Canon EF 200-400mm F4 L EXT 1.4X Lens Review (Podcast 414)

Canon EF 200-400mm F4 L EXT 1.4X Lens Review (Podcast 414)

After many moons, finally here’s my Canon EF 200-400mm F4 L EXT 1.4X lens review! As you may recall, I bought this lens  back in June 2013, as I was able to get a good deal on some old gear that I sold to pay for it. I’ve dragged my feet on this review though, because I wanted to really take the lens though its paces first, and having now used it for some heavy wildlife shooting almost every day from the end of January to the end February this year, I’m now full of stuff I want to tell you.

There are also download and subscription options at the end of the post.

Before we start, I’d like to set expectations for this review. Although I sometimes do in studio tests for my cameras and sometimes lens reviews, the 200-400mm lens is predominantly a wildlife and sports lens, to be used mainly in the field, so that’s what I’ve based this review on—real world, in the field wildlife photography. I’m not going to do lab tests, as to me, how this lens handles and the results that it produces in the field are the most important aspects. Having said that, there were a few times when I tried something specific in the field, knowing that it’s the sort of thing that you might be interested in hearing about.

Also, before I get you too excited about this lens, know that it is expensive! I literally had to sell my old 300mm f/2.8, 600mm f/4 and 135mm f/2 lenses, and my old Canon 1Ds Mark III to cover the cost of this lens. As of March 2014, this lens is currently running at $11,299 on B&H, so it’s definitely up there with the most expensive glass on the market. Whether it’s worth this much is for you to decide. Personally, I think it is, or I wouldn’t have bought it, and my positioning has only been reinforced by actually using the lens.

Incredible Versatility!

One of the reasons this lens is so expensive, but what makes it so versatile, is the built-in 1.4X Extender. This is a revolutionary innovation by Canon, that really took the industry by storm when it was announced almost two years before the lens actually went on sale. As you can see in this photo, the lens bulges out to the side, to house the Extender when it is not engaged, and a simple lever style switch to engage or disengage it.

Canon EF 200-400mm F4 L Extender 1.4X Lens

Canon EF 200-400mm F4 L Extender 1.4X Lens

The action of the switch is well balance, and can be flicked up easily and quickly. In practice, although initially I fumbled trying to find the switch in a moment of fast-past shooting, once you get used to it, it really feels well positioned and can be flicked on or off very easily.

The amazing thing about having this Extender built in like this, is that we no longer have to unmount the lens from the camera to put on or remove an extender to obtain your required focal length. Essentially, you can zoom from 200mm to 400mm, then if you need the extra reach, you just flick a switch and your at 560mm.

If necessary of course, you can then pull back a little, and although you’d ideally only pull back to an effective focal length of 400mm, and not right back to 280mm, the widest focal length with the Extender engaged, in practice, I found myself pulling back past 400mm a number of times.

Although I’m mindful of this, and try to disengage the Extender when I don’t need it, as we’ll see, the image quality is unchanged with the Extender engaged, so I let the shooting situation decide how I work with the lens. If I am photographing birds in flight at a distance, I’m more likely to leave the Extender engaged, until the birds get really close, and then disengage it to pull back further.

Sample Images

Anyway, let’s take a look at some shots from the 200-400mm, so you can see why I’m head over heals with this little beauty. First, here’s a photograph of nine Red-Crowned Cranes in flight made at 400mm without the internal 1.4X Extender engaged. This is an un-cropped 18 megapixel file from the Canon EOS 1D X.

Nine Red-Crowned Cranes in Flight

Nine Red-Crowned Cranes in Flight

And so you can see just how detailed and sharp this image is, here is a 100% crop of the two cranes to the right of the group. This is resized in the blog post, so you’ll need to click on it to view the full-sized image before you’ll actually see it at 100%.

Nine Red-Crowned Cranes in Flight 100% Crop

Nine Red-Crowned Cranes in Flight 100% Crop

For a more closeup view of the sharpness, let also look at a crop from this photo, of a Steller’s Sea Eagle flying straight towards me.

Flying with Intent

Flying with Intent

This was shot at 386mm, so pulled back just a tad from 400mm. Here’s the 100% crop. I hope this is coming across with these examples, because when I first saw the detail in these images the hair on the back of my head stood up, and I’m used to seeing sharp images.

386mm shot at 100%

386mm shot at 100%

1.4X Extender Engaged

I know you want to see what the images look like with the 1.4X Extender engaged though, so let’s look at a few more examples. Here’s a photo of a Black Kite shot at 560mm with the 1D X. This is a slight crop along the right and bottom, but otherwise, and has +12 Clarity added in Lightroom, but otherwise straight out of the camera.

Black Kite Soaring

Black Kite Soaring

And here is the 100% crop. Remember, this is with the 1.4X Extender engaged, and at the full reach, 560mm. This photo just blows me away, so I hope you’re now starting to understand why I’ve fallen in love with this lens.

Black Kite Soaring  @ 560mm 100% Crop

Black Kite Soaring @ 560mm 100% Crop

Another Internal 1.4X Extender Example

I just have to share this shot with you too, as it blew me away. Here’s a shot at 526mm of a Steller’s Sea Eagle.

Steller's Sea Eagle

Steller’s Sea Eagle

And here again is a 100% crop of his head. This one gave me goose pimples. It’s straight out of the camera. I didn’t even add any Clarity or anything to this.

Steller's Sea Eagle @ 100%

Steller’s Sea Eagle @ 100%

Internal AND External Extender Performance

One of the first things I checked when I first heard of this lens, was if it was possible to add an external Extender as well as engaging the internal extender, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that you can. At full extent of course, this take the focal length from 560mm to 784mm. As an example, I shot this photo of an Ural Owl with the 5D Mark III, so had slightly more resolution at 22 megapixels than the 18 megapixel 1D X images.

Sleeping Ural Owl

Sleeping Ural Owl

Internal 1.4X Ext + External 1.4X Ext @ 100%

Internal 1.4X Ext + External 1.4X Ext @ 100%

I’m sure you’ll agree that although the image quality isn’t stunning anymore, it’s still very acceptable. I shot this image on the first of my two tours, using a monopod, at f/9 for an 1/800 of a second at ISO 800, as it was overcast on this day.

