Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM

Overpriced image stabilizer

A 70-200mm f/4L IS USM ($1199) is nothing less than the third Canon EF 70-200 we see on blog do zack. Launched in 2006, it brings to the f/4 lineup the imager stabilizer from the bigger f/2.8L IS, missing in the vintage f/4L “non-IS” (1999, $599). Some clouds in the sky were enough to push the ISO up due to the lack of IS, also bringing the uncertainty of sharp images. The 70-200mm f/4L is a great lens, but the lack of stabilization bothers. What to do when the f/2.8L IS is not an option?

Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM

Enters the f/4L IS. Arriving on blog do zack for testing purposes, it will try to take the place of my EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM; a dream lens by many, but a nightmare for few. With a 1.49kg weight and a US$1999 price tag, the f/2.8 advantages quickly disappears as you hold it in your hands, cumbersome to carry around. A lighter alternative is welcomed, so I decided to give the f/4L IS a chance, also friendlier with your pockets. But is it worth double the cost of the vintage f/4L “non-IS”? And those using the larger f/2.8L, is the downgrade doable? Let’s find out! Nice reading.



BUILD QUALITY

Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM

At 17×7.6cm alone or 24.5x10cm attached to the included ET-74 lens hood, all at 760g of metal, glass and some rubber; the EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM is long on any EOS body and screams “working tool” for its solid build with a metal barrel. It’s long and calls lot of attention around the streets, just like the f/2.8, so it’s still aimed at professionals more than amateurs who will ruin the family weekend carrying such a big lens. But it balances well with all EOS bodies because it is light, marrying with polycarbonate models (like the 6D) as well as the magnesium 1D, 5D and 7D.

Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM

The EF 70-200mm f/4L: long as any telephoto, but thinner due to the smaller aperture.

Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM

The external barrel is all metal and the zoom + AF is internal, nothing expands.

Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM

It is perfectly balanced on the EOS 7D Mark II, a proper solid work horse.

Coming from the f/2.8L II IS, the f/4L summarizes as pure working pleasure as all excesses are gone. In hands the main difference is the weight and girth, obviously larger and uncomfortable on the f/2.8. But the genuine Canon L ergonomics continues intact, and there’s plenty of room for your left hands and your fingers rest on the rear zoom ring, with a short distance to the focusing ring at the front; identical layout within all 70-200L. The biggest highlight and my reason to be a faithful Canon user is the absolutely perfect torque and feedback on this rings.The force I need to operate the zoom is the same as sliding a smartphone menu. That reads: none. It’s butter smooth and feels like this since I got it out of the box, better than most Nikkors that require some soothing.

Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM

Sided by the f/2.8L IS II (left), the f/4L IS is much thinner and comfortable to operate.

Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM

What a single f/stop mean: 19.8×8.8cm (f/2.8L, left) versus 17×7.6cm (f/4L, right).

Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM

But the smaller lens behaves like any other L: a single finger operation is possible.

From 70mm to 200mm the zoom ring turns 90º, the same as every 70-200L. There’s no torque or travel difference between distances and it even allows some zoom pulling during videos, as it is so smooth. At the front the focusing ring turns 150º from infinity to 1.2m MFD (minimum focusing distance), the same as others, and at the top the distance window is easy to read, with feet and meter markings. The switches for USM and IS are between rings, intuitive for thumb operation, better positioned than some 300/400L zooms that put it near the camera, closer to your face.



Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM

Both rings are flushed in the body: near the camera, a zoom ring; near the front, the focusing ring.

Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM

The top distance window is nice to read, with feet and meter markings.

Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM

Control switches between rings: AF at the top, with limiter; IS at the bottom, with a second (2) panning mode.

Inside the AF motor is ring-type USM, fast, precise and silent. The EOS 7D Mark II effortlessly got complete action sets in focus, good for moving subjects or unexpected shots. It’s the same feeling I get on the outside, but inside: the perfect balance on the optical groups allows the motor the work in harmony. But on the other hand, compared to the 70-200mm f/2.8L II IS USM, I definitely felt a difference in speed. You can clearly see the camera viewfinder getting sharper, quicker with the f/2.8L II IS USM. The f/4L is not bad, but the newer f/2.8L IS II is even better.

“Raposa” with the EOS 7D Mark II at f/4 1/1000 ISO100 @ 200mm; AF rápido para fotos espontâneas.

“Fox” with the EOS 7D Mark II at f/4 1/1000 ISO100 @ 200mm; fast AF for unexpected photos.

100% crop, perfeição nos detalhes da abertura máxima.

100% crop, perfect wide open details.

Note como a EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM (esquerda) é levemente mais rápida.

