The fast, full-frame 70-200mm f/2.8 telephoto zoom is a very popular lens. We test five of the best proprietary and third-party versions
A favourite of photojournalists and wedding, portrait and event photographers, the 70-200mm f/2.8 telephoto zoom lens has a reputation for good control over curvilinear distortion, as its available focal lengths are typically easier to correct. Further appeal comes from the constant, fast f/2.8 aperture throughout the entire focal range.
The five lenses on test here, from Canon, Nikon, Sigma, Sony and Tamron, also come equipped with, or have access to, optical stabilisation, which makes handheld use possible even in low light and at telephoto settings.
While these lenses are all designed for use on a full-frame camera, those using the APS-C format will be able to enjoy a 105-300mm focal range (or 112-320mm when used with Canon APS-C-sized sensors). This extension makes this kind of lens ideal for more distant subjects, such as wildlife and sports.
Add a 1.4x or 2x teleconverter (when the lens is used with a full-frame camera), and the focal range becomes 98-280mm and 140-400mm respectively. Many of the AF points in Canon and Nikon autofocus systems operate down to f/5.6, which means the operational AF speed on a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens with 2x converter should not be affected. Compared to Nikon’s 200-400mm lens (street price around £4,950), this 70-200mm f/2.8 lens and teleconverter combination is much less costly.
With Tamron having launched a new version of its 70-200mm f/2.8, there are now two up-to-date, third-party versions of this lens, and both are more affordable than the proprietary models.
The size and weight of each lens in this test provide a good balance when mounted on a professional or enthusiast-level DSLR, but not entry-level models. Even with enthusiast-level cameras, it is best to add a battery grip.
Carrying all five lenses for this test (plus three professional DSLR bodies) made for a very heavy kit bag – indeed, one lens alone weighs around 1,500g. These are not the sorts of lenses to take on a day trip, but are best suited to specific jobs where the right support will be available to bear their weight. That said, with weight comes quality.
These lenses are reported by existing users to be virtually as sharp as many fixed-focal-length lenses, which is impressive given their zoom range. They have been used in various situations to get a feel for their handling, speed of focusing and quality of out-of-focus areas. Images taken with each lens, of both technical and real-life subjects, have then been scrutinised for sharpness and distortions.