that at least some of these defects exist, though not at abnormal levels.
Flare is caused by bright light reflecting off of the surfaces of lens elements, resulting in reduced contrast and interesting artifacts. The shape, intensity, and position of the flare in an image is variable and depends on the position and nature of the light source (or sources) as well as on the selected aperture, shape of the aperture blades and quality of the lens elements and their coatings.
The ASC (Air Sphere Coating) is one of the III’s biggest upgrade features and this coating – working alongside super spectra coating – is designed to suppress reflection of light, creating an ultra-low refractive index. While the “II” version of this lens did not perform abnormally in regards to flare, Canon obviously saw a competitive benefit in this improvement, at least from a marketing perspective. Even with the latest coating technology, a 23 elements in 19 groups telephoto lens design will still exhibit some flare, but the improvement is obvious. Here is the 200mm comparison. The III’s image quality in back-lit situations is improved with greater contrast. If you find yourself shooting outdoors with the sun in the frame or indoors with bright lights in the frame, the version III lens is going to perform noticeably better.
Flare effects can be embraced, avoided or removed, although attempts at the latter are not always successful. If not embraced, flare effects can be destructive to image quality and, as suggested, they can sometimes be extremely difficult to remove in post processing.
Most zoom lenses have barrel distortion at the wide end that transitions into negligible distortion and on into pincushion distortion at the long end. This lens fits that description. The amount of barrel distortion at 70mm is slight and at or just before 100mm, linear distortion is neutralized. The pincushion distortion at 135mm is slight and it is only slightly stronger at 200mm for an overall very good performance.
Most modern lenses have lens correction profiles available for the popular image processing software and distortion can be easily removed using these, but distortion correction is destructive at the pixel level and this technique is not as good as using a distortion-free lens and focal length combination in the first place.
It is easy to see how strongly a lens can blur the background (and foreground), but a look at the quality of that blur, referred to as bokeh, is worthwhile. In this case, I think you are going to like what you see.
The f/11 example shows out of focus specular highlights in the background. While stopping down to f/11 imparts some aperture blade shape to the circles and the normal concentric rings are seen, these shapes are rendered very smoothly. The “Full” images are uncropped but downsized for easy viewing and these again look nice.
At f/2.8, mild cats eye bokeh, a form of mechanical vignetting, can be seen in the corners. This is an uncropped 200mm example.
With an even aperture blade count, distant point light sources captured with a narrow aperture and showing a star-like effect will have an aperture-blade-count-matching 8 points. The points on these stars are coming from the blades of the aperture. Each blade is responsible, via diffraction, for creating two points of the star effect. If the blades are arranged opposite of each other (an even blade count), the points on the stars will equal the blade count as two blades share in creating a single pair of points (the blades of an odd blade count aperture are not opposing and the result is that each blade creates its own two points). While this lens creates nice-sized stars (I like this feature), the flared points shown below are not the most aesthethically pleasing effects I’ve seen.
The Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens’ upgrade features may be minimal, but this lens will still deliver excellent image quality, just like its predecessor did.
The 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III gets Canon’s excellent USM (Ultrasonic Motor) AF drive system which is of course the same AF system as the II. That is a very positive attribute. This lens internally focuses extremely fast and very accurately under even highly-challenging circumstances, ensuring that the full optical quality of this lens can be realized.
The focusing motor is silent, but the lens elements moving fast do make a light clunk sound and a short “shhhh” is heard if performing a long distance adjustment. FTM (Full Time Manual) focusing is supported. Even with the camera powered off, the focusing ring is fully functional, a feature that is becoming more of a notable advantage.
A focus limit switch offers the full 3.94′ (1.2m) – ∞ range or a limited 8.2′ (2.5m) – ∞ range, potentially improving focus acquisition speed with more-distant subject distances.
This lens’ subjects change size a quite-noticeable amount during big focus distance adjustments.
My 70-200 IS III is not completely parfocal, but only the focus distance setting at 70mm varies strongly from the rest of the focal lengths. From a few mm past 70mm, my lens holds a near-ideal focus distance as it is zoomed through 200mm and vice versa.
A focus distance scale, in both ft and m, is provided in a window, enabling focus distance settings to be visible at a glance.
The ideally-size and forward-positioned focus ring is smooth with good rotational resistance, though my lens has a slight amount of gear play. As my fingers recognize the ring movement with lighter resistance not affecting the focus distance, I do not find the play impeding my focusing ability, but it is slightly annoying. The 145° of focus ring rotation is ideal for 70mm adjustments even at close distances, but slightly fast for precise 200mm manual focusing.
