Hardware Review: The 70-200L f4.0

In keeping with the last few weeks of hardware reviews, I am taking a look in my own bag one more time to bring you this weeks’ hardware review: the 70-200mm L lens from Canon.  Canon has several variants on this lens, with different minimal apertures both with and without Image Stabilization (IS).  So, in the interests of full disclosure, this is a non-IS lens, and the aperture range is the standard one, 4.0 to 5.6.  So, with that distinction being made, we’re off and running:

Canons 70-200mm f4.0 lens

Canon's 70-200mm f4.0 lens

The “L” distinction is one that bears discussion right off – Canon only gives this out to lenses that it deems have superior optics – which means a wider range for it’s sweet spot, tack sharp focus, and better sealing against the elements.  This naturally means that this lens will, by definition and categorization, be sharper than a comparable “non-L” lens.  However, for this particular range of zoom, Canon doesn’t make a non-L lens, so one would have to make a comparison with a 3rd party brand such as Sigma or Tamron.  Even there though, comparisons are tricky primarily because vendors are moving toward faster glass (in the 2.8 category) and IS features.

In that regard, the 70-200 f4.0 really is in a class by itself.  As a result of its unique status in the field of available lenses, comparisons are rather arbitrary as no other lens out there has the same specs.  Rather than making those comparisons though, I’ll just say that this lens does deliver superior performance for its’ category.

So, how is this a review?  Well, it’s not just a question of performance, it’s also a question of price.  Anything can be stellar, but whether it’s worth the price is another story.  I know of luxury cars that exceed 6 figures for their cost, however, most cannot justify the expense, either because of their financial situation or the expected need.  So, how does the 70-200 fit when it comes to cost?  Pretty well actually.

The cost for this lens at B&H Photo is $600 right now (technically $599.95) after a $50 rebate.  Considering the next step up is twice the price for either an f2.8 or an IS lens, this is actually a steal!  I was able to find mine second hand from a fellow photographer when I lived in SC, so got it for considerably less.  Included in my package was a lens hood, and a collar for mounting to a tripod (which I definitely would recommend given the weight).  The previous owner was also nice enough to leave the Tiffen filter on it that provided protection for the lens.  All told, the lens and accessories would run around $700 for the lens, lens hood, UV filter, and tripod collar.

When looking at comparable other lenses from Canon, this is where you really see the bang for the buck.  Take a look at the most recent prices from B&H for similar lenses:

  • 70-200L f2.8  = $1250
  • 70-200L f2.8 IS = $1600
  • 70-200L f4.0 IS = $1025

So, you can save at least $425 if IS isn’t important to you, or $650 for the next fastest version of this lens

At a smidge over 1.5 lbs, the weight does balance the mid-grade SLR’s quite nicely, although on the Rebel line I recall it being a tad heavy.  As a general rule of thumb, with larger and heavier lenses, you’ll want to carry this by the lens itself rather than the camera as you don’t want to put undue tension on the mount.

Overall though, for the price and range, I would highly recommend this lens.  It’s tack sharp at both 70 and at 200 with a sweet spot ranging from f5.6 to f16.  Kind of hard to say no to that kind of quality when it’s offered at such an affordable price.  Here’s some sample shots to show what I’m talking about:

Here’s a sample from 70mm at f9.0

The Rocky Mountainsfrom a distance

The Rocky Mountainsfrom a distance

And the same scene from 200mm at the same aperture:

The Rocky Mountains

The Rocky Mountains

Then, just to give you an idea of the sharpness, here’s some shots at f4.0 (a little noiser because I was at ISO 3200)…first the 70mm shot:

What time is it?

What time is it?

And now at 200mm:

What time is it?

What time is it?

And the 200mm shot:

Okay, so that’s about it for the day.  Hope you found it useful and informative (as always).  Don’t forget the Lightroom Contest going on over at the Flickr Thread – only about 12 more days left and still not a lot of entries.  Great chance to win a free copy of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom (retails for $300)!  If you have ideas, suggestions, comments, feedback or other insights on future gear you’d like reviewed, feel free to share those in the comments below or with me via email.

One last little nugget to share today…Scott Kelby announced his 2nd Annual Photowalk early this morning, so be sure to register in your city.  I’m already registered in the Denver group and that’s rolling early (7:45ish am) in the Lodo area.  More details to come on route, eating place, etc. , but mark your calendars now for July 18th!  Here’s the link for more info if you’re not in Denver:  Worldwide Photowalk Have a great day, Happy Shooting, and we’ll see you back here again tomorrow!

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7 comments for “Hardware Review: The 70-200L f4.0

  1. May 18, 2009 at 5:20 am

    I have had all of the 70-200L lenses and kept the f4IS. It is the sharpest of them all and its light weight make it perfect to carry it everywhere. Anyone who buy the standard 70-200f4 is going to want to move to the IS eventually and since this is such a popular lens, I highly recommend going straight for the IS version.

    IS is always useful, with this lens I am able to shoot at 1/30 sec and get a sharp picture 50% of the time. Truly an amazing lens!

  2. May 18, 2009 at 7:16 am

    I would say my 70-200L f/4 is my most used lens, I had the previous non-IS version as well. Easily my favorite lens in the bag, stunningly sharp and with IS gives me more chances to use it that before. If I did not have to worry about the $ I would get the 2.8 and be very happy!

  3. May 18, 2009 at 9:12 am

    This is an awesome lens. I recently got this from BHphotovideo for $560 with 40$ canon rebate and the very next day it became $600! Quite lucky and loving the lens. Yes, it is a bit heavy feel for Rebel Xsi and I may look out for a 3rd party collar to mount on tripod.

  4. May 18, 2009 at 4:22 pm

    I’ve got this lens too and it’s great. The weight makes a real option for most shooting situations and as you say Jason – it’s tack sharp pretty much across the range. These personal reviews are excellent by the way.

  5. May 19, 2009 at 1:25 pm

    I’ve actually just jumped into this pond. As I write this, I’m waiting for UPS to deliver my 70-200 f/2.8 IS. Pricey I know, but I’m sure I’ll be happy with it. I’m sure I’ll be out this evening testing it out 🙂 I’m starting to do weddings, and with an extra 4 stops (aperture and IS), I thought it was worth the upgrade. Time will tell on that.

    Once I’ve had a chance to play with it, I’ll put a review on Sublime Light, and I’ll be sure to send people your way to see a comparison with the f/4 non IS.

    Cheers Jason!

  6. May 27, 2009 at 11:34 am

    I’ve been shooting this lens for near 4 years. It’s my “go to” lens for sports and general out-n-about excursions. It’s incredibly sharp at f/4 – and focuses quickly in fast action (ultimate frisbee, rugby, frisbee chasing dogs, …).

    As far as L glass goes – this lens hits a sweet spot in price vs. performance.

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