Comparing the big 4 Canon outdoor lenses

So how did the big 4 outdoor lenses compare, and which lenses would I consider investing my hard earned money in?I am often asked by other professional photographers, which is my favourite lens for shooting on location and why. I recently had an opportunity to test out the Canon 200 2.0L  (thanks to Lenses for hire, one of the companies I partner with for my outdoor children’s photography workshops) against the more usual lens in most outdoor photographers kit bags – the 100 2.8L, 135 2.0L and 70-200 2.8L.

As I had the 200 2.0L for a few days, I thought I would take the opportunity to compare in the lenses by taking an identical image on all four, and also to use them to photograph (*chase*) small children to see how they would really perform on an average client session.

 

So how did the big 4 outdoor lenses compare, and which lenses would I consider investing my hard earned money in?

Canon lens comparison

  Pricing & Weight Comparison

 

First lets look at the pricing and weigh of each to see how they compare. Interestingly, the weight and price appear to be relative until we reach the Canon 200 2.0L which is just under double the weight of the 70-200 2.8L BUT just under triple the cost at £4399. This huge leap in price has set my expectations high – I would expect a significant difference in the images when comparing the two to make it worth investing in.

 

price and weight

 

 

  • Canon EF 100mm f2.8L Macro IS USM Lens,  RRP £645,  Weight 625g
  • Canon EF 135mm f2 L USM Lens, RRP £699, Weight 750g
  • Canon EF 70-200mm f2.8 L IS II USM Lens, RRP £1499, Weight 1490g
  • Canon EF 200mm f2.0 L IS USM Lens, RRP £4399, Weight 2520 g

 

To give an idea of how physically the lenses compare this,  below is an iPhone photo of my 135, 70-200 and the 200 sat alongside one another. The second image is of me using the 200 on my outdoor photography workshop, to show how big it is compared to my camera body.

 

lens

twins

 

The visual test : Taking the same image on all 4 lenses

Now to the exciting part – I took the same image on each of the 4 lenses, pushing the aperture as low as it would go, and the focal length as high as it would go (for example on the 70-200, I shot at 2.8 200mm) . These images are straight out of camera with no adjustments.

Below are the 100 and the 135 alongside one another. Immediately I much prefer the bokeh from the 135.  It is has much less contrast and the hard edges of the foliage are much less visible. Also practically, the 100 (being a macro lens) is much slower to focus and I found myself missing shots. I think it is a wonderful lens for portrait work for subjects that don’t move, but not for children that are younger and wont stand and pose.

The 135 also feels so much lighter than the 70-200 and 200, and as I shoot for hours back to back this does has its advantages. Finally being a prime, I do find it that bit sharper than the 70-200.

 

100 135 comparsion

Canon 100 2.8 L vs Canon 135 2.0 L

 

Next up the 70-200 vs. the 200. I can immediately see a difference between these longer focal length lenses compared to the 100 & 135, but I can also see quite a big difference between the background on the 70-200 (on the left) to the 200 on the right. Its much creamier, with less contrast, plus when viewed at 100% it is tac sharp. I used this lens for around an hour and it did not fail to grab one image – it is incredibly fast BUT incredibly heavy. I found myself having to put the lens down to rest my arms a number of times.

 

70200 v 200

Canon 70-200 2.8 L vs Canon 200 2.0 L

 

Viewing these images side by side I can see that what I would be investing in is the creamy/ dreamy background but at nearly £3000 more for this lens, can I actually make the background appear the same in Photoshop? And it turns out that yes, I can get pretty close using 2 or 3 layers which I can turn into an action for myself.

I added a layer of lens blur, reduced the contrast and then added a dust and scratches layer and you can see the 2 images side by side below. The image on the left is the 200 2.0L and the image on the right is the 70-200 2.8L with the Photoshop adjustments.

 

look the same

Canon 200 2.0L vs Canon 70-200 2.8L plus Photoshop

 

 

Conclusion

So what have I concluded from this lens test?…the rational side of my brain says that no, investing £4399 in one lens is not sensible, but my heart says stop being rational and go crazy 🙂

 

Would a client notice the difference in images? No, I’m pretty sure they would notice no difference in the image, especially if I waved some Photoshop magic over them.

 

Is it worth spending £4399 on one lens? No. I would be better to invest my money in some new back up kit or training.

 

Do I still want one? Yes! I still find myself browsing second hand sites should a 200 comes up for sale. This lens is best described as a ‘show pony’ which you bring out for special occasions, but it would be really nice to have one in my camera bag just incase – any-one want to timeshare on one? 😉

 

I would love to hear your thoughts on what is your preferred outdoor lens and why in the comments below.

