Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM Lens Review
The Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM Lens was announced at the same time as the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens, but unlike the f/2.8L III, deemed a “refresh”, the f/4L IS II is a very significantly upgraded lens. I have owned and loved the original version of this lens since it was first released and knowing that a favorite lens has been significantly upgraded is of course exciting.
Why is this lens so special? First, the 70-200mm focal length range is tremendously useful. The great build quality, AF performance, 5-stop image stabilization and impressive image quality are at least as compelling. That all of these features come in a small, lightweight package makes the lens very comfortable to use for even very long periods of time. That a lens with all of these features has a reasonable price wraps up the deal.
Circling back to the upgrade, let’s take a look at what the new version of this lens model brings us.
What are the Differences Between the Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS II Lens and the Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS Lens?
- The II has a vastly-improved image stabilization system that is rated for 5-stops, is significantly quieter (very quiet) and includes mode III
- The II has a reduced minimum focus distance (3.3′ vs 3.9′ / 1m vs. 1.2m) and an improved maximum magnification (0.27x vs. 0.21x)
- The II has optimized Super Spectra Coating for reduced ghosting, significantly-reduced flare and improved contrast
- The II has slightly improved image quality and an improved optical design while retaining the same 20/15 element/group counts and same fluorite and dual UD lens count
- The II has a 9-blade rounded aperture (vs. 8)
- The II has improved weather sealing, matching the other recently introduced L-series lenses
- The II has fluorine coating on the front and rear lens elements, keeping them cleaner and making them much easier to clean.
- The II has Canon’s newer, slightly whiter paint color, matching the other recently-introduced lenses.
- The II is very slightly larger and heavier and has a slightly larger 72mm filter size (vs. 67mm)
- The II 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.
That is a rather solid list of improvements with some individual items alone being upgrade-worthy. So, now you are bracing yourself for the price increase and as-usual, there is one. However, the street price increase is not a big one. The 12-year newer model II seems like a sure-win to me.
Focal Length Range
I have long-owned two 70-200mm lenses and both of these zoom lenses are, individually, among my most-used, despite the fact that I also own other lenses covering significant portions of this focal length range. That this specific focal length range is so incredibly useful is the reason that I so often choose a 70-200mm 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 the same for all 70-200mm lenses and it is very long. I’ll share some of my favorites.
At the top of my favorite uses for a 70-200mm lens list is portrait photography and if you are taking pictures of people, one of these lenses 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.
“Portrait photography” is a broad term that covers a wide variety of potential still and video uses 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, 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.
People are also frequently photographed participating in sporting activities and other action scenarios using this focal length range. 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.
By virtue of the longer focal lengths, the background of 70-200mm images can be strongly-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 far too short for this task. 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. Gulls at the beach, like the one pictured below, are frequently acclimated to people and happy to pose (while waiting for an opportunity to steal your lunch).
Amazing to me was how much sand my waistband scooped into my pants while I was belly-crawling closer to this bird.
When landscape photography is mentioned, many immediately think of wide angle lenses. But, telephoto focal lengths are an extremely important part of a landscape kit. The telephoto focal lengths are excellent for landscape images, especially when there is a distant subject desired to be emphasized, such as a mountain or … the Judge’s Shack:
Here is a 200mm sample image (captured with a different lens) that shows a compressed landscape, emphasizing lines and colors over depth:
Telephoto lenses are also great for sunrise and sunrise/sunset photography. Wide angle lenses need a big, dramatic sunset to fill the frame with color, but telephoto focal lengths can fill the frame with the color available in a just-average sunrise/sunset.
This focal length range is also great for capturing clouds. 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. Bored at the beach? This is a great lens to have with you.
It is so easy to take great telephoto landscape images that it feels (slightly) like cheating.
Of course, any time you can’t get close enough, a telephoto lens will take you the rest of the way to your subject.
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.
The first application I used the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM Lens for was to photograph the … Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM Lens. This lens’ predecessor has been, until now, my most-ever-used studio lens, working especially well for product images and many other general studio applications. The version II lens, with a reduced minimum focus distance, is significantly better for this use. Most of the product images on this site were captured within the 70-200mm range and with two copies of this lens in the studio for testing, I was able to photograph one lens using the other.
