Why Is This My Favorite Photography Purchase Ever?

Gear isn't always about megapixels, dynamic range, or pixel-peeping. This piece of gear has changed nothing about the quality of my photos, but it might be my favorite purchase ever.

The obsession with gear or the next best thing is somewhat exhausting in the photography space. I totally get how sometimes, getting something new can invigorate your drive to get out there and make new images. I was especially guilty of it earlier on in my hobby and willingly admit I probably cared or focused too much on the technicalities of gear. That has changed over the years eventually, leading me to where I am now, where all I care about is equipment or tools that makes my life easier as a photographer.

Of course, I need it to match or hold a level of quality I have become accustomed to, but there are so many great options for nearly every piece of gear. Lenses, tripods, filter systems, storage, you name it, and there are probably multiple great options. Thus, when a piece of gear comes around that can change how I work and make my life easier, it's what I get the most excited about. That's why the Canon RF 70-200mm f/4L has changed my enjoyment of shooting telephoto landscape photography. 

This Is Not a Review

This is not a review of this particular lens, nor is it an endorsement that you need this lens. There won't be any comparisons about the image quality or barrel distortion or images stabilization tests here. If that is what you're looking for, there are lots of resources out there that are absolutely wonderful and do a much better job than I ever could. At this point, the technology and competition in the space means that if you're spending a substantial portion of a paycheck on a lens, camera, or accessory, then it's going to have stellar image quality. 

I purchased the Canon EF 70-200 f/2.8L IS II nearly 10 years ago, and it has been my favorite lens for quite some time. The idea of replacing it was actually difficult, as if I was betraying all that it has done for me over the years. I don't get sentimental about gear at all, but that lens has a lot of history, so much so that I couldn't bring myself to sell it to help purchase its replacement. All that being said, replacing it was one of the best decisions I've made in my career as a photographer, yet it had nothing to do with upgrading the quality of my images.

Size Matters

Note: The Canon EF 70-200 f/2.8 II still had a lens filter on when I took this shot

Deciding between the f/4 or f/2.8 version of the new lens was quite easy. When I originally purchased the Canon EF 70-200 f/2.8L, I was photographing and filming a lot of live musicians where that extra light really mattered. I went back through many of my catalogs and looked at the metadata for the times that I ever shot wide open after changing my focus to landscape photography. Not only was it rare, more often than not, it was to keep my shutter speed high enough to prevent camera shake during lower-light moments in the field. If I was ever using a wide open aperture artistically for a blurry background, the difference between f/2.8 and f/4 are surprisingly minimal at longer focal lengths. 

I ended up purchasing the Canon RF 70-200 f/4L, which meant I was naturally going to shed a little bit of weight by losing that stop of light via the aperture difference, but it also meant a tripod shoe wasn’t necessary anymore either, making it even smaller. Look at the size difference between these two lenses. If you include the EF to RF adapter as part of the footprint for the older lens, it is nearly double the size of the new Canon RF 70-200 f/4L. The weight difference is massive, with the older lens weighing 1,490 g plus 110 g with the adapter (total 3.53 lbs) versus the 695 g (1.53 lbs) of the new RF lens. Shedding two pounds of weight is the dream of any backpacker and puts a lot less strain on my wrists when walking around without any support system.

This is without the EF to RF adapter on the 16-35mm as well!

Above is a comparison of my Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L in terms of size, and the fact that these lenses are nearly exactly the same size blows me away, and that’s without the EF to RF adapter! This meant I didn’t have to have a larger spot in my bag specifically for the longer lens. My camera could have either lens attached and fit into the same spot within my bag, which saves so much time and headache. Previously, if I wanted to put my camera back in my bag, it had to be attached to the EF 70-200mm, and it was the only way for it to fit. Now, I can have whatever lens I own attached, and it all fits in the much smaller space.

My Images Don't Get Better

All of these traits factor into me enjoying photography more. It means I can take my telephoto lens on a longer hike without a second thought. It means I can walk around hand-holding my camera for longer periods without straining my wrists. It connects me to photography more because it doesn’t feel like it’s getting in my way, and that’s what is most important to me over everything else. 

The lens did absolutely nothing to improve my image quality or to take better images. Is it sharper corner to corner? Technically, yes, but that isn’t something I’ll ever really notice. What I continually notice is just how much more I enjoy making images with this lens. Gear isn’t always about the next best thing, and I get far more excited about something that makes photography easier for me rather than something that might add a few more pixels to my images.

Have you made any purchases that completely changed the way you make images — anything that didn't necessarily change the quality of your images but just the quality of your enjoyment in photography?

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Alexander Petrenko's picture

I love my 70-200/4for well-lit events. And after 2.8 it’s like driving a MINI after a SUV.

Edison Wrzosek's picture

Honestly, for landscape photography, f/4 lens' get a bad rap in the industry...

