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Archive for June, 2022

Last summer I wrote an article about Canon’s famed “Magic Drainpipe” 80-200 f/2.8 L lens. I had so much fun with that lens I decided to upgrade it to the modern version. It has got me thinking about this type of lens in general. They are a staple in just about every professional photographer’s bag, but are they worth it for the enthusiast photographer?

By now you all know that I shoot Canon full frame cameras, currently the EOS R5. I had a dilemma of sorts as do some Nikon users. To use the old EF 70-200 F/2.8 L or the new RF mount version (Nikon users the old F mount 70-200 f2.8 vs. the new Z mount). Sony users have no such dilemma Sony has only the E mount and it is cross platform with the crop bodies.

The Nikon user has less of a dilemma than Canon users. The AFS Nikkor 70-200 f/2.8 works fine with the adapter on Z cameras. The new Z lens is a better lens and will function better on the new Z bodies. The only advantage to the older lens would be price and availability of used examples as well as compatibility with older F mount cameras.

But for us Canon users things are a little more complicated. Canon introduced a spectacular RF 70-200 f/2.8 L lens that is the worlds smallest in class and optically amazing. Like Nikon Z lenses this RF lens will not mount to older DSLRs. It also will not mount to the Canon EOS M cameras. But there is another twist with Canon and that is the tele converters will not mount to the RF 70-200 f/2.8 L lens. That leaves an opening for keeping the EF mount lens which can utilize Canon’s EF 1.4x and 2x tele converters. Tele converters are quite useful with these fast f/2.8 portrait tele zooms. For Canon the price is also quite relevant as the new lens is nearly $3000 and the Mk III EF version is around $2000. As much as I want that new RF 70-200/2.8, I opted to pocket the extra cash and go with the EF version. I already own the two EF tele-converters and they work well on the EF 70-200 L. Of course I have the bigger heavier lens that doesn’t focus as close as the new one, I do get to use the tele-extenders and I can use the lens on my EOS M6 mk II with either the Canon adapter or my Metabones speed booster making the EF lens so versatile it offsets the excess weight in my photography.

So now back to the title query, are they worth it? The short answer is yes. This focal length has long been called the portrait tele because it includes the entirety of the ‘classic’ portrait range for full frame which has traditionally been 80mm to 135mm. Typically at the short end, primes were used with bright f/2 or f/1.4 openings to really separate the subject from the background when doing 3/4 or full length shots. That is a tall order at f/2.8. For head shots the lens works well at f/2.8 in the 100-200mm range. One can certainly get away with f/4 and save a bundle of cash and spare a great deal of space as well. But f/4 doesn’t yield the creamy out of focus areas unless the background is very far away. F/2.8 definitely is worthwhile in these scenarios.

Some shun the 2.8 lenses as expensive and bloated citing excellent high-speed ISO performance as reasons to buy the f/4 and pocket the change. Not untrue, but no matter how good your camera is at ISO 1600 it will be better at ISO 800 🙂 For Canon users the new RF 70-200 f/4 L is about the size of a soda can so it is awesome for travel use.

If you can afford the money and can handle carrying a very large and heavy lens (Canon RF version excluded it is small and light) the 2.8 70-200 lenses are totally worthwhile. I sold my 70-300 L and my Magic Drainpipe after buying this modern EF 70-200 f/2.8 L. I bought the Mk II because It was much more affordable than the Mk III which is the exact same optical formula. The difference in the MK III is that Canon added the modern fingerprint resistant fluorine coatings, slightly improved optical multi coatings on the lenses, and the new white paint job that matches the tones of the current line up of L lenses. I am fine with the Mk II.

Nikon and Sony users should also consider the sometimes subtle differences in the new lenses versus the old lenses. For Nikon users I’d say get the Z lens, Nikon offers Z tele converters that work great and you get the benefit of Nikon’s latest lens design using their new and improved Z mount. The Nikon Z lens is as good as any. It’s Achilles heel is the 1440g (3+ lbs.) weight.

Sony users may find the new 70-200 lens very exciting as Sony stripped away a third of its weight making it as light as Canon’s new RF in fact 25 grams lighter. Sony still uses the internal zoom that some feel is better design for weather and dust sealing than Canon’s external zoom on the RF lens. The RF design however takes up WAY less space in your bag. The EF lens is similar in size and weight to the Nikkor Z lens.

In summary Sony users can opt for the old Mk I lens used around $1400 or new at $1900. It weighs about 1500 grams or get the new lens at $2600 that weighs about 1000 grams and has improved image quality, close focusing, and faster AF. Nikon users can get a screaming deal on an AFS Nikkor F mount lens for around $800-$1200 or pony up $2100 and get the better in every way Z version. Canon users… good luck this is a tough call. If you don’t care about backward compatibility with older bodies and don’t use tele-converters you will LOVE the RF lens. It is however, the most expensive 70-200 2.8 from any of these three makers. The EF lens is big and heavy like the Nikon and the older Sony but it is versatile and nearly as good optically as the new lens. I chose the EF.

Check out the chart below to compare lenses, Canon EF lenses were always 100% electronic so every lens dating to 1987 works well today with the adapter. Nikon’s early AF lenses still required a mechanical connection to the camera for the lens opening and AF system and thus are less useful or in some cases unusable on Z bodies. In most cases the newer versions have improved optics and faster AF. New prices quoted from B&H Photo. Used prices shown are typical for very good condition examples and can be more or less depending on condition and availability. Some images below the chart.

CanonYearsPriceNotes
RF 70-200/2.8 L IS 2019-$2799 new1070g, MFD 0.70m
EF 70-200/2.8 L III IS2018-$2099 new1480g, MFD 1.2m
EF 70-200/2.8 L II IS2010-21$1300 used1490g, MFD 1.2m
EF 70-200/2.8 L IS2001-10$900 used1470g, MFD 1.4m
EF 70-200/2.8 L1995-12$700 used1310g, MFD 1.5m
EF 80-200/2.8 L1989-95$450 used1330g, MFD 1.8m
Sony
E 70-200/2.8 GM II OSS2021-$2798 new1045g, MFD 0.39m
E 70-200/2.8 GM OSS2016-$1998 new1480g, MFD 0.96m
Nikon
Z 70-200/2.8 ED VR2020-$2297 new1440g, MFD 0.50m
AFS 70-200/2.8 FL-ED VR2016-$1897 new1425g, MFD 1.0m
Third Party Lenses
Sigma 70-200/2.8 OS HSM2013-$1499 new1430g, MFD 1.18m
Tamron 70-200/2.8 VC2012-$1299 new1470g, MFD 0.94m
Tamron 70-180/2.8 III2020-$1099 new810g, MFD 0.85m
data gathered on 6/13/2022, source Wikipedia, Tamron USA, B&H Photo, Ebay

“Fountain Statue in the Garden”
Canon EOS R5 EF 70-200/2.8 @200mm f/2.8 1/800 second at 400 ISO
“Mindy looks out the window from our bed”
Canon EOS R5 EF 70-200/2.8 @200mm f/2.8 1/13th second hand held at ISO 400
“Canada geese along the Columbia River; Dame and Gosling”
Canon EOS R5 EF 70-200/2.8 L IS II @200mm f/8 1/320 second at ISO 400 roughly 40% cropped
“PhotoFair guest peruses the inventory at a table”
Canon EOS M6 Mk II EF 70-200/2.8 L Metabones Speedbooster @141mm f/3.2 1/100 second at ISO 2000 Slight crop

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