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The best 70-200mm telephoto lenses in 2020: top constant-aperture zooms

(Image credit: Future)

Favored by professional photographers all around the world, the 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom has become a ‘must have’ lens. 

It combines good telephoto reach with a fast and constant aperture, ideal not only for freezing the action with fast shutter speeds, but also for giving a tight depth of field. Supremely versatile, this class of telephoto zoom lens is often used for shooting everything from sports and wildlife to portraiture, along with wedding and event photography.

The 70-200mm f/2.8 is a mainstay of the lens line-up for every manufacturer of full-frame cameras, including Canon, Nikon and Sony. Serious competition also comes from independent lens manufacturers like Sigma and Tamron, keen to get in on the action.

Read more: The cheapest full-frame cameras right now

You can also use a 70-200mm lens on APS-C format bodies. The effective zoom range gets bumped up to 105-300mm (112-320mm for Canon) - great if you need more zoom reach, with the added benefit of pro-grade build, handling and optical performance.

The only real downside to 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses is their size and weight. They’re not unduly heavy, typically weighing in at around 1.5kg, but if you’re already carrying a full-frame DSLR and 24-70mm f/2.8 lens in your camera bag, along with a few other camera accessories, the weight can soon mount up. 

Many manufacturers therefore offer a 70-200mm f/4 alternative. Naturally, these lenses are an f/stop ‘slower’, so you can’t maintain such fast shutter speeds or gain quite such a tight depth of field, but they’re noticeably smaller and tend to be only about half the weight (and price), while usually maintaining excellent image quality. 

Let’s take a look at the best 70-200mm telephoto zoom lenses for Canon and Nikon DSLRs, along with Sony FE-mount mirrorless cameras.

The best 70-200mm telephoto lenses in 2020

Canon

(Image credit: B&H)

1. Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM | S

A lens that delivers sumptuous image quality and unbeatable all-round performance

Mount: Canon EF | Elements/groups: 24/22 | Diaphragm blades: 11 | Autofocus: Ultrasonic (ring-type) | Stabilizer: 4 stops | Minimum focus distance: 1.2m | Maximum magnification: 0.21x | Filter thread: 82mm | Dimensions (WxL): 94x203mm | Weight: 1,805g

Brilliant quality
Weather sealing and solid build
Great price
Heavier than many rivals

This new 70-200mm lens from Sigma has been redesigned from the ground up. The new optical path features 24 elements in 22 groups, incorporating nine FLD elements and one SLD element. There’s also a well-rounded aperture, based on 11 diaphragm blades. The autofocus system can be switched to Auto-Priority or Manual-Priority modes, the latter enabling manual override even in AI Servo autofocus mode. The design also features three AF-stop buttons, with the option of use as AF-on buttons via custom functions menus in enthusiast/pro grade cameras.

The new optical stabilizer has switchable static and panning modes, the latter working in landscape, portrait and even diagonally. As we’ve seen in a number of other Sigma lenses, dual ‘Custom’ modes can be switched on. These can be set up with the USB Dock, for example to increase or decrease the effect of stabilization in the viewfinder image, or to alter the AF range limiter distance.

Optical performance is outstanding, with sharpness and contrast being fabulous across the entire zoom range, even when shooting at f/2.8. Autofocus is rapid and consistently accurate, and while stabilization isn’t quite as effective as in Tamron's rival SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2 lens for static shots, it proved better for panning during our tests.

Overall, this Sigma offers class-leading performance and build quality at a reasonable price. If you can cope with its hefty weight, its a cracking buy.

Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2

(Image credit: Tamron)

2. Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2

The second-generation Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 is much improved and a top performer

Mount: Canon EF | Elements/groups: 23/17 | Diaphragm blades: 9 | Autofocus: Ultrasonic (ring-type) | Stabilizer: 5 stops | Minimum focus distance: 0.95m | Maximum magnification: 0.16x | Filter thread: 77mm | Dimensions (WxL): 88x194mm | Weight: 1,500g

Well built, yet not overly heavy
Stellar optical performance
Much cheaper than Canon's 70-200mm 2.8
Not quite as sharp as rival Sigma lens
VC could be better when panning

The Tamron G2’s optical design has been refined to increase sharpness and contrast, while reducing colour fringing, ghosting and flare. The autofocus system is uprated for faster, more accurate performance, and the VC (Vibration Compensation) system has three switchable modes and up to 5-stop effectiveness.