Take the Sony 24-105mm G OSS f/4, it has amazing optics, corner-to-corner sharpness even wide open (take it down to f/5.6 for best), and does everything you could ask of it in landscapes, but all you ever see the IG and YT "influencers" talk about is f/2.8 fast zooms and primes as "what you need to get". And since in landscapes we shoot with closed down apertures of f/8 or slower most of the time, those fast apertures are wasted anyways, including the thousands of $ extra used to buy them.

This kind of review, and this type of telephoto optic, is a welcome change to see, and I wish more people woke up to the fact that just because it says f/4 on the barrel doesn't immediately mean it's not usable.

Sam Sims's picture

For me it was going from DSLR with a few Canon autofocus lenses to Sony and a Voigtlander 40mm f1.2 manual lens. I got fed up with autofocus lenses, especially for street photography as I felt the lenses were doing all the work for me and not always accurately in focus. I started out with a film camera and since purchasing the Voigtlander I have so much more enjoyment with my photography. I shoot between f8-f16 and my lens would only be better for me if it was f2 and even smaller and lighter. Saying that I was lucky and got a good copy that doesn't have focus shift and stays sharp at f16 where others with the same lens notice both focus shift and diffraction at f16.

David B's picture

Manual lenses are more rewarding if you don't mind missing shots. I'm curious why you shoot FF lenses stopped down so far. Maybe a crop sensor would impress you. It's hard to switch systems, but F8 looks almost as sharp as my lenses sweet spot but has the focus depth of f16 on FF. For the same area of critical focus, you could use a lower ISO. Just food for thought!!

Colin Robertson's picture

I've been tempted to sell my EF 70-200 f/4L IS II to get the RF lens, but I keep telling myself that 2.8 would be worth the upgrade (still a smaller lens, especially when you consider the adapter). But, truth be told, I've been very happy with the quality of the one I have. Moving to the RF lens would be a lateral move, like Alex, the move would be about convenience—smaller, no adapter needed.

David B's picture

I feel this! Of course a cheap 1.8 prime is smaller, lighter and more than a stop brighter than 2.8.

charles hoffman's picture

in the past 10 years, image stabilization has proliferated and camera sensors have become far more adept a delivering quality images at higher ISO levels.

A smaller and lighter lens is certainly the best way to take advantage of these developments

David Pavlich's picture

My best purchase was my 70-200 f2.8L II, but very close behind is my 16-35 f4L. It has been a stalwart when it comes to landscape and indoor work.

Robert Altman's picture

I agree (but with the Nikon 70-200 f4)!! For landscapes- who would ever shoot at f2.8 anyway!?!? For studio work f4 is plenty - and at 200mm f4 gives you a very shallow DOF if you are looking for that... For events when I used my f2.8 I would often find that either the focus was a bit off or the DOF was to shallow for groups of several people (I shoot a lot of performances and dance...) - so I was usually stopping down a bit even in lower light. Add in the wonderful IQ of modern cameras at higher ISO and my 70-200 f2.8 is sitting on the shelf at home while my f4 is getting out a lot!!!

Sidney M's picture

I shouldn't really mention it, but the frame of him hugging the lens is so funny (in a good way)..

Paul Scharff's picture

I feel the same way about my 11-24mm. I can't imagine living without it.

David B's picture

It's a special lens. Imagine what improvements an RF mount could have. 10mm?

Ryan Hartford's picture

This definitely made me second guess my 70-200 RF F2.8 order which is prepping for shipment. A few reasons why:
Smaller footprint in bag
Lighter on camera and easier to carry (feels more like a smaller lens)
Fits in my hand better and WAYYYY more comfortable and natural to use
All of the control rings are in the same spot as my 24-70mm (which is a big selling point)
Smaller lens hood
Less $, but this is the last thing I worried about honestly
about 1" shorter when standing

However, when it came to picture quality, I noticed the F2.8 have better looking images - in Best Buy lower lighting anyway - the only place I could find to actually test the two lenses.
I also sometimes shoot lowlight things like poker games, concerts, etc. Tough decision since I never left the house with my 70-200 EF since it didn't fit in my bag and was far too heavy to carry around.

End verdict, I went with the F2.8. The image differences were small, but especially in a competitive photography market, clean images win. Hobbyist/daylight shooters it may be a small enough difference to pay the extra and have the weight caveat, but when comparing the images to each other, go with the F2.8 if you're a pro. Both of these lenses though are an exciting upgrade from the EF tank.

I'd say, if you're still on the fence, just know both lenses take great photos, but if you are looking for mostly form factor go with the F4 if you are looking more for absolute best image quality, go f2.8.

Ryan Hartford's picture

Great video. Really enjoyed it and made me excited to leave my apartment and look for a waterfall and mountain to photograph.

břetislav ševčík's picture

Konečně někdo napsal ne samé technické parametry objektivu, ale na co ho používá a jak. Výborný článek který mi pomohl se rozhodnout na jaké objektivy se mám jako začínající krajinář zaměřit. Díky moc. Super!!!