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I need a recommendation. I want to buy a telephoto lens and I don't know a lot about photography. I am looking at these 2 options:

Canon EF 200mm f/2.8L II USM:

  • Fixed lens.
  • Fast (f/2.8).
  • Effective 320mm on my APS-C (Rebel T6).
  • No image stabilization.
  • About $700.

Canon EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS:

  • Zoomable (I will probably use it at 200mm 80% of the time)
  • Max 320mm effective.
  • f/5.6 at 200 mm.
  • Image stabilization.
  • About $700.

I would probably use it 80% of the time at 200mm taking pictures of animals (including birds) at wide apertures for fast shutter speeds (with enough light to use low ISOs in most cases). Apart from that, I would probably take some portraits with good light, some sports photos in medium light conditions and some animals in low light conditions (very uncommon). What I want to know is what is better for my case? The image stabilization or wide aperture? I don't think of fixed focal range as an important disadvantage but I'm not sure. What do you think?

I want to also say that the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM or similar is probably the best fit for my needs but it is too expensive. I'm thinking of something between $600 and $800. The same for Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L is II USM.

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    Yes, that's what I meant, but I should have clarified that that's largely opinion. How much benefit you get out of IS still depends on your technique, and is very much up for debate. See this and this. Also take a look at What are the benefits and costs of an image stabilized, slower lens vs a non-IS faster lens?, because it's asking a very similar question about lenses of a different focal length. – Gern Blanston Mar 12 at 19:39
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    IS helps you handhold slow shutter speeds. It doesn’t stop things from moving. So if photographing wildlife or sports, you’ll still need a fast shutter, and that is tougher to come by on the zoom you’ve chosen over the prime. – Hueco Mar 12 at 20:15
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    What about any version of the 70-200 f/4 or f/2.8? Older versions go for cheap, especially the f/4 without is. – Hueco Mar 12 at 20:16
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    I agree with Hueco. A 70-200 (or there abouts) zoom should provide much better optical performance than an 18-200. – Eric Shain Mar 12 at 22:49
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    Do note that 200mm is 200mm. Or, close — the labels are rounded rather than precise, but the crop factor is a function of sensor size. EF-S lenses are also subject to this if you want to normalize to full-frame terms. – mattdm Mar 13 at 0:28
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First, I would like to make some corrections to your post :

Canon EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS:

  • Zoomable (I will probably use it at 200mm 80% of the time)
  • Max 200mm effective.
  • f/5.6 at 200 mm.

Even if the lens is an "EF-S" lens (meaning it is made for an APS-C sensor), you still need to apply the 1.6x crop factor to get the 35mm focal length equivalent. 200mm at f/5.6 will yield a 320mm at f/5.6 on a 1.6x crop sensor. More info : Does my crop sensor camera actually turn my lenses into a longer focal length?

  • Image stabilization.
  • About $700.

$700 for this lens seems a little too much : where I live, you can a new one for about $500

Now, regarding the need for stabilisation, keep in mind that IS only helps to prevent blurring from camera/photographer movements ("camera shaking").

I would probably use it 80% of the time at 200mm taking pictures of animals (including birds) at wide apertures for fast shutter speeds (with enough light to use low ISOs in most cases).[...]

For that, stabilisation probably won't help you : you will need fast shutter speed to capture the animal movement (probably 1/500 or faster). The rule of thumb to prevent camera shaking is to shot faster that 1/(focal lenght). At 320mm, you will probably be fine. Related :

[...] Apart from that, I would probably take some portraits with good light [...]

Again, no need for stabilisation. On a sunny day, the rule of thumb to get a good exposition (Wikipedia) is to use the following settings : aperture of f/16, shutter speed of 1/ISO. So, as you want probably to use a larger aperture for a portrait (f/5.6 or lower), you will need to use a faster shutter speed than 1/250, even if it gets a little cloudy.

[...] some sports photos in medium light conditions and some animals in low light conditions (very uncommon).

The shutter speed required to get sharp image of "sports" depends on the kind of sport. For football, 1/500 seems to be a minimum to freeze the movement, for chess, it is probably a lot less. I often take picture if my wife playing indoor handball with a 70-200 f/2.8, and I need at least 800 to 1600 ISO to get a correct shutter speed (1/500 or 1/1000) at f/2.8.

So the real challenge is animals in low light conditions... But with a regular Canon crop body where 1600 or 3200 ISO seems to be the upper limit regarding image quality, almost no lens will help you, and the price tag for those qho might is not in the same category as the lenses you take into consideration here. Using a tripod might help if the animal isn't moving much, but what you really want at this point is the larger aperture you can get and a high-end camera capable of high ISO (probably full-frame) : be ready to pay thousand of dollars !

