A Tribute to a Lens – Canon EF 16-35mm f2.8L (Podcast 471)

A Tribute to a Lens – Canon EF 16-35mm f2.8L (Podcast 471)

This week we continue with our tribute to a lens series, with the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II lens. Once again, I’m going to share 10 photos made with this lens over the last six years, with some commentary on why I found this glass to be so very special.

To give you a bit of background before we start, I feel that I need to give an honorable mention to this lens’ two predecessors. When I bought my first digital SLR camera back in 2001, the line I used to my wife to get spousal approval to buy such an expensive piece of kit, was that I already had lenses. I just needed to buy the body and I was set.

At the time I owned a 24mm prime lens, a 35-105mm zoom and a 100-300mm zoom lens. The 24mm was actually pretty good, but the 35-105 and 100-300 were absolutely crap lenses, and I was only able to see this when I started shooting digital. Even at 3 megapixels I quickly saw that these lenses weren’t up to scratch, and also, because my D30 was a crop factor camera, even my widest 24mm lens was only the equivalent of a 38mm focal length, so I needed something wider, and with good image quality.

To the delight of the camera manufacturers, I’m sure this is what happened with a lot of people, but I turned my sites to the L series lenses, which had until that point been strictly for pro use. Hobbyists just didn’t seem to buy L lenses, but when digital camera along and showed us the flaws in regular lenses, people started looking at L lenses, whether they were pros or not, and at the time, I definitely was not.

With my promise of spending no more money still fresh on my lips, I decided to pass over the new 16-35mm lens that had just been released, and went for the cheaper 17-35mm f/2.8L lens, which had been released five years earlier. If you’ve been following this podcast for any length of time, you’ll probably have already guessed that this was a mistake on my part. The original 16-35mm seriously played on my mind.

I should give myself some credit as I was able to hold off for four years, but in 2005 I finally broke down and replaced the 17-35mm with the original 16-35mm, but that turned out to be another mistake, as Canon replaced the original 16-35mm with the Mark II just 18 months later, and the image quality was significantly better, so I ended up replacing it again, with the lens that we’re paying tribute to today.

I didn’t want to jump into this without first mentioning these two lenses though, as they played a big part in my development as a photographer. Having the ability to go so wide, way before I bought the 14mm prime lens that we looked at last week, and being able to zoom in this ultra-wide range was liberating. Of course, progress continues and I’m now finding myself liberated again by the incredible new 11-24mm f/4 lens that we also looked at recently, and this is why I have just sold my 16-35mm Mark II lens and 14mm lens, and why we are paying tribute to them today.

So, let’s jump in and start to look at our ten photos from the 16-35mm f/2.8L II lens. We’ll go through these in chronological order, and this first photo was made in 2009, a few years after I bought the new Mark II version of this lens, in the Oirase Mountain Stream area. Shot at 24mm, it was the middle of the zoom range, but I have always really enjoyed being able to zoom in and out to get what I consider the ideal framing for any particular scene.

Oirase Choushi Ootaki (Big Falls)

Oirase Choushi Outaki (Big Falls)

As I mentioned last week, I don’t subscribe to the popular zoom with your feet mantra. There is a track that runs along the valley side at this location, and it’s about a meter wide. If I moved forward, I’ll fall off the edge, and to move backwards I’d have to start boring into the rock behind me. Sure, if it was a 24mm prime lens, I’d have been fine, but with image quality as good as it is with modern zooms, I just find the ability liberating.

Stick on Arid Riverbed

Stick on Arid Riverbed

Once again, I’ve tried to select images that not only show what the 16-35mm lens enables us to do, but that also played a part in my history as a photographer.

This next image was shot in Miradores de Darwin in Patagonia, at the end of my first voyage to Antarctica. We’d come back to Argentina from the peninsula, and spent a few days photographing in the area before the end of the tour.

In this image, I used the wide angle to accentuate the cracked riverbed foreground by getting down very low, and included the dried twigs as additional elements of interest.

The middle ground is punctuated by the dark patches around other dried plants, and I placed the valley side along the top edge, and the black and white conversion helped me to bring out some texture and detail from what was otherwise a slightly uneventful sky.

I remember feeling so fortunate to be in this place having just given up my day job to pursue photography full time. I have always loved to travel, and this was really very much a dream come true, to be in a place that carries Darwin’s name on my way back from Antarctica, one of my bucket list locations.

