Tag Archives: Gear

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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My New Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM: Ideal for Cityscapes

Last week, I decided to buy a Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM lens.

It was a lens I had entertained — but not seriously — adding to my rig.

Until the addition of this lens, my two wide lenses consisted of my Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM  and Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM.

While I love a wide vista, sometimes 14mm is just too wide.  I never thought I would say so, but alas, it is true.

On the other hand, 35mm can sometimes be too long.

Twice in the past 12 months I have needed a focal length in between 14mm and 35mm, but did not have a lens of that focal length.

I have barely owned my Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM for a week, and I have used it on two separate twilight cityscape shoots.

So far, the 24mm focal length is proving to be very useful for cityscapes — particularly when shooting skylines across the water from a distance.  With a wider lens, the skyline can shrink into a vast expanse of sky and water; and with a longer lens, the framing can be just a bit too tight, whereby there is not quite enough sky.

My first shoot, on the same day I bought the lens, resulted in the following image:

Lavender Bay on a Summer Night

Lavender Bay on a Summer Night

This particular location does not seem to be hugely popular for cityscapes, but it was something different, and the 24mm focal length was absolutely perfect for this composition.

My second shoot with the new lens was last night.

After a few lazy days at home, I felt the need to get out for a photoshoot.

I decided to re-visit Mrs Macquarie’s Point.  The last time I photographed Sydney from this location was just over eight years ago.

Mrs Macquarie's View

Mrs Macquarie’s View

From this view, the skyline has not changed a great deal, but there are some buildings which did not exist in my previous image.

For this image, I opted for a wider focal length, and waited for the rich blue light of twilight to emerge after sunset.

I am enjoying the field of view this new lens provides.  Not having used the  24mm focal length for quite a while, it made for a nice change, and has been quite suitable so far for the images I have captured with it.

I am hoping to use it more next week, but I really need to invest in the NiSi filter holder which will fit this lens, as I need to be able to use my grads and ND filters with it.

My New Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM

This is my new 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

This is a lens I first tried in 2008.  It took nine years before I decided to buy one, and it is my third Canon EF super telephoto lens, joining its bigger brothers, the Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM and the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS USM.

There is a bit of a story behind this lens.  I was meant to have it much sooner, except the lens which was dispatched from Canon Australia to my supplier disappeared. Canon had only one more in stock, which was no longer available by the time it was discovered that my lens vanished.

Consequently, a new lens needed to be ordered from Japan, which delayed the acqusition time.  Finally, it arrived, and here it is.

This year has seen some major gear changes in my lineup, with the Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM being the latest.  It replaced my long-serving Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM.

In this image, the big 200mm prime is mounted on my new Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, which is also a very recent acquisition.

A 200mm lens like this is not just an ordinary 200mm lens — at f/2, it is the fastest 200mm lens currently available for Canon EOS cameras.  Nikon also has a 200mm f/2 prime in its lineup.

At f/2, the bokeh is incredible, and I bought it to shoot it wide-open; to capture the unique look this lens produces.

I am looking forward to exploiting its capabilities.

Latest Lovelies

I rarely capture photographs of the gear I use to capture photographs, but this year has seen some changes to my camera and lens rig.

These are two of my latest ‘lovelies’: a Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM, which I purchased on 12/01/2017 to replace my long-serving Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM; and my much newer Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, which I purchased on 23/06/2017.

Latest Lovelies

Latest Lovelies

The Canon EOS 5D Mark IV is a substantial upgrade to my Canon EOS 5D Mark II, a 2008-vintage camera which I have been using since 2010. I will keep my 5D2, but the new 5D4 will be my main camera.

I am looking forward to taking advantage of the increased dynamic range and reduced high-ISO noise of this latest generation of full-frame Canon sensors.

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV Coming Soon

After running my Canon EOS 5D Mark II for over seven years, I have finally taken the plunge and ordered a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV.

I am looking forward to experiencing the significant feature additions and improvements the latest model offers over the substantially old (2008 model) Canon EOS 5D Mark II.

I am very keen to experiment with more low-light photography and take advantage of the low-light performance it offers.

While I rarely shoot beyond ISO 400, I have needed to shoot some images at ISO 3,200, and frankly on the Canon EOS 5D Mark II, ISO 3,200 is noisy.  The starfield images I shot in the African wilderness look great at small-to-medium sizes; but at much larger sizes the noise is very evident.  I am interested to see how the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV performs at the same ISO rating.

The in-built GPS receiver is a very appealing feature, as for years I have been recording the GPS coordinates of my shooting locations by using a smartphone app.  Now, the camera will do that automatically and embed the GPS coordinates within the metadata, which makes it fuss-free.

