by Joseph LaQuiere

"Declaring the glory of God
through photography of His created world"
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  copyright 2007 by Joseph LaQuiere
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Canon 70-200 f/2.8L IS  vs  70-200mm f/2.8L non IS
Dear (reader),

I would be happy to give you my comments about the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 lens and your question about the IS version.  First let me say that I have a number of IS lenses and I am a great fan of the IS technology. 

The 70-200
non IS has been one of the most enjoyable lenses for me to use and never fails to satisfy every time I use it.  It is superbly sharp and a very convenient focal length.  I find its main strengths are for the exact types of shooting that you have described.  Lots of indoor people work and it is especially good for candid shots to bring the viewer into the detail and emotion of the scene. I find it a great lens for portrait  photography and for family events, both indoor and outdoor.  I have used it to photograph candid photos during weddings (the kind that people appreciate most in years to come...the ones the hired glass doesn't get). With the fast 2.8 aperture and the ability to use high ISO it gives you wonderful opportunity to get some great shots without flash.  My family plays a lot of volleyball and it works great for that as well.

The 70-200 L lens is one of my most highly recommended and would be the hands down next lens to purchase after you have your basic focal length covered. (24-70 / 18-200 / 28-300 or some similar focal length)  There are a lot of choices of lower priced lenses for your "all purpose lens" including from Tamron and Sigma but if a person only has the ability to get one so called "Pro" lens the 70-200 L would be the best choice either the IS or the Non IS.

The IS (Image Stabilization) Question
Now about your question about the IS version this is how I see it. One big advantage to having  Image Stabilization is with extreme focal length lenses 400mm and up. The advantage here is two fold, the first being the obvious of gaining three stops which at 400 or 500mm can increase shutter speed enough to make a big difference.  The second advantage is that at such long focal lengths the subjects are usually smaller, wildlife, birds etc., and the IS helps the photographer greatly, in just a visual way, to see and compose the image because it virtually eliminates visible hand shake in the viewfinder. This benefit of IS technology while still helpful on the 70-200 is more important the longer the lens becomes.
The second main advantage for an IS lens is with static subjects under low light conditions. Architecture or landscapes, that are not effected by wind, are good examples.  Here Image Stabilization is useful in allowing one to use lower shutter speeds and produce a photograph that would otherwise have blur from camera/hand shake.   IS has little benefit in helping out in low light situations if the subject is moving.   There is a creative use for IS with subjects that are moving.  Because IS will allow you to use low shutter speeds, without blur on static subjects, you can choose a low shutter speed while avoiding blur in the background but one that will still show your subject with motion blur.  When trying to obtain the opposite effect, mode2 on the Canon IS lens,  can be somewhat helpful for panning with moving subjects i.e. bicyclist.  . Mode 2 shuts off stabilization horizontally but keeps it on for vertical motion.  This allows you to pan with a moving object while the IS will still work to keep vertical motion from effecting the image.  Since you are dealing with movement now of both the photographer and the subject I find IS only marginally helpful here and only in a narrow range of shutter speeds before it becomes ineffective, either because the shutter speed becomes too low to help in keeping the subject crisp or it is high enough even without IS to make it unnecessary.


In conclusion:

Image Stabilization  is most useful for static subjects to reduce blur from hand shake and camera movement at low shutter speeds and offers the most benefit in lenses of very long focal, length upwards of 400mm.  This is not to say that image stabilization is not desirable in shorter focal length lenses but simply to say that the greatest advantage lies with longer focal lengths.

The 70-200 L is a very fine lens, is it better with IS? Most definitely...but for the type of shooting that you have mentioned the IS would not be as helpful as the fast aperture for getting better shots.  You may find that the $700 cost difference would better serve you in some other gear, another lens or perhaps a 580EX flash; at any rate you get my point.  I do not think you could go wrong either way, if your pockets are deep enough by all means get the IS version but the 70-200 L without IS is still a GREAT lens.
Recently I upgraded from my venerable 70-200mm f/2.8 lens to the Image Stabilized version of this wonderful lens.  In the process of the sale I had someone ask me about my thoughts regarding these two lenses (the IS and non IS version)  I made a reply to them  in the form of this short note and thought I would post it here for others benefit.  After now having owned the 70-200 IS lens I have nothing to change in my thinking about these two lenses.  Perhaps my thoughts may  help in making a decision about the purchase of one of these lenses easier.

This is the question as it was asked:

"I shoot tons of sports, concerts, etc for my kids as well as a  lot of low light in church stuff.  I'm looking for a good pro-grade lens.  My question is should I hold out for a lens with IS or do you think this lens (the 70-200mm f/2.8 non IS) would be sufficient for most uses?"

August, 2006