Canon 200mm f2 L IS USM Test

Day 1

Canon CPS was kind enough to send me a loaner 200mm f2 L IS USM, and I just came back from using it on a shoot.  Unfortunately for my bank account, I think I’m in love.

I photograph people.  90% of my work is weddings, and the remaining 10% is wedding-related (engagement sessions and the like.)  I already own the 70-200 f2.8 L IS USM mk II.  Both are excellent lenses, but since I work primarily on primes I’m spoiled in the IQ department.  (IQ = image quality.  I heard you snerking!)  That coupled with the fact that some most churches simply have terrible lighting has always kept me curious about the 200mm f2.

It’s hard to imagine a lens that delivers better IQ than Canon’s 85mm f1.2 L mk II, but this just might be it.  Glowing skin tones, wicked sharp, and perfectly controlled CA all wide open at f2 – this lens is sexier than Marilyn Monroe on a steaming manhole cover.

Yup, it’s big.  Without hoods, the length is only slightly longer than the 70-200 f2.8, but the girth of the 200mm prime… well that’s something else entirely.  It makes the 70-200 look like a scrawny little pencil.

Photo showing size difference between the Canon 70-200 f2.8 L IS USM mk I, 70-200 L IS USM mk II, and 200mm f2 L IS USM
Left to right: Canon 70-200 f2.8 L IS USM mk I, Canon 70-200 f2.8 L IS USM mk II, and Canon 200mm f2 L IS USM.

Turn this baby toward a subject, and they know they’re being watched.  It took me less than ten hours to nickname it “the eye of Sauron.”  It doesn’t just photograph you, it peers at you like cartoon telescope.  Add the hood to the 200mm prime, and it goes from “big” to “comical.”  The hood is made of metal, and provides such a solid base that I found myself using it as a stand for the camera.

Canon 200mm f2 L IS USM acting as a stand for a 1DX
The 200mm f2 L IS USM makes a handy stand for a 1DX

In spite of its size, it’s not as heavy as you might expect.  Oh don’t get me wrong, it weighs more than either the of the 70-200 lenses, but given how large it is you’d think it equivalent to a sack of rocks.  You’d be wrong.  I popped it on my 1DX and hiked around the Santa Cruz Mountains with it strapped to my hand for three hours tonight shooting an engagement session, and I only set it down a couple of times.  I could feel my arm wearing out by the end of the evening, but in spite of that I’d call this beast 100% hand-hold-able.  (In fact I never work on a tripod or stand, and tonight was no exception.)  My girlfriend isn’t quite as keen on lugging it around, but I’m a light-build guy so it doesn’t take a lot of muscle to use it effectively.

Impressive sharpness from the Canon 200mm f2 L IS USM.

What about chromatic aberration, you say?  I’m glad you asked!  Take a look at this image slice, also at 100% with no corrections.  Do you see any?  I don’t.  I’m used to seeing quite a bit on my 85 mk II wide open.  (Admittedly the 135L might be a fairer comparison since it’s also f2 max, but I love my 85 so much that it sets my zero-point baseline.)

No visible chromatic aberration on Canon’s 200mm f2, even in hard, high-contrast edge-light.

Something else I noticed right away is the confidence of the focusing system.  Even on my 1DX, under certain lighting conditions I can get some hunting or uncertainty.  No matter what I did, I could never get the 200mm prime to hunt.  It snapped to focus instantly and stayed.  Even when shooting in AI Servo mode, focus would “pop and stop” – not even a hint of readjusting.  Only once did I get it to misstep, and that was shooting into a full blast of direct sunset flare.  It overshot focus, then immediately turned back and nailed it.

Practicality is an important question here.  This lens is well beyond something you’d casually drop into a shoulder bag.  I’m happy that it fits nicely into my ThinkTank Airport International v2.0, which is where it would have to live permanently.  With a camera and hood attached, I couldn’t quite get the ThinkTank’s Urban Disguise 60 v2.0 to zip closed, even with all the baffles removed and the assembly laying sideways.  I’d have to reverse the lens hood to get it in fully, and then it wouldn’t be in a “ready to shoot” state.  Unless you shoot without the hood, you’d have to stop to assemble it.  Personally I don’t like using “protective” filters, so I always shoot with the hood installed to prevent me from bumping the front element against something.  This lens has no threading for a filter anyway, so even if you did like them you’re out of luck.

Regardless of the above, this lens is so amazing that if you’ve got the capacity to carry it, you absolutely won’t regret it.

Author: Gavin Farrington Photography

San Francisco & Los Angeles wedding photographer specializing in capturing natural, candid moments.

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