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Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM Lens Review

Gary Wolstenholme reviews this professional-grade 200mm f/2L IS USM telephoto lens from Canon.

|  Canon EF 200mm f/2 L IS USM in Interchangeable Lenses
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Handling and Features

Canon EF 200mm F2 L IS USM (2)

A professional-grade telephoto lens, which sports a fast maximum aperture of f/2, image stabilisation and silent focusing with full-time manual focus override. This is quite a specialised lens, costing around £4600, so we'll take a close look at how it performs in this review.

This lens has quite a reputation to live up to, with it's predecessor, the EF 200mm f/1.8 USM being touted as the sharpest lens available for 35mm cameras, scoring 4.9 out of five on the old Photodo website rating system. Therefore its predecessor often sells for silly money on auction websites, even in dubious condition even though it has long since been discontinued in favour of this newer optic.

Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM Handling and Features

Canon EF 200mm F2 L IS USM (9)

Design and build-wise, this lens bears all the hallmarks of Canon's high-end telephoto lenses, including the off-white paint finish designed to make the lens easier to handle in hot, direct sunlight. Tough, weather sealed construction is complemented by chunky switches that are easy to operate in a hurry, and possibly even when wearing gloves. As a result, this is a heavy lens, weighing over 2.5kg. Even so, it just about balances well with the Canon EOS 5D MkIII body used for testing, although a battery grip will be well advised for shooting hand held in portrait orientation, and some kind of support may be advised for shooting over long periods of time.

Auto focus is powered by a ring-type Ultrasonic motor, and focusing is extremely fast and is virtually silent. Manual adjustments can be made at any point by turning the focus ring and focus lock buttons are provided on the lens barrel for focusing and recomposing. The focusing ring is smooth, with just the right amount of resistance to make applying fine manual adjustments a pleasure. Minimum focus is 1.9m from the sensor plane, which is typical for a lens of this focal length and aperture.

Canon EF 200mm F2 L IS USM (12)

Focusing is performed internally and the lens accepts 52mm filters that drop into the rear section of the lens. The lens comes supplied with a gelatin filter holder and a holder that accepts Canon screw-fit filters can be purchased separately. A deep circular hood and hard lens case are also supplied as standard. Canon's 1.4x and 2x teleconverters can both be used with this lens to add more flexibility.

With care, it is possible to take sharp images hand held using the image stabiliser at shutter speeds as low as 1/13sec, around half the time. This is roughly four tops slower than the usual rule of thumb for shooting hand held will normally allow. The image stabiliser also holds the viewfinder image completely steady, which can help with focusing and composition.

Canon EF 200mm F2 L IS USM (8)

Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM Performance

As you might expect from a lens that costs about the same as a used car, this lens performs superbly as far as sharpness is concerned, seemingly only limited by diffraction as the aperture is stopped down. It would be a big ask for Canon to defeat physics to improve performance in this respect. Sharpness is outstanding in the centre from maximum aperture and excellent towards the edges of the frame, gradually reducing as the aperture is closed down beyond f/8.

MTF @ 200mm
MTF @ 200mm

How to read our charts

The blue column represents readings from the centre of the picture frame at the various apertures and the green is from the edges. Averaging them out gives the red weighted column.

The scale on the left side is an indication of actual image resolution. The taller the column, the better the lens performance. Simple.

For this review, the lens was tested on a Canon EOS 5D MkIII using Imatest.

Chromatic aberrations are extremely difficult to detect, just about reaching a quarter of a pixel width at f/22 towards the edges of the frame. This low level should pose no issues, even in large prints and harsh crops from the edges of the frame.

CA @ 200mm
CA @ 200mm

How to read our charts

Chromatic aberration is the lens' inability to focus on the sensor or film all colours of visible light at the same point. Severe chromatic aberration gives a noticeable fringing or a halo effect around sharp edges within the picture. It can be cured in software.

Apochromatic lenses have special lens elements (aspheric, extra-low dispersion etc) to minimize the problem, hence they usually cost more.

For this review, the lens was tested on a Canon EOS 5D MkIII using Imatest.

Falloff of illumination towards the corners is very well controlled for a lens of this focal length and aperture. At f/2 the corners of the frame are 1.65 stops darker than the image centre and illumination is visually uniform with the lens stopped down to f/4.

Distortion is virtually non-existent with Imatest detecting only 0.02% barrel distortion. This level of distortion is so low, that there should be no need to apply corrections in image editing software afterwards.

A deep circular hood is supplied as standard with this lens, which does an excellent job of shading the lens from extraneous light that may cause issues with flare. Even without the hood, the lens is extremely resistant  to flare and contrast remains high when shooting into the light.

Canon EF 200mm f/2 L IS USM Sample Photos

Value For Money

This lens currently costs around £4600, which puts this lens beyond the reach of many. As this is a highly specialised lens, most people will be better served by a 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom lens. Canon's own EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM II costs under half the price if this lens at around £1950.

Despite the expense, if you earn a substantial living from shooting at this focal length in low light conditions, then the high price will pale into insignificance. Adding a 1.4x converter will also prove a 280mm f/2.8 lens an a 2x will make a useful 400mm f/4 optic, adding extra flexibility.

As a point of reference regarding the price of this lens, Nikon's similarly specified AF-S 200mm f/2G ED VR II lens costs around £4000. 

Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM Verdict

This flagship lens from Canon serves to demonstrate what they are capable of producing when price is no object. The price will certainly put this lens beyond the reach of many, but those who absolutely need f/2 at 200mm will still find the performance on offer may justify the price. Those who occasionally hire lenses for certain applications may find this route a better value way of using what is one of Canon's finest lenses. It certainly performs well enough to hold its own against its legendary predecessor.

  The Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS is one of Canon's finest lenses offering superb sharpness wide-open.

Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM Pros

Superb sharpness from maximum aperture
Virtually no CA
Virtually no distortion
Fast f/2 maximum aperture
Excellent build quality
Effective image stabiliser

Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM Cons

Price puts this lens beyond the reach of many


Canon EF 200mm f/2 L IS USM Specifications

Lens Mounts
  • Canon EF
Focal Length200mm
Angle of View12
Max Aperturef/2
Min Aperturef/32
Filter Size52mm
35mm equivalentNo Data
Internal focusingYes
Maximum magnificationNo Data
Min Focus190cm
Box Contents
Box ContentsLens cap, lens hood, lens case 200

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josa 10 25 Czech Republic
18 Nov 2013 3:39PM
Superb performance!
21 Nov 2013 1:20AM
A very wow,especially the price !!!
Ade_Osman 19 4.5k 36 England
21 Nov 2013 9:22AM
DROOL! Blush
27 Jan 2014 1:25AM
Let me say to you that price should not enter in any item evaluation, only performance.

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