Podcast 236 : The EF 70-200mm F2.8L IS II USM Lens with Extenders

by | Mar 29, 2010 | Gear, Podcast, Review | 19 comments

Last week, I released a review of the new Canon EF 70-200mm F2.8L IS II USM lens, and was asked how the version II of Canon’s workhorse lens fairs with Canon’s Extenders (teleconverters)? I’m pleased the reader/listener asked quickly, as I sold this lens on Saturday, but before I took it to the store to which I sold it, I did a few more tests, but with the converters attached this time, so today I’m going to share those results with you as well.

I would like to remind you before we start that these tests take a lot of time and effort, so if you intend to buy this lens and you shop with B&H, please use the link at the bottom of the post, which although does not affect the amount you pay in any way, will send a little commission my way, to help offset the costs of doing these reviews and Web site fees etc. In fact, if you buy anything from B&H, clicking through from the tile here on my blog will earn me a little commission. It’s a great way to help out without digging into your own pockets. If do you want to help out, but don’t shop at B&H, although I rarely mention this, there are donation buttons to the right here on my blog and on my Podcasts page. This Podcast and Blog will essentially always be free, but people have asked for donation buttons in the past, so I made them available. Note too that I add the name of people that are kind enough to make donations to my Thanks page.

ISO 12233 Resolution Test Chart
ISO 12233 Resolution Test Chart

So, I was really pleased that I was reminded to test the new Version II 70-200mm lens, before I sold it on, as I used to use mine with the 1.4X Extender regularly, with my old 5D. It was partly because I could use the old 70-200 with the 1.4X Extender that I sold my old 100-400mm lens. I’d not taken both out with me since 2006. I stopped using the 70-200mm with the Extender though, once I upgraded to the 1Ds Mark III and the 5D Mark II at 21MP, they basically out-resolved the old 70-200mm F2.8 lens even without the Extender, so it goes without saying that images using the 1.4X Extender were just not usable. It was because of this that I’d failed to think of this combination when I did my original tests, but I was pleasantly surprised by the results I found on Saturday morning.

Again, I used the ISO 12233 Resolution Test Chart that I downloaded from Cornell University’s Web site. I tested both the 1.4X Extender and the 2.0X Extender, but I only tested at 200mm with the 2.0X Extender. This was partly because of time, but also because it’s safe to assume that people probably have both Extenders, or just the 1.4X and would only use the 2.0X Extender when you really need the extra reach. I know that if I didn’t need to get out to 400mm, or just short of it, I would probably reach for the 1.4X Extender.

Again, I created some animated GIF files to show you the difference between the two lenses. The first one here shows the center of images shot at 70mm, or 98mm with the 1.4X magnification, 115mm or 160mm with the Extender and 200mm, which of course becomes 280mm with the Extender fitted. All of the images here were shot wide open, at F4, which is the widest aperture available when using the 1.4X Extender.

Also note that I moved back a little when shooting at each of the focal lengths, to fill the frame with the chart, but could only move back so far because of my kitchen wall, so the resulting images are not an accurate representation of the relative magnification of the Extenders.

70-200mm Version II - All Focal Lengths @ F4
70-200mm Version I and II – All Focal Lengths @ F4

You can see that there is a big difference between the old version and the new version of this lens, when shooting with the 1.4X Extender fitted. At the extremes of the focal length, 98mm to 280mm, the lens is still extremely sharp, even with the 1.4X Extender fitted, and the lens wide open at F4. The interesting thing here, as with my findings last week without the extenders, is that the middle focal length of 115mm is actually the weakest. It’s still sharper than the version I 70-200, and very usable in my opinion, but it’s not quite tack sharp, as are the extreme focal lengths.

Although the new version of the 70-200 is sharp wide open at the extremes, usually, lenses get a little sharper with Extenders when you stop the lenses aperture down a little, so next we have six comparisons of the three focal lengths through the entire aperture range, from F4 to F32, in full stops. First is the old version I lens, at 70mm or 98mm with magnification, and you can see that it does sharpen up just a tad at F5.6, to an almost acceptable amount. F8 and F11 are also quite good. F16 and F22 start to lose contrast as well as soften up again, and F32 is pretty much unusable. It’s very soft with little contrast.