Notice how the EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM (left) is slightly quicker. Camera used: Canon EOS 7D Mark II.

The third generation Image Stabilizer is rated at 4 stops and works as advised. It’s noisier than I wanted, making a loud grinding sound inside, unlike any other EF I’ve ever used. It’s not the same “CLICK!” from some Nikkors, but a “rrhgnrrghrgmhnrgn” that sounds broken. I’ve heard it from other copies, so it’s not a defect, it’s a feature. At least it “holds” the composition in place prior to exposure, and allows slower shutter speeds at about 1/4 of a second at 200mm (!) not blurring the picture, something the non-IS version certainly can’t do. However such promise depends on technique, so don’t expect it to work shooting like a maniac. And there’s a Mode 2 for panning, used to deactivate one of the correction axis, good for linear motion like cars on a race track.

Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM

IMAGE STABILIZER: third generation module promises up to four stops of correction, the headline of this lens.

“Cascata Salto de Pelotas” with the EOS 7D Mark II at f/32 1/4 ISO100 @ 70mm; longa exposição sem tripé.

“Cascata Salto de Pelotas” with the EOS 7D Mark II at f/32 1/4 ISO100 @ 70mm; handheld long exposure.

The question is: is the image stabilizer worth double the cost of the non-IS f/4L? And the answer is no. Even with the IS engaged I managed to get 1/125 shots blurry, all to my fault as I completely neglected my own posture. Especially using the 7D Mark II, considered “high density” due to so many pixels on a small sensor, I should have paid better attention to the shutter speed. I didn’t and the IS module fixed less photos than I was expecting. So it’s not worth the “psychological” alibi and it costs a fortune. If I were to purchase it again, I would choose a non-IS f/4L plus a good tripod.

“Araucária” with the EOS 7D Mark II at f/4 1/80 ISO100 @ 200mm.

“Araucária” with the EOS 7D Mark II at f/4 1/80 ISO100 @ 200mm.

100% crop, sem atenção e postura o IS não salvou esta exposição em 1/80.

100% crop, at my bad posture’s fault, the four stops IS didn’t help at this 1/80 exposure..

At the front the ø67mm filters are small and accessible, certainly cheaper than the f/2.8 ø77mm. The filter thread seems plastic and sits inside the lens hood, that mounts on a different thread. The hood itself is friction based, harder to lock in place. At the back the metal mount is robust and the rear element sits deep inside the barrel, allowing the EF Extenders 1.4x and 2x to be used. Notice the resulting f/8 aperture won’t auto focus on most EOS bodies, just a few PRO models with a sensitive center point. It works with my EOS 7D Mark II, but doesn’t with my EOS 6D.


Filtros de ø67mm vão numa rosca de plástico na frente.

The ø67mm filters are attached to a front thread.

Parasol ET-74 prende por fricção e é bem duro, diferente do ET-87 (esquerda) com botão na f/2.8L IS II USM.

ET-74 lens hood is friction based and hard to mount, different to the newer “button” ET-87 (left) on the f/2.8L IS II USM.

Mount de metal com borracha de vedação completa a construção robusta.

Metal mount features a rubber gasket for weather sealing.

Extender EF 2x é totalmente compatível para uma 140-400mm f/8

EF Extender 2x is totally compatible, resulting on a 140-400mm f/8.

The last feature is a declared Weather Resistance against water sprays and dust. There’s a rubber gasket around the metal mount, absent on the non-IS f/4L. Overall it doesn’t bring anything new to the table except the IS on the smaller package, that works well besides some excessive noise. But it won’t work miracles nor freezes your subject, so it’s real benefits are at doubt. You purchase this model for its size and weight, that’s the same as the non-IS f/4L that costs half the price. Is it worth the stabilizer? IMHO, no. But what about its pictures, are they comparable to the f/2.8s? Let’s see.

IMAGE QUALITY

“Mata” at f/7.1 1/200 ISO100 @ 70mm.

“Mata” at f/7.1 1/200 ISO100 @ 70mm.

* All photos with the EOS 7D Mark II. Raw files available at Patreon.

With an optical project of 20 elements in 15 groups, four more than the non-IS f/4L besides the same number of fluorite (1) and UD (2); and three less than the top f/2.8L II IS USM (23EL19GR), the 70-200mm f/4L IS USM sits right in the middle of the EF 70-200L family. It’s not as expensive as its larger sisters, nor over simplified as the bottom of the pyramid. But optically speaking, that is a good and a bad thing altogether: it’s not behind the other models in key aspects like resolution and contrast, plus a near perfect aberration control; but it doesn’t show the same level of bokeh and vignette as the f/2.8s. It’s not bad for what it is, but at blog do zack we’ve seen better.

