Canon telephoto zooms and IS

  • Thread starter Mike Hollingshead
  • Start date

Mike Hollingshead

Well there seems to be a lot of camera talk right now, and it is probably what got me looking for a good telephoto zoom lens. Anyone use the IS stuff much, and if so, is there any tendancy for there to be problems with the system?

I can't decide what to do. I guess a person should first decide on the focal length they want and I've narrowed it down to up to 200mm being needed. 70-200 seems to be a very solid/safe bet. 100-400 hasn't looked so hot.

Something interesting is the new Canon 70-200 mm F/4.0 L IS. They say they achieved a 4 stop increase in steadiness(4 stops!.....if you hand held something at 1/250th you could do the same thing at 1/15th). Reading back on the older 70-200 mm F/2.8 L IS it says 2 to up to 3 stops. It seems as far as steadiness the F4 would be as good or better. The difference in price is $1700 for the F2.8 and $1050 for the F4.0. So I think I've decided, then I visit Ryan McGinnis' blog today. Sigh. Now I wonder if I'd need 2.8. I guess I know Ryan's thoughts on this lol.

Then if that wasn't enough, they have an even cheaper 70-200 L that is F4 without IS....for only $533 after a mail in rebate. I guess this is partly why I'm bothering to post this here. If you are wanting a better solution than the cheap zooms out there, but not wanting to spend $1700....this lens might be a very good option. It's almost like the 17-40L instead of the 16-35L. $533 is pretty darn cheap for a good L telephoto zoom. I was thinking, the only zoom I've used is my sister's cheap kodak, 80-210. Its widest aperture is 5.6. It hasn't felt that restricting to me, just knowing if the light is lower I'll probably have to use a tripod. The only thing bad is the quality sucks. The 70-200 L F4 would be great quality and a bit faster. It almost seems like that is all a person would really need.

I guess like on Ryan's blog, IS isn't going to slow something's motion. But is 4.0 to 2.8 worth $600+? Then one has the whole IS thing in a bit brighter, yet still dim situations. Is IS then worth $1050 for the F4 instead of $533 for F4 without it? I hate this. Then one tosses in the fact they are already spending a chunk of change, they surely don't want to spend it and feel they stopped short of where they should have. I guess if there are tendacies to have issues with the IS system that would make the choice very easy for me. Replacing the hunk of junk kodak 5.6 with the canon 70-200L F4 for only $533 seems like the safest bet. Anyone use any of these?
Hi! Well, here's the thing. If you NEED 2.8, then get the 2.8IS. If you don't, then the f/4L IS is the hands-down winner. Why? Because the 70-200 f/4L IS lens is perhaps the best telephoto lens that Canon (or possibly anyone) has ever produced. The resolution tests on this lens places it in a class that no zoom lens has ever been in before:

Seriously, I halfway considered sending back by 2.8IS lens and getting this instead. However, occasionally I need the 2.8, so it's worth it to take the hit in image quality wide open.

The two lenses perform similarly at f/4, though the f4 IS is better:

You won't be dissapointed if you get a 70-200 2.8L IS -- but you're paying a real hefty premium if you don't plan on using it in low light situations or in situations where a very shallow DOF is required. The 70-200 2.8 IS is also VERY VERY HEAVY for people who aren't used to using big telephoto lenses. :) (It's also VERY VERY LIGHT for people who've ever tried handholding a 300 f/2.8 IS) The 70-200 f/4 IS lens is quite light -- light enough where it doesn't really need a tripod collar (which it doesn't come with.) However, you won't be dissapointed, either, if you get the 70-200 f/4IS... you will likely be blown away. I WOULD, however, reccomend getting an IS version, which ever one you get. It totally opens up new avenues for photography. I mean, I can handhold my 70-200 at 200 mm at 1/30th of a second. 1/30th!

So basically, it depends what you want to shoot. For wildlife, 200mm isn't usually long enough. For photojournalism, the 100-400 is too slow. Either of the 70-200 lenses are much more versitile than the 100-400 (every photojournalist owns one), but then if you need to be shooting pictures of birds 100 feet away, you'll need more reach than the 70-200. For tornadoes... well, even 200mm is often too long! :)

Another option if you want high quality for a low price is the 200mm 2.8L prime. It's light, fast, and cheap. No IS, though, and, of course, no zooming, so it's less versitile. Primes perform better than zooms optically, so you won't have to worry about your picture quality suffering.
Last edited by a moderator:
I used to own the 200 f/2.8 prime. Excellent lens. I bought it used and actually made $$$ on it when I sold it (I ended up picking up the 70-200mm f/2.8 NON-IS for $900 barely used).

