Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM Lens Review $1299

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The Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM Lens has been announced. I anxiously await this lens in my hands and completion of this review will be a high priority at that time. In the meantime, I’ll share my expectations for this lens below.

The Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM Lens was announced at the same time as the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens, but unlike the f/2.8L III, deemed a “refresh”, the f/4L IS II is a very significantly upgraded lens. I have owned and loved the original version of this lens since it was first released and knowing that it has been significantly upgraded is of course exciting.

Why is this lens so special? First, the 70-200mm focal length range is tremendously useful. The great build quality, AF performance, 5-stop image stabilization and impressive image quality are at least as compelling. That all of these features come in a small, lightweight package makes the lens very comfortable to use. That a lens with all of these features has a reasonable price wraps up the deal.

What are the Differences Between the Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS II Lens and the Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS Lens?

  • The II has an improved 5-stop image stabilization system that is very quiet and includes mode III
  • The II has optimized Super Spectra Coating for reduced ghosting and flare and improved contrast
  • The II has a reduced minimum focus distance (3.3′ vs 3.9′ / 1m vs. 1.2m) and an improved maximum magnification (0.27x vs. 0.21x)
  • The II has improved image quality and an improved optical design while retaining the same 20/15 element/group counts and same fluorite and dual UD lens count
  • The II has a 9-blade rounded aperture (vs. 8)
  • The II has improved weather sealing, matching the other recently introduced L-series lenses
  • The II has fluorine coating on the front and rear lens elements, keeping them cleaner and making them much easier to clean.
  • The II has Canon’s newer, whiter paint color, matching the other recently-introduced lenses.
  • The II is very slightly larger and heavier and has a slightly larger 72mm filer size (vs. 67mm)
  • The II has minor typographical changes including the words “Image Stabilizer” and “Ultrasonic” printed below the focal length range and next to the focus distance window. The gold “Image Stabilizer” has been removed from the mount area.

That is a rather solid list of improvements with some individual items alone being upgrade-worthy. So, now you are bracing yourself for the price increase and as-usual, there is one. However, the street price increase is not that big. The 12-year newer model II looks like a sure-win to me.

Focal Length Range

I have long-owned two 70-200mm lenses and both of these zoom lenses are, individually, among my most-used, despite the fact that I own also have other lenses covering significant portions of this focal length range. That this specific focal length range is so incredibly useful is the reason that I so often choose a 70-200 lens for whatever my need is.

What is a 70-200mm lens useful for? The list of uses for a short-mid-telephoto focal length range is the same for all 70-200mm lenses and it is very long. I’ll share some of my favorites.

At the top of my favorite uses for a 70-200mm lens list is portrait photography and if you are taking pictures of people, one of these lenses has your name on it. Containing a superset of the classic 85-135mm portrait focal length range, 70-200mm lenses are ideal for capturing pleasing perspectives of people. This lens invites subject framing ranging from full body portraits at 70mm to tight headshots at 200mm and these mid-telephoto focal lengths naturally push the focus distances far enough away to avoid perspective distortion, including large-appearing noses. But, not so far that communication with the subject becomes difficult.

A set of focal length ranges illustrated for portrait use below (captured with an f/2.8 lens at f/2.8, so ignore the background blur in these examples).

Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2 Lens Focal Length Range Example

70mm | 100mm | 135mm | 200mm

“Portrait photography” is a broad term that covers a wide variety of potential still and video use at a wide variety of potential venues including both indoors (home, church, school, etc.) and outdoors (yard, beach, park, parade, playground, etc.). Portrait subjects can range from infants to seniors, from individuals to large groups (if enough working distance is available). Engagements, weddings, parties, events, theater, stage performances including concerts and recitals, speakers, families, small groups, senior adults, graduating seniors, fashion, documentary, lifestyle … all are great uses for the 70-200mm focal lengths. There is often adequate space in even a small studio for portraiture with an 85mm-provided angle of view. It is not hard to use this lens exclusively for portrait shoots.

That portrait photography is one of the best revenue-producing photography genres helps justify the acquisition cost of this lens (you cannot buy stock photos of most people) and you likely noticed the paid applications in the just-shared list of portrait uses.

