Sabyasachi Patra

Canon EF 70-200 f2.8 L IS USM

Canon EF 70-200 f2.8 L IS USM (Version 1)

Review of the Canon EF 70-200 f2.8 L IS USM lens which was launched in August 2001 and has now been replaced by the version II lens. The review of the Version II lens will follow shortly.

I started photographing with manual SLRs using zoom lenses. One of those was a 70-210 mm. After some time, I shifted to longer prime lenses and kind of detested zoom lenses as the prime lenses were much sharper.

It became a habit and when I caught hold of a zoom lens, I used to forget that there is an option to zoom. The zoom lens which I liked for its quality was the Canon EF 70-200 f2.8 L IS USM. I had even considered buying it before buying the Canon EF 300mm f4 L IS USM.

Basic Facts of Canon EF 70-200 F2.8 L IS USM Lens:


The Canon EF 70-200 f2.8 L IS USM lens was launched in August 2001 and it weighs 1470 gms. It is 197mm long and 86mm wide. This lens has a filter size of 77mm.

The Canon EF 70-200 f2.8 L IS USM lens was a significant improvement over its non-IS version. People started liking it due to the added benefit of the image stabilization. However, this lens is heavier than the non-IS 70-200 f2.8 L USM lens which weighs 1310gms.

I tested the 70-200 f2.8 L IS USM lens in the wilds for some time and happy with its weather sealing. Most of the time this lens used to hang from my neck. Though it is heavy, it feels rock solid when you handhold it with a Canon 1 Series body.

The bokeh is nice, due to the use of a 8 blade circular aperture. It uses 23 elements in 18 groups and has 4 UD elements. It is the best among all the 70-200 f2.8 lenses available including Nikon’s version of the lens.

Aperture range:

This lens has a widest aperture of 2.8 and minimum aperture of f32.

Minimum Focusing Distance:

The Minimum focusing distance is 1.4 meters and has a maximum magnification of 0.17x. You can of course use extension tubes with it.

Auto Focusing Speed:

This lens focuses internally and so there is no protruding element. The lens has got a ring type Ultrasonic motor and the auto focusing is silent and fast. I was astonished when I first mated it with my 1D Mark II and pressed the AF button and the lens sprang into focus even in very dim light.

MTF Charts:

Though I place lot of emphasis on the image quality that I get in the field, for the technically inclined here are the official MTF charts shared by Canon.

Impressions in the Field:

I used it with its native focal lengths as well as with a 1.4x II TC and 2xII TC. I used to use the 300mm f4 L IS USM lens plus 1.4x II TC to give me 420mm focal length at f5.6 and the EF 70-200 f2.8 L IS USM was mated with a 2xII TC. At times when the light was low, I would prefer the 300mm f4 without TC and the 70-200 with or without the 1.4x TC. I was happy with the 70-200 f2.8 L IS USM but never liked its sharpness when used with a 2x II TC at 400mm end at f5.6 aperture. Sharing some images with the exif details. All images clicked in Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve, India.

Canon EF 70-200 f2.8 L IS USM Plus EF 1.4xII TC at ISO 200, f6.3, 1/200, Canon 1D Mark II, image from top of an elephant back.

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Canon EF 70-200 f2.8 L IS USM, Plus EF 2xII TC, 1/200, f8, ISO 400, 340mm, Canon 1D Mark II, clicked in a game trail when the adolescent tiger emerged.

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Canon EF 70-200 f2.8 L IS USM at 200mm f2.8, 1/100, ISO 400, 1D Mark II
Without any TC at 200mm and f2.8 aperture, I found this lens to be pretty sharp and without distortion.
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Canon EF 70-200 f2.8 L IS USM, Plus EF 2xII TC at 400mm, ISO 400, f5.6, 1/100 with a Canon 1D Mark II. Very low light in the overcast late evening conditions.
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Canon EF 70-200 f2.8 L IS USM Plus 2xII TC at 400mm, ISO 250, 1/1000, f5.6, morning light, shot through vegetation.
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The Canon EF 70-200 f2.8 L IS USM lens is an excellent lens. It is sharp at f2.8 aperture. The colour and contrast is very good. If you want to use it at its native focal length then it works great. It works well with the 1.4x TC. However, If you are looking for a tele in the 300mm range, then it is better to get the Canon 300mm f4 L IS USM, which costs less and can give you a longer 420mm focal length at f5.6 when you slap a 1.4x TC to it. That would be longer than the 400mm that you get when you use a 2x TC with the 70-200.
During the slide film days, I knew of people who were using this lens with the 2x TC for excellent results. I have used it with good results but am not very happy with the sharpness at f5.6 when used with a 2x TC at 400mm.

Post Script:

This article was written much earlier. Now this lens has been superceeded by the Canon EF 70-200 f2.8 L IS II USM lens. However, the Canon EF 70-200 f2.8 L IS lens works well in still photography as well as for filming. Personally, I haven’t checked this lens for focus creep during filming, however, I expect that it shouldn’t be a big problem for many people. If you can find it second hand, then it would be excellent value for money. Though I now don’t use this lens anymore as I now use the new upgraded EF 70-200 f2.8 L IS II USM lens, the Canon EF 70-200 f2.8 L IS USM lens is a good value for money.

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Sabyasachi Patra

Sabyasachi is an award winning Cinematographer and shoots for international broadcasters, feature films and corporates to make a living. He is a passionate wildlife filmmaker and photographer and has won awards and accolades for his documentary 'A Call in the Rainforest'. He has been striving to make his films and photographs full of life and emotion and write articles to educate and evangelise the need for conserving the last tracts of vanishing wilderness and wildlife in our country. He hopes that his wildlife films, photographs and writings force people to pause, look, ponder and ultimately take action.
Sabyasachi Patra
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