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?
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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