The fleet of lenses I use is old. Actually old to the point where I am genuinely surprised how it still works. Nonetheless, the old Canon EF 70-200 f/2.8 IS is still a good choice for many photographers. Here is why I will be holding onto my copy of this excellent lens. I hate two things: learning a new piece of gear, and spending money when I don’t absolutely have to. There is a wishlist of gear that I want, but most of those things fall in the realm of grip and lighting modifiers. Sometimes, I do wonder if it is time to upgrade my camera setup, though. It is aging day by day, and the more I shoot the closer I get to its end. But for how long should you actually use your camera gear? Is it like a car that requires some checks after every X thousand miles? Or should I just use it till it dies in one way or another?
For example, my 24-70mm f/2.8 probably has at least a million actuations on it. Once, I fell on it, and part of the lens that holds the hood broke. Instead of getting a new lens, I simply taped it back together and continued work as normal. It does not look pleasing, but it works just fine. My 70-200mm f/2.8 is in even better condition: for starters, it is not broken. But there are a few more things going for it. Here are some reasons why you should consider getting this antique, but wonderful lens.
Creamy Bokeh & Optical Quality
The lens is a king of bokeh, just like any 70-200mm f/2.8. In fact, a quick check online reveals that it packs creamier bokeh than the later versions. While I rarely use it at f/2.8, this is still good to know for someone who shoots sports or has a style of work that relies on bokeh.
Speaking of sharpness, I must point out an important detail, when I first bought this lens I shot everything at f/2.8 and wondered where the sharpness was. While more seasoned photographers will laugh at this, the rest of us must understand that just because a lens can go to f/2.8 doesn’t mean you should shoot everything at this aperture setting. If you need to get ultimate sharpness to stop down to f/8 or f/11.The center is always sharp, however, things do become quite a bit worse as we go into corners.
The IS on the lens is fairly good for the era, but would not be as good as the modern cameras. That said it offers 2-3 stops improvement which is quite good considering the lens was made in 2001.
Being a fairly basic photographer who doesn’t really baby the gear, I am surprised at how well this lens is holding up. I have traveled a lot with this lens, it has been bashed around, scratched, and used in the harshest of conditions, and it still works. It even survived my event days when I shot in the pouring rain, left the gear on the floor, and didn’t take proper care of it.
The reason it is so tough is that it is made out of metal, which does make the lens heavy. It weighs in at a solid 1.4kg or 3.08 lb. it is built like a tank, but it weighs like one too. It isn’t small either, being almost 20cm or 7.8” long. This will be quite noticeable in your camera bag.
I rarely miss focus on this lens as it is fast, reliable, and frankly focusing is not only lens-dependant but also body-dependant. Nonetheless, having tested this on a 5Ds and a 5D Mark IV, each with a vastly different focusing system, I must report that it is nearly perfect, even at f/2,8. There is a manual focus ring that is smooth, and nothing moves outside the lens while it focuses. I found the focus breathing to be slightly annoying though. This lens would not be my first choice for video either, as the IS as well as focusing is very loud and with a horse-mounted mic you will be hearing both quite a bit.
The biggest pro for many is the price. It is available from a number of retailers such as MPB or BH Used for $700-1100, which makes it one of the cheapest 70-200 f/2.8 IS lenses available. The level of performance that this lens provides makes it one of the best bangs for your buck.
Sharpness matters, especially if you are not working with flash. For people who rely on their lens optics and shutter speed to capture images, this might not be the best lens to get. At the same time, if you have other ways of controlling sharpness: for example with flash or light modifier choice, this lens will be just fine. Sharpness depends on a lot of factors, not only lens choice.
Contrast & Color Rendition
Contrast is better with version II. Just taking a quick look online shows me that in the case of shooting with natural light, this might not be the best lens. At the same time, as someone who relies on post-production, light, and colors to provide contrast, I am not worried about this. If anything there is too much contrast in my work anyways.
The 70-200 f/2.8 IS is still a very decent lens that works for many genres of photography. Especially if you are on a budget this might be the best bang for your buck. I really can’t tell that this lens is from 2001. If your photography is more about the content of the image, rather than technical perfection, this lens will be just right. It will be upgraded eventually, probably when it breaks. But even then, I might just get another copy of the same lens, or If the money allows version II. The amount of EF lenses on the used market is vast, they won’t be disappearing soon. Just because camera companies make it seem like the future is here and you must upgrade, doesn’t mean that you should. Even Canon’s FD lenses from the 1970s are widely available, so EF glass is here to stay for a good couple of decades if not more. In conclusion, if you are shooting canon and need an affordable 70-200 f/2,8, I would strongly suggest getting this marvelous piece of gear.