Canon Compact Zoom Lens Review: 18-80mm and 70-200mm

If you need autofocus then these Canon’s Compact Zoom lenses are a must

When I started this career I was told to never ever, under no circumstances, use a camera’s autofocus. Just do not use it. Back then, this was more than a suggestion; it was a hard and fast rule. Professionals pull their own focus. Well, it seems the times have changed. Large sensor cameras are much more common and Canon’s autofocus has come a very long way. So I ask myself, do Canon’s two new Compact Zoom lenses make sense for me and my next shoot?

Canon jumped into the Compact-Zoom game to fulfill a much-needed niche of good and relatively affordable cinema zoom lenses.  Think of the Canon 18-80mm and 70-200mm Compact Zooms as borrowing from the best of both worlds: DSLR and Cinema. As a shooter Canon gives you Image Stabilization and Autofocus, usually found on DSLR Lenses, with a Zoom Rocker and dedicated Focus, Zoom, and Aperture Rings which come from the world of cinema/broadcast glass. To many, these two lenses perfectly straddle the two worlds well.

Aperture Ring

If you are moving up from DSLR lenses to the Compact Zooms then the addition of a smooth aperture ring on both the 18-80mm and the 70-200mm should feel great. A smooth iris is critical to nail your exposure. You can also control the iris with the camera if you prefer.

Rocker Zoom

The rocker zoom is the by far one of the best features found on both the 18-80mm and the 70-200mm lenses. If you happen to be shooting on a smaller camera, like a Sony Mirrorless or Canon DSLR, the rocker zoom becomes your new handle.  The only problem, the cable connection from the Rocker Zoom to the Lens is in the absolute worst place. For me, the connection rested right on my wrist to the extent the contact became uncomfortable. When Canon sent me the two lenses and a C300 Mark II to test they included a Zacuto Right Angle Adapter which helps a little, but just a little.

3 Step Image Stabilization

Compact Zoom A, B, or C? To be honest, I find it hard to tell which setting does what or stabilizes how much. I kept the lenses on “A” because it was enough image stabilization to satisfy my needs. Between the two lenses, I felt like the Image Stabilization was a touch better on the 70-200mm which makes sense to me, it is the longer lens. The 18-80mm Image Stabilization is good enough to mitigate most hand-held bumps and float. Will your footage look like it was shot on a tripod? Well, no, but it will have that floating kind of feel which I like at times.


Both these lenses are Parfocal. Snap-in and dial in your focus; pull out and grab your shot. If you ever worked with a 2/3 inch News Camera then you will be accustomed to this feature. If you are one of those shooters who only ever shoots with a Mirrorless or DSLR then I hope you learn to love a parfocal lens. It is a great feature if you are shooting solo. I’m glad to see both these lenses are parfocal and I hope to see Canon release more parfocal lenses in the future.

The Autofocus

This feature alone makes these lenses worth their price and worth the compromises you have to make with the T4.4 aperture to have the revolutionary dual-pixel autofocus feature. Straight up, are these lenses, both the 18-80mm and 70-200mm, worth every inch of compromise to give you great autofocus capability that you will grow to use on nearly every shoot if you use these lenses? Abso-fu*#@ing-lutely. In many ways, the lenses have me wanting to shoot with Canon’s newest camera, the C200, and the ever-present documentary camera, the C300. I even consider the C700 a much more viable investment after using Canon’s Dual-Pixel autofocus. That is just how good Canon’s Dual-Pixel autofocus is to me, and it should be. I am shooting by myself, without an assistant, for most of my shoots and really good features, like Canon’s Dual-Pixel autofocus, is exactly the kind of feature I would lean on pretty heavily.

Compact Zoom

The Practicality

On a Canon C300 Mark II these lenses are a dream to operate and I can imagine these lenses work just as well on any Canon camera with its dual pixel autofocus feature. When shooting as a solo operator you can keep your subjects in focus and still capture interesting and creative shots. You can combine the large sensor look, and its shallow depth of field, with the famous Canon color while keeping your crew footprint extremely small. If you are going to fly your Canon C300 Mark II on a Ronin then the 18-80mm is going to be your best friend.

Recently, I had a shoot where the camera provided was the original Canon C300 Mark I, not II, and the lenses were straight up DSLR. No Dual-Pixel autofocus. No 15 stops of dynamic range. No Image Stabilizer. But I still had a great Canon camera to operate. Going from a C300 Mark II and the new Canon Compact Zooms to the original C300 with still photo lenses reminded me just how far Canon has come with their camera and lens features. It is nearly a night and day difference when talking about making my work better. The Dual-Pixel autofocus and image stabilizer on the 18-80mm and 70-200mm are life savers for a solo shooter.

Compact Lenses on Other Cameras

To me, these lenses are really only practical on a Canon Cinema camera, like the C200, C300 Mark II, and C700. I did not try these lenses on a C100 Mark II, but I am sure they work well on that camera as well.  On a Blackmagic Design URSA Mini Pro the number one feature, autofocus, is absolutely absent when using either the 18-80mm or the 70-200mm.  Also,  Blackmagic URSA Mini shooters… you will not be able to control the aperture for either the 18-80mm or 70-200mm Compact Zooms from the lovely LCD touchscreen. This is not a problem. I mean having actual aperture rings are never a real problem. I just want you all to know so you are not surprised if you take out this combo for a shoot.