On my second tour, I decided to try a few other combinations, and luckily the Ural Owl was there again, so we have the same subject for our comparison, although it was a clearer day this time. In this example, I had both the internal 1.4X Extender engaged, and a 2.0X Extender, taking the focal length out to a whopping 1,120mm!

Sleepy Ural Owl @ 1120mm

Sleepy Ural Owl @ 1120mm

And here, is what I would consider a very acceptable quality image at 100%. It’s not world-beating clarity of course, but if you really need the reach, this is one way to get it.

Now, remember that as you add extenders your widest aperture becomes smaller. The lens drops from f/4 to f/5.6 when you engage the internal extender, but then it drops two more stops from f/5.6 through f/8 to f/11 when you add the 2.0X Extender which costs you two more stops. I shot this at f/11, the widest aperture possible, again at ISO 800, at 1/500 of a second. I was using a monopod here too.

Internal 1.4X Ext + External 2.0X Ext @ 100%

Internal 1.4X Ext + External 2.0X Ext @ 100%

Note too that you lose auto-focus with this combination, because your aperture is lower than f/8, the smallest aperture that the 1D X will auto-focus at. Still though, I’m really impressed with the image quality here, especially when we consider that it’s shot at 1,120mm.

There was one more surprise waiting for me though. While I had the 2.0X Extender fitted, I made a few images without the internal Extender engaged, to see what the image quality is like. Note too that the 2x extender takes you to 800mm at f8, whereas then internal 1.4x and external 1.4x only take you to 784mm. So here’s the full image shot at 800mm (left) and the 100% crop (right).

Ural Owl @ 800mm

Ural Owl @ 800mm

Only the 2.0X External Extender 100% Crop

Only the 2.0X External Extender 100% Crop

This to me actually looks sharper than when I use both the internal 1.4X Extender and an external 1.4X Extender, so this is something that I’ll definitely be bearing in mind when I do need the extra reach of an external extender.

The downside of using this combination of course is that it stops me from zooming out to 280mm. My shortest focal length would become 400mm, but if I need the reach, this is definitely an option. Also of course, although I’d lose auto-focus, I would have the option to zoom out to 1,120mm if I really needed to.

In hindsight, I probably should have also tried the lens with both the internal and external extenders fitted and shooting moving subjects, but I actually never felt the need for the extra reach on my two recent winter wonderland trips. When the need arises, I’ll let you know how the auto-focus bears up to this at some point in the future.

200-400mm + 5D Mark III Combination

One thing that I know some people are waiting to hear about is how the 200-400mm lens fairs with the 5D Mark III. Image quality isn’t an issue, but I found that the auto-focus performance for moving subjects drops considerably.

It often takes much longer to achieve initial focus, and then also when tracking with birds in flight it’s much more likely to lose focus for a while before regaining it, or losing it altogether until you stop focusing and then refocus. The 1D X will occasionally lose focus during a set, but it’s much less likely to do so, and when it does, it pretty much always recovers pretty quickly without any user intervention.

I had some sets of images of eagles flying straight towards the camera where the focus was just off by about the same amount for the entire set, and although this happened sometimes with the 1D Mark IV too, it just doesn’t happen any more with the 1D X. The 5D Mark III isn’t unworkable, but I shot the middle of three days of sea eagles on my second Winter Wonderland tour this year with the 5D Mark III, with almost identical weather conditions on all three days, and the difference was significant.

As I was going through my images after the tour, I couldn’t figure out why I was missing so many shots, and then I realized that I was looking at the day when I’d switched cameras. When I started going through my images from the following day, having switched back to the 1D X, it was like a breath of fresh air. The images were just so much more consistently sharp.

As I say though, the 5D Mark III and 200-400mm lens combination is not unworkable. Here’s an example of a shot made at 371mm, of a Steller’s Sea Eagle coming straight for the camera.

5D Mark III + 200-400mm f/4 EXT Lens at 371mm

5D Mark III + 200-400mm f/4 EXT Lens at 371mm

And here is a 100% crop of just the eagles face for comparison. As you can see, when you nail the focus, the results are great. But you’ll nail focus on fast moving subjects with far less frequency than you will with the 1D X. This is a shame really, as sometimes I like to forfeit the 12 frames per second that the 1D X gives me for a little extra resolution, but unless Canon release a firmware update to greatly improve the AI Servo focusing on the 5D Mark III, I think I’ll stick with the 1D X when using this lens.

5D Mark III + 200-400mm f/4 EXT Lens at 371mm 100% Crop

5D Mark III + 200-400mm f/4 EXT Lens at 371mm 100% Crop

I know there’s a big price difference between the 5D and the 1D X though, so maybe you don’t want to rule it out. The 5D Mark III is still an incredible all round camera, and often my go-to body. If you don’t shoot fast paced wildlife or sports, the 5D Mark III works fine with the 200-400mm, it may still be an option. Indeed I used this combination a number of times throughout my two 2014 Japan winter wonderland tours, and was only dissatisfied with the auto-focus or the AI Servo tracking ability on the 5D Mark III when shooting these eagle shots.

Weight and Portability

So, what other considerations might you want to bear in mind before taking the plunge on a big lens like this? Well, exactly that, it is a big chunk of glass, weighing it at 3,620g which is a hair under 8lb. Without getting into a discussion about downsizing to a mirror-less camera system though, the weight doesn’t really bother me, because this lens enabled me to replace my 300mm and 600mm lenses, which at 2,550g and 5,360g respectively totals 7,910g or 17.5lb, so I’m now carrying a wider focal length range for less size and weight, so I’m happy.

Hand-Holdability

After my old monopod broke many years ago, I didn’t replace it, because I didn’t really use it that often. Having tried to hand-hold the 200-400mm lens initially, I thought it would be too heavy, so I picked up a new Really Right Stuff monopod for these recent tours. It had been my intention to use the monopod on the boat from which we photograph the sea eagles.

200-400mm f/4 Lens in a Gura Gear Bataflae 32L Backpack

200-400mm f/4 Lens in a Gura Gear Bataflae 32L Backpack

I had taken the monopod on board the first day, and didn’t use it. There just really isn’t enough room, and I felt that it would actually hinder my movement, but I was also pleasantly surprised to find that this lens actually is hand-holdable, although you do feel it in your arms and shoulders after a while. There was actually a young lady on our tour who also had the 200-400mm and hand-held too, so it’s not just a man-thing. It seems to be doable. I haven’t abandoned the monopod altogether either. It’s getting used, just not in all the ways I imagined it would be.

