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Lenses and Optics

MTF Tests for the Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS II Lens

Back in the day, and it was way back, my first “L” lens was the Canon 70-200mm f/4L, which I chose primarily because it was a bit sharper and a lot cheaper than the 70-200mm f/4L IS. I moved on years ago. Those lenses were good back then, and perhaps adequate for quite a while, but didn’t have a lot going for them on high-resolution cameras.

Canon 70-200mm f/4 MTF Test

I was pleased Canon finally released the Canon 70-200 f/4L IS II; the lens was badly in need of an update, and I like the smaller size of the f/4 as a travel zoom. The price seems, well, fully valued, but not out of bounds (at $1,300). A modern IS unit is a big plus, the older version claimed 3-stops of IS but probably delivered half of that. But mostly I wanted to know if the optics had improved because testing optics is what I do. So let’s do that.

Canon 70-200 f/4 IS II MTF graphs

MTF

70mm

Performance is quite good at 70mm, especially at the higher frequencies (blue and purple lines) that high-resolution sensors resolve. As zooms do, it fades in the outer 1/4 of the image, but it’s excellent up to that point.

Olaf Optical Testing, 2018

135mm

Performance is even better at 135mm, especially in the outer areas of the image.

Olaf Optical Testing, 2018

200mm

At the long end, center performance, while still good, isn’t quite as good as at the shorter distances. Outer areas of the image remain strong, though.

Olaf Optical Testing, 2018

MTF Comparisons

Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS II vs. Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS

This is the critical comparison, where we find out how much improvement Canon has made optically in 13 odd years.

70mm

The improvement is clear and quite dramatic at 70mm. From the center of the image out to 2/3 of the way to the edge the difference will be easily noticeable.

Olaf Optical Testing, 2018

135mm

The old version was weakest at 70mm and does better at 135mm. The difference is still quite apparent, though with the new one having higher resolution across the image and also less astigmatism-like separation of tangential and sagittal lines.

Olaf Optical Testing, 2018

200mm

At 200mm right in the center things are pretty close, and I doubt you’d notice the difference in the center of a photograph at 200mm. The new version maintains its sharpness further out, and again, has a lot less astigmatism-like separation. Away from center I think the difference will be readily apparent.

Olaf Optical Testing, 2018

Optically, then, the new Canon is better than the last version at all focal lengths, but most dramatically so at 70mm.

Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS II vs. Canon 70-200 f/2.8 IS II at f/2.8

This is a comparison I make when deciding about a lens because I have 1) reasonable expectations and 2) do not believe in magic. If I can get smaller, lighter and cheaper giving up one stop of light and get at least equal image quality, then the lens has a use for me.

The summary is easy; at all focal lengths, the f/4 at f/4 is a bit sharper than the f/2.8 at f/2.8. If we shot them both at f/4, then the bigger, more expensive lens would, indeed, be slightly better. But the f/4 is plenty good.

70mm

Olaf Optical Testing, 2018

135mm

Olaf Optical Testing, 2018

200mm

Olaf Optical Testing, 2018

Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS II vs. Sony FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS

Of course, this is mostly ammunition for those wanting to have Fanboy wars, but I do know a fair number of people mostly shooting adapted Canon lenses on Sony FE cameras, so it has some real-world implications. In this case, well, there’s some good reason to shoot the new Canon zoom on your high-resolution Sony camera; the Sony 70-200mm f4G OSS is just not a great lens.

I’m not going to make any other comments because Sony Fanboys (who have pulled ahead of m4/3 and Leica Fanboys as the most strongly opinionated on the internet) will be pulling out their conspiracy theories as usual and I always enjoy reading those.

70mm

Olaf Optical Testing, 2018

135mm

Olaf Optical Testing, 2018

200mm

Olaf Optical Testing, 2018

 

Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS II vs. Nikon 70-200mm f/4G AF-S VR

This really isn’t Fanboy fodder; Nikon shooters seem to be pretty logical about things and don’t take it as a personal affront to their ideology when one of their lenses isn’t the-best-ever-MTF. I was curious about this, though, because despite being a 5-year-old design, the Nikon 70-200 f/4 G remains a very popular lens; arguably the best of the 70-200mm f/4 offerings up until now, especially at the 70mm end.

