Canon EF 200mm f/2.8L II USM
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September 26, 2011
by Andrew Alexander
The Canon 200mm ƒ/2.8L II USM was introduced by Canon in 1996 as an update to the version I lens. A workhorse in Canon's telephoto lineup, the 200mm lens is unique in Canon's lineup as being the only offering in that prime focal length at ƒ/2.8 that doesn't offer an image stabilized option; if you need image stabilization at 200mm, you'll have to pay significantly more for the 70-200mm ƒ/2.8, or a lot more for the 200mm ƒ/2.
The 200mm ƒ/2.8 was designed for film, so it's at home on both EF and EF-S mounts. On APS-C sensor bodies the lens provides an equivalent field of view of 320mm; on APS-H bodies the equivalent field of view is 260mm. The lens ships with the ET-83BII hood, but does not ship with the tripod mount: this optional accessory costs just shy of $150. The lens itself takes 72mm filters, and is available for around $800.
We'd like to thank LensRentals.com for the use of their lens for testing; it's available for rent from them by following this link.
The 200mm ƒ/2.8 offers exceptional performance for sharpness at ƒ/2.8, on both APS-C and full-frame test bodies (7D and 1Ds Mark III respectively). While it's not tack-sharp wide open, results are still very good indeed; there's slight improvement at ƒ/4, but by ƒ/5.6 it's sharp all over and stays that way through to ƒ/11 where diffraction limiting has begun to set in. By ƒ/16 results are still very good, and good at ƒ/22; fully stopped-down at ƒ/32, the lens produces images which are somewhat soft across the frame.
The lens produces very low chromatic aberration in our testing, showing only in the corners in areas of high contrast (to our eyes, very light magenta fringing).
On APS-C based sensor bodies such as the Canon 7D, corner shading is not an issue. On full-frame bodies such as the 1Ds Mark III, very light corner shading is apparent when the aperture is set wide open to ƒ/2.8; in this case, the extreme corners are 1/3 stop darker than the center of the frame.
Distortion is almost non-existent on cropped-frame sensor bodies; on full-frame bodies it's a little more significant, showing some very slight (+0.3%) barrel distortion in the corners.
With its USM focusing system, the 200mm focuses almost instantly, and makes almost no noise in doing so. Autofocus results can be overridden by just turning the focus ring at any time. The lens is equipped with a focus limiter switch, enabling the focus performance to be improved by limiting the range of distance being focused upon. Focus limiting options are 1.5m to infinity or 3.5m to infinity.
With a magnification ratio of 0.16x and a close-focusing distance of around 5 feet (1.5 meters), this is not a lens you want to turn to for macro work. This magnification can be extended to .23x and .32x with 12mm and 25mm Extension Tubes respectively, and the Canon 500D Close-up lens offers further magnification.
Build Quality and Handling
The 200mm ƒ/2.8L is built with great attention to detail, however, does not feature the dust- and weather-resistant gaskets of newer Canon L-class lenses. It also lacks the telltale white finish of Canon's more expensive glass, opting instead for black. The body mount is metal, while the 72mm filter threads are plastic. The lens offers a recessed and windowed distance scale marked in feet and meters. A depth-of-field reference is provided, but only for ƒ/32, and there is an infrared index mark. There are two command switches: a 2-stage focus limiter switch (1.5m-infinity or 3.5m-infinity), and a Autofocus/Manual Focus selector. The lens is compatible with both the Canon Extender 1.4x and the Canon Extender 2x.
The focusing ring is 1 1/4'' wide, composed of rubber with large ribs. It turns around 120 degrees and is limited on both ends with soft stops: an increase in resistance lets you know you've reached a focus limit. Manual focusing is a very pleasant experience, very smooth, allowing you to easily find your mark.
As one would expect from a lens of this caliber, the front element does not turn during focus operations. The ET-83BII hood is round, attaching with a bayonet mount, which reverses onto the lens for easy storage. The hood's interior is composed of a velvet-style flocking, and when extended the hood will add 2 1/2 inches to the lens' overall length.
The only direct alternative in the 200mm telephoto range for Canon is the $5,500 200mm ƒ/2L IS, so we've included some zoom lenses which reach out to 200mm.
Canon EF 200mm ƒ/2L IS USM ~$5,500
You'll pay a lot for an extra stop of light gathering ability - but in the process you'll also get a list of extra features, and image stabilization to boot. The 200mm ƒ/2 is a legendary lens, and excelled at every test we could throw at it.