Transporting the Lens

In the past I’ve had to take my 600mm in a different bag, because my main Gura Gear Bataflae 32L backpack was already full, with the 300mm, 70-200mm and a range of other lenses, but now I can fit my entire wildlife and landscape kit into the Bataflae 32L as we see here.

In fact, the 200-400mm lens fits comfortably down one side of the Bataflae 26L backpack, so if I leave my macro and 14mm prime lenses at home, the rest of my gear fits in the other side, so this kit is incredibly portable. That of course really helps when traveling by air, especially as the airlines are gradually tightening their baggage restrictions.

Also, because it’s smaller than the 600mm, I’ve not been using my Really Right Stuff long lens support with this lens, although I’m sure it would help to keep things nice and tight when shooting down below 1/100th of a second of so, but I also shot some images at 10 seconds, like this one (below) and they were sharp as tacks too, so not having to take that support though again helps to keep my overall travel weight down, so is a really welcome change.

Cranes at Roost

Cranes at Roost

RRS Replacement Collar Foot

I did replace the lens collar foot with the Really Right Stuff replacment, which I have to say is not one of their most beautiful creations. The replacement foot for the original 600mm IS lens was nicely formed, but the 200-400mm replacement isn’t as pretty. It’s functional and well engineered though, as you can see here.

Canon EF 200-400 f/4 L EXT 1.4X Lens with Really Right Stuff Replacement Foot

Canon EF 200-400 f/4 L EXT 1.4X Lens with Really Right Stuff Replacement Foot

Gimbal Heads

If you are wondering why I replace the foot that comes with the lens, this is because the Really Right Stuff replacement foot has the Arca Swiss style dovetail plate built in, and allows the lens to sit lower down in a Gimbal Head, which makes it easier to balance the lens and camera. Without the replacement foot, you have to add a plate to the bottom of the foot that comes with the lens, and that’s a big foot too, so it all adds up.

Although I mentioned hand-holding this lens earlier, when it’s possible to use a tripod it’s definitely better, especially when you are shooting for any length of time. Plus, if you are shooting a moving subject like birds in flight, a gimbal head or a sidekick is the way to go. Trying to track with a moving subject and keep your camera straight with a ball-head is just not an option.

I recently switched from my old original Wimberley Head to the Really Right Stuff PG-02 Full Gimbal Head. The Wimberley is a great gimbal head, and I was happy with mine for many years, even though it was the original heavier head, not the lighter mark II version, but I am so much happier with the Really Right Stuff. Not only can it be configured to use for shooting images to stitch together for panorama photos as I explain in my latest ebook Striking Landscapes, but as a gimbal head it’s simply a cut above the rest.

One merit is that it can be broken down and stored more easily, because it’s modular, but also, it has just the right amount of drag when tracking with birds in flight. It actually feels almost like a video fluid head in use, which makes for a very smooth panning action. You can apply a bit of traction with the locking nuts on the Wimberley, but it’s not as smooth as the RRS PG-02.

For storage and transporting the RRS gimbal head, I am using the LensCoat Really Right Stuff PG Gimbal Pouch, which holds all of the components that I need to build the Full Gimbal and I can also fit the parts for my panorama stitching setup too, so this protects the head and keeps it all nice and organized.

LensCoat Really Right Stuff PG02 Pouch

LensCoat Really Right Stuff PG02 Pouch

Case is Too Big!

One last word on transporting the 200-400mm lens itself. The case that comes with it, is although very sturdy and protective, it’s too big. It looks as though Canon have just reused the same outer shell as some of their bigger telephoto lenses, with a different inner molding, and there’s a lot of wasted space. As you can see in this last shot for this review, if they wanted to save money by using the larger case, they could have at least molded it in such as way that you could pack the camera with a body fitted. I don’t like to this, because it can put a lot of stress on the mount if the bag is banged, but the point it, the case is big enough to do this.

Canon EF 200-400mm F4 L Extender 1.4X Lens in its Case

Canon EF 200-400mm F4 L Extender 1.4X Lens in its Case

Conclusion

So, that’s my review of the 200-400mm F/4 Extender 1.4X lens. As I say, I’ve tried to base this on my real-world experience with this lens, rather than indoor tests, which is why I waited until I was able to really use the lens for a full month on my two 2014 Japan Winter Wonderland tours.

Many times I found myself giggle like a teenager at the sheer joy of being able to zoom again, for the first time in ten years. For so long now I’ve been shooting wildlife with my prime telephoto lenses, that I’d forgotten how much easier it is with the flexibility of a zoom lens. Having the ability to zoom from 200 through to 560mm with the flick of a switch, knowing that the image quality is as good if not better than my old prime lenses, is revolutionary.

The folks at Canon outdid themselves on this one!

Support the Podcast

This review is based purely on my own experiences and opinions and is not sponsored by Canon, B&H, Really Right Stuff or any other third party. If you decide to buy any of the items discussed, you can support this Podcast and site by buying from B&H using the below affiliate links.

 

Join us in 2015!

So, that’s it for this week, but before we finish, talking of my tours, if you’d like to join us in Japan for the 2015 Winter Wonderland tours, do take a look at the tour page at https://mbp.ac/ww2015, or sign up for our Tours and Workshops Newsletter for information on future tours as they are announced.

Pixels 2 Pigment is Back!

Also, note that I am bringing the Pixels 2 Pigment printing and digital workflow workshop back, with small group in-studio workshops here in Tokyo. The first workshop is going to be held on May 17 and 18, 2014, for a maximum of five participants, and everyone will be taking away either a large format print or a 20×30″ canvas gallery wrap, courtesy of our friends over at Breathing Color. We’ve already filled two places, so if you’d like to join us, please hurry. For details and to reserve your place, take a look at the new Pixels 2 Pigment page (https://mbp.ac/p2p).


Show Notes

RRS Replacement Foot: https://mbp.ac/200-400rf

RRS PG-02 Full Gimbal Head: https://mbp.ac/rrspg-02

LensCoat RRS Gimbal Pouch: https://mbp.ac/rrsgp

Japan Winter Wonderland 2015: https://mbp.ac/ww2015

Pixels 2 Pigment In-Studio Workshops: https://mbp.ac/p2p

Music from Music Alley: http://www.musicalley.com/


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Podcast 235 : Canon EF 70-200mm F2.8L IS II USM Lens Review

Podcast 235 : Canon EF 70-200mm F2.8L IS II USM Lens Review

On March 19th, 2010, Canon released the updated version of their famed workhorse, the EF 70-200mm F2.8L IS II USM lens. I have spent the last three days taking mine through its paces, and today I’m going to share my findings.

