The Canon EF 70-200 f4 L IS is both a highly-regarded and successful telephoto zoom lens which was first introduced late in 2006. Today it is no longer a new lens as such in the line-up but it is still current. When it was released it supplemented rather than replaced the older, non image-stabilized EF 70-200 L f4, which is a lens that is also still available. The two lenses are similar in size and shape, but there is significant difference when it comes to their design and specification.
ABOUT THE LENS
Starting on the outside, the metal body is well-constructed, and the lens benefits from weather-sealing design changes, compared to the non-IS version.
The lens mount is standard Canon EOS, complete with the weather-sealing rubber ring. The base of the lens barrel is ridged, to help provide a secure grip when adding or removing a camera body. The lens is not supplied with a tripod ring as standard, but I have bought Tripod Mount A II (W) as an accessory. The ring has a black stripe that marks its vertical alignment with the lens, and a knurled locking knob. Unscrewing the spring-loaded locking knob to completely loosen it allows the tripod ring to be removed from the lens, whether a camera body is mounted or not.
The zoom ring is wide, made of rubber and is broadly textured. There is a focus distance scale on the top of the lens barrel. On the side is a panel that houses the switches for controlling AF/MF, focus distance and the image stabilization is of the newer Canon design, being effective at compensating for 4-stops. Aside from being bigger to accommodate the extra switches needed for the IS, a really positive improvement is the way that the switches have been recessed within the housing. On the non-IS lens, it is very easy to accidentally bump one of the switches onto an unintended setting. The switches on the newer lens are tucked-in, and require deliberate pressure to move them, which is how it should be. The EF 70-200 f4 L IS was the first white Canon lens to feature these new, accident-proof switches.
The switches control focus distance, focus mode and image stabilization. This is one of the first Canon lenses to be fitted with a 4-stop image stabilizer system.
The focus ring is also made of rubber, with a finer texture to its ribbing than the zoom ring, which helps to differentiate the two controls by feel.
The front lens element and filter thread are 67mm in diameter. The lens is also supplied with two end caps, one for the lens mount and the other a 67mm squeeze-on type.
A black plastic lens hood, ET 74 is supplied with the lens. It is of the type that turns on and clicks lightly into place. So far this lens hood is not showing any sign of becoming loose and wobbly in its attachment. Some of the older Canon lens hoods had a tendency to do that, in particular those found on the EF 100-400L and the old EF 70-200L f2.8 IS. The inside of the lens hood is covered in non-reflective flocking, which helps prevent any stray light rays from being reflected onto the front lens element.
All moving parts are inside the lens barrel, and it does not change size or shape when zooming or focusing. This type of design is usually better at keeping out dust and moisture than a telescoping design. The lens is also weather-sealed, which means that it is drip-proof, and dust resistant. It does need to be paired with a suitably weather-sealed Canon body to realize this level of specification. The EF 70-200 L f4 feels very well built, and should last a long time.
There are a number of important differences inside the lens barrel, compared to the non-IS EF 70-200L f4.
Some lens elements feature Super Spectra coatings, which reduce flare and ghosting, and specifically improve image quality with digital camera bodies.
With 20 optical elements, arranged in 15 groups, the IS lens is a more complex design internally. Canon were able to keep the same dimensions for the lens barrel, despite the addition of the image stabilization unit and extra elements. There are two UD (Ultra Low Dispersion) and one fluorite lens element. The flourite element improves image quality and weighs less than some other optics. Flourite and UD elements are highly effective at combating chromatic aberrations amongst other things. Both of these materials are more costly than regular optic materials.
The lens comes with a thick, soft fabric bag that can hold the lens inside with hood reversed
HOW WELL DOES IT WORK?
Although the EF70-200f4 L IS weighs 55g more than it’s non-IS stablemate, it remains a very light lens, at only 760g. The light weight makes it completely effortless to use this lens, and if you use it on a 1D series body, you would almost think there was no lens mounted.