70-200mm V1 with 1.4X Extender @ 70mm
70-200mm Version I with 1.4X Extender – All Apertures @ 70mm

Here are the results from the Version II 70-200mm lens, again at 70mm (98mm) through the entire aperture range. Even at F4 the results are very good. If anything, it gains a little contrast when you stop down to F5.6, and perhaps just a tad sharper. F8 and F11 are still good, but perhaps a little less sharp and lower contrast than F5.6, so the old advice of stopping down to F8 when using the Extender may no longer be valid. F16 through F22 start to lose more contrast and sharpness, though probably still usable, and F32 is perhaps usable at a stretch, but probably best avoided. I’m sure you’ll agree this is a huge improvement over the Version I lens though.

70-200mm Version II - All Focal Lengths @ F4
70-200mm Version II with 1.4X Extender – All Apertures @ 70mm

Next we see the Version I 70-200mm F2.8 lens again cycling through the entire aperture range, in full stops at 115mm or 160mm with the magnification calculated in.

70-200mm Version I - All Apertures @ 115mm
70-200mm Version I with 1.4X Extender – All Apertures @ 115mm

In contrast to the new version, the old version I lens is best in the middle focal length, being relatively sharp at F4, sharper still at F5.6 and F8, then slowly tapering off again from F11 through F22, then dropping considerably at F32. This range with this lens  is actually pretty close to the new version of this lens, with the exception that the Version II lens is considerably sharper at F4. This is good news for me, as I shoot wide open most of the time, but if you stop down a lot, especially when using an Extender, remember that the old version is pretty good in the middle focal length range, but weak at the extremes.

70-200mm Version II with 1.4X Extender - All Apertures @ 115mm
70-200mm Version II with 1.4X Extender – All Apertures @ 115mm

OK, so next let’s look at the pair of animations from the two lenses at 200mm or 280mm. First from the Version I lens, we can see that although it gives a poor show wide open at F4, it improves slightly through F5.6 and F8, but then really sharpens up quite a lot at F11 and even F16, though it does start to lose contrast from F16, up through to F32. If you own the first version of this lens though, and use it with the 1.4X Extender, note that F11 is pretty usable when zoomed out fully to 200mm, for an effective 280mm focal length.

70-200mm Version I with 1.4X Extender - All Apertures @ 200mm
70-200mm Version I with 1.4X Extender – All Apertures @ 200mm

We can see from the next animation though, that at 200mm, or an effective 280mm, the Version II lens gives excellent results again. F4 through to F8 are excellent, F11 drops in contrast slightly, with F16 and F22 a little worse, then F32 pretty low in contrast, with sharpness also gradually dropping off through F16 to F32. Still though, this is very usable, and when you consider that you’ll usually be using an extender to get that extra reach, this result on the long end is very encouraging.

70-200mm Version II with 1.4X Extender - All Apertures @ 200mm
70-200mm Version II with 1.4X Extender – All Apertures @ 200mm

All in all, despite the middle focal length being a little disappointing, I think it’s safe to say that the 70-200mm F2.8L Version II lens can be used with a 1.4X extender with little concern of image quality dropping too much.

So what about the 2X Extender? Below, first we have an animation showing the difference between Versions I and II of this lens, with the 2X Extender fitted, shooting wide open at F5.6, which is the maximum aperture when using this Extender. Here you can see that the original Version I lens gives a pretty poor show with the 2X Extender. Most lenses do actually. The only lens I own that I can comfortably use the 2X Extender with is the 300mm F2.8L lens. It produces slightly hard, contrasty edges, but is certainly sharp enough to be usable, especially when I need 600mm but don’t have the big-guns with me. It’s hand-holdable too, if you can get a fast enough shutter speed.

Anyway, we can see here that the Version II lens is absolutely acceptably sharp with the 2X Extender fitted, zoomed out fully, for an effective focal length of 400mm.

70-200mm Version I and II with 2X Extender – F5.6 @ 200mm (400mm)

The next animation shows you the old Version I lens at 400mm, cycling through all apertures from F5.6 to F32, in full stops. Although it does start to sharpen up a little as you stop the lens down, even as much as F32, the contrast starts to drop off too much, and I personally think this combination is just not usable, even in a push, and certainly not hand-held. By the time you get an image even anything remotely resembling sharp, you are stopped down so far that you’d need a multi-second exposure even in good sunlight.

70-200mm Version I with 2X Extender - All Apertures @ 200mm (400mm)
70-200mm Version I with 2X Extender – All Apertures @ 200mm (400mm)

This last animation shows the Version II lens with the 2X Extender stopping down from F5.6 to F32. As I mentioned earlier, F5.6 is very usable, and F8 is perhaps a little better, and F11 is similar to F5.6, then it starts to drop at F16 and F22 is a pretty soft with low contrast. F32 is a little too soft and lacks too much contrast for comfort. Otherwise though, I’d say this is a pretty usable combination.

