The 70-200mm lens is a photography staple, found in pretty much every pro’s camera bag.
But what makes a 70-200mm lens so special? Why is it trusted in nearly every shooting scenario, from studio portraits to wildlife shoots in the heart of the Amazon? And do you really need a 70-200mm lens?
Let’s take a closer look at the power of this lens – and why you definitely want one in your bag!
Let’s start with the big reason for the 70-200mm lens’s success:
Pretty much every 70-200mm is a professional lens and features the latest in optical design and quality.
Perfected over the last 30 years, 70-200mm lenses tend to have excellent edge-to-edge sharpness, both wide-open and stopped down. They fend off chromatic aberration and flare while producing stunning, sharp, contrasty images shoot after shoot.
Short telephotos and wide-angle lenses are fantastic for wading into the action and capturing a wider perspective.
However, when it comes to certain subjects, shorter lenses can be, well, short.
Enter the 70-200mm lens.
The 70-200mm reach is perfect for so many situations. It allows you to focus on key subjects, crop out distracting elements in your frame, and just get closer to the action.
Plus, 200mm is long without being overkill. The focal length gives your subject space to move, while still offering the reach for those tight shots. It also allows you to be creative in new ways, giving you the option to focus on small details within a composition.
And the 70-200mm lens is also a fantastic choice for nature photographers who also have a passion for landscape photography. The focal length gives you the reach you need to pick out sections of a landscape, capture details within a smaller scene, and more. Plus, the standard-to-telephoto reach offers lots of flexibility when composing. At 70mm, you can create environmental shots, and at 200mm, you can compress a distant scene for a flattering perspective.
Large maximum aperture
There are two types of 70-200mm lenses:
The 70-200mm f/2.8.
And the 70-200mm f/4.
Now, the 70-200mm f/4 offers a decently-wide aperture, one that you can use for nice backgrounds and (in some cases) acceptable low-light shooting.
But the 70-200mm f/2.8 takes this a step further, and the wide aperture is a key reason why so many pros love it.
Let’s take a closer look at the reasons why an f/2.8 maximum aperture is so great:
Benefits of an f/2.8 maximum aperture
The first benefit is the bokeh (i.e., the out-of-focus areas around your subject).
If you shoot at f/2.8, you’ll create images with a very narrow depth of field. Much of the background and foreground will drop into mushy, out-of-focus goodness – and this, in turn, will keep the viewer’s attention on your main subject.
In other words:
The large aperture, combined with the telephoto focal length, really allows for the rendering of wonderful out-of-focus elements. It gives images a truly dreamy quality, like in the example below:
A second benefit of the wide-open aperture is the low-light performance. An f/2.8 aperture lets in far more light than slower (e.g., f/4 or f/5.6) alternatives, giving the camera more light to work with.
That way, when the light starts to fade, you can still get sharp shots at a reasonable shutter speed – without needing to push your ISO.
Here’s a final benefit of the fast aperture:
The brightness it brings to the viewfinder.
If you use a DSLR, the optical viewfinder brightness will depend on the size of your lens’s maximum aperture. And if you haven’t used fast lenses before, you’ll quickly fall in love with the viewfinder brightness of a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens.
It might not sound like a big deal. But being able to see your composition better allows you to carefully select what you want in and out of the frame. And this makes for superior compositions and better images overall!
When working with fast-paced action, speed is essential…
…and most 70-200mm lenses won’t disappoint.
The autofocus generally locks onto subjects in the blink of an eye (something that certainly can’t be said for all telephoto lenses!).
Ultimately, the speed of a 70-200mm lens’s autofocusing makes photographing moving subjects ten times easier; that way, you can think about composing your shots, rather than getting frustrated by a lens that won’t focus.
Size and weight
Some people think the 70-200mm is a large lens.
And 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses do tend to be big, though 70-200mm f/4 bodies are actually pretty reasonable in size.
Regardless, weight and size do have their advantages. For one, the longer lens barrel provides for good placement of the controls, so that the large zoom and focus ring are spaced out on the lens’s barrel.
The length sometimes also allows for the inclusion of a tripod collar. This keeps the lens balanced when working with a tripod – and it also lowers the stress on the bayonet mount between the camera and lens.
A larger lens also lends itself to comfortable handholding. The wider barrel fits well in the hand, with the weight of the lens counterbalancing the camera body.
And modern versions of the 70-200mm lens include image stabilization (VR, IS, and OS), which further improves sharpness when shooting handheld and also prevents camera shake problems caused by such a large body.
(Note that optical stabilization systems help to reduce camera shake by several stops, so you can still work handheld with sharp results even when the light gets low.)
70-200mmm f/2.8 lenses are designed to be used by professionals. Therefore, you can expect tank-like construction. These lenses are built to last, even when abused day in and day out.
And while 70-200mm f/4 lenses don’t always offer build quality on par with 70-200mm f/2.8 glass, they can still handle their fair share of tough conditions, too.
I’ve had my 70-200mm lens for many years, and I’ve worked with it in rain, snow, freezing conditions, and the jungle. In all that time, it’s never skipped a beat. It’s rugged and reliable, just as you want a working tool to be!
70-200mm f/2.8 lenses are designed to work with teleconverters, which fit between the camera and lens and magnify the image for a greater telephoto effect.
A 70-200mm lens, when paired with a 1.4x teleconverter, becomes a 105-300mm equivalent. When paired with a 2.0x teleconverter, it turns into a whopping 140-400mm lens!
This can be very handy if you need some extra reach but don’t want to invest in a super-telephoto lens.
Why you need a 70-200mm lens: Final words
The 70-200mm lens is a worthy piece of kit – one that should be part of every photographer’s camera bag.
It offers top optics, a fast aperture, excellent speed, impressive ergonomics, and strong weatherproofing.
It’s built to last.
Yes, 70-200mm lenses are expensive – especially 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses – but they’re a long-term investment, one that every photographer should think about making.
You certainly won’t regret it!
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