…underrated… almost unreviewed… a review and not a masked ad… crippling Canon rant…
Hello dear reader.
I don’t write many reviews; but when I do, their lenght is measured in kilometers.
So grab a beer, get comfortable, and have a nice read. Cheers.
This one is about The Least-Expensive-Most-Amazing-you-most-likely-never-heard-of Lens.
Ladies & Gentlemen, the Canon EF 200mm f/2.8 L USM II (and why the hell do lenses have such long names).
At around 750/800€ it’s the cheapest lens in the L series lineup, but by no means the worst: it’s a kind of secret lens which for reasons unknown nobody talks about.
As of september 2019, it’s old news, so why bother writing this review?
FIrst of all, because writing is fun and sometimes I have things in my head that I need to put on “paper”.
I’ve been wanting to write this review for a looong time, but there was always something else to do, until this year I decided that, ok, I was never gonna put it down in one session, but if I could manage to write 5/10 minutes per day it would have come out. On and off I sticked to it, and after a few months, here it is.
Second, there are not that many reviews online about it.
[Just a few things out of the way before we start.
The lens in this review is mine, I payed full price for it, I have no relationship of any kind with Canon (well, actually I have a frustration & submission relationship with them, as all Canon users have), nobody paid me to write this, and there are no affiliate links. I just write because I like writing, and I love this lens. So whether you buy this lens or not I don’t make any money — can’t say the same for 99% of the reviews out there 😉
This no-apologies 200mm prime lens, being a fixed 200mm, and non-stabilezed as well, is clearly not a lens for everyone.
If you want the best out of it, you have to understand its limits, and have decent hand-holding technique, at least on the Canon 6d I’m using it on.
(Canon rant alert) This is likely my last Canon body. I’m tired of them crippling cameras and making fun of users. I would have bid them farewell a long ago if it weren’t for this lens and the 85L.
Which is even more annoying, since I can’t understand why a company that makes these amazing lenses has to be this shitty when it comes to cameras.
My plan is to keep my two 6d, add an X-T3 with a few lenses, and then buy a GFX to properly enjoy my Canon 85 and 200 with a 21st century proper sensor, a large evf to manual focus wherever the hell I want (which is what I do anyway on my two 6d), and the possibility to use them even in medium format mode. The 85 covers the GFX sensor, the 200 I don’t know.
So after all this rant we can get back to the review: the only reason I decided to buy a second 6d in 2017 was that I really love the two Canon lenses I own, the 200mm here reviewed and the 85mm f/1.2 L II.
No other manufacturer makes similar lenses. I’d like to use them on a mirrorless full-frame body with a nice EVF, but I really don’t like Sony cameras (I don’t wanna start another rant so I’ll stop here), Fujis are aps-c (although I’m planning on buying an X-T3), and in 2017 the only other alternative was the uber expensive Leica SL.
I was waiting for the loooong-due Canon full-frame mirrorless with mixed feelings, hope balanced by the knowledge that Canon was gonna pull another fast one on us. And this is exactly what happened.
Still, I love those lenses.
So, on with the 200mm review (is this the 3rd time I say it and the actual review hasn’t begun yet? I think so).
Rapidly, a list of pros and cons:
CONS (if you’ve read the specs)
CONS (if you haven’t read the specs)
A little note: I have NOT tried this lens on hi-resolution bodies (5dS and the likes) so I cannot comment firsthand on that. I had read somewhere, can’t find the link anymore unfortunately, that this lens behaves very well on the 50mp medium format Fuji GFX 50 S, even without cropping, so I would guess it should do just fine on Canon hi-res bodies. But take this with a grain of salt, you might wanna test them yourself.
… metal beauty… bad for your ego… manual is good… study, sweetheart…
First of all, serial number of my copy is: 136554. I have no idea when this was produced, nor I have any interest in researching it.
There are two versions of this lens. From what I gathered, they’re pretty much the same, except for the built-in hood on version I and maybe some different coatings.
Version 1 has been made from 1991 to 1996, the newer from 1996 onwards.
Unless you find a real deal on a mk I, I would look for a mk II as it’s probably been less used, and it’s still officially serviced.
This lens is a sleek piece of metal.
Black, rugged, a cool mix of practical and beautiful.