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I’ve been waiting for this update to the 70-200mm F2.8L IS lens for over two years. It was my workhorse lens since I bought my version one copy in 2006, and I was very happy with my results from it when I was using a 5D as my main camera. As soon as I upgraded to the 1Ds Mark III and then also shooting with the 5D Mark II, it became obvious that this camera was not resolving images quite enough to produce sharp shots when used wide open at F2.8 on these 21 megapixel cameras.

To compound the problem, at about the same time as I bought the 1Ds Mark III, I also bought a 300mm F2.8 L lens, which is as sharp as tacks, even when used wide open at F2.8. This is not an apples to apples comparison of course, as it is rare that a zoom lens will be as sharp as a prime lens, and the 300mm F2.8 is an exceptionally sharp prime lens. Still though, the timing of the purchase certainly affected how I felt about my old 70-200mm, and I found myself reaching for this lens less and less over the two years or so that followed.

Although I would usually part exchange my old lens when I buy a new one like this, I decided to keep my old 70-200 until I’d run some tests, so that’s exactly what I’ve been doing for the last three days. I thought it would be great if I could not only review the new version, but also I really wanted to compare it with the old one, to see if there really was a difference. This will also help those of you that current own a version one 70-200, and want to know if it’s worth upgrading or not. The definitive answer of course is, “it depends”. What I will say at this point is if you are already happy with the results you are getting with your current lens then don’t sweat it. There’s no need to upgrade if you are getting the results you want. The following review will just give you some additional information to help you make a comparison and weigh up the benefits against the cost if you are thinking about an upgrade.

What’s in the box?

The lens comes with a nice strong case, not the usual gray pouches that most lenses come with, which is nice for when you just want to throw it over your shoulder for more casual shooting about town for example. One word of advice about the case though, is attach an old camera strap and not the centimeter wide strap that comes with it, as that thing will cut your arm off from the shoulder if you walk around with it all day.

What's in the box?

What’s in the box?

You’ll also find the usual lens cap, rear dust cap, instructions manual, warranty card and a nice newly designed lens hood, as well as the lens itself of course. The box itself is considerable bigger than the original 70-200s box, as you can see below.

New Box is Much Larger

New Box is Much Larger

Newly Designed Lens Hood

As I said, the lens hood design has been changed, and there’s now a little button that you have to press before you can turn the lens to take it off the lens, both when it’s attached backwards for storage, or attached in the normal shooting position. This is actually a great improvement in my opinion. I found that the old lens hood turned too easily, especially after a little wear, so it could either drop off, or turn slightly while you are shooting, and because of the shape of the hood, if it turned, it could theoretically give rise to vignetting. Although this never happened to me with the old hood, I have noticed it in a rotated position in the past after walking with the lens dangling by my side, and had to straighten it up before shooting.

New Hood Release Button

New Hood Release Button

The new hood is also a matte finish, rather than the glossy plastic that the original hood had. The inside of the hood has a felt-like material on it, the same as the original one, but the matte plastic on the outside will make handling the hood better, compared to the glossy plastic old hood, which could be a little slippy to handle, especially with dry hands.

Comparison with Hoods

Comparison with Hoods

Wider Focusing Ring

Minor changes are that the new 70-200mm F2.8L IS II USM lens is about 2mm longer than the original, and has some smoother curves in places, and a lower profile switch panel. Externally the other obvious change and another improvement is the larger focusing ring. The new versions focusing ring is about 1.5 times wider than the original, which means you won’t have to search for the ring to manually focus while shooting. This is another one of those things that I didn’t realize was a problem until they fixed it, but I do seem to recall fumbling for this ring in the past. I manually tweak focus quite a lot, especially when shooting with LiveView, and I found it was just there for my hand when I reached for it, but I didn’t notice that the ring was bigger until I lined the two lenses up side by side to photograph them to illustrate this Podcast episode.

Comparison of Old and New

Comparison of Old and New

Internal Updates

Internally, the new version now has 1 fluorite and 5 UD elements, compared to 4 UD elements and no fluorite lenses in the old version. The 70-200mm F4 lens also has a fluorite element, and has historically been much sharper than the F2.8 lens, even at F4, so the fluorite element is a welcome addition to the new 70-200mm F2.8 lens.

Of course, the other nice changes is an additional stop of Image Stabilization. The original lens had 3 stop IS, and the new one is purported to have 4 stops of IS. This I guess and the other changes mean that the already somewhat heavy 70-200mm F2.8 lens, at 1470g is now 20g heavier in this version II incarnation, at 1490g. Either lens will start to take its toll on your arms and shoulders if used hand-held for any length of time, but once you are used to that, it’s definitely a hand-holdable lens, especially with it’s now 4 stop Image Stabilization.

Shorter Minimum Focus Distance

One other improvement that I should note that I’m very happy to see is that the new version now has a shorter minimum focus distance, which means you can get closer to your subject than you could before. Now, the specifications for this lens differ from the Japan site and the US Canon Web site. On the Japan site, and on the lens barrel itself I should note, it says that the minimum focus distance for the old version is 140cm, but on the US site, it says 1.3m or 130cm. Assuming that what it says on the lens itself if correct, the version II now gives us 20cm shorter minimal focus distance, which is actually very important when shooting flowers for example, or even portraits say, when you really want to fill the frame with the subjects face.

 

Focus Test Chart? Check!

Auto-Focus Tests

So, I did a number of tests with charts etc. and I did a lot of real-world shooting as well, which we’ll get to later. First, let’s take a look at how the lens fairs under some relatively strict but by no means scientific tests. The first thing I did, and I advice anyone to do when you buy a new lens, is to download and print out a lens test chart and do some tests. I used Tim Jackson’s Focus Test Chart, but you can also buy something like one of the Lens Align Pro Focus Calibration products, which I think I’m going to pick up at some point. Auto-focus accuracy can vary per copy, and although Canon manufacturing and quality assurance standards are very high, occasionally a bad copy gets through the production line, and you usually only have a week or two to check if yours is OK, and still be able to return it to the shop from which you bought it. Because of this, I test all of my new lenses for this as soon as I buy them.

