Tag Archives: Canon EF 200mm f/1.8L USM

Canon’s Big White 200mm Primes Compared

Introduction

People who are familiar with Canon’s EF telephoto lenses may know that over the years, Canon has offered two wide-aperture, fast-for-focal-length 200mm prime lenses:

  1. Canon EF 200mm f/1.8L USM; and
  2. Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM.

Firstly, here is a view of these two wonderful lenses side-by-side:

Canon EF 200mm Prime Lenses Side-by-Side

Canon EF 200mm Prime Lenses Side-by-Side

The Canon EF 200mm f/1.8L USM is a legendary lens, and although it has been discontinued since 2003 or 2004, it remains a desirable and collectible lens, and can be difficult to obtain cheaply, if at all.

For a number of years, Canon did not offer a 200mm prime lens faster than f/2.8, until the Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM was announced in 2008.

I am fortunate enough to have used both of these great white 200s in real-world shooting situations, and I also own one of them.  Friend and fellow photographer David de Groot is the proud owner of a Canon EF 200mm f/1.8L USM, and I am the proud owner of a Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM.

My New Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM

My New Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM

In December of 2017, David and I decided to somewhat scientifically test the two lenses in a semi-controlled environment for the purpose of very simply comparing the resulting image quality of both lenses when shot at their widest individual apertures (f/1.8 and f/2), and when shot at the widest aperture common to both lenses (f/2).

Now, this article is not intended to provide an in-depth, deeply scientific and highly technical evaluation of the two lenses; rather, it is intended to simply show in pictures, and describe from my own perspective as a lens user rather than a lens reviewer, how the two lenses perform at the widest apertures.

I am not going to compare the finer points of image quality, or even discuss the specifications and features of the lenses, as those details are widely published, and are not so relevant for the purpose of this article.

For people who are interested in far more detailed and scientific reviews of these two lenses, I recommend visiting The Digital Picture’s Canon lens reviews.  Bryan Carnathan has owned and reviewed both lenses extensively, and his reviews provide much more detail for those seeking that level of analysis.

At this point, I would like to state that both lenses are sharp wide-open, and produce very similar — and pleasing — results.

While there is a lot of similarity between the results of both lenses, there are also some differences, and in my own opinion, the much newer Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM is superior — from a sharpness perspective — to the older Canon EF 200mm f/1.8L USM.

This is not altogether surprising, as there is a considerable age difference between lenses, with the newer lens having the advantage of optical technology advancement in the years between lens releases.

Now, some details about the test environment.

The Testing Process

There was not much to the testing process.  We used a plush toy dinosaur as the subject, placed it outside on the railing of the verandah, and then shot our images from a tripod.

In the distance behind the subject was lush green foliage, which made for a pleasing background.

The subject was a little over three metres from the camera (3.05m, according to the focusing distance data reported by the Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM).

Other than the lenses, cameras and perhaps a slight amount of distance changing when the lenses were swapped (due to the varied position of their tripod mounting feet), the only significant change was the ambient light, and composition to a small degree, which is not important for the purpose of comparing image quality.

All of my images were shot in raw mode, using my Canon EOS 5D Mark IV in manual exposure mode.  David captured his images using his Canon EOS-1D X.  In both cases, the images were captured using the conventional on-camera shutter release button, without the use of a countdown timer or the mirror lockup feature enabled.

It is therefore possible that photographer-induced motion (even at minute levels) may have been introduced, which in turn may have affected the results; but it is to be remembered that people photograph human or animal subjects with these lenses in real-world situations, meaning that there is almost always human contact with the camera.

The three images I captured are as follows:

  1. Image 1, shot with the Canon EF 200mm f/1.8L USM at f/1.8;
  2. Image 2, shot with the Canon EF 200mm f/1.8L USM at f/2; and
  3. Image 3, shot with the Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM at f/2.

