Many pro 70-200mm zooms have a maximum aperture of ƒ/2.8. But there are also some with a maximum aperture of ƒ/4. Which is a better choice for you?
The slower ƒ/4 lenses offer the advantages of much lower price and much less bulk. For example, Canon’s new EF 70-200mm ƒ/2.8L IS II USM zoom lists for $2,499 and weighs 52.6 ounces, while the EF 70-200mm ƒ/4L IS USM lists for $1,349 and weighs 26.8 ounces. The slower lens also takes 67mm filters vs. the faster lens’ larger and more costly 77mm filters. When bulk and budget are the main concerns, the ƒ/4 is the better choice.
Canon EF70-200mm ƒ/2.8L IS USM
The main advantage of the ƒ/2.8 zooms is lens speed. The ƒ/2.8s are one stop faster than the ƒ/4s, providing twice the action-stopping power in any given light level: If the ƒ/4 lens requires a shutter speed of 1⁄30 sec. wide open, the ƒ/2.8 will let you shoot at 1⁄60 sec. The faster lens also provides a brighter viewfinder image for easier composing and manual focusing. Many pros find the speed and brightness advantages of the ƒ/2.8s worth the extra cost and weight.
In general, the faster lenses are a bit sharper and autofocus a bit more quickly than the slower ones, but not so much so that most photographers would notice. Lens speed (i.e., low-light and action capability), weight and cost are the main concerns when deciding between a 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 and a 70-200mm ƒ/4.
It’s Not For Everyone
Tamron SP AF70-200mm F/2.8 Di LD (IF) Macro; Sony SAL-70200G Zoom AF 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 APO G(D) SSM
Despite its usefulness, the 70-200mm isn’t every pro’s first choice. George Lepp describes why he finds the 100-400mm zoom range more to his liking. “Every outdoor photographer has a favorite set of lenses. With pros, it’s not just about using our faithful favorites, but also being efficient, reliable and adaptable. Way back in the old film days, I established my typical range of lenses to include the 28-135mm mid-range zoom as my “normal” lens (this has now changed to a 24-105mm) and the 100-400mm as the middle-range telephoto; the latter lens has been a workhorse for my wildlife photography for more than 12 years. When you’re trying to capture fast action in the field, there isn’t time to change lenses constantly, alternating among a large set of fixed-focal-length lenses or short-range zooms. Most of my field photography happens in the 100mm to 400mm range. That said, if Canon offered a new high-quality 200-400mm ƒ/4 lens, I’d probably adopt that along with the 70-200mm (I’d opt for the ƒ/4) for most of my field photography. My fondest wish, however, is for a new, sharper, ring-focus 100-400mm lens, and I hope the folks at Canon are listening!”