I’ve included a photo of the chart that I shot wide open at F2.8 for your reference, but because the lens performed exactly as I’d expect, with the focus spot on after laying the test chart on the table, then shooting it from a 45° angle, and the using the auto focus to focus on the center line, I’m not going to share the full details of the test. Basically I shot the chart at 70mm, 115mm and 200mm, and worked my way through the apertures from F2.8, F3.2, F4, F5.6, F8, F11, F16, F22 and F32. The lens focused right on the line, and the results were fine.

Resolution Tests

I did want to see how sharp the lens was, both as a stand-alone test, to see if it lives up to my expectations, and in comparison to the original 70-200mm F2.8 lens, so I also photographed an ISO 12233 Resolution Test Chart, that I downloaded from Cornell University’s Web site.

ISO 12233 Resolution Test Chart

ISO 12233 Resolution Test Chart

The results were very favorable for the new version of the 70-200mm lens. I created a few animated GIF files that we’ll look at below to illustrate the difference in the resolving power between the two lenses. This first animation shows a comparison of the center of the chart shot with both lenses wide open at F2.8, at 70mm, 115mm and 200mm. We can see from this that the version II lens is just so much sharper than the old version at both extremes of its focal length, and in the middle. I start with the old version of the lens, and then switch to the version II image for each focal length, and you can just see the focus snap in as I switch to the version II image each time. This is very impressive to me.

Wide Open F2.8 @ 70mm, 115mm and 200mm Comparisons

Wide Open F2.8 @ 70mm, 115mm and 200mm Comparisons

Note that these animations are 100% crops of the original RAW files, and I ran only the default sharpening that Lightroom applies to all RAW files, unless you change the settings. There’s nothing else done to these images

The next animation shows the center of the chart, shot at 115mm focal length, and I rotate through all main apertures from F2.8 right down to the smallest aperture at F32. Although lenses generally get pretty soft due to diffraction when you stop them down through F16 and smaller, I shot F22 and F32 images as well, so that we could see just how much diffraction affects this lens, and again, I was very pleased with the results. As we cycle through the apertures, the first thing that you’ll notice is that the lens is sharp wide open at F2.8, and doesn’t really change through to F11, and then starts to get very slightly softer at F16, but even at F22 is suffers very little from diffraction, and even F32 is usable if you really needed the additional depth-of-field that this smallest aperture will provide, if you can accept a slightly soft image. Note too that at F32, to my eye, the lens is still sharper than the original version of this lens at F2.8, so again, I’m very happy with these results.

100% Crop Full Aperture Range @ 115mm

100% Crop Full Aperture Range @ 115mm

So far we’ve looked at the center of the chart, which I shot obviously with the center of the lens. As you know though, most lenses are less sharp around the edges than they are in the center, so I’ve also created an animation to show the top right corner of both lenses at F2.8. We can see that the old version of this lens is a mess at the edges at F2.8. (Note here though that the results are slightly skewed, because I was shooting up at the target by a centimeter or so. It was the only place on my wall that I could stick the target!) The results do get slightly better as you stop the lens down of course, but as I like to use lenses wide open, to capture scenes with flowers for example over at the edges, this has been a real pain for me with this lens. Because the chart, even printed out on 13×19″ paper, didn’t fill the frame at 70mm, this animation only shows the corners when shot at 115mm and 200mm. You can see here that even the version II is much softer in the top corner when used wide open that it is in the center, but within acceptable limits in my option. We can also see that it performs better at 200mm than it does at 115mm.

100% Crop of Top Right Corner @ 115mm and 200mm

100% Crop of Top Right Corner @ 115mm and 200mm

Real-World Examples

These tests are all well and good, but I know you also want to see how the lens fairs in the field. Again, I like to shoot the lens wide open, and as that’s usually the weakest aperture for most lenses, especially zoom lenses, I shot many of these examples wide open at F2.8. This first example photo, of a field of oilseed rape flowers, has the main subject along the right third, with the flower head close to the top of the frame.

Oilseed Rape with 70-200mm F2.8 Version II

Oilseed Rape with 70-200mm F2.8 Version II

I’m only going to include the 70-200mm F2.8 version II image here, as at the Web size, you really can’t see the difference between this and the version I image. But here are two 100% crops, first of from the Version I lens, and then from the version II lens.

100% Crop - Oilseed Rape with 70-200mm F2.8 Version I

100% Crop – Oilseed Rape with 70-200mm F2.8 Version I

100% Crop - Oilseed Rape with 70-200mm F2.8 Version II

100% Crop – Oilseed Rape with 70-200mm F2.8 Version II

You can see that the Version II lens has produced a much sharper image, even though the subject that I cropped out here is close to the edge of the lens, albeit not the very corner. Note that if you want to get a very quick comparison without scrolling, you can click the thumbnails at the bottom of this post, and navigate back and forth by clicking on the left and right side of the images.

I should note too that the original lens, although certainly softer, has produced a very nice image. If you are happy with that amount of sharpness, then you certainly won’t need to run out and buy the updated version. Let’s continue to look at some examples though, before you fully make up your mind.

I know that many people also use this lens as a portrait lens, so I paid a visit to my friendly Barber again, and asked him to pose for a few shots, again using both lenses for comparison.

My Barber - Ishioka-san

My Barber – Ishioka-san

Below again are two 100% crops of images from both the old and new version of this lens for comparison.

100% Crop with Version I of the 70-200mm F2.8L Lens

100% Crop with Version I of the 70-200mm F2.8L Lens

Again, very acceptable sharpness, but here’s a 100% crop from the version II lens.

100% Crop with Version II of the 70-200mm F2.8L Lens

100% Crop with Version II of the 70-200mm F2.8L Lens

So again, although the old version has produced a nice image, even wide open, the new version is sharper. I should also note here that if you think I’m being cruel by showing you a 100% crop of my barbers wrinkles, note that he’s over sixty years old. My eyes are more wrinkled than this and I’m 20 years younger than him!

Next I made a trip to a local temple called Daienji, and tried out the new four stop Image Stabilization. I have to say that I was not totally impressed with this. Not unimpressed with the IS in general, but I did not get great results as often as I’d hoped. I did get some usable shots though, and have in fact uploaded these last few images to my online gallery, so you can jump to them with their number that I’ll call out as I usually do as we look at these last few real-world example images.