“Serra” at f/7.1 1/250 ISO100 @ 70mm.

“Serra” at f/7.1 1/250 ISO100 @ 70mm.

Contrast and resolution are impeccable no matter the aperture, a hard to achieve performance on a zoom lens, but Canon always manage to master on its telephotos. From the widest f/4 up to the optimized f/8, there’s no difference in details from center to corners, that are scary sharp even on full frame. I had to double checked the EXIF on some files to make sure they were wide open, because you can clearly see all the details like grass, bricks, faraway billboards and people walking down the streets at f/4. It raises the question “who needs prime lenses?” so far in the optical game. Coming from the AF-S 105mm f/2.8G Micro-Nikkor review that impressed me with it’s landscape capabilities, the 70-200mm f/4L IS USM does the same on a zoom. Comparing it to the previous AF-S 28-300mm and 70-300mm reviews, there’s no argument: the 70-200L are on a class of their own.



“Manhã” at f/4 1/400 ISO400 @ 70mm.

“Manhã” at f/4 1/400 ISO400 @ 70mm.

100% crop, perfeição nos detalhes logo na abertura máxima.

100% crop, perfect details wide open.

“Manhã II” at f/4 1/125 ISO125 @ 200mm.

“Manhã II” at f/4 1/125 ISO125 @ 200mm.

100% crop, contraste perfeito em tons suits a distância.

100% crop, perfect contrast on subtle distance tones.

“Curva” at f/7.1 1/60 ISO100 @ 200mm.

“Curva” at f/7.1 1/60 ISO100 @ 200mm.

100% crop, alta resolução para prints imersivos no final do telephoto.

100% crop, high resolution for immersive telephoto prints.

“Arquiteto” at f/7.1 1/250 ISO400 @ 200mm.

“Arquiteto” at f/7.1 1/250 ISO400 @ 200mm.

100% crop, nitidez no limite de um sensor with therranjo Bayer de cores.

100% crop, sharpness limit for a Bayer sensor.

“Morro da Igreja” at f/7.1 1/250 ISO100 @ 70mm.

“Morro da Igreja” at f/7.1 1/250 ISO100 @ 70mm.

100% crop, um pouco de distorção atmosférica e difração nesta abertura.

100% crop, some atmospheric distortion and diffraction at this aperture.

“Camadas” at f/7.1 1/320 ISO100 @ 70mm.

“Camadas” at f/7.1 1/320 ISO100 @ 70mm.

100% crop, sensor da 7D Mark II no limite da resolução.

100% crop, 7D Mark II sensor at its limit.

“S” at f/7.1 1/200 ISO100 @ 189mm.

“S” at f/7.1 1/200 ISO100 @ 189mm.

100% crop, em dias de calor, ondas térmicas tiram um pouco da nitidez no telephoto.

100% crop, heat waves will take away the sharpness on hot days.

“Serra do Rio do Rastro” at f/7.1 1/100 ISO100 @ 70mm.

“Serra do Rio do Rastro” at f/7.1 1/100 ISO100 @ 70mm.

100% crop, detalhes a distância nos arquivos da 70-200mm.

100% crop, telephoto details on the 70-200mm.

“Camadas II” at f/7.1 1/400 ISO100 @ 200mm.

“Camadas II” at f/7.1 1/400 ISO100 @ 200mm.

100% crop, canto inferior direito nítido com o centro.

100% crop, lower right corner as sharp as the center.

“Grass” at f/7.1 1/320 ISO400 @ 70mm.

“Grass” at f/7.1 1/320 ISO400 @ 70mm.

 100% crop, sem problemas atmosféricos, a resolução aparece.

100% crop, without atmospheric distortions, the sharpness appears.

“Raposa II” at f/4 1/1000 ISO400 @ 169mm.

“Raposa II” at f/4 1/1000 ISO400 @ 169mm.

100% crop, curtíssima profundidade de campo em distâncias curtas de foco.

100% crop, shallow depth of field on short focusing distances.

“Raposa III” at f/4 1/1250 ISO100 @ 200mm.

“Raposa III” at f/4 1/1250 ISO100 @ 200mm.

100% crop, detalhes na abertura máxima dentro da curta profundidade de campo.

100% crop, wide open details on the short depth of field.

“Raposa IV” at f/4 1/1000 ISO100 @ 200mm.

“Raposa IV” at f/4 1/1000 ISO100 @ 200mm.

100% crop, performance at f/4 impressiona para uma zoom.

100% crop, f/4 performance impresses for a zoom.

“Morifolium” at f/4 1/500 ISO100 @ 70mm; menor distâncias de foco (1.2m).

