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New member here.. I signed up after checking similar questions on this matter that didn't fully clear my doubts.

I'm planning to buy a Canon 70-200 lens to use on my 550D body. I've been reading everything I could from all sorts of sites, but still can't make up my mind which one to go for. In no particular order:

  • The occasion for this purchase is a trip I'll soon take to shoot wildlife from dusk to dawn (not much difference actually as it'll be in Finland during the summer, so light conditions will be almost stable throughout) from a photo shack in the woods: I'll be using a tripod but could still try to snap a few pictures hand-held;
  • The current telephoto lens I own is a Tamron 18-270, so whichever 70-200 I pick up will be a tremendous upgrade I assume;
  • The price tag for the f2.8 IS version scares me, but something else that scares me just as much is investing in a less (but still) expensive lens only to find out a couple of months later that I should have gone the extra mile. This is to say, this is not a money-no-object purchase but the most expensive option is still up for consideration;
  • Other uses I foresee: portraits (mostly natural light), more wildlife (possibly more hand-held in the long run), landscape. I use a 10-18 for urban exploration and a 50 for street, which pretty much cover my other needs: I don't shoot sporting events or weddings;
  • I'm 100% amateur: the only one who ought to be satisfied with the lens and the shots is me;
  • I'd much rather buy new than used, for no other reason that I'm no real expert and I do feel safer in having a full warranty

What would you suggest? Thanks in advance!

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    For wildlife, you're be better off with (e.g.) the 100-400 or the one of the 400 primes than the 70-200. Length trumps everything. Why have you decided to go for the 70-200? – Philip Kendall May 13 '16 at 10:27
  • Sometime aperture trumps length. It depends on the light and the size of the wildlife as well as what type of temperament the particular species have. You can get much closer to many kinds of wildlife than you can bears or rhinos. – Michael C May 13 '16 at 12:04
  • @PhilipKendall I thought the 70-200 would give me a bit more flexibility than the 100-400, especially for stuff other than wildlife: on my APS-C I feel that a minimum equivalent focal length of 160 would be a limitation in some circumstances. With the 70-200, I could still get a 1.4x or 2x in the future if needed – fapsu May 13 '16 at 12:39
  • @fapsu - don't forget that if you add the extender, you'll loose aperture. – FreeMan May 13 '16 at 16:50
  • Do look at the Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 stabilised. It compares reasonably well on paper with the dearer competition. I bought a Sigma equivalent as they retain IS on the Sony version and Tamron (stupidly) don't. This allows me stabilisation when used on Sony emount with adapter - but, I digress :-). The Sigma was somewhat down on the Tamron on papr and I'm "happy enough" with it. (eg I have a Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 and the difference between that and the Sigma is modest but noticeable. SO - at least consider the Tamron whic give you IS at a lower than otherwise price. Try to try them all 1st. – Russell McMahon May 14 '16 at 14:27
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None. 200 mm is not enough for wildlife. Get the 100-400.

If you insist on 70-200, the IS mk II is the best. The f/4 version is much lighter, cheaper and optically also very good, but wild animals are often best photographed around dusk and dawn and in otherwise bad light. So the 1 stop loss may cost you on sharpness and shadow detail. Yes, the 100-400 is also an f/4, but the chances are that you will have to crop more often with the 70-200 so noise and blur will be more critical with the shorter lens.

There is an alternative - the 70-200 IS mk.2 with a teleconverter and selling the TC after the trip. You have a choice of TC 1.4x and TC 2x. The 1.4 on this particular lens does not deteriorate optical quality almost at all. The 2x will give you more reach, but at a cost of some optical quality and loss of another f/stop (5.6). Both slow down the AF, the 2x more than the other.

If you decide to take the TC route, my recommendation would be the 1.4.

  • Thanks @MirekE. I am tempted indeed by that 1 more stop as the light conditions I'll be shooting in won't be ideal. 70-200 plus TC 1.4x looks like a really good combo indeed, and if I go this way I might even keep the TC for future use. I still feel that the 100-400 would be too limiting for the uses I have in mind other than wildlife. – fapsu May 16 '16 at 6:46
  • You will find the 70-200/2.8 great for things like weddings, events, portraits, sports. 100-400 is the best choice for wildlife and the lighter L telezooms for travel. If I went to a special wildlife shooting trip (Alaska, Yellowstone, etc.) I would definitely want the 100-400. For general shooting I keep 70-200 with 1.4x. – MirekE May 16 '16 at 15:14
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The occasion for this purchase is a trip I'll soon take to shoot wildlife...

Unless you plan on shooting exactly the same wildlife in exactly the same way when you get back home, I'd actually say that renting a Great White L for the trip makes more sense than purchasing one. What you shoot at home and what you shoot on vacation can differ drastically.

