Pretty much every professional photographer carries a 70-200mm lens – but what makes this lens so special? Why is it trusted in nearly every shooting scenario, from studio portraits to wildlife snaps in the heart of the Amazon?
And most importantly, do you really need a 70-200mm lens?
In my view: Yes! 70-200mm lenses are outstanding, and they’re perfect for almost everyone – no matter their preferred genre of photography, and no matter their style of shooting.
Not convinced? In this article, I explain the biggest reasons why you should consider purchasing one of these lenses. I also offer a few of my favorite 70-200mm lens recommendations – so if you do decide to buy, you know what to get.
Let’s dive right in.
1. It offers incredible optics
Let’s start with one of the biggest reasons for the 70-200mm lens’s success:
Pretty much every 70-200mm, including f/2.8 and f/4 models from Canon, Nikon, Sony, Sigma, and Tamron, offers outstanding edge-to-edge sharpness, both wide open and stopped down. They also do a great job of fending off chromatic aberration and flare while producing stunningly contrasty images time and time again.
So whether you want to shoot landscapes full of crisp edges or macro scenes filled with exquisite detail, a 70-200mm lens will do the trick!
2. The focal length is perfect for most subjects
Short telephotos and wide-angle lenses are fantastic for wading into the action and capturing a wider perspective. However, when it comes to certain subjects, shorter lenses can be, well, short. If you are trying to photograph wildlife, candid portraits, or any other unapproachable subject, wide-angle glass probably won’t work.
Enter the 70-200mm lens.
A 70-200mm focal length is perfect for so many situations. It allows you to focus on key subjects, crop out distracting elements in your frame, and just get closer to the action. At 70mm, you can capture:
- Full- and half-body portraits
- Street shots
- Architectural images
- Travel scenes
Plus, the lens’s long end – 200mm – offers plenty of reach without being overkill. The focal length gives wildlife and sports subjects space to move while still offering the magnification for stunningly detailed shots. And if you shoot portraits, you can capture headshots that feature beautiful bokeh backgrounds without crowding your subject.
And the 70-200mm lens is also a fantastic choice for landscape photography. While most photographers tend to equate landscape shots with ultra-wide angle lenses, you can use a 70-200mm lens to zoom in and capture gorgeous shots of distant subjects (e.g., mountains), as well as details within the larger scene.
Speaking more broadly, the standard-to-telephoto reach offers a lot of flexibility when composing. If you want to add some negative space around the edges of the frame, you can zoom out – and if you want to tighten up your compositions, you can simply zoom in!
3. You get a large maximum aperture
There are two types of 70-200mm lenses:
The 70-200mm f/2.8.
And the 70-200mm f/4.
Now, a 70-200mm f/4 lens offers a decently wide aperture, one that you can use for nice backgrounds and (in some cases) acceptable low-light shooting. (The not-too-wide aperture also ensures the lens remains a reasonable weight.)
The 70-200mm f/2.8 takes this a step further: It offers an impressively wide aperture, which is why so many pros use it constantly.
What makes an f/2.8 aperture so special? The first benefit is the bokeh (i.e., the out-of-focus areas around your subject). If you work at f/2.8, you’ll create images with a very narrow depth of field. Much of the background and foreground will drop into creamy, out-of-focus goodness – and this, in turn, will keep the viewer’s attention on your main subject.
In other words: The large aperture really allows for the rendering of wonderful out-of-focus elements. It gives images a beautiful dreamy quality, an effect that’s loved by portrait photographers, wildlife photographers, sports photographers, and more. Here’s an example; note the soft blur behind the shorebird:
A second benefit of an f/2.8 maximum aperture is the low-light performance. An f/2.8 aperture lets in significantly more light than an f/4 aperture (which in turn lets in more light than f/5.6 or f/6.3 apertures) – so when the light starts to fade, you can still get sharp shots at a reasonable shutter speed – without needing to boost your ISO and degrade image quality.
Thanks to the 70-200mm f/2.8 low-light capabilities, it’s a must-have lens for indoor sports photography and event photography. It’s also useful for low-light wildlife shooting.
Here’s a final benefit of a fast aperture:
Improved viewfinder brightness. If you use a DSLR, the viewfinder brightness depends on the size of your lens’s maximum aperture (the wider the aperture, the brighter the viewfinder). If you’ve never shot with an f/2.8 lens, this may not seem like a big deal. But don’t knock it until you’ve tried it; there’s a good chance that you’ll quickly fall in love with the bright viewfinder – and you’ll never want to go back!
4. It offers excellent AF speeds
When working with fast-paced action, speed is essential…
…and most 70-200mm lenses won’t disappoint.