I'd say the prime and zoom are nearly identical. The 70-200 series is so sharp to start with I'm not sure I would buy based off the increased rez. At the time, I wanted low light performance but didn't have the $$ for the IS version so that's why I chose the 2.8 non IS. It honestly makes the 17-40 seem like a POS in my opinion. Other than some decrease in corner sharpness at f/2.8, the lens is remarkable. If I got to choose now, the 70-200 f/4 IS sounds like a great choice. What's the thread diameter? I can share filters between my 70-200 2.8 and 17-40.

What I really want to see is a new 400mm f/5.6 IS. That would be my ideal next purchase.

Last edited by a moderator:
BTW, if you do buy the 2.8 version, you get a rebate right now via Canon. (Rebate form here:

You also will get a "professional discount" at B&H if you do the following:

Go to
In the site's search box, enter the following (without the quotes): "*psjan*".

You will be presented with a list of items that can be purchased at a discounted price.

They usually give these codes out at tradeshows and stuff, but somehow it's ended up on the internet. :)
Psjan doesn't work neither does psnov now. They give you some message about entering in the full code. But I figured a way around it, just add a 0 (zero) to the end of psnov. It doesn't matter though, because BH just jacked up their prices again.
Psjan doesn't work neither does psnov now. They give you some message about entering in the full code. But I figured a way around it, just add a 0 (zero) to the end of psnov. It doesn't matter though, because BH just jacked up their prices again.

It works, you just have to put the asterisks around the word. Don't type "psjan", type "*psjan*". :) For example, with this code, the 70-200 2.8IS is only 1,599.95, instead of 1,699.95 without the code. That's before the $50 rebate, too.
Last edited by a moderator:
Those 'all-around' lenses are known to have bad quality compared to getting a lens that it a true telephoto and a true wide angle lens. Although this is a Canon and I'm sure it would be decent, but not as good as getting the true telephoto.

To answer the originial question that came to mind, if you are really looking into saving some bucks here and there, think of how steady you are with your hand or how often you use a tripod. Do you really need IS or could you live without it and save quite a bundle??

Canon 70-200 f/2.8 L IS USM - $1650
Canon 70-200 f/2.8 L USM - $1100
Canon 70-200 f/4 L IS USM - $1050
Canon 70-200 f/4 L USM - $600
I live in the "other world" (Nikon)... and I have the 80-400mm VR (which is Nikon's "IS"). This is a f/4.5-5.6 lens and the sole purpose of getting this lens a year ago was to get my feet wet in telephoto. Since then, I have fallen in love with bird photography, and I am in the process of saving for the 'holy grail' of bird photography lenses-- the 600mm f/4. These wide focal length ranges can be good lenses... some photographers have had amazing results with the 50-500mm Sigma "Bigma". The upshot is, for handheld lenses in the 200-300mm range, you will suffer from speed, or lack thereof... regarding aperture. My 400mm zoom lens which is f/5.6 at that length really sucks in low light... I mean bad. No matter how good your post processing techniques are with ISO > 1000... it certainly won't beat a faster lens. In storm photography, faster is better, since a large percentage of photos are shot in low light ... and with scenes changing fast, and always on the move (I know we'd all love 10mph moving storms, but that isn't always the case)... the times to setup the tripod and just sit there and admire the storm can be few and far between.. Go fast! Auto-focus also suffers from slower apertures as well. That said... I found an interesting use for 400mm of length on the 10/26 storm chase zeroing in on debris as a weak tornado crossed the road in front of me about 3/4 mile away... So, there is a place for 300-400mm range, but it's rare... usually for up close tornado action.
From what I understand, the image quality of that isn't in the same league as the 70-200's, and 5.6 is slllllooowwwww. There are cheaper, better options, unless you absoloutely have to have it all in one lens.

True something like this one would only give me the benefit of a better glass, as I already have a 5.6 in the cheap 75-300mm.
I like action photo's , usually sports or bird's in flight.


What I find most of the time is, if it's cloudy I'm not going to get as good of shots vs's a sunny day.

