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Monday, October 8, 2012

EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM

A short review of my new 70-200 f/4 IS lens...

In preparation for a big trip to Alaska's Inner Passage this past August, I had sprung for a Canon EF 70-200 f/4 with IS. On my little Canon 20D, its comparable to a 112-320mm, just what I thought I might need in the wide open spaces of Alaska.

There are 4 versions of this lens from Canon: 
an f/4 non-IS (image stabilization)
an f/4 with IS
an f/2.8 non-IS
and an f/2.8 with IS

The f/4 non-IS is arguably the best value, at about $700 its hard to beat that much bang for your buck. The next two: the f/4 IS and the f/2.8 non-IS are about the same price ($1300+-) making deciding between these two a very difficult decision indeed. The f/2.8 with IS is right out of my price league, so unfortunately it was never a real consideration for me.
I wrestled between getting the f/4 with 3+ stops of IS, or the faster f/2.8 non-IS for awhile.
I eventually settled for the f/4 IS for several reasons: Its a lot lighter by about half (760 grams or 1.6 lbs, versus 1310 grams or 2.9lbs), smaller (76x172mm versus 85x194mm), and takes smaller=less pricey filters (67mm  versus 77mm) which completes the lens' weather-sealed abilities.
Also, f/4 offers plenty shallow Depth of Field for me, especially at these long focal lengths, and anecdotal feedback online pegs this as the sharpest of the four models, especially at wide open.
My initial reaction to first photos with it? Its given new life to my very dated 20D. This lens is as sharp and contrasty as promised. And the 300+mm reach it gives on the crop sensor was appreciated when I was faced with shooting glaciers and mountains from several miles away - necessitated by proximity limits for safety when approaching by ship in the inner passage, especially in the Tracy Arm area.
So here are some samples from that excursion. All photos are full-frame, no cropping:
Space Needle in Seattle at 22mm, f/8
We picked up our Alaska cruise in Seattle, so we got to Seattle a few days early to take advantage of exploring this great city. The above is a shot of the famous Space Needle with my favorite walk-around lens for the 20D; an EFS 17-85.

EF 70-200 f/4 IS at 200mm and f/8
This photo was shot from the same spot with the 70-200 at 200mm (320mm effective at the 1.6 crop of the 20D) You can see there is very little detectable vignetting at the corners, and the detail is just really nice, with hard edges and good contrast. Even though the shutter speed is 1/250th, I appreciated the IS for keeping such a long shot rock-steady in the viewfinder.

The Blue Angels were rehearsing for an airshow for the upcoming Seafare celebrations, allowing me to try the IS set in panning mode (Mode 2). The lens was quick to focus, and it was easy to grab shots of them as they did a few flybys of the Needle:

70-200 f/4 at 200mm, f/8, 1/1000th

Here's a shot of me using the 70-200 in Tracy Arm, Alaska:

You can see how relatively compact this lens can be. Its true length ends, of course, at the beginning of the black lens shade, which is itself about half as long as the actual lens. I also equipped the front lens element with a high-end UV filter, a B+W Clear UV Haze with Multi-Resistant Coating, for protection from the Alaskan elements.
Unlike your run-of-the-mill Tiffen filter that sells for about ten bucks, Pro filters from manufacturers like B+W or Hoya will run you from about fifty to well over a hundred bucks. But what you get is a high quality piece of low-dispersion Schott glass with sophisticated multi-coated optics that won't degrade the image from your $1200+ lens. Money well spent. The particular B+W UV filter I got  reflects so little light, passing it all into the lens, that it appears very dark when you look at it. Doing plenty of pixel-peeping, I was unable to determine any degrading of sharpness or contrast with using this filter versus control tests without it.
I've quickly come to love this lens. The only drawback for me so far, is that the focal range is often a bit long on the 1.6 crop sensor of the 20D, except in cases like in Alaska, where the scenery is far away. I did get a chance to use this lens on a full-frame 5DmkII for portraits, and it was a near perfect experience.
I'll finish with a series of photos from Alaska, all full-frame of course:

127mm, f/5.6, 1/90th
70mm, f/8, 1/250
200mm, f/8, 1/60th
200mm, f/8, 1/125th
200mm, f/8, 1/350th
70mm, f/8, 1/500th
200mm, f/8, 1/90th

Pano built of 4 shots, 200mm, f/8, 1/500th
200mm, f/8, 1/250th
This is where the IS really shines: 200mm, f/8, 1/10th
That's ONE-TENTH of a second. It had started to rain and got very dark.
While its a little soft at pixel-peeping levels, for even a large print, its plenty sharp.
70mm, f/8, 1/180th
155mm, f/5.6, 1/45th
This was a captive-rescued bald eagle in Juneau
As you can see, I shot a lot of Alaska using the adage "f/8 and be there". In a future article, I'll show you what this lens can do wide open (hint: its really nice)

1 comment:

  1. Love the photos. Alaska is one of those places I want to go visit one day. I am hoping Santa gets the hints I have been leaving about this lens. Can't wait to go to the mountains for the photo safari.