Article Index

Introduction

First released in mid 1999, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM has immediately become a choice for many prosumers and professionals alike. This lens replaced Canon's ancient EF 100-300mm f/5.6L, which was also very liked in the photo community. The lens bears 'L' designation and it indeed looks and feels like Canon's many other professional grade lenses. The lens was initially priced at ~US$500, but in late 2009 Canon implemented a price increase across the board, bumping up the MSRP to US$709, with street prices hovering at ~US$620 as of early 2010.

The lens is compatible with Canon's EF mount but on APS-C type cameras with 1.6x crop ratio, it produces field of view similar to that of a traditional 116-320mm full-frame lens. The lens is quite compact and light, measuring 76x172mm (3x6.7in) and weighing 705g (24oz). The construction consists of 16 elements in 13 groups, including 2 UD ultra-low dispersion elements and a single CaF2 calcium fluorite crystal which is claimed to provide superior light correction.

Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM has the minimum focusing distance of 1.2m (3.9ft),  f/32 minimum aperture and 0.21x maximum magnification at 200mm. The front element of the lens does not rotate, which allows attaching filters to the filter mounting thread on the front of the lens. The filter diameter is 77mm. The lens does not extend during focusing but is not weather sealed. The build construction is superb, with smooth focusing and zooming rings. The lens has a ring-type USM drive, making auto focus fast and silent. It also allows switching the focusing distance range between 1.2m (3.9ft) to infinity and 3m (9.8ft) to infinity. By reducing the suitable focusing distance range, the actual auto focus can be shorter and even faster. As always, the lens also allows focusing in the full-time manual mode.

 

Image

 


The lens allows shifting of the infinity focus point that results from changes in temperature by rotating the distance scale slightly past the normal infinity focus mark (for manual focusing only). Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM is compatible with Canon's extension tubes EF 12 II and EF 25 II. The following chart shows camera-to-subject and image magnification when extension tubes are used.

 

Camera-to-subject Distance (mm) Magnification
Near Far Near Far
EF 12 II 70mm 554 639 0.23x 0.17x
200mm 1015 3572 0.29x 0.06x
EF 25 II 70mm 423 428 0.39x 0.35x
200mm 901 1942 0.36x 0.13x

 

The lens also accepts Canon's EF 1.4x II and EF 2x II extenders, which change the lens' specifications as follows.

 

EF 1.4x II EF 2x II
Focal length (mm) 98-280 (157-448) 140-400 (224-640)
Aperture f/5.6-45 f/8-64
Max magnification 0.31x 0.45x

 

The factory box includes Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM lens, front and rear caps, barrel-shaped ET-74 lens hood, lens case, manual and warranty card. Canon decided not to include a tripod collar in the packaging to maintain lens price affordable. If you need one, you will have to purchase it separately.

 

Summary
Lens Composition 16 elements in 13 groups
Angular Field 34 - 12 degrees
Minimum Focus 1.2m/3.9ft
Focusing Action AF/MF, USM
f-stop Scale f/4-f/32, camera-controlled
Filter Size 67mm
Lens Hood ET-75 (included)
Weight 705g/25oz
Dimensions 76x172mm/3x6.8"
Lens Case LZ1224 (included)


Handling

Like all modern EF and EF-S lenses, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM was designed with ergonomics of an auto-focus operator in mind. The focusing ring has a fairly short rotational thrust, which basically means that while the  lens allows  you to manual focus, you'd rarely do that. since the ring would not give you enough precision. Not that you would need to manual-focus the lens often - the AF mechanism of the lens is superb. It is fast, silent and manages to lock on target fairly accurately most of the time. A typical exception is low-light conditions when AF tends to hunt for focus once in a while. Of course, depending on the camera you are using, the focusing accuracy can actually differ to some extent - with cameras like Canon 1Ds MkIII and its 45 AF points, the probability of the lens mis-focusing is much lower then with a camera like Digital Rebel. But, if the lens does mis-focus, you can always try tapping the focusing ring while  still depressing the shutter button to provide desired correction. And to further improve the focusing speeds, make sure you use the focusing limiter, particularly if you know that you're shooting at close to infinity. The rotational distance of the zoom ring is even smaller then that of the focusing ring - about quarter of the full circle will get you from 70mm all the way to 200mm. Now, this actually works to the advantage in my opinion as it allows you to quickly zoom in or out on fast approaching/leaving subjects.

As with the other 70-200mm lenses (Canon currently offers a total of 5 70-200mm lenses, counting the recently released Mark II of its flagship EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM II lens), the EF 70-200mm f/4L USM is designed as an internal focusing lens, so the barrel length is always constant regardless of the zoom or focusing position. Furthermore, the minimum focusing distance also remains the same at 1.2m regardless of the zoom level. At 70mm I'd have preferred a slightly closer minimum distance but at 200mm it feels just right.

The lens is fairly well balanced on large and medium sized cameras like 1Ds and 5D series. On smaller cameras like Digital Rebel, it feels slightly nose-heavy, but nowhere close to what you'd feel with the larger and heavier f/2.8 variants. With the lens hood attached, combo becomes quite long and is guaranteed to make a few people glance at you once in a while. The white color of the lens does not help here much either - personally, I feel that this whole white finish for Canon L telephotos is an idiocracy of Canon's marketing department, but many users do like the 'different' look of their 'pro-grade' lenses. I guess it comes down to the status message - if it's white and has the red 'L' on it, then it must be good. Ok, moving on...

Given its convinient zoom range, Canon EF 70-200mm is often my preferred choice for travel, in addition to Canon's own 24-105mm f/4L IS USM. I will confess that I did actually sell my 70-200mm f/4L USM and replaced it with the IS version, solely because of the image stabilizer, which I find useful in travel. The 24-105 and 70-200, Canon 5D, couple polarizers and batteries easily fit into my small shoulder ProLogic bag, giving me the opportunity to travel light. I would have preferred faster lenses, but those are significantly larger and heavier and hence would require me packing them into a backpack. And if I do decide to grab a backpack, then the choice of lenses is completely different - I opt for primes rather then zooms in 90% of cases.