Along with a full set of weather-seals, the lens has a fluorine coating on the front element. As with the competing Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM | S lens, the Tamron G2 has a tripod mount ring with an Arca-Swiss compatible foot. But, the Tamron’s mounting ring can be removed, without leaving a protruding stub. The lens is also noticeably smaller and about 300g lighter than the Sigma, and has a more typical 77mm filter thread.

As advertised, autofocus is very fast and operates with excellent precision. Image quality is absolutely on a par with Canon's EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM, with similarly impressive sharpness and contrast at all zoom and aperture settings, along with minimal distortions and colour fringing. But bear in mind that this Tamron is considerably less expensive than the latest Canon 70-200mm f/2.8, and the choice is clear.

3. Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM

Significantly smaller and lighter than a f/2.8 70-200mm, yet no less satisfying

Mount: Canon EF | Elements/groups: 20/15 | Diaphragm blades: 9 | Autofocus: Ultrasonic (ring-type) | Stabilizer: 5 stops | Minimum focus distance: 1.0m | Maximum magnification: 0.27x | Filter thread: 72mm | Dimensions (WxL): 80x176mm | Weight: 780g

Upgraded optics
Revamped stabilizer
Relatively compact and light
Upsized filter thread
Expensive to buy

This lens costs more than some 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses from Sigma and Tamron, despite being one f/stop slower. The upside, as usual, is that the f/4 aperture rating enables smaller-diameter elements, and, therefore a smaller and lighter build overall. Even so, the filter thread in this Mark II lens is increased from 67mm to 72mm, compared with its predecessor. 

Unlike Canon's EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM with its minor updates, the f/4 II has more sweeping changes compared with its predecessor. These include a revised optical design for better overall image quality and a closer minimum focus distance. Coatings are upgraded to further reduce ghosting and flare, and keep-clean fluorine coatings are added to the front and rear elements, although top-tech Air Sphere Coatings are not employed. 

The revamped image stabilizer is particularly impressive, with a 5-stop CIPA rating. Unlike the EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM lens, this one also gains a third IS mode, in which stabilization is only applied during exposures. All in all, it the f/4 II lens feels much more of an upgrade than the more expensive f/2.8 III option.

4. Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM

A great 70-200mm f/2.8 option for Canon cameras, but it's not the best value

Mount: Canon EF | Elements/groups: 23/19 | Diaphragm blades: 8 | Autofocus: Ultrasonic (ring-type) | Stabilizer: 3.5 stops | Minimum focus distance: 1.2m | Maximum magnification: 0.21x | Filter thread: 77mm | Dimensions (WxL): 89x199mm | Weight: 1,480g

Additional ‘ASC’ coating
Dual fluorine coat (front and rear)
No upgrade to optical design
No improvement in stabilization

At a glance, you’d be hard pressed to spot any difference in Canon’s latest Mark III edition of its 70-200mm f/2.8 lens from its Mark II predecessor. It’s a slightly paler shade of grey and the front and rear elements gain a fluorine coating to repel grease and moisture, and to make cleaning easier. Internally, Canon’s high-tech ASC (Air Sphere Coatings) has been added to one of the elements to reduce ghosting and flare. 

However, the actual optical path, autofocus system and Image Stabilizer remain the same. It’s interesting to note that the stabilizer is now rated at 3.5-stops rather than the previous lens’s 4-stops, but that’s probably down to Canon switching to CIPA-based ratings.

This Mark III lens is as exciting as its predecessor for sharpness and contrast across the zoom range. Autofocus is super-fast and there’s even better resistance to ghosting and fl are, living up to Canon’s claims. The bottom line is the new lens doesn’t outperform rival Sigma and Tamron lenses, yet it does cost noticeably more, making it poor value for money.

