Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM

Lens Reviews / Canon Lenses i Lab tested
200mm $5,699
average price
image of Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM

Lab Test Results

  • Blur
  • Chromatic Aberration
  • Vignetting
  • Geometric Distortion
  • Blur
  • Chromatic Aberration
  • Vignetting
  • Geometric Distortion

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Buy the Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM

(From Canon lens literature) The EF 200mm ƒ/2L IS USM is outstanding for many available-light applications, including indoor sports, theater work, fashion, and candids at events.

SLRgear Review
July 7, 2008
by Andrew Alexander

When Canon announced in 2003 that they were discontinuing the 200mm ƒ/1.8L, you could practically hear the intake of breath of the legions of sports and wedding photographers that relied on the combination of focal length and aperture speed to get otherwise unobtainable shots. Five years later, Canon announced the replacement for the legendary lens: the 200mm ƒ/2L IS.

If Canon shooters felt at all slighted by the replacement of the ƒ/1.8L, Canon made up for it with the release of the ƒ/2. The new lens adds image stabilization, carves 60cm off of the minimum focusing distance, and adds seven new glass elements. At the same time, reducing the maximum aperture by just a third of a stop shaves 500 grams off of the weight of the lens.

The 200mm ƒ/2L is the technological paramount of Canon's lens technology: you name it, and it's probably integrated into the lens. Of course, this level of lens doesn't come cheap, with a MSRP of approximately $5,500.

The 200mm ƒ/2 is a very, very sharp lens. It almost makes more sense to discuss where it isn't tack-sharp, because it hits maximum sharpness anywhere it really matters.

Wide open at ƒ/2 on our 20D, our sample of the lens showed a trace of corner softness in the bottom-right corner, barely hitting 2 blur units. Otherwise, image sharpness is very good, showing 1 blur unit in the central region. Stopping down to ƒ/2.8 and you get almost corner-to-corner sharpness at 1 blur unit, and by ƒ/4 the lens produces images as sharp as our tests can measure. Diffraction limiting begins to set it at ƒ/16, with the image showing a generalized softness of 1.5 blur units, and 2.5 units at ƒ/22. It is possible to use this lens at ƒ/32, but here we see about 4 blur units of softness across the frame - not that anyone is realistically going to use the lens at this aperture.

The story is pretty much the same on the full-frame 5D, except the sensor demands just a little bit more from the lens. We note a bit more corner softness at ƒ/2 and ƒ/2.8. Peak sharpness is achieved at ƒ/5.6 instead of ƒ/4, and overall softness at ƒ/32, is only 3 units.

Overall, amazing results, but pretty much what you'd expect from a lens of this caliber.

Chromatic Aberration
Canon employs fluorite lens elements in the 200mm ƒ/2 to reduce any evidence of chromatic aberration, and our tests confirm that it's really worth the price premium. On both sub- and full-frame camera bodies, chromatic aberration just isn't an issue. Statistically, we note just under 2/100ths of a percent of frame height of CA in the worst case scenario: ƒ/32. Average CA presence across the frame is less than 1/100ths of a percent. Truly remarkable performance.

Shading (''Vignetting'')
On the sub-frame 20D, we noted some evidence of corner shading when using the lens at ƒ/2. Specifically, the corners are 1/3EV darker than the center of the image, but by ƒ/2.8, there is no corner shading to speak of.

The full-frame 5D is less forgiving in this test, showing some significant corner shading. At ƒ/2, the corners are a full stop darker than the center of the image; this reduces to just under a half-stop at ƒ/2.8, and becomes inconsequential at ƒ/4.

The 200mm ƒ/2L produces distortion-free images on the 20D. On the 5D, images show the slightest hint of pincushion distortion in the corners: specifically, -0.1%. Fortunately this distortion isn't complex, and if your needs require absolutely no distortion, it is easily correctable in post-processing software.

Autofocus Operation
AF performance with the 200mm ƒ/2L was very fast, and as a lens with USM technology, virtually silent as well. Autofocus results can be overridden at any time by just turning the focus ring. Further control over autofocus operation has been built into the lens with a variety of options. Autofocus operation can be temporarily suspended by using one of the three focus hold buttons at the far end of the lens. The focus range can be limited to subjects further than 3.5 meters away from the shooter. Finally, a focusing distance can be preset into the lens, for quick retrieval by using a special focusing ring.

With a maximum magnification rating of 0.12x, this lens isn't designed for macro work. Canon does specify that it is compatible with EF12 II and EF25 II extension tubes, which increase that somewhat. Minimum close-focusing distance is 190cm (6' 3''). But if macro work is your thing, you're better-served by a different lens.

