How Good Is The 2001 Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 IS Lens in 2023?

How Good Is The 2001 Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 IS Lens in 2023?

The fleet of lenses I use is old. Actually old to the point where I am genuinely surprised how it still works. Nonetheless, the old Canon EF 70-200 f/2.8 IS is still a good choice for many photographers. Here is why I will be holding onto my copy of this excellent lens. I hate two things: learning a new piece of gear, and spending money when I don’t absolutely have to. There is a wishlist of gear that I want, but most of those things fall in the realm of grip and lighting modifiers.  Sometimes, I do wonder if it is time to upgrade my camera setup, though. It is aging day by day, and the more I shoot the closer I get to its end. But for how long should you actually use your camera gear? Is it like a car that requires some checks after every X thousand miles? Or should I just use it till it dies in one way or another?

For example, my 24-70mm f/2.8 probably has at least a million actuations on it. Once, I fell on it, and part of the lens that holds the hood broke. Instead of getting a new lens, I simply taped it back together and continued work as normal. It does not look pleasing, but it works just fine. My 70-200mm f/2.8 is in even better condition: for starters, it is not broken. But there are a few more things going for it. Here are some reasons why you should consider getting this antique, but wonderful lens.

The Pros

Creamy Bokeh & Optical Quality

The lens is a king of bokeh, just like any 70-200mm f/2.8. In fact, a quick check online reveals that it packs creamier bokeh than the later versions. While I rarely use it at f/2.8, this is still good to know for someone who shoots sports or has a style of work that relies on bokeh.

Speaking of sharpness, I must point out an important detail, when I first bought this lens I shot everything at f/2.8 and wondered where the sharpness was.  While more seasoned photographers will laugh at this, the rest of us must understand that just because a lens can go to f/2.8 doesn’t mean you should shoot everything at this aperture setting. If you need to get ultimate sharpness to stop down to f/8 or f/11.The center is always sharp, however, things do become quite a bit worse as we go into corners.

The IS on the lens is fairly good for the era, but would not be as good as the modern cameras. That said it offers 2-3 stops improvement which is quite good considering the lens was made in 2001.

Build Quality

Being a fairly basic photographer who doesn’t really baby the gear, I am surprised at how well this lens is holding up. I have traveled a lot with this lens, it has been bashed around, scratched, and used in the harshest of conditions, and it still works. It even survived my event days when I shot in the pouring rain, left the gear on the floor, and didn’t take proper care of it.

The reason it is so tough is that it is made out of metal, which does make the lens heavy. It weighs in at a solid 1.4kg or 3.08 lb. it is built like a tank, but it weighs like one too. It isn’t small either, being almost 20cm or 7.8” long. This will be quite noticeable in your camera bag.


I rarely miss focus on this lens as it is fast, reliable, and frankly focusing is not only lens-dependant but also body-dependant. Nonetheless, having tested this on a 5Ds and a 5D Mark IV, each with a vastly different focusing system, I must report that it is nearly perfect, even at f/2,8. There is a manual focus ring that is smooth, and nothing moves outside the lens while it focuses. I found the focus breathing to be slightly annoying though. This lens would not be my first choice for video either, as the IS as well as focusing is very loud and with a horse-mounted mic you will be hearing both quite a bit.  


The biggest pro for many is the price. It is available from a number of retailers such as MPB or BH Used for $700-1100, which makes it one of the cheapest 70-200 f/2.8 IS lenses available. The level of performance that this lens provides makes it one of the best bangs for your buck.  

The cons


Sharpness matters, especially if you are not working with flash. For people who rely on their lens optics and shutter speed to capture images, this might not be the best lens to get. At the same time, if you have other ways of controlling sharpness: for example with flash or light modifier choice, this lens will be just fine. Sharpness depends on a lot of factors, not only lens choice.

Contrast & Color Rendition

Contrast is better with version II. Just taking a quick look online shows me that in the case of shooting with natural light, this might not be the best lens. At the same time, as someone who relies on post-production, light, and colors to provide contrast, I am not worried about this. If anything there is too much contrast in my work anyways.