This focal length range is ideal for larger products including vehicles (these samples were captured with a different lens).
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 are less ideal for widely-framed portraits and most will prefer the narrower angle of view range for sports and wildlife pursuits.
Most of the product images on this page were captured with the 70-200mm f/4L IS II and the entire set of sample images captured with this lens’ predecessor are directly applicable to this review as well.
The “f/4” in the product name tells us that this lens has a medium-wide maximum aperture opening. That there is no aperture range provided here is an especially positive feature, meaning that this lens has the same max aperture available over the entire focal length range. While f/4 is not impressively wide at 70mm, it is definitely looking much better in comparisons with many other lenses at 200mm.
For a 70-200mm professional-grade lens, the relevant comparable max aperture is f/2.8, a 2x larger opening. The f/2.8 options will stop action and be handholdable in 2x lower light levels and these lenses can create a stronger background blur. If those aspects are important to you, head over to the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens review as that is the model you likely want.
If unsure about the background blur difference, you might find this 70-200mm focal length and aperture comparison helpful.
If f/2.8 is not needed, this lens’ f/4 max aperture has some strong advantages of its own. One is the significantly reduced size and weight and another is the significantly reduced price tag. Especially when I’m photographing landscapes and products, an f/8 max aperture lens would often be adequate and I much prefer the size and weight of the f/4 option over the f/2.8 lens for these purposes.
Especially for motionless subjects, the inclusion of image stabilization is a game-changer for an f/4 telephoto lens. The new IS system in this lens, powered by a new high-performance CPU and rated for a very significant 5-stops of assistance, is quite impressive. To get the same handholdability equivalent in a non-IS lens, it would require an f/0.7 max aperture over its entire zoom range.
In real use with an ultra-high resolution Canon EOS 5Ds R magnifying any motion blur, a very high percentage of 70mm handheld (elbows unsupported) images were sharp at 1/5 second and an impressive 77% of the .4 second images were acceptably sharp for an about-5-stops of assistance for me personally.
Longer focal lengths greater magnify a scene and generally require a faster shutter speed to avoid subject details crossing over pixels on the imaging sensor during the exposure. At 200mm, results at 1/13 second were nearly all sharp and nearly half of the 1/8 second images were acceptably sharp for a solid 5-stops of assistance. Sharp images were obtained at longer shutter speeds, but the sharpness rate trailed off at a moderate pace as exposures lengthened.
The performance of this IS system is significantly better than the IS system found in its predecessor and the difference is immediately visible in the viewfinder. Put the camera to your eye and activate IS (shutter release half-press) to see the viewfinder become very still. There is no bouncing of the scene at startup or shutdown and, usually, no drifting of the scene is seen.
The difference in noise compared to the version I lens is readily apparent to your ears. The II’s IS system makes a mild clunk at startup and shutdown with a faint whir heard while IS is activated. The version I lens has similar sounds, but they are very considerably louder.
The II’s IS system features modes I (normal), II (panning) and, new for this lens model, III, designed for capturing erratic motion without fighting against IS while tracking the subject.
IS greatly aids handheld video recording quality and another image stabilization benefit that should not be overlooked is its aid to AF precision. The camera’s AF system can produce better focus precision if the image it sees is stabilized. Canon contends that this is true even with a subject in motion and when action-stopping shutter speeds are being used.
I have not seen Canon specify whether or not this IS system is tripod-detecting, but it seems to recognize the type of vibrations being experienced and responds accordingly. Thus, I believe it has this feature.
The new IS system in the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM Lens represents a big improvement over an already good system.
One of the reasons the original version of this lens was so loved was the excellent image quality it produced. Check it out here. Even ultra-high resolution 5Ds R test images are very sharp, corner-to-corner over the entire focal length range, at f/4. That the “II” promised improved image quality was exciting.
Here is an MTF chart comparison between these two models:
Canon refers to the thick lines as showing contrast (10 lines/mm) measurements and the thin lines as showing resolution (30 lines/mm) measurements. The solid lines show sagittal (lines radiating from center to the image circle periphery) results while the dashed lines show meridional (lines perpendicular to the sagittal lines) results. The black lines indicate a wide open aperture while the blue lines show results at f/8. The left side of the chart shows center-of-the-image-circle measurement and the right side shows peripheral measurement. The higher the lines, the better the lens performs. When all of the lines get crushed into the top of the chart, the lens promises to be amazing.
