Tag Archives: Rugby

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM – Long-Term Review

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM

I’ve had my Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM lens since mid-2007. I bought a second hand model from the London Camera Exchange, treating myself to this fantastic piece of gear out of a  redundancy payment. They took my previous Sigma 135-400mm long zoom, and an old TTL Canon flash in part exchange. I think the final bill came to just under £1000 – which at the time was a bargain for this lens. It looks like you can still get one for about that now, so they’ve held their value extremely well.

At the time, I was attending lots of rugby matches, and taking photographs whenever I could.

Battering Ram
Battering Ram

During the winter, the matches would often finish under floodlights, so a lens with decent Image Stabilisation was essential. I was taking shots from the stands (not having access to the touchline), with the lens mounted on a small monopod, and supported on the edge of my seat. It worked reasonably well – the lens weighs in at a hefty 1.38Kg so holding that up by hand for 80 minutes would have been almost as brutal as playing a game of rugby myself!

By mid-2008, for various reasons, I was attending fewer rugby games and the lens was largely consigned to the back of a cupboard. Mainly due to its brutish weight. I’ve had a love-hate relationship with it ever since. I love the quality of images I get when I bother to use it. But I hate the bulk and weight of it and use it much less frequently than I should.

Fast-forward to mid-2010 and it had another outing, this time to photograph the wonderful lavender fields, mid-harvest, in Eynesford, Kent:

Stripes Of Lavender
Stripes Of Lavender

Having reacquainted myself with its image quality, I was reminded to take it out on a shoot to the Salute For Heroes event at Glemham Hall a few weeks later. It was perfect for the flypast of the B17 during the afternoon:

B17 Flypast
B17 Flypast

And perfect for getting up close and personal with the characters, whilst remaining safely at more than a pike’s distance from the action:

Lovely Plumage
Lovely Plumage

Such a long reach means you can capture images of twitchy nervous wildlife without getting close enough to upset them. Below is a Blue Tit in may parent’s garden (taken through the kitchen window):

Blue Tit With Seeds
Blue Tit With Seeds

As you can see, it gives brilliant differential focus, isolating the subject from its background. I also found the lens very useful in a butterfly house during an outing at Tropical Wings – the butterflies would flit away as soon as I tried getting close with my 60mm macro lens – but were blissfully unaware of me stalking them from a distance with the 100-400mm:

Marbled Wings
Marbled Wings

On my crop-sensor EOS 7D the lens’ longest focal length is equivalent to a whopping 640mm – that’s nearly a telescope! Which gave me an idea… One clear cold autumnal evening I decided to have a go at photographing the moon. This is a crop from approximately 1/4 of the frame, but I was astonished at the details I managed to record (it was mounted on a sturdy tripod, using a cable release and mirror lock-up to minimise vibrations):

Once In A Blue Moon
Once In A Blue Moon

And so we come full circle back to sport and action shots. Firstly, some Point-to-Point jump racing at Mark’s Tey in February:

Rumbling Down The Hill
Rumbling Down The Hill

And white-water action at the GB Olympic Canoe Trials in Waltham Cross in April:

Stripey Canoe
Stripey Canoe

It was at this event that the lens started playing up – something felt like it was snagging when you pulled the zoom ring back towards the wide end – it would “ping” and come back easily if you just exerted a little bit of pressure. Clearly it needed looking at. But sadly I didn’t have the time to get it sorted out until a couple of weeks ago – so it sat in the cupboard sulking for 7 months!

But having paid a sizeable sum to get it repaired at Colchester Camera Repair, I vowed (yet again) to take it out and use it more! Immediately after I collected it, I took it for a sunset shoot in Brightlingsea and got some great atmospheric results:

Sunset Doggy Walkers
Sunset Doggy Walkers

As you can see, the results from the lens speak for themselves. It’s a fabulous piece of equipment for wildlife, sports and action if you have the muscles to carry it about, and a strong enough tripod to set it up on. This time, I refuse to put it back in the cupboard, for it will be out of sight, out of mind – and it could then be months before I use it again!

