Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM review

The Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM is an ultra-sharp telephoto lens with an ambitious aperture. It's absurdly expensive, but also a top-performing optic.

The Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM ($5,999 direct) is an incredibly sharp, and incredibly expensive, telephoto lens for Canon D-SLR cameras. It captures twice as much light as the other 200mm prime lens in Canon’s lineup, the EF 200mm f/2.8L II USM ($819.99), a less-expensive lens that can focus just a bit closer, but lacks image stabilization. If you’re considering purchasing or renting the EF 200mm f/2L IS USM for professional work you’ll be happy to know that it’s very sharp from edge to edge, even at f/2, which earns it our Editors’ Choice award.

The EF 200mm f/2L is big enough to ship with its own hard-shell carrying case. It measures 8.2 by 5 inches (HD) without its hood attached, and weighs in at 5.6 pounds. Attaching the hood extends the height by about 6 inches.  The front element is huge, but there’s no filter thread; instead there’s a rear drop-in filter holder that supports 52mm gelatin filters. A tripod collar is built into the lens; it can rotate for portrait or landscape shooting and locks into a place with a thumbscrew. The collar also features two slots so that you can directly attach a strap to the lens.

There are a number of control switches and buttons on the barrel. You can toggle manual focus and autofocus operation, and set the autofocus limit from 1.9 meters to infinity or from 3.5 meters to infinity. Other switches control the image stabilization mode and allow you to enable or disable that system, and there’s a focus preset system. This lets you save a focus distance and rack back to it with the touch of any of the four push buttons located between the front of the lens and the manual focus ring.

I used Imatest to check the sharpness and distortion in images captured by the lens when paired with the full-frame Canon EOS 6D. Even at f/2 it’s incredibly sharp from edge-to-edge. It notches 2,731 lines per picture height using a center-weighted testing method, well in excess of the 1,800 lines we require to call a photo sharp. Stopping down marginally improves the sharpness to around 2,800 lines, where it hovers through f/5.6. Distortion is completely negligible. The only optical demerit evident is the minimum focus distance, which is about 6.2-feet. The 200mm f/2.8 focuses a bit closer, 4.9 feet. This 200mm f/2L gets a lot of work shooting pro sports, where the minimum distance doesn’t come into play, but it can be limiting if you’re a fan of very tight portraiture. If close focus is your bread and butter, go for a macro lens; the Sigma APO Macro 180mm F2.8 EX DG OS HSM is a great choice if you’re looking for one with a similar focal length.

If you’re a Canon shooter in the market for a wide-aperture telephoto lens, this is the one to get. Its price puts it out of reach of non-professionals and well-heeled enthusiasts, but if it’s something that will only see occasional use, renting is always an option. It’s readily available at rental houses for around $250 a week, a price that’s easy to work into your rate for a paying gig. If you can live with a non-stabilized 200mm lens, the Canon’s f/2.8 version is an affordable option, though most event shooters prefer the flexibility of a stabilized 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom. The lens is impeccably sharp and its f/2 design and image stabilization system make it possible to get a sharp shot in dim lighting, which makes it an easy choice for our Editors’ Choice award.

Specifications
Type Lens

Verdict
The Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM is an ultra-sharp telephoto lens with an ambitious aperture. It's absurdly expensive, but also a top-performing optic.
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