Being able to control the camera via Canon‘s app is also very appealing.  I have not yet checked whether my remote release (Canon TC-80N3) is compatible with the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, but either way, I may not need it.

This is a big upgrade for me, as I am generally not inclined to change cameras very often (this will be my fifth EOS camera in 17 years); but it is now time for me to take advantage of the technology available in current-generation cameras.

Whether this new camera will change the way I shoot, or whether it will provide my images with an obvious improvement in image quality is yet to be seen, but bring it on.

Farewell, Canon EF 180mm f/3.5L Macro USM

Today I sold my Canon EF 180mm f/3.5L Macro USM lens.

For a month or two, I had been thinking of offloading it, and once or twice previously, I had entertained the thought of selling it.

I was recently put into contact with someone who might be interested in it, and today the buyer collected it.

According to my lens utilisation statistics, it was my least used lens apart from my one-month-old Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM.

Looking at my images, I have only shot 10 images with it in the last five years. Two images per year is not much, and I only published a total of 36 images during the time I owned it.

I am just not a macro shooter at all, and I find macro photography too frustrating for my liking.

It is a stunning lens and is in near-mint condition, but it just is not the kind of lens I use much or really need (despite having owned it for over nine years), so it is better for it to be in the possession of someone who will exploit its capabilities.

I will use the money from its sale to fund my NiSi 150mm filter system.

My original intention was to replace the lens with a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM, but as nice as that lens is (I inspected one), it makes no sense at this point in time.

If I ever want a macro lens in the future, I’ll go and pick one up; but for now, the lack of a macro lens in my rig is not a hindrance.

With this most recent sale and last month’s replacement of my Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM with a Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM, that amounts to two lenses gone from my lineup in less than two months!

I have optimised my lens lineup in several ways, and I am content with what is now in my rig.

I would still like to replace my Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM with a Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM, but for the foreseeable future, that notion will remain confined to the realm of wishful thinking.

My New ‘Grab and Go’ Rig

Last year I bought a Lowepro Fastpack BP 250 AW II camera backpack for an international trip.

I found it to be an excellent backpack which allows me to carry a good amount of photography gear (including a small tripod) as well as my 17″ MacBook Pro.  I was tired of carrying a separate laptop bag as well as my then main camera bag (a Lowepro Nova 190 AW).

Having gone for a few shoots this year, I decided it was time to properly, and somewhat permanently, equip my Lowepro Fastpack BP 250 AW II with a camera rig which will cover 95% of my shooting requirements, and which I can literally ‘grab and go’.

Here is what I keep packed in it:

  1. Canon EOS 5D Mark II with LP-E6N battery and SanDisk Extreme 16GB CF card
  2. Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM
  3. Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM + hood
  4. Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM + hood
  5. Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM + hood
  6. Canon TC-80N3 Timer Remote Controller
  7. Canon LC-E6E battery charger + AC cable
  8. Canon LP-E6 battery (spare)
  9. SanDisk Extreme 16GB CF card (spare)
  10. SanDisk Extreme IV 8GB CF card (spare)
  11. Hotshoe-mounted spirit level
  12. Princeton Tec FUEL headlamp
  13. Lenspen
  14. Neoprene lens cleaning cloth
  15. Giottos Rocket-Air blower
  16. Business cards
  17. Print of Street Photographers’ Rights fact sheet
  18. Apple 12W iDevice charger + 1m USB cable
  19. Shintaro SH-XCR3 CF card reader + USB cable
  20. Manfrotto M3293A4 tripod and Manfrotto 494RC2 ball head

The tripod is on the outside of the bag, and is affixed to the bag via an in-built tripod foot pocket, and a strap to keep the legs close to the side of the bag.

What is not packed, but can be packed when we are heading away, is the following:

  1. Apple MacBook Pro 17” + AC power pack
  2. Western Digital MyPassport Ultra 2TB hard disk + USB cable

What is also missing is ND and GND filters.  Having recently replaced my Canon EF 16-35mm  f/2.8L II USM with a Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM, I need a new NiSi 150mm filter system to replace my Lee 100mm filter system, which at the time of writing I have not yet purchased.

The good news is that my Lowepro Fastpack BP 250 AW II will easily accommodate this, and there is still room.

Now, this rig covers most of my shooting needs.  What it does not cover, however, is wildlife, for which I use my three largest lenses.

Fortunately, I have two other backpacks which can accommodate those, as well as fit a lot of the equipment packed in my Lowepro Fastpack BP 250 AW II.

I am very content with both the backpack and the array of equipment I have packed into it.  It holds a lot of gear, is not too heavy, and still has room in the top compartment for more gear if I need it.  Plus, it is ready for a shoot ay any time.