Canon EF 70-200mm ƒ/2.8L IS II USM ~$2,400
A staple for almost every pro Canon shooter, the 70-200mm is an extremely versatile lens, but doesn't quite match the optical quality of the dedicated 200mm ƒ/2.8 prime. At 200mm, the prime lens is notably sharper - you'll have to stop the zoom lens down to ƒ/8 to match it - and distortion is much more prominent. While it does come with image stabilization, the price tag is significantly higher.
Sigma 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 EX DG HSM APO ~$800
Sigma's latest version of this lens comes with OS (optical stabilization) technology, but previous versions did not, making it a reasonable comparison (in specs, as well as price). At 200mm, the Sigma is still quite good, though the Canon is significantly sharper at ƒ/2.8. Distortion and corner shading a more pronounced, though chromatic aberration is well controlled, on the Sigma.
Tamron 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 Di LD IF Macro SP AF ~$780
Tamron also produces a non-stabilized 70-200mm zoom lens, at the same price point as the Canon 200mm ƒ/2.8 prime lens. We were impressed with the sharpness of the Tamron, more at the 70-100mm end, but the 200mm end is very good - almost as good as the Canon. Distortion is unsurprisingly a bit worse on the zoom than on the prime.
For its test results alone, the performance and modest price tag of the Canon 200mm ƒ/2.8L II USM make it an excellent addition to any Canon shooter's collection. However, if you want or need image stabilization, it's available only in longer or faster telephoto primes, or the 70-200mm zoom lens, any of which cost significantly more than the 200mm f/2.8L.
The VFA target should give you a good idea of sharpness in the center and corners, as well as some idea of the extent of barrel or pincushion distortion and chromatic aberration, while the Still Life subject may help in judging contrast and color. We shoot both images using the default JPEG settings and manual white balance of our test bodies, so the images should be quite consistent from lens to lens.
As appropriate, we shoot these with both full-frame and sub-frame bodies, at a range of focal lengths, and at both maximum aperture and ƒ/8. For the ''VFA'' target (the viewfinder accuracy target from Imaging Resource), we also provide sample crops from the center and upper-left corner of each shot, so you can quickly get a sense of relative sharpness, without having to download and inspect the full-res images. To avoid space limitations with the layout of our review pages, indexes to the test shots launch in separate windows.
Canon EF 200mm f/2.8L II USM User Reviews
8 out of 10 points and recommended by cutnorth (1 reviews)Very sharp, very quick autofocus, smallish, lightish, great out-of-focus blurA little long for really good handholdability
I shoot with a 6D, own several L lenses, including the very sharp 24-70 f2.8 Mkii, 70-200 f4 IS and the 135 f2.reviewed December 4th, 2014 (purchased for $688)
The 200mm is quite sharp at 2.8, I'd not hesitate to use it here, better at 3.5 and top notch through to f8. If you own the 24-105, you will really notice the step up in sharpness, but will miss the stabilisation.
A heads-up for prospective buyers: got to keep shutter speed up to maintain sharpness. I get some keepers at 1/250 but more at 1/500+. This means that hand-held, you'll be shooting at f2.8 and f3.5 quite often, perhaps at ISO 400 if you want smaller apertures, and probably during the day or in bright light. By the end of the day, you may find the ISO up around 800. When you get the shot, it's good! In a studio, on a tripod, this would be a brilliant portrait lens for shooting at, say, f4.5-5.6.
I bought this lens to travel with, and I think it'll be great for street scenes, but I'm wondering about dimly lit markets and temples in that I'll have to pump up the ISO and, of course, prefer not to. The 135mm f2 is terrific, hand-held, in dim temples but I wanted a little more reach.
9 out of 10 points and recommended by NVO (2 reviews)Uniform, creamy contrast across the frame, tack sharp, AF-friendlySomewhat unbalanced on 5D2 body
Excellent image quality on full frame, across the frame - very uniform. Rich, creamy contrast in darker areas. And yet it's tack sharp - when properly focused. I expected precise focusing to be quite a problem at 200mm, but actually 5Dmk2 autofocuses it more reliably than 85/1.8. After some trial and error, it seems that there's no real benefit in using live view in daytime shots - only at night time.reviewed January 21st, 2012 (purchased for $800)
Long-exposure night shots in the city at F/5.6 and F/8 are great - bright lights have neat 8-ray stars around them, but no disturbing blooming. Very clean transition from light to dark. Wide open bokeh is excellent, - no "onion rings" or colour shift. Cat's eye effect is moderate: peripheral out-of-focus lights are shaped like an American football, with well-rounded corners, otherwise they look the same as in the center of the frame.
