Saturday, June 16, 2007

Review: Canon EF 70-200mm F/4 L USM

It is high time I got around to a final Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM review. I did use the 70-200 F/4 as a reference for the Tamron AF 70-300mm F/4-5.6 LD Macro review, but it is a lens that deserves it's own post. My previous entries on the 70-200 F/4 are about the purchase (a good deal) and the first test drive.

I'll keep this relatively short, because there are a lot of reviews on the 70-200 out there, and I'd rather highlight my personal opinions since everyone else has covered performance. If you'd like more performance oriented reviews, check out:

  • great comparison along the whole 70-200 line.
  • Fred Miranda: a bunch of user reviews (great for getting consensus and learning failure rates and types).
  • Photozone: in depth, technical review with lots of graphs and stats.

Before I get into my comments, I should disclose something: This is my favorite lens. Hands down.

Granted, most of my lenses have been my favorite after I purchase them, but I've spent a lot of time with this lens over the past few weeks, and I still am in love with it. Psst... my Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 is getting jealous.

  • Super Sharp, Great Color, Great Contrast, Even At F/4. This is the main strength of the lens: optical quality. It is super sharp wide open (sharper than the $100 lenses at their sharpest) and gets even sharper and more contrasty when stopped down. For instance, the following sample was taken at 70mm: F/4 is on the left, F/8 is on the right. In most cases, I feel like a 100% crop could be posted directly on the web, I can't say that about any of my other lenses (except my Canon 50mm f/1.8).
  • Ring Ultrasonic Motor (USM). Initially I wasn't that excited about USM and full-time manual, but now that I've used it, I love it. Imagine this: point the camera at something, push the shutter half-way, and it pops into focus. Seriously. No noise. And, you can be holding the focus wheel when it happens (then fine tune it immediately afterwards!). And the manual focus wheel is nicely damped without the tiny rotation range of most autofocus focus wheels. Truth be told, I really wish it made some noise when focusing; it is reassuring to hear the autofocus.
  • Great Value. I'll be honest, I think Canon overprices most L class lenses (in comparison to Tamron and Sigma), but this lens is different. The 70-200 F/4 is, after all, the cheapest L lens. For about $500 you get the lens, hood, and carrying bag. All items are high quality!
  • Light, Sturdy, and Maneuverable. I initially had concerns with the heavier weight (27oz / 705g) of the lens and its relatively large size of it (especially compared to my Rebel XT). But, seriously, this thing is amazingly balanced and not that heavy at all. You don't need a tripod mount for it. It just kind of sits in your hand and becomes part of you. While it seems a lot larger than the Tamron 70-300, I prefer the size because I feel like I am less likely to drop it.
  • Internal Focusing. One of the reasons this lens is so long is because it doesn't lengthen when it zooms or focuses. This is great because you can hold any part of the lens during zooming and autofocus, the whole mechanism is stronger, and the front and rear elements are better sealed to the barrel. Also, since the barrel doesn't lengthen or contract during zooming, a lot less dust is sucked into the lens.

Weaknesses (a.k.a. things that bug me):
  • Slow Maximum Aperture (and no IS). My biggest complaint about the lens is it doesn't have a large enough aperture, but that is the trade-off I made to save money and weight. It would definitely be nice to have F/2.8 for bokeh and an extra stop of shutter speed, but for now, I just raise the ISO to compensate.
  • Focusing. I can't tell if it is the lens, my 350D, or me, but sometimes I have trouble getting it to focus on thin vertical features (like heron necks). I'm not too concerned, since it is under warranty, and I have yet to see any trend in the images once I get them to the computer. As far as I can tell, it isn't front or back-focusing.
  • Slight Aberrations. For the first week or two, I didn't notice any optical problems or aberrations, but after the Tamron comparison, I've begun to see a few. Mostly just very low levels of chromatic aberration, and nothing to be worried about.
  • Not Long Enough. When I say long enough, I mean focal length. I'd love to have the lens zoom to 300mm (or even 400mm), but to do that the optical quality would surely decrease. For now, I am happy that the sharpness of the lens allows me heavily crop images. I suppose I could add a teleconverter to it (the Canon is $285, the Tamron is $120+), but then the F/5.6 or slower aperture would become more of an issue.
  • Better magnification. Again, this is probably due to the design of telephotos in general, but I wish it had more magnification. The .21x maximum magnification (about 4 cm full frame) makes me wish I had the Tamron's macro capabilities. Again, luckily, the optical quality allows me to crop the image heavily.
  • No Weather Sealing. Of course, weather sealing is useless if your camera isn't. And the 350D isn't...

That's it. I've got to say that I love this lens, it is great fun to use. As always, I should provide examples... Well, check out my bird post, all were taken with the 70-200 F/4. And butterflies look nice with it:

And the all important baby test:

I almost always throw the hood on the lens to protect the front element. It is nice and long (making the lens that much more intimidating) and prevents fingers and things from touching the glass. After all, why buy a super sharp lens and then throw a UV filter on the front of it to destroy the optical quality?

If you are looking for a medium telephoto zoom and you have a decent amount of money, you can't go wrong with the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM. It also has excellent resale value on the used market, so if you decide to upgrade later, you can easily recover your investment.

1 comment:

Aidan said...

I love the image at the start of this post - the light shining through the lens.

Brilliant :)