I've been looking to upgrade my Mark III's kit lens, and am comparing lens strategies. The 70-200mm canon F2.8 seems like an enduring and very popular lens. After holding one, I am left wondering why?

My use case is for trips and general photography, so I'm today thinking about the 200mm prime, which is much lighter, and the 28-70mm which covers the mid-range.

Obviously you don't get the coverage, but these two lenses are much easier to carry and use. So is the 70-200 designed specifically for something like say, sports, or fast action distance events?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Do you really need a use case to use one of the best zoom lenses ever created by Canon in one of the most uses focal length ranges? The possibilities are endless, the IQ is top notch, and the lens is a dream. Weight and cost aside(which are big asides), it is worthy of anyone's bag! \$\endgroup\$
    – dpollitt
    Feb 22, 2013 at 0:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ I suppose the question is for a casual photographer, is the weight/size worth it? Can they use primes or alternatives and achieve most of the same things? \$\endgroup\$ Feb 22, 2013 at 4:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AaronDunn - Sure you could use the $170 Canon EF 75-300mm f/4.0-5.6 III USM and achieve most of the same things. No one can decide for someone else if the weight/size/cost are worth it. The market generally speaking certainly thinks the vast options are worth it or Canon wouldn't sell 4-8+ lens in the same range. Anyways, anyone who is casual and has a 5D Mk3 is either not casual or probably has plenty of money! \$\endgroup\$
    – dpollitt
    Feb 22, 2013 at 15:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ When you reach the point that you need the 70-200 f/2.8 as a tool to obtain images you couldn't get otherwise you'll understand why they are so popular. If you only buy it because you just have to have the "best" gear you won't. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Feb 23, 2013 at 17:02

3 Answers 3


F/2.8 is pretty much the use case. This lens is generally favored for fast action and low-light as it gives one full-stop advantage over the excellent 70-200mm F/4 which I have and use for sports photography. It is very good too but sometimes there is a need to have an extra stop of light or more shallow depth-of-field.

Given how fast things happen and your limited ability to move as a photographer during a sports match, a zoom is extremely practical compared to a prime lens.


The size and weight of a 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom is based on the laws of physics. Since the f-number is a function of focal length and entrance pupil size (apparent or effective aperture), the objective of any 200mm f/2.8 lens must be a minimum of 72mm in diameter. In the case of a complex zoom lens that includes corrective elements made of dense optical materials and often Image Stabilization, the weight adds up rather quickly. Housing such expensive optics requires a robust shell as well if it is to be durable. But you likely already knew all of that.

The key question each photographer considering such a lens must answer is: Is the extra cost, size, and weight worth the advantages the lens provides over cheaper, smaller, and lighter alternatives?

For generations of photojournalists, the answer has been a resounding, "YES!" The focal length and speed are both frequently needed in that field and the nature of covering live news as it happens doesn't always allow time to swap out prime lenses. Many of those guys are carrying two or three bodies with a wide angle, medium, and telephoto lens so they can swap focal lengths quickly.

Many portrait photographers, especially those working primarily in field locations rather than a studio, prefer to have this type of lens in their arsenal. In the case of the EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM, image quality approaches and even sometimes matches that of prime lenses over the entire focal length and aperture range of the lens. Changing lenses in the studio is one thing, changing them in the field and then later discovering dust spots on all the images in post production is another. Redoing the shoot could cost thousands of dollars.

Almost every sports specialist will also own one of these types of lenses. Most will have longer "super telephoto" glass as well, but they consider this their mid-range zoom and will usually have one mounted on a second body when shooting an outdoor sporting event. Indoors it often becomes their primary lens.

There are many other times when having a fast, high quality 70-200mm zoom is essential to obtaining the results you need. If another cheaper, smaller , and lighter lens isn't up to the task then such a lens is your best option.

You may notice that the list above is made up of those for whom the quality of their images has a direct effect on their ability to earn a living and maintain a professional reputation. While the most important piece of any photographer's gear is the 8-12 inches behind the viewfinder, there are some shots that can only be obtained with higher quality gear. As the technology improves, so do the expectations of editors and clients.

The favorite piece of gear I own is my EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM. While other zooms I've owned in the past could handle many of the shots I use it for, that last 15-20% are often the photos that make me say, "YES!" when I view them on my monitor for the first time. I'm often carrying 15-20lbs of gear when shooting, so the weight of one lens isn't as large a factor as having the tools I need to get the results I require.


Of course a telephoto zoom lens has many uses. Canon produces four very similar but in use wildly different lenses:

  • Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS II USM
  • Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L USM
  • Canon EF 70-200mm f/4 L IS USM
  • Canon EF 70-200mm f/4 L USM

Other lenses exist in a similar range that can be used instead of these:

  • Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 L IS USM
  • Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM Lens
  • Canon EF 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 DO IS USM Lens
  • Canon EF 75-300mm f/4-5.6 III USM Lens
  • Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS USM Lens
  • Primes in the 70-200mm range, super zooms such as the 28-300, and other discontinued lenses

Your question seems to be specifically concerned with why one would buy the 70-200mm f/2.8 L(IS, Non-IS, MkI or MkII) USM. You buy this if you need a zoom for the convienence and you also need f/2.8. You might need f/2.8 for depth of field control, low light situations, the desired bokeh, or other creative and technical reasons. Further, the f/2.8 IS MKII is simply fantastic, wide open, especially with the new image stabilization.

The people that buy this are likely making money, doing event photography that requires a change in focal length often. Wedding photographers for example are a great audience for this lens. Sports photographers who desire this focal range and portenally shoot indoors also like this lens a great deal.

Yes the weight is a concern for some people, but the IQ and features are top notch. I've rented/hired the 70-200mm f/2.8 IS MKI and MKII and both almost made me cry when I had to return them. They are simply fantastic.

To break it down, I would suggest the main users or uses cases of this lens are:

  • Event Photographers(wedding, or any low light event)
  • Sports Photographers(soccer, baseball, volleyball, gymnastics, etc.)
  • Portrait Photographers(easy recommendation for any portrait photographer)
  • Photographers with money
  • Photographers who want the best telephoto zoom available
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    \$\begingroup\$ Don't forget the photojournalists! Their demand for and use of rugged, high quality, fast 70-200 and 80-200 constant aperture lenses is what drove the development of the entire class back in the film days. Event, Wedding, and most Portrait shooters back then were almost exclusively using primes because the quality just wasn't there yet for zooms. Lower resolution images printed on newsprint could handle less than stellar resolution. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Feb 22, 2013 at 0:19

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