The Best 70-200mm Zoom Lenses

Top models of this versatile “workhorse” lens for nature photographers

Everyone has a favorite lens. It’s usually in a focal length that matches the way the photographer sees in his or her mind’s eye. We’ve heard of studies that show a human’s vision to be roughly equivalent to a 40mm lens on a full-frame DSLR, but we all focus on things within our field of vision a little differently. Some see in 20mm, and some see in 200mm. In addition to everyone “seeing” in a certain focal length, many of what we think of as traditional nature subjects seem to lend themselves to a particular range. At the confluence of these two phenomena is a lens that has become known as a workhorse for nature pros: the 70-200mm.

Of course, we’re not saying that this is the only lens the pros use, but it’s a lens that so many pros rely on for a considerable portion of their photography that the leading manufacturers of camera bags design their wares around it. We’ve seen countless demos by the bag makers who describe a pro-level case as being able to hold a DSLR with a 70-200mm. Why is the lens so popular with nature shooters? In a word: versatility.

At the 70mm end, it’s wide enough to take in a broad landscape or show an animal within its full surroundings. At the 200mm end, it’s telephoto enough to get in fairly tight on an animal or to create a foreshortened perspective on a landscape. The lens also hits a sweet spot in its size. While there are size and weight differences between ƒ/2.8 and ƒ/4 models, even the largest and heaviest 70-200mm is manageable compared to a 300mm or 400mm telephoto.

A Selection Of Top 70-200mm Zooms

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM

Canon’s top 70-200mm, the EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM, features an Image Stabilizer system capable of four stops of correction when shooting handheld. It can focus on subjects as close as 3.94 feet throughout the zoom range.

Weight:                      3.3 pounds
Length:                      7.8 inches
Filter Size:                 77mm
Estimated Price:       $1,899

Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM
Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM

A more affordable option from Canon is the EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM. Though slower than the EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM with its ƒ/4 maximum aperture, it’s also slightly smaller and about half the weight. It also features a 4-stop Image Stabilizer system.

Weight:                      1.7 pounds
Length:                      6.8 inches
Filter Size:                 67mm
Estimated Price:       $1,099

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm F2.8E FL ED VR
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm F2.8E FL ED VR

One of the most expensive but also highly regarded 70-200s is the AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm F2.8E FL ED VR from Nikon. It can focus as close as 3.6 feet and provides Vibration Reduction up to four stops.

Weight:                      3.2 pounds
Length:                      7.9 inches
Filter Size:                 77mm
Estimated Price:       $2,799

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/4G ED VR
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/4G ED VR

Nikon’s ƒ/4 option is the AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/4G ED VR. Like its faster sibling, it provides Vibration reduction up to four stops. It can focus slightly closer than the ƒ/2.8, with a minimum distance of 3.3 feet, and is also considerably lighter.

Weight:                      1.9 pounds
Length:                      7.0 inches
Filter Size:                 67mm
Estimated Price:       $1,399

HD PENTAX-DFA 70-200mm F2.8ED DC AW
HD PENTAX-DFA 70-200mm F2.8ED DC AW

The HD PENTAX-DFA 70-200mm F2.8ED DC AW is the only 70-200mm available for Pentax K-mount—there’s no ƒ/4 option currently in the lineup. However, it’s priced competitively and features the extensive weather sealing for which Pentax is known. There’s no image stabilization in the lens because Pentax DSLRs have this in-body.

Weight:                      3.9 pounds
Length:                      8.0 inches
Filter Size:                 77mm
Estimated Price:       $1,599

Sigma APO 70-200mm F2.8 EX DG OS HSM
Sigma APO 70-200mm F2.8 EX DG OS HSM

Sigma’s APO 70-200mm F2.8 EX DG OS HSM is available for Canon, Nikon and Sigma mounts. It can focus as close as 4.73 feet and has an Optical Stabilizer system for handheld shooting. Introduced in 2010, it’s an older lens in Sigma’s range, but an affordable alternative to Canon and Nikon’s ƒ/2.8 options.

Weight:                      3.2 pounds
Length:                      7.8 inches
Filter Size:                 77mm
Estimated Price:       $1,299

Sony FE 70-200mm F2.8 GM OSS
Sony FE 70-200mm F2.8 GM OSS

One of Sony’s expanding family of premium G Master lenses, the FE 70-200mm F2.8 GM OSS is an exceptional lens, though not inexpensive. It has Optical SteadyShot stabilization built-in, a circular 11-blade aperture, is extensively weather-sealed and can focus as close as 3.2 feet. See images taken with this lens.

