I took advantage of a deal that local photo dealer and hire centre Calumet were doing for cheap hire to try out one of Canon's nicer high-end zoom lenses (the L-series 70-300 f/4-5.6
. This year Calumet repeated the offer, although on slightly different terms; rather than giving 75% off any hire over the holiday period, they allowed a 14-day hire from 22nd December to 5th January at what would normally be the rate for 2 days. I decided to take advantage of this to try out what's often thought of as Canon's flagship L-series lens: the 70-200 f/2.8 IS II
By 'flagship' I don't mean that it's the most expensive (not by a long way!) or the 'fastest' in terms of widest aperture, or has the longest zoom range or maximum focal length. But for a short-to-medium telephoto zoom it has a wide maximum aperture of f/2.8, which significantly (and unlike most cheaper zoom lenses) is constant throughout the zoom range. Like all L-series lenses it is robustly built, and is widely regarded has having extremely good image quality. Also, at about £1,700, while expensive it is not out of the reach of most professional (or indeed a fair few amateur) photographers. As a result it's become a widely-used lens for serious photographers - our wedding photographer had one - and a lens a lot of more casual Canon dSLR owners aspire to, or at least dream of.
It's certainly a bit of a beast. When I picked it up it came with its own semi-rigid zipped bag, and the lens body itself is made of metal rather than plastic. It feels very solid and well-engineered. To have an f/2.8 aperture at the 200mm end of its zoom range it needs a large diameter, and combined with its pale cream colour it certainly looks conspicuous on the front of your camera. indeed, on one occasion when I was out taking some test pictures I was approached by some cyclists who turned out to be camera geeks and asked about it. This isn't a lens for discreet snapping.
Based on several trips out with it I certainly agree that the image quality is superb. To show just how sharp it is, here's a comparison of a view frrm our flat of a nearby bit of architecture both via the 2.8L on the left and my usual zoom (Canon 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 IS) on the right. These are 100% crops, although I didn't quite get the two lenses at exactly the same focal length so the scale isn't quite the same; both are at f/8 though, so ought to be around their best.( Lots of sample images )
I was sorry to hand the lens back, but would I really want to splash out the best part of £2K on one? It is big and bulky - with it attached, I could not get my camera into my smaller camera bag, even after removing the internal dividers. It's not light, either, and I can imagine that after a long photo session even a large person like me could tire of holding it. As I said, it's also conspicuous, and I'd be very mindful of how much it cost. But I can see why people for whom photography is a job, or a hobby serious enough that they want the best tools, so often use one of these.
A common alternative L-series lens has long been the 100-400 f/4.5-5.6L IS
. Not as fast in terms of aperture, but rather longer in focal length, it had been on the market for about 16 years and everyone has expecting a replacement for the best part of a decade. Canon has just launched the Mk 2 version
, and as I handed the 2.8: back I asked when Calumet was likely to get one for rental. "Oh, we just have - in fact, it came back today. Do you want to have a look before we send it back to the depot?" So I had a quick play (no photos - the shop stuck it on a display Canon dSLR body for me) - also big and heavy, but very nice build feel and based on looking through it the image quality ought to be excellent. I may well end up hiring that for a weekend next time I go to an airshow. In the mean time I'm now sorely tempted by the 2.8L's smaller brother, the 70-200 f/4L IS
, which is supposed to have almost the same quality for the sacrifice of only one f-stop in speed, and is about half the weight and price....