Sunday, February 26, 2017

Anyone for tennis? Canon 70-200mm f2.8 'L' lens lust.

I posted last time about my day spent at the Reefton Rodeo with the Nikon F4 and Canon EOS 1. I had a lot of fun, learned a few things, and got some great images.

What I didn’t tell you was that on the same day my son was playing in his first tennis tournament. And although I got back reasonably late in the afternoon, the tournament was still going. So what’s a Dad with an EOS 1, a few rolls of film and a borrowed Canon EF 70-200mm f2.8 to do? Start taking pictures of course! :-)

Tennis Tournament. Canon EOS 1 with Canon 70-200mm f2.8 'L'. Rollei Retro 100 film.
I had spent the day shooting through a wire fence at the Rodeo, and the same applied at the tennis. The courts are surrounded by high wire fencing, with only the players allowed on the court. So I got up close and personal with the wire again, and opened up to f2.8 to blur away the foreground.

Distinctive black and white Canon 'L' series lens
I only had ISO 100 film in the camera (Rollei Retro 100), but there was plenty of light left in the day, and opened up to f2.8 I was still getting decent shutter speeds to freeze the action. The Canon 70-200mm f2.8 is a big, heavy, gorgeous lens – smooth, fast, quick, quiet and accurate – everything you would expect from a Canon ‘L’ series lens. The ‘L’ line of lenses (L for Luxury) are Canon’s top pro series lenses, and are never hard to spot at any sporting event. They are the big white lenses that festoon the sidelines and outnumber any other manufacturer (i.e. Nikon) by 10 to 1.

At the Rodeo I had mounted the camera and lens on a monopod so that I wouldn’t have to hold all the weight (about 2.8kgs or just over 6lbs). But at the tennis I wanted to be a little more mobile, so I hand-held the kit so I could move around with the action. I shot like this for about an hour and didn’t get tired, but I wouldn’t want to carry that weight all day.

Deuce. Canon EOS 1 with 70-200mm f2.8 'L'. Rollei Retro 100 film
Another thing I noticed shooting the tennis was that the autofocus system ‘hunted’ a lot more than it had at the Rodeo. At the Rodeo, I was further away, and the subject had a lot more horizontal and vertical lines for the camera to lock on to. At the tennis I was a lot closer, so Josh was a lot bigger in the frame, but he was wearing a black top and black shorts, so the autofocus system was struggling to find something with contrast to lock on to. If the camera started to rack the lens back and forth (hunting for focus), I would recompose slightly on the edge of his clothing, and the camera would eventually lock on target again. I lost quite a few images waiting for this to happen, but I do understand why the single AF point was having trouble. Today’s cameras with upwards of 50+ focusing points no longer have this problem. Even two or three more focusing points would have made a huge difference. Give the single point autofocus some help and it’s lightning fast. Try to focus on a dark area with no contrast and you can expect the system to hunt for focus. Even with the ‘L’ series 70-200mm f2.8 attached.

Return of Serve. Canon EOS 1 with 70-200mm f2.8 'L'. Rollei Retro 100 film.
Despite its size and weight, the 70-200mm f2.8 ‘L’ is a joy to shoot with. I spent the whole day shooting with it wide open at f2.8 and the images are all tack sharp on the subject – and softly blurred in the background. The reason to get a fast f2.8 lens is so you can open it right up and get fast shutter speeds with beautiful background blur (bokeh). There’s no point in investing in an f2.8 lens that you have to stop down to f4 before its sharp. It kinda defeats the purpose. You want an f2.8 lens that is sharp at f2.8. And the Canon ‘L’ lens is definitely sharp wide open.

Canon specialise in the 70-200mm focal area, offering no less than four different 70-200mm ‘L’ series lenses. Two offer IS (image stabilisation) and two don’t. I was using the non-IS f2.8 variety (they also offer an IS and non-IS f4, as well as an IS f2.8), but never felt that camera shake was going to be an issue. First because at the Rodeo I was shooting on a monopod. And second because the f2.8 aperture was giving me easily hand-holdable 1/500th to 1/1000th sec shutter speeds.

First Tennis Tournament. EOS 1 with 70-200mm f2.8 'L'. Rollei Retro 100
As with the Rodeo, I was shooting in single shot mode using single autofocus (not continuous servo), because the action was slow enough not to need it, and I didn’t want to burn through film too quickly. It was easy to anticipate the peak of the action and trip the shutter at just the right time, without feeling the need to shoot a series of bursts and hope one of them was what I wanted. I’m sure that if I had been shooting digital, and had set the camera to shoot at 8fps, I would have had a lot more images to choose from to get just the right one. But I’m happy with what I got anyway, and it means that I only had to look through 36 photos to choose the best ones, not 360! Out of a 36 shot roll I scanned 10 of them that I considered ‘keepers’. Not a bad hit rate.

It’s dangerous when you borrow someone else’s lens to shoot with, especially when that lens just happens to be a Canon ‘L’ series. That’s a lot of gorgeous glass, designed to produce beautiful images, and make other lenses look inferior. And Canon’s ‘L’ glass does just that.

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