Take an already stellar lens and improve it and you get an … even more-stellar lens. While I do see some improvements in the II’s results, real world testing does not show a significant difference between the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II and the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS Lenses. However, the II turns in remarkable image quality results.
Full frame f/4 results from the II are impressively sharp from corner to corner over the entire focal length range. Stopping down the aperture does not improve sharpness and no improvements are needed. Describing the image sharpness of a high-performing lens is simple. That makes my job easier and the results are very fun to look at.
In addition to our standard lab tests, I like to share some real world examples in lens reviews. 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. The first pair was captured at 70mm, the second pair at 115mm and the third at 200mm.
Be sure to evaluate the center of the rather-shallow depth of field (the sharpest area in each crop). It is not hard to find very sharp results here.
At 70mm, stopping down shifts more of the depth of field increase to behind the focused-on subject than to the front, but the subject remains in sharp focus. In the mid focal lengths, the depth of field increase is evenly distributed and at 200mm, a slight amount of rearward focus shift is present again.
The following images are top left corner crops captured and processed identically to the previous results. Again, the first pair was captured at 70mm, the second pair at 115mm and the third at 200mm.
Again, be sure to evaluate the center of the depth of fieldin these images, especially in the 115mm results.
Seen in the above set of corner crops at f/4 is vignetting. When a full frame lens is used on a full frame body with a wide open aperture selected, peripheral shading can be expected and the bigger question is “How much?” At 70mm, that answer is “Not much”, with a sometimes-visible 1 stop of shading in the f/4 corners. By f/5.6, 1/2 as much remains and from f/8 on, a seldom-perceptible .2 stops remains. The mid and longer focal lengths show a bit more shading with about 1.5 stops being seen in the f/4 corners with 200mm f/4 images appearing slightly dark in the periphery. About 1 stop of shading shows in the mid and long f/5.6 corners, about .6 stops remains at f/8 and only about .3 stops of vignetting shows at f/11.
Vignetting can be corrected during post processing with increased noise in the brightened areas being the penalty or vignetting can be simply embraced, using the effect to draw the viewer’s eye to the center of the frame.
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.
While lateral CA is usually easily corrected with software (often in the camera) by radially shifting the colors to coincide, 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 and in the corner crops just-shared, 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 70mm results show this aberration rather strongly, but the midrange focal lengths are well-corrected. By 200mm, the fringing colors reverse and become noticeable again.
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 fringing colors of the specular highlights, with the foreground fringing color differing from the background fringing color, show that these aberrations are present but not strong.
One of the selling points for this lens upgrade was the optimized Super Spectra Coating, designed to reduce ghosting and flare and improve contrast. It seems that most lenses being designed today have sophisticated coatings and often it is difficult to notice a difference being made by these coatings. Not this time.
Our standard flare test involves placing the sun, an extremely bright light source, in the corner of the frame. This test is especially brutal on telephoto lenses and this test was the most likely to show any improvements Canon garnered from the high tech coating being used on this lens. Check out this difference! The version II lens performs exceptionally well in this regard, dramatically better than the version I lens and impressively from a competitive perspective as well.
There are two lens aberrations that are particularly evident when shooting images of stars, mainly because bright points of light against a dark background make them easier to see. Coma occurs when light rays from a point of light spread out from that point instead of being refocused as a point on the sensor. Coma is absent in the center of the frame, gets worse toward the edges/corners and generally appears as a comet-like or triangular tail of light which can be oriented either away from the center of the frame (external coma), or toward the center of the frame (internal coma). Astigmatism is seen as points of light spreading into a line, either meridional (radiating from the center of the image) or sagittal (perpendicular to meridional).
Photographing the night sky with an f/4 telephoto lens not on a tracking mount invites motion blur, but with the north star nearly centered in the frame and relatively short shutter speeds used, the results can be informative. The 70mm results are from near the top-right corner of the frame and the other two results are from the bottom right. Overall, this performance is decent and the 200mm results are quite nice.