One of the things I love about wide angle lenses is how they distort reality. In this next photo of the giant Gundam statue in Odaiba here in Tokyo is a good example of this. By zooming out to 17mm, and getting in close to the statue, I made the feet look huge, and enhanced the look of the size of this sci-fi spectacle. This actually moves and blows smoke etc. so it isn’t really a statue, but the movements are limited, so it isn’t really a robot either. It’s pretty cool either way.

The Power of Gundam!

The Power of Gundam!

The next photo represents another milestone in my own photography career, as I shot this photo of the Golden Gate Bridge during my first visit to the US after incorporating Martin Bailey Photography, to run my sort of semi-world tour, of Pixels 2 Pigment workshops. This is a great memory shot as well, as I was spending valuable time with friend Jack Andrys in this popular but iconic location.

Golden Gate Bridge

The Golden Gate Bridge

I also recall receiving a silk wallet from my brother when I was a kid, with an illustration of the Golden Gate Bridge on the front. My brother had just joined the army and was traveling the world. I remember being a little bit envious, but mostly very proud of my big brother.

I mentioned earlier that the 17-35mm lens that I initially bought was my first Canon L lens, but since those early years of digital, I’ve really learned to value the weatherproofing of Canon L glass. I’m not one for mollycoddling my gear, and I have in fact had moisture inside my 16-35mm lens a few times, but in general, I allow it to get wet when necessary, and fewer places on the planet will put your gear to the test as much as Antarctica. We quite often find ourselves being splashed with sea spray, which doesn’t do gear much good, but generally a wipe with a damp cloth when you get back to your cabin is enough to keep things working well.

This photograph is from Cierva Cove, as we sailed around the cove in our Zodiac. This was during my fourth expedition down there, and third in a row in 2012. Again, this photo is very special to me, not just because I love the photo, but it reminds me of how fortunate I am to be leading this life. Here I opened up the lens to 16mm, to really accentuate the foreground water and monolithic icebergs.

Monumental Icebergs

Monumental Icebergs

I do like using wide angle lenses in places like the Tokyo International Forum building too, as we see in this next image. I included this image not only because I like it, but I am finding more and more that I enjoy images like this more when I’m able to include a human figure. As a nature photographer, I often wait quite a while to get a scene with no people in it, but quite often this is just what an image needs to really give it some context, as I believe was the case with this image.

Salaryman

Salaryman

The human figures in this next image are so small that you can hardly make them out, but then I didn’t need them here, in this photograph from my first Iceland Tour. Again, a testament to the weatherproofing of this lens, the spray from the waterfall here was literally pounding down on me as I shot this. I was literally rotating the camera towards me, away from the mist, for long enough to wipe the front of the lens clean, and then covering it with a cloth as I rotated the camera back around to face the scene, then I’d get one shot having whipped the cloth away, before the mist covered the front of the lens again.

Gullfoss (Falls)

Gullfoss (Falls)

I actually generally recommend using an air blower to remove droplets of water from lenses in the field, but when you are being constantly spritzed you have to wipe the lens with a cloth, which quickly becomes soaked through, but it’s workable to get the shot. The people by the way are the tiny dots along the ridge at the top right, to give you an idea of the scale of this amazing place.

Still in Iceland, but on my second tour there last year now, when I shot this side angle of the Hallgrímskirkja Church in Reykjavik. We do kind of a bonus day on the first day as people make their way into town, and go for a walk to the church and a few other locations in town. Reykjavik is a beautiful place, and this church, actually the third highest structure in Iceland, stands proud at the top of the hill behind the main street.

Hallgrímskirkja Church

Hallgrímskirkja Church

I love the design of this architecture, with it being made up of pillars like the basalt columns that we see over at Vik during the tour. I thought this was a fun angle too, although it was not that wide, as I’d zoomed in to 35mm for this one. Still, I thought it worked well with the columns leading down towards the camera and out the right side of the frame.

In this next photograph, we go back to the Oirase Mountain Stream here in Japan, to the same waterfall, Choushi Outaki, that we looked at in the first photograph today. That photo was more about the beautiful lush greens of course, but this one is from last October when the fall color was painting the valley gold.

Choushi Outaki Waterfall

Choushi Outaki Waterfall

This is from a slightly higher perspective than the first shot, and I zoomed out to 17mm for this one, to include more of the fall foliage, which is obviously more important for this photograph. I’m always in awe of waterfalls. They pour millions of tons of water continuously, year in year out, and there’s just so much power in them, yet they are so beautiful.