Generally speaking, 70-200mm glass boasts outstanding autofocus speeds. These lenses do a great job of locking onto fast-moving elements, which is a huge benefit when working with erratic subjects such as sports players, wildlife, and birds in flight.
Ultimately, the speed of a 70-200mm lens makes photographing moving subjects ten times easier; that way, you can spend more time composing your shots, and less time getting frustrated by a lens that won’t focus.
Will every 70-200mm lens offer lightning-fast AF? No. While I haven’t come across any slow-focusing 70-200mm glass, not all lenses are equal, so I do encourage you to check my recommendations below or read reviews if AF speed is important to you.
5. The weight and size work in your favor
Some people think the 70-200mm is a large lens. And it’s true: 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses do tend to be big, though 70-200mm f/4 bodies are actually pretty reasonable in size. (I carry a 70-200mm f/4 all over the place, and it fits nicely in my camera backpack and doesn’t weigh me down.)
But weight and size also have their advantages. For one, the longer lens barrel provides for good control placement; the large zoom ring and focus ring will be spaced out along the lens’s barrel.
And the long barrel sometimes allows for the inclusion of a tripod collar. This keeps the lens balanced when working with a tripod, and it also lowers the stress applied to the bayonet mount between the camera and lens. (Less stress makes for a longer lens life!)
A larger lens also promises more comfortable handholding. The wider barrel will fit well in your hand, and the weight of the lens will counterbalance a heavier camera body. Plus, modern versions of the 70-200mm lens include image stabilization, which further improves sharpness when working handheld and prevents camera shake problems caused by the telephoto focal length.
(Note that optical stabilization will help to reduce camera shake by several stops, so you can still work handheld and get sharp results even when the light gets low.)
6. The build quality is outstanding
70-200mmm f/2.8 lenses are designed for outdoor professionals: landscape photographers, wildlife photographers, and sports photographers. Therefore, these lenses are built to handle pretty much every scenario.
Most 70-200mm lenses, for instance, feature metal barrels and weather sealing, so you can confidently shoot in the rain, sleet, or snow. (I’d still recommend carrying a rain cover, though; it’s best to minimize danger as much as possible!)
And while 70-200mm f/4 lenses don’t always offer build quality on par with 70-200mm f/2.8 glass, they can still handle their fair share of tough conditions, too.
I’ve had my 70-200mm lens for many years, and I’ve worked with it in all sorts of conditions, from snowy forests to the humid jungle. In all that time, it’s never skipped a beat. It’s rugged and reliable – like the best working tool.
7. You can combine it with a teleconverter
70-200mm f/2.8 lenses are designed to work with teleconverters, which fit between the camera and lens and magnify the image for a greater telephoto effect.
A 70-200mm lens, when paired with a 1.4x teleconverter, becomes a 105-300mm equivalent. When paired with a 2.0x teleconverter, it turns into a whopping 140-400mm lens! The extra reach can be very handy if you want to shoot birds or skittish wildlife but don’t want to invest in a super-telephoto lens.
Plus, when teleconverters are very reasonably priced and weigh practically nothing (compared to super-telephoto glass, at least!).
70-200mm lens recommendations
Struggling to pick the perfect 70-200mm lens? Here are a few of our favorites:
The best 70-200mm lens for Canon
If you use a Canon DSLR and require the best of the best, then check out the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM, which offers outstanding optics, fast focusing, and a wide maximum aperture. Canon mirrorless shooters should consider the new RF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM (though you do have the option to mount the EF version on your mirrorless camera via an adapter).
The best 70-200mm lens for Nikon
Nikon DSLR users will love the AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR, which is built like a tank and boasts lightning-fast autofocus, while mirrorless users should look at the Z 70-200mm f/2.8 S, an even more impressive (if pricier) option. And as with Canon’s mirrorless system, you can choose to mount a Nikon AF-S lens on a mirrorless body using an adapter.
Nikon also offers an f/4 option, but only for DSLRs (or adapted mirrorless cameras): The 70-200mm f/4G ED VR.
The best 70-200mm lens for Sony
Sony’s best 70-200mm lens, the FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS II, is quite pricey – but it’s excruciatingly sharp, not to mention well built. If you’re serious about sports or event photography, it’s a must-have.
Alternatively, consider the (much cheaper) FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS, which is a great option for landscape photography, budget portrait photography, and more.
Why you need a 70-200mm lens: final words
The 70-200mm lens is a worthy piece of kit. It offers top optics, a fast aperture, excellent speed, impressive ergonomics, and it’s built to last.
Yes, 70-200mm lenses are expensive – especially 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses – but they’re a long-term investment, and I encourage you to take the leap!
Which 70-200mm lens do you plan to get? Share your thoughts in the comments below!