It doesn’t have the same in-your-face build quality of Leica, Zeiss, Voigtlander lenses (and similar), but it oozes quality nonetheless, and if we start taking into consideration price, quality, and specs, well… This lens might be The Deal.
It’s quite small considering its specs (and quality).
It’s amazingly lightweight, at only 806g (with front and rear caps, and aftermarket metal hood). This is a spec to ponder in your telephoto lens choice. When you think about it, 800g it’s a ridicolous weight.
The only downside you can think of is its lack of weather sealing, and that’s all (I have used it with no problems under light snow/rain, but I wouldn’t bring it out in a storm).
The barrel is metal (gets very cold in winter), long and thin. All considered, it looks like a longer 135 L.
And… It’s black. Unlike the other Canon teles, this is black. Much stealthier, better looking (my opinion), and less “look-at-me-OMG-I’m-a-pro” look.
This is the kind of lens that let you get in where “no professional cameras” are allowed.
If you’re ego can’t stomach not being recognized immediatly as a pro, by all means skip it.
Two switches on the left side: the AF/MF selector (of course with manual override in autofocus), and the focusing range selector (1.5m-infinity/3.5m-infinity: honestly I always keep it on full range as this 200 is plenty fast enough).
There’s a distance scale with very funny depth of field marks: I say very funny because at 200mm dof will be very small at all apertures so the only aperture showed is only f/32…
The manual focus ring… Yes. It’s soooo good. Perfect. Large. Not slippery. Not a fraction of millimeter of play. Firm but smooth (you can still focus with one finger).
The manual focus is as good as it comes on an autofocus lens. Out of all the af lenses I’ve had/tried, this is by far the smoothest at manual focusing. On a blind test, I’m sure most people wouldn’t even guess it’s an af lens.
Filter size is 72mm, shared with the 85L, one of the many reasons these two make for an amazing couple. Of course the front element doesn’t rotate.
The original hood is quite big (and maybe with it you could still be recognized as a true PRO). Taking it off and on it’s a pain in the ass: not intuitive at all, especially when you wanna store the lens with the hood in reversed position.
One good way of quickly finding the right position to put it on is (if you have the camera hanging from your neck) having the “ET-83BII” mark on the right and then screw the hood until it clicks with the mark on top. In reversed position, you want the mark bottom/right and then screw it until it’s on the right.
The hood interior is felted so it keeps dust from falling on the lens, and works very well.
My lens came with the “new” Canon cap, wich is easy to take off and on even with the hood on.
With the old one it’s almost impossibile.
Still, I replaced the original hood with a shorter 3.90€ metal one found on ebay.
I use the hood for lens protection only, as this lens is quite flare-resistant, so I don’t need the super long original one. This metal one is screw-on, so if you use filters often it’s not practical. I find it good looking and I don’t need to take it off when I put the lens in the bag. Problem solved for me.
With this hood the filter size goes up to 77mm, so you’ll need another cap.
The lens does not come with a tripod collar. Canon is always stingy with accessories, and the 200 is no exception, but I have to say that for the price one cannot complain too much IMO.
Same thing goes for the pouch. Forget about it, in real life there’s not much use for it (it’s the same we get with the 85mm 1.2 L, and at least for a lens that expensive one should get a better one).
The pouch I got with my Sigma 24-105 is a real one, and I have to hand it to them.
With 1,5m as minimum focusing distance, there’s no risk of confusing it with a macro lens.
Mounted on a relatively small body as the 6d, you can fit it perfectly in a Billingham Hadley Small, either without the hood or with the hood reversed or with the metal hood.
Billingham bags are amazing and 100% waterproof, but I won’t go into that now. Just buy them.
This lens is not stabilized. Had it been, it would’ve been bigger, heavier, and more expensive. And to me it would have lost some of its “raw” carachter. Stupid, I know. But that’s the way I am. Forget about shooting this lens at 1/20 of a second, but you don’t even have to trust some review where people say that in order to get a sharp shot you have to keep over 1/500 of a second. Whew. I have good handholding technique (nothing you can’t train), and youngish hands, but paying some attention I can shoot a still subject at 1/125 and get a sharp shot. Sometimes even less.
Of course this doesn’t apply if you’re old, have Parkinson, etc, but…
Get to work and train your technique, sweetheart. It’s not the kind of lens you take out of the box and, boom, great shot after great shot. It takes some time, and once you get your technique right, you’ll feel proud and you won’t have to rely on gimmicks to get your shots. Ok.