“Morifolium” at f/4 1/500 ISO100 @ 70mm; minimum focusing distance (1.2m).

100% crop, detalhes finíssimos na abertura máxima, sensacional.

100% crop, sensational wide open details.

Chromatic aberrations that were very annoying on recent zoom reviews, besides the very different optical formulas, I know, are completely under control with this Canon. I start to wonder whether any manufacturer will ever beat Canon’s “Fluorite + UD” combo, because so far I haven’t seem anything similar from the competition. Nikon loves to use its ED on most lenses, but frankly I fail to see any improvement. Some fluorite is used on selected Nikkor telephotos, whilst Canon use it even on the lower end f/4L at US$599. The results are obvious: perfect files from edge to edge.

“Lagoa” at f/7.1 1/400 ISO100 @ 200mm.

“Lagoa” at f/7.1 1/400 ISO100 @ 200mm.

100% crop, aberrações minúsculas no poste branco a distância.

100% crop, minimal aberrations on the faraway white lamppost.

“Floripa” at f/7.1 1/500 ISO100 @ 127mm.

“Floripa” at f/7.1 1/500 ISO100 @ 127mm.

 100% crop, sem aberrações, mas bastante distorção atmosférica num dia de calor.

100% crop, zero CA, but plenty of atmospheric distortion on a hot day.

“Floripa II” at f/7.1 1/320 ISO100 @ 70mm.

“Floripa II” at f/7.1 1/320 ISO100 @ 70mm.

100% crop, zero aberração cromática a distância.

100% crop, no CA on distant subjects.

“Floripa III” at f/7.1 1/800 ISO100 @ 138mm.

“Floripa III” at f/7.1 1/800 ISO100 @ 138mm.

100% crop, zero aberrações, moiré de tanta resolução e pessoas a distância no canto do quadro APS-C.

100% crop, zero CAs but some moiré with so much resolution; you can see people on the edges of the APS-C.

“Floripa IV” at f/7.1 1/640 ISO100 @ 200mm.

“Floripa IV” at f/7.1 1/640 ISO100 @ 200mm.

100% crop, distorção atmosférica a distância, nada de aberração no pontos de highlight.

100% crop, atmospheric distortion, no aberrations on highlights.

“Floripa V” at f/7.1 1/400 ISO100 @ 116mm.

“Floripa V” at f/7.1 1/400 ISO100 @ 116mm.

100% crop, contornos curvos por causa das ondas de calor, mas ótima resolução da objetiva.

100% crop, fuzzy edges due to heat waves, but great lens resolution anyway.

“Floripa VI” at f/7.1 1/800 ISO100 @ 200mm.

“Floripa VI” at f/7.1 1/800 ISO100 @ 200mm.

100% crop, linhas coloridas mínimas no prédio, excelente performance da zoom.

100% crop, fine CA lines around the buildings edges, excellent performance for a zoom.

“Antenas” at f/7.1 1/500 ISO100 @ 200mm.

“Antenas” at f/7.1 1/500 ISO100 @ 200mm.

100% crop, sem contornos coloridos contra a luz.

100% crop, no weird halos on backlit exposures.

“Dusk” at f/4 1/40 ISO400 @ 180mm.

“Dusk” at f/4 1/40 ISO400 @ 180mm.

100% crop, mínimos detalhes de aberração cromática no contraste contra a luz.

100% crop, minimum CA on contrast edges.

“Fusca” at f/7.1 1/160 ISO100 @70mm.

“Fusca” at f/7.1 1/160 ISO100 @70mm.

100% crop, linha colorida finíssima na sombra com o sensor de alta densidade da 7D Mark II.

100% crop, notice the very fine line under the car.

“zig-zag” at f/7.1 1/125 ISO1001 @ 70mm.

“zig-zag” at f/7.1 1/125 ISO1001 @ 70mm.

100% crop, performance no canto superior direito.

100% crop, upper right corner performance.

“Floresta de Araucária” at f/7.1 1/125 ISO100 @ 165mm.

“Floresta de Araucária” at f/7.1 1/125 ISO100 @ 165mm.

100% crop, nada de contornos coloridos em zonas de contraste.

100% crop, no colored halos on contrast zones.

“Araucária II” at f/7.1 1/100 ISO100 @ 165mm.

“Araucária II” at f/7.1 1/100 ISO100 @ 165mm.

100% crop, mesmo puxando os arquivos ao limite, não consegui mostrar linhas coloridas no APS-C.

100% crop, even pushing the files to the limit can’t enhance CAs.

“Floresta de Araucária II” at f/7.1 1/200 ISO100 @ 75mm.

