When I first got my Canon 70-200mm EF f/4 L USM lens secondhand from a friend in February last year, it was to have a smaller, lighter alternative to the monster 100-400mm EF f/4.5-5.6L IS USM which I also own. And I hoped it would make a good companion to the Canon 24-105mm EF f/4 L IS USM which is my regular standard zoom for days out.
My thinking was that I would use this one more frequently as it’s much less strain on the arms if you are using it without a tripod (which I tend to do – I’m too lazy to drag a tripod everywhere and it slows down my spontaneity).
Looking back over the last fifteen months or so, I realise I’ve actually used it more than I thought – but only on relatively few photographic outings.
The first real run out was a day in Brighton in April 2011, meeting photographic friends for a shoot. The light was mediocre but I was reasonably pleased with the results. Here’s one of the West Pier:
A group from GNPC went to RHS Hyde Hall in May to photograph the magnificent floral displays. It was a beautiful sunny if windy day and the images from that shoot produced some vibrant colours with great bokeh in the background. This yellow poppy illustrates it perfectly.
With plenty of light around, the 70-200mm focal length is a cracking option for this sort of picture, especially if the flowers you want to photograph are in the middle of a well-manicured bed and you can’t get any closer to your subject!
It’s not really suitable for macro or close up work, as the closest focus distance is 1.2m. The 705g weight isn’t too onerous on the shoulders – either in the kit bag or on the front of the camera – and only 35g heavier than my 24-105.
The next trip it went out on was the Shoot Maldon Live event with Upminster Camera Club, where I was judging the images made on the day, straight out of camera. I thought it only fair that I had a go myself!
This classic view of the Thames Barges at the Hythe shows the weather was occasionally sunny, but mainly overcast. It’s not a bad lens for landscape work, but the 700mm widest focal length can be a bit limiting for this type of photography, depending on your location circumstances.
Later on in May I was out again with the Chelmsford Flickr folk for their 30th Photowalk. We attended the Essex Young Farmers’ Country Show.
The lens was great for isolating interesting details from the shiny old tractors and farm equipment, but proved a little bit short on zoom length for the aerial motorbike displays – many of which had to be cropped in post production to fill the frame a bit more compared to straight out of the camera. The light had also gone very dim by that stage, so I was struggling for a decent shutter speed, even with the lens wide open at f/4. And the lack of Image Stabilisation meant I was a bit disappointed with many of the resulting shots. The one on the right shows one of the bikers taken at 200mm, with a 100% pixel comparison of part of the rear wheel – it’s not terribly crisp.
I had another go in low light at the beginning of June, when I found myself on the South Bank to witness a rather impressive dusk after sunset.
I made this image of Charing Cross by steadying the lens on the railings by the side of the river. Otherwise the lack of IS would have given me quite blurry images – and I didn’t dare push the ISO too much beyond 800 for fear of losing some of the details in the shadows and vibrancy of colours in the highlights.
I would have liked a slightly wider view of the scene but at 70mm, this is as wide as it got. Once again, I felt I was hitting a few of the lens’ limitations on this particular shoot.
In July I went with some friends from GNPC to the War & Peace show in Paddock Wood. I was hoping for some good candid portraits of the re-enacters so packed the lens in my bag.
It did prove to be a great portrait lens during the day. I loved this picture of a young “German” airman – which nearly made it to image of the day for Day #1299. But I did feel a bit conspicuous wandering around with the “white” lens and got asked several times if I was from the press!
In September a friend and I attended the London Tattoo Convention for the first time. We weren’t quite sure what to expect but knew there would be plenty of opportunity for people-watching – so again, the 70-200 was packed in the kit bag.
The folks there were very friendly and approachable, many of them more than happy to pose for photos.
The halls where the event was held were quite dingy, so I was once more hampered by the lack of IS with the lens. The best shots I got all day were in the central courtyard which has huge skylights in the roof. This red head was being pursued by many paparazzi so I was lucky the 200mm focal length got me a shot between other people’s heads!
There was quite a hiatus before I took the lens out again – a few days ago I attended the GB Olympic Canoeing Trials at the White Water Centre in Waltham Cross.
The primary lens I took along to capture the action was the 100-400 as I wanted to fill the frame as much as possible. But I packed the 70-200 as a backup and I’m glad I did – a few shots into the event and my 100-400 lens started playing up!
So the 70-200 proved to be a useful alternative, especially when the sun was out. The image above was made from a few feet away from the edge of the course. I didn’t have a press pass so wasn’t allowed “inside the ropes” but I still got some reasonable pictures.
Ultimately, I’m still undecided if I want to keep the lens. It didn’t cost me a lot as it was second hand. But I think 70-200 is just the wrong focal range for my current kit lineup. It overlaps the 24-105 by quite a lot, yet doesn’t really get much further at the long end to justify carrying it around. I prefer the 100-400 for sports and action shots, mainly for the versatility of zoom range and Image Stabilisation, which I do really miss on the shorter 70-200.
It’s certainly a great lens for some subjects such as flowers and portraiture, given enough light. Sadly the UK’s record for sunny conditions aren’t that great though! I’ll probably have a think about alternatives to this lens and write more when I’ve come to a decision.