… rebels in Sharpness Kingdom… where has Good Taste gone?…
In these days of Otus, G Master and so-called “Art-lenses”, I find we’re losing taste for good rendering (and for names as well, am I the only one who thinks that calling a lens “Art” or “Master” is ridicolous?).
All we get is SHARP!, and that’s pretty much all there is. Giant sized overcorrected lenses with tons of glass and stabilizers and hyper-complicated 657 modes autofocuses… with meh rendering.
Yes. Welcome to Sharpness Kingdom baby, where you’ll finally be able to showcase each and everyone of your subject’s wrincles, and with a flat crap rendering to boot.
Everyone wants what DPreview calls the Best… but is it really?
Few people appreciate proper tonal transitions anymore, and there’s soooooo many charateristics a lens has a part from sharpness.
Sharpness to lenses is like volume with audio equipment. If it’s loud it doesn’t mean it sounds good. If it’s sharp, it doesn’t mean it renders well.
Most of nowadays lenses remind me of Beats headphones. Enough said.
(if you’re into this kind of things, check out this video)
Probably this has something to do with the fact that internet exasperated the trend of judging things (and unfortunately people) only from measurable parametres.
I know they are important, but I wanna stress that it’s not all there is. Calories don’t make good food, for example.
Don’t get me wrong: sharpness has its place, e.g. for reproduction work or some landscape.
But I want to take a look at your photos and tell me how many of the good ones are good because of their Ssssharpness baby, and how many of them would have improved were they sharper.
Take a couple of minutes to ponder the results of your research.
Now come back, and realize that a good picture has not much to do with sharpness.
This film-era design lens (more details on this page at mir.com website) has a relatively low elements count, which probably has something to do with the way it draws.
Oh yes, because this piece of glass does draw.
What it will offer:
All this, coupled with proper sharpness right off the bat.
I find it a perfect compromise between vintage lenses (which often have only nice rendering but crap perfomances) and modern lenses.
Where this lens really shines — well, a part from the fact that it shines pretty much everywhere — is in black and white photography.
I particularly love lenses good at b&w, and this one has definetly its place in my collection.
There’s not much to say here, it’s practically perfect for this.
… let’s make justice… still no alternatives…
Most people ignore the existence of this lens, and this always bugged me.
Everybody is out there (rightly so) praising the 135mm f/2, “lord red rings”, or whatever they call it… But why not give its big brother some love as well?
It’s true that with the 200 you lose around two stops of hand-holdability (does this word even exist?), and it’s less versatile as well, but, but… But it’s a hell of a lens nonetheless.
The rendering is spectacular, sharpness is on point, distorsions and aberrations are kept at minimum…
I think it’s about time, now that the EF mount is dying, to give back to the 200 some long-due justice.
Canon has so many great telephoto lenses that this 200 is the one everybody always forgets to mention. Why, it’s beyond me.
Canon makes two 200mm primes: this one, and the biiig and expensive 200mm f/2 IS (used to make an even more impressive 200mm f/1.8 non IS). The latters are drool-worthy for sure, but to me they are too big, and too expensive.
At 85 mm Canon has the 1.8, the 1.4, and the 1.2: here, I’m all for the biggest and fastest. Too me it’s a crazy lens, but still enjoyable (not for your wallet though). I mean, where you bring the 1.8 or 1.4, you can bring the 1.2 as well, although it’s a bit heavier.
But the 200 f/2 is another breed: at around 6k€ and 2,5kg, you’re gonna think twice before taking it out with you. That’s why for me the f/2.8 and the f/2 belong to two different categories, and they both have their place.
Enough bla bla. Let’s compare the EF 200mm f/2.8 L USM II to some lenses folks might wanna buy instead of it.
The reason you’re likely to never have heard of this lens is the riddicoulous selection of 70-200mm Canon offers. IS, non IS, f/4, f/2.8, I, II, III, RF, EF… There are so many that you could lose count.
Good thing is, none of them renders like this lens. Yes, they’re excellent for what they are, but they’re white, heavy, expensive, have worse rendering, and good luck in manual focusing them… And most people always use them around the 200mm mark anyway.
