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:
- Canon 200mm f/2.8 L Mk II
- Canon 70-200 f/2.8 NON IS
- Canon 70-200 f/2.8 IS II
- Canon 200mm f/2.0 IS L
- Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 AF-S VR II
- Nikon 200mm f/2.0 ED AF-S VR II
- Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG HSM OS
- Tamron 70-200 f/2.8 SP Di VC
Those vary in price range and in being a prime or a zoom lens that goes up to 200mm.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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]