People are also frequently photographed participating in sporting and other action scenarios using this focal length range. While the 200mm focal length may be modestly too wide for large field sports photography, it works very well for closer action such as that found at track and field meets and on the basketball court (though an f/4 aperture may not be adequate for indoor action).

By virtue of the longer focal lengths, the background of 70-200mm images can be strongly-blurred and that attribute is especially great for portraits captured where the background cannot be fully controlled, including at sporting events and performances captured from a seat in the audience.

While portrait photography generally refers to images of people being captured, some of us also refer to certain types of wildlife photos as portraits. These images typically include the animal at least nearly filling the frame and for that task, this focal length range often falls short of the need. Unless the wildlife subject is very large and/or very close, the longest native focal length in this lens (I’ll discuss the teleconverter options later in the review) will usually be found far too short for this task. If capturing environmental wildlife portraits or captive (zoo) wildlife, this focal length range may be perfect.

When landscape photography is mentioned, many immediately think of wide angle lenses. But, telephoto focal lengths are an extremely important part of a landscape kit. The telephoto focal lengths can create excellent landscape images, especially when there is a distant subject desired to be emphasized, such as a mountain. Here is a 200mm sample image (again captured with a different lens) showing a compressed landscape, emphasizing lines and colors over depth:

Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2 Lens Landscape Sample Picture

Another great use of telephoto lenses for landscape photography is to focus on closer details, allowing a strong background blur to isolate those within the image. It is so easy to take great telephoto landscape images that it feels (slightly) like cheating.

Cityscapes are essentially landscape images with cities in them and this focal length range is often a great choice for more-distant city views. Street photography, often done in cities, is another great use for the 70-200mm range.

This lens’ predecessor has been my most-ever-used studio lens, working especially well for product images and many other general studio applications and the new one, with the reduced minimum focus distance, promises to be significantly better for that use. Most of the product images on this site were captured within the 70-200mm range and this range is ideal for larger products including vehicles.

70-200mm Focal Length Range Example

Note that the example sets above and below were captured with a different lens. Here are a couple of additional 70-200 focal length range examples.

Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens Focal Length Range Example

70mm | 100mm | 135mm | 200mm
70mm | 100mm | 135mm | 200mm

Mount a 70-200mm lens on an APS-C-format camera and the angle of view becomes like that of a 112-320mm lens on a full frame camera. While the narrower angle of view does not greatly change the uses list for this lens, these angles of view make widely-framed portraits less ideal and most will prefer the narrower angle of view range for sports and wildlife pursuits.

The entire set of sample images captured with this lens’ predecessor are directly applicable to this review as well.

Max Aperture

The “f/4” in the product name tells us that this lens has a medium-wide maximum aperture opening. That there is no range is this number is an especially positive feature, meaning that this lens has the same max aperture available over the entire focal length range. While f/4 is not terribly impressive at 70mm, it is definitely looking much better in comparisons with many other lenses at 200mm.

For a 70-200mm professional-grade lens, the relevant comparable max aperture is f/2.8, a 2x larger opening. The f/2.8 options will stop action and be handholdable in 2x lower light levels and these lenses can create a stronger background blur. If those aspects are important to you, head over to the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens review as that is the model you likely want.

If unsure about the background blur difference, you might find this 70-200mm focal length and aperture comparison helpful.

If f/2.8 is not needed, this lens’ f/4 max aperture has some strong advantages of its own. One is the significantly reduced size and weight and another is the significantly reduced price tag. Especially when I’m photographing landscapes and products, an f/8 max aperture lens would often be adequate and I much prefer size and weight of the f/4 option over the f/2.8 lens for these purposes.

Image Stabilization

Especially for motionless subjects, the inclusion of image stabilization is a game-changer for a telephoto f/4 lens and the system in this lens is sounding especially attractive. During a product introduction conference call, Canon USA’s Drew McCown was quite excited by the performance of the new 5-stop image stabilization system, courtesy of a new high-performance CPU, featured in this lens, indicating he was getting consistently sharp images at specified, remarkably long-for-200mm shutter speeds.

