Big Ticket Lenses: Try Before You Buy

This post is by Andrea Thomas of Speechless Photography.

Over the years, I’ve picked up a handful of lenses. I have the Canon 24-105mm f/4 lens that came bundled with my camera and I’ve also purchased the Canon 50mm f/1.4 and 85mm f/1.8 lenses. For the most part, these lenses cover me pretty well for whatever it is that I want to shoot.

But I have a confession to make. I have a case of LENS ENVY! I’ve seen so many gorgeous photos taken with the Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM and Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II lenses that just take my breath away. I love the crispness of the subject with that creamy, dreamy bokeh in the background. It’s just magic….magic, I tell you! I’m a firm believer in the “rock what you’ve got” mentality, but there is a certain look that the longer focal lengths give you that just can’t be replicated by anything else.

Shot with the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II

Shot with the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II

But there’s a downside to these lenses, and it’s a big one – the cost! When it comes to lenses, that magic costs money. The price fluctuates depending on sales and rebates, but even though I’ve been saving up for what feels like forever, other priorities keep popping up in life and so neither of these lenses are currently in my bag.

The thing is, these lenses are both awesome, both expensive and have a similar focal range, so I really don’t need both. But how do I decide?

Shot with the Canon 135mm f/2L USM

Shot with the Canon 135mm f/2L USM

Luckily, I have a Canon Professional Services (CPS) Gold membership which entitles me to free lens evaluation loans. I was able to request these lenses and only pay to ship them back to Canon. I didn’t get to pick exactly when I wanted to receive the lenses, but I did get to spend 10 days testing them out for less than the cost of renting them. CPS offers a variety of membership levels depending on the type and amount of Canon equipment you own, each with varying benefits. The Silver membership level is free!

The Canon 135mm lens is a little less than half the cost of the 70-200mm and I LOVE prime (non-zooming) lenses, so you would think that would make it an easy winner, right? Not so fast, I tested the lenses in an urban setting and found that the 135mm focal length made it difficult in some cases to get the composition I wanted.

Shot with the Canon 135mm f/2L USM

Shot with the Canon 135mm f/2L USM

I loved the flexibility of the 70-200mm lens, but that thing is BIG and HEAVY. You can pretty much cancel your gym membership if you’re toting this lens around, your arms will get all the workout they need! And, of course, you’ll probably need the extra money to help cover the 4-figure price tag. The 135mm lens isn’t tiny, but it is significantly smaller and lighter.

Both lenses are super sharp wide open. This isn’t true for many lenses but I had no problem shooting at f/2 on the 135mm and f/2.8 on the 70-200mm and getting crisp results. Shooting at the largest aperture (smallest f number) also resulted in perfect orbs of light and that dreamy, out-of-focus background that is so sought after.

Shot with the Canon 135mm f/2L USM

Shot with the Canon 135mm f/2L USM

I loved using both lenses, but the reality is I just don’t need both, even if I could afford them. If I often shot in open fields and spaces where I had tons of room to back up and move around, I’d go with the 135mm lens which offers fantastic photo quality with a smaller price. However, since I do shoot quite a bit in urban settings and am also looking for a lens to use at my son’s sporting events, I think the flexibility of the 70-200mm lens makes it the winner for me.

Shot with the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II

Shot with the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II

Are either of these lenses on your wish list? Are you struggling with a similar decision between lenses? Borrowing or renting to do a real world comparison just might be what you need to figure out the best lens for you!

About Andrea Thomas

I'm Andrea. I'm a Canon-shooting mom to a little boy who runs from my camera and a baby girl born on Halloween. I'm also a wife to a husband who usually obliges me when I yell at him to pull over so I can take a picture! I love learning about photography and editing and am passionate about sharing what I've learned with others.


  1. I’ve been wanting both of those lenses since forever. But getting over the price is difficult. These lenses cost more than the body of the camera and just the need/want of multiple lenses it will stick it to you with the price. Maybe one day I’ll own a couple of the lenses.

    • The price of these lenses can definitely be a shock! One thing to think about though is that the lenses do typically hold their value pretty well, where as new camera bodies with significant upgrades in features come out pretty much every year, reducing the value of your existing body. So, even though the lens is more expensive than the camera body it will keep more value and continue to work for you, even if you choose to upgrade your camera body in the future. These lenses are definitely an investment!

  2. Great information. Never knew about this service. I am definitely going to sign up. How much does it cost to ship a loan back on average?

    • The shipping charge was pretty minimal, I did pay for the insurance, which is based on the value of the lenses. Since these were 2 very expensive lenses, the total charge ended up being around $60. This seems expensive, but if you compare it to the cost of renting both lenses for the same amount of time, it was still less than that. The good thing about renting, however, is that you know up front the total cost for the rental, shipping and insurance.

  3. I have the same problem, I want both!! Going to rent both lenses and try to decide!!

  4. Thank-you so much for such an informative posting. I am so glad I am not alone….lol!!!

  5. A Garden of Threads says:

    I have the Canon 70-200mm lens and love it.

  6. Karen Wolff says:

    I know the flexibility is lost but I really love my 200mm f/2.8L

    • I know that is an amazing lens! I think a few of my favorite photographers use that lens, also. I would love to see some of your images with this lens, if you’d like to post them.

  7. I have the 70-200 2.8 and I love it! I mean really love it. It’s heavy but worth my arms being tired. I’ve never tried the 135 so I can’t compare them, but after having the 70-200, I really don’t feel like I need to.

    • The results of the 70-200 are definitely worth the arm workout! I agree that if you are satisfied with that lens, you probably wouldn’t see any extra benefit with the 135mm.

Speak Your Mind