70mm

There’s a difference here, but the Nikon hangs closer to the new Canon at 70mm than any of the other options.

Olaf Optical Testing, 2018

135mm

There’s a bit more difference at 135mm, but the Nikon is still performing admirably.

Olaf Optical Testing, 2018

200mm

The Nikon is at its weakest at 200mm, and the difference here is more significant.

Olaf Optical Testing, 2018

Field Curvature

With the lens being both f/4 and telephoto, we would expect field curvature to be fairly minimal, and that is indeed the case. I was curious about the 70mm end; it’s impossible to tell from the MTF curve alone whether the lens is truly getting softer at the edges or if the field is curved enough to pull down the MTF.

70mm

The 70mm MTF versus Field versus Focus graphs show that in the Sagittal plane (lower left) there is very gentle field curvature, but softening at the edge of the image. The Tangential plane (lower right) softens more but has a pretty significant curvature in the outer 1/3 of the image. Basically, do as you will, the very edges of the image at 70mm are going to be astigmatic and softer. It’s a zoom, after all.

Olaf Optical Testing, 2018

200mm

At 200mm the Sagittal field is quite flat and not softening at the edges. (This copy has a slightly tilted field, but again, it’s a zoom and this is what zooms do.) The Tangential plane is now curving in the opposite direction, although less severely than it did at 70mm.

Olaf Optical Testing, 2018

145mm

I tried to guess where the field would flatten out. Given the MTF curves I thought it would be a little past the 135mm so I did the MTF v Field v Focus test at 145mm. I was close; shooting around 140m to 150mm would be the best focal length to achieve edge-to-edge sharpness. I have no idea if anyone cares, I just wanted to try some sciencey stuff.

Olaf Optical Testing, 2018

The bottom line is that the field curvature isn’t severe, except at the outer edges of the image, particularly at 70mm. You’re not going to be able to do a lot about the softening that is going to occur right at the edges. It’s not severe, but it will be noticeable.

Variation (I saved the best for last)

We did measure the variation of 10 copies at each focal length. Zooms, of course, tend to have a lot more variation than primes so we’re usually expecting some ugliness at one focal length, usually the long end.

70mm

Olaf Optical Testing, 2018

135mm

Olaf Optical Testing, 2018

200mm

Olaf Optical Testing, 2018

The quick summary is these are simply outstandingly consistent from copy-to-copy; the least variance of any zoom we’ve ever tested. f/4 lenses have less variance than wider apertures, and telephoto lenses tend to have less variance, so we expected it to be good. But this is far less variance than any of the other 70-200mm f/4 lenses (including previous Canon lenses) we’ve tested, and it’s really not close.

We hear Canon is doing a lot more automation and robotic assembly than other manufacturers. This lens suggests that stuff is working. Kind of makes you want to tear one apart and look inside, doesn’t it? Somebody should do that.

Conclusion

It’s really, really good. It’s extremely consistent with low sample variation. Optically it’s everything I hoped for. Actual reviews are starting to trickle in, and if the IS and autofocus are as improved as the optics, this should be a home run for Canon.

 

Roger Cicala and Aaron Closz

Lensrentals.com

August, 2018

Author: Roger Cicala

I’m Roger and I am the founder of Lensrentals.com. Hailed as one of the optic nerds here, I enjoy shooting collimated light through 30X microscope objectives in my spare time. When I do take real pictures I like using something different: a Medium format, or Pentax K1, or a Sony RX1R.