It balances very well with Canon Rebel/T4i/T5i/700D bodies, and equally so with mid-range dslr bodies like the 50D/60D series and the 6D/7D/5D lines. The lens is light enough that it won’t make you tired, and you can move it quickly and easily, when tracking subjects that move around a lot. It is much, much lighter than the top-of- the-range Canon EF 70-200 f2.8 IS L ii and because of that, provides a much easier shooting experience. Ease of use is so good with the EF 70-200 f4 L IS that it is my lens of choice for pelagic boat trips when the sea is rough, and I have only one hand free for photography because the other hand is holding the railing and keeping me upright!
The zoom ring is wide, and situated close toward the rear of the lens. It turns smoothly and is well-damped. It takes so little effort to move the zoom ring that I am able to comfortably rotate it with just the top of my left thumb whilst supporting the lens with my left hand. As stated earlier, this lens is sold without a tripod collar, and you will have to buy Tripod Mount Ring AII(W) if you wish to mount the lens on a tripod directly. I sometimes need to shoot my 70-200 lenses on tripods, for landscape work, and also for product shooting, so I bought the tripod collar.
The foot on the bottom also acts as a place for me to support the lens whenI am handholding, keeping my hand from bumping the zoom or focus ring accidentally. I usually mount a Really Right Stuff lens plate on all my lens mounts. It makes the lens foot longer and easier to grip when lifting the lens this way, and it also makes a good place for me to hold onto and support the lens when I am handholding. The lens plate makes attaching and detaching the lens from my tripod mount fast and easy.
Using this lens with a tripod mount on the lens itself gives a very balanced feeling to the setup, as opposed to mounting one’s camera body onto the tripod and having the lens dangle off the front of the camera body. That can work with shorter lenses but although the 70-200 f4 L IS is light, it is a little too long to be used like that.
Most of the time I use this lens in handholding situations. It’s compact size and light weight make it an ideal zoom lens to have for wildlife photography. Whilst 200mm is not nearly enough focal length for bird photography, it works very well for mammals. The shorter half of the zoom range also allows me to capture images of animals in their habitats.
The EF 70-200 L f4 IS was one of the first white L-series Canon lenses to be fitted with an image stabilization system effective to four stops of shutter speed. What that means to the user is that the IS in this lens will dramatically improve the chances of taking sharp images at lower shutter speeds than before. In use the image stabilization system is quiet and fast. Mode 1 is best for general handholding, whilst Mode 2 is best suited to panning, which would include tripod use. If you are going to be shooting from a tripod at very slow shutter speeds, for instance in very low light, then it may be best to turn IS off.
Autofocus is one of this lens’ strong points. The initial pick-up of subjects, even moving ones, is very fast. Also, because this lens has only a moderate maximum focal length of 200mm, it is easy to see where your subject is, even if the subject is still not yet focused in the viewfinder. That is helpful in keeping an autofocus sensor point on the subject. This can be much harder to do with very long focal length lenses.
Another factor aiding fast autofocus response is the compact size of this f4 aperture lens. With lighter elements, and a shorter distance to move them, autofocus is instantaneous. In fact, I find that the f4 L IS gives up very little to the newer and more expensive EF 70-200 f2.8 L IS ii in this regard. Autofocus and image stabilization performance are both fast and near-silent.
On most of my photographic safaris, I will travel with either this lens or the f2.8 version, mounted on one camera body, with my fixed 300 f2.8 on another body, alongside. Compared to a fixed lens, there are lots of advantages to using a zoom lens for wildlife photography, not least that you are able to constantly adjust focal length if your subject changes it’s distance from you which happens often. With the 70-200 on one body, I am always ready for an unexpectedly close approach. Whenever I am shooting in situations where a subject may approach very closely, I make sure to keep the distance limit switch set on its minimum focus distance, which is 1.2m to infinity on this lens. This can slow down absolute AF speed, but the EF 70-200 L f4 IS is already so fast at AF that I prefer to be as prepared as I can be for that unexpected close approach.
Camera bodies used
I used the EF 70-200 f4 L IS on a variety of Canon camera bodies, with different sensor sizes.
On the Canon 7D with it’s APS-C sized sensor, the field of view is roughly equivalent to 112-320mm. This pairing combined the light weight of both lens and body, with good autofocus and decent resolution, and made for a powerful, close-range wildlife setup.