But I understand the market for zooms is bigger than the market for non-stabilized non-ultrafast prime teles.
It’s business baby, and that’s why, for example, the folks at Canon marketing department decided to rename the mk II 70-200 2.8 to mk III without changing anything, just to give it a little bump in price. As I said in the intro, as long as people buy Canon, they’ll forever try to screw us like this.
Anyway: I hope this review will make you stop a couple of minutes and reeeeeally ponder about your 200ish lens requirement.
If what’s important for you is sharpness, check out the MTF test on Lensrentals’s blog: 70-200 f/4, 70-200 f/2.8, primes (200 f/2.8 is at the bottom, even if on the graph there’s written f/2).
VS 135 f/2
I’ve written about this before, but I’ll sum it up here. If you like the 135, you’ll like the 200 as well. It’s less versatile, but it’s cheaper. And if, as I am, you are an 85mm lover, I think it makes a better combo (85 + 200, I mean). 85 and 135 are quite close and overlapping in my opinion. Of course if I really had money to throw away I’d buy the 135 as well, just for the sake of having it.
VS 75-300, 100-400, 70-300 zooms…
Look, let’s not even talk about it. Two different categories, rendering on this one is miles ahead. They’re too different, in price, size, specs… Only thing these lenses have in common is that you can shoot at 200mm with all of them. To me, that’s the end of it.
If you want/need longer than 200mm and don’t wanna bother with teleconverters, you already have the answer. If you want/need a zoom, you already have the answer. If you want/need IS, you already have the answer.
If not, get the 200mm.
VS vintage stuff
Ok, here you can find a lot of good options, proven you don’t mind manual focusing. And you’ll be better off with a mirrorless camera with these.
Apparently, back in the days before the avent of 70-200s, 200mmish primes, were a priority for glass makers. Good old times.
I’ve personally tried:
– the Nikon 180mm ai-s: it’s a beauty, a 9/10. You can adapt it to Canon reflex cameras as well. The af version has got pretty much the same optics
– the Nikon 200mm f/4: amazing rendering, low-count elements, small… it’s great
Then there are the Zuiko 180mm f/2.8, the Zuiko 200mm f/4, the Leica R 180mm f/2.8, the Contax Zeiss Sonnar 180mm f/2.8… There’s a sleeve of them, and unfortunately I haven’t tried them all. I wish, but I haven’t. Online there’s a lot of material, so help yourself.
I haven’t seen/tried anything, though, that would make me part with my Canon 200mm.
… why nobody makes them anymore?… focus is key… flattering portraits… can’t do it with a smartphone dear influencer…my cat is beautiful…
Nobody makes 200mm primes anymore, and what it’s weird is that Fuji doesn’t make a 135mm (200mm eq.) for their aps-c system. They could make a 135mm f/2 (or maybe even faster) and keep it relatively small, smaller for sure that their full-frame counterparts.
They would sell tons of them… Meanwhile at least, there’s no shortage of good vintage lenses between 100 and 135mm (I, for myself, will adapt my beautiful Nikkor 105mm f/1.8 to the X-T3 I’m gonna buy next year).
Anyway, this section applies to any 200mm focal lenght lens (on full frame).
200s are a strange breed. Tele enough, but not super long, what they offer is great telephoto compression and smooth background melting in a human-sized package, especially if they’re primes (except of course for the f/2-f/1.8 ones).
In a fast 200mm, sharpness is important, but even more so it’s getting the shot in focus. Shooting at f/2.8 and 200mm is a bitch, especially on a Canon 6d, a reflex with an optical viewfinder (no focus-peaking/magnifying) and a begininng-of-the-century (20th century though) autofocus system. Focusing and recomposing is not recommended because the dof is so thin that at portrait range the focusing will be off.
Even faraway subjects will have foreground and background thrown at least slightly out of focus, so again, eventual sharpness problems (not present in this particular lens) will be meaningless compared to your ability to get that shot in focus.
Another thing that can affect sharpness is long distance haze. It’s a common problem on every tele: it can reduced with an UV filter, but often even that it’s not enough. You’ll just have to live with it.
Taking portraits (especially headshots) with a 200mm feels almost like cheating because most of the people will look very well, and quite easily.