February ’10 Review

February seemed to be the month of near-incessant rain and floods. Not, on the face of it, very promising from a photographic point of view.

However, I did enjoy a  photowalk around Cambridge with friends from the GNPC. The weather was a bit overcast, but I got a few interesting shots, the best of which was chosen for Day #769 – mainly because it fitted one of the Treasure Hunt themes so well.

Here are a few more which I was pleased with:

The King's Post Box
The Kings Post Box
Engineering Sculpture
Engineering Sculpture
Step Aboard
Step Aboard
Goody Two Shoes
Goody Two Shoes

I also managed to get to a local rugby match with Rodney, a friend from the Chelmsford Photowalk group. I hadn’t been to a game in ages, and although it was cold and dull you can really see the concentration on the players’ faces:

Another Lineout Won
Another Lineout Won
Pushover Scrum For Southend
Pushover Scrum For Southend

The end of the month saw another patch of bad weather, so I stayed indoors and decided to have some fun with food dye in water and experiment with fluid dynamics. I was very pleased with the results:

Red
Red
Green
Green
Blue
Blue
Combined
Combined

April Review

The beginning of the month saw me continue my exploration of colour, finishing off the rainbow and moving on to pink, brown, black, grey and white. I also saw some great rugby, and revisited a couple of places I hand’t been for ages, looking for pictures.

I’ll kick off with some “near misses” that almost made it as shot of the day during April:

Chemistry Student

[Chemistry Student – having fun with a stencil and a desk lamp on Day #92]

[Button Reflection – a stray button reflected in some shiny blue card nearly made it on Day #93]

[Pearl Bokeh – taking a close look at a bracelet on Day #94]

[Meniscus – a few bubbles in a bottle of pop on Day #95]

[The Eye – a knotty bit of wood from Day #96]

[Ancient Weapon – a replica flint tool taken on Day #98]

[Mesh Bokeh – more fun with stationery and my desk lamp from Day #99]

[Cup Cake Cases – finished off my colour exploration on Day #101]

How has the month gone?

At times, I found it a little hard to keep up the momentum, especially with having exhausted so many ideas on the exploring colour themes. So by the end of the month, I did feel as if some of my pictures were just acting as fillers – Days #112, #113, #114 and #121 in particular! But I did have a few interesting days out. This image from a trip to Suffolk was quite pleasing:

[Drama & Clouds – a classic view with a classic sky at Snape Maltings on Day #103]

Saracens had a fantastic trip to the Heineken Cup Semifinals agains Munster in Coventry on Day #118. Unfortunately, they didn’t win and go through to the finals, but it was the last game I saw “HRH” Richard Hill play, the end of an amazing career at the top of rugby union. The picture I chose for the day showed plenty of action, but this one [left] shows all the emotion at the end of the game when fellow Saracen Mosese Rauluni comforts Hill as he walks round the pitch for final accolades from Sarries and Munster fans alike. Truely the End Of An Era. You’ll be sadly missed, Hilly!

High ISO Noise Comparison

I have already talked a little about the effects of high ISO noise in a previous post. And one of the reasons I wanted to upgrade from my Canon EOS 300D to my new 30D was it’s alleged better performance at high ISO settings, plus the ability to choose ISO 3200 in really dark situations, whereas the old camera would only go up to ISO 1600.

So I thought it might be useful to take a closer look at some photos taken with each camera, and see if things really are any better in dim conditions.

EOS 300D – Sigma 135-400mm EF f/4.5-f/5.6 – ISO 1600

Back in December 2005, I went to see Saracens play Wasps away in High Wycombe. It was a fairly late kickoff, and being December, it wasn’t long before the floodlights were on and things were getting pretty dingy on the pitch. Here’s a picture of ref Ashley Rowden supervising the scrum:

[The ref’s head is highlighted above]

The picture doesn’t look too bad resized for viewing on the web. But looking at it at full resolution, you’ll see what happens:

[The highlighted section shown at Actual Pixels (100%) size]

You can see that the skin tones show noticeable coloured noise, and the black areas are also very mottled. The whole image is fairly soft and not very saturated.