Posted in Lenses and Optics
  • I agree. I wouldn’t want to be too serious. πŸ™‚

  • Renaud Saada

    Roger,
    Thanks as usual for this work. It’s a pleasure reading your article (even for a French reader).
    I believe there is a mistake in the field curvature graphs: the title is f.2.8 L IS II and not f.4 L IS II.
    Another question: is the tripod collar the same size as the previous one (and also the 2.8/200)?
    I think so, the difference probably being in the colour.
    Renaud

  • Michael Clark

    What if Canon has applied many of the same manufacturing techniques included in the new EF 70-200mm f/4 L IS II to the soon to be released EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS III?

    Until the lens is released how do we know they haven’t?

    Better copy-to-copy consistency with the same theoretical optical formula means more samples of the lens are “good copies” and far fewer are “marginal” or “bad” copies. Overall, that should make the lens more desirable to many buyers than the older version.

    It seems, based on what Roger has shown us recently with several of their new lenses, that Canon has improved the optical quality of their latest offerings based on manufacturing techniques that give better consistency from sample to sample rather than from improving theoretical optical formulae. They’ve also seemed to make the lenses in a way that increases the chances that they will remain in that closer-to-theoretical alignment during real world usage.

    One can have the best optical formula conceivable, but if you miss the mark by too much during the manufacturing process, it does no good to have a better formula.

    Conversely, if one manages to improve the manufacturing process to the point that actual lenses are closer to the theoretical optical formula and copy-to-copy consistency is improved significantly, then the entire body of lenses produced will demonstrate better optical performance *using the same optical formula*.

  • PictureBox

    Would be much more serious without these comments about certain camera user groups that are simply unnecessary..

  • Chris Wunz

    Came here, having totally dyslexically mis-read the title, expecting a review of MFT (M43) adapters for the 70-200…
    Oh well, great info none-the-less!

  • Alan

    Worth checking at least one lens. There were big differences between the new and previous Leica Summicron 35 despite having the same formula:

    http://www.streetsilhouettes.com/home/2016/7/9/leica-35mm-summicron-asph-i-vs-ii-24mp-vs-42mp-resolution-test

  • Abimanyu Boentaran

    How about against the 100-400mm L mk2 at 100 to 200mm?

  • Abimanyu Boentaran

    I do not share my beautiful photos of my special places because of instagramers twitterians netizens douche that will tell others about the places and ruin those places for me.selfish who cares.DARE NOT TO SHARE.

  • Matti6950 .

    I have my Nikon 70-200 F4 a lot on travel and the real life images, had amazing sharpness to them (the sharpest among any zoom i own. In fact at F8 i (wich i use like all the time), i think the Expensive FL ED will barely, if any do better. Nice to see Canon stepping up game, and improving it a little. For how old it is and what i payed (930 euro’s, now like 1450 euro), I love my nikon lens and no regrets. Handling, VR, AF are stil amazing (especially VR, man dunno what magic nikon put in this lens, but it’s the most impressive VR among any lens i own.)

    Hope canon users will get same pleasure using this lens when they travel.

  • Seeing as the 70-200 f/4’s are oft chosen by landscape photographers who spend days or weeks at a time shooting f/11 or f/16, I’d love to know just how big the difference is between the old lens and the new one at those apertures, on say a ~30-42 megapixel sensor.

    Personally though when it comes to landscapes in the daytime, I’ve always felt like the price-sharpness-zoom-weight ratios weren’t good enough for me with the 70-200 f/4’s; I’d usually rather compromise a little bit more on sharpness, and save both money and weight while gaining a bit of zoom- the black sheep of “serious” landscape photography, the variable aperture 70-300 option…

  • iKonOkLasT

    Your mission should you choose to accept it, Nikon…

  • Athanasius Kirchner

    I’ve always wanted to see the MTF for that lens too. There’s way too much conflicting information on the internet about it.