This lens has barrel distortion at the wide end that transitions into negligible distortion and on into pincushion distortion at the long end. That description fits nearly all zoom lenses and once again it is the amount that differentiates. At 70mm, the barrel distortion is mild. By 100mm, geometric distortion is very hard to detect. Pincushion distortion is showing by 135mm and by 200mm, it is modest in amount.
Most modern lenses have lens correction profiles available for the popular image processing applications and distortion can be easily removed using these, but distortion correction is destructive at the pixel level and this technique is seldom as good as using a distortion-free lens and focal length combination in the first place. Use this lens around the 100mm mark (or slightly wider) to go distortion-free.
The quality of blur seen in the out of focus portions of an image is referred to as bokeh. Let’s look at some examples from this lens.
The first focal length series shows 100% crops of f/11 images with out of focus specular highlights. Notable is how smooth and round these highlights are rendered. The second series of focal lengths show full images reduced in size. These are also f/11 images, defocused to create a modestly blurred background. The results appear pleasantly smooth.
The “CE” full-size result shows mild cats eye bokeh, a form of mechanical vignetting, in the corners at f/4. Stopping down reduces the entrance pupil size and the mechanical vignetting absolves.
While we all like good bokeh, we are usually much quicker to recognized a strong background blur and this lens, despite not having the widest aperture available, can create a very strong blur thanks to its telephoto focal lengths. Some of the sample images on this page show this attribute.
With an aperture blade count increase (from 8 to 9), distant point light sources showing a star-like effect typically have 18 points instead of 8 due to the odd (vs. even) blade count number. 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. Nine blades times two points each create 18-point star effects. This lens manages to produce 18 extra smaller points.
I don’t know if I like 36 points better than 18, but I definitely like the definition these points are showing.
Overall, the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM Lens produces impressive image quality. This lens will surely produce smiles during image review.
The 70-200mm f/4L IS II gets Canon’s excellent USM (Ultrasonic Motor) AF drive system, this one including a new high performance CPU along with newly developed firmware for higher speed and accuracy. This lens focuses very fast with even mid distance adjustments being made almost instantly. I don’t perceive the II to focus noticeably faster than the version I lens (it too is very fast), but in some comparisons, I noticed that the version I lens sometimes makes tiny adjustments after initially focusing. The version II lens does not make these secondary adjustments, and in those situations, the II is indeed faster to lock focus. Focusing is very quiet with only lens element shuffling being heard.
Focus accuracy is more important to me than speed as an out-of-focus image usually gets immediately deleted. Very few of my 70-200mm f/4L IS II images (out of thousands) took that route. Both One Shot and AI Servo AF mode results have been excellent.
This incoming laughing gull is hitting the air brakes upon sight of my lunch.
A focus limit switch offers the full 3.3′ (1.0m) – ∞ range or a limited 9.8′ (3m) – ∞ range, potentially improving focus acquisition speed with more-distant subject distances.
A focus distance scale, in both ft and m, is provided in a window, enabling focus distance settings to be discerned with a glance.
The ideally-sized and forward-positioned focus ring is smooth with good rotational resistance and no play (an improvement over my version I lens). The 150° of focus ring rotation is ideal for 70mm adjustments even at close distances, but slightly fast for precise 200mm manual focusing even at infinity focus distance.
As is common with 70-200mm lenses and illustrated below, subjects change size a very noticeable amount during big focus distance adjustments.
While non-cinema lenses are generally not parfocal and this attribute can vary between lenses, the lens I am evaluating exhibits parfocal behavior. Re-focusing is not required with focal length change – subjects stay sharp regardless of a focal length adjustment. Check your own lens before relying on that attribute.
I mentioned that I use the version I lens a substantial amount in the studio and when photographing products, I am often somewhat limited by that lens’ minimum focus distance. While going from 47.2″ (1200mm) to 39.4″ (1000mm) may not sound significant, it is a big deal for me. I can make great use of that extra magnification (0.27x vs. 0.21x). While this lens’ close-focus specs are not best-in-class, they are very good and especially good for non-macro lenses in general.