This IS system features modes I (normal), II (panning) and, new for this lens model, III, designed for capturing erratic motion without fighting against IS while tracking the subject. Canon indicates that this IS system is remarkably quiet, indicating that it will be especially great for assisting video recording.

Another image stabilization benefit that should not be overlooked is the aid in AF precision. The camera’s AF system can produce better focus precision if the image it sees is stabilized. Canon contends that this is true even with a subject that is in motion and at action-stopping shutter speeds.

The new IS system in the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM Lens promises to be a big improvement over an already good system.

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens Compared to Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM Lens

Image Quality

One of the reasons the original version of this lens was so loved was the excellent image quality it produced. Check it out here. Even ultra-high resolution 5Ds R test images are very sharp, corner-to-corner over the entire focal length range, at f/4. That the “II” promises improved image quality means that it is going to be a very special lens.

Here is an MTF chart comparison between these two models:

Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM Lens MTF Chart Comparison

Canon refers to the thick lines as showing contrast (10 lines/mm) measurements and the thin lines as showing resolution (30 lines/mm) measurements. The solid lines show sagittal (lines radiating from center to the image circle periphery) results while the dashed lines show meridional (lines perpendicular to the sagittal lines) results. The black lines indicate a wide open aperture while the blue lines show results at f/8. The left side of the chart shows center-of-the-image-circle measurement and the right side shows peripheral measurement. The higher the lines, the better the lens performs. When all of the lines get crushed into the top of the chart, the lens promises to be amazing.

Take an already stellar lens and improve it nicely and you get a … very stellar lens. I look forward to testing this one.

Focusing

The 70-200mm f/4L IS II gets Canon’s excellent USM (Ultrasonic Motor) AF drive system, this one including a new high performance CPU along with newly developed firmware for higher speed and accuracy. The version I lens’ AF system performs very well and the II’s system should be quite impressive. This lens internally focuses and very fast, accurate AF is expected, with the latter being especially important to fully realize the lens’ image quality.

A focus limit switch offers the full 3.3′ (1.0m) – ∞ range or a limited 9.8′ (3m) – ∞ range, potentially improving focus acquisition speed with more-distant subject distances.

A focus distance scale, in both ft and m, is provided in a window, enabling focus distance settings to be visible at a glance.

The ideally-size and forward-positioned focus ring is expected to be smooth with good rotational resistance, and hopefully without the slight amount of gear play my version I lens has.

I mentioned that I use the version I lens a substantial amount in the studio and when photographing products, I am often somewhat limited by that lens’ minimum focus distance. While going from 47.2″ (1200mm) to 39.4″ (1000mm) may not sound significant, it is a big deal for me. I am going to make great use of that extra magnification (0.27x vs. 0.21x). While this lens’ close-focus specs are not best-in-class, they are very good and very good for non-macro lenses in general.

Model MFD MM
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens 47.2″ (1200mm) 0.21x
Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM Lens 39.4″ (1000mm) 0.27x
Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM Lens 47.2″ (1200mm) 0.21x
Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM Lens 47.2″ (1200mm) 0.21x
Nikon 70-200mm f/4G AF-S VR Lens 39.4″ (1000mm) 0.27x
Sony FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS Lens 39.4″ (1000mm) 0.13x
Tamron 70-210mm f/4 Di VC USD Lens 37.4″ (950mm) 0.32x

Extension tubes shift a lens farther from the camera, allowing a lens to focus at closer a distance, though at the expense of long distance focusing. Magnification from telephoto lenses is not greatly increased by the use of extension tubes, but there is still some benefit to using them. Mounting a Canon EF 12mm Extension Tube II behind this lens provides a magnification range of 0.34-0.06x and that range increases to 0.43-0.14x with a Canon EF 25mm Extension Tube II in use.

This lens is compatible with Canon’s EF 1.4x III and EF 2x III Extenders (teleconverters). Retaining the lens’ native focus distance range, these options also increase magnification along with providing a narrower angle of view that is sometimes even more highly desired.