Also, be aware of the size of these lenses, if you've never shot with one before. Weight-wise, it's going to be more like mounting your body onto the lens, not the lens onto your body. And if you plan on hiking/traveling with said lens, the size and weight are going to be very meaningful. There are reasons superzooms like your 18-270 were created—travel is one of them.

The current telephoto lens I own is a Tamron 18-270, so whichever 70-200 I pick up will be a tremendous upgrade I assume;

This is not a great assumption to be making, unless you're only talking about sharpness and contrast. Realize that a 70-200/2.8L II is going to be substantially larger and heavier. You'll have to swap it with a walkaround to cover the wider end, which means carrying two lenses. And since you're shooting in good daylight, the f/2.8 might not actually be that meaningful to you. And you'll be losing reach.

.. something else that scares me just as much is investing in a less (but still) expensive lens only to find out a couple of months later that I should have gone the extra mile.

Which is why rental is a great option. There are actually several lenses to look at when it comes to a telephoto zoom. The 70-200 is only one of them. You may also want to look at the 70-300L, or the 100-400L lenses. The 70-300 is much more compact, though slower, than the 70-200s. And the 100-400 is not much larger, with twice the reach of the 70-200 (see size comparison).

My personal recommendation would be to get one of the longer/slower L zooms, and then an EF 85mm f/1.8 USM or EF 135/2L USM for portraits. Because as fine as f/2.8 is, I prefer f/2 or faster for portraits or I use an f/4 zoom and flash. But that's me. You're not me.

One other thought: both the 100-400L and the 70-200/2.8L had Mark I versions you can find used for substantially less than the Mark II versions. Both Mark Is are not as nice optically, but can be found a lot cheaper (in the US, around half the price, say $1k and under vs. $2k).

  • Thanks for the very thorough analysis. As for weight, I have considered it and I am going to try both out before making my decision: I don't plan on going long distances with the camera and lens hanging from my neck though, and a heavier backpack is not a big issue. My comparison with the 18-270 was indeed limited to image quality in the overlapping 70-200 range: I already carry around 2 to 3 lenses most of the times. I will look for rentals, which I hadn't really considered much before. – fapsu May 16 '16 at 6:53
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A lot depends on the situations you want to be prepared for.

If you do your shooting during daylight, with generally more than enough light available, you don't need to drop the significant extra money to get 2.8 instead of 3.5 or 4.5. Even a running deer at 300 mm is easy to catch noise free with T=1/400 and f=4.5; if you have nice sunlight, you will end at ISO 1000 or better.

If you want to be able to do low-light shooting, aperture is all important. Assuming you don't want to upgrade the body, to stay out of bad noise, you will need to use every bit of light, so 2.8 and T=1/60 could easily push you to ISO 3000. There is no limit on how dark it gets... (I love doing shots with ISO 16800 in the night).

So - dawn, dusk - night - or normal sunlight - is the decison maker. And yes, you could change your mind in six months, and have the wrong lens.

  • With the 550d body, ISO 3200 is probably the maximum you want to use in low-light condition. More than ISO 3200 will bring quite a lot of noise. – Olivier May 14 '16 at 15:04
  • Thanks! I'll probably find myself shooting in low-light conditions, and from previous experience I agree with @Olivier on the need to keep ISO below 3200 with my 550D. – fapsu May 16 '16 at 6:49
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I've been reading everything I could from all sorts of sites, but still can't make up my mind which one to go for

This is the point where nobody can help you because it is your decision now.

If you read everything, what else to read are you looking for?

Rent one version of the lens and see how it works for you. If you are so scared of both buying the wrong thing and the price of buying it, rent a lens for the trip even.

If you rent at a local shop, ask them if you can make a deal in the form that you want to rent the lens with the option to buy it afterwards (with a discount)

  • Thanks! Obviously I didn't meant that "everything" literally, and the reason why I posted the question in the first place was to try and possibly get feedback from someone who has used these lenses in the variety of circumstances I'm planning to. The title of the question was later changed, switching the focus completely on wildlife.. which, if you read my text, wasn't what I had intended. I will definitely consider renting for the trip if I don't get the chance to try them out before or anyway make up my mind in time. – fapsu May 16 '16 at 7:01
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There are variety of telescopic lens in the market. Its upto you to choose the best which suites your requirement and budget. Lens like Sigma 150-600mm, Sigma 70-300mm are very good for wildlife photography. Along with telescopic lens, one should also have a prime len for some amazing clarity and picture quality.

Hope this help!

  • Thanks! I'll check those out as well, although 150-600 is not the FOV I expect from a lens I plan to use in other circumstances than wildlife trips – fapsu May 19 '16 at 7:19

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