First up is image number 2517, of some Jizou statues at the temple. I shot wide open at F2.8, and focused on the nearest eye, as I would a portrait shot. I noticed the lens searched quite a lot here, but it was very dark. The sun had already very low in the sky, and behind buildings. The temple grounds are walled in too, so there was little available light. I found though that the lens search less when I zoomed in, and got rid of some lighter patches in the background. It didn’t feel great, but this only happened with this subject, so I’m not going to panic about this just yet. I’ll update you later though if I see more of this searching. Let’s also bear in mind that this exposure required 1/30th of a second at ISO 200, so you can appreciate that there was not a lot of light.

Daienji Temple Jizou @ F2.8 1/30 ISO 200

Daienji Temple Jizou @ F2.8 1/30 ISO 200

In the next image, number 2519, I was shooting at 125mm which means if you use the rule of thumb of using the focal length as the minimum shutter speed, i.e. 1/125th of a second, we can calculate that four stops below that is 1/6th of a second with ISO 100.

Potchari Jizou @ F2.8 1/6 ISO 100

Potchari Jizou @ F2.8 1/6 ISO 100

Here I was testing that the new four stop Image Stabilization was as good as I’d hoped. I was kneeling in a similar position to my MBP Kneeling Man logo, but cranked over to one side a little to avoid an obstacle, so it wasn’t the most stable pose to shoot from, but I ended up shooting around 20 frames of this subject, and only about three were sharp. The others ranged from slightly soft to totally blurry.

Kareshi no Shashin F11 1/6400 ISO 100

Kareshi no Shashin F11 1/6400 ISO 100

I’d focused between the eye and the nose, to get some definition in the shape of the nose, and get the inside of the eye sharp, kind of juggling priorities to still get an overall well focused image, without increasing my depth-of-field. I use all sorts of tricks to keep my lenses wide open. 🙂

I actually uploaded six images shot with the new version II 70-200mm at this temple to Flickr and my Web site, but I’ll skip them here for the sake of time. I will put a link into the show-note though that will list all images shot with this lens in my online gallery, if you want to take a look.

As I was walking out of the Showa Memorial Park on Saturday afternoon, the sun was low in the sky, and there were lots of people still on the boating lake, and I shot one last image that I’d like to leave you with today, and that is number 2516 (right).

I shot this with an aperture of F11, and a shutter speed of 1/6400 of a second, because the sun was very bright reflecting off the water. I didn’t mind this as I didn’t particularly need a shallow depth-of-field here, and I didn’t really want to take the time to fit an ND filter, as there were a lot of people on the lake, and chances like this, with just one boat in the frame were not going to come along so often. I really like this image though, with the well-defined silhouette figures of the young couple enjoying a later afternoon row on the lake. There’s even a little bonus duck paddling along the top of the frame.

I just wanted to share this with you as a last example of the quality of this lens though, especially as I haven’t shown you any real-world examples with the lens stopped down below F2.8 yet.

Here though is a 100% crop (below) of the young woman and half of the guy in the boat. I’m sure you’ll agree that the sharpness of these silhouettes is incredible. Also, the way the lens handled the specular highlights is pretty impressive too. There’s nowhere that these highlights are overly bleeding into the silhouette of the couple. At least when I zoomed in to look at this one, I had one of those hair-standing-up-on-the-back-of-my-head moments.

100% Crop - Kareshi no Shashin

100% Crop – Kareshi no Shashin

So there you have my initial thoughts about the new EF 70-200F2.8L IS II USM Lens from Canon. if you currently own a version one lens and are using it with a high-resolution camera like the 5D Mark II or 1Ds Mark III, and if you are happy with your results, then you have nothing to worry about. I personally think the upgrade is worth it to get images this sharp wide-open. Even stopped down, the version is not as sharp as the new version, because it is simply out-resolved by the 21-megapixel sensors. As I say though, if you are happy with your current results, don’t sweat it.

I though am very pleased that I now have my workhorse 70-200 F2.8 lens back. Wild-horses couldn’t have kept me from digging deep for this one, and now that I’ve tested it out, I’m very pleased that I took the plunge.


NOTE: The week after this Podcast/Blog post, I did a follow up review, having tested the Version II F2.8 lens with the 1.4X and 2X Extenders (teleconverters). You can read and listen to the follow up review here:

https://martinbaileyphotography.com/2010/03/29/podcast-236-the-ef-70-200mm-f2-8l-is-ii-usm-lens-with-extenders/


Podcast show-notes:

Tim Jackson’s Focus Test Chart: http://focustestchart.com/chart.html

Cornell University’s Resolution Test Chart: https://mbp.ac/lenstestchart

Music from Music Alley: http://www.musicalley.com/


Audio

Download the Enhanced Podcast M4A files directly.


Canon EF 50mm F1.2 L Lens’ Dynamic Back-Focus

Canon EF 50mm F1.2 L Lens’ Dynamic Back-Focus

On August 1st, I bought a Canon EF 50mm F1.2 L USM Lens. I’d been thinking of getting this lens for a long time, though had held off because I heard that it back focused when trying to focus on things close to the lens. For much of my current work though, if I’m working close up, I often use LiveView and manual focus anyway, so I thought I’d go for it. After all, I usually put claims of back-focusing down to bad technique. I’ve not had a single lens that back focuses myself, and I’ve been through some glass.

Anyway, I’d been pretty busy over the last 10 days, but as I was coming towards the end of my two weeks grace period to take the lens back if there were problems, I figured I’d do a few tests. I set up my tripod and grabbed the Focus Test Chart that Tim Jackson kindly made available a few years ago, and shot a few tests. (UPDATE: I removed the old broken link. Try Jeffrey Friedl’s excellent chart instead.) To cut to the chase, I took the lens back and got a refund.

I have to admit I thought it was going to be a bit sharper wide open than it is. My 85mm F1.2 is much sharper wide open. Still, this is not the reason for my disappointment. Read on to see what happened…

First, here’s an animation of a cropped and of course re-sized image, showing most of the test chart page. This is really to let you see the big picture (pardon the pun). To see the 100% crop, you’ll need to scroll down a little more. First though, note that I used the 5D Mark II’s Autofocus Micro-adjustment feature to set the camera to bring the focus forward by 2 steps, and that was enough to make it possible to auto-focus on the black line that runs through the middle of the Test Chart. From this point, there was no more back-focusing, which is a good start, I’d hoped. Note, the 2 steps in the micro-adjustment does not necessarily equal 2mm, though it seemed to in my case today. Apparently the distance that a step adjust the focus depends on the maximum aperture of the lens (according to the 5D2 manual).

