28 April 2009

A star in the range - EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM

What, no Tuesday 'tog? Yes, it it is Tuesday, no, you're calendar is not wrong and no, there is no Tuesday 'tog today. Don't worry, there'll be one next week, we just thought we'd give it a break for a week while we take stock of where the blog is going and what it's going to do.

So this week, this is the start of a new mini-series picking out some of our favourite lenses in the Canon range. Some may be familiar to you, some maybe not, but all of them are lenses we've used and found to be cracking. First up this week is the EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM lens. Now this lens is a great favourite of ours and is in fact well like by many photographers. Sadly though, it is often overlooked in favour of the EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM in the belief that that f/2.8 lens is better.
Well, for all those that bought f/2.8 lenses - sorry! The f/4 lens is actually as good or better than the f/2.8 lens at any aperture. It's a much newer optical design and hence improvements have been made.

When looking at lenses, there are four things you're likely to consider:
Image Stabiliser

If we take the optics first, as we said above the EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM more than holds its own.
Image Stabiliser: f/2.8 = 3 stops, f/4 = 4 stops
Weight: f/2.8 = 1470g, f/4 = 760g
Price: f/2.8 = c.£1550, f/4 = c.£980

To make it simpler, you get better hand-holding ability, a weight saving of 710g (that's nearly half the weight) and a cost saving of about £570. Pretty clear cut isn't it?!

So, with the optic quality being equal and everything else being better on the EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM lens, you may wonder why people still buy the f/2.8 lens. Well, the answer is simple - they shoot in low light or they use extenders. With extenders of in low light conditions, the f/2.8 lens is still king becasue it focuses better and keeps a larger maximum aperture. If you fit a 1.4x Extender the max perture drops by 1 stop taking the f/2.8 lens to f/4 and the f/4 lens to f/5.6 In bright light, this doesn't make too much difference, but once the light levels drop, having an aperture a stop wider can help with focusing.... not exposure though. Let's be clear on this = most people still have the film or early digital mindset. In other words "I can't take the ISO over 400 or I'll see noise". If you're shooting on one of the latest cameras, this doesn't matter. You can up the ISO further, still avoid undue image noise, and effectively counter the exposure loss of one stop.

For all those that do have the EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM lens and are thinking you'd be better off with the f/4L IS version - don't worry. If your lens is in good condition, you should be able to sell it second-hand for more than the cost of a new f/4L IS lens. Just don't send any prospective purchaser to this page first!



John Lester said...

Very useful post and I wish I'd read it before I bought my f2.8 about a year ago, though there is one other consideration.

I was in a woodland shoot with a friend the other day who uses a 50D. Light was getting low and he suggested moving up to ISO400 to boost shutter speed. I have a 300D and ISO400 is almost unusable for image quality. The f2.8 IS meant I could still shoot whereas f4 would have introduced tripods to the equation (and very calm models).

Yes, the 2.8 is £700 more, but that's cheaper than a new body for someone who needs a lens in that range.

Just my 2 penneth worth.

blabpictures said...

John, you are of course right. For anyone with cameras that don't perform as well at high ISO as the latest generation do, then having that extra stop available will allow you to get shots that you otherwise couldn't do, and it is cheaper than getting a new camera.