Lens Test: Canon 70-200 f/2.8L IS II USM

One of Canon's best lenses just got better

A year ago Canon unveiled an upgraded version of one of its crown jewels: the 70–200mm f/2.8L IS lens. The original, debuting nearly 10 years ago as one of the first f/2.8 lenses with IS, was fast, plus sharp at the wider focal lengths. It was heavy, though, and at $1,700 (street), expensive. And here’s Version II, even heavier and even more expensive ($2,300, street). What’s up with that?

First, this latest upgrade incorporates an expensive fluorite element for better control of chromatic aberration. Between that and five elements of ultralow-dispersion glass, this zoom has more elements of specialized glass than any other Canon optic.

The lens feels very solid, with smoothly turning focus and zoom rings and a completely stationary barrel. It’s the heaviest lens in its (tested) class, and like all Canon L-series lenses, is well-built and nearly weatherproof. Our only peeve is the included hood, which we found stiff and awkward to attach or detach in its reverse-mounted position.

Optical bench tests of sharpness and contrast found Excellent-range results at 70mm and 135mm, and Very Good at 200mm. While a significant improvement over its predecessor, which never rose above Very Good, its numbers were slightly below the comparable Nikon and Tamron glass, which scored Excellent at all focal lengths.

Distortion and vignetting results were similar: While far better than the previous Canon (which showed up to Very Visible distortion), the new Canon fell slightly behind the Nikon, which produced Imperceptible distortion and no edge falloff at 70mm.

Subject magnification was near the top of its class—only the Tamron bested it. Canon’s improved IS provided users be-tween 2.5 and 4.5 stops of shake correction. While a few lenses have matched 4.5 stops over the years, none has ever topped it.

Clearly one of the most desirable lenses in the Canon catalogue, this pricey zoom should appeal to all serious Canon shooters, even those who own the previous version.

70–200mm (68.72–193.94mm tested), f/2.8 (f/2.71 tested), 23 elements in 19 groups. Focus ring turns 120°. Zoom ring turns 70°. Focal lengths marked at 70-, 100-, 135-, and 200mm.
Diagonal view angle: 34–12 degrees
Weight: 3.60 lb
Filter size: 77mm
Mounts: Canon AF
Included: Lenshood, case, tripod mount
Street price: $2,300

Distortion: At 70mm, 0.18% (Slight) barrel. At 135mm, 0.12% (Slight) pincushion. At 200mm, 0.20% (Slight) pincushion.
Light falloff: At 70mm, gone by f/3.5. At 135mm, gone by f/4. At 200mm, gone by f/5.
Close-focusing distance: 45.91 inches. Max. magnification ratio: At 70mm, 1:11.7. At 135mm, 1:6.19. At 200mm, 1:4.45.
Image stabilization: 2.5–4.5 stops.