EOS 30D – Canon 100-400mm EF L f/4.5-f/5.6 – ISO 1600 / ISO 3200 (HI)

Yesterday, I was back to see Saracens play Glasgow at home in Watford. Admittedly with a different lens, but it’s the camera body itself which is the biggest factor in image quality in low light. By the second half, the floodlights were on again, and this is the first shot we’ll look at taken at ISO 1600:

[The Scrum Half’s head is the piece to be enlarged]

Again, the photo above is good quality at web resolution, but I think there’s a definite improvement at full size:

[The second highlighted section shown at Actual Pixels (100%) size]

This time, the blacks are cleaner and there is less obtrusive coloured noise in the skin tones. It looks noticeably sharper, and the colours are more vivid.

Here’s another one, as it was getting even darker. In order to keep the shutter speed up, the only option was to increase the ISO setting, since I was working at the lens’ maximum aperture, f/5.6. So I used the ISO setting on HI – which basically means 3200:

[The Prop’s head is the bit we’re interested in]

I’m impressed with the web resolution image – certainly crisp, clean and good colours. And closeup?

[The third highlighted section shown at Actual Pixels (100%) size]

Pretty impressive! I’d say 3200 with the 30D looks better than 1600 with the 300D. So I reckon it’s been a worthwhile upgrade for that alone. Plus the fact the 30D is much quicker a writing images to the Compact Flash card – vital when taking a sequence of high-speed action photos. With the old camera, I would often be left frustrated after following the action up the pitch – I’d miss a try because the camera was still unloading it’s buffer to the card!

Needless to say, rugby in the dark days of winter push the capabilities of a camera quite hard. The speed of action and low light are both factors which probably won’t bother you too much if you just take a few holiday snaps or family pictures with your SLR.

Thinking Around The Subject

I take a lot of photos at rugby matches, but sometimes during the break or after the game can provide some really interesting subjects, not just the players on the pitch. This is particularly true when it’s a big Cup Final game.

On 19th May, I saw Bath vs ASM Clermont-Auvernge play the European Challenge Cup Final at Twickenham Stoop. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon, and by the time the game was over, and the trophy was being presented to the victorious ASM team, there was some great side lighting which really brought things alive.

So rather than show you any of the match photos, here are a selection of fans and player shots, to show what else of interest you can see by thinking laterally. (You can see more after-match photos too.)

Fans:

One thing I love about rugby is the fans – whichever team you support, there is always respect for good play and each other. We all sit together around the ground – there is no need for segregation. Yes, you’ll hear plenty of good- natured banter amongst the opposing crowd, but I’ve never seen any trouble of the sort which is all too common in and around football grounds.

[Left, La Dame d’Auvernge]

This lady was just on her way out of the ground after her team had won. I complimented her team on playing well (in my best French) and she rewarded me with a lovely beaming smile – which really summed up the spirit of the game and it’s supporters.

Celebrations:

The winning team lined up on my side of the pitch for the press shots – fortunately, I was a few rows higher in the stands, directly behind the press corps, and got some great shots of the players celebrating their victory:

[ECC Champions – ASM Clermont-Auvergne]

Some shots you know are going to be special when you press the shutter. The picture below was pure serendipity – I had no idea the ticker tape was due, but just as I pressed the button, it exploded around the cup, lit from behind by the low sun:

[Ticker Tape Explosion]

Of course, being in the right place at the right time is also vital. Often after a game, players will mingle with the crowd, or at least get close enough for you to get some nice portraits. The ASM team were keen to show off their trophy, and gulp champagne out of it too! The shot below was taken with the 400mm end of my 100-400mm IS zoom lens – it has superb quality, and this is about half-frame cropped from the middle of the picture:

[Drinking a toast – Loic Jacquet guzzles champagne out of the trophy, while his team mates look on in the reflection]

If you find you’re getting the same shots from familiar situations, why not try thinking around the subject a bit, it’s surprising what you can come up with, given a little thought and a little luck!