Image Processing

I decided not to apply any post-processing to the images, with the exception of the exposure level.  Due to the ambient light levels varying between shots, the brightness of the images consequently varies, so I adjusted the exposure to bring the three images to the same visual brightness level.

Images 1 and 3 had their exposure increased by a third of a stop (+0.33 in Adobe Camera Raw) to bring the exposure level to the approximate brightness of image 2.

Otherwise, I applied no post-processing to these images beyond simple raw conversion.  I did not adjust any settings or apply any colour profiles; I simply exported the images straight into Photoshop (Adobe Photoshop CC 2018) and saved them as JPGs at the highest quality level (12).

Crucially, I have applied absolutely no sharpening to the images.  What you will see is what the camera captured.  While sharpening is a necessary part of digital image processing (particularly for raw images), what I want to highlight is what the lens is capable of producing, not what Photoshop is capable of producing.

Image 1 – Canon EF 200mm f/1.8L USM at f/1.8

Here is the first image, captured with the Canon EF 200mm f/1.8L USM at f/1.8:

Toy Dinosaur - Canon EF 200mm f/1.8L USM at f/1.8

Toy Dinosaur – Canon EF 200mm f/1.8L USM at f/1.8

Click the image to download the full-size 30.1mp file (6,720 x 4,480px).

Here is a 100% crop of the first image:

Toy Dinosaur - Canon EF 200mm f/1.8L USM at f/1.8 - 2,048px Crop

Toy Dinosaur – Canon EF 200mm f/1.8L USM at f/1.8 – 2,048px Crop

Click the image to download the cropped 2.8mp file (2,048 x 1,365px).

Image 2 – Canon EF 200mm f/1.8L USM at f/2

Here is the second image, captured with the Canon EF 200mm f/1.8L USM at f/2:

Toy Dinosaur - Canon EF 200mm f/1.8L USM at f/2

Toy Dinosaur – Canon EF 200mm f/1.8L USM at f/2

Click the image to download the full-size 30.1mp file (6,720 x 4,480px).

Here is a 100% crop of the second image:

Toy Dinosaur - Canon EF 200mm f/1.8L USM at f/2 - 2,048px Crop

Toy Dinosaur – Canon EF 200mm f/1.8L USM at f/2 – 2,048px Crop

Click the image to download the cropped 2.8mp file (2,048 x 1,365px).

Image 3 – Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM at f/2

Here is the third image, captured with the Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM at f/2:

Toy Dinosaur - Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM at f/2

Toy Dinosaur – Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM at f/2

Click the image to download the full-size 30.1mp file (6,720 x 4,480px).

Here is a 100% crop of the third image:

Toy Dinosaur - Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM at f/2 - 2,048px Crop

Toy Dinosaur – Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM at f/2 – 2,048px Crop

Click the image to download the cropped 2.8mp file (2,048 x 1,365px).

Observations and Conclusions

As I mentioned earlier, both lenses are very sharp.

However, the difference in sharpness between the Canon EF 200mm f/1.8L USM and the Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM can be seen when viewing the 30.1mp image at 100% magnification.

It is really necessary to view the images at 100% magnification (rather than the 640px versions presented above) to properly see the differences in sharpness between lenses, and between f/stops on one of the lenses.  Having said that, sharpness variations can still be seen in the 640px versions of the cropped-to-2,048px versions.

When inspecting the full-size image files, look in particular at the catchlight in the toy dinosaur’s eye, which was the focal point in the images.  The sharpness difference can also be seen in the texture of the fabric from which the dinosaur is made.

The Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM clearly has the edge, and it is noticeably sharper.

Interestingly, the image shot with the Canon EF 200mm f/1.8L USM at f/1.8 is noticeably sharper than the image shot with the same lens stopped down to f/2.  This may have been due to photographer-induced movement upon depressing the shutter release button, but it is impossible to tell.