Even under stadium lights at f/5 and a 1600 iso the lens couldn't give me what I needed to stop the action.

So in reality I shouldn't be looking at anything if it's not going to help in low light situations .

I'll probably push the button on the Canon 70-200 2.8 this weekend, unless I decide to get 2 dedicated sizes instead:confused:
I got a canon EOS XT . After looking up the ratings on several forums and from you all, I bought a tamron 28-200mm . It works well and I got a real good price on it on EBAY. It had better reviews then the Canon 70-200mm. I use Tamrons with my minolta SRT 101 and then 201 and so Tamrons are something I don't shy away from.
After looking over reports from you all, considering prices, other popular phtotography and other forum and other reviews I decided to ditch and thoughts of sigma lens. The canons looked good but the reviews for the tamron 28-200mm was pretty good. I got it for little over $110 on ebay in great shape and used in for on the lunar eclipse a few weeks ago. I am tryin to get used to the autofocus, XT that I bought .
Thanks for your advice, information, details and emails. I really appreciate it.
Let the storms begin.
May you all have a better storm season and stormchasing then mine in 2006 (which really really sucked!!!).

Keep posting your telephoto ideas and results from 2007 season as you use your telephoto and results.
Tamron 28-200mm has better reviews than the canon 70-200? Which canon 70-200? There are at least 4 versions.
I own the 70-200mm f/4L NON IS. I would love to have the IS but at the time of purchase I had a certain budget. As far as picture quality goes, it is absolutely tack sharp. Even at f/4. I have been so impressed with the IQ that I generally find a way to use this lens whenever possible. Even if it means I am standing 50 feet away from what I am shooting. I can definitely see situations where I am 2 or 3 stops away from where I would like to be and IS would serve its purpose. However, those occasions are surprisingly rare for my style of photography. If it was in my budget, though, I would have bought the IS.

I compare buying a lens to buying a new truck. The NON IS is a 4x2 and the IS is a 4x4 (or 2.8 vs 4.0). Chances are you will only need the 4x4 once or twice a year (depending on where you live). The 4x4 is $2,000 more. Do your pull the trigger on the 4x4? The point is that you buy the 4x4 because that one time you need it, you are grateful as hell to have it.

If it is in your budget I say buy the 2.8 IS. I would hate to miss a once in a lifetime shot because my lens was too slow when I could have paid more and not had to worry about it anymore.

In the end I don't believe you can go wrong with ANY of the 70-200L series lens'.
To throw another lens out there - something a little more inexpensive, the Canon EOS 100-300mm F/5.6L bears looking at. You can find it (if you can - it is an OLD lens) it runs for about 300$. Not too bad. Drawback: it is slow. 5.6 throughout. And the focusing motor is slow. But for $300... not too bad for an L lens.

Don't confuse this lens with the non L version, it has different inferior optics.

Just a suggestion, this is an old lens that can be hard to find, but for the price....
Well I went with the 100-400 L IS. I finally decided 200mm was not going to be enough reach and decided from there. I quickly realized that most anything at 400mm is slow(F5.6). The 400L prime is 5.6. The only way to get a faster 400 was to spend over $5000 for the F4 or $6500 for the F2.8(screw that). So, speed sort of went out the window quickly. Then I compared the prime and the zoom on and at 400mm wide open the zoom actually had an edge in sharpness(go figure). What made me think the 100-400mm L was horrible was the review on luminous landscape comaparing it to the 400mm prime. Then I saw the side by sides on and changed my mind. I have no idea how he got the 100-400 to look that crappy next to the 400 on luminous.

So I get it today and WOW. Not WOW for quality yet, as I haven't looked at the images on a computer yet....but wow for freaking heavy! I've never had a lens like this. I knew it'd be heavy when I saw it was 3lbs and then looked to see that the 17-40L I have is 17 oz(about a lb). I was like, yikes, like three of those on there! It was heavier than I even thought. I bring it out to my parent's and attach it to my camera for the first time. While I'm locking it in, I look up and the deer have shown up fitting. It was quickly clear how much the IS can indeed help. I didn't have a clue what I was doing with it yet and if that was set and done right, but you could see it working. It sure didn't take long for it to get so heavy I didn't want to be holding it up anymore. That'll change the more I use it I guess. I always laughed when I'd hear comments about not wanting to lug this or that lens around(short of those huge ones anyway). Not anymore. Not so much the lugging around as it is the holding it up in the air.