The Problems

Compact Zooms Let’s talk about the absolute worst place to put a zoom power connection. Seriously, this power connection is the worst. It is so bad Canon sends the Zacuto Right End Extension Cable with the review kit to ease the pain, but the connection is still in the way. When shooting hand-held the cable rested on my right wrist. After a few minutes shooting my wrist began to become uncomfortable. To me, this one design mistake is a big oversight by Canon and could steer some shooters away from shooting hand-held.

The focus ring has a continuous spin. From my understanding, this continuous spin, much like a DSLR Zoom lens, is necessary for the autofocus to work as well as it does.  I am willing to forgive Canon for this little problem for a couple reasons. One, I am unlikely to use an 18-80mm or 70-200mm Compact Zoom with any type of follow focus system. Two, I think we all have come to accept this type of continuous spin on some lenses and, well, we are used to it. If you want cinema style focus and to use a follow focus system then check out the many cinema zoom lenses Canon also offers.

The Rocker zoom is an extra $475. The 18-80mm is priced around $5,000. Adding an additional $475 just for the rocker zoom feels like we are getting nickeled and dimed. Now, I do not know what it costs Canon to make these lenses, but these lenses do feel a little pricey at first. Would I consider these lenses expensive? Not really. If you are looking for all-around lenses that will work with Canon’s Dual-Pixel autofocus then their price is offset by the features.

The 18-80mm does not feel quite wide enough. Two more mm’s on the wide end of this lens could go a really long way for most shooters. The 18-80mm lens too a little getting used to because I am so used to Canon’s 16-35. Now, the 70-200mm felt just right because of I have used that focal length often.

T4.4. It is not a sexy number. But, Canon made sure both the 18-80mm and the 70-200mm Compact Zoom had the same T4.4 aperture. Then again, T4.4 does not inspire shooters. It just does not. When talking about compromises one will have to come to grips with these two lenses the T4.4 aperture is the biggest compromise. It is especially poignant when we see Angenieux and Sigma come out with F1.9 cinema zoom lenses. On the 70-200mm I did not miss F2.8; not even a tiny bit. When shooting inside on the 18-80mm I did fight with the T4.4 aperture but mainly for stylistic reasons. Again, you will have to weigh the compromises and benefits of these lenses if you want to use them.

The Compact Zoom Specific Uses

I see these two Canon Cinema lenses fitting best in the world of documentary filmmaking and industrials. Why do you ask? What is great about the 18-80mm and 70-200mm Cinema zooms causes a ton of compromises I think will be a bit of a dealbreaker for some professionals. The lack of a shallow depth of field, the lenses only cover a Super 35mm frame and not a Full-Frame sensor, and how well the lenses control flare are all reasons why, and even wrongly, many will turn away from these lenses and to vintage or higher end glass. Then just as many will turn to these lenses because of their blend of DSLR and Cinema features as well as the autofocus.  I mean these lenses have me seeing the upside of shooting with the C200, C300, or C700.

The End Result

If you are cool with making compromises on the depth of field and range then these are the lenses for you. If you are looking for all of your images to be crisp and in focus then these lenses are for you. If you are looking for a way to make solo shooting easier for you then these lenses are for you. If you are looking for character and flare and razor thin depth of field then look to some different lenses. All in all the 18-80mm and 70-200mm Compact Zoom will find a niche in your lens bag and a niche in your documentary heart. Compact Zoom

Canon 18-80mm Compact Zoom

  • 18-80mm zoom range (4.4x ratio)
  • Constant aperture of T4.4, equivalent to F/4.0
  • Minimum focus distance: 1.6′ / 0.5 m
  • Three Step Optical Image Stabilization
  • Manual smooth iris
  • Auto Focus / Manual Focus (no hard stops)
  • Powered through lens mount or connector – This works with Sony Cameras too
  • Filter: 77 mm thread for screw-in front filters
  • Weight: 2.6 lb / 1.2 kg
  • Length: 7.2” / 182.3 mm
  • Servo handgrip
  • Back focus adjustment
  • Super 35mm sensor coverage

Canon 70-200mm Compact Zoom

  • Covers Super 35 Sensor Size
  • Suitable for 4K, HDR Image Capture
  • Widely Used 70-200mm Focal-Range
  • Parfocal to Maintain Focus While Zooming
  • Constant T4.4 Across Entire Zoom Range
  • Optional EF 1.4x III & EF 2x Extenders
  • Color-Matches Other Canon Cine Lenses
  • Click-Less Iris Control
  • 9-Blade Iris for Smooth Bokeh
  • Optional Servo-Grip Controller


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Brian Hallett, is an award winning cameraman, editor, and producer. He has shot everything from Network broadcast news, promotional image campaigns, music videos, short films, and documentaries. Check out his reel at hallett-brian.com