I am not too concerned about this difference, as lenses typically become sharper when stopped down.  While I cannot prove it, it is possible that I may have accidentally thrown off the focus by a small amount when composing and capturing the image at f/2, and given that the image captured at f/1.8 is sharper, I will treat this intriguing result as an anomaly, and not representative of the capability of the Canon EF 200mm f/1.8L USM.

One other difference between these two lenses is the colour.  To my eyes, the colour rendered by the Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM is more vibrant, and a touch warmer, than the colour rendered by the Canon EF 200mm f/1.8L USM.

The varying light levels may have contributed to this, but when looking at both images captured with the Canon EF 200mm f/1.8L USM, the colours are more subdued.

Now, while the difference in wide-open sharpness is definitely noticeable between lenses, is it enough to make a difference in the real world? That is hard to say, as different people have different expectations and preferences.

In reality, many people, upon seeing images in normal viewing conditions (and without pixel-peeping or wearing a lens reviewer’s hat), may not care to notice the difference, or even be able to tell the difference.

On the other hand, very discerning people, who do analyse lens performance results more critically, would see the differences, and for them, it may make a difference — assuming, of course, that the photographer is in the rather enviable position of having to choose between these two fine lenses.

My view is that while both lenses are sharp and produce stunning results when the photographer does his or her part, the Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM clearly has the advantage over its older brother by a noticeable difference.

While I have shown the results of some testing, here are some real-world results.

On two occasions, I photographed a little penguin at a wildlife park.  On the first visit, I used David’s Canon EF 200mm f/1.8L USM, and on the second visit, I used my Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM.

Here is the image I captured with the Canon EF 200mm f/1.8L USM:

Checking Out This and That

Checking Out This and That

And here is the image I captured with the Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM:

Profile of a Little Penguin

Profile of a Little Penguin

These two images were captured on different days, in different lighting conditions, and with different lenses; but I am pleased with both.  I actually prefer the earlier image captured with the faster lens, as the composition and colour are both more appealing to me.

While my test results reveal that the Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM at f/2 is sharper than the Canon EF 200mm f/1.8L USM at both f/1.8 and f/2, my real-world results show that both lenses produce very sharp images, and that the practical differences are minor.

If you happen to be able to own or use either lens, it makes for happy shooting.

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Brisbane and South-East Queensland Visit – 2017

Late in 2017, we headed to Brisbane and south-east Queensland for the first time since 2013.

It was high time to visit Dave and Lea, and engage in some photography, tomfoolery and shiraz consumption.

On our first full day, we decided to head south-west to Queen Mary Falls, as there had been some recent rain in the Gold Coast area, and there was predicted cloud cover, which made waterfall photography ideal.

Our first stop was at Daggs Falls, where an observation platform provided a great view.  Unfortunately, the platform was very prone to vibrations, which made shooting long exposures with a 200mm lens and ten-stop ND filter somewhat impossible.

We drove up the road for a few minutes and got to Queen Mary Falls, which had a much more stable observation platform.  This time, I used my 14mm lens to capture the vast expanse of the scenery and the high view.

Long Way Down

Long Way Down

After we had finished shooting, we decided it was time for a late lunch.  Heading north-east for around five minutes, we happened across the Spring Creek Mountain Café, which offers a very pleasant view of the Scenic Rim.

While waiting for our lunch at an outside table, I took advantage of the light and cloud conditions over the valley, and captured this view.

Spring Creek Mountain

Spring Creek Mountain

The plan for the same day was to visit Brisbane‘s iconic Story Bridge for a twilight shoot.  The last time I photographed the Story Bridge was in 2008, and it was time for a new look at it, applying the experience and gear I have acquired since I last shot it.

The bridge is often photographed from Wilson Outlook Reserve, high up on the cliffs to the east.

This time, we decided to venture down onto the Brisbane River Walk below and try a different vantage point, which gave us a lower angle, allowing the reflections of the lights in the water to appear much more prominently.

During the session, the bridge put on an ever-changing show of multi-coloured lights, which created a nice contrast to the blue and cloudy night sky.

