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Canon EF 200mm f/2.8L II USM

1ef200mmf_28_1_1_
Review Date: May 11, 2007 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $640.00 | Rating: 10 

 
Pros: Ultra-sharp, very fast focus (USM with full-time manual focus), creamy bokeh, L build quality, low price, low weight, relatively small size, F2.8!!, not white (so you won't get mugged in Europe with it; does have the red stripe), includes lens hood and bag
Cons:
Fixed focal length, No tripod collar included, it's too bad that on a 1.6x crop it's 320mm since that's not a length one uses every day

Pros: Ultra-sharp, very fast focus (USM with full-time manual focus), creamy bokeh, L build quality, low price, low weight, relatively small size, F2.8!!, not white (so you won't get mugged in Europe with it; does have the red stripe), includes lens hood and bag

Cons: Fixed focal length, No tripod collar included, it's too bad that on a 1.6x crop it's 320mm since that's not a length one uses every day

Review:
This is lens is extremely sharp, often sharper than your own eyes. Not "sharp as an L" or "very sharp" but one of the sharpest lenses ever made for the 35mm format. Using this lens is revelatory and will quickly get your mind churning, thinking that if all L lenses are this good that you can somehow justify spending $10,000 on lenses. But in reality, there's only two other lenses sharper than this for the Canon mount in any length, price or format: Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II and Canon EF 135mm f/2L. In the same focal length and price range you're looking at the Canon 70-200mm F4 L but the 200mm "Primepipe" completely destroys it for image quality (it's not even close -- the 70-200mm F4 looks like a toy when you compare the two on a 20D). The superb Canon EF 70-200mm 2.8L is close but this lens edges it out for clarity and at half the price the 200mm F2.8L Mk II is a steal any way you look at it.

Using this lenses is heavenly. It's compact and light but also so fast at focusing that it feels like the camera starts reading your mind. On my 20D, this lens is often about 5x as fast as my eye can change focus. My most used lens, the 50mm F1.4, feels very fast but compared to this the 200mm F2.8L II is in a completely different league for speed. This actually does make a difference in your photography because when you're at 200mm (or 320mm with the 20D) shooting AI focus or continuous focus is common and the 200mm holds onto a subject far better than your eyes and brain can in many situations. I could say more here but my guess is that my camera body is the limiting factor on holding perfect focus a lot of the time.

Being prime has its advantages. First, you get a more compact, lighter lens, that costs a lot less. Plus, you get a black lens. If you're not a professional definitely try to consider what a 1.5ft long white lens looks like when you walk around with it. This lens is no 2 inch long 50mm, but it at least isn't bright white. You'll get stares when you have this lens around your neck but you won't get people falling over themselves to find out what you're framing. If you shoot any candids or shoot in public places like zoos the discreet look of this lens can be an asset.

Cons:
By far, the biggest cons are by design. First, being 200mm the lens is not one that you will use every day. 200mm, and especially 320mm on 1.6x crop cameras, is not a very useful length in the vast majority of situations, but if you want a superb telephoto this may be the one for you. If you hold your arm at full extension this lens is about 4 thumbnails of your field of view. That can be tough; it's very close to your subject. Second, this is a prime lens and it does not zoom which further limits its uses. Those that buy this lens will probably a) value absolute sharpness over utility b) treasure the constraint that forces one to approach situations creatively c) don't think that zoom is worth $1,000 and a slight loss in image quality (that would be be me).

Summary:
This is a superb lens and one of the sharpest 35mm format lenses you can buy. Sure, you don't have zoom but the lens is perfect. Plus, at $640 it is a ridiculous bargain on a 1.6x crop camera (Canon 20D, 30D, Rebel, XT, XTi) for an ultra-sharp 320mm F2.8 lens. This lens get the highest possible recommendation from me.