On the Canon 1Dmk3 and Canon 1Dmk4, both of which have APS-H sized sensors, the field of view is roughly equivalent to 91-260mm. Autofocus was blazing fast and both of these bodies worked well for action photography on this lens.
I also used the lens a lot on both the Canon 5Dmk2 and 5Dmk3 bodies, with their full-frame sensors. The wide-end of the focal length range, 70mm, was noticeably wider and more useful for capturing surroundings and environments on the full-frame bodies than with any of the other Canon cameras with smaller sensors (APS-C and APS-H). With the fine image quality and high-resolution found on both of these sensors, these combinations also produced lots of sharp images that were able to be cropped quite heavily without losing much quality if needed.
The constant f4 aperture at all focal lengths is a strong point. In low light, f4 is better at gathering light than a lens with a maximum aperture of f5.6, but not as good as one that opens to f2.8. Improvements in low light capabilities of modern sensors may be reducing this advantage somewhat, depending on your own needs.
This lens will work quite well with the EF 1.4x iii extender attached. The combination effectively creates a 98-280mm f5.6 maximum aperture lens. Autofocus may slow down just a little, and absolute pixel level sharpness may also be slightly affected. In my experience, I get the best results out of lens and extender combinations when pairing them with Canon’s 1D bodies and also the Canon 5Dmk3.
Although it is possible to mount a 2x extender on this lens, it is not something I would recommend. Autofocus may only work with certain Canon bodies, and the viewfinder will be so dark as to impact the experience. There are better ways to get to 400mm of focal length.
I always shoot in RAW and process my images in Adobe Camera Raw, which is very similar to Lightroom, and Adobe Photoshop. My evaluation of this lens’ performance with regard to image quality is based upon that workflow.
This is a zoom lens that has excellent image quality even at wide-open aperture settings. I do not stop down the EF 70-200L f4 IS for sharpness when I am shooting. I choose my aperture setting based on creative reasons…depth of field and background blur being most important of those, and if I feel that I need to shoot at f4 for a shallower depth of field, I do just that, confident that the resulting images will be more than sharp enough for my needs. This is not to say that stopping down the lens to f5.6 or 6.3 won’t make it even sharper, but sharpness at f4 is easily good enough for my needs, which would be magazine-sized prints, fine-art prints and of course, internet usage.
The leopard image above serves as a real world example of lens sharpness. I cropped the original image from 10.1 megapixels to just 1.1 megapixels, to show fine detail captured by the lens. I shot at f7.1 in order to get more than just the eyes in focus. Examining the image shows that eyes and nose, lips and teeth are all very sharp and detailed. Those parts of the whiskers that project closest toward the lens are slightly soft due to depth of field. I was unusually close to the cat for this image, but it can be seen that the lens does not suffer from any sharpness issues.
When you use a zoom lens on a full-frame sensor, it is not unusual for there to be some evidence of vignetting around the edges of the frame. I photographed four images of the blue sky (please ignore the small clouds in two of the frames) at 70mm and again at 200mm, at different aperture settings. As can be seen from the images that follow, vignetting is more pronounced at 200mm and f4 than any other settings. Stopping down to f6.3 reduces the vignetting significantly. At 70mm and f4 there is less vignetting but it is still there, and stopping down to 6.3 completely eliminates it. I purposefully photographed a blue sky in bright conditions with an open aperture to illustrate what little vignetting there is. In real-world use I hardly ever bother about vignetting showing up in my images. Even if it does, slight vignetting can actually help draw attention to my subjects which are usually not positioned anywhere right against the edges of the frame. It is also very simple to get rid of slight vignetting such as this using Adobe Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop. Canon’s software, Digital Photo Professional also takes care of it, and if you like shooting jpg’s, then many Canon dslr’s will also deal with it in-camera.
If you shoot the EF 70-200 f4 L IS on an APS-C sensor camera like the Canon 700D or Canon 7D, you will not see any vignetting, as only the central portion of the image is captured on those sensors.
With a maximum aperture of f4, the EF 70-200 f4 L IS can blur backgrounds quite effectively, although one does need to be relatively close to the subject for best results.
