The workhorse 70-200mm lens should be on just about every photographer’s must-have list

Are you on the fence about purchasing a 70-200 mm lens?  Worried about the cost?  The weight?  Whether it’s a good lens?  I can’t make these lenses get any cheaper or heavier, but I can alleviate your concerns about it being a good lens.  There’s a reason just about every full-time photographer has one of these lenses in their kits…they work.  So let’s talk about the five reasons I love my 70-200 mm lens and the 5 reasons you will love it too.

What is a 70-200mm lens used for?

Short answer…just about everything and anything.  In fact, if I was forced to choose to have only one lens for the rest of time, I’d choose my 70-200 mm f/2.8.  I use mine for portraits, weddings, events, sports, volume sports, wildlife and nature.  Sure, niche specific photographers like macro, newborn or landscape photographers wouldn’t rely soley on this lens.  But for many of us, the 70-200 mm lens is our bread and butter.

70-200mm lens f/2.8 vs. f/4

f/4 vs. f/2.8 – which 70-200mm lens do you need?

Most lens manufacturer’s offer the 70-200 mm lens in two speeds…f/4 and f/2.8.  The f/2.8 lens is a full stop faster, slightly heavier and more expensive (in Nikon, the price difference is about $800).  Otherwise, they are extremely similar in construction and performance when comparing the same type of lens.  Which do you need?  That’s something only you can decide.

Look seriously at the f/2.8 if you shoot in a lot of low light conditions…dimly lit churches, indoor gyms, twilight nature shots, etc.  You might find you really do need that extra stop of light, especially to stop the action in sports.  If you plan to use a teleconverter for some extra reach, you’ll want the f/2.8 version, too.  The teleconverters will work with the f/4 version, but you lose auto-focus reliability.  And you’ll need that extra stop of light to compensate for the light you use with a teleconverter.

Look at the f/4 if you shoot mainly outdoors in well-lit areas or if weight or budget is a concern.  I know lots of family photographers who love their 70-200 mm f/4 lens because they get the benefits of a telephoto lens at about half the weight of the f/2.8 versions and 1/3 less the cost.

5 Reasons you should own a 70-200mm lens – Reason #1 – It’s a professional quality lens that performs.  Period.

You can buy cheaper lenses that cover the same focal lengths.  You can buy lenses with longer focal reach.  And you can buy lenses that weigh less.  But you can’t buy a better quality lens from end to end.  The 70-200 mm lenses meet just about any professional photographer standard you could dream up.  Sharp, fast and accurate, and the top 70-200 mm lenses are optically superior to every other zoom telephoto lens out there.  Designed for professional photographers, these lenses are sturdy, tough and weather sealed.  Recent models offer the latest vibration reduction software to help with handholding.  And the constant aperture makes it easy to shoot in the field.  The quality of these lenses does not disappoint.

70-200mm lens for portraits

Reason #2 – The 70-200mm is an amazing portrait lens.

The 70-200 mm lens makes a great portrait lens for a few reasons.  First, it’s a portrait length lens, meaning less distortion and general wonkiness when it comes to rendering life-life portraits.  Second, it lets you stand back from your subject while still filling the frame.  If you’ve ever tried shooting a headshot with a 35mm or even a 50mm  lens on a full-frame camera, you know what I’m talking about.  It’s not always comfortable, or advisable, to get all up in the business of your subject.  The reach of a 70-200 mm lens gives you flexibility without that too-close factor.  And probably my favorite feature of the 70-200mm lens is shooting.

People talk a lot about how the 70-200mm has amazing compression.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love how using my 70-200mm f/2.8 appears to pull the background closer to my subjects and renders those background details super soft and creamy.  Technically, this “compression” is not a feature of the lens itself.  Compression and blurry backgrounds occur because we are further from the subject when using a telephoto than we are with a wide-angle lens.

But that’s a geeky discussion for another day.  Just trust me when I say using a telephoto lens makes for super flattering portraits and dreamy backgrounds, even without shooting wide open.  It also gives you another tool for some creative compositions.

Want to learn more about bokeh, depth-of-field and compression?  Click here!

Reason #3 – The 70-200mm shines at sports

If you’re ready to break into the world of sports photography, you’ll need a lens that can deliver something better than what parents can achieve with a point-and-shoot or kit lens.  The 70-200mm lens definitely scores points in that area (pun fully intended).  The sharpness, contrast and speedy auto-focus make it an ideal lens for a variety of sports and action shots.  And the reach helps get you closer to the action.

And those features of the lens that made it awesome for portraits also make it great for sports portraits.  The telephoto lets you isolate your subject for compelling action portraits!

Serious sports pros shoot this lens.  If you watch the sidelines of any college or professional game, you’ll see several photographers packing a 70-200 mm lens on their hip.  Why this lens?  It’s fast, accurate, easy to hand-hold and lets you shoot when the action is far away and up close.

Yes, the 300mm, 400mm or even the 600mm lenses are also on the field during the big game.  But those lenses are hard to hand-hold and  if the action comes in close, you can’t capture it.  And those big lenses are out of the budget of all but the heavy-volume sports shooters.  A 70-200mm lens fills the need for an occasional sports lens perfectly.

If you shoot a lot of indoor sports, you’ll need the speed of the 70-200mm f/2.8 lens.  Gyms and indoor arenas, as well as stadium lights can have terrible, dim lighting.  You’ll need a fast (wide) aperture of the f/2.8 lens to shoot at shutter speeds fast enough to stop action.  In some facilities, you NEED that extra stop of light for action work.