70-200mm Version II with 2X Extender - All Apertures @ 200mm (400mm)
70-200mm Version II with 2X Extender – All Apertures @ 200mm (400mm)

I will try using both Extenders in the field in the coming weeks as well, and will certainly report my findings back later based on some real-world examples, especially if I find that field use doesn’t quite match what my tests here have shown. In general though I’d say that these tests confirm that the old 70-200mm F2.8L lens was not really usable with Extenders, although it did perform pretty well in the mid focal length range. It also shows us that the Version II 70-200mm F2.8L lens is very usable with the 1.4X Extender and looking pretty good with the 2X Extender as well, which is great for when you just don’t want to take out the longer glass. It is also a viable alternative to the 100-400mm lens in my opinion, which I was not happy with after the days that I used it with my 20D, at 8 mega pixels, which it could just about cope with. There are sharp spots with the 100-400mm, and the slight amount of sharpness is certainly offset by the versatility of the lens, but I won’t miss mine, until Canon decide to release a version II of the 100-400mm as well. That would get me thinking.

Podcast show-notes:

Buying this lens from B&H? Use this link and support this Web site (does not affect the cost of the lens): http://bit.ly/mbp70-200

You can get the 1.4X Extender and the 2X Extender from B&H as well. (http://bit.ly/mbp1_4X and http://bit.ly/mbp2X)

Cornell University’s Resolution Test Chart: https://www.graphics.cornell.edu/~westin/misc/res-chart.html

View all of my 70-200mm F2.8L IS II USM Lens images: http://bit.ly/70-200VII

Music from Music Alley: http://www.musicalley.com/


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  1. Koop

    Martin, Thank you so much for your second excellent review! I just received my Canon 7D and was very disappointed in the 100-400 lens as it approached 400 mm. Looks like I will have to start budgeting for new glass. Koop

  2. Martin Bailey

    Thank you, for reminding me of this before I sold my original 70-200 Koop! 🙂

    Congrats on the 7D too. If you decide to go for the new 70-200mm, I don’t think you’ll regret it. I’m really very pleased with mine. It’s great to have this workhorse lens back in my arsenal after so long not being able to use it.

  3. Allan

    Martin, Thank you for the effort you went to in compiling this review. I have just purchased this lens and are absolutely impressed by its quality, fast glass and image sharpness. With the use of extenders now a viable proposition the relative high price for this lens just become a better value for money package.

    It would seem that the 1.4x is the go on FF cameras as the crop performance of this lens is staggering and f4 @ 200mm + 80mm with a 1.4x cropped to 400mm equivalent will produce tack sharp images with the added advantage of greater lighting performance over that of f5.6 @ 200mm + 200mm with a 2x teleconverter.

    Well done and thanks again for this review.

  4. Martin Bailey

    You’re welcome Allan.

    I’m pleased it was useful. 🙂

  5. Peter

    Thank you for this and the previous podcast as I have just recently bought a 7D, a 70-200 (non IS) and a 1.4 extender. It was an upgrade from a 350D with kit lenses.
    To date with the little use I have been able to put this combination to I have been unimpressed with the results. I have found the focus on almost all images to not be acceptable. From these two podcasts I now see I am going to have to do the tests you suggest and check both the body, I have several other lenses, and the 70-200. I have downloaded and will use the chart you suggest from Cornell along with the other chart that I had previously downloaded.

  6. Steve

    the new 70-200mm + TC combo seems very attractive and sharp, my 300mm 2.8 rarely gets used…thinking about trading it for the new 70-200 + TSc!
    I look forward to your field test results!

    and thanks for the wonderful reviews so far!

  7. Martin Bailey

    The new 70-200mm + TC is definitely a workable option.

    I personally could never think of getting rid of my 300/2.8 though. It’s almost my live-in lens. 🙂

    Thanks for the comment Steve. I’ve been using the new 70-200mm a bit, but looking forward to the fall color now, to really take it through it’s paces.

    By the way, if you click on my profile photo below, there are links to all of my lenses below the About Me section. If you click on these, you can see images shot with any of the lenses. Not all world-beating stuff, but it gives you an idea of what I’m getting with it.