I also really like the cyclic nature of our photography. There is just over five years between these two photographs, and in many ways I feel my photography has changed and hopefully improved in that time, but I had to chuckle to myself when I checked the EXIF data and saw that I shot both image with a 0.8 second shutter speed, so I’ve been pretty consistent on how I approach photographs like this too. 🙂

The last photo that we’ll look at today is a little bit sad in a couple of ways. Firstly, it’s of a seven old boats, shot during my Hokkaido Landscape Tour in January this year, and these boats all had holes in their hulls or for some other reason had been left here in what I called the boat graveyard. It also saddens me somewhat that this tour was probably one of the last times that I would really, really use the 16-35mm until I sold it this month. I’m happy though that it was able to join me on this adventure, as we had a pretty amazing time together.

Boat Graveyard #2

Boat Graveyard #2

I know I’m a big softy when it comes to this stuff, and that’s fine. I’d rather think of my gear in this way. We go through a lot of experiences together, and that in many ways helps to bond us together like old buddies, until the time comes to cut the cord and move on of course.

By the way, if you didn’t notice this already, this last photograph is up for grabs in our current Fine Art Print giveaway, so if you’d like to be in with a chance of receiving a copy of this on Breathing Color’s amazing Pura Smooth fine art media at 17×24″, visit our giveaway page at mbp.ac/giveaway.

You know, our gear comes and goes, and I know that I get too sentimental about this stuff, but I really do like to pay tribute to the tools that enable our craft and art to be what it is. Yes, it’s only gear, and it’s not all about the gear, but with photography being such a technical pursuit, it can’t be ignored either. Neither can we ignore the fact that sometimes we have to put our gear through a lot, and if you select well, it will bear the strain, and deliver the goods, assuming that we are doing what we need to do behind the camera of course. It’s a partnership, after all. Neither of us can do much without the other.


Show Notes

Fine Art Print Giveaway: https://mbp.ac/giveaway

Hokkaido Landscape Photograph Adventure 2016: https://mbp.ac/hlpa

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

Subscribe in iTunes for Enhanced Podcasts delivered automatically to your computer.

Download this Podcast in MP3 format (Audio Only).

Download this Podcast in Enhanced Podcast M4A format. This requires Apple iTunes or Quicktime to view/listen.


A Tribute to a Lens – The Canon EF 14mm f2.8L (Podcast 470)

A Tribute to a Lens – The Canon EF 14mm f2.8L (Podcast 470)

Many, many moons ago, way back in July 2008, I released podcast episode 147 as a tribute to my old 100-400mm lens. I’d just sold the lens and felt compelled to share some images shot with that lens, in honor of its passing. Although I’ve sold lenses since then, that I really felt enabled me to do so much in my photography, it wasn’t until last Saturday when I sold a bunch of lenses again, that I felt compelled to do this once more.

I actually sold three lenses last weekend. The 14mm f/2.8L II, the EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM and the 50mm f/1.2L lens. Honestly, I won’t miss the 50mm f/1.2 at all. I try to be careful with what gear I buy, but once I’ve bought something, I also like to keep tabs on how much I actually use it.

Lightroom is an amazing tool in many ways, and one of its features that I really like is the Metadata filter, especially in this case, because it enables us to filter our images based on the lenses that we use. In the Library module, if you click on the Metadata filter in the Filter bar at the top of the grid view, then select Lens in one of the columns, you will get a list of all the lenses that you have made photographs with, and can click on the lens to get a filtered view of those images.

With this view, you can see how many images you’ve made with that lens, and also with another filter column, see the apertures that you’ve shot with as well. It turns out that I wasn’t using the 50mm below f/2.8 very much at all, even though I love the shallow depth of field it gives us. I know that part of the reason for that was because of the lenses flaky focusing. Basically, the lens back-focuses as you get close to your subject, which introduces insecurity.

I was never confident that I was going to nail focus on close subjects, so I increased the depth of field a little as insurance. That kind of defeats the object of owning an expensive wide aperture lens. I could also see from my filtered view that the last time I used the 50mm outside of my studio, was October 2012, which is also a good indication that I simply do not need this lens anymore.