The addition of a 1.4x extender creates an attractive full frame 98-280mm image stabilized lens with a 1-stop narrower max aperture (f/5.6). While the focal length versatility provided by the TC is very nice, magnifying the image by 1.4x can negatively impact image quality by magnifying any aberrations present. Still, based on the expected optical performance of this lens, results with the 1.4x extender should be quite good.

The 1.4x adds some barrel distortion, but that increase should be just the right amount to offset the (expected) native 200mm pincushion distortion, resulting in a very well-corrected distortion profile at the focal lengths most-typically needed when a 1.4x is needed (the long ones). This extender typically adds a small amount of lateral CA. With the 1.4x mounted behind this lens, autofocus speed should remain very good.

Use the 2x extender to create a 140-400mm IS Lens with 2-stops of max aperture loss. With a 2-stop max aperture reduction, this becomes an f/8 max aperture lens. The f/8 max aperture is wide enough and still very useful for the wildlife and sports photography that these focal lengths are especially well suited for if the lighting conditions are bright. Keep in mind that not all cameras will autofocus with a lens and extender combination having an f/8 max aperture, though live view AF will generally be supported.

I am usually left unsatisfied with the performance of 2x extenders but will reserve my prediction on these results. I may be surprised by this lens.

With the 2x mounted, barrel distortion will likely again be increased and again that increase is likely to be just the right amount to offset the expected native 200mm pincushion distortion, resulting in a very well-corrected distortion profile. Lateral CA should become increasingly noticeable.

Build Quality & Features

L-Series lenses are Canon’s best-available models. In addition to having the best-available optics and optic designs, these lenses are built for the rigors of daily professional use. When there is a red ring around the end of your current-model lens, you know you have the ultimate Canon option in your hands.

Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM Lens Side View

Like all of the other 70-200mm lenses currently available, the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM Lens has a fixed size with no extension during focusing or zooming.

This lens has an essentially-straight, relatively narrow barrel design that, like its predecessor, will be very comfortable to use. The barrel exterior is high quality engineering plastic and metals are used internally for an expected solid overall feel, again like its predecessor.

Both rings are substantial in size and are expected to be smooth in rotation and very easy to use. Like the focus ring, the zoom ring on my version I lens has a tiny amount of play in the gears. It would be nice to see the II’s zoom ring tightened slightly in this regard.

The rear-positioned zoom ring is a huge differentiating feature for the Canon’s 70-200mm lenses. Many competing 70-200 models position the zoom ring toward the front of the lens where it creates an awkward balance during use. On those models, the left hand under the zoom ring is well-forward of the lens’ balance points and that means the right hand must become weight bearing as well. If used on a tripod, the issue is reduced in importance, but if shooting handheld, the rear-positioned zoom ring has a significant value to me.

The II gets a whiter white color than the I, matching the other recently-released L-series telephoto lenses. While a white lens might be less stealthy, garnering more attention than a black lens, a white lens remains cooler under a bright sun, reducing the temperature change and any negative issues that such contributes to, including part expansion.

A low-profile switch panel holds four switches. While the switches are also low-profile, they are sized and contoured ideally for use. Expect their firm click into position to be assuring from both positional and quality standpoints.

While not waterproof (water damage will void the warranty), this lens is better weather-sealed than its predecessor and is built for outdoor professional use in conditions that are not always favorable.

The front and rear elements are fluorine-coated, causing dust and water drops to shed off of the element (or easily blow off) and making cleaning more problematic issues, such as fingerprints, much easier. This coating makes a noticeable difference.

Why do I have two Canon 70-200mm lenses in my kit? While my f/2.8 lens can photographically do almost everything the f/4 version can do (the f/4L IS II lens’ higher-rated IS system and shorter minimum focus distance are the primary differentiators), I can hold the f/4 lens comfortably for a much longer period of time. Less fatigue means better performance. At less than 54% of the f/2.8 lens’ weight, the f/4 difference is very noticeable.

