The 70–200mm zoom lens category is one of the most important in the eyes of many professional and serious enthusiast photographers. Whether the photographer is working with a full-frame camera, or an APS-C size sensor camera, these lenses have proven their value in a tremendous variety of applications.
Historically, photographers in the digital age have been given the ability to work with impressive, truly professional level 70–200mm (or similar) lenses with super-bright f/2.8 apertures. (Canon launched its first f/2.8, L-series telephoto zoom — the EF 80–200mm f/2.8L — back in 1989.) And these lenses remain a staple, go-to lens for many of today’s most critical photographers.
But with the fast, constant f/2.8 lens apertures came rather significant size and weight. Canon answered with a truly professional-grade 70–200mm f/4L design, first with a non-IS version (introduced in 1999), which was far lighter and more compact than its f/2.8 companion. A compact, image stabilized version was introduced in 2006.
Either way, the L-series 70–200mm lenses have offered truly pro-grade mechanical durability and image quality, and have continued to evolve to meet the needs of critical, demanding professionals and camera enthusiasts.
Updated Versions of Both the f/2.8 and f/4 70–200mm Lenses
It’s admittedly difficult to take two lens designs that are already regarded by many users and reviewers as among the finest lenses of their type in the industry, and improve upon them. But Canon engineers have done that, with thoughtful updates that add to their already impressive optical performance, without detracting anything in terms of features, performance, or size & weight.
The EF 70–200mm f/2.8L IS III USM
The updated version of the f/2.8 lens is now into “Version III.” The changes here are minor, but knowledgeable readers will want to know what’s new, and whether owners of the current “Version II” lens should consider stepping up to the latest version.
The answer basically comes down to whether you shoot a lot of heavily back-lit pictures in the normal course of your work, and whether owners of the current Version II lens have observed problems with lens flare in these conditions. Upon receiving reports from some professional users that the Version II lens was indeed prone to flare when shooting into the sun or if very bright, specular light sources were in the frame, Canon lens engineers have taken steps to make an already great lens even better.
- Canon’s traditional, Super Spectra Coating (multi-coating of lens elements) has been examined and updated, to reduce internal reflections even further.
- In addition, Canon’s advanced Air Sphere Coating (ASC) has been added to the rear surface of the 19th optical element in the lens.
- The combination of updated multi-coating, and the inclusion of the ASC coating (not present in the Version II lens), makes a noticeable difference for photographers whose style includes heavily back-lit scenes, in portraits or many other subjects.
- Fluorine coating has been added to the front and rear lens surfaces, to resist the build-up of moisture, dust, and smudges, and to make cleaning easier.
It’s very important to be clear that the EF 70–200mm f/2.8L IS III USM lens has not changed: the glass in this lens is the same as its predecessor. The optical design itself, highlighted by one Fluorite and five UD-glass (Ultra-low Dispersion) elements, remains exactly the same as with the highly-regarded f/2.8 Version II design. Accordingly, specs like minimum focus distance remain unchanged.
The lens’ electronic design, ring-type Ultrasonic motor for AF, Image Stabilization system (3.5 stops of shake correction), and so on are likewise identical in the Version III lens to its predecessor. Mechanically, this lens remains the same as the previous model, including its weather-resistant construction.
The only other changes are minor exterior alterations — the primary one being a change from a warm-tone white color to a cooler tone of white, to match the color of Canon’s latest L-series tele and super-tele lenses. A portion of the information printed on the lens has been changed too.
Lens Hood ET-87 continues to be included (same as the previous f/2.8 IS lens), and the lens uses the same 77mm filters as well. And, a removable Tripod Mount Ring continues to be included with the EF 70–200mm f/2.8L IS III lens.
The EF 70–200mm f/4L IS II USM
This 2nd-generation image stabilized version of Canon’s lighter-weight, professional medium-telephoto zoom offers upgrades that are more comprehensive than those in the f/2.8 design. While the 70–200mm f/4 has always been an appealing combination of superb optical performance in a more easily-transported package (relative to 70–200mm f/2.8 alternatives), the changes in the Version II f/4 IS lens make it an extremely compelling option for anyone thinking of stepping up.
Image Quality enhancements:
The EF 70–200mm f/4L IS II USM now focuses down to 3.28 feet (1.0m), vs. 3.9 feet (1.2m) on the previous IS version. Maximum close-up magnification is now 0.27x, meaning users can fill the frame with a subject 3.4 x 5.1 inches (87 x 129mm) in size.
Reduced flare and ghosting
Changes to the lens’ multi-coating have brought a reduced level of lens flare when shooting with bright, specular light sources in the frame, or in back-lit situations (vs. the previous first-generation, f/4 IS lens).