Perhaps the only complaint is about physical balance of weights on 5Dmk2 body. The all-metal barrel is quite front-heavy, and yet it's too narrow - hard to support firmly by hand. The problems goes away with attached battery grip and an L-bracket.
10 out of 10 points and recommended by redvsion (4 reviews)IQ, weight, size, handling, price... everything.Jack.
I don't think I've ever seen a bad review for this lens, and there's a good reason for that: it's damn near perfect.reviewed October 1st, 2011 (purchased for $600)
Sure, I can nitpick. There's no IS, but that would add to the size/weight. It's not weather-sealed, but it's one of the cheapest L lenses you can buy. A 135mm f/2 with a 1.4x extender is more versatile, but that combo costs almost twice as much.
Otherwise, what you get is a relatively compact telephoto with superb image quality and if that's what you need, look no further. It's *very* tight on crop (320mm) which is great if you're stuck at a distance (or are just plain lazy), but can be fairly limiting. Personally I preferred the extra reach. Low-light work is exceptional - its size allows for hand-held shutter speeds well below 1/200 without too many misses.
This has been my first - and so far only - L lens. Coming from cheaper gear, I was concerned about the jump in price, and I'm still weary about spending over $1000 on glass. This thing, though? Underpriced. I use it nearly every time I shoot, and I'm impressed with almost every shot.
10 out of 10 points and recommended by MartinM (31 reviews)Sharp, Fast AF, Compact SizeNo IS, no sealing
Very nice addition to my low light prime park. This prime is sharp and fast focussing. Addtionally I can add the Extender 2x II to enhance my daylight reach of my 70-300L to 400 F5.6 without loss of IQ or AF speed.reviewed July 29th, 2011 (purchased for $750)
The only drawback is the lack of IS and weather sealing.
A Mark 3 with the IS and sealing of the 100L would be really cool.
9 out of 10 points and recommended by dannyhorlok (2 reviews)relatively small size + weight, AF speed, build quality, it's black, super sharp, wonderful bokehno IS
i have fallen in love with this lens!!! it really shines in the daylight, and the AF performance is achingly good ...giving me super sharp images. and don't even get me started on the bokeh... creamy and dreamy - non of my other lenses are capable of producing anything like this kind of bokeh. and i soon got used to the fixed 200mm focal length - superb head/shoulder shots were made effortlessly.reviewed September 21st, 2009 (purchased for $745)
indoors, i up the ISO to 1600 whilst shooting at f/2.8 on my 450D, and that seems to do the trick, in terms of stopping the action and eliminating camera shake. another cool thing i've noticed was that people don't notice that i am taking pictures of them, as the lens is relatively small, and also black. as i'm standing quite far away from them, capturing candid moments is easy!
the build quality is very high, and if this lens had IS (without compromising it's other qualities), it would have pretty much zero faults
10 out of 10 points and recommended by climber (11 reviews)Excellent image quality, construction, speed, accuracy, dreamy bokeh, BLACKNONE
I was looking for something special, light and inconspicious. I was looking for a fast lens with the best image quality and bokeh.reviewed April 21st, 2009 (purchased for $700)
Forget about the white L zooms, forget about the IS. Back to the roots.
Have you ever tried a portrait at 200mm at f2.8? The bokeh is sweet and dreamy, simply out of this world.
I use this lens a lot with a 1.4X TC and there is almost no loss of IQ. Canon 200mm f2.8 L is one of the best lenses out there.
10 out of 10 points and recommended by upnorthfar (3 reviews)sharp, lightweight, black-
Excellent sharpness throughout the image. I bought this lens for a special low light wildlife shoot and was supposed to sell it afterwards. I just can't, it's such a sharp and nice lens.reviewed September 24th, 2008 (purchased for $600)
10 out of 10 points and recommended by Badmono (15 reviews)Great IQ - Great Price - Great LensAbsolutely None
A fabulous and underated lens well deserving of the 'L' tag the IQ and Bokeh are wonderful I always leave it fitted to one of my camera bodiesreviewed August 22nd, 2008 (purchased for $400)
Not quite as sharp as the 135 F2 but it's longer focal length suits me more often than my 135, but not as often as my 400F2.8 IS which is the other lens always fitted to a body.
I bought this lens after selling my 70-200 IS 'Hell' seies zoom.
This IQ from this lens makes the 70-200 zooms IQ look distinctly secondrate.
Thouroughly recomended - if you need this focal length just buy one you won't regret it.