ModelMFDMM Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM Lens33.5″(850mm)0.31x Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens47.2″(1200mm)0.21x 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 Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM Lens47.2″(1200mm)0.21x Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM Lens47.2″(1200mm)0.25x Nikon 70-200mm f/4G AF-S VR Lens39.4″(1000mm)0.27x Sony FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS Lens39.4″(1000mm)0.13x Tamron 70-210mm f/4 Di VC USD Lens37.4″(950mm)0.32x
A subject measuring about 3.5 x 5″ (88.9 x 127mm) will fill a full frame image captured at minimum focus distance. The coneflower in the image shown below measures roughly 4″ (10cm) in diameter and substantially fills the frame at 200mm.
I’m sure that the totally-liquified background blur shown here did not slip past your attention. This lens obviously has that capability.
Extension tubes shift a lens farther from the camera, allowing a lens to focus at a closer distance, though at the expense of long distance focusing. Magnification from telephoto lenses is not greatly increased by the use of extension tubes, though there is still some benefit to using them. Mounting a Canon EF 12mm Extension Tube II behind this lens provides a magnification range of 0.34-0.06x and that range increases to 0.43-0.14x with a Canon EF 25mm Extension Tube II in use.
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. Also nice is that the 70-200 f/4L IS II’s new paint job perfectly matches the version III Extenders.
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/5.6). While the focal length versatility provided by the TC is very nice, magnifying the image by 1.4x can negatively impact image quality, magnifying any aberrations present. In this case, the impact is not huge and especially at f/8, the with-1.4x results are quite 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 utilized 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 very good.
Use the 2x extender to create a 140-400mm IS Lens with 2-stops of max aperture loss. With a 2-stop max aperture reduction, this becomes an f/8 max aperture lens. 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. Keep in mind that not all cameras will autofocus with a lens and extender combination having an f/8 max aperture, though live view AF will generally be supported.
I am usually left unsatisfied with the result produced with 2x extenders in use and the impact is noticeable in this case. Still, those needing the 400mm focal length may occasionally may find this pair acceptable. The 400mm results are slightly improved with a stopped down aperture, but diffraction is already impacting sharpness at f/11. Try f/9.
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 distortion profile. Lateral CA is slightly increased by the 2x. Once again I found this combination to focus quickly with little or no focus hunting in even low light conditions.
Build Quality & Features
L-Series lenses are Canon’s best-available models. In addition to having the best-available optics and optic designs, these lenses are built for the rigors of daily professional use. When there is a red ring around the end of your current-model lens, you know you have the ultimate Canon option in your hands.
Like all of the other 70-200mm lenses currently available, the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM Lens has a fixed size with no extension during focusing or zooming.
This lens has a relatively straight and narrow barrel design that, like its predecessor, is very comfortable to use. The barrel exterior is high quality engineering plastic and metals are used internally for a solid overall feel, again like its predecessor.
Both rings are substantial in size, are smooth in rotation and are nicely damped for a very easy to use combination and the 69° rotation amount is ideal. Like the focus ring, the zoom ring on my version I lens has a tiny amount of play in the gears. That play has also been removed in the new design.
The rear-positioned zoom ring is a huge differentiating feature for Canon’s 70-200mm 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.
In addition to a modernized design, the II gets a whiter white color than the I, matching the other recently-released L-series telephoto lenses. While a white lens might be less stealthy, garnering more attention than a black lens, a white lens remains cooler under a bright sun, reducing the temperature change and any negative issues that such contributes to, including part expansion.
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 better weather-sealed than its predecessor and is built for outdoor professional use in conditions that are not always favorable.
The front and rear elements are fluorine-coated, causing dust and water drops to shed off of the elements (or easily blow off) and making cleaning problematic issues, such as fingerprints, much easier. This coating makes a noticeable difference.
Why do I have two Canon 70-200mm lenses in my kit? While my f/2.8 lens can photographically do almost everything the f/4 version can do (the f/4L IS II lens’ higher-rated IS system and shorter minimum focus distance are the primary differentiators), I can hold the f/4 lens comfortably for a much longer period of time. Less fatigue means better performance. At less than 54% of the f/2.8 lens’ weight, the f/4 difference is very noticeable.
