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Canon EF 70-200/2.8L IS II USM Review

by Bob Atkins, April 2012 (updated January 2013)


The Canon EF 70-200 f/2.8L IS II USM, (compare prices) is Canon’s latest version of this very popular lens. It replaced the previous EF 70-200/2.8L IS USM (Mk I) in early 2010. The Mk II lens adds a 5th UD element, improved Image Stabilization, faster AF and closer focusing.

The Canon EF 70-200/2.8L IS II USM utilizes internal focusing and internal zooming, so the length of the lens is constant and the front element does not rotate. There is a focus distance scale, but there are no DOF markings. There are IR focus marks for 70mm and 100mm.

A focus limiter switch is provided which can be set for operation either from 1.5m to Infinity or 2.5m to infinity. The reason for the range limiter is that if the lens has to hunt for focus (which is rare, but can happen in low light), it will cover the 2.5m to infinity range in 0.35 seconds, while to cover the 1.5m to infinity range takes 0.835 seconds. So if you know your subject will be at least 2.5m distant, you can take almost 1/2 second off the focus search time.

The Image stabilization system has three modes. Off, where there is no stabilization, mode 1 which is the normal mode and which stabilizes along both horizontal and vertical axes and mode 2 which is used for panning and so turns off the stabilization on the panning axis. Canon rate the IS system as being good for up to 4 stops of stabilization.

The Canon EF 70-200/2.8L IS II USM comes with a removable tripod ring (the lens must be removed from the camera in order to remove the tripod ring).

A “petal” style hood and a soft case are also supplied with the lens.

As you would expect from a Canon “L” series lens, the construction quality of the lens is high. The barrel of the lens is metal and the rotary zoom and focus rings operate smoothly. The Canon EF 70-200/2.8L IS II USM is weather sealed, which means all the control rings, switches and lens mount have gaskets and/or O-rings to prevent dust and moisture from entering the lens. This does not mean the lens is waterproof, but it does mean that it should withstand use in moderate rain (if attached to a weather-sealed body).

The current (04/12) street price of the Canon EF 70-200/2.8L IS II USM is around $2300

Canon EF 70-200/2.8L IS II USM Specifications

Camera Mount Type Canon EF
Focal Length 70 – 200 mm
Aperture Maximum: f/2.8  Minimum: f/32
Compatibility 35mm Film / Full-Frame Digital Sensor, Canon (APS-C)
Angle of View 34° – 12°
Minimum Focus Distance 3.94ft  (1.2 m)
Magnification 0.21x (1:4.7)
Groups/Elements 19/23
Diaphragm Blades 8
Filter Thread 77 mm
Dimensions (DxL) Approx. 3.5 × 7.8" (8.89 × 19.81 cm)
Weight 3.28 lb (1.49 kg)

Lens Operation

The Canon EF 70-200/2.8L IS II USM is very quiet in operation. In fact I had trouble with an audio recording technique that I use to measure the time taken to focus across the whole focusing range because, even with a microphone in contact with the lens, it was very difficult to record and AF motor noise! In tracking AF mode I couldn’t hear the lens shifting focus at all. AF time from 1.5m to infinity was 0.835s, while with the range limiter on, over the 2.5m to infinity range the lens focused on 0.35s.

Focusing, as you might expect, was fast, silent and accurate. Comparing AF with manual focus on a Canon EOS 7D, (compare prices) (review) using Live View and 10x magnification I saw no signs of front or back focusing. Focal length changes little with focus distance. Some zoom lenses achieve close focus by shortening focal length, but the EF 70-200/2.8L IS II USM shifts focal length very little, even at the closest focusing distance of 1.2m. At 1.2m and 200mm the reproduction ratio is 1:4.7, or a magnification ratio of 0.21×.

Although it weighs a little over 3lbs, the Canon EF 70-200/2.8L IS II USM feels well balanced. The tripod mounting ring can be removed, which makes handholding a little more convenient. The IS system lives up to Canon’s claims and while you are unlikely to get 100% of shots unaffected by camera movement at 4 stops below the usual “handholding speed” at 200mm, you may well get 50% that are pretty good at shutter speeds as low as 1/15s. At 70mm you can probably expect most shots taken at 1/10s to be sharp and even a good fraction taken at 1/5s to be acceptable. Overall this is very good stabilization and is probably close to “state of the art” for current lenses.


Text and photos © 2013 Bob Atkins.

Article revised January 2013.

Readers' Comments


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Ed Avis , January 28, 2013; 05:57 A.M.

It would be interesting to know whether this new zoom lens is so good that it outperforms Canon's older fixed-focal lenses such as the 135mm f/2 (at the same focal length and aperture).

Stephen Penland , January 28, 2013; 12:20 P.M.

I'm disappointed that nothing is said about image quality, including IQ comparisons to other Canon 70-200 lenses or other lenses within the zoom range.  I guess such testing is beyond the scope or capability of a PN review.

Bob Atkins , January 30, 2013; 03:45 P.M.

Nope, I did image quality testing too. You probably missed the fact that this article has been split into two pages! I must admit I also missed that myself and I was wondering where the rest of the review had gone!

There's a link to the 2nd page at the top of the review. There should probably also be a link at the bottom of this page, but I just write the articles, I don't do the layout. My understanding is that bottom of page links will soon be added. If you are reading these comments on page 1 (they also appear on page 2), here's the link to the rest of the review:

Page #2

Walter Lynch , February 03, 2013; 07:36 A.M.

Primarily based upon this review, I purchased this lens about 6 months ago and I could not be happier. This lens is fantastic. Thanks

Stuart Meyer , February 16, 2013; 10:56 P.M.

I've noticed that mine is a little too punchy, or contrasty in daylight, even on a cloudy day.  I find myself switching the 85/1.2II outdoors because it seems to have more faithful contrast.  Version I, on the other hand, was too flat.  Another thing I noticed, and someone else I spoke with had the same observation, was that in low light AF hunts badly to the point where I cannot use it when the lights go down in receptions.  My other lenses, like the 16-35/2.8II, 35/1.4, 24/1.4, and 15/2.8 fisheye are much better.  I wonder if it has to do with them being wider and letting in more light.  Finally, my 70-200/2.8 IS II's AF has a bad habit of locking up.  If I focus on something and it moves a little bit, like a bride walking slowly down the aisle, then I try to refocus, it seems to not want to recompute a new focus, plus it will lock up until I focus on something much farther or closer.  Not sure if anyone has noticed these issues, but for a $2300 lens, it is surprisingly buggy for me.

Jim Adams , March 30, 2014; 05:47 P.M.

I have two of the older version of this IS lens...the one that cost "only" around $1800 or $1900 back in the day.  It's my favorite all around lens, period.  One lives in its case, kept out of harms way to be used as a backup lens.  The other more or less lives on one of my cameras.  I love this lens.  It makes me look like a better photographer than I really am.


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