Canon 200mm 2L produces unbelievable images.
Canon 70-200mm 2.8 IS II is not a slouch at all.
Summary: Canon 200mm 2L for the images. Canon 70-200mm 2.8 IS II for the convenience and price. (Tested on full-frames: 5D Mark III and Mark II)
Reasons for the 70-200mm 2.8 IS II
- Thousands of dollars cheaper
- Very sharp
- Lighter and smaller
- Filter in the front
- More usable (easier to take out and have fun with it!)
Reasons for the 200mm 2 IS
- One of the sharpest lens ever made to this date (in my experience, it beats out the 400mm 2.8 IS II and the 300mm 2.8 IS I)
- Image quality - sharpness is not the only thing. The bokeh and out-of-focus rendering is gorgeous and unbeatable.
-> faster AF because f/2 provides the AF sensor with more light
-> better in low light
Before the Canon 70-200mm 2.8 IS II came out, the choice was a bit easier. The first version of the zoom is outdated with a bigger gap between the zoom and the 200mm f/2 in terms of sharpness, IS, and overall image quality. All you need to consider is forking out that few extra grands.
Now let's talk about image quality. If you are into taking pictures of boxes and charts, the 70-200mm 2.8 IS II falls short in sharpness with the 200mm 2L at f/2.8. Even when the 200mm 2L is opened at f/2, the lens is sharper than the zoom. We should expect all this because generally zooms require a lot more elements to construct, which means image quality naturally looses quality on the way to the camera sensor. However, let's talk about everyday shooting. The zoom is absolutely amazing. If you were to compare the two lenses' sharpness, it is hard to discern. I have to say, comparing the sharpness between the two lenses is just silly. Image quality, however, is not just about sharpness. The bokeh- or out-of-focus regions- are rendered very smoothly and pleasingly on the 200mm 2L. The 200mm 2L is like 85mm 1.2L on steroids. There is just that unique oh my goodness look. Every time I take the lens on the field, I am absolutely awed by the results. The images from the 200mm just beat out the competition.
Usability and reliability. Both lenses focuses very accurately, fast, and reliable. I have no issues getting superb images from both. However, the 70-200mm 2.8 IS II is much easier to carry out. It is smaller and lighter without all the fuss. The Canon 200mm 2L is not a trivial carry to the park and you cannot simply put a UV filter in front to protect the lens. However, one small note- the AF on the Canon 200mm 2L is noticeable faster. This is simply due to the fact that the bigger aperture lets in more light for the AF sensor to pick up. I just like the more care-free nature of the zoom.
The Canon 70-200mm 2.8 IS II absolutely the most competitive lens against the 200mm 2L in the Canon lens line-up. The cost and flexibility of the zoom cannot be ignored, as the sharpness, contrast, AF, and IS are very much up to par with the 200mm 2L. However, the Canon 200mm 2L is the cream-of-the-crop. Images from the lens will awe you away. Don't get my wrong, right techniques such as relatively "clean" backgrounds and foreground/background distance still apply for the 200mm, but the lens just makes these elements much easier due to the fantastic image quality it gives. I use the 200mm 2L to shoot at f/2.0. If you don't care about the f/2.0, then there is really not enough reasons to go for the prime. For me, I ended up letting the zoom go. In my line-of-work, I am able to sacrifice versatility.
Out-of-focus rendering makes the prime stand out. (Taken with the 200mm 2L)
Colors and contrast on the zoom are amazing. (Taken with the 70-200mm 2.8 IS II)
Keywords: 200 f/2 f/2.8 f2 f2.8 70-200