When full-frame camera quality and pixel density started to demand more lens-quality, Canon decided it was time to upgrade their 70-200mm f/2.8L USM lens (first released in 2001).
They promised an upgrade in almost every aspect - as well as a newly added image stabilization system – and they sure did deliver. In January 2010, the EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM was released, to much joy of the professional photographer.
The newer model has an improved image sharpness, is better equipped against ghosting and flare and produces less vignette.
Seeing as the first model already performed exceptionally well and was a popular lens amongst photojournalists, wedding photographers and landscape photographers alike, this newly improved lens truly is one of the best performing zoom lenses out there.
As expected from an expensive, professional Canon lens, this lens barrel is made up entirely of metal.
This of course adds to the (pretty heavy) weight of the lens, but it also makes it almost indestructible.
Dropping this lens a few times is not the end of the world (having said that we are not advising to do it though), neither is taking out into rough weather thanks to the complete weather sealing.
Dust and moisture form no match against this sealed lens, perfect for shooting out in snowstorms, rainy seasons, sandstorms, etc.
The lens looks almost identical to the previous model, with only a few exceptions.
The most noticeable are the switches, that were of quite poor quality on the first model. On the 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II the switches feel just as stable and high-quality as the rest of the lens, as is the way it should be with a $2000 piece of glass.
The focus ring has also undergone some redesigning and is now a bit longer, puts up a bit more resistance (eliminating any play) while staying smooth enough to handle with the tip of your fingers. This makes for comfortable handling as well as more accurate focusing – a win-win situation.
To achieve such improvements in image quality, just redesigning the lens barrel wasn´t enough. On the inside, Canon has put 23 elements in 19 groups, making for quite a complicated (and consequently heavy) lens.
Amongst those elements are no less than 5 UD glass elements, as well as one fluorite coated glass element. Together, they successfully reduce ghosting and flare, one of the biggest improvements this lens has made over its predecessor.
Another great piece of technology added to make the photographer´s job easier, is the Image Stabilization system. This will help with up to 4 stops of camera shake, as well as with steady panning (without a tripod) – turn the IS off when shooting with tripod!
What hasn´t changed since the last model though, is the lens´ internal focus system.
I've found this system (preventing the physical lens from changing length while focusing) very useful to maintain a constant balance between lens and camera, especially with telephoto lenses.
Having a big lens change length while it is mounted with camera on a tripod, might result in some unfortunate loss of balance. But, it also has more profound advantages.
With internal focus, moving the lens elements non-linearly is made a lot easier, allowing for smoother correction of chromatic aberration.
Moreover, the internal focus will avoid a lot of focus breathing. By sticking to the focus length of the lens system, virtually magnified elements and the general angle of view are kept consistent throughout all focal lengths.
This will allow for more precise composing as well as focusing; something no photographer will protest against. As an added bonus, the internal focus system will also prevent the front element from rotating, allowing seamless use of any (77mm) filter.
Last but not least on the outer aspects of this lens, are the ET-87 lens hood and tripod mount ring. The lens hood (shown in above image) does an amazing job at preventing stray light from hitting the lens´ front element. It is as black as black can get, as well as rugged to prevent any light from reflecting.
The tripod mount ring allows for a stable and well-balanced set-up on your tripod, as well as rotation of lens and camera (or locking in one position, whatever your heart may desire for that specific shot).
The real question, of course, lies in whether or not this lens is worth the extra money compared to the original.
When looking at the improvement in image quality, for a professional photographer my answer would be a definite yes.
The images of the newer lens are better than the ones produced by the original in almost every aspect.
They are bright and sharp over the entire frame (with especially outstanding contrast), and quality remains practically consistent as you change focal length and/or aperture.
The flare and ghosting problem of the previous model has been tackled by the added UD and fluorite glass elements, and vignetting is significantly less than before.
Some light fall-off still occurs when zooming in and shooting wide open, but it´s nothing drastic (A.K.A. not something the regular viewer will notice).
If you are in need of some hard evidence for this improvement before you invest the extra money, take a look at these lenses´ MTF charts (as claimed by Canon):
EF 70-200mm f/2.8L USM
EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM
Although the original Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 is not exactly as good as the IS II version, it does come pretty close.
There is neither image stabilization nor a fluorite glass element to cancel out ghosting and flare, which is quite noticeable when shooting into the light. But, it does have a sturdy, metal (weather-sealed) barrel, an internal focus system and a constant maximum aperture throughout all focal lengths.
Image quality, although not quite as outstanding as that of the newer model, is still great and outperforms many rival 70-200mm lenses. For a few hundred dollars less, you will get a lens almost as good as the new one.
For an even more budget option, consider the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM. This lens is a lot lighter and smaller than the f/2.8, making it an easier travel companion.
For other types of photography where a low maximum aperture (and consequently a shallow depth of field and lots of light entering) are very important, the f/4 option might have quite some disadvantages.
When it comes to landscape photography however, a low aperture and its consequential features are seldom desired, let alone needed.
The image quality of this lens is very similar to that of the f/2.8 version, although perhaps closer to the original than to the IS II model.
The lens barrel is just as robust as the other models, as well as weather sealed.
It does not come with a tripod mount ring though, so that would be a (small) extra investment to make when purchasing this lens.
I don´t want to go as far as to say this lens is a perfect telephoto zoom lens, but sure does come very close.
The incredible image sharpness together with the sturdy, weather-sealed barrel make this lens useful for many a situation, allowing you to shoot a clear, sharp image without having to worry about the elements too much.
Although mainly popular for photojournalists, landscape photographers will find that this set of focal lengths will allow them to capture new and interesting perspectives a wide-angle lens would never be able to.
And although this lens is quite heavy and will dig a big hole in your bank account, it will shoot the sharpest image you could wish for and will last you a lifetime – making it worth the extra weight added to your kit as well as the big sum of money.
If you are a Canon shooter and have the budget to invest $2000 in a lens, definitely consider making this Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM the newest member of your landscape photography gear collection.
Hi, I am Luca, founder and editor in chief at photographyambition.com. I am crazy about photography and I always have a camera with me. When I am not busy with my day job, enjoying my family or taking photos, I am on Photography Ambition to share what I have learnt so far.
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