Review – First Gen Canon EF 70-200 f/2.8L IS

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Back in July I rented the Canon EF 70-200 f/2.8L II IS telephoto lens, for our Maine vacation. Then, a couple of weeks ago I rented the first generation of this lens, the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L, to use when we attended the MotoGP race in Indianapolis. I wanted to see if the performance differences between the two generations warranted paying an extra thousand dollars for the newer model (at the time of this writing, the first generation is $1300, and the second generation is $2300).

First off, can I just say that I wish Canon would come out with a faster 70-300mm lens? I find the 70-200mm focal length to be overly limiting, and the 70-300mm focal length to be much more useful. Unfortunately, the best 70-300mm lens Canon offers is the EF 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 DO IS. If they’d just bump it up to an f/2.8L, I’d definitely shell out the bucks for it.

With that said, I found the 70-200 f/2.8L to be adequate when photographing stationary subjects (though I did break out the 2x converter to make up for the lack in focal range), but less than stellar when photographing action shots. I used it in tandem with my Digital Rebel XTi, so the four frames per second limitation made it hard to track the motorcycles as they zipped by at over two hundred miles per hour – certainly not the fault of the lens. However, auto focus was noticeably slower than the second generation version of the lens.

The weight of the lens made it burdensome to carry around for any length of time – something it has in common with its successor as well. This is to be expected with such a huge, solid lens. Still, I have no quarrel at all with the construction of the lens, though it is somewhat more noisy than the second gen when the IS kicks in. The image quality of the photos is slightly less crisp than those taken with the second generation lens, but still very, very good.

Basically, it all just depends on your individual requirements. By no means is this a BAD lens to have in your collection. If you want to save a thousand dollars and purchase the first generation instead of the second generation, you will still get a lot of use and a lot of quality photos from it. It just doesn’t happen to be the lens for me. But then, neither is the second generation version – though if someone wants to give me one, I certainly wouldn’t say no!

I’m just going to hold out in hopes that Canon is going to get to work on improving the 70-300mm lens.

For much more information on this lens, I highly recommend that you read The Digital Picture’s in-depth analysis and review of the Canon EF 70-200 f/2.8L IS.

The most excellent folks at Pro Photo Rental provided the lenses for the purpose of this review. Their service has always been outstanding and I continue to highly recommend them to anyone with lens rental needs.(*)

Photo credits (all): Tiffany Joyce

*The Author received complimentary rentals in exchange for mentioning the Provider’s products and/or services on this website. Such compensation received did not and will never influence the content, topics or posts made on this website. We will only endorse products or services that we believe, based on our expertise, are worthy of such endorsement.

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  • Gail

    From your mouth to Canon’s ears…they need to speed up that 70-300mm lens…They are coming out with an L-version of it…but it still isn’t f2.8…ARgh!rnrnThanks for the thoughtful review on the 70-200mm lens!

  • Steve Russell

    Just a thought. The Canon prime 300mm f/2.8L costs approximately $4,500. Imagine what a 70-300 f/2.8L might cost.

  • Tiffany

    Oof! Ha, yeah. When you’re right, you’re right.

  • Tiffany

    We live in hope, right Gail? Thanks!