Review Canon 70-200mm F/4 L

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Canon 70-200mm F/4 L

When Canon describe a series of lenses as ‘luxury’, you’ll be expecting something quite special when you go and spend the big bucks that they ask for these lenses. The lenses should be built like a tank and optically superb, and that is exactly what you can expect from any of their lenses which fall into the ‘L’ category. If you’ve got the money to spend, there’s really no alternative from buying into some nice lenses with those glorious red rings around the tip of them.

The Canon 70-200mm F/4 L was introduced by Canon to the lens market in 1999 and is primarily aimed at the amateur photographer who can’t afford to spend the large amounts of cash needed on the flagship Canon 70-200mm F/2.8 L IS. The only problem that I encountered with this lens, is actually getting hold of it. At the time of me being in the market for such a lens, Canon seemed to be running dry on their Canon 70-200mm F/4 L supply. There was nowhere in the UK where you could buy the lens from as there was simply zero stock. I had to revert to importing the lens from Hong Kong from an eBay seller. This isn’t really too bad, you’ll just be looking at long postage times and the possibility of being stung by import tax; which I was. The first impressions of this lens were simply amazing for me. The Canon 70-200mm F/4 L was my first piece of ‘L’ glass, and coming from the Canon 18-55mm F/3.5-5.6 kit lens the build quality of the Canon 70-200mm F/4 L was immediate to see. The lens is indeed built like a tank, there are no rattling parts like I found in the kit lens and the motion of the zoom ring is a lot more fluid. Also, because of the lens having a maximum aperture of F/4, this means that in comparison to its F/2.8 counterparts the Canon 70-200mm F/4 L is very lightweight and compact. I have easily handheld this lens for a whole day of photography before and had no problems with the weight, it is a superb size and weight for a walkabout lens if you feel the need for the range of the lens.

Once I’d got the lens on the camera and started to have a play around, the first thing that struck me was the noise made by the USM ring focus motor, or should I say the lack of. The presence of a USM motor also means that there is full-time manual focusing. Once you have auto focused, the focus can be easily adjusted by just simply turning the focus ring rather than having to switch the lens into manual focus mode. The focus is lightning fast on my Canon 20D and as mentioned before, is practically silent. All that can heard is the slight noise of the actual element rotating inside the body, which is another advantage of the lens. All moving parts and mechanisms of the Canon 70-200mm F/4 L are internal. This means that as you zoom, like other lenses in a similar size range, there is no protruding lens element and absolutely zero movement outside of the body of the lens. The same applies for the autofocus too, because of the USM motor and internal focus system, this means that the front element of the lens remains static. Because of this, re-focusing after adjusting a circular polarizer will cause no problems unless the lens hood is attached which will mean that the polarizer is basically inaccessible. Still on the topic of the focus system, one downfall that you will find is that because of the smaller maximum aperture of F/4, the lens can indeed hunt about a bit in low light until it finally focuses. When it does, it’s usually spot on and extremely accurate, it just takes a while to actually find the spot.


70mm F/4

70mm F/5.6

70mm F/8

200mm F/4

200mm F/5.6

200mm F/8

As you can see from the sample images, with the Canon 70-200mm F/4 L at the 70mm end there is no huge difference between the sharpness in the 100% crop images showing very similar results, but it is still quite clear that the winner is F/5.6 for sharpness. The case is a very similar one for the lens at its 200mm end too. The sharper image is the F/5.6 image with more detail being captured, but there isn’t a dramatic difference between F/5.6 and F/8 at this length.

Overall, I have captured some really nice shots with this lens and some of them are really pin sharp. The colour reproduction from the lens is also superb, giving off vibrant colours that look more alive than the kind of colours that you will get from non-L lenses in this kind of focal length. The weight and size of the length also add to the plus points as well as the relatively cheap price. The lens is at least £300 cheaper than its F/2.8 counterpart, which for an extra stop could be seen by quite a lot of money by the buyers.
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Good review, very much what I see with my 70-200.


Kim Jong Bod
Staff member
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Thanks for that Jonny.
For any users of this lens, I'm about to post a few questions in the Equipment Forum, as I'm seriously considering this as my next lens.



POTY Winner 2006
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Nice review Jonny.

Marcel, If you do decide to dip you bread, I'm just about to move my 70-200 on - so if your in the market for a mint second hand one LMK.


I don't know how you shoot Marcel so i don't know if IS is of any use to you. But they've just brought out an IS version of the F4, should be handy for a slow lens.

But christ, yet another 70-200 when their wides need adressing

Thanks for the review John