Side by side of 'L' versus non-L?

Discussion in 'Canon EOS' started by jto1, May 22, 2010.

  1. I'm not a pro, so dropping $1,000+ on a lens like the Canon 70-200mm f/4 L is a big stretch for me.
    That being said, like most photographers, I want to get the best technical image quality that I can out of my rig and my photographic efforts. With Canon, that means moving to 'L' lenses eventually.
    I currently shoot a Canon 7D with a Tamron 17-35, Canon 28-135, and Canon 70-300.
    Even when I shot these lenses with my older 10D and 30D, I never felt that they were as sharp as I would like them to be, which is to be expected since they're mid quality lenses. For example, the 70-300 is REALLY soft at the long end. Certainly on the 7D I've seen this even more, as the 7D easily exposes the flaws in these lenses.
    They've been to Tamron and Canon for calibration and only one of the two Canon lenses came back from Canon with an AF tweak done to it. I've run the AF micro adjust procedure at this link:
    ...and the lenses are supposedly spot on with regard to auto focus, so this is not the issue. I can't manually focus these lenses better than the AF is doing.
    I would like to upgrade these lenses to higher quality Canon 'L' glass some day soon, but I would really like to first be able to see the incremental quality improvement that I would get from a costly move like this.
    My question: Does anyone know of a web site that has done comprehensive side-by-side comparisons of something like the Canon 70-300 versus the 70-200 f/4 L at a given focal length so I can see, for example, what the 70-300 does at 200mm versus the 70-200 at 200mm? Etc, etc, etc...
    Just curious, as I have not been able to track down a site like this yet.
  2. Like this?
    Roll your mouse over the image to compare the 70-200/4 to the 70-300 IS, at 200mm.
  3. I love being able to compare using charts... now remember at the 200mm point, in the comparison you have you are comparing the 70-200/4 at f4 and the 70-300 at f5... if you set them at the same speed, the differences speak for themselves in my opinion.
    PS you can pick up a 70-200 F4 non-is for around $500 used.
  4. Alan,
    Thanks! A tool like this is exactly what I was looking for. Mousing over a few examples on that page clearly begins to answer my question and I will spend more time utilizing the samples to sort this out for myself.
    If anyone else knows of sites like this, please keep them coming.
  5. I would have pointed you to the same site as Alan did. For what it is worth, I'll tell you what I came up with after reading lots of reviews and users' comments. There are a number of cases where you can get optical quality pretty close to L level without spending anywhere nearly the cash. However, telephoto zooms appear NOT to be one of those cases. I finally decided to bite the bullet and buy the 70-200 f/4.0 IS. I simply could not find a substantially cheaper lens that comes close.
  6. If anyone else knows of sites like this, please keep them coming.​
    The-Digital-Picture is the site for such comparison: the target shot pages are invaluable. Great for thorough reviews and comparison too!
  7. The 70-300 is not a bad lens. Sure it is not in the same league as the 70-200 (either is or non is version; btw you can save $500 by going with the non-is version and while absolute mtf is a little weaker than the is version it has a very nice look).
    Anyways I would focus more on replacing the 28-135 which is really a very so so lens. If you do decide to replace the 70-300 there are several 70-200 for sale in the classified (to be honest and not misleading; I have one for sale listed in the ads). Anyways MTF is not everything; nor is absolute sharpness. Btw the 70-300 drops off quite a bit after 200; and while the 70-200+1.4x is a bit better then that 70-300@300 they are reasonably close in practice @200.
    Btw do you have the current IS version of the70-300? I forget how many versions of 70/75-300 lenses canon made over the years but the earlier version were very very soft relative to the current version.
  8. Alan,
    My apologies. I mistyped above. It's the 75-300 IS from around 2003/2004. Yes, I've heard the same thing about softness on early versions of this lens. I expected that going in when I bought it, but now that I'm working more with my photography, printing larger, etc, this lens is really showing its faults.
    My understanding is that the more recent 70-300 IS was a nice improvement over the one I have. It was a bummer that it came out about three months after I bought the 75-300.
    You'll find interactive blur, CA, and distortion charts there. Do a product search, click on the charts you see, in order to open the interactive charts. Have fun.
    I'm surprised in the mouse-over images that the 70-300 did as badly in the corners as it did -- even at f/8!
    Factors to consider that rarely get mentioned, forgetting the "L" on one of the lenses:
    The 70-200 is longer -- MUCH longer. It can get awkward to carry it at times, and you'll probably need to factor in the additional cost of a new bag or two. FWIW, I like my Lowepro Toploader Pro75AW holster bag, which I bought just for this lens. I have to unmount the lens to stash it away in anything else I have.