Hands on: Canon RF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM review
First thoughts on the new mirrorless RF-mount Canon 70-200mm

Nikon

(Image credit: B&H)

1. Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM | S

It practically matches Nikon’s top 70-200mm f/2.8 glass, but is much more affordable

Mount: Nikon FX | Elements/groups: 24/22 | Diaphragm blades: 11 | Autofocus: Ultrasonic (ring-type) | Stabilizer: 4 stops | Minimum focus distance: 1.2m | Maximum magnification: 0.21x | Filter thread: 82mm | Dimensions (WxL): 94x203mm | Weight: 1,805g

Superb features
Robust, weather-sealed build
Great price
Heavier than the competition
Non-removable tripod collar

Top-flight Nikon professional photographers are still likely to stay loyal to own-brand Nikon glass and choose an AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR, but this Sigma Sports alternative matches the Nikon in almost every aspect of handling, performance and image quality. That’s no mean feat considering that the Sigma is a little over half the price.

Its optical path features 24 elements in 22 groups, incorporating nine FLD elements and one SLD element. There’s also a well-rounded aperture, based on 11 diaphragm blades. The new optical stabilizer has switchable static and panning modes, the latter working in landscape, portrait and even diagonally. As we’ve seen in a number of other Sigma lenses, dual ‘Custom’ modes can be switched on.

Sharpness and contrast are fabulous throughout the entire zoom range, even when shooting wide open at f/2.8. Autofocus is rapid and accurate, and while stabilization isn’t as effective as in the competing Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 G2 lens for static shots, it proved better for panning during tests. It’s bigger and heavier than competing lenses, but goes extra-large on performance - brilliant buy for Nikon FX DSLRs.

Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2

(Image credit: Tamron)

2. Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2

Excellent in every respect, and it costs less than an f/4 70-200mm lens from Nikon

Mount: Nikon FX | Elements/groups: 23/17 | Diaphragm blades: 9 | Autofocus: Ultrasonic (ring-type) | Stabilizer: 5 stops | Minimum focus distance: 0.95m | Maximum magnification: 0.16x | Filter thread: 77mm | Dimensions (WxL): 88x194mm | Weight: 1,485g

Triple-mode 5-stop stabiliser
Premium build
Competitive price
Not quite as sharp as rival Sigma lens
VC could be better when panning

This Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 G2 is a great-value lens. It's a little more compact and is about 300g lighter than Sigma's rival 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM | S lens, plus you get the added bonus of a completely removable tripod mount ring with an Arca-Swiss compatible foot.

The G2’s optical design has been refined to increase sharpness and contrast, while reducing colour fringing, ghosting and flare. The autofocus system is uprated for faster, more accurate performance, and the VC (Vibration Compensation) system has three switchable modes and up to 5-stop effectiveness. All weather versatility is ensured by a full set of weather-seals, along with a fluorine coating on the front element to bead away water droplets.

Autofocus is very fast and operates with superb precision. Image quality is slightly less sharp than with the Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED and Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM | S, but it's still impressive. Overall handling and performance is excellent, especially considering this is only half the price of the Nikon lens.

3. Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR

A mighty fine 70-200mm f/2.8 lens for Nikon cameras, but it's pricey

Mount: Nikon FX | Elements/groups: 22/18 | Diaphragm blades: 9 | Autofocus: Ultrasonic (ring-type) | Stabilizer: 4 stops | Minimum focus distance: 1.1m | Maximum magnification: 0.21x | Filter thread: 77mm | Dimensions (WxL): 89x203mm | Weight: 1,430g

Superb image quality
‘Sport’ VR mode
Incompatible with some older DSLRs
Very expensive

The latest and greatest edition of Nikon’s 70-200mm f/2.8 lens has a completely revamped optical design, including a fluorite element, six ED (Extra-low Dispersion) elements, one HRI (High Refractive Index) element and nano-structure coatings. The optics are wrapped up in a tough yet reasonably lightweight, weather-sealed magnesium alloy barrel. 

Upgraded VR (Vibration Reduction) is worth four stops and gains a switchable ‘Sport’ mode. This applies stabilization only during exposures, making it easier to track erratically moving subjects in the viewfinder. Yet another update is that the aperture is controlled electromagnetically rather than via a mechanical lever. This enables greater exposure consistency during rapid continuous shooting.

