I just picked up photography a few months ago as a hobby (not planning to go professional at all), but will be getting good gear and glass over time. Right now I have a T3i, which I'm considering upgrading to a 7D or probably a used 5d Mk II next year.

For my next lens purchase, I'm considering a 70-200 L lens, I'm just not sure which one to go for.

I'm deciding between the 70-200 2.8 L with no IS, or the 70-200 f4 L with IS.

My thinking is the following:

  1. While I do not plan to photograph weddings or anything like that, I do plan to use the lens to take pictures of my kid on school plays over the years, so I'm guessing the 2.8 would be useful there? He's not on school yet, but I hear flash is not allowed there? How would the f4 fare in such situations?

  2. I have the 18-135 kit lens with IS...I turned off the Image Stabilization on the lens, and was able to take decent pictures handheld with not-so-fast shutter speeds (1/15, 1/20's), although I do NOT have a good pulse. Would being able to do this translate well to using the 2.8 with no IS?

  3. Most of the shooting with the 70-200 will probably be done outside..just that case of shooting plays or a concert or too.

So..what should I do? Anything I'm not considering?

  • 1
    regarding your #2 - your minimum shutter speed for hand holding relates to your focal length. If you turned off IS and got 1/15th decent at 18mm - that doesn't mean you can get it at 1/15th @ 200mm.
    – rfusca
    Jun 26, 2012 at 18:45
  • One problem: IS works by stabilizing hand movements while taking photos, which allows you take take slightly longer exposures. However, in the setting you're describing (a play) you're likely able to set up a tripod to use which would negate the benefit of IS systems for this usage, and in a darker setting with action taking place (usually the situation for plays) you should worry about getting the most light, not IS. This can be really tricky though, as school's onstage lighting is often harsh and difficult to photograph well. May 12, 2014 at 17:29

5 Answers 5


according to your needs the f/4 should suit just fine, but since they are basically the same price I would go for the f/2.8... i have it and its an awesome lens.

take a look at this


  • that's why I wanted to see if anyone had actually played with both the 2.8 no IS and the 4 IS...of course I'd love the extra aperture...I just want to make sure I could still take decent pictures even with no IS if I'm doing handheld.
    – GR7
    Jun 26, 2012 at 17:36
  • Yes i played with the f/4 IS, and i own the f/2.8 no IS, you basically get the same results.
    – philberndt
    Jun 26, 2012 at 17:39
  • you are most welcome
    – philberndt
    Jun 26, 2012 at 20:44
  • 1
    Many "decent" photos were taken for decades before IS was invented.
    – Alaska Man
    Dec 6, 2016 at 14:11

I think I'll start with referring you to a Letter to George. Then I'll repeat another bit of advice that is frequently given here, "buy the best equipment you can afford". If you can afford the 2.8 IS version, that's what you should get.

Since you've ruled out the 2.8 IS, I would seriously consider the extra weight of the f/2.8 non IS compared to the f/4 IS-version. The f/2.8 is almost double the weight of the f/4 IS (1490g vs 760g). The extra weight (and size) might limit when you bring along the bigger lens.

It all boils down to your need/want for a large aperture to create (more) bokeh. For your use cases I would go for the f4 IS, since non of them seems to be for sports or other situations requiring the extra shutter speed from the f/2.8. Remember that the IS in modern Canon lenses give you up to 4 stops, which might be more useful than the 1 stop difference going from f/4 to f/2.8.

  • thanks Hakon. I just want to make sure that if I get the 2.8 with no IS, that i can still shoot handheld pictures of my kid in the school's auditorium. What if weight is not a problem? I dont care if the f2.8 no IS is that much heavier or bigger..im just concerned about being able to shot without a tripod and still enjoy the 2.8 aperture. probably at the end of next year I will upgrade from whatever i get now (f4 IS or 2.8 no IS) to the 2.8 IS...but right now it's not a possibility. So..what do you suggest?
    – GR7
    Jun 26, 2012 at 19:33
  • 1
    hah. just read the letter to George, Hakon. It's actually wise. I was going to start with a Canon T3...and after following a friend's advice, I went with the T3i. I'm happy I did. I could buy the 2.8 L with IS...if I were not to buy the completely maxed out macbookpro with retina display. although after reading about their ghosting issues..i might just wait a few more months and end up getting the 2.8 L with IS....thanks.
    – GR7
    Jun 26, 2012 at 19:50
  • 1
    If you're planning on upgrading soon, I'd go for the cheapest f/4 non-IS for now. Jun 26, 2012 at 21:50

I would personaly prefer f/2.8 - if you need to shot movement in "darkness" without flash, f/2.8 would be better than IS. IS would help you to use longer shutter time (which could be useful with static scene), but when there is some dynamic, it would be blurred.


For the outdoor sports in daylight any of the 70-200mm lenses will do well. IS or non-IS doesn't matter when you are using shutter times of 1/500 second or faster and f/2.8 or f/4 doesn't matter when you have enough light. Of course f/2.8 can allow you to isolate your subject better if you can drop the ISO enough and shorten the shutter time enough to use it in very bright light. Even at ISO 100 and 1/8000 second f/2.8 can be too wide in direct mid-day sunlight.

On the other hand, for the theatrical and concert stuff, there is no substitute for the widest aperture you can afford. IS also comes in handy to a lesser degree as you will sometimes find yourself shooting at shutter speeds well under the 1/(focal length x crop factor) rule of thumb. For more about shooting theatrical productions, please see this answer to: Pictures of dancers on stage


Easy choice: f/2.8. You need a faster lens. Besides the IS (I've been told) affects the sharpness of the image. I've turned it off on my IS lenses.

So go for the f/2.8 and a monopod to keep the you flexible and stable.


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