Conversely, I have used the 14mm and 16-35mm lenses a lot, but now that I have the new Canon EF 11-24mm lens, I know that I will no longer use the 14mm prime and 16-35mm lenses, so I decided to sell these, and put the money towards the 5Ds R that I’ll be hopefully picking up in June when it’s released. And it seemed like a good time to take stock of my other lenses, and say goodbye to the 50mm at the same time.

I used the Lightroom filter to list up all of the images in my final selects folders, that I shot with the 14mm and 16-35mm, and from each list, I selected 10 photos. Today we’re going to look through the first 10 images from the 14mm f/2.8L lens, with the reasons why I found these images so special, to me at least, and next week we’ll look at 10 photos from the 16-35mm f/2.8.

First up, here is a photo from the very first time I used the 14mm prime lens. This first image was actually shot with a friend’s copy of this lens. I’d met up with him to photograph in a local park together, and he lent me his 14mm f/2.8 lens to take a look at, and I fell in love with it instantly. I actually almost swung by the camera store on the way home and bought my own copy, but I resisted for another week to give myself a chance to change my mind, but I didn’t.

For this photo, I mounted the camera on a tripod, pointing straight up, and then with Live View turned on, so that I could see the photo to compose, I closed the tripods legs together, and pushed the camera up between three tree trunks, that we literally all right next to each other, and I released the shutter with a cable release. I fell in love with the way the 14mm lens distorts reality. The three trunks of the tree were really only inches apart, with barely enough room for the camera between them, but in this image, they look much further away from each other.

Rainbow Canopy

Rainbow Canopy

Close inspection showed a tiny bit of chromatic aberration in the corners of the photograph, but not enough to worry about, and the rest of the image was absolutely tack sharp. Once I’d confirmed the image quality on the computer, I was pretty much certain that I’d pick my own up the following weekend, and I did just that.

The following winter, in February 2009, I found myself on the side of a mountain with my tour group in Hokkaido. We were still doing a Landscape leg of the tour at the time, and this next photograph was in the Tokachi Mountain range, near Biei, where we now visit on my new dedicated landscape photography Hokkaido tour. I remember looking down into this valley, with the deer tracks and winding river at its foot, and just thinking that we’d found heave on earth, so that’s what I called the photograph.

Heaven on Earth

Heaven on Earth

The reality is that the valley isn’t nearly as large and deep and grand as this image would have us believe, but I was amazed at just how beautiful it looked through this lens as I started to frame up the scene.

Sometimes, new gear can lead us to develop new areas of our photography. I enjoy pointing my camera up into a canopy of trees, but I had been doing that with my wide angle lenses for a while before I got the 14mm. As I heard the distant sound of the engines on the airship overhead in this next image though, I kind of stumbled upon a new type of photograph for me.

This was shot in the main street of the Ginza shopping area in Tokyo, and I just loved the way the 14mm made the airship look so small, and pushed the bottom of the buildings away as it did with the earlier tree trunks, but then we see them lean back in again as they reach for the sky. I have continued to use this technique on buildings quite a lot, as you can see in my City Portfolio, which I updated last week, with some new work from the 11-24mm f/4 lens.

Airship Over Ginza

Airship Over Ginza

I don’t do a lot of street photography, but I know some of you will remember my work from my visit to the Tsukiji Fish Market, on which I also took the 14mm lens, and captured a number of images, of which this is one of my favorites. I’m working through these in chronologic order, and this image brings us up to April 2012 (below). Again, I like the distortion of the 14mm, bringing elements from all over the place into the frame, almost like a black hole.

Tsukiji Fish Market

Tsukiji Fish Market

For me living in Japan for the best part of the last 24 years, the Japanese characters a people in this image are nothing special, but the slightly grungy processing I used on this set of images and the wet floor with the character walking away into the light, and the slightly suspicious look of the guy with the blue apron on, all give this image a bit of a Bladerunner feel for me, which is one of the reasons I like it so much. I guess the perspective is just a little bit otherworldly compared to the images from the same location shot with longer focal lengths.

And talking of otherworldly, I couldn’t resist including this shot of the giant spider near the Mori Tower at Roppongi Hills here in Tokyo too. I love how the Japanese build these wacky art pieces into everyday life. People of course notice it, but as you can see from this photograph, these things just become a part of the scenery, and people just get on with their day, not really paying much attention to the fact that they’re walking past a giant steel spider.