With a 47.2″ (1200mm) minimum focus distance, this lens can produce a 0.21x maximum magnification. Those are good specs for a lens in this class, essentially only bested by the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM Lens and the Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens.
I usually provide a single comparison table showing the minimum focus distance (MFD) and maximum magnification (MM) of similar lenses, but there are so many 70-200mm lenses now available that I decided to show two separate charts. The first shows all of Canon’s EF 70-200mm lenses.
ModelMFDMM Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens47.2″(1200mm)0.21x Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens47.2″(1200mm)0.21x Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM Lens55.1″(1400mm)0.17x Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L USM Lens59.1″(1500mm)0.13x Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM Lens39.4″(1000mm)0.27x Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM Lens47.2″(1200mm)0.21x Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM Lens47.2″(1200mm)0.21x
The next chart shows the 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III in comparison with similar other brand lenses.
ModelMFDMM Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens47.2″(1200mm)0.21x Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8E AF-S FL VR Lens43.3″(1100mm)0.21x Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM Lens55.1″(1400mm)0.13x Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens37.8″(960mm)0.25x Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2 Lens37.4″(950mm)0.16x
This lens is not going to replace your macro lens and wide open aperture image quality at minimum focus distance is not stellar at 200mm, but it can still capture nicely-enlarged close subjects. Figure a 6.5 x 4.3″ (165 x 110mm) subject filling the 200mm frame at minimum focus distance. The foreground leaf in the image below measures about 4″ (100mm) (stem not included).
Extension tubes shift a lens farther from the camera, allowing a lens to focus at closer a distance, though at the expense of long distance focusing. Magnification from telephoto lenses is not greatly increased by the use of extension tubes, but there is still some benefit to using them. Mounting a Canon EF 12mm Extension Tube II behind this lens provides a magnification range of 0.28-0.06x and that range increases to 0.36-0.14x with a Canon EF 25mm Extension Tube II in use.
Telephoto maximum magnifications typically increase more strongly when a close-up lens is used and that is the case with this lens. A Canon 500D Closeup Lens threaded onto the end of the lens increases the magnification range to 0.14-0.60x.
This lens is compatible with Canon’s EF 1.4x III and EF 2x III Extenders (teleconverters). Retaining the lens’ native focus distance range, these options also increase magnification along with providing a narrower angle of view that is sometimes even more highly desired.
The addition of a 1.4x extender creates an attractive full frame 98-280mm image stabilized lens with a 1-stop narrower max aperture (f/4). While the focal length versatility provided by the TC is very nice, magnifying the image by 1.4x can negatively impact image quality. Fortunately, the native sharpness of this lens is high enough that the impact is noticeable, but not terrible at f/4 and the f/5.6 results are relatively sharp.
The 1.4x adds some barrel distortion, but that increase is just the right amount to offset the native 200mm pincushion distortion, resulting in a very well-corrected distortion profile at the focal lengths most-typically needed when a 1.4x is needed (the long ones). This extender adds a small amount of lateral CA. With the 1.4x mounted behind this lens, autofocus speed remains good.
Use the 2x extender to create a 140-400mm IS Lens with 2-stops of max aperture loss. Fortunately, even with a 2-stop max aperture reduction, this is still a very-reasonable-for-400mm f/5.6 max aperture lens. I am usually left unsatisfied with the performance of 2x extenders and you are going to find the 400mm f/5.6 image quality degradation noticeable. Still, this combination performs reasonably well in the center of the frame and especially well if stopped down to f/8. The f/8 max aperture is wide enough and still very useful for the wildlife and sports photography that these focal lengths are especially well suited for if the lighting conditions are bright.
With the 2x mounted, barrel distortion is again increased and again that increase is just the right amount to offset the native 200mm pincushion distortion, resulting in a very well-corrected geometric distortion profile. Lateral CA again becomes somewhat more noticeable and especially due to the softer corners, it is more visible than at 280mm (with the 1.4x in use). While the 2x has a slight impact on AF speed, it is relatively mild and I again encountered no focus hunting in even low light conditions. Just remember that autofocus systems need some contrast under the activates AF point(s).
Build Quality & Features
Canon’s L Series lenses are the company’s best-available, professional-grade models. The red ring and the “L” in the moniker indicates this lens’ inclusion in this exclusive group.
Characteristic for 70-200mm lenses is a fixed size and this lens has that nice feature. There is no extension with zooming and as previously mentioned, focusing is also internal.
This lens has a mostly-straight barrel design that is very comfortable to use. The barrel exterior is high quality engineering plastic and metals are used internally for a solid overall feel.