    The 70-200 has internal focus and zoom, as well as moisture/dust seals, so it makes a MUCH better lens for humid or dusty air. (It doesn't draw moist/dusty air through the camera body when you operate it.) I would contrast this, for instance, to a 24-105L, which also has moisture/dust seals, but which has a telescoping barrel. That lens still draws moisture and dust through the camera body when focused and zoomed. In fact I drew quite a lot of dust into my 5D with that lens when photographing a horse, only a week after I bought my 5D + 24-105!
    Personally, if I weren't a pro and could choose my shooting conditions, I'd have a hard time forking over the extra $$$ for the 70-200, knowing that the 70-300 is almost as good optically.
    Regarding the 28-135: This isn't a well respected lens, but I think that's because it's so ubiquitous. I don't like the ergonomics of the lens, and it's rather bulky for what it is, but it's actually very good optically -- one of the better consumer zooms. I bought one in 2004 and had very experiences with it. My 24-105L is better, of course.
    Before you blame softness on the optics, first check your shooting technique. Do your images become much sharper when you shoot at very fast shutter speeds (e.g. 1/1000 and upwards)? If so, your holding technique might be faulty, or your tripod might be flimsy. Is it a back-focus issue? Search that term, and test your body/lens combo for that possible problem. Is the softness a wide-open aperture sort of thing? If so, close up the aperture a couple of stops to see if you're happy with what you get. (All lenses are worse wide open -- higher end lenses less so.) Lastly, do you sharpen your images in postprocessing? The razor sharp images many people show are often skillfull sharpened and more often oversharpened. If you've ruled out all these factors and still can't get sharp images, then it may be your optics. However, I got a lot of very sharp images from my old 10D, 28-135, and even my old/awful 75-300IS (predecessor to the much better 70-300IS).
  10. Thanks for the site Sarah.
    I've eliminated technique from this. I did a set of carefully set up tripod tests with remote trigger, mirror lockup, etc. I've also run focus tests, manually focused, etc. I can't get these lenses to focus better. At this point it's just a sharpness and quality issue of these lenses at this price point.
    I'm not comparing my photos to people's photos on the web, because I agree with you that they've often been (over) sharpened and that's not a fair comparison.
    Don't get me wrong.....I get good photos out of my rig, I'm just expecting more now that I'm getting more demanding with my photography.
    There are other reasons for upgrading to 'L'. #1 on my list is the mediocre build of the Canon plastic barrel lenses. The zoom rings almost always have a slight binding in them somewhere along the zoom range, and try as they might, Canon has not been able to fully eliminate that issue from these mid range zooms. I would expect, and would certainly hope, that 'L' lenses have zoom rings that are as smooth as silk.
    So, there are a variety of reasons this has become an issue for me these days, but for the most part it's that I know there's better quality to be had out there and I just want to get an understanding of how good it can be and whether or not I want to spend a lot of money to get it.
  11. Sounds like what you want from a lens is what the L line strives to deliver -- especially the build quality issues. I do find the binding issues in some consumer lenses (especially my 28-135) very annoying, and yes, the zoom/focus mechanisms in the L lenses are MUCH better. I find the 70-200/4IS very ergonomic, although the focus ring does seem a bit distant at times. It's generally a very comfortable and intuitive lens. It's definitely worth your exploring. I'll mention that the differences between consumer and L construction can be less pronounced in a prime lens (depending on the lens). One of the defining criteria of an L lens has to do with certain optical elements that are often unneccessary in a prime. My 100/2, for instance, might just as well have a red ring around the front, apart from its lack of moisture/dust seals (which some of the L lenses also lack).
    I'd offer one last word of advice: Try before you buy. You can rent an L lens, borrow it, or even mount one up to your body and take a few test shots at a good camera store. Open the images up on your computer, and see if the L lenses deliver what you're after.
    Good luck!
  12. I found it a hard choice. According to the stats here,, the 4.0L IS is only 9mm (16%) longer than the 70-300 and 75g (12%) heavier. When I tried one, I was struck by how light it is. (the 2.8 is another beast entirely.) The 70-300 lacks ring USM (hence it lacks full-time manual focusing and has slower AF), is not parfocal, and has a rotating front element. On the other hand, it costs only half as much as the L lens, and the test results seem OK until above 200mm.
  13. John. I have a 12 year old 70-200 2.8L non IS that I still use on a regular basis after thousands of pictures of all kinds, weddings, sports, wildlife etc. After some rough use, including being dropped on concrete, it still looks and operates as the day I bought it. I would check KEH for a used one. They take trades. I would say the same thing for the f4L if you wanted to pay less. I have IS on two other L lenses(100-400 and 24-105) and although I find it useful I certainly don't think it essential. I ran a photo business for several years using manual focus MF and Canon EOS without IS. I had a 70-300 IS that I got rid of because it was too slow and too soft. A lot depends upon what type of photography you do. When I worked for a newspaper I could get away with a 35-70 3.5-4.5 in good light but couldn't for night sports where the 70-200 was essential for me to keep my job. I also had to go to a 28-70 2.8L for dim light ISO 3200 shots. I appreciate the sharpness and color provided by L lenses but more important for me as one who believes strongly that the photographer is far more important than the equipment is the durability and ruggedness of L lenses. I am not one for scanning charts trying to divine IQ. What I know is that my Bronicas and Canon pro gear made money for me and produced satisfied editors and customers. The 70-200L is simply the best long term investment I could have made in 1997. I am going to keep it until it or I fall apart.