Now regarding lens performance, a lens with a fixed focal length is always better than any other zoom with a similar price : you will get a lot less distortion, chromatic aberration,... It is also studier (less moving parts). On the other side, the higher the focal range of a zoom, the lesser the image quality. So when shooting at 200mm, a 200mm lens (fixed focal lenght) is probably the best choice. To see for yourself, you can look at this comparison from The Digital Picture (18-200 vs 200mm at f/5.6 with the same camera).

So to conclude, at your place I would probably pick the 200mm f/2.8 L or the 70-200 f/4 L (and disregard the stabilisation)... but you are the one having to examine all issues and only you knows how you want to use your lenses.

Here are some other related questions, so can can get more knowledge before choosing your futur lens :

  • Thank you Olivier. Now I understand your first point. I thought that I only had to apply de crop factor to EF lenses. In that case the focal length is the same for both. I think, considering your answer, that the best option in my case would be the fixed 200mm one. Thank you. At this point I don't have the money to buy a full frame camera but because it is a hobbie for me, this lens would be a good choice I cases with low or medium light. – eera5607 Mar 13 at 4:22
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    I never had the 200mm f/2.8 II on my reflex, but you probably won't be disappointed:) For shorter focal length, you can look at f/1.8 primes, and later at the 17-55 f/2.8 (expensive, but worth it). Used lenses might help too. – Olivier Mar 13 at 12:37
  • @eera5607 I want to second Olivier’s point on buying used. Learning how to inspect a used lens and shopping this market will save you a good bit over time. – Hueco Mar 13 at 14:26
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I'm going to go on one thing alone:

Zoomable (I will probably use it at 200mm 80% of the time)

All lens design is compromise — you know the traditional "fast, good, cheap: pick two?" quandary? Making a lens is like that, except there are even more factors.1

When you buy an 11× zoom lens like the 18-200mm, for under $1000 and with image stabilization, most of the compromise has gone into that zoom. If you're using the lens at full extension 80% of the time, well, then, 80% of the time you're wasting this lens's main feature, the feature for which you give up build quality, speed, resolution, sharpness, vignetting2, and more.

Meanwhile, the 200mm lens you are looking at is part of Canon's higher-end L series. It gives up zoom in exchange for stellar technical performance across the board.

So given your stated use, there's basically no question in my mind. Get the prime, and for that other 20%, get a different lens (possibly one or more shorter primes, even).


1. See What image-quality characteristics make a lens good or bad? and Is there development in the world of lenses? for some some background — or go right to Are superzoom lenses really so bad?
2. Well, you get that rather than giving it up.

  • Thank you. Yes, now I also think that it is the best option and maybe I can buy a $125 Canon 50mm f/1.8 for the other 20%. – eera5607 Mar 13 at 4:26
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Don't buy the 18-200mm. Lenses that have a wide zoom range are typically poor designs, because it's hard to build a lens that's good in any possible situation you can imagine. About the only valid use case for such a lens is travel and needing a wide focal length range in one lens during traveling.

Besides, given your use cases, I don't think you need the 18-55mm part of 18-200mm lens (no landscape / architecture / group-of-people shots), so if you need a zoom, I would save some money and buy a 55-250mm. But, for sports and low light animal photography, you really need a fast and long lens which a cheap zoom can't provide.

Do get the 200mm, as others have already found it's the best lens for your use case.

Since you have a crop sensor camera, I suggest you to buy these to complement your lens if your budget allows it:

  • definitely the 50mm f/1.8 (bit over $100)
  • maybe a 55-250mm, only if the budget allows it (about $300)
  • or if you prefer primes, maybe a 85mm f/1.8, only if the budget allows it (bit less than $400)

The 200mm is way long for portraits unless taken from a huge distance. 50mm f/1.8 is a good and cheap portrait lens on a crop sensor camera. Given the price, it should be in every photographer's arsenal. If you start to take lots of portraits, you can later upgrade to f/1.4 or even f/1.2. If you upgrade to a full frame camera, the 50mm becomes a cheap normal lens.

With the 55-250mm and 200mm, you can have all of image stabilization, light weight, zoom and excellent speed and image quality, although not in the same lens (the speed and image quality is in the 200mm lens, the light weight, image stabilization and zoom are in the 55-250mm lens).

The reason I'm suggesting either a 85mm or a 55-250mm in addition to the 200mm is that if you have a short focal length (typically meaning the subject is near) and the subject is larger than the frame, you can simply step back (until you hit a wall, that is), but in the telephoto range the subject is so far that you may need to step back so much that it may be impossible to do so. So, I would say zoom or a wide selection of lenses with different focal lengths is more important in the telephoto range than it is in the normal focal lengths. Of course, landscapes and architecture shots may need zoom / good selection of focal lengths as well.

My opinion is that in your use case, the 85mm f/1.8 would be perhaps a bit better than the 55-250mm to complement the 200mm lens, but only you can decide. Oh, and if you update to full frame camera, the 85mm f/1.8 becomes your portrait lens.

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