Conclusion - Pros

  • Exceptional image quality
  • Superb build quality, including dust- and water-sealing
  • Highly effective image stabilization
  • Excellent autofocus and manual override

Conclusion - Cons

  • Relatively harsh rendition of out-of-focus areas of the image
  • Somewhat susceptible to flare with direct light sources in or close to the frame
  • Inconvenient design of tripod mount ring (can't be detached without taking lens off camera)

Overall conclusion

The Canon EF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS II USM comes as a welcome update for Canon's professional fast telephoto zoom. While we liked the old version when we reviewed it two years ago, the rapid increase in pixel count on the latest generations of cameras (coupled, it must be said, with Canon's insistence that all those extra pixels are there to provide a greater scope for cropping) has placed its optical qualities and autofocus capabilities under ever finer scrutiny, and as a result it has been found increasingly wanting (especially on the likes of the EOS 7D).

The new version changes all that, providing quite simply breathtaking optical performance on both APS-C and full-frame bodies. It's exceptionally sharp, even wide open at F2.8 - so much so that there's practically no visible improvement in the center on stopping down, and just a little at the corners. Chromatic aberration is extremely low (helped no doubt by that fluorite element), distortion well under control, and vignetting more or less average for its class. This all makes for a hugely impressive showing in our studio tests, especially when compared to its predecessor. However it does come at the expense of the quality of the rendition of out-of-focus regions of the image (or 'bokeh'), which tend to look a bit more 'busy' and obtrusive compared to the old lens.

According to our tests and shooting experience, Canon has also made good on its promise to improve the image stabilization system, which now delivers sharp images hand held at shutter speeds about a stop slower than before. Couple this with fast and reliable autofocus, and the lens simply delivers the goods time after time with the minimum of fuss - exactly what you'd hope for (and expect) at this level.

In terms of build and handling, there's very little to complain about either. The lens maintains the same solid metal-bodied, dust- and water-sealed construction as the older version, and the slightly wider focusing ring and locking button on the lens hood come as small but welcome improvements. About the only remaining (minor) criticism is with the design of the tripod mount ring, which can't be removed without detaching the lens from the camera body, and has no alignment markings for shooting in portrait format.

Perhaps the one blot on the landscape is relatively unimpressive image quality at close focus distances, making the shorter minimum focus, and improved maximum magnification, a little less useful than it looks on paper. However it must be noted that our test sample clearly displayed some asymmetry in the optics at close focus distances, with the right side of the frame becoming visibly softer than the left - something which may not be representative of the design as a whole.

Overall, then, the EF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS II USM gains about as close as it gets to an unqualified recommendation, given the price. Its combination of exceptional optics and quirk-free design even manages to surpass Nikon's equivalent that we tested recently, stealing the crown of 'Best in Class' by a whisker. It's a significant improvement over what was already an accomplished lens, capable of consistently delivering results that will satisfy the most demanding of users, and you can't ask for much more than that.

Canon EF 70-200mm F2.8L IS II USM
Category: Telephoto Lens
Optical Quality
Build Quality
Image Stabilization
Ergonomics and Handling
Canon's update to its professional fast telezoom may look much the same on the outside, but internally it's been updated to give image quality that's quite simply the best in its class. Effective autofocus and image stabilization systems, plus full weather sealing, round off a compelling package.
Good for
Professionals and advanced amateurs demanding the very finest image quality from a telephoto zoom
Not so good for
Applications for which portability or discretion is more valuable than outright image quality
Overall score