Model Weight Dimensions w/o Hood Filter Year
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens 52.6 oz (1490g) 3.5 x 7.8″ (88.8 x 199.0mm) 77mm 2018
Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM Lens 28.2 oz (800g) 3.1 x 6.9″ (80.0 x 176.0mm) 72mm 2018
Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM Lens 26.8 oz (760g) 3.0 x 6.8″ (76.0 x 172.0mm) 67mm 2006
Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM Lens 24.9 oz (705g) 3 x 6.8″ (76.0 x 172.0mm) 67mm 1999
Nikon 70-200mm f/4G AF-S VR Lens 30.0 oz (850g) 3.1 x 7″ (78.0 x 178.5mm) 67mm 2012
Sony FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS Lens 29.7 oz (840g) 3.1 x 6.9″ (80.0 x 175.0mm) 72mm 2014
Tamron 70-210mm f/4 Di VC USD Lens 30.3 oz (859g) 3.0 x 6.9″ (76.0 x 175.3mm) 67mm 2018

For many more comparisons, review the complete Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM Lens Specifications using the site’s Lens Spec tool.

Once the II lens arrives in the studio, we will add the standard product images to this review. In the meantime, I’ll share one from the version I lens review, showing the Canon EF 70-200mm L lens family. The II looks similar to the I except with a slightly whiter color.

Canon Telephoto Zoom Lens Comparison

Shown above and below, from left to right are:

Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM Lens
Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0L USM Lens
Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0L IS USM Lens
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L USM Lens
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM Lens (discontinued)
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens

The same lenses are shown below with their hoods in place.

Canon Telephoto Zoom Lens Comparison With Hoods

Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM Lens with Tripod Mount Ring AII(WII)

While this lens is much lighter than the f/2.8 options, it is still rather large and heavy for the camera to be mounted directly to a tripod. To achieve the ideal balance when tripod or monopod-mounting a lens of this weight and length, the optional Canon Tripod Mount Ring AII(WII) is required. You can get by using this lens with a camera body mounted directly to a tripod, but the tripod ring is the better option and I’ve had one on my version I lens since it was released. The version I lens’ Tripod Mount Ring A II (W) works well when tightened down, but that ring is far from meeting the “smooth” definition when being adjusted. Hopefully the WII is improved in this regard, but … I suspect that is not the case.

Canon Tripod Mount Ring AII(WII)

Those using the Arca-Swiss standard clamp system and adding a lens plate to this optional foot should select a model with anti-twist nubs. I opted for the Wimberley P20 Lens Plate on the version I lens.

The Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM Lens has 72mm filter threads, a common size slightly larger than the 67mm filters used by the version I lens.

Canon ET-78 Lens Hood

Canon always includes the lens hood in the box of L-series lenses and this one gets the ET-78 lens hood. This is a relatively large, round-shaped hood that adds significant protection to the front lens element. Protection is from bright flare-causing lights, from scratch-causing impacts and from dust and rain. This hood is constructed of rather-rigid plastic with a molded ribbed interior (the typical black flocking is not used in this design). An advantage of a round hood is that a lens with a round hood can often be set down on a flat surface in vertical orientation. While this lens can do that, consideration for its height is important to avoid falls.

Canon includes the same drawstring LP1224 soft case with this lens as with its predecessor. While the bottom of this case is padded, the sides are not.

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens Compared to Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM Lens Angle View

Price and Value

When a high-grade lens receives a substantial upgrade, there is usually a big price increase accompanying it. Not this time. While the II’s is price modestly higher than that of the I, the street prices (sans rebates) are not greatly different. The Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM Lens is not a low-cost lens, but its quality, expected image quality and great versatility make it a very good value at this price point.

As an “EF” lens, the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM Lens is compatible with all Canon “EOS” cameras (the EOS “M” line requires an adapter). This lens comes with a 1-year limited warranty.

The reviewed Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM Lens will be online-retail acquired.

Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM Lens

Summary

Need a light telephoto zoom lens? I expect that they do not get better than this one. The Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM Lens is one that everyone can find uses for, none will tire of holding, a significant percentage of photographers can afford and I expect all to be extremely happy with the image quality if produces. This should be a great little lens. Preorder now to get one soon!

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