The image above illustrates what background blur looks like with the lens at 200mm of focal length and wide open at f4. The next image is composed similarly, but taken with a Canon EF 70-200 f2.8 L IS ii to show the difference between f4 and f2.8 apertures.
The image above was shot from the same location, but with the Canon EF 70-200 f2.8 L IS ii wide open at f2.8, also at 200mm. The difference can be seen in the nature of the background blur, between the two lenses. When it comes to blurring backgrounds the extra f-stop of the f2.8 lens definitely allows more complete blurring of the edges and structure of the vegetation behind the subject toy baboon. Background blur also needs to be balanced against detail in the subject. In this instance, although shooting at f2.8 creates a more pleasing background, it also results in a less detailed subject, as those parts of the baboon that are not on the same focal plane as the eyes, are not in focus.
I did not notice evidence of excessive chromatic aberration, even when shooting in very harsh light and with scenes that had high contrast. I have never had to do any removal of chromatic aberrations in processing on images taken with this lens so far.
Flare happens when stray light gets reflected off surfaces inside the lens and either shows up in the image as small, circular, bright patches or even sometimes as large areas of low contrast. This lens doesn’t appear to be particularly susceptible to excessive flare effects, though aiming it at a subject with the sun’s direct and unobstructed rays coming into the viewfinder will cause images to lose contrast and may also make accurate autofocus more difficult to get right. I used to own and shoot with the earlier Canon EF 70-200 f2.8 IS i (version 1) and that lens was much worse when shooting toward the sun than the EF 70-200 f4 L IS, being a much older design.
The 70-200 focal length range has appeal to a very broad range of photographers. Aside from nature photography, it makes for a great all-round lens for family and fun photos, and is also excellent for kids and pet photography, and some application for portraiture, specially on a full-frame sensor. It is also a great range for sports where the action isn’t too far away from the sidelines and many great landscape images are also taken with such lenses.
It should come as no surprize then to realize that Canon currently offer three 70-200 lenses in their line-up. They are the EF 70-200 L f4, the EF 70-200 L f4 IS and the EF 70-200 L f2.8 IS ii. Which one is right for you will depend on your needs.
The EF 70-200 L f4 is the oldest design of the three, the lightest in weight, and also the cheapest, by some margin. It offers image quality and autofocus almost as good as the more expensive IS version. It makes do without weather-sealing, and it has no image stabilization.
The EF 70-200 L f4 IS, the lens under review here, offers great image quality, great autofocus performance, light weight, weather-sealing and image stabilization and is priced in between the other two lenses I have mentioned here. It does almost everything that the much more costly f2.8 version can do, at around half the price.
The EF 70-200 f2.8 L IS ii offers the very best image quality, the best autofocus performance of the bunch. It too has weather-sealing and 4-stop image stabilization. It also has the best low-light performance due to its bigger maximum aperture of f2.8. If you need that extra stop of light for indoor shooting, or the extra background blur that the f2.8 aperture can provide, then this is the best choice. It is much heavier than the other lenses mentioned here and twice the price of the EF 70-200 f4 L IS.
Another lens to consider here is the EF 70-300 L f4-f5.6 IS. This lens matches the EF 70-200 L f4 IS at 70mm in its maximum aperture of f4. At 200mm it is at f5 though, compared to the constant f4 aperture of the shorter lens. The EF 70-300 L f4-5.6 IS does have similar IS, is weather sealed and comes close in terms of sharpness and AF speed. It’s biggest advantage may be its 300mm maximum focal length. It is also a little heavier.
At the time of writing, third party lens makers Tokina are about to release an image-stabilized 70-200 f4 lens which will add yet more variety to the choices.
Very good image quality
Very light weight
Effective and silent IS
The EF 70-200 f4 L IS is a fully-featured zoom lens that comes packaged in a surprizingly compact and lightweight design. With image quality almost on par with that of the best prime lenses, fast and accurate autofocus, high-quality construction and effective image stabilization , it is both a rewarding and fun piece of gear to use. Although not inexpensive, it offers excellent performance and real value for the price.