  8. Jeff

    Thanks so much for the lens and extender review. I just purchased the 70-200 f2.8L is ll and it is unbelievable and sold the old Mk1 immediately! Used with 1.4 ll extender and my real world shooting is great. Please follow up with the new extenders Mk 111 when released around Dec. 2010. I am very interested in knowing if extender up grade is warranted.
    Thanks again and I do buy from B&H and I “will” use your link.

  9. Justin

    Is there a possibility of you doing an updated review with the new telephoto extenders now that they’ve been released and supposedly have a marked improvement with the new lens? I know a few people who would greatly appreciate a quality review from you with that subject in mind. The difference between the new and old extender, on both the new and old lens is still a very clouded debate right now. Thanks!

  10. Martin Bailey

    You’re welcome Jeff. I’m pleased you like the version II lens, but there was never any doubt that you wouldn’t. It’s just such a big difference.

    Jeff and Justin, I have both the 1.4X and 2.0X Mark III Extenders, and have been using them extensively in Hokkaido over the last few weeks. I’ve run some tests too, but have not yet had time to pull my findings together for a Podcast. I’ll certainly do so soon.

    One thing I will say right now is that the 1.4X Extender can be used with the 70-200mm F2.8 Mark II with virtually no loss of image quality, and the 2.0X Extender can also be used with it, with very little loss in image quality. Both also work well with the 300mm F2.8, but that was also the case with the old Extenders. If anything, the 2.0X is a little better. The old Version II used to be a little “hard” with the 300mm, for want of a better description.

    We should note though that the new Extenders are designed to really work well with the new Mark II super telephotos that will be released in the coming months. The 300mm, 400mm, 500mm and 600mm are all going to work so much better with the Mark III Extenders apparently. I’m not sure if I’ll be replacing my 300mm and/or 600mm though just yet.


  11. Maurice Lousberg

    Hi Martin,

    Thank you for the instructive reviews!

    Did you try using the new extenders mk III on the old 70-200 lens?

    Kind regards,

  12. Martin Bailey

    Hi Maurice,

    Unfortunately, I don’t have the old 70-200 lens any more, so I can’t test this combination.

    Sorry about that!


  13. Mike G

    Martin, I love your podcasts, though I haven’t made the time to listen to all of them all the time. Pretty sure I used your link when I bought the 70-200 a few months ago.

    Now that it’s been three years since the review how are you felling about the 70-200 with either extender? I studied your top ten for 2012 and it appears that you probably used the 70-200 with the 1.4 for a few of those images.

    • Martin Bailey

      Hi Mike,

      Thanks for using the link!

      I still love the 70-200mm with the 1.4X Extender. The image quality is so good, I often just leave the extender on, even when I don’t need the reach. I haven’t used it with the 2X Extender that much, but I do at a push, and I’m happy enough with the results, although you can start to tell that it’s pushing it a bit. I’m thinking of using it with the 2X in Iceland this year though, as there isn’t a lot of times I’ll need my 300mm f/2.8, so my 70-200 will be my longest lens.

      I hope this helps some!


  14. Brandon Turley

    Hi Martin,

    Thank you for all of your information and time dedicated to helping everyone!

    I’ve read through everything here, but I still have a question (sorry if i missed something!)

    Is there a vast difference when using the TC 2x ii vs TC 2x iii with the Canon 70-200 2.8 ii? I’m using a Canon 6d btw.

    Thank you again!


    • Martin Bailey

      Hi Brandon,

      I didn’t try the lens with a Mark II Extender, but the Mark III Extenders are better. Whether you consider the difference vast will depend on your own standards, but I personally would prefer to use the Mark III Extenders if at all possible. Maybe you could buy the lens first and do some tests before deciding whether or not to upgrade your Extender.


      • Brandon Turley

        Thanks for your reply, Martin.

        I was under the assumption that the extender you tested was the 70-200 with the TC 2x ii, because when i clicked on the link it took me to that page (where it said it was discontinued, but recommended the iii)

        I have the 70-200 2.8 ii already, just trying to decide if I should get the ii or the iii. No worries, I’ll figure it out.



        • Martin Bailey

          Aah, OK. I didn’t realize that this post was that old. It must have been the Mark II Extenders that I was using.

          I did see an improvement in image quality with the Mark III upgrade, but can’t say for sure how much difference it made with this lens. I do recall thinking that it was good enough to use this lens with the 2.0X Extender for shooting sea eagles from a boat, as an alternative to my larger old prime lenses.

          If you don’t already own an Extender though, just get the Mark III. There’s no point in buying into old technology, especially with the resolution we have in our cameras now.



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