  • DrJon

    Thanks, that would be interesting if it ever gets a slot. On FF (and this is just geek curiosity, don’t take it too seriously) could you offset a lens T/L then B/R and so cover more area, although I’m only suggesting for a single “representative” lens as I get it’s twice the work then some software. Plus I can see why that would be way too much of a pain software-wise if nothing else. Although if the new Nikon and Canon FF mirrorless have IBIS… πŸ™‚

  • Interesting thought. We could do it with m4/3, just making the field a bit different. But with FF the maximum of the bench is 40mm one side to the other so we can’t go outside a FF image circle.

  • DrJon

    No problem, was just a thought…
    BTW any chance of getting lenses tested further out in the image circle, to work out how badly IBIS might screw up one edge/corner of the image? My Panasonic 12-60 f2.8-4 can have one edge (L or R) somewhat fall off a cliff if the IBIS moves the sensor too far that way, but is great if it doesn’t.

  • I haven’t tested it; since the optics didn’t change I don’t expect to see a difference. I wouldn’t be surprised if the variance is smaller. Reality is it’s a week long commitment of me and a very expensive machine to do a full set of 70-200 lenses for variance and it’s just lower on my priority list right now.

  • Next week I hope.

  • Sorry, I’ll redo those. A glitch in the naming part of the software. I redid titles on the other graphs and forgot to fix those.

  • Wayne Young

    So you see no need to change?
    I like to see your photo-stream, really.

  • DrJon

    Seems a very iffy conclusion to me… Sony fanboys moving ahead of m43 fanboys… hmmm….
    Really nice lens though.
    Pity there’s no way to characterise the 70-200 f2.8 III lens advances over the II – the optics being the same and things like coating changes perhaps (??!!??) won’t show up in your tests? Might be interesting to see if the variance has come down noticeably as that might persuade people to go with the III.

  • GulliNL

    “Kind of makes you want to tear one apart and look inside, doesn’t it? Somebody should do that.”

    Uhuh. Sooo…. when are we going to see the article about that? πŸ˜€

  • AK83

    Always look forward to your tests(and commentary) Roger.
    But just a note: in the comparo with the Canon f/2.8 lens, the title in the f/4 lens graphs all say @135mm.

    Judging via the graphs are obviously for the respective focal lengths(ie. 70, 135 and 200mm) just the titles are incorrectly stated.

  • l_d_allan

    FWIW:
    I’ve speculated that the older, lower-priced non-IS Canon EF 70-200 f/4 (or f/2.8) would work well adapted to a Sony a7x2 mirrorless with IBIS (2nd or 3rd gen bodies).
    But ? Some older Canon EOS lenses don’t necessarily work well with adapters.

  • Chris Jankowski

    Roger,

    You mentioned the use of the lens as a travel zoom due to small size.
    There is another zoom in Canon L range perfect for lightweight travel: Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM
    As the main application domains of the two zooms are the same, could I gently ask you to publish MTF graph side-by-side comparisons of the two for 70, 135 and 200 mm fully open, please?
    This would be very useful, I think.

    Thanks and regards,
    Chris

  • obican

    Roger Cicala (from Lensrentals) says Sony has clearly pulled ahead of other manufacturers (Amazon link here).

  • Adam Sanford

    Oh, we who own the 70-200 f/2.8L IS II — we’re just left to wonder how nice a true sequel Mk III would have been.

    But at least our paint matches now. πŸ˜›

  • Adam Sanford

    If you need f/2.8, stay with the f/2.8. If you have back pain, consider the f/4 instead. πŸ™‚

    Unless you’re shooting on a 5DS R, I’d be stunned if you could tell a difference between these two lenses when both are shot at f/4.

  • That’s another lens that’s aged really well, especially if you mostly stay in the center like sports or portrait photographers tend to, it’s still a really good lens.

  • Shaun O’Boyle

    My Canon 70-200 f/4 L non is (purchased in 2000!) is still one of the best lenses I have and use on a Sony A7R2 system. It beat all the Sony zooms I tried to date, so I stopped trying to fight it and just went with it. A great lens still at 18 years old.

  • So what you’re saying is that it might be time to upgrade my original Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L relic then?

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