Story of Colour

Story of Colour

On the topic of the sky, the clouds were somewhat annoying and detracted from the image I had pictured, but it was what it was, and I had to make the best of the conditions at the time we were there.

After our shoot concluded, we walked to New Farm and stopped in an Italian restaurant for a late dinner before making the drive north-west to Cedar Creek.

The next day, the plan was to head out for an afternoon landscape shoot during golden hour.  This time, Dave and I headed out on our own.

We decided, given all the driving the day before, to remain in the local vicinity, and we threw around a few ideas.  We figured we would look for a view of the mountains in the area such that the sun would be behind us.

Driving around, we ended up at Mount Pleasant, but the scenes we visited just were not right, so we continued on, and this time headed up Mount Mee.

While driving north along Mount Mee Road, Dave spotted an interesting tree on the right at the junction with Sellin Road.

We stopped and headed over to the eastern side of the road to photograph the tree, which also had some grazing cows lingering nearby.

The light was warm, as it was quite late in the afternoon, but not quite warm enough for what we had in mind.  However, the light was still decent enough, so we snapped away as the cows grazed.

Here is what I captured:

High Steaks

High Steaks

For this image, and the image I was to shoot later in the day, I used my Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM lens.  Now, this lens was not one I bought to shoot landscapes, and I rarely ever use a telephoto lens for landscapes, much preferring the wide vista provided by an ultra-wide lens; however, from where we were standing, the 200mm focal length was just right, and provided a nice amount of compression.

After we had finished shooting at this spot, we headed west along Sellin Road, and spotted a lone tree we had photographed at dawn back in 2010.  To our surprise, there was now a large house now on the property, close to Sellin Road.  We could still see the tree further up the paddock in the distance.

Here are the stand-out images I captured of the ‘ Mount Mee Tree‘ in 2010:

Dawn on Mount Mee

Dawn on Mount Mee

Tree on Mee

Tree on Mee

We continued westward, and found some lovely side-lighting htting the lush green grasses down the ravine, but compositionally, there was not much on offer; so, we turned around and headed east.

I was beginning to think that we may not find much at all, and I pointed out that one really needs to scout and plan a location, which, we clearly had not done.

However, heading further east to where we had photographed the cows, I spotted a lovely, large tree down a valley to our left.  After driving past it, we swung back around and pulled up, with this location to be our final location for the day, in which we would photograph this beautiful tree in the rich and warm golden hour light which would greet us a little later.

I quickly found my composition, again using my Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM lens.  The view I found from the spot where I perched myself also contained some lush, long green grasses in the foreground, which I purposefully kept in the frame.  I liked the extra interest, as well as the framing device, it provided.

From then, it was a waiting game.

Once the light became even warmer, we snapped away.  Dave was capturing all sorts of images of different subjects in the area, from varying positions.  I remain focused on the tree.  That was my image, and I was not interested in anything else.

After waiting for the right light, here is the image I shot:

Glowing Tree

Glowing Tree

After the lovely light had disappeared, we headed back to Samford to collect some cows (of the non-grazing variety) and fermented grape juice for dinner at the house.

Thus, my photography for this trip was completed.

During our stay, Dave and I decided to compare our 200mm lenses.  He owns a Canon EF 200mm f/1.8L USM (a legendary and relatively rare lens, with only 8,000 having been built), and I own a Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM, which effectively replaced the 200/1.8L some 20 years after it was introduced.

We lined them up for a ‘family portrait’, and Dave captured an image of the two lenses side-by-side.  Later during the visit, we also staged a semi-scientific shoot, with a foam rubber dinosaur as the subject.  We photographed the dinosaur with both lenses, using the widest apertures available on both, as well as the widest aperture common to both.

Upon inspecting the resulting images, there is not a great deal of difference in sharpness between the two lenses.  Both deliver outstanding results.