Closing Thoughts

The 70-200 f/2.8 IS is still a very decent lens that works for many genres of photography. Especially if you are on a budget this might be the best bang for your buck. I really can’t tell that this lens is from 2001. If your photography is more about the content of the image, rather than technical perfection, this lens will be just right. It will be upgraded eventually, probably when it breaks. But even then, I might just get another copy of the same lens, or If the money allows version II. The amount of EF lenses on the used market is vast, they won’t be disappearing soon. Just because camera companies make it seem like the future is here and you must upgrade, doesn’t mean that you should. Even Canon’s FD lenses from the 1970s are widely available, so EF glass is here to stay for a good couple of decades if not more. In conclusion, if you are shooting canon and need an affordable 70-200 f/2,8, I would strongly suggest getting this marvelous piece of gear.

Illya Ovchar's picture

Illya aims to tell stories with clothes and light. Illya's work can be seen in magazines such as Vogue, Marie Claire, and InStyle.

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Good glass is always good glass. My Mark II version is still capturing superb images.

I feel the same way about my Mark II lens, it works well with my two 5DIV's.

I really should try the Mark II lens. Apparently, it's a huge upgrade. Anyone who had the i and II?

I had version one eons ago and moved to version II in 2015 and still going strong. Now I use it with my R5.

That's one crazy combo. How is it holding up?

I have a large collections of Ef lenses that are not replicated in the RF mount. They work great. Fact is where I have an overlap or where I have seriously contemplated a replacement the Ef glass produces smoother creamier images. Th R5 will get the sharpness but is seems to lack the oooh! factor. You know when you prepare something as simple as a taco, using the best ingredients will produce something that is indescribably better... Well the EF lens image is just better too. (I also shoot a Sony A7R4 and Phase One 100IQ)

I had this lens. Didn't want to use it with an adaptor when I moved to Sony.

Don't need the range that this lens has, but I do still miss it sometimes. I used to use it for everything that I could, even street photography at 5-10 meters distance!

Loved the weather sealing and feel of the lens. Always felt good in the hand and I never worried about light-medium rain.

Sony doesn't really have (for me) a viable lens of this length - Two expensive for the F/2.8 and no weather sealing on the F/4... Not that I'm likely to buy a 70-200 any more.

Oh absolutely, adaptors make life a lot harder, don't they? It's a shame there's no weather sealing on the Sony(and canon) f/4, would make it much better.

The Canon to Sony metabones adaptors are pretty seamless in my experience.
Keeping up with firmware is important.

Awesome! I'll keep that in mind when working with Sony cameras.

I've got a Sigma MC-11 adaptor for my Sigma 100mm F/2.8 macro. Faster focus on the Sony than the Canon, but much more light needed to do anything but hunt. I doubt that the Metabones would be any better :-(

I used to love that lens, but adapted on the Sony is killing the love. The problem is I can't justify buying a Sony-mount macro lens because I don't do macro and even though the Sigma 100mm was a great portrait lens, I'm not in love with the look vs a 24-105...

I have this lens and whilst good stopped down it is garbage wide open.. or at least my copy is.

That all said it still has its use in the kit for when I need that range or go shoot wider than 85 in the studio for portraits.

Would like to move up to the version 3 but hard to justify it given how much I favour the primes in the kit.

Good to hear from you Richard! Hope you've been well.
I can't remember the last time I opened up wide on any lens, to be frank. I've grown to like the stopped-down look quite a lot. However, I do recall it looking pretty gross at f/2.8 at 50mp. Gross by pixel-peeping standards, but absolutely fine for most use cases.

Ah, that's awesome! My copy is not the sharpest at f/2.8. Sharp enough, but I've seen better.

Ha, for a sec there I thought I was writing this article. I still have my 70-200 IS lens and the 24-70 2.8 lens. They have been workhorses for the past 20 something years and I am still happy with them.

Great to hear that! it's awesome glass.