ModelWeightDimensions w/o HoodFilterYear Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM Lens13.2 oz(375g)2.8 x 4.4″(70.0 x 111.2mm)58mm2013 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 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 Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM Lens37.1 oz(1050g)3.5 x 5.6″(89.0 x 143.0mm)67mm2010 Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM Lens25.1 oz(710g)3.1 x 5.7″(80.0 x 145.5mm)67mm2016 Nikon 70-200mm f/4G AF-S VR Lens30.0 oz(850g)3.1 x 7.0″(78.0 x 178.5mm)67mm2012 Sony FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS Lens29.7 oz(840g)3.1 x 6.9″(80.0 x 175.0mm)72mm2014 Tamron 70-210mm f/4 Di VC USD Lens30.3 oz(859g)3.0 x 6.9″(76.0 x 175.3mm)67mm2018
For many more comparisons, review the complete Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM Lens Specifications using the site’s Lens Spec tool.
Following are visual comparisons of some of the above-listed lenses.
Positioned from left to right are the:
Sony FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS Lens Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM Lens Tamron 70-210mm f/4 Di VC USD Lens Nikon 70-200mm f/4G AF-S 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/4L IS II USM Lens to other lenses.
While this lens is much lighter than the f/2.8 options, it is still rather large and heavy to use with the camera mounted directly to a tripod. To achieve the ideal balance when tripod or monopod-mounting this lens, the optional Canon Tripod Mount Ring AII(WII) is required. I’ve had the Canon Tripod Mount Ring A II (W) on my version I lens since it was released. The only change in the tripod product name is the “II” following the “W”, referring to a change in the product color, the whiter white. The “II” tripod ring was not available to me when reviewing the II lens, so I used the Tripod Mount Ring A II (W) on the version II lens and the color difference is minor enough that I’ll not likely upgrade this part. The Tripod Mount Ring A II works well when tightened down and I recommend having the ring, but it is far from meeting the “smooth” definition when being adjusted.
Those using the Arca-Swiss standard clamp system and adding a lens plate to this optional foot should select a model with anti-twist nubs. I opted for the Wimberley P20 Lens Plate.
The Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM Lens has 72mm filter threads, a common size slightly larger than the 67mm filters used by the version I lens.
Canon always includes the lens hood in the box of L-series lenses and this one gets the ET-78B lens hood. This is a relatively large, round-shaped hood that adds significant protection to the front lens element from bright flare-causing lights, scratch-causing impacts and dust and rain. This hood is constructed of rather-rigid plastic with a molded ribbed interior (the typical black flocking is not used in this design). An advantage of a round hood is that a lens with a round hood mounted can often be set down on a flat surface in vertical orientation. While this lens can do that, consideration for its height is important to avoid falls. With a spring-loaded push button holding the bayonet-mount hood in place, installation and removal is very easy.
Canon includes the same drawstring LP1224 soft case that was included with its predecessor. While the bottom of this case is padded, the sides are not.
The side-and-center-pinch lens cap is the current Canon standard (it’s really nice), but the side-pinch-only cap on my 70-200 f/4L IS version I reminds me how nice this upgrade is.
Price and Value
When a high-grade lens receives a substantial upgrade, there is usually a big price increase accompanying it. Not this time. While the II’s price is modestly higher than that of the I, the street prices (sans rebates) are not greatly different. The Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM Lens is not a low-cost lens, but its quality, expected image quality and great versatility make it a very good value at its mid-level price point.
As an “EF” lens, the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM Lens is compatible with all Canon “EOS” cameras (the EOS “M” line requires an adapter). This lens comes with a 1-year limited warranty.
The two reviewed Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM Lenses were online-retail acquired.
Alternatives to the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM Lens
Which Canon telephoto zoom lens should I get? You have numerous options and more than one can likely work great for you. But, let’s compare some of Canon’s best telephoto zoom lenses.
When selecting a 70-200mm telephoto zoom lens, the max aperture needed should be the first selection determination. If you really need an f/2.8 aperture, to stop action in low light and to produce a stronger background blur, the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens is your best option. That lens is due on the streets at any time as I complete this review, but it should have image quality identical to (or slightly better than) the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens.
From an image quality comparison, we see that the two lenses are similarly sharp. Otherwise, the f/2.8 lens has a vignetting advantage through f/5.6. The f/4L IS II has a big flare advantage over the f/2.8L IS II, but the “III” gets the same coatings as the f/4 update and that should negate much of the different.