Both rings are substantial in size, smooth in rotation and very easy to use. Like the focus ring, the zoom ring on my lens has a small amount of play in the gears.
The rear-positioned zoom ring is a hugely-differentiating feature for the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens (and Canon’s other 70-200mm zoom lenses). Many competing 70-200 models position the zoom ring toward the front of the lens where it creates an awkward balance during use. On those models, the left hand under the zoom ring is well-forward of the lens’ balance points and that means the right hand must become weight bearing as well. If used on a tripod, the issue is reduced in importance, but if shooting handheld, the rear-positioned zoom ring has a significant value to me.
Though still not pure white, the III gets a whiter white color than the II, matching the other recently-released L-series telephoto lenses. While a white lens might be less stealthy, garnering more attention than a black lens, white remains cooler under a bright sun, reducing the temperature change and any negative issues that such contributes to, including part expansion. I’ll let you decide if white appears more professional.
A low-profile switch panel holds four switches. While the switches are also low-profile, they are sized and contoured ideally for use. Their firm click into position is assuring from both positional and quality standpoints.
While not waterproof (water damage will void the warranty), this lens is weather sealed and built for outdoor professional use in conditions that are not always favorable.
The front and rear elements are fluorine-coated, helping dust and water drops to shed off (or easily blow off) of the front and rear lens elements and makes cleaning other more problematic issues, such as fingerprints, much easier. The fluorine coating makes a noticeable difference that is especially appreciated in the field.
Creating a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens means that the design, including many large-diameter lens elements, is going to be rather large and heavy. Those attributes are of course weighted according to the lenses a photographer is typically using. Sports and wildlife photographers commonly using Canon’s supertelephoto lenses will find this lens small and light while those upgrading from a consumer zoom lens will find any 70-200mm f/2.8 lens large and heavy. Overall, this class of lens is on the upper side of medium in size and weight.
Again, I’ll break this comparison table into two. First, here is the Canon 70-200mm lens comparison chart.
ModelWeightDimensions w/o HoodFilterYear Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens52.2 oz(1480g)3.5 x 7.8″(88.8 x 199.0mm)77mm2018 Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens52.6 oz(1490g)3.5 x 7.8″(88.8 x 199.0mm)77mm2010 Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM Lens51.9 oz(1470g)3.4 x 7.8″(86.0 x 197.0mm)77mm2001 Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L USM Lens46.2 oz(1310g)3.3 x 7.6″(85.0 x 194.0mm)77mm1995 Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM Lens28.2 oz(800g)3.1 x 6.9″(80.0 x 176.0mm)72mm2018 Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM Lens26.8 oz(760g)3.0 x 6.8″(76.0 x 172.0mm)67mm2006 Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM Lens24.9 oz(705g)3.0 x 6.8″(76.0 x 172.0mm)67mm1999
I’m not sure where Canon shaved off 50g on this model from the predecessor, but overall, I see little differentiation between Canon’s 70-200mm f/2.8 models in regards of size and weight. There is a slight weight penalty for the IS feature, but … that feature is worth every ounce/gram of the difference.
Next up is the competing lens comparison chart.
ModelWeightDimensions w/o HoodFilterYear Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens52.6 oz(1490g)3.5 x 7.8″(88.8 x 199.0mm)77mm2018 Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8E AF-S FL VR Lens50.5 oz(1430g)3.5 x 8.0″(88.5 x 202.5mm)77mm2016 Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens52.2 oz(1480g)3.5 x 7.9″(88.0 x 200.0mm)77mm2016 Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM Lens50.5 oz(1430g)3.4 x 7.8″(86.4 x 197.6mm)77mm2011 Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2 Lens52.9 oz(1500g)3.5 x 7.6″(87.9 x 193.0mm)77mm2017
For many more comparisons, review the complete Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens Specifications using the site’s Lens Spec tool.
Again, if you are looking for real differentiators, you are not going to find them in this chart.
Below is a current Canon EF 70-200mm L lens family picture.
Positioned above from left to right are the following lenses:
Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0L USM Lens Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM Lens Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L USM Lens Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens
The same lenses are shown below with their hoods in place.
The smaller size of the f/4 lenses is obvious and the new white color on the latest IS versions is subtly noticeable.
Taking this comparison out of the family:
Positioned above from left to right are the following lenses:
Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2 Lens Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM Lens Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8E AF-S FL VR Lens
The same lenses are shown below with their hoods in place.
Use the site’s product image comparison tool to visually compare the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens to other lenses.
