Thursday, 9 August 2007

Canon 70-200mm f2.8L IS

When I decided to change my kit from Nikon to Canon, I also decided that it was the perfect opportunity to get the lenses I really wanted. Most of my photography career has been a matter of compromise. I know what I would 'like' to own (or at least I think I do), but I have rarely been able to match my desires to reality.

All that has changed with the switch however, and I am now no longer prepared to compromise on image quality. I have advised so many people time and again that it's really the lens that counts and I'm finally going to take my own advice. Trouble is, all this lack of compromise comes at a hefty price!

When putting my budget together for the Canon kit, I portioned more than half of it for a lens. I knew I wanted a mid-range zoom, I knew I wanted a fast, fixed aperture, and I knew I wanted a Canon. I presumed that would steer me towards the 'L' series (and it did), and that I would end up buying a red rimmed lens. I was wrong.

What I eventually came away with was the Canon EF-S 17-55mm f2.8 IS - a non 'L' lens with an 'L' price tag. On the 30D it's gotta be the best all-round lens Canon produces - fast, sharp and with an Image Stabilizer to boot. Soon after I also picked up the EF-S 60mm macro, and my kit was starting to take shape.

Since then, I've been considering my next lens purchase. I could go ultra-wide and get the Canon EF-S 10-22mm, which also gets very good reviews. I must admit I am tempted, but I'm also not sure that an ultra-wide is where my style or interests lie at the moment. Instead, I think I will probably go the other way and look at Canon's telephoto options.

For me (and for a lot of others) that points in one direction - the 70-200mm 'L'. These 'white' telephotos are legendary in Canon circles, and also happen to be some of the sharpest zooms Canon make. They also come in four 'flavours' - two with IS, two without, and both versions available in either f4 or f2.8.

Now - remember what I said earlier about 'no compromises'? That's made my decision 'slightly' easier because I will opt for IS over non-IS any day. Why? Just 'cos. But seriously, IS is great to have with telephoto lenses because it GREATLY reduces the possibility of ruined photos due to camera shake. For telephoto lenses I wouldn't want to be without it.

So now it's just between the f4 or the f2.8 (pictured above). Normally this wouldn't be a consideration either - f2.8 wins hands down over f4 because it lets twice as much light in and has IS. So what's stopping me?

Well, two things really. First, there's the price. Yeah, I know, there's that word 'compromise' again. But this time I do think it's kinda justified, and is a good enough reason to give pause. At NZ$3200.00, the 70-200mm f2.8 'L' IS couldn't be called a cheap lens, and when you consider that for the same price I could get the f4 version and a second 30D body... well, you see my quandary.

My second issue is with the sheer weight of the lens. It's almost 1.5kg's for crying out loud! In comparison, the f4 is half that at 760gms - still not a featherweight. Canon's kit lens, the EF-S 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 by comparison, is a mere 190gms.

The proof is, as they say, in the pudding. And while I can surmise about this-and-that feature until the cows come home, I really needed to experience using the lens for myself to be able to formulate my own opinions. So last weekend I borrowed a 70-200mm f2.8'L' IS (thank's Richard) and took it for a spin.

The image opposite, of my son Joshua playing for the Karoro Crusader's (go the Crusader's!) Junior Hockey team, was shot on a very murky, overcast, cold and drizzly morning. Boy was I glad the lens went to f2.8! Even then, at ISO 400, most shots were taken around 100th of a second, with IS on. As you can see, the results were O.K - nothing startling, but O.K.

2.8 also gave a nice separation to the subject and background, and while the lens certainly is heavy, after a few minutes I didn't really notice it. I shot for about half an hour without any fatigue, but I wouldn't like to push my luck hand-holding this lens for a couple of hours on the trot without the use of at least a monopod. Even though the f4 lets in half as much light, I think I'd be willing to bump up the ISO for a speed gain for the pleasure of the extra mobility the lighter lens will bring me. I'd hate to get the f2.8 and then leave it at home because it was too heavy to carry around with me. Especially since my prime motivation for getting the lens will be for weddings and portraiture (with the odd hockey game thrown in for good measure).

Now before I get hate emails (yeah, like anyone actually reads this stuff), I will qualify all that I've said above by saying that my time with the 70-200mm f2.8 was all-too brief. But still, it was long enough for me to know that 'for me' the lighter f4 version is probably going to be the better option. Both are beautiful lenses. Some even say that the f4 version is a tad sharper.

For anyone else considering getting the f2.8 version of this lens, I would certainly advise that you get one and try it out on your camera. Even though the weight might not be a deal-breaker, it may still be an important factor in your decision to get one or not. That is, if the price hasn't already put you off!?

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