In the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II vs. 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens specifications comparison, we find the f/4L IS II with a shorter minimum focus distance (39.37 vs. 47.24″ / 1000mm vs. 1200mm) for a higher maximum magnification (0.27x vs. 0.21x). The f/4L IS II has a higher-rated image stabilization system (5 stops vs. 3.5) and it also has an extra aperture blade (9 vs. 8).
The f/4 lens has a huge weight advantage over the approaching-2x-heavier f/2.8 lens and the vast size difference can be seen in the above and below images. If carrying the lens much, the f/4 option will be the most comfortable.
The f/4 lens is also going to be much more comfortable on your wallet, though the f/2.8 lens comes with the tripod ring, offsetting the difference modestly.
If an f/4 lens is what you want, the next best option is this lens’ predecessor, the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM Lens. I gave the primary list of differences at the beginning of the review and will not repeat them here. But, the differences are large relative to the street price difference and I recommend buying the “II”.
Those on a tight budget have another f/4 lens available, this one lacking image stabilization. The Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM Lens is a great value lens, but it is an older model with lower image quality performance (especially in regards to flare). Price is the reason to choose the non-IS lens over one of the IS models, and if your budget is tight and a tripod can be used when light levels drop, the non-IS lens is a good option.
For another f/4 option, we go outside of the Canon brand to the Tamron 70-210mm f/4 Di VC USD Lens. At f/4, the Canon is noticeably sharper than the Tamron, especially at 200mm. The Canon shows less flare, has slightly more geometric distortion and has slightly more vignetting at f/4.
Looking at the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II Lens compared to the Tamron 70-210mm f/4 VC Lens from a specifications perspective, a lot of similarities become apparent. The Canon is slightly lighter, though it has a larger lens hood. The Tamron’s maximum magnification spec represents a minor advantage, 0.32x vs. 0.27x. The Canon has the rear-positioned zoom ring advantage, one I consider significant. I prefer the Canon lens’ AF performance and I prefer the Canon’s IS system, rated for 1 stop of additional assistance (5 vs. 4). The Tamron has a modestly longer focus ring rotation (182° vs. 150°). I’ll let you determine which color you like best, but they are different in this regard. I much prefer the Tamron’s price.
There are many 70-200mm lenses available to Canon kit owners, but there are many additional lenses covering this range and we’ll look at a couple of them.
Closest from a quality and features perspective is the Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM Lens. This lens adds a welcomed 100mm of focal length range but throws in a variable max aperture that narrows to f/4.5 at 104mm and f/5 at 155mm. Also of significance is the extending lens design, enabling it to retract to a smaller length than the 70-200mm f/4 lenses, enabling a better fit into some backpacks.
The Canon 70-200 f/4L IS II vs. 70-300L image quality comparison shows the two lenses performing similarly stellar overall. Most of the significant differences between these two lenses are found in the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II vs. EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM Lens specification comparison. Though it retracts shorter, the 70-300 is wider and extends longer. It is also considerably heavier. The 70-200 has a higher maximum magnification (0.27x vs. 0.21x), a higher-rated IS system (5 vs 4 stops) and uses larger filter threads (72mm vs. 67mm). Even the prices of these lenses is similar.
A step down in overall quality is the consumer-grade Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM Lens. The image quality comparison between these lenses shows the L lens noticeably superior. The L lens has less linear distortion and slightly less peripheral shading.
The Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II vs. 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM Lens comparison highlights a range of differences. Obvious right in the name is the 100mm advantage the black-colored lens has. The 70-300 is slightly lighter and shorter (though noticeably longer when extended), has a variable max aperture that reaches f/5 at only 106mm, has smaller filter threads (67mm vs. 72mm) and has no tripod ring optionally available. The 70-200 is far better-built and includes weather sealing. The 70-200 has Ring USM AF while the 70-300 has Nano USM (focus-by-wire, better for video). The 70-300 is far less expensive, though the hood (and case) is not included.
Need a light, compact, high-quality telephoto zoom lens? Most kits do and telephoto zoom lenses do not get much better than this one. The Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM Lens is one that everyone can find uses for, none will tire of holding, a significant percentage of photographers can afford and I expect all will be extremely happy with the image quality this one produces. This is simply a great little lens.
I purchased this lens for my personal kit. Your kit will also be better with this lens in it!
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