The 200mm compression is very flattering and gives a distinct air to anybody, the shallow depth of field at large apertures is very forgiving for imperfect skin, and you don’t need to shoot someone in their face.
I’ve shot a lot of weddings in my life and, yes, it happened.
There’s often some member of the family who’s always grumpy and skeptical and “no picture of me thanks mr. photographer”: it’s the perfect subject for a 200mm. He seldom realizes he’s being photographed, and at 200mm he’ll look good so it might even change his mind about photographers.
If you wanna shoot with a 200mm in a studio you need a lot of space to move around, and that’s not always possible.
With a 200mm and an f/2.8 aperture (often even at f/4 and smaller), the depth of field combined with the focal length compressione makes isolating subjects in crowds very easy.
If you shoot sport it doesn’t matter if there are fences or not, because if you keep the lens close to them they’ll disappear completely, even stopping down a bit.
With a 200mm, corners rarely matter as they’re often out of focus. However, with this particular one if you really need sharp corners even at f/2.8, you’re good to go.
It’s not a focal length I particularly enjoy shooting on the street. I usually get bored by faces close-ups with blurred background, and I get bored by abstract color/light and shadow games, which are very easy to do with a 200mm. If you’re into these kind of things, it’s your lens.
Shooting hi-quality pictures with a long focal lens is one of the things that to this date you cannot do with a smartphone.
IMHO, 95% of the situations where in the past you would have called a photographer can be handled today by a smartphone.
The remaining 5% includes shallow-depth-of-fields pictures, long focal lenghts pictures, low-light photography, hi-end fashion/product/commercial photography, clients who appreciate the eye of the photographer.
I’m not a wildlife photographer, and for most of wildlife applications this 200mm is not the best choice (too short). However, if you need/want the 200mm and do the occasional wildlife shooting, buying the 2x teleconverter is a good option.
It works well, of cours not like a 400mm would do, but good enough to have fun and get that reach when you want it.
I don’t see myself ever needing it so I haven’t bought/tried it.
I almost forgot, 200mm is a great focal length for taking pictures of your cat and get that record of likes on Instagram you’ve been looking after for so long.
Too bad I said “fuck you” to social media a while ago.
Anyway, here’s my beautiful Rossana.
…sharp bricks… fast focus… sweet bokeh…
I’ll try to keep this section as brief as possible.
This lens is super sharp corner-to-corner even wide-open, has practically no distorsion whatsoever, and vignetting is negligible wide open.
I’m not a sport&wildlife photographer so I’ll keep the next section brief.
For me, autofocus is fast & silent.
As you all know, the 6d isn’t exactly known for its autofocus capability, but this lens transforms it into another camera!
It acquires focus almost instantly, and what did suprise me the most is that it tracks subjects as well! On a 6d!
Now that’s impressive. (of course it tracks them as long as they stay on the af points which are all crammed near the center)
So if you shoot portraits, weddings, events, street, reportage… this lens will be no problem at all.
I think it’ll be ok for wildlife and sports as well, but you might wanna rent it and try it yourself.
Bokeh is amazing. At close focus distances it completely obliterates any background/foreground around your subjects into abstract colors.
Neutral subject bokeh example:
… not much to say here… promising & delivering…
It’s a rare case of a lens that does exactly and perfectly what it promises.
What it states in the name — you could read it “L-grade quality 200mm prime lens with fast & accurate autofocus” — is exactly what it does, with no ifs or buts.
What it’s not stated in the name (IS, zoom, weather sealing), it can’t do it.
It’s as simple as that, and refreshing.
The section about 200mm in general explains what it’s like to use a 200mm, and it applies to the EF 200mm f/2.8 L USM II as well.
Only, this lens excels in everything it’s supposed to do.
It’s small, discreet, lightweight, ergonomics are good, build is fine, manual focusing is smooth, and the glass is stellar in every way you judge it (bokeh, sharpness, rendering, lack of aberrations and distorsion).
…no future… Greats become Legends…
So, what’s next?
Easy, most probably there’s no future for this lens.
Maybe there will be some ultra light and fast and uber uber RF lens. I doubt Canon will ever touch this lens again, which is why we can start calling it a Classic and a Legendary lens (yes).
Even better, this glass is the Bargain and the Most Underrated in Canon’s lineup.
Look no further.
At this link you can see on Flickr even the pictures I upload after this review.
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