  14. Thanks everyone for your replies so far. Your insight is appreciated.
    This has been a good thread because not only did I get the answer for the lens testing site, I got a lot of 'L' shooter feedback as well! :)
    I will follow the advice of mounting these lenses in a store and taking some tripod test shots side-by-side with my current lenses and then checking them at home.
    Over the next month or so I'm going to put together my wish list to replace the three lenses that I currently own mentioned at the top of this thread. I hope that they're the last lenses that I have to buy for a long time because I don't want to spend any more money on this.
    At the top of the list for the long range is the 70-200 f/4 L. I would like to get an ultra-wide EF-S 'L' zoom for the 7D APS-C sensor, but unfortunately Canon doesn't make EF-S 'L' lenses...........yet. Maybe they will some day. So for wide I'll probably get the 17-40 f/4 L. Then I just need something for that middle range......not sure what to get there. Have to think more on this.
  15. John,
    The 10-22 EFS is generally regarded as equal in quality & construction to other L lenses. You won't be disappointed in its IQ and build.
  16. John:
    I used to own a 30D that came w/ the 28-135 IS kit lens. Like you, I wanted to step up a notch and chose the 70-200 F4 IS zoom. I was impressed with just the improvement in contrast and color through the viewfinder, much less the images that combination produced.
    Those first few shots certainly brought a smile to my face and made the cost far more bearable. ;) The 30D and 28 - 135 were traded in on a new camera, but the 70 - 200 is still in the bag.
  17. John - the 17-55 is considered to be better quality image than the 17-40, but then again it costs 2/3 the price and is smaller/lighter. It does not have the weather sealing of the 17-40 but otherwise seems quite robust in my experience and due to its longer top end I found it the better 'walkaround' lens on my 30D. So the choice on payoff is one only you can make.
    I have a gap between my 17-55 and 70-300 and don't miss it but if you find yourself chaning lenses too often in that range then my midrange lens choice would probably be the 24-105 (notiwwithsanding Sarah's comments) due to the longer top end and IS compared to the 24-70.
  18. Robert and Mike....
    Good suggestions. Two good lenses for me to consider.
    Since I do general photography, I want to ensure that I have the true full focal range from about 17-200mm covered somehow (preferably without gaps) using the higher quality EF-S and/or EF 'L' lenses considering that I'm shooting with a 1.6x 7D. I would ideally like to keep my bag down to three good zooms to cover the range, which I believe is possible to do.
  19. I'm glad you clarified that you had the 75-300 rather than the 70-300, because when I saw your original post, I thought WHAT? The 70-300mm and the 75-300mm which you have are far different lenses.
    I have regular use of a 70-200 f/4 non-IS and I find that my 70-300mm lens IS even better than that lens for a couple of reasons. One is that image stabilization is absolutely required in many cases, especially when I'm zoomed. Another is that the extra 100 mm on a crop sensor camera is actually 160mm, meaning it is the difference between gettting and not getting that shot at the zoo (and my 70-300 retains pretty good clarity at 300mm). There are times when the 70-200 comes through with amazing shots, but most of those are in bright light, which I don't always have. In addition, the slight weight difference between the two lenses makes me more likely to carry the 70-300 at the zoo.
    Bob Atkins, in one of his reviews of the 70-300mm, referred to it as stealth L-glass, or something like that.
    If I were you, before buying, I'd rent both the 70-200 that you want and the 70-300. You may find that the 70-300 gives you a better bang for your buck.
  20. You don't need side by sides to know that the 70-200mm is a better lens. A side by side may help with seeing slight differences in IQ, but there is more to a lens that just IQ. The 70-200mm is in another league than the 70-300mm. One major improvement for me is the AF speed. Most things I shoot at long focal lengths are moving, such as wildlife or sports, and require fast AF to get the best shots or to even get them at all. The AF of the 70-300mm can search quite a bit, while the 70-200mm is almost instant. Another plus for the 70-200mm is the internal focus; the lens never changes length throughout the focal range. The build quality is also better, the glass is superior, and its white, so you may be able to get more access to certain events. I wouldn't even worry about seeing a side by side comparison; get the 70-200mm with no hesitation and you'll never look back. Also, I would sell the 28-135mm. Since you have the 17-35mm and will have 70-200mm covered, I'd get a 50mm f/1.8 for $100 to fill the gap. Definitely a great way to get excellent IQ without breaking the bank.

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