Whether you’re a seasoned pro, a soccer mom, or are brand new to photography, there is one thing that we all have in common…the desire to take the best photographs that we can take. There are usually three ingredients involved in taking quality images. The first is your skill level, which usually increases with experience. The second is your equipment and knowing how to get the most out of it. The third ingredient, which is sometimes not even in the recipe, is luck. This most often involves being in the right place at the right time and having a camera with you so you can get that amazing shot. This post will be taking a look at ingredient number two, which in this case is the Canon EF 70-200 f/4.0L USM telephoto-zoom lens. I’m going to tell you up front that if you are looking for a pixel-peeping, spec quoting ’til your mind is numb type of review, you won’t find it here. There are plenty of reviews on the internet that gives you all of that type of information that you will ever need. I prefer to focus on the results of shooting with this lens. In other words, how does the photograph look? How is the color? How is the contrast? How is the clarity? Well, lets take a look.
If you are like a lot of people new to the world of DSLR’s, you’re probably shooting with a kit lens. If you’re shooting a Canon (no pun intended…or was it), that usually means the EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II. It’s a great little lens as far as kit lenses go, but even on a crop sensor camera with the 1.6x multiplication factor, it really doesn’t have much reach to it. Which means that it’s good for some scenic shots, some portraiture, and shots of the kids around the house. But, let say that you’re a soccer mom (or dad) and are looking to get the best shots that you can of your young ones on the field. You’re going to need a lot longer lens than what you have with the kit lens. Canon offers eleven different telephoto-zoom lenses with lengths starting between 55mm and 75mm, with the two starting at 55mm being EF-S lenses at 55mm-250mm length. At the low end of the price range is the EF 75-300 f/4-5.6 III USM for $179. The high end of the price range is the $2,099 EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM.
The subject of the post, the EF 70-200mm f/4.0L USM sits at about one-third up the price range at $649USD. It is one of four 70-200mm lenses that Canon offers in it’s series of ‘L’ lenses (‘L’ stands for Luxury) and is the least expensive of the four. The other three are a f/4.0 version with image stabilization, then two versions of the 70-200 f/2.8, one with image stabilization and one without.
What do you get for your $649? You get a lot of photographic bang for your buck. The lens features sixteen elements in thirteen groups, with one artificial fluorite element and two ultra-low dispersion elements. Personally, I have shot in all different types of lighting conditions and have never had an issue with chromatic aberrations when using this lens. It also has both internal zooming and focusing and features a non-rotating front element, which aids in the use of polarizing filters. It has an ultra-sonic motor for fast and quiet autofocus with manual focus override for those times that you need it. The closest focusing distance is 1.2 meters (3.9 feet) and it has two focusing modes, one from 3.9 feet to infinity, and the other from 3 meters (9.8 feet) to infinity. If you are shooting with subjects farther away, set it to 9.8 feet to infinity to get yourself quicker focusing of your kids running up and down the soccer field. It has eight diaphragm blades, which gives you wonderful bokeh when shooting wide open, or near wide open. The one thing that you don’t get for your $649, is a tripod collar. The lens is incredibly light for a tele-zoom with a metal barrel and I quite often shoot for hours at an airshow hand holding the camera and lens. I frequently use a collar and monopod while shooting games when I’m at field level. If you want the Canon name on your tripod collar, be prepared to shell out $144. If you want to save yourself almost $100, try the Vello tripod collar at a mere $49. The lens uses 67mm filters and you’ll want to make sure that you get yourself a high quality UV filter and put it on before taking this gem out for a spin. While you can get UV filters for as low as $12, I’d stay away from the cheap ones. If you are stretching your budget to the breaking point just by getting the lens, then get what you can and upgrade your filter as soon as you can afford to. The image quality you get from having a professional quality lens will be degraded by putting an inferior filter in front of it. That said, protecting your investment and keeping the front element safe from potential damage is a completely valid reason to get a cheap filter if you cannot afford a higher priced one. Also, while you do not get a tripod collar or UV filter with the lens, you do get a very nice case for it and a hood to help reduce sun flare.
I’ve been shooting with my copy of the incredible lens for the past five years and have used it at everything from weddings to airshows to the America’s Cup races in San Francisco Bay. It’s been used at NASCAR races and MLB games, as well as college sporting events and my nephew’s weekend soccer games. Prior to getting the lens, I shot a couple of weddings with the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM and found it to be somewhat softer than I’d like when shooting wide open. I find the f/4.0L to be a sharper lens when wide open. It used to be the lens that was attached to my primary camera body in my camera bag, as I use it that often. Now I’ve changed my lens line-up a bit, it lives in my camera bag with the Canon Extender 1.4x attached.
I’ve shot this lens using both film and digital cameras. My 35mm monster is the EOS 1N-HS that is capable of shooting six frames-per-second, and is the camera that you see in the photo towards the top of this post. I’ve used this lens with consumer level cameras, prosumer level cameras, and professional full-frame cameras, and it never disappoints me. The color, contrast, and clarity are second to none and I’m sure will please the most discriminating of photographers that give it a try.
I’ve done a lot of volunteer work in my life and most of it as of late involves dogs. Whether it was when I was with Companions for Heroes, or photographing events for Canine Companions for Independence , or taking photos for a couple of different rescue organizations that I’ve worked with in the past. Below are several of my favorite puppy pics taken with the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0L USM.
Being a retired Air Force pilot, I have an affinity for airshows and photographing those daring young men (and women) in their flying machines.
One of the two musical groups performing at Woofstock in 2013 at the Marin Humane Society was Rudy Colombini and The Unauthorized Rolling Stones. One of the top cover bands around, they have opened for the likes of Train, Sheryl Crow, The Beach Boys, and many others. Below are a few of the shots that I got of Rudy and the group with my Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0L USM.
To find out more about Rudy Colombini and The Unauthorized Rolling Stones, click on the link below.
For the soccer moms (and dads) out there that would like to know how it does shooting sports…take a look and see what you think.
One of the things that I like to do is take pictures of people taking pictures…I know, call me crazy. Whether it’s at a wedding or a major event like the America’s Cup races in San Francisco Bay, as was the case in this shot, I’m always looking to get a shot of someone getting the shot.
If artistic shots are more your style, this lens works well in that domain.
So, as you can see the color, contrast, and clarity of the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0L all combine to create an unbeatable image quality. It has incredible optics that are super sharp and can give you that buttery smooth bokeh that we all love. Add the fact that this relatively lightweight wonder currently retails for only $649, and you can see why I say it is a must for most every Canon shooters camera bag.