Spider in the House

Spider in the House

I found the next photo as I was looking through my filtered Lightroom view of all of my images from the 14mm lens. I don’t think I’ve every shared this publicly, and while I don’t necessarily think it’s a hidden gem, I found it pleasant enough to look at, that I decided to include it in this tribute collection today. This is a photo of that famous bamboo grove in Kyoto, and I once again used the extreme perspective of the 14mm lens to exaggerate the tallness of the bamboo, making it lean in towards the top of the frame (below).

Bamboo Grove

Bamboo Grove

In May 2013 I did my first tour of Namibia with friend Jeremy Woodhouse, and my first visit to the amazing deserted diamond mine town of Kolmanskop, where I made this next photograph (below). As you can see, the buildings are gradually decaying, with the roof of this house totally gone, and the blue sky visible through the ceiling slats and floorboards on the second floor room above.

Slats and Dune (Kolmanskop)

Slats and Dune (Kolmanskop)

Once again, I used the wide angle of the 14mm to exaggerate the form of the room. This was only a relatively small room too, so it was necessary to include both the sand dune that we can see through the doorway as well as the walls and ceiling. I wanted to include not just the light hitting the wall, but also I wanted to show where that light was coming from, through the slats.

I also like how this scene offered both the cool blue of the old painted wall, and the orange sand and orange wall in the second room by contrast. If you look at these two colors on a color wheel, you’ll see that they are actually complementary colors, which is quite amazing really, especially when we consider that it’s doubtful that the German settlers here ever imagined having a sand dune in their living room when these houses were built.

From Namibia to Iceland now, as we look at a photograph from my first Iceland Tour in 2013 (below). I chose this photo to represent another way in which very wide angle lenses affect a scene. I noticed a bit of texture in the sky, with these lines leading towards me, but when you shoot these with a wide angle lens like the 14mm, they seem to radiate out, almost as though they are radiating from the main subject, which in this case is the church.

Þingvellir (Thingvellir) Church

Þingvellir (Thingvellir) Church

I just find this pleasing, and interesting, that we can use the perspective and field of view like this to create something that is otherwise just not possible with longer focal lengths. I actually shoot a lot of my landscape work with longer focal length, but since buying the 14mm I don’t think I have left the house without it for any photography trip, or even relatively casual visits to parks or other locations around Tokyo. That to me is the sign of a useful lens, and why I felt compelled to do this tribute to the 14mm today.

In many ways, the photographs that we are viewing today also represent some major milestones in my personal history. Four years ago, I had three locations on my bucket list. Antarctica, Africa and Iceland. On my way back from my first visit to Antarctica, I started to have the uncinate fits that lead us to find that pesky brain tumor that almost whisked me away in 2011.

The first time I cried when I found out about the tumor was when I realized that I might die without having visited Africa. Luckily for me, my friend Jeremy Woodhouse saw to that when he invited me to Namibia with him in 2013, and Tim Vollmer sorted out the Iceland part when we partnered for my Iceland tours. There was something else that I always wanted to see with my own eyes though, and that was the aurora borealis, which we can see in the next photograph, from my first visit to Iceland.

Iceland Aurora Borealis

Iceland Aurora Borealis

I recall the hair on the back of my neck standing up as this scene unfolded before us on my first trip to Iceland, and I felt very fortunate, as I often do, to still be here, and living out my dreams. This year will be my third visit to Iceland for this year’s tour, and I simply cannot wait to get back there. We still have two places open if you’d like to join us too-> https://mbp.ac/iceland2015

Here is the last of the ten photographs that I chosen to look at today, from my first dedicated Hokkaido Landscape Tour that I ran this January with my friend David duChemin. Again here I used the extreme perspective of the 14mm to distort the bow of this fishing boat, making it look bigger than it really was, with the boat quickly getting smaller as it runs off into the distance. The reality is that I was literally sitting almost under the front of the bow of this boat, but the wide angle pushed it away, and once again gave us that beautiful radiating cloud formations in the sky.

Souya Fishing Boats

Souya Fishing Boats

OK, so that’s the ten. Quite a simple run through of these images, but I really wanted to do this, as a retrospective of some of the best work that the 14mm f/2.8 II lens helped me to create. Sure, it’s not just about the gear, but you can’t escape the fact that it’s our gear that enables us to do some types of photography.