Sharpness and contrast are legendary, throughout the zoom range. However, the cheaper Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 Sports lens goes toe to toe with the Nikon for sharpness in real-world shooting, while matching other aspects of the Nikon’s image quality, autofocus speed and the stabilization effectiveness.

4. Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/4G ED VR

This compact and lightweight Nikon telephoto zoom lens is a strong performer

Mount: Nikon FX | Elements/groups: 20/14 | Diaphragm blades: 9 | Autofocus: Ultrasonic (ring-type) | Stabilizer: 4 stops | Minimum focus distance: 1.0m | Maximum magnification: 0.27x | Filter thread: 67mm | Dimensions (WxL): 78x179mm | Weight: 850g

Relatively compact, lightweight build
Excellent overall performance
Tripod collar is a pricey add-on
Quite expensive for an f/4 zoom

Announced at the tail end of 2012, this telephoto zoom lens filled a longstanding gap in Nikon’s lens line-up, in the shape of a relatively compact and lightweight 70-200mm lens. Downsizing is enabled by the f/4 rather than f/2.8 aperture rating, but the usual benefits of fully internal zoom and focus mechanisms still apply. As such, the lens doesn’t physically extend at any zoom or focus setting. 

Weighing in at 850g, the lens is light enough to use on a tripod or monopod without a mount ring, but an optional ring is available, albeit at a typically steep price, if you buy the genuine Nikon article. Although this lens has a weather-sealed mount, it lacks the full weather-seals or magnesium barrel of Nikon’s f/2.8 lens. Despite having a mostly plastic construction it still feels robust and well-engineered. 

Helped by three ED (Extra-low Dispersion) elements and an HRI (High Refractive Index) element, sharpness and contrast are superb, while colour fringing is negligible. Nano-structure coatings keep ghosting and flare to a minimum and the 4-stop stabilizer is also highly effective. All in all, it’s a top-performance lens with great handling, in an easily manageable build.

Sony

1. Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 G Master OSS

A magnificent lens, though it dwarfs Sony's A7 and A9 bodies

Mount: Sony E | Elements/groups: 23/18 | Diaphragm blades: 11 | Autofocus: Ultrasonic (ring-type) + Dual Linear Motor | Stabilizer: Yes (unspecified rating) | Minimum focus distance: 0.96m | Maximum magnification: 0.25x | Filter thread: 77mm | Dimensions (WxL): 88x200mm | Weight: 1,480g

Sophisticated AF system
Excellent handling and performance
Feels massive on an E-mount body
Very expensive

The sheer bulk of this lens makes it look a bit of a mismatch on A7 and A9-series bodies. However, handling is very refined nonetheless. Focus hold buttons encircle the forward section of the lens and the lens includes OSS (Optical SteadyShot) stabilization. Sony doesn’t give an official rating for its effectiveness, but we found that, when used in conjunction with stabilization in recent A7 series cameras, the combined stablisation effect is worth up to five stops.

The high-tech autofocus system incorporates ultrasonic ring-type drive for the larger moving elements, plus dual linear motors for the smaller ones. Weather-sealed build is of a fully professional-grade standard and image quality is similarly impressive.

Sharpness and contrast are outstanding, and the extremely well-rounded 11-blade diaphragm helps the lens to retain delicious bokeh when the aperture is stopped down a bit.

(Image credit: Sony)

2. Sony FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS

A smaller, lighter and cheaper 70-200mm lens for full-frame Sony mirrorless cameras

Mount: Sony E | Elements/groups: 21/15 | Diaphragm blades: 9 | Autofocus: Ultrasonic (ring-type) | Stabilizer: Yes | Minimum focus distance: 1-1.5m | Maximum magnification: 0.13x | Filter thread: 72mm | Dimensions (WxL): 80x175mm | Weight: 840g

Compact and light
Relatively well priced
Solid optical performance
70-200mm G-Master lens still top dog

The Sony FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS is a great lens that’s smaller and much lighter than Sony's FE 70-200mm f/2.8 G Master OSS lens, and only costs around half the price. It's true that a 70-200mm f/2.8 is seen as a 'must have' lens in any professional system, but you pay the price very literally, and there's a weight penalty with the f/2.8 version, too. This f/4 lens is cheaper, lighter, a lot less expensive, yet only one f-stop slower.

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