Build Quality and Handling
When you pay almost $6,000 for a lens, you probably expect the best that lens manufacturing has to offer, and with Canon's L-glass series, you get it. The lens ships in Canon's 200-series hard case, and instead of a front lens cover, the 200mm ƒ/2 uses a leather-like ''sock'' which extends over the front of the lens to cover not just the front element but half of the lens, as well.

The lens is very solidly built, with the distinctive white color of Canon's pro lenses. At 5.6 pounds (2,520 grams) you're better off using it on a tripod rather than hand-holding it. A tripod collar comes standard, which can rotate the lens through its entire axis. Two sling lugs are attached to the tripod mount, should you wish to carry the lens this way. The lens is completely weather-sealed with rubber gaskets in critical areas.

The lens sports an almost dizzying array of switches and features that will take some getting used to if this becomes your first pro-level lens. A windowed distance scale, marked in feet and meters, rests just behind the focus ring, and marks indicating depth-of-field at ƒ/16 and ƒ/32 are present. In front of the tripod collar two controls deal with image stabilization, and two deal with focus presets; behind the tripod collar, two controls deal with focus. We'll discuss each in greater detail further down.

Focus can be fine-tuned with the focus ring (or adjusted completely, with manual focus mode). The ring is composed of a texture of raised rubber ridges, and is 1.5 inches wide. The ring travels approximately 250 degrees to go through the entire focus range. The ring is very smooth and nicely damped, offering just enough resistance to allow you to find your focus point.

As indicated previously, there are several options available to give the shooter very fine control over how focus is determined by the lens. Autofocus can be enabled or disabled on the lens by making the appropriate selection on the ''MF / AF'' switch. A focus-limiting option is available below this switch, giving either the full range (1.9m - infinity) or just into the longer range (3.5m - infinity). Three focus override buttons are present at the far end of the lens, spaced evenly for ease of access. Depressing these buttons allows the shooter to lock exposure without re-engaging autofocus.

A very handy feature of the lens is the focus preset system, which allows the shooter to have the lens ''memorize'' a given focus distance, and return to it at any time by turning the special focus preset ring, placed just in front of the manual focus ring. This feature can also be disabled.

Image stabilization is a key feature of this lens, with Canon advertising a capability of shooting at up to four stops slower shutter speeds than required. Conventional wisdom suggests that to ensure images that are devoid of shooter-induced motion blur, one needs to shoot at the same shutter speed as focal length; thus, for this lens, one would need to shoot at 1/200 of a second. Canon's image stabilization would then provide blur-free images at 1/25 of a second. Obviously there are many factors involved in attaining such a result, the least of which is the capability of the particular shooter.

Two standard modes of image stabilization are available: Mode 1, which enables horizontal and vertical stabilization, and mode 2, which offers stabilization in just the vertical aspect, allowing for stable panning shots. It's also worth noting that a higher-end version of image stabilization is used in the 200mm f/2, with the ability to sense that it's on a tripod and not compensate for movement, but still compensate for mirror slap. ''Lower-end'' IS-enabled lenses like the 70-200mm f/2.8 auto-detect the use of a tripod, but won't compensate for mirror-slap.

The front element of the lens is far too large to accept standard filters; instead, Canon has used a rear drop-in filter system. As shipped, the holder takes only clip-on gelatin filters; an optional accessory allows the holder to accept standard 52mm filters.

The ET-120 lens hood, a large cylindrical attachment, screws on to the front of the lens and adds 4.25 inches to the overall length.


Unfortunately, neither Sigma nor Tamron produces a lens in the same league of this lens, so if you need something that does what this lens does, be prepared for some serious sticker shock. Otherwise, there are a few other options in the same general category:

Canon EF 200mm ƒ/2.8L II USM ~$700
We haven't tested this lens, but the user reviews for it are unanimously positive. It's much smaller and lighter than the 200mm ƒ/2 (1.6 lbs instead of 5.6 lbs) and doesn't have image stabilization; it's also a full stop slower, but then, ƒ/2.8 is still very fast. It's also a whole lot less expensive.

Canon EF 70-200mm ƒ/2.8L IS USM ~$1,550
The 70-200mm lens is still a full stop slower, but is also an L-class lens with image stabilization. It's much less expensive, but isn't quite the same quality optic as the 200mm ƒ/2. It's less sharp, especially at 200mm, and has some visible chromatic aberration. Distortion is evident at 200mm.

Canon EF 200mm ƒ/1.8L USM ~$?
We haven't tested this lens, and it is no longer actively produced by Canon. It doesn't have image stabilization, but if ƒ/2 is too slow for your needs, it is a third-of-a-stop faster. The challenge for this lens could be finding a decent used copy.