Weight:                      3.3 pounds
Length:                      7.9 inches
Filter Size:                 77mm
Estimated Price:       $2,599

Sony FE 70-200mm F4 G OSS
Sony FE 70-200mm F4 G OSS

A more affordable ƒ/4 option for Sony E-mount is the FE 70-200mm F4 G OSS. It can focus as close as 3.3 feet at the wide end of the range and 4.4 feet at the tele end. Like the ƒ/2.8 G Master, it incorporates Optical SteadyShot.

Weight:                      1.9 pounds
Length:                      7.0 inches
Filter Size:                 72mm
Estimated Price:       $1,399

Sony 70–200mm F2.8 G SSM II
Sony 70–200mm F2.8 G SSM II

For A-mount Sony cameras like the a99 II, the 70–200mm F2.8 G SSM II has a minimum focusing distance of 4 feet. There’s no Optical SteadyShot, relying on the in-camera stabilization system, and it’s pricey, but it’s the only Sony 70-200mm option for A-mount (though there is the 70–300mm F4.5–5.6 G SSM at about one-third the price).

Weight:                      3.0 pounds
Length:                      7.8 inches
Filter Size:                 77mm
Estimated Price:       $2,999

Tamron SP 70-200mm F2.8 Di VC USD G2
Tamron SP 70-200mm F2.8 Di VC USD G2

Available in Canon and Nikon mounts, the Tamron SP 70-200mm F2.8 Di VC USD G2 is a lens we’ve recently tested and found to be a terrific value. The lens’s minimum focusing distance is just over 3 feet, and it offers up to five stops of Vibration Compensation. Learn more in our review of this lens.

Weight:                      3.3 pounds
Length:                      7.6 inches
Filter Size:                 77mm
Estimated Price:       $1,299

Tokina AT-X 70-200mm F4 PRO FX VCM-S
Tokina AT-X 70-200mm F4 PRO FX VCM-S

The Tokina AT-X 70-200mm F4 PRO FX VCM-S is a very affordable ƒ/4 option for Nikon users. It has Tokina’s VCM (Vibration Correction Module) stabilization system for up to 3 stops of correction and can focus as close as 3.3 feet.

Weight:                      2.2 pounds
Length:                      6.6 inches
Filter Size:                 67mm
Estimated Price:       $799

This article was originally published in 2010 and updated in 2017.

13 Comments

    “If you?۪re using a DSLR with an APS-C-sized sensor, the telephoto end is even more dramatic at an equivalent of just over 300mm. Also, some of the 70-200mm models are designed to work with a 1.4x teleconverter, bringing the telephoto to about 450mm.”

    Sounds pretty cut and dry to me…

    Hi, I’m an italian reader/photographer. Sometimes I don’t understand. Shouldn’t a magazine be educative? Why being so hard on Mr Jensen? Fact is that no crop sensor can alter the focal lenght of a lens. A 200mm with a 1.4 teleconverter is and we’ll always be a 280mm. Than, when you mount it on an APS-X sensor, you’ll crop the image letting it to be equivalent to the one you would have on a full frame camera with a 450mm. I repeat, the focal length stays untouched.
    Regards.

    My compliment to the author, this was a well written article. I own the Nikon 70-200 2.8 and love it. Regarding the other comments, I don’t understand why so much time/focus is wasted talking about the focal length math. When I read the article I knew immediately knew the author considered an APS-C sensor in order to arrive at the stated focal length when using a 1.4 teleconverter. I trust we all agree that experienced photographers, especially those shooting full frame) understand the central message in the article and related the math.

    I for one certainnly appreciate the article and found it to be instructive and clear. I also understand how to frame a question in a civil manner, to AID discussion rather than derail it. On that note…can you all comment on which of the lenses are more suited for the teleconverter, as was suggested in Justin’s comment of october last?

    Which Lens are more suited for teleconverters? Well it depends but the short answer is “the expensive ones”. While I can’t speak for second party lens or teleconverters, the Nikon teleconverters are primarily limited to only their F2.8 or F4 glass. Also, because of the reduction in image quality a 1.4 teleconverter is often better than a 2X. In addition, the auto focus is less reliable when shooting with an aperture beyond F5.6. Of course manual focus is an option in the case where you need to stop down. Your lens manufacture technical data is a good source for information. I get goo results with my Nikon 1.7X on a 70-200 F2.8 and plan to purchase a 200-400 F4 and a 1.4X to use together.

    In general, if you want optimum image results, use a smaller teleconverter versus a larger one.

    Of course, a good tripod and camera technique is essential as well.

    I have had a Nikkor 70-200mm 1:2.8 VR II for over a year. I bought it before a whale watching opportunity last year in Alaska. It rarely comes off my camera if I am shooting outdoors. When it does it for a Nikkor MIcro 105mm 1:2.8 or the Nikkor Micro 60mm 1:2.8. As far as teleconverts goes, I’ll, on a rare occasion, put on a Nikkor AF-S 1.7. I just sold my D90 and got a D7000. They make a great combination at dawn and dusk.

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