Comparing Eight 200mm Lenses Yields Interesting Results

Mar 27, 2015

Udi Tirosh

Udi Tirosh is an entrepreneur, photography inventor, journalist, educator, and writer based in Israel. With over 25 years of experience in the photo-video industry, Udi has built and sold several photography-related brands. Udi has a double degree in mass media communications and computer science.

Comparing Eight 200mm Lenses Yields Interesting Results

Mar 27, 2015

Udi Tirosh

Udi Tirosh is an entrepreneur, photography inventor, journalist, educator, and writer based in Israel. With over 25 years of experience in the photo-video industry, Udi has built and sold several photography-related brands. Udi has a double degree in mass media communications and computer science.

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200mm-lenses-battle

If you are an action, wedding, portraiture or a nature photographer you probably have (or want) a 200mm lens, either at fixed focal length or one that can zoom all the way to that spot.

It should also not surprise you that not all 200mm lenses are born equal. While weight, compatibility, stabilization and price may all play a factor, sometimes it all comes down to optics. Roger Cicala and Aaron Closz of Lensrentals compared 8 (yea, eight) different lenses at 200 and shares the results, optically speaking.

First here is a list to the eight tested lenses:

Those vary in price range and in being a prime or a zoom lens that goes up to 200mm.

The methodology

This is something quite interesting, Lensrentals did not mount the lenses onto cameras to test them, but rather they used a device that can test the lenses with no relations to a camera:

[Lensrentals] take advantage of our Trioptics Imagemaster optical bench to compare lenses from different camera mounts with no camera involved. Why is that different? Because all other forms of testing (DxO, Imatest, or even photography) tests the camera-lens combination. Sensor architecture, micro lenses, in-camera image processing and other things affect those results. A third-party lens on a Canon 5DIII will have different results than the same lens on a Nikon D800 for example.

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The Results

Of course the most interesting test would be the Nikon vs Nikon test, and you can see the results below. Roger is using industry standard MTF maps. If you are unfamiliar with MTF, here is a great primer.

legend 200f2comp-1024x736

both of these lenses are really superb, the verdict is that: “These are both awesomely superb lenses and looking for differences between them is really just hair splitting.“, and if you care for the small nitpicking, you can check the full blog over at Lensrentals.

Looking at the Zooms now, again both Nikon and Canon are darn good lenses.

70-200canik-1024x748 Nik200comp-1024x748 can200comp-1024x748

It is only when Roger compared Zooms vs. Primes we see that the prime lenses do perform better, though the zooms are still quite awesome. In fact Roger shares that the latest zooms function better than his old prime.

Lastly, Roger turns an eye for third party lenses, and you know what, they are not that bad. And the cost may play a significant factor.

thirdpartycomp-1024x708

Of course, as Roger points out, choosing a lens should have more to do than resolution:

A lot of people use their 70-200mm lenses largely at 200mm, so resolution at that focal length is a big factor. But there’s a lot more to choosing the proper lens for the task than resolution at 200mm, of course. In reality things like fast and accurate autofocus, especially for sports shooters, is probably more important than absolute resolution.

The cost of 200mm lenses varies greatly and is certainly a big factor when people decide which lens they want. The Canon and Nikon 200mm f/2.0 lenses are nearly $6,000, while their image stabilized 70-200mm f/2.8 zooms are over $2,000.  The Canon 70-200 f/2.8 NON IS is about $1,500, as is the Tamron zoom. The Sigma 70-200 is about $1,200 and the Canon L prime is the bargain of the bunch at about $800.

If one just considers price and resolution then the third party lenses, which are also image stabilized, certainly offer some advantages over the Canon NON IS lens. The Sigma price is more attractive than the Tamron and the Sigma arguably is a sharper lens in the lab. (Again, I emphasize that rapid and accurate autofocus may be more important than absolute resolution at 200mm.)

My opinion, though, is that the extra cost involved in getting the brand-name zoom lens in this category is probably worth it if you can possibly manage it. The Canon and Nikon f2.8 stabilized zooms are amazing optics. The f/2.0 primes, while wonderful lenses and even better optically than the zooms, are priced like the specialty items they are. The third-party lenses and Canon Non IS are cheaper, and probably good enough for many uses. But don’t kid yourself; they aren’t as good

[Just the Lenses: The Great 200mm Shoot Out | Lensrentals]

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Udi Tirosh

Udi Tirosh

Udi Tirosh is an entrepreneur, photography inventor, journalist, educator, and writer based in Israel. With over 25 years of experience in the photo-video industry, Udi has built and sold several photography-related brands. Udi has a double degree in mass media communications and computer science.

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10 responses to “Comparing Eight 200mm Lenses Yields Interesting Results”

  1. Doron Hazan Avatar
    Doron Hazan
  2. gregorylent Avatar
    gregorylent

    unmentioned, there are apparently differences in the area covered at 200mm in all of these .. in other words, the field of view at 200 on a nikkor 70-200 is not the same as that of canon, or others ..

    1. BuckCash Avatar
      BuckCash

      It can’t be that substantial though, can it?

      1. gregorylent Avatar
        gregorylent

        nikon’s 70-200 is shorter than canon’s, i have read … looking for a link to the story

        1. BuckCash Avatar
          BuckCash

          Is it because their sensor sizes are slightly different? In other words, there’s a bit of a crop factor?

          1. KTX Avatar
            KTX

            Iremember this Tony Northrup guy testing the Nikon and Canon 70-200 lenses and he found out that, although at the same minimum focus distance, the effective focal length at 200mm was significantly shorter on the Nikon compared to the Canon. I don’t have the exact numbers but I think it was about 195mm on the Canon and the Nikon somewhere near 135mm. I guess there is a comparable effect in some of those lenses like in many lenses that move the whole optical construction instead of just some internal lenses for focusing. If you know the Canon 50mm 1.4 or 1.8 lens you could know what I mean. The whole optical construction moves out of the barrell at min. focus distance about 1cm, which turns the focal length to about 60mm at this distance.

    2. vipmediastar Avatar
      vipmediastar

      The nikon 70-200 vr2 has focus breathing at close distance. is that what you are refering too?

  3. Bogdar Iván Ramírez Avatar
    Bogdar Iván Ramírez

    why not use the Tamron 70-200 2.8 Di Vc Usd?

  4. Viggo Næss Avatar
    Viggo Næss

    Agreed, and my ef 200 f2 will never ever see another owner than me :)

  5. cbenci Avatar
    cbenci

    One thing these tests rarely take into consideration when comparing on brand and off brand lenses is reliability. I knoiw this is hard to test for in a ‘lab’ environment but it really is very important.

    When I was using Sigma / Tamron lenses with my Canon bodies the ratio of soft to sharp photos was too high. Sometimes my 5DmkIII would just stop talking to the lens. Now that I am using all L glass, I have complete confidence in my gear. Nearly every shot is sharp, autofocus is fast and reliable and I never worry about my gear getting in the way of the job.

    When shooting events and weddings where you don’t get a second chance and, to me, this is paramount – more so than what a sharpness chart will show in a benchmark environment.