Remember that feeling, the one you used to get when you were a child on Christmas morning. When your main present was sat there right in front of you and you knew it was time to open it. That’s how I felt when the courier dropped off a large brown box from Wex Photographic. I had always thought of the Canon EF 200mm f/2.0 L IS USM as a bit of a unicorn – you hear tales about it and it’s magical qualities, but I very much doubted I would ever have the privilege of shooting with one myself. That all changed the moment the doorbell rang.
After tearing my way through the brown box I was left looking at a hard shell case. The case oozes quality and I knew I was in for something special. I mean, it’s not your average lens that comes with it’s own suitcase. Undoing the latches, I reached for my trusty Canon 5D Mark II and mounted the lens. The first thing you’ll notice before you even bring the viewfinder up to your eye is the solidness of the lens. The metal body, housing all that glass, certainly gives it some weight. It’s not a disproportionate weight, however, and if anything it adds to the feeling of quality. It’s also big, but I wouldn’t say crazy big. And it is when you attach the hood that the beast comes into it’s own. The hood adds well over 50% extra in length and it really means business.
On taking the first frame, I knew I was going to love this lens. The focus is insanely quick, confidently snapping onto the subject in a split second. Shooting this lens wide open at f/2.0 is a joy. The depth of field you can get is very thin and it gives a beautiful look to images. At f/2.0 it is also very sharp. During the review I hardly stopped it down at all, but when I did, I noticed little improvement in sharpness - this lens was made for shooting wide open. You will see slight vignetting and this does disappear as you stop down, but I actually liked it. I found it gave a great character to the images and drew you into the centre. In fact, I often find myself adding more in post-production, so for me this was not an issue.
Feature-wise this lens is jam-packed. Boasting a 4-stop image stabilisation (IS) system, ultrasonic autofocus motor (USM) and weather sealing, it should tick most boxes. The 4-stop IS will help reduce camera shake in the images. If you take the rule of thumb that you can shoot camera shake free at a shutter speed of 1/[effective focal length], without the IS you should be aiming for a shutter speed no slower than 1/200s hand held. Engaging the IS though and you should be ok to use up to 1/13s. This means a lot more light hitting the sensor and it is perfect for slow moving subjects. However, at 1/13s you are not going to be freezing much action so you should reserve those kinds of shutter speeds for when you’re shooting pretty much static subjects.
The ultrasonic autofocus motor (USM) is incredibly quick and very quiet, locking onto the subject rapidly. The lens is also internal-focusing so it does not extend. A focus limiter switch allows you to set the range you want the lens to look for focus in, either 1.9m or 3.5m to infinity. This is great if you know your subject is always going to be further than 3.5m away as it will prevent the lens checking in the range of 1.9-3.5m for focus, making it even faster.
The image quality is superb. I’d go as far as to say as it’s the best I’ve used. Maybe it’s the allure of the lens skewing my judgement, but I’m so impressed with it. As mentioned earlier, the sharpness is wonderful from wide open at f/2.0 and the bokeh (the quality of the rendering of out of focus areas in an image) is silky smooth. This is thanks to a rounded 8-blade aperture. This also means any highlights in the background will be circular and not ugly pentagons and the like sometimes seen with other lenses. The images also have great contrast and colour reproduction. All this helps with cutting down on time you may spend in postproduction. Speeding up your workflow can save you time and, as they say, time is money.
...and the rest
I was able to test the lens with the Canon 1.4x extender, effectively turning the lens into a 280mm f/2.8 lens. There is slight image degradation, losing out slightly on sharpness and contrast, but given the extremely high starting point the images are still great. The AF is also slightly slower but again, it’s still more than usable. There is also a 2.0x extender which turns the lens into a 400mm f/4 lens, but you are likely to see further loss of quality in the areas mentioned. The addition of these two extenders makes the lens quite versatile, and if I was lucky enough to own one, they’d be the next items on my shopping list. At 400mm you’ve got quite a capable wildlife lens.
A feature that I’ve never seen before is the drop in filter. Because the front element is so huge (and, might I add, gorgeous) there is no way to use filters on the front of the lens like you would on a normal lens. To allow the use of filters, you can drop a 52mm filter into a small section at the other end of the lens by the camera. This is a clever idea and allows you to use filters such as a circular polarizer or a neutral density filter.
This lens is a very popular choice for sports photographers, especially indoor sports where light is at a premium. This is not an area of photography I’ve ventured into before, but during the review period I tried my hand at shooting an indoor five-a-side football match. The lens by far outperformed my skills, sucking in light with the f/2.0 aperture, allowing me to keep up a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the action, and simultaneously pleasantly blurring out the background to isolate players. Another popular use is portrait and wedding photography. The 200mm focal length gives a very flattering perspective, and the dreamy backgrounds give you stunning portraits.
This lens is by no means limited to the above uses, and it will be a great asset to photographers across the board. If you want subject isolation like no other, dreamy bokeh, and tack sharp subjects, this is the lens for you.
If you can manage the size and weight of the lens, it’s faultless. It might leave a rather large dent in your bank account, but one you’ll soon forget about when you’re enjoying shooting and marvelling at the results. And who knows what might be in that big box under the Christmas tree.
|Build||10/10||It’s as well built as they come andt will certainly get your biceps working|
|Handling||7/10||Some may find a monopod helps for extended periods of shooting.|
|Performance||10/10||Every feature of this lens works like a dream.|
|Image Quality||10/10||One of the top performers in the Canon line-up, you won't be disappointed.|
To see more of Mark’s work, visit his Flickr page here.