The 200mm ƒ/2L IS USM is definitely a lens designed for the ''where price is no object'' crowd. Tack-sharp, with no visible chromatic aberration or distortion, the only issue (if it is indeed an issue) would be some corner shading when shot wide-open on a full-frame body. But for the ''style'' of image that it produces: sharp subjects with creamy, dreamy out-of-focus backgrounds, the 200mm ƒ/2L IS USM is a lens that will consistently exceed expectations.

Sample Photos

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/2L IS USM

Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM User Reviews

9.8/10 average of 4 review(s) Build Quality 9.5/10 Image Quality 9.8/10
  • 9 out of 10 points and recommended by vivianchen (1 reviews)
    Excellent color and image. 200mm without being too big. Excellent color and image! Not white.
    It doesn't make coffee.

    After my Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 broke, I was in the market for a replacement. While considering options, I thought to myself that most of the time I was pushing my 70-200 all the way to 200 (and wishing I had more). I wanted to see what all the fuss was about Canon L glass but there was no way I was going to pay for and carry around the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L. The Canon 200mm f/2.8L was my first L series lens.

    I miss being able to zoom, but this is the case with every prime I have. But it's easy to make the adjustment by foot most of the time.

    I primarily use this lens for landscape, portrait and event pictures. It is definitely not a walk-around lens because of it's focal length. But, when you know how to use it, it can make for an interesting lens to tackle street photography.

    It's a great lens and the price I paid was fair. | |

    reviewed October 30th, 2015 (purchased for $950)
  • 10 out of 10 points and recommended by Giorgio (1 reviews)
    Fast subject acquisition, great IS and great IQ!
    The magic of the 200L 1.8 is not here.

    I bought this lens because Canon (CPS) stopped servicing my original 200L 1.8 lens. I reluctantly sold the original 1.8 version and bought the 200L IS 2.0 in 2009. I used this lens for well over 2 years till I sold it. The 200L IS 2.0 is sharp and makes lovely pictures but...

    Let me explain.

    The original 200L 1.8 has some kind of magic in it, something that absolutely shocked and surprised me every time I shot the lens. The images were incomparable to any others I have ever seen. IN short there was magic in the old lens.

    BTW let me explain that I rarely use the IS feature as my subjects are almost always in motion.

    As you can guess, I am hunting down a lightly used 200L 1.8 because I need to go back to the future. I miss that magic.

    reviewed July 26th, 2012 (purchased for $5,299)
  • 10 out of 10 points and recommended by genotypewriter (12 reviews)
    Unparalleled image quality, 4 stops rated/5 stops effective IS, lightning fast AF
    Need to find your own perfect lens cap!

    It produces an image with a DOF+compression effect that is a bit more than the 85L does @ f/1.2 but the image quality is better than the 85 @ 5.6!

    Add to that lightning fast and accurate AF and unbelievable IS and this is the most handholdable lens that Canon has at the moment (ignoring shutter speed)!

    This thing outresolves the 40D's 10MP APS-C sensor wide open! I can't see any improvement in sharpness all the way up to f/5.6! It's also sharper than the 70-200 f4 IS, both wide open.

    I gave a 9 for construction because I honestly think that Canon could've used a better material for focusing rings of their top lenses. Apart from that, it's every bit as good as pro lenses get.

    I have the 85LII which I use for pretty much everything and I'd use this 200 f2 IS as a replacement whenever I'm allowed the increased distance to the subject.

    I have pictures at:

    reviewed November 22nd, 2008
  • 10 out of 10 points and recommended by Badmono (15 reviews)
    IQ - Speed - Bokeh
    None so-far

    I had to have this lens - my most used lens before i bought this was the canon 200F2.8 L. which itself is a fantastic piece of glass, but the extra stop of this lens is what I desired, it allows this lens to produce WOW WOW WOW images. People who see shots taken with it are stunned & always mention the clarity and stand out nature of the subject, even hardened shooters. Images viewed at pixel level on a monitor are the sharpest I've seen, and beat my other super sharp lens the 135 F2 L.
    Using this lens has made me yearn for Canon to make a 400mm F2 L the 400 F2.8 I have is great but I could do more if only I had an extra stop on that super lens too.
    For uses of the sad 70-200mm 'Hell' zoom don't ever compare your images against this lens or the 200 F2.8. coz they'll blow you away, that is assuming you ain't blind.
    Thank you Canon - your best l;ens sofar :-))))))
    As for the handling well I'm used to the 400 F2.8 L IS - so I could use this lens all day without a sweat.
    To anyone who uses a 200mm lens frequently then you need to beg, borrow or steal one of these NOW!!
    Oh almost forgot as another plus - this lens is also brilliant with a Canon 1.4X convertor, - and will save you having to buy the awkward length [at least for my photographic shots] of 300mm.

    reviewed November 11th, 2008 (purchased for $4,500)