To achieve balance when tripod or monopod-mounting a lens of this weight and length, a tripod ring is required. I’m not saying that you can’t hang a lens such as this one from a camera body mounted directly to a tripod, but I am saying that doing so will not work well from a balance perspective (and your tripod may tip over). The tripod mount ring included in the box is the right balance solution for this lens. This ring is solidly built with little flex when locked down. It is moderately smooth with a bump felt as rotation passes the release point that enables the split-designed ring to be removed over the lens mount.
Those using the Arca-Swiss standard clamp system and adding a lens plate to this foot should select a model with non-twist nubs. My choice was the Wimberley P30 Lens Plate. This plate is longer than necessary, but the length gives me greater balance options which are useful for keeping the weight centered over the tripod head while shooting at strong vertical angles.
Lens design 101 says that 70-200 f/2.8 lenses must have 77mm filter threads (or, so it seems). Filters of this size are somewhat large, but with so many lenses using 77mm filters, effects filter options such as circular polarizer filters can often be shared. Note that if using protection filters, sharing is not as great of an idea. Larger filters cost more, but sharing is cost-reducing and fewer filters means less space is required in the backpack.
Canon always includes the lens hood in the box of L-series lenses and this one gets the ET-87 lens hood. This is a relatively large petal-shaped hood that adds significant protection to the front lens element from bright flare-causing lights, from scratch-causing impacts and from dust and rain. This hood is constructed of rather-rigid plastic with a black flocked interior for maximum reflection avoidance.
Also included in the box is the Canon LZ1326 Lens Case. And, the caps are of course included as well. Canon’s E-77II cap is very nicely designed.
This is a nicely-padded, double-zippered nylon case that permits easy access to the lens. A thin shoulder strap is included and an about-2″ (51mm) belt loop is provided.
Price and Value
I said that one of the downsides of a wide aperture is an increased price and 70-200 f/2.8 lenses are priced at a premium over their f/4 counterparts. This lens is not inexpensive and it is hard to apply the “bargain” label to a lens costing as much as this one. However, the extreme versatility and usefulness of this lens, including its revenue-generating and family memory capturing capabilities, make it a very good value and an extremely highly desired member of most kits.
As an “EF” lens, the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens is compatible with all Canon “EOS” cameras (the EOS “R” and “M” lines require an adapter). This lens comes with a 1-year limited warranty.
The reviewed Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens was online-retail acquired.
Alternatives to the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens
When considering alternatives for the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens, the first question to ask is: “Do I need the f/2.8 aperture?” Those photographing indoor events and low light action will definitely want f/2.8. Those photographing landscapes will not likely require it. Many other scenarios may or may not need f/2.8.
Those not needing the f/2.8 aperture will find the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM Lens the ideal solution. This lens is smaller, lighter and considerably less expensive. It is also a well-built, great performing lens.
Is it worth upgrading from the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens to the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens? That is a question I’m asking myself right now. While the III is certainly the better lens, the upgraded features do not seem overly compelling. Reduced flare can save the day, but that is the primary reason to upgrade. Perhaps your 70-200 has taken plenty of abuse and you would feel more comfortable with a fresh lens in your kit. In that case, the III could be just the excuse you are looking for.
It is a bit difficult to get excited about a new lens that is mostly the same as something I already have. But, as I initially wrote this review, the version II predecessor to the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens was the most popular lens on this site and the second-best-selling lens at B&H (out of 999 lenses). It takes special qualities to obtain those positions and this lens obviously has those and it has some improvements. In particular, the version III lens’ ability to retain better image quality with bright lights in the frame with its improved coatings reducing flaring is going to be significant and my “mostly the same” description goes out the window in those cases.
Why is the demand so high for the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens? The very high number of applications for this lens are a primary reason for its popularity. The build and optical qualities of this lens certainly drive demand. The high-performing AF system coupled with image stabilization definitely help.
Affordability is another sales-driving factor. While this lens is not inexpensive, f/2.8 lenses with longer focal lengths cost far more and that positions this lens as the budget zoom lens option for low light action photography and for creating a strong background blur. This always-needed lens is a big money-maker for a significant number of professional photographers and you will see it being used at the world’s most-followed events. Still, because of its usefulness-to-cost ratio, I very frequently see parents photographing with 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses at locations ranging from local sporting events to indoor stage performances.
When you know which lens you should use, it will quite often be this one. When you are not sure which lens you need, this one will often get the job done. If you do not have the 70-200mm f/2.8 lens hole filled in your Canon kit, or if the 70-200mm f/2.8 lens in your kit is not a high-performer, the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens has your name on it.
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