Equipment Review: Canon 200 mm f/2.0L IS lens

April 11, 2017  •  3 Comments

I wrestled for almost three years before taking the plunge to purchase this behemoth lens of legendary quality, but Canon's 200 F/2.0L IS indeed is the king of lenses and didn't disappoint!  Most reviews obsess over the large size and larger price tag, but if you're interested in the quality and look that this lens offers, both the weight and the cost are virtually a non-issue.  All of Canon's L-lenses are excellent, but the 200/2 can take a skilled photographer's images to a whole new level.  

Unboxing this lens was an experience in itself.  The 200/2 arrives in its own suitcase (overnight, thanks to B&H!).  The heft of it is a testament to its quality.  I'm sure that the glass is the size of a salad plate!  

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For size comparison, Canon's largest 70-200, the f/2.8 IS L, is shown on the left and the 200 f/2.0 on the right below, both with hoods attached and Canon factory foot replaced with an RRS arca-swiss mount: MGN_7992MGN_7992

My initial test shots showed an almost Zeiss-like appearance, with awesome subject crispness and a sharp fall off to a buttery bokeh background.  

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The image below is remarkable because it completely lacks chromatic aberration when shot at f/2.0;  unlike most other L-lenses shot wide open, there is no purple fringing in the high contrast areas.

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Notice the extremely shallow depth of field at f/2 and the creamy blur of the foreground of the shot:

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I knew that the initial images were beautiful, but I quickly remembered that I also loved the images from other Canon L-lenses.  How much different are the 200 f/2 shots as compared to, for example, the acclaimed 135 f/2.0L and 70-200 f/2.8 IS L?  To find out, I ran a series of tests.  My experiment was less scientific and quantifiable than other comparisons that can be found online (Yes, I've memorized results of other lens tests from the fantastic French DxOmark website), but my results were indisputable.  Instead of posting all the test images, I simply will summarize my conclusions.  The 200 f/2 in comparison to the 135/2.0 and 70-200/2.8:

  •  Shows significantly better contrast with whiter whites and blacker blacks.  In fact, it's so crisp that black text on a white page appears muddled with grey with the other lenses.
  • Greater compression than the 135 on the background (I love compression!)
  • Some vignetting on the periphery of the image, but not any more severe than the 135 or 70-200.  I could easily eliminate the vignetting in Lightroom CC, but I actually like it.
  • Softer, blurred bokeh, with no "bokeh bubble" lines (see comparison snapshot below.)  
  • No purple or green fringing in high contrast areas -- chromatic aberration is nonexistent in all of my test photos, but was apparent in comparable photos taken with the 135 and 70-200.
  • Crisper image at f/2 than the 135 or 70-200 at f/2.8
  • Really excellent, vivid color rendition
  • Super fast focus!

While the above judgements are based on pixel peeping at 800%, below is a quick screen shot of the same image taken with three lenses and equal framing.  The essence of the 135/2.0, 70-200/2.8 and the 200/2.0 are immediately apparent:   

A few sample shots from week one: MGN_7336MGN_7336 MGN_7373MGN_7373 MGN_7482MGN_7482 MGN_7514MGN_7514

Conclusion:

Shooting with the 200/2.0 garners attention and comments from people passing by, many gasping "how many millimeters is that thing?"  The 200mm focal length isn't what is unique about the lens.  I have enjoyed shooting at 200mm for 30+ years, but recognize that it isn't always the idea focal length -- too long for conveniently taking portraits and too short for many sporting or wildlife applications.  Nonetheless, what makes this lens utterly remarkable is the combination of brilliantly crisp focus on the subject, a flattering level of compression, and a gorgeous fall off of focus into buttery soft bokeh (thanks to it's quality construction and 2.0 maximum aperture).  The bulk of the lens mounted on a 1DXmarkii is substantial, but nothing that a top-notch Gitzo/RRS monopod and head can't alleviate.  Nailing shots will take practice, particularly tracking fast action with such a razor-thin depth of field.  But, a photographer who masters this lens can create art so unique and of such a high caliber that the lens is worth every penny.  


Comments

Nick Lisle(non-registered)
Great blog post. I've been pondering the idea of adding the lens to my arsenal. I specialize in custom high school senior portraits and I believe it would really be used a lot for what I shoot.
Raster To Vector Service(non-registered)
Very awesome reviews of Canon's L-lenses. And the images are also amazing. Love this post so much. Big thanks to the contributors.
John Spada(non-registered)
What a great review Maureen - really shows the value of the 200/2. Thanks for all the advice and guidance on my 5D Mark IV purchase. You really do know your cameras! Can't wait to show you the new toy-
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