I did some test shots with IS off, at 400mm to check out the sharpness. I wanted to see if it was soft open at 5.6 like some say. It didn't appear tack sharp, but things seldom do viewed full size(with any small amount of sharpening be would be very sharp). The thing that mattered was it was no less sharp at 5.6 than it was at anything through F11. F10 and F11 actually seemed a bit softer but I suspect camera shake since the shutter was then down to 1/30 and 1/20 of a second and I fired them off real quick.

I then took it over to the national wild life refuge to try it out. It wasn't a good day over there since not everywhere is open for spring yet. But I did get a couple of a young deer....sort of. He was looking and my window made a bit of noise, so I only had a second or two to take the shot. I never noticed till just now what my shutter was. I was shooting the guy at 400mm and the shutter was 1/40! Without the IS on, this shot would have surely been TOAST. When you are out there at 400mm(640mm equivelent!) believe me, the lens moves all over the place if you are trying to handhold it. The shot I got is obviously not tack sharp, but it does appear very useable from what I can tell zooming in on the LCD. I can't believe it looks that good at 1/40. And from what I understand this is a bit older IS since this model is older now. I'll try and post some examples later if anyone cares and was wondering about this lens. It seems a fairly obvious choice if one wants out there to 400mm and doesn't have $5000+ to blow on the fast primes. Oh yeah and the push pull thing never seemed troubling at all. Of course this is my first real zoom, my 17-40L is at 17mm 99% of the time, and I was mostly always at 400mm with this one. But leaving your hand on the focus ring and push or pulling the zoom didn't seem all that unnatural.

It's funny what the case smells like that comes with these. It smells exactly like a new car. I guess that is appropriate as it feels like you buy a car when you take the L step on a zoom or big telephoto.

I'm glad that code for bh doesn't appear to be working, since I just saw that again after I ordered and recieved this.

Oh yeah, the Sigma Bigma(50-500mm). Here is a comparison between this one and the bigma at 400mm F5.6....HERE The sigma looks like CRAP on there. HERE is the canon 100-400L vs the canon 400L prime at 400mm F5.6. You can see the zoom has a slight edge in sharpness. Sure it costs a bit more, but you also get the 100-400 range.

Fairly impressed so far.
White lenses are cooler. :)

Just saw this thread now. I have the 70-200 2.8 non IS. Doing weddings, I could have afforded the IS but reviews I saw said the IS doesnt have quite as sharp of a picture. My low light shooting almost always has a tri / mono pod associated with it so I decided to go against the IS. It is my main concert and wedding lens now. Oh, and I LOVE it. Worth every penny.

Doug Raflik
White lenses are cooler. :)

Just saw this thread now. I have the 70-200 2.8 non IS. Doing weddings, I could have afforded the IS but reviews I saw said the IS doesnt have quite as sharp of a picture. My low light shooting almost always has a tri / mono pod associated with it so I decided to go against the IS. It is my main concert and wedding lens now. Oh, and I LOVE it. Worth every penny.

Doug Raflik

When I was thinking of going 70-200 I was thinking of going the same exact route, figuring it'd about be like the F4 with IS as far as holding anyway, since you'd be a bit faster at 2.8(no not 3-4 stops I know). I think the only problem with IS is when you have it on and are mounted. With it off I wouldn't think it'd be any different than the non IS version. Just shooting around with this at 400mm I sure as hell wouldn't want to be doing many of the settings without IS on.
I'm a Nikon guy, so I can't comments on the lenses themselves, but one thing to remember, the slower the lens, the less teleconverter options you will have. For teleconverters to work well, a 2x needs a f/2.8 lens, and a 1.4x needs a f/4 lens. Personally I have a 80-200mm f/2.8 and love it.
Just got a canon rebel XT to shoot weather, storms, nature, astronomy . I looked into the telephotos . (my minotla digital broke). I have been eyeing the canon for sometime because of the cmos chip and ability to switch lenses.
The 70-200mm canon did not get as good a ratings . I looked into a bought a tamron 28-200 mm that had good reviews. I am happy with it and the telephoto.
The only thing I don't like I about canon set ups is that it is more difficult to see all the setting all at once . Any comments about this?
Last edited by a moderator: