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Canon's EF 80-200/2.8L

by Bob Atkins, ?


Ed: This is a review of a discontinued Canon lens that was replaced in favor of the 70-200/2.8L, which has an ultrasonic motor and takes teleconverters.

I'm not going to go into detail as to why an 80-200/2.8 (or similar lens) is useful. Philip has already covered all that ground in his review of the EF 70-200/2.8L USM I'm just going to make a few comments on the 80-200/2.8L since it seems to have gotten itself a slightly "questionable" reputation on the basis of a Popular Photography review from a few years ago which seemed to suggest it might not be as sharp wide open as some other similar lenses (including some 3rd party lenses).

Optical Quality

It's good. In fact it's very good. Most zooms show their worst performance when used wide open and zoomed out to their longest focal length. When I tested this lens using a USAF 1951 chart and Kodachrome 25 film, I saw center sharpness of 75 lp/mm at 200mm and f2.8. At other focal lengths and apertures it only got better. Anyone who has ever tested a lens should realize that this is very good performance. If your images are not sharp when you use this lens, there is probably something wrong with your technique.

The lens does show a bit of a "hot spot" when used wide open at 200mm, i.e. there is some corner darkening. You can see it if you shoot a uniform subject , like a shot of the sky. On "normal" subjects it isn't really noticable at all. It is said that the new 70-200/2.8L is a little better in this respect. However unless you make a habit of shooting things like birds in flight with this lens (and at 200mm it's a bit short for that), you are unlikely to be bothered by the corner darkening. Under similar conditions, just about every zoom (and some primes) show the same effect!

Unlike the 70-200/2.8L USM, this lens does not take the Canon TCs. You can fit them if you use a 12mm extension tube between the lens and TC, but then you lose infinity focus. You can use the Tamron TCs and still get decent (what some would refer to via the meaningless phrase "publication quality") images. Not as good as those from a 300/4L (with or without a 1.4xTC), but still usable. The lack of compatibility with Canon's TCs is the thing I miss most in the 80-200/2.8L.

Features

The lens has a removable tripod collar and comes with a lens hood and hard case. The front element (72mm filters) does not rotate during focusing. It's well balanced and solidly built (no plastic). It does not have a USM motor or full time manual focusing. I know Philip thinks these are essential (or at least very desirable), but the lens still focuses very quickly and quietly and I have never found it "too slow" or "noisy". AF is very positive and accurate. Full time manual focus is nice, but it's a feature I rarely if ever use on the lenses I own which do have it, so I really don't miss it on this lens. It's a "two touch" zoom with seperate rings for focus and zoom.

There is a focus limiter switch, but again that's I feature I rarely, if ever use myself.

The principle "features" of this lens which makes it worth considering are price and availability. They are fairly easy to find on the used market since many people have "upgraded" to the 70-200/2.8L. The price of the 80-200/2.8L is reasonable, $650-800 would be typical, saving at least $400 and maybe as much as $750 over the cost of buying a new 70-200/2.8L. The fact that the 80-200/2.8L was (and still is) the "workhorse" lens of many photojournalists speaks well of the utility and quality of the lens.

Final Comments

I've owned this lens for several years and from the standpoint of image quality I see no reason to upgrade to a 70-200/2.8L. I would like the ability to use the Canon TCs (plus I have a bad case of "lens collection fever") so one of these days I may upgrade, but I'd still recommend the 80-200/2.8L to anyone on a tight budget who can't afford the newer lens. I haven't extensively tested any of the 3rd party alternatives for Canon users, but I have used the Sigma 70-200/2.8 APO and I didn't feel it was as well built, nor did I feel it focused as well, nor were the images any sharper.