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Review – Canon 70-200L f/4 IS

Credit: Canon USA

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a gear review, mostly because my rate of gear acquisition has slowed dramatically since the spring. The reason is simple; I’ve finally added the last necessary lens to my bag. “Necessary,” is of course the key word here. There are still an easy half-dozen lenses that I’d love to own, but none of them are essential for everyday shooting.

My last acquisition was the Canon 70-200L f/4 IS, which has finally filed that very useful telephoto slot in my lineup. I’ve played around with different 70-200 lenses for years, trying to find one that was both cheap and a solid performer. Well, you don’t usually find those two qualities in the same lens, and none of the ones I tried ever lasted long before intense frustration set in, and the lenses were back on eBay. This one, however, you’ll have to pry out of my cold, dead hands.

The 70-200L f/4 IS is still the cheapest way to get into a 70-200, image stabilized lens, and it’s well worth every cent. It’s a lens with a very wide range of usability – portraits, events, weddings, wildlife, nature, the list goes on. A jack of all trades, and master of some. My particular needs for it are portraiture and weddings, although since adding it to my bag, it’s been on the camera more than any other lens, and I find myself reaching for it in all manner of situations, including times when I’m going for a walk in the woods and want a single camera and lens combo.

So why the f/4 over the f/2.8 version? There are a couple of factors, but the biggest is price. The f/4 costs half as much. It’s also smaller and lighter, albeit at the cost of an f-stop of performance. For my needs however, f/4 was not an issue. Due to it’s telephoto nature, the DOF at f/4 is still rather thin, which is perfect for portraiture, especially when combined with this lens’s very sharp optics and pleasing bokeh.

Apples grow in Lackawanna State Park during a summer rainstorm on the afternoon of 06 August 2011.

The USM focusing is fast and precise. The IS is quick to engage and is dependable for at least 2 stops, more with careful technique. It’s as physically well-built as other L-series lenses and balances well on the camera. (Although I did order a third-party tripod ring for it, for better tripod balance – and so I can slip the ring’s foot over my belt when carrying it in-between shooting.)

So would I give this one up? Sure – if someone offered me the f/2.8 Mk II version, I’d swap it out. Who wouldn’t? But short of that, I don’t know of another equivalent lens that I’d even think of trading it for. And I can say that having actually tried several of them. And even the lure of f/2.8 isn’t all that tempting to me at the moment, not when I’ve already got a tool that does the job so well.

Sunrise at Bullhead Bay, Lackawanna State Park, on the morning of 10 October 2011.

After further review: I wrote the initial review in October, after having had the 70-200L for several months already.  It’s only a few more months down the line, and I’m even more enamoured with this lens.  It’s a true workhorse, coming out on almost every single shoot.  Portrait session?  I use it.  Events?  It’s with me.  Nature/landscapes? Yep.  It’s a true jack-of-all-trades and I’m at a bit of a loss as to how I got along without one for so many years.  It’s everything you hear hyped about L-series lenses: excellent build, great feel and balance, sharp images, & good IS.  I love shooting with it.  Right now, I’m in the midst of considering a full system change, but one of the biggest things holding me back is the lack of an equivalent to this lens.  Having finally added a 70-200 f/4 to my bag, I don’t want to lose it.  It could even be a deal-breaker.

Brent Pennington

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