I still use my non-IS 70-200L all the time (first gen, purchased in '97 for my Elan 2e and EOS3). I purchased an M5 recently and it has breathed new life into this lens. It was awesome with film, great with my D10 and 7D. But using it now... WOW. I LOVE this lens! 25 years old. Takes GREAT photos. I do have to use an adapter but IMHO it's no big deal. It stays on the lens (but sometimes switch to the 28-70 2.4L which I still love too). The new stuff is great but I'm not upgrading this lens any time soon. It's all about the picture and I don't think I could do better even with the new tech.

How is the non-is version? I heard it's much lighter, or is that not true?

The non-IS version is great and photos are sharp. I can't tell you if it's lighter (or better/worse) since I don't have an IS version.

First thought was .. why v1? I guess just for cost alone? V2 was the killer, v3 was just for new parts.

Gotta love that internal focusing ;) cough cough rf cough cough

If you can afford the mark 2 its worth it , much better sharpness wide open its still a Fantastic lens. Bought one from the second hand market for 950 dollars . It just came from Canon service center with new af motors, new. Image stabilisator etc all electronics was changed so it was more or less a brand new lens internally. Shoot it with my 5d3 but will keep the lens when i go mirrorless. Dont like the rf version because of the long focus Throw

Your comment about creamy bokeh got me thinking, about how the newer lenses are 'less good' at that.

Might it just be that newer lenses are sharper, simply? Could you take that newer lens and run a very light blur action of some sort and there you are, now it's creamy again?

It's crystal clear (ahem) that lenses now are being built to an optical level that's way beyond what they were 20 or 30 years ago, because digital reveals the flaws relentlessly. My new Nikkor 35/1/8 Z is simply an amazing lens, it dwarfs my old 35/f2 Nikkor from 1980, and it out-performs it in all ways - it's more like the size of lens I used to see on my semi-pro 120 roll film cameras, it's substantial.

--> I was talking to someone recently who's shooting film. I'm an old guy, had a dark room, taught it a college a little, I know film. So we're talking and I say basically digital is mostly superior to film (35m), starting from about a 8mp year 2006 digicam. Then I tell him if you want, just take the digital image, you can crap it up and it'll look like film - You know, block up the shadows, add some grain & vignetting, mute the colors, add just a few subtle dust & scratches, etc and there it is. He didn't really say much to my observation, so I never knew if he was thinking or just thinking that I'm a very inartful person that don't get the ART & FEELING of that 35mm film. (But I can, I've shot 1000s of roles of it, very artfully I might say.)

I'm making any judgement on that lens of yours, I'm sure it's sweet. Some of these characteristics are perhaps relative, not absolute. And a tool is a tool, if you like it use it.

I'm with that other guy... You can't fall on technical spec for artful appreciation. (And from your gear I infer you don't even shoot Canon.)

The nicest thing about digital is you don't have to gag over the smell of fixer while sitting at the computer converting raw files.

Re: using a blur action. It won't look the same.

The newer lenses are 'sharper' mostly on the edges and in the corners when imaging flat test charts parallel with the camera's sensor. They accomplish this by using more flat field correction than in the past (other than Macros, which have always been highly corrected for field curvature - as well as having been optimized for peak performance at MFD rather than at larger distances). Uncorrected, lenses have a curved field of focus. Even highly corrected lenses have fields of focus that are more like wavy lasagna noodles that are "almost" flat. Lenses with less flat field correction can still be sharp at the edges and corners, but when the center is focused on a flat test chart the edges are focused slightly in front of the test chart. To get the edges as sharp as they can be one has to defocus the center to one degree or another. People obsessed with "sharpness" tend to equate "sharpness" with how well a lens can reproduce a flat test chart at the extreme corners when the center is most in focus, so that's the current be all/end all for new lens designs.

Unfortunately, correcting field curvature also tends to make out of focus areas "busier" or even a bit "harsh". In order to win the flat test chart contest, which can be given a numerical score and an MTF graph that can be printed on a spec sheet, lens designers give up smooth, creamy bokeh which can't really be quantified numerically.

It is still my go to lens for wedding. I love it!

I use the non-IS version with extenders for my wildlife photography. Have been wondering for quite a while whether Canon released a Non-L version of this great lens with IS! Didn't find L mentioned either in the title or in the text.

Could you kindly clarify?

Thanks in advance.