This lens is one of the most important Canon make for the professional market, so it has to be good. Build quality and control movements are all first rate. This is a big heavy lens at 1600g and 200mm long, but it feels great, and balances well with the larger DSLR bodies it’s likely to be used with. Although this lens has Image Stabilisation, this is an older system than is in the new Canon 70-200 f4L IS. Where Canon claim an incredible 4 stops advantage for hand holding with that lens, the Canon 70-200 f2.8L IS claim is for a two stop advantage. So in theory you can work in lower light with the new but slower lens.
Although I can understand Canon’s point, there are still situations where subject movement, not just camera shake, would make the Canon 70-200 f2.8L IS a better choice. Also as the price of the new Canon 70-200 f4L IS is much closer than I would have expected, it really comes down to how important weight is to you, Canon making the point that the new lens will give much the same performance as the f2.8 but in a smaller, lighter package.
Anyway, how do all these claims stack up - Optically the f2.8 is excellent at full aperture - there’s a tiny amount of CA on hard edges and a little drop in sharpness away from the center of the field with the 20D, but this is only visible at 100% and I suspect in normal use, neither would be noticed. Even at full aperture results are excellent, and only one stop down at f4 results are stunning. I would say better than the results from the new Canon 70-200 f4L IS at the same aperture. Stopped down beyond f5.6 it would be hard to choose between the two lenses, but if someone really twisted my arm I’d choose this one, even though . Canon are probably right that the new IS in the Canon 70-200 f4L IS is better. From the frames I shot with the Canon 70-200mm f2.8L IS USM I’d say the gain is about 1.5 to 2 stops, where with the new f4 the gain is about one stop more. I’d be happy hand holding this lens at 1/200 where I got about the same 90% hit rate with the f4 at 1/100th.
Choosing between these lenses is made much easier by the higher than expected price for the new f4 lens. Unless the lower weight and smaller size of the f4 lens is a really big advantage for you I’d try to find the extra cash and buy this lens - The Canon 70-200mm f2.8L IS USM may have been around for a while but it really is a superb professional tool.
photo courtesy of Canon