 

Canon 200 2.0L

5diii with the Canon 200 2.0L

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14 Comments

  1. Lynette Brown

    Great post Nina

    I love my 70-200, but really tempted by the 135 to reduce some weight.

    Reply
    • Nina Mace

      It is a great lens and super sharp – the weight reduction is a huge plus too!

      Reply
  2. chan

    agree with you totally, understand I have the $$, but still the weight, just not practical to carry around. Does the same go to the Canon 85mm F1.2L or Canon 50mm F1.2L? Now you make me thinking……

    Reply
    • Nina Mace

      Hi Chan I have the Sigma 85 1.4 (pre art) and its a great lens that I often pair with a 70-200 2.8 or 135 2.0 on my real family shoots

      Reply
  3. Wendy

    Good to see the differences re: various camera lenses side by side like this. I love the 70-200mm (Sigma version) and the Nikon 135mm lenses but find the 135mm is much lighter than the cumbersome 70-200mm lens. Also good to see that PS can create the same (or as near as it) bokeh as the 200mm lens using the 70-200mm lens and at a fraction of the price. Really good and helpful post – thanks Nina!

    Reply
    • Nina Mace

      Really pleased you found it useful Wendy

      Reply
  4. Mike

    Totally love that last image! I’d be interested to see the same thoughts with the 85 and 50 f/1.2..

    Reply
  5. ernesto jun santos

    Thanks for the visual comparison. I am tempted to buy a Canon f2 lens. This article makes me think of another factor that also cost $: Time. I have 70-200 2.8 IS and 50 1.2. Both can produce similar effect of 200 f2 with the help of photoshop. But if I had to photoshop photos to look like 200 f2 images, it would be time consuming.

    I find the following article from LensRental.com very imformative:

    “And there’s one telephoto lens on the I’d Buy That list, the 200 f2.0 (your choice of Nikon or Canon) with a set of teleconverters. Because at 200mm and f2.0 out of focus areas aren’t just blurred, they’ve vanished without a trace. Because they make portrait subjects look like cutouts. Because they take teleconverters so well and are excellent 280mm f2.8 or good 400mm f4 lenses with the TCs mounted. Because they’re bulldog-squatty and just look mean. Because all the other kids have 300 f2.8s and we’re not followers, we’re trendsetters. Because it has the best Roger’s Take of any lens. And more than any other reason, because 90% of you who own 70-200 f2.8 lenses shoot all of your shots at 200mm anyway. Are they worth the money? No, of course not. But if you have a photography bucket list, this should be on it. It’s the Porsche of camera lenses. Nobody NEEDS one. Its not about NEEDING one.”

    Best wishes,

    Ernesto Jun santos

    Reply
    • Nina Mace

      Its a stunning lens but I think the weight issue would rule it out for me – I have since hired it a couple more times and again find I have to stop using it after a while because of the weight. As I photograph families I am often running around and I just cant whilst carrying the 200 2.0!

      Reply
  6. Karl Max Fernandes Freire

    Hi, great post, i have a 70-200 f/4 L USM and 135mm F/2 USM, 50mm compact-macro F/2.5, 24mm F/2.8, 50mm F/1.8 II, 85mm F/1.8 USM, i love this lens, but 135mm is my best lens , i love the sharpness and DOF that lens produce!!!!

    Reply
  7. sara

    HI Nina… just read this – great post thank you.

    Reply
    • Nina Mace

      So pleased you found it useful Sara x

      Reply
  8. Scott Edwards

    Honestly, your post makes me feel “somewhat” normal. Haha! I obsess over lens and while I’m considering a 135 1.8 Sigma, I’m also considering adding another vintage lens (a 200mm F4 Canon) to my arsenal of about 10 vintage lens (including Leica, Nikon, Canon and my beloved Minolta glass). I’ll only do that if I can get as cheap a price as I think I can, which isn’t much… I’d honestly love to add a 200 2.8 (whether Canon or Nikon) but I don’t think it’s practical with a 135. BUT, given that I have some really good 85s, I now question the 135 range and think I should just go for it with a 200 at 2,8 or so… or a Minolta 200 2.8 APO, which is a gem.

    Reply
    • Nina Mace

      I have tested the Sigma 135 and its superb! Its incredibly sharp and if you are mindful of where your subject is stood the bokeh can be very close to the 200 2.0L. I say save yourself the $ and go for the 135!

      Reply

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