Super telephoto prime lenses must have the largest learning curve of any prime lens. The long focal length means your subjects need to be far away from you in order to capture any real amount of them. Longer focal lengths are also increasingly subject to the Reciprocal Rule of shutter speed, to avoid blurry images.
However, so long as you know what you’re getting into, the Canon 200mm f/2.8 II L is one of the finest telephoto fast primes on the market! Let’s look at what it has to offer!
- Minimum Focusing Distance: 1.5m (4.92ft)
- Maximum Aperture: f/2.8
- Focusing Motor: Ring Ultrasonic Stepping Motors
- Reproduction Ratio: 0.26x
- Weather-Sealed: No
- Image Stabilization: No
- Weight: 795 g.
- Price: check Amazon
Note that the Canon EF mount is fully compatible both with Canon’s APS-C and Full-frame body lineup. When mounted onto a Canon APS-C body like the T7i, you instead have a focal length of 320mm. This gives you quite a bit of pseudo-reach. And while your aperture’s total light exposure is f/2.8, you’ll have an appearance closer to f/4 when paired with an APS-C camera.
Like all Canon L lenses, the 200mm f/2.8 is entirely weather sealed. When paired with a weatherized Canon body like the EOS 7D Mark II the camera is resistant to dust and moisture exposure.
In terms of the total amount of glass, we have 9 elements in 7 groups, with 2 elements constructed of low dispersion UD glass. Eight diaphragm blades create excellent bokeh shapes and the lens can be stopped down as far as f/32.
On the rear of the lens near is a distance scale displayed in meters and feet, with a glass window covering it for protection. Two switches are nearby as well – the first switch allows you to toggle between autofocus and manual focus.
The second switch allows you to set the minimum range of focusing (from 1.5m to infinity vs 3.5m to infinity). Focus limiters like these are incredibly handy for speeding up focus acquisition if you know your subject won’t be within the minimum focusing distance (i.e. sports, portraiture).
As a quality telephoto prime lens, we want optimal sharpness and the Canon 200mm f/2.8 II does not disappoint. Even wide open at f/2.8 sharpness is stellar across the image frame. Lesser prime lenses see a drop when you get to the extreme corners however there is no noticeable loss in image quality.
Pairing the 200mm f/2.8 with an APS-C body will give you slightly sharper results because the smaller sensor is only making use of the inner, sharper portions of the lens glass. Like nearly all lenses stopping down does improve sharpness however we see minimal improvements. Sharpness peaks around f/4 to f/5.8 but again, this lens is a razor wide open!
If you see significant sharpness loss, you should consider two particular quirks of telephoto lenses. Firstly, the Reciprocal Rule of Shutter Speed states that you should always be using at least the inverse of your focal length to keep images free from motion blur due to your hands not being perfectly stable.
For a 200mm lens, this means you’ll want a shutter speed of 1/200ths of a second, maximum. Any slower and you’ll start to lose sharpness. Adjusted when used with an APS-C body means a maximum of 1/320ths of a second.
Second, compression can enhance the effects of atmospheric haze, fog, dust, and other particulates in between you and an especially far subject. This is especially common in landscape photography. The haze will greatly reduce contrast, clarity, and sharpness, depending on the environment, making it appear as if your lens lacks resolution somehow. A Circular Polarizing filter can help immensely when shooting through a thick layer of air.
Below are the MTF charts in the form of two types (Bar & Lines) for illustration. Read more about MTF charts from here.
Note: 30 LPMM always considered the average result of a decent resolution. Higher than 30 you get a more sharp image, lower than 30 sharpness decreases.
Chromatic Aberrations and Distortion:
So minimal as to be non-existent. Even when shooting in challenging lighting environments like tree branches lit with overhead sun chromatic aberrations are nearly non-existent wide open and disappear entirely when stopped down.
Like most telephoto primes the Canon 200mm f/2.8 II is also nearly perfectly optically corrected for distortion. When paired with a Canon APS-C body you’re looking at around 0.5% pincushion distortion, increasing to roughly 1% when paired with a full-frame camera.
The lack of image stabilization really hurts this lens. With such a long focal length, we don’t want to dip below 1/200th-1/320th of a second in order to avoid sharpness losses due to handshake.
Being a relatively fast telephoto lens, f/2.8 is enough to compensate in most lighting conditions. Still, you’ll want to carry a tripod in challenging lighting conditions to give you more flexibility in how you expose the image.
If you need even more reach for sports and wildlife shots, the Canon Extender 1.4x and the Canon Extender 2x are fully compatible with this lens, including full autofocus performance. However, that does come at the cost of some image quality. Particularly, chromatic aberrations (purple fringing) and some loss in sharpness.
Lastly, the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II and III are undoubtedly more versatile by virtue of being zoom lenses. On the other hand, they both weigh and cost 2-3x more.
Overall, it’s really hard to find fault with this lens. I could say it’s an odd focal length and not nearly as versatile as the 70-200mm f/2.8 or even the 100mm f/2.8 for general use and portraiture. But for sports, wildlife, and other uses where you know your subjects will remain distant it is one of the best primes on the market. Paired that fast f/2.8 aperture with a tripod or monopod and you’ll have stellar images regardless of the environment.
This lens only loses points for a price to quality because the older Canon 200mm f/2.8 (version I) is also extremely good and roughly half the price. The version II model is better corrected for chromatic aberrations and is slightly sharper. So if every pixel of resolution is what you’re after, the version II model becomes a 10/10 for you!
Walk through the below video for more sample photos
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