What's the second best lens to the Canon 70-200, because I can't justify the expense of the Canon L glass? I don't shoot professionally, but I do want really nice advanced amateur photos.
To get almost-as-perfect images, in that optics range (70-200, with an f/2.8), consider the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 DG HSM II. This is what Sigma considers to be its "professional line" of lenses. While Sigma has had a love/hate relationship with photographers in years past, these newer digital-age "EX" lenses are very impressive, and for about half the price of the name-brand competition. Unless you're shooting images that get hyper-scrutinized in a professional setting, this lens should work quite nicely for you.
We're not currently impressed by the Tokina or Tamron equivalents in this range. Tokina opted for a system based on 18-50, 50-150, instead of the more mainstream 12-24,24-70,70-200. Tamron just can't see to get their anti-glare coatings as good as their competitors, leaving you with soft and fuzzy images wide open at f/2.8.
You can get the best deal on the Sigma at Amazon.com
, for $704 shipped (buy from Amazon
, not a third-party vendor):
I would also highly suggest a Hoya HMC (good) or S-HMC (better) UV filter for this (77mm thread size):
Good luck on all your photo-taking.