With the release of Canon’s latest offering, the EF 70-200 f2.8 USM IS II, Canon has at least 5 pro-quality lenses in the same focal length range. If you include the original EF 80-200 f2.8 from the 1990s (now discontinued, but still available used), the count is up to 6. And then there are the offerings from Sigma, Tamron, Tokina, and the other third parties. Tokina’s lens in this range, now over 8 years old, has fallen out of favor, and I’ll leave it out of this comparison. Tamron’s offering is very impressive optically, but does not currently have image stabilization. Sigma has recently announced the addition of a new, image stabilized version of their very popular lens (and we can hope for some minor improvements to image quality that is already very good).
As expected, with the differences in features, the prices run the gamut, from a very reasonable $700 to a very hefty $2500. The chart below should cover many of the details.
The MTF 50 numbers provided are all from independent tests (photozone.de) on similar equipment. I’ve refrained from providing MTF data for the other lenses (which are not currently tested at photozone.de) because MTF numbers are notoriously poor comparatives when testing conditions are not identical. Keep in mind that in each case, higher numbers are better, and the somewhat arbitrary cutoff point between the attribution of “excellent” and “very good” is 1850.
For what it’s worth, tests on the latest Canon lens (the mark II) have produced very impressive results. In addition to the improved IS, the image quality is now remarkably high; so high, in fact, that DPreviews give it a “best in class”, as it outperforms even the latest comparable Nikon lens.
How to Decide?
Determinations on what to buy will most likely come down to three factors. The most important is probably subject matter, followed by output type, and finally, your budget!
All of these lenses are designed for use in low light situations, with either a large maximum aperture, image stabilization, or both. Additionally, all of these lenses are designed for full-frame sensor cameras (such as the Canon 5D MarkII) but will also work on APS-C sensor cameras (like the Canon 7D, T2i, 50D, etc). With the APS-C models, you’ll benefit from the sweet-spot effect and get the least vignetting and most consistent sharpness from center to edge.
You can choose a lens with a slightly smaller aperture (f4) but with IS :
if you shoot in low light but photograph subjects that are not fast moving. An image stabilized f4 lens will give you the equivalent of 3 times more light (3 f-stops) in a situation for hand-holding, but since your shutter speeds will still be slower you won’t have action stopping power. If an f2.8 lens were shooting at 1/250th of a second, an f4 would need to shoot at 1/125th. A non-IS 200mm lens should not be hand held below 1/250th sec, whereas an IS lens can safely be held at 1/30th in many cases.
if you primarily shoot scenics, architecture, etc, or shoot tripod mounted. If you use a tripod, then the matter of image stabilization is moot, and the aperture is much less important.
if you don’t shoot in low light. Canon’s f4 IS lens has amazing resolution and is relatively inexpensive, so unless you need the single extra f-stop, it’s a great choice.
You can buy a non-image stabilized lens :
if you primarily shoot from a tripod or monopod, or need to stop action. Sports photographers and wildlife photographers will not benefit as much from image stabilization because they’re required to shoot at high shutter speeds to stop the action, which already reduces the need for IS. Although IS does help sometimes, it can also sometimes make small adjustments in composition slow or otherwise awkward, too.
if you shoot with flash, or in bright light. If you shoot with flash but want to keep bright lights/windows etc in the background sharp, IS can be handy, though.
You should buy an f2.8 image stabilized lens :
if you can afford it. They are the most expensive, but give you the most flexibility.
if you frequently shoot in low light, especially with high ISO, and with relatively slow moving subjects. News and Wedding photography really require this type of flexibility, unless you’re a heavy flash user/strobist.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
What have your experiences been with these lenses? Although I’ve used most of them, I have not tested many of them thoroughly. I’d be interested to hear your stories and recommendations!
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