10 out of 10 points and recommended by thomiz (16 reviews)Sharp, fast, light, smallCould have IS
A wery fine lens indeed. My best in my current lineup of lenses. This is a "go everywhere" short telephoto, and on the 20D it turns into 320mm which is nice for telphoto shots of wildlife and some birds. The bokeh of this lens is exelent and it can be used for nearly anything from portrait to landscape. The lack of IS is sometimes missed as you need high speeds to handhold this lens.reviewed January 8th, 2007
10 out of 10 points and recommended by Wolfini (10 reviews)IQ, AF, size, price(focal length on crop, weight)
This is a really great lens. Actually I have the "old" version with the built in lenshood.reviewed January 5th, 2007 (purchased for $520)
IQ is great in every way: sharpness, contrast, color, flare, CA, I really cannot imagine a better lens here.
Combined with a Kenko 1,5 TC it´s still very good, and even with a 2x TC (Kenko Pro300) it´s very usable as a 400mm, although there is some softening with a halo-like effect.
Construction is also very good, but the downside of this is, that the lens is quite heavy when you want to carry it eg on hiking trips.
Unfortunately I don´t use this very much, as it´s too long on crop for my everyday needs like portraits, and for outdoors it´s a bit too heavy. But it is a wonderful zoo-lens!
Still, as I payed only EUR 400 (used) I cannot imagine to ever part from this great lens.
10 out of 10 points and recommended by photogjack (9 reviews)razor sharp, light weight, fast focusingabsolutely none
This is an amazing piece of glass. Stunningly sharp, very fast to focus, lightweight, discrete (especially if you are used to using one of the giant white zooms). I started using this instead of my 70-200 2.8 L (IS) and have never regretted it. 11 stars out of 10.reviewed December 8th, 2006 (purchased for $700)
10 out of 10 points and recommended by dccps (13 reviews)outstanding sharpness, fast lens, well constructednone
One of the finest telephoto lenses I've ever used. Great on a reduced size sensor, equivalent to a 300mm (rounded off) optic with an f/2.8 aperture. If you want to capture action during an evening football or baseball game, then GET THIS LENS! Much lighter than 70-200 and covers the field of view most will default to anyway.reviewed November 30th, 2006 (purchased for $645)
10 out of 10 points and recommended by tpilot (1 reviews)Great optics, fast and one of the best bargains out thereNone to date
This is one of Canons sharpest lens, up there with the Canon 135 2.0 which is regarded as the sharpest of Canons lineup. I have the Mark 1 version which has the built in hooreviewed November 28th, 2006 (purchased for $550)
10 out of 10 points and recommended by David Hay (8 reviews)Short,fast, black.None.
Mine is a Mark 1. I bought it second-hand from a professional, battle scars and all. It had a filter on the front from new so the front element was unmarked.reviewed November 11th, 2006 (purchased for $570)
Very,very sharp images. Fast AF but the manual focus on mine is very slack feeling after a lot of professinal use. The built-in lens hood is not long enough to make much difference.
I used it recently at the Edinburgh Festival (while my 70-300 IS was getting fixed) and the results were excellent. You could cut out street performers from the crowd with the shallow depth of field. It was so sharp it was cruel. You could even see skin blemishes under all their make-up.
10 out of 10 points and recommended by psulonen (6 reviews)Optically awesome, built like a brick outhouseNone that aren't inherent to what it is
OK, I actually had the Mark I rather than the Mark II, but since the only difference between the two is the design of the hood (the Mark I had an integrated slip-on-slip-off hood while the Mark II has the regular reversible twist-on-twist-off design), I figure I could post my comments.reviewed October 20th, 2005
First off, optically this is an awe-inspiring lens -- as good as equally sharp at all apertures, beautiful contrast and clarity, beautiful bokeh, literally no optical boogers worth mentioning. It'll even take a teleconverter without breaking a sweat. This, friends, is as good as it gets optically.
The same goes for build -- it's very confidence-inspiring in feel, and focuses lightning-fast and accurately.
Why did I sell mine, then? Because I didn't really have a use for this kind of beast. While much lighter than an f/2.8 telezoom, it's still a pretty big and bulky beast, and for telephoto were "zooming with your feet" is often not an option, it's a fairly limiting lens.
But if your main interest is, for example, wildlife, I can't think of a better Canon lens for the mission -- when you need both the bright aperture for those dawn or dusk moments, and every gram in the backpack counts, you can't really do any better at this focal length.
Another situation where I found the lens highly attractive was fashion-type shooting: you do need to back up a quite a bit, but the telephoto compression does good things to the features, the control over depth of field is great, and, of course, optically this one is the bee's knees.
In a nutshell, an awesomely good lens... with a fairly limited range of potential applications. If one of those applications is your thang, it's a bit of a no-brainer. If it isn't, it's a dust-collector.