Click here to see why shutter speed is the most useful setting for sports photographers

Reason #4 – The 70-200mm is great for weddings and events

Think a 70-200mm is just for sports shooters?  Think again!  Just about every wedding photographer I know has a 70-200 mm in their bag on the big day.  It’s also my favorite lens for events like fairs, festivals and concerts.

The 70-200mm lens lets you capture the action without being in the middle of it and disrupting a scene. At weddings, the 70-200 mm lets you shoot from the back or the side of the church and get great shots of the wedding party without having to be front and center in the aisle. The reach also lets you step back from the bride and groom during portraits, creating an opportunity for privacy and quiet.  You’d be surprised at how much more intimate bridal portraits can feel with just some extra space between you and the subject.

At events, you can capture spontaneous moments of the crowd in stealth mode, stand in the crowd and get photos of what’s happening on stage, or reach beyond fences or ropes to capture the action in the center of the arena.  I shot a state fair for about four days straight.  By the 2nd day, I stopped carrying my camera bag because I was using the 70-200 mm for all of my shots.

What other wedding day gear do you need?  See our list!

70-200mm lens for wildlife photography

Reason # 5 – The 70-200mm makes a great part-time wildlife lens

The reach and quality of the 70-200mm lens is also great for wildlife photography, especially when you want to travel light.  As we mentioned above, the really long lenses like the 300 mm or 400 mm are heavy and bulky.

A 70-200 mm f/2.8 also pairs nicely with a teleconverter.  For a few hundred dollars, you can get an effective focal length of 280mm to 400mm, depending on your teleconverter, giving you the reach of a big lens at a fraction of the weight and cost.

All the other qualities of this lens (auto-focus speed, color quality, sharpness) make it ideal for wildlife images.  Sure, if you’re earning a living photographing and selling wildlife images, you’ll want something with a longer reach.  For those of us who earn their money taking pictures of humans but have a passion for wildlife and nature photography, the 70-200 mm lens makes a lot of sense because of its’ versatility.

What is the best Canon 70-200mm lens? What is the best Nikon 70-200mm lens?

Here are the top current 70-200 mm lens offerings from Canon, Nikon and Sony cameras.  You can find less expensive versions of these by looking at older models or buying used.  Just know that those older models don’t have the same updated technologies (improved lens coatings, image stabilization, lighter weight, closer focusing, etc.)  But older models can still be amazing lenses that can get you into pro-level glass for a fraction of the cost.

Third party lens manufacturers also make the 70-200mm lens for Nikon and Canon cameras.  Are they as good as the native lenses?  Some photographers say yes, others say no.  I personally have never shot the new Tamron or Sigma lenses, but I’m hearing great things from their users.  Typically you’ll get the optimal performance from a lens designed by the camera manufacturer.  But the differences might be so minute you’ll never notice.  You do run the risk that a 3rd party lens you buy now might not be compatible with new camera bodies in the future.  The tradeoffs between cost, performance and future performance can only be made by you!

Do your research.  Choose the model that makes sense for your current and future needs, camera system and budget.  If you’re unsure, I always recommend renting a lens for a week or so and shooting with it.  That’s a great way to decide if you’ll love the lens or not!

For Canon

  • Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM
  • Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM
  • Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Sports for Canon EOS
  • Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM ART for Canon EOS
  • Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2 for Canon EF Mount

For Nikon

  • Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8E AF-S FL ED VR
  • Nikon 70-200mm f/4 ED AF-S VR
  • Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Sports for Nikon F Mount
  • Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM ART for Nikon F Mount
  • Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2 for Nikon F Mount

For Sony

  • Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS E-Mount Lens
  • Sony FE 70-200mm f/4.0 G OSS E-Mount Lens

Buy your lenses from licensed, reputable dealers.  We like B&H Photo, Adorama, Amazon, Crutchfield, and authorized local camera stores.  When buying used, see what kind of return policy the vendor offers

70-200mm lens for weddings

How much does a 70-200 mm lens weigh?

Let’s address the elephant in the room.  If you’re used to shooting a 50 mm f/1.8 lens or a zoom kit lens, the 70-200 will feel like a canon the first few times you shoot with it.

“I love it but it’s so heavy!” is a common complaint among new 70-200 mm lens users.

The 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses weigh in at just over 3 pounds.  The 70-200mm f/4 lenses weight between 1.4 and 2 pounds, depending on the brand and features.

The weight can feel significant at first, and if you suffer from back or neck problems, carpal tunnel or arthritis, or other structural issues, the extra weight can be too much.  But if you shoot with it often and build up your core muscles, the lens doesn’t begin to feel so heavy.  I’ve shot this lens all day every day for four or five days straight at fairs and festivals, and my feet give out long before my arms or back ever do!

If you’re concerned, rent the lens to test out and see what you think.  One of my friends hated the f/2.8 version but finds the f/4 version light enough for her arthritic hands.  I also recommend investing in a good cross-body camera strap or harness and a tripod or monopod.  Both will help alleviate the weight over long days of shooting.

The workhorse for you

A 70-200mm lens is great for just about every kind of photography you can think of.  Try one and you’ll see why it’s usually the first lens I reach for when I’m headed out to shoot a wedding or event and one I always like to keep on hand for portraits.  I think after you spend a few days with this professional quality lens, you’ll understand why I say if if it fits your budget, stop thinking and buy it already!  You won’t be disappointed!

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