Test Chart shot with the Canon EF 50mm F1.2 L Lens

Test Chart shot with the Canon EF 50mm F1.2 L Lens

Now that you have an idea of what the entire chart looks like, take a look at a 100% crop of the right side of the chart (below). As we reel through apertures 1.2, 1.4, 2.0, 2.8, 4.0, 5.6 and 8.0, although it’s very soft to start with, you can see that the focus starts with the 2mm text both above and below the line of small text pretty much the same. They are both blurred, but to roughly the same degree. That’s because I did the micro-adjustment, and I used LiveView to ensure that the focus was set on the thick black line on the chart before starting to shoot. As I said, I didn’t start back-focused.

I didn’t adjust the focus again at all as I shot through apertures 1.2, 1.4, 2.0, 2.8, 4.0, 5.6 and 8.0. I actually shot F11 and F16 as well, there wasn’t much point in including these apertures here. Take a look, and see what you think of these results before reading on below.

100% Crop of right side of Test Chart

100% Crop of right side of Test Chart

As you can see, despite the fact that I focused as closely as possible on the thick black line on the chart, which is the same distance from the camera as the text that says “This text should be perfectly in focus” in this crop, the text starts to sharpen up from the back “2mm” text. Then the depth-of-field continues to increase backwards, and doesn’t really come forward to sharpen up the front “2mm” until we get to around F8.

Here’s what’s happening; as the aperture closes, the point of focus is slipping slowly backwards. By the time the lens starts to sharpen up at F2.0, the focus is already back as far as the back 2mm text, and because the focus continues to move backwards, it takes an aperture of F8 to give us enough depth-of-field to encompass the front 2mm text.

Of course, the depth-of-field should be distributed by around 1/3 in front and 2/3 behind the point on which we set the focus. But that’s not what we’re seeing here.

Because of this “dynamic” shift backwards, the only way to manually correct the focus while shooting is to hit the depth-of-field preview button near the lens mount on the camera body, and focus with the button depressed. I tested this at F2.0, F4.0 and F5.6, and it is possible to focus correctly, but when you look through the lens or check with live view without the DoF preview button pressed, and therefore the lens automatically set to wide open at F1.2, the focus runs off.

I was prepared to live with having to manually focus this lens when shooting things close to the camera, but I am not prepared to do all of my focus adjustments with the depth-of-field preview button pressed. That to me is just bad design.

I do just want to reiterate, that this problem only seems to happen when focusing at around 50cms, as in my tests. If you do not intend to work this closely, the lens is probably fine. There are many people getting great results with this lens at longer shooting distances. I might buy another copy at some point, and just forget about using it close up.

I am not prepared to put up with this at the moment though. I threw my test shots onto my laptop and took it to show the folks at the camera shop. Even though I’ve heard that Canon advises manual focus adjustment at close distances with this lens (though I can’t find a link to this statement anywhere), I was hoping that the the people at the camera store would tell me that the focus should not dynamically shift backwards, and suggest that I might have a dud lens. It would have been the my first dud lens from Canon, but I was hoping that would be their response. They didn’t say that though, and they couldn’t say that replacing the lens would make it any better, so I asked for my money back.

Boy am I glad that I checked this lens before my two week grace period ran out. I have to admit, I’m sad about this. I wanted to love this lens. I like the focal length, and I wanted that insane bokeh for some work that’s coming up, as well as some of my flowerscapes, but I just couldn’t bring myself to try another copy today. Maybe I’ll buy another copy later. For now, I’ve got a little space in my lens cabinet that looks awfully sad.

Canon EF 135mm F2 L USM Lens (Podcast 166)

Canon EF 135mm F2 L USM Lens (Podcast 166)

From today, possibly for the next three weeks, I’m going to do a bit of a review of three lenses that I have picked up in the last few months, and not had a chance to talk about yet. Today we’ll take a look at some shots from the Canon EF 135mm F2L USM lens. In the following two episodes, we’ll also look at the TS-E 90mm F2.8 lens, which is a tilt and shift lens, and then we’ll also look at the 14mm F2.8L II USM lens, which I picked up last weekend. Today though, let’s jump right in and take a look at some shots from the 135mm F2 lens.

Canon EF 135mm F2 L USM Lens

Canon EF 135mm F2 L USM Lens

So, let’s start off by bringing up a shot of this little baby from my online gallery, and that is image number 2019. This is one of those lenses that I have heard so much about, and yet not gotten around to picking up for the longest time. It’s often difficult to warrant picking up a lens that you almost have covered with another lens. I have the 70-200mm F2.8 L workhorse lens, and of course, that lens goes through 135mm, all be it at F2.8. The thing is, the 70-200mm although very sharp for a zoom, still can be beat in sharpness by a good prime lens, and the extra stop of aperture from F2.8 to F2 gives you not only a brighter viewfinder, but also considerably more bokeh at the same shooting distance.

Also consider that the closest focus distance of the 70-200 is 1.3m or 4.3 feet, whereas the 135mm F2 will focus as close as 0.9m or 3 feet, which will make a difference. The closer you can get of course, the more bokeh you get. It doesn’t sound much, but for example, if you focus at the minimum focus distance of the 70-200mm at 135mm with the aperture wide open at F2.8, you will get a depth-of-field of 14mm. If you use F2.8 with the 135mm F2 at its closest focus distance of 90cms, your depth of field is less than half that, at 6mm. If you open up to F2, we’re talking just 5mm, almost one third of the 70-200mm. Another problem is that the 70-200mm, although a very nice sharp lens, can be a tad soft when used wide open. It’s definitely not to the point where you feel dissatisfied with the results, but it could be sharper. Please don’t get me wrong, the 70-200mm is a beautiful lens, and will remain my live-in lens in the most part, but for portraits and any other work where I want to get that little bit closer and really nail the eyes, as sharp as tacks, then the 135mm is hard to beat.

In case you were wondering how I shot the image that we have up right now, I actually just used the sun pouring into my kitchen through net curtains at the weekend, and placed the lens on top of its box, and then totally over-exposed the background. You can faintly see the writing on the box and the red band with the Canon log running along the bottom third. I also used a large circular reflector to pop some light back into this side of the lens, as it would have been too dark without that.