“Floresta de Araucária II” at f/7.1 1/200 ISO100 @ 75mm.

100% crop, lado esquerdo perfeito do quadro.

100% crop, perfection on the left of the frame.

“Camadas II” at f/7.1 1/650 ISO100 @ 200mm.

“Camadas II” at f/7.1 1/650 ISO100 @ 200mm.

100% crop, mínima linha colorida na última montanha.

100% crop, minimum colored line on the last row.

“Encosta” at f/7.1 1/250 ISO100 @ 200mm.

“Encosta” at f/7.1 1/250 ISO100 @ 200mm.

100% crop, nada de aberrações em texturas e contra a luz.

100% crop, no aberrations on backlit textures.

“Prédios” with the EOS 6D at f/8 1/200 ISO200 @ 200mm.

“Prédios” with the EOS 6D at f/8 1/200 ISO200 @ 200mm.

100% crop, linhas coloridas discretas nas janelas.

100% crop, discreet CA lines on windows.

“SP” with the EOS 6D at f/8 1/200 ISO200 @ 200mm.

“SP” with the EOS 6D at f/8 1/200 ISO200 @ 200mm.

100% crop, canto inferior esquerdo, sem linhas coloridas.

100% crop, lower left, no signal of aberrations.

“SPII” with the EOS 6D at f/4 6” ISO100 @ 200mm.

“SPII” with the EOS 6D at f/4 6” ISO100 @ 200mm.

100% crop, abertura máxima, flaring com formatos curiosos.

100% crop, curious wide open flaring shapes.

Maybe the only negatives come from side by side comparisons to “better” lenses, review technique that I’m not very fond of but generally help decide whether to purchase a lens or not. The f/4L bokeh and vignette are both behind the top f/2.8L II IS and enough reason for me to keep the bigger lens. The difference are subtle and expected: at f/4 the f/2.8L II IS USM is one full stop stopped down, completely getting rid of any vignetting. But it’s bokeh is also much smoother with less strong lines, and the better choice for portraiture and shallow depth of field photos.

“R” at f/4 1/50 ISO800 @ 85mm.

“R” at f/4 1/50 ISO800 @ 85mm.

100% crop, aparência de tubos de neon com o sujeito a distância.

100% crop, neon tubes on background highlights.

“RII” at f/5 1/500 ISO100 @ 138mm.

“RII” at f/5 1/500 ISO100 @ 138mm.

100% crop, nitidez na abertura máxima.

100% crop, wide open sharpness.

100% crop, mas desfoque pouco suave com o sujeito não muito próximo.

100% crop, but not very smooth bokeh with a reasonably distant subject.

“Grass II” at f/4 1/250 ISO100 @ 138mm; foco mínimo.

“Grass II” at f/4 1/250 ISO100 @ 138mm; foco mínimo.

100% crop, nitidez impecável na abertura máxima.

100% crop, impeccable wide open sharpness.

“Morifolium II” at f/4 1/640 ISO100 @ 70mm; menor distâncias de foco (1.2m)

“Morifolium II” at f/4 1/640 ISO100 @ 70mm; minimum focusing distance (1.2m)

100% crop, note as linhas duras, mais claras, no desfoque de uma flor.

100% crop, notice the strong lines, brighter on a flower bokeh.

“Amuleto” with the Canon EOS 6D at f/4 160 ISO400 @ 200mm.

“Amuleto” with the Canon EOS 6D at f/4 160 ISO400 @ 200mm.

100% crop, além de mais escuro, note nos triângulos como a f/4L IS (direita) não é tão suave quanto a f/2.8L II IS USM na mesma abertura.

100% crop, besides being clearer, notice how the triangles are much smoother on the f/2.8L II USM (left), both at f/4.

“Amuleto II” with the Canon EOS 6D at f/4 160 ISO400 @ 200mm; f/4L IS USM a direita.

“Amuleto II” with the Canon EOS 6D at f/4 160 ISO400 @ 200mm; f/4L IS USM to the right.

VERDICT

Overall a very interesting lens on blog do zack because it makes me question whether the IS is worth it or not. The EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM project is the same as other 70-200L: a high performance zoom built for professionals, with smooth operation, fast AF and ready to publish optical performance. But thinking about the other three options on the lineup, each one with its unique selling point, the f/4L IS feels a bit expensive for what it delivers. The non-IS US$599 is a bargain offering the same built, usability and performance. But the US$1199 asked for the f/4L IS are far too steep for a theoretical four-stops advantage, that could easily be achieved by a much cheaper tripod. So it doesn’t delivers on its promise, and it’s hard to recommend it for the price.