5-stops of Image Stabilization correction
The Version II lens has upgraded Image Stabilization, now providing up to five stops of shake correction (based on CIPA industry-standard testing, using an EOS-1D X Mark II camera). Putting this in real-life terms, at its 200mm zoom position, if your normal lowest shutter speed threshold for safe hand-held pictures without IS was (for example) 1/250th second, a five-stop improvement means you could get similar results at shutter speeds as slow as 1/8th of a second (with stationary subjects, of course).
9-blade lens aperture
The image stabilized f/4 lens now has a 9-blade lens aperture (vs. 8 on the previous IS version), for smoother rendering of out-of-focus highlights in foregrounds and backgrounds.
New I.S. Mode 3 option
The 70–200mm f/4L IS II lens gains another IS enhancement — a Mode 3 option on the sliding IS Mode switch. Unlike Modes 1 and 2, which provide constant stabilization anytime the camera is “awake,” Mode 3 won’t apply optical stabilization until the instant the shutter button is fully depressed and a shot is taken. In between shots, Mode 3 allows the lens to continually detect any camera shake. But it intentionally halts active stabilization, until the instant the shutter is fired, so you don’t see its impact when composing pictures. For some users, this can make it easier to compose fast or erratic moving subjects, but still allow stabilization to enhance sharpness and minimize risk of camera shake in finished pictures.
Compatible with Live View “Panning Mode”
A few EOS models, including the EOS 6D Mark II, and recent mirrorless models like the EOS M5, M6, and M50 offer a Panning Mode option, during Live View shooting. This requires a compatible lens…the latest EF 70–200mm f/4L IS II USM is indeed one of the lenses that can provide this feature, on EOS cameras so equipped.
Actual Changes Inside the EF 70–200mm f/4L IS II Lens
As we mentioned, the 70–200mm f/4L IS II lens does have a number of comprehensive design changes, to achieve the improvements noted above. We’ll quickly summarize these here, for prospective users who may want to dig a bit deeper into the technical aspects of this lens.
The first-generation f/4L, IS lens has been regarded by many as one of the finest medium telephoto zooms available, since its launch in 2006. Its basic design — 20 lens elements, in 15 groups, highlighted by one Fluorite element, and two Ultra-low Dispersion (UD) glass elements — remains intact for the latest Version II lens. However, there are some modifications, taken in the interest of even better optical performance, and closer minimum focusing:
- Re-positioning of the front lens element, primarily to achieve closer focusing
- Very slight re-shaping of several lens elements, to enhance overall optical performance
- Fluorine coating now applied to the front and rear lens surfaces, to ease cleaning, and minimize the adhesion of dust, dirt, and moisture
The processor and electrical system within the Version II lens have been updated. The primary benefits are faster internal data processing, and the direct result is superior Image Stabilization control, as well as even faster AF (when this lens is teamed-up with recent mid-range and high-end EOS cameras).
The updated Version II lens can be quickly identified by the tapered shape of its new zoom ring. Close observation will likewise show the white exterior color is now a cooler shade of white, matching the look of recent Canon EF super-telephoto lenses.
Other changes to be aware of:
- Filter size has changed, and the f/4 Version II lens now accepts 72mm screw-in filters (the previous IS version accepted 67mm filters)
- A new lens hood (Canon ET-78B) is now included with the lens; this hood has the locking mechanism seen on recent Canon L-series lens hoods
- While not a change, be aware that an optional Canon tripod collar (Tripod Mount Ring A II (W II)) is available as a separate accessory. Unlike the f/2.8 IS lens, the tripod collar is not included with the f/4 lens.
Beyond those features and additions already mentioned, both lenses are compatible with the following Canon accessories:
- Canon EF tele extenders (EF 1.4x III, and EF 2x III)
- Canon Extension Tubes (EF12 II, and EF25 II)
- Canon Close-up Lens 500D (72mm version for the f/4 lens, and 77mm for the f/2.8 lens)
- Canon Gel Filter Holder (Holder III and IV for the f/4 lens; Holder IV only for f/2.8 lens)
Two well-established lenses in the Canon EOS line are updated with a series of useful additions. While those on the 70–200mm f/2.8L IS III are primarily centered around further reducing flare in certain shooting situations, those in the 70–200mm f/4L IS II are more extensive. Either lens represents an outstanding next-step for any Canon shooter considering moving into a truly professional-grade, medium telephoto lens. Those Canon users who already own the previous f/2.8 IS Version II lens, or the f/4 IS (Version I) lens, can look at the upgrades, and make the right decision for themselves as to whether a step-up is justified.
Either way, two lenses which are so central to Canon’s professional lens offerings now have upgrades which show that our optical designers are not resting on their past laurels, and EOS users now have two medium telephoto zoom options with the potential of even higher image quality (and performance, in the f/4 version) within their reach.