One of the most popular Canon professional zoom lenses ever. Period. Despite Canon replaced it with the new Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM, many professionals, and that including me, decided to stay put and keep this lens. In 2012, it proves that my decision was right. The mark I was a perfect match with any professional Canon DSLRs. Time and time again, it produces wonderful images, both speedy and reliably. In 2011, when mark II was announced, many would expect Canon, following the previous DSLR developments and trends, to release a much higher resolution camera in 2012. That would either be the rumoured Canon EOS 1Ds Mark IV or the Canon EOS 5D Mark III. Everyone was expecting at least 30 megapixels and with the sharper and optimised optics of the mark II lens, it would make sense.
However, rumours stayed and the current highest resolution Canon camera is the Canon EOS 5D Mark III, with 22 megapixels. Ok, I am not reviewing a camera here but resolution means resolving power and a sharper lens will, in theory, produce better details.
So why this lens?
Mark I or Mark II? Umm.. that depends if you already have mark I or not. If you already have mark I, like me, there isn’t any point upgrading. First you have to fork out at least 50% more dosh to get the new lens with minimum visible difference.
One of the best thing about this lens is, versatility. If you shoot a lot of portraits and weddings, this is a MUST have lens. The constant 2.8 aperture and image stabiliser give you flexibility to use in any situation. The zoom range is perfect for photographing people. The traditional portrait range between 70 – 135mm is well covered by the lens and if you need extra reach, 200mm is more than enough. Even if you are craving for more and don’t want to spend a fortune for a bigger Canon prime, then you can always get the 1.4 or 2.0x extender. Optics will suffer a little and the maximum aperture will be reduced according but it’s still by no means a slow or bad lens. Only when you need the reach.
Of course you can always get the famous Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM or Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM for portraits. However, the neither of these lenses are weather protected or image stabilised. Even a little slower than the primes, the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM is definitely more versatile and better in both daylight and overcast days. Then of course, you can’t beat the low light ability of the faster primes.
This lens is built like a tank. As with Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM, the 70-200 is used by many sports and wedding photographers and journalists. I rarely see one that’s broken, well most will get abused on a daily basis but they survive nonetheless. The entire lens is constructed with high grade metal. It’s weather sealed and the entire zooming action is done internally. I used it in China last year during a monsoon and my camera actually gave up before the lens. This shows just how reliable this lens is.
The metal collar is for tripod or monopod fixing. I don’t actually use it often and I would take it out to save some weight. Many enthusiasts think it looks cool with it but hey, when you use it a few hours on location, you won’t want to keep it on, unless you intend to use a monopod.
There’s no squeaks or creeks that can be heard and every touch on the lens feels quality. I love the feel of this lens, more so than any other lenses that I’ve used.
Using it in practice, good and bad
As you would imagine, this lens is heavy. Around 1.2 kg is heavy for anything. When you mated it to a professional body, they will become a burden to your body. As a wedding guy, I have to do regular weight training to keep myself in top condition in order to handle this set up.
A tele-zoom lens can easily compress foreground and background and narrowing the depth of field. Hence you can easily blur out the background. There is little distortion to the lens also. Keeping every proportion of your subject true to life.
Google it around will find you loads of images taken by this lens and I do not need to reiterate the strength about this lens. It’s sharp and contrasty. But, a big but, this sharpness isn’t the kind of sharpness that you would expect in this digital era. The reason I am saying it because perhaps this lens was introduced during the last of film years. It doesn’t have the ‘clinical’ look that many modern photographers enjoy these days. I don’t like the over clinical sharpened images so the mark II isn’t my cup of tea.
So this ‘non-clinical’ sharpness is good? You bet. I love it because it’s great for portrait. It doesn’t over exaggerate any imperfection while keeping all the sharp bits sharp. Perfect. I actually think this lens was the best hybrid lens for film and digital. The mark II is definitely sharper and tailored for the digital rather than film cameras.
For newbies, if you are buying your new 70-200 2.8, whether it is mark I or mark II, you will need a very sturdy tripod and a good head. Because it’s a weighty beast, ok, not as heavy as the 300mm 2.8 but it’s still a heavy thing that you don’t want to ruin your image or worst still, your lens and camera. One of my friends dropped the camera and lens because the tripod couldn’t hold the weight. He ended up buying new ones.
In short, I love this lens. I have been attached to this lens since I became a professional wedding photographer. I’ve taken it everywhere, whether I am traveling abroad for holiday or for work. Despite being so heavy, I still carry it everyday, everywhere.
I am writing from my own experience of the mark I lens. I do not dislike the mark II but as a proud owner of mark I, I don’t feel the need for upgrade. However, the mark II is built upon the successes the mark I and anyone who hasn’t had a top quality professional tele-zoom should consider one. Depending on your budget, mark I and mark II will prove to be one of the most important lenses you will ever need, for life.
Any lenses mentioned in this review can be bought from Amazon. (NOTE Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM is not available in Amazon now but there are other online stores still have stock).