All in all, it was a fun trip, and while photographically the conditions were not super exciting, I did manage to capture a few pleasing images along the way.

Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS USM – Almost

Last week I had an opportunity to purchase a second-hand Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS USM at a very cheap price.

The big 500 is a lens I have long wanted, and it is an ideal lens and focal length for wildlife photography.

I decided to have a look at it, and I spent a fair bit of time with it.

It works fine, but it is not in the greatest condition.

A portion of the AF switch had been snapped off, which exposed the inside of the barrel — at least, the section below the switch panel.  That was concerning to me, as water could easily ingress the barrel.

Also, the front rim was in quite bad shape. It had copped a lot of bumps into hard objects.

I was told that it belonged to a paparazzo who used it on a motorbike.

Clearly it had collided with poles, walls, cars, the bike itself and heaven knows what else.

Despite a few paint scratches, the hood was in great shape.  I would expect that if it had been used much, it would have been well and truly trashed; I suspect it did not spend much time on the lens.

Even for the very cheap price I was offered, it was a risky and uncomfortable situation, and the lens would need to be serviced by Canon to address the damage, which could have been an expensive exercise.

The lens was in good condition relative to how it had been used; but a condition not good enough for my comfort level.

I decided not to proceed.

The following day, I began to think about the Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM.  I tried that lens at PMA Australia in 2008 when it was new.  It is a stunning lens, and having recently shot a few times with the long-discontinued and rare Canon EF 200mm f/1.8L USM, I would be very happy with a fast (faster than f/2.8) 200mm lens.

When I conducted some critical analysis, the truth is that I do not need a 500mm lens, as I can already achieve the 560mm focal length at f/4 by attaching my Canon Extender EF 1.4x II to my Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS USM.

What the 500mm prime has in its favour is lighter weight (enormously beneficial when travelling: 3.87kg vs. 5.37kg), and a sharper, native focal length of 500mm.  Having said that, of the three longest focal lengths I had in Kenya, 400mm was used most, followed by 800mm and 560mm.

What I cannot currently achieve is  f/2) at 200mm.  It has been a dream of mine for a number of years to replace my Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM with a Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM, as not only would the latter give me a brighter aperture at the 200mm focal length and a stunningly sharp lens, but it would switch me to a 100% prime lens rig.  I am a fan of fast primes, and presently I only have one zoom — one of the finest zoom lenses Canon has produced, incidentally.

I have asked my regular supplier (who has always given me good deals) for a price on a Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM.  If I can land a good price, I might just finally do this, and turn another lens replacement dream into a reality.

First Photoshoot of 2017

My first photoshoot of 2017 began eather early in the year, with a visit to Featherdale Wildlife Park on the 2nd of January.

This is only the second time we have been inside a zoo or wildlife sanctuary/park since our travels to South Africa and Kenya in 2012 and 2015 respectively.

For some time, Featherdale Wildlife Park had been on our list of places to visit, and when some friends from Queensland, who come to Sydney for Christmas and New Year’s Eve every second year, indicated they wanted to go, we made a day of it.

I shot quite a lot of photos, and have lots of material to review; but I managed to publish two of my favourite images of birds.

One of my stand-out images of the trip was this profile of a black-necked stork (otherwise known as jabiru):

Jabiru in Profile

Jabiru in Profile

The colours on this jabiru are striking!

Using the 560mm focal length, I was able to isolate the jabiru from her grassy background and render the details of her plumage in razor-sharp detail.

Moving onto a much smaller bird

The Little Penguin

The Little Penguin

When photographing a group of penguins, trying to capture a single penguin in isolation is rather difficult.

Fortunately I managed to capture this cute creature after he moved away from the others.

This image was captured with the stellar, rare, discontinued and highly-coveted Canon EF 200mm f/1.8 USM lens, shot wide-open at f/1.8.

All in all, it was a pleasing and productive day, and I shot more images in one trip than I have shot for months.

More images are to follow.