Orange Hat Mizuko with X Flower

Orange Hat Mizuko with X Flower

Anyway, let’s look at a real-world example, from my test shoot shortly after picking this lens up, and that is image number 1958. Here we see the little orange hat Mizuko statues at the Daienji Temple. I like this location because it’s easy to see how the bokeh develops as the orange hats lead off into the distance. Here I’d shot wide open at F2, and we can see that the face of the statue on which I focused is nice and sharp, as are the two flower stems that lead off either side, making an X shape. The statue directly behind and in front of the main subject are starting to blur nicely though, and then as we move up the incline into the distance we can see the orange hats become more and more blurred until they become just blotches of colour, amongst the green and grey sea.

Another shot from the same location is the larger orange hat Jizou statues that we also looked at in my G10 review in episodes 160 and 161 . This is image number 1959. As I mentioned in that review, we are not really comparing apples to apples, so I won’t be bad-mouthing my little G10 here, but the amount of bokeh that we see in the second distant statue in this shot is simply not possible with the G10. One other thing that I’ve noticed is that just through the inherent sharpness of the 135mm F2, even though by the laws of physics the depth-of-field is really shallow, there seems to be enough detail in the bokeh to be able to shoot with an incredibly shallow DOF and yet the areas just outside of it remain sharp enough for long enough to be able to go shallower than one might think you can.

Orange Hat Jizou

Orange Hat Jizou

Here’s another example, in image number 1960. Once again, meet the guy that has been cutting my hair for the last 8 years, Choujirou Ishioka. Here I shot him outside his shop in natural light, again with the aperture wide open at F2. Although the 85mm F1.2 L lens is also considered a great portrait lens, it’s relatively long minimal focus distance of 0.95m or 3.2 feet, even longer than the 135mm, means that it is not possible to fill the frame with the subjects head like this. Another reason why I decided to pull the trigger on the 135mm. You can see here though that I have totally filled the frame with the barber’s face. Needless to say, I have focused on his eyes, and when I got home and looked at this on the PC, and zoomed in to check how sharp the eyes were, it was one of those hair-standing-up-on-the-back-of-my-head-while-chuckling-out-loud moments. Without a doubt a luxury lens to add just for the bokeh, but the sharpness really just blew me away. As I’ve done before, if anyone is interested in seeing this at 100%, please just let me know in the forum at martinbaileyphotography.com and I’ll post that for you to take a look at.

Chojiro Ishioka

Chojiro Ishioka

The Barber

The Barber

In the next image, also of the barber, image number 1961, we can see that I’ve done an environmental portrait. I had him hold his comb and scissors, and stand next to the traditional rotating barber sign. Still with that great smile that he has, I really like this shot. This one I also mentioned in the G10 review, and noted that with the G10, even wide open at F2.8, we can see everything inside the store, right back to the mirrors on the wall. Here there is nothing in focus enough to be able to make out what it is, which is really what I love about these shots. Note that I converted to Black and White, almost sepia actually, in Lightroom 2, and I added a vignette to darken the corners for a slightly more classic look. I actually gave the barber a print of each of these photos, printed on Hahnemuehle Museum Etching fine art paper, and autographed and stamped, pretty much like the Web version you can see here. He loves the prints, and has been showing them to all sorts of people that visit his store. I’m probably going to see more work coming in as a result of this, so asking him if I could shoot his portraits is really turning out to be a win, win then win again situation.

Friendly Smirk

Friendly Smirk

Finally, I couldn’t finish this Podcast without taking another look at the image we finished episode 164 on, when we looked at some shots from a recent visit to China. This is image number 1974. Probably one of my favourites for the year, I really like this shot. As I add portrait images to my portfolio I’m pretty soon going to be ready to prepare a portfolio slideshow. I will probably try to get to that after my 2008 update of The Nature of Japan portfolio which I’m hoping to do by the end of the year. Anyway, back to the image, this again was shot wide open at F2. I’ve cropped a little off this image though, so he was a little further away than it might seem, and that means that we have a fair amount of depth-of-field here. Again though, I focused on the eyes, and let the background fade off into the bokeh. That beautifully smooth toned wall behind him actually did have a little texture, but it is totally smoothed out by the bokeh of the lens. Once again when I zoomed in and checked the sharpness, the eyes just pop out at you, and I had another one of the cackling fits.

So to round up, I probably don’t need to, but I guess I should say that I am very happy with this lens. It’s a luxury addition to the arsenal, without doubt. If I had to live without it, I probably could, but it definitely opens up doors that were previous closed. I am also looking forward to using it for still life and flower shots, with even more dreamy bokeh than I’ve been able to get so far. I’m definitely turning into a bokeh junky.

Is there anything that I don’t like about this lens? Well, there’s the modern gripe I guess that it doesn’t have Image Stabilization. For a telephoto lens I guess that would have been nice, but it’s a bright enough lens that you can get pretty fast shutter speeds even in low-ish light, and if adding IS had even the slightest negative effect on that sharpness, then I definitely don’t need it. Also, this is a relatively slim lens for the aperture. Adding IS would fatten it up some, which I can live without too, especially as this lens will be used in the street where smaller is definitely better. With all taken into consideration, once again, I’m very happy with this lens, and can’t wait to continue to take it through its paces.

So, a relatively quick one today, but doing more than one of these lens reviews in one episode would be too much. Let’s split them up and keep it clean. Unless something comes up in the meantime, stay tuned for the next two episodes when I’ll talk about the TS-E 90mm F2.8 and the new version of the Canon EF 14mm F2.8L lens, which has also totally blown me away.

Just one quick note to finish on, is that I finally got around to putting a book together on the photos that we shot in Hokkaido in January of this year, 2008. I have published the book on Blurb.com, and will put a link into the show notes if you want to check it out. The book is 96 pages, and contain 12 photos from 4 of the 5 participants, plus 12 of my own, and there’s a bunch of documentary shots that some of us took while there too, and it makes for a nice look at what went off in Hokkaido on our first workshop. With that though, I’ll sign off for today, so all that remains to be said is you have a great week, whatever you’re doing. Bye-bye.


Show Notes

You can find our Hokkaido book on Blurb here: http://www.blurb.com/books/480398

The music in this episode is from the PodShow Podsafe Music Network at http://music.podshow.com/


Audio

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