70-300 IS vs. 70-200 F4L: My Conclusion

Started Oct 25, 2005 | Discussions thread
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SchnellerGT
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70-300 IS vs. 70-200 F4L: My Conclusion
Oct 25, 2005

As many of you are probably aware, I have literally been pulling my hair out trying to decide between the Canon EF 70-200 F4L ($600) and the new Canon EF 70-300 4-5.6 IS. I have asked for direct comparisons from many individuals here (thanks PeaceFrog), and have asked for input via e-mail from members of other forums like fredmiranda.

My conclusion: Canon wants us to buy as many lenses as possible. The 70-300 IS is quite versatile. The 70-200 F4L is sharp and contrasty, providing those images only an "L" can provide. Canon doesn't want us to have both versatility and "L" quality or else they would make an EF 70-300 F4L IS for $1000 that would be black and would weigh around 1.5 lbs. We all know Canon has the resources to go from designing such a lens to mass production in under a month! But they don't want to offer us that level of quality and convenience. They want us to buy two lenses: the 70-300 IS for travel and the 70-200 F4L or 70-200 F2.8L IS for the more serious work. Canon is in it to make money, not to provide the best possible instruments for their customers. No surprise there.

The 70-200 F4L remains THE CANON VALUE "L" lens. The samples I've seen have blown me away. Super sharp and contrasty. And it has super fast USM focus. But you have to keep it above 1/320 at 200mm to get those sharp pictures. This means, when the lights go out, you need a tripod or have to attempt shooting at ISO3200. For those like me who do not own (and would never travel with) a tripod, this is not an option. But if you are 100% positive that you only want to use your telephoto with lots of light, then there is no better lens for the money.

As PeaceFrog and many others have demonstrated, the 70-300 IS is a great lens. It's very sharp, JUST AS SHARP as the 70-200 F4L. What I think this lens lacks compared to the 70-200 F4L is the same "L punch" or color and contrast. I mean it's close, it's 90-95% as good, but just not quite on par. The 70-300 IS also lacks that super fast USM focus, but for me that's not a big deal usually. But the 70-300 IS is more versatile, it's a far better low-light lens, and you can leave your tripod at home. The extra 100mm doesn't hurt either. What does hurt is that this lens is priced $50 more than the 70-200 F4L (at Amazon at least). It would be a nice Christmas present if Canon lowered the price another $100-$150. Then at least I wouldn't feel so bad not buying the F4L.

And where does the 70-300 DO stand in all of this? It's arguably the compromise lens that costs twice as much as the two I've mentioned. It has the IS of the latter and USM of the former. It has the 300mm reach, it's black, and best of all, it's compact. It has the color and saturation of the F4L but lacks the sharpness of either. But again, it's twice the price and also the heaviest of the lot. For me, weight is more of a concern when traveling than lens length. For others, it's the opposite. In my opinion, the DO is NOT the choice for the value-conscious.

Have I made a decision? Well...sadly I have not. I am 60% for the 70-300 IS and 40% for the 70-200 F4L. But after having played with a 200 F2.8L prime at Wolfcamera, I came to two conclusions: 1) 200mm isn't as long as I thought it would be, and 2) My hands need IS. So although my heart is still close to the 70-200 F4L, my mind tells me the versatility of the 70-300 IS is what I need.

There's my $.02.

Now let the debate continue!

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Three generations of Canon Digital Photography at http://www.threewood.com
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