The “zoom with your feet” phrase that seems to be so popular these days kind of goes out of the window when you start to talk about extremes like this. Sure, I could have moved backwards and shot some of these images with a longer focal length, but they would not have had the same distorted perspective that I love, and as far as I know, they haven’t invented a 24-70mm lens yet that can see through walls, so the only way to get the indoor sand-dune shot that we looked at earlier, was with the 14mm, or at least my 16-35mm, which we’ll look at next week.


Show Notes

Details of future tours & workshops: https://mbp.ac/workshops

Martin’s City Portfolio: https://mbp.ac/cityportfolio

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

Subscribe in iTunes for Enhanced Podcasts delivered automatically to your computer.

Download this Podcast in MP3 format (Audio Only).

Download this Podcast in Enhanced Podcast M4A format. This requires Apple iTunes or Quicktime to view/listen.


A Tribute to a Lens Gone By (Podcast 147)

A Tribute to a Lens Gone By (Podcast 147)

I’m feeling saddened, as I have just sold my old faithful 100-400mm L lens, alongside my 24-105mm F4 lens to pay for a 24-70mm F2.8 L lens. On the evening of the day before I sold them, I got the two lenses out of my gear cabinet, and took the protector filters off, and gave them a bit of a blow, to remove the few specs of dust on there. Although I didn’t really get that attached to my 24-105mm F4 lens, I was really saddened at the thought of saying goodbye to my 100-400mm. Today I’m going to reflect on this lens a little, because as you’ll hear, it really changed my photography. You’ll probably think I’m just a big softy as I get into this, but you’d be right, so I won’t make any excuses.

I was really attached to my 100-400mm. I bought it exactly 5 years ago, in July 2003, and it was my first white lens. It was only my second L lens, with the 17-35mm F2.8 L lens being my first. (Jees, have I pumped some money into Canon since then!) My only other lens at the time was a Canon EF 28-135mm F3.5-5.6 IS, standard zoom. Although there have been a few quantum leaps since as well, the 100-400mm lens was probably the lens that changed my photography more than any other. Until I bought this lens I’d been struggling to find my genre. I didn’t really know what I wanted to shoot. I’d always been interested in Nature and shot Landscapes when I could and had grabbed the odd bird shot, but I couldn’t get out to locations with truly beautifully scenery or real wildlife here in Japan. I was shooting around town and trying my hand at lots of stuff, and I’d always thought that Wildlife and Nature photography was more of an elitist type of photography, and that I would never have the equipment or mobility to really focus on it. The 100-400mm changed all that though. I bought it for my first trip to Hokkaido in August 2003. This trip itself was another pivotal point in my photographic life, as I started shooting nature shots that I never thought possible until then. Today we’re going to take a look at a few images that really stand out in my memory of this lens, kind of as a tribute to it, as it passes into the hands of another.

Kushiro Fawn

Kushiro Fawn

On that first trip, literally the morning after we arrived there, we got up before sun-up and made our way out to the Kushiro Marshlands. There was a wooden plank way, a kind of board walk I guess, that takes you into the marshes, and we were heading towards that, when we came across a deer with her fawn. I shot the fawn at 275mm with the 100-400mm lens, and we can see that photo in my online gallery and in the Enhanced Podcast if you are listening in iTunes or on an iPod. Let’s take a look at image number 156, in which we can see the fawn. If you are listening while looking at my photos on the Web site, you can type this number into the field where it says “Go To Photo” under the Podcast menu, or go to the Podcasts page and locate this episode in the list. There are thumbnails to each photo we’ll talk about there. Now, this photo is not great. It isn’t as sharp as I’d have liked, but still, this image changed me. I recall the excitement as I crept forward a little more, hoping not to scare the fawn away. I crouched down to eye level, partly again trying not to scare the animal, but also to get a better angle on the subject, instead of looking down on it. The next few steps did indeed scare the fawn off, but I’d got a shot or two that I could work with. I was hoping for shots like this when I bought the 100-400mm lens, but it was so exciting to actually be out there at 5:30AM, in the cold misty morning, shooting nature photographs.

At the time, my portable storage had no image viewer, and I didn’t have enough cards to store the whole week’s images, so I could only check the image on the LCD of my 10D for that day. It would be a week before I’d really see if this was a good shot or not, and as I say, it was not as sharp as I’d hoped, but a week later I was so happy that I’d got this shot. It was all just such an exciting time in so many ways.

The following year, in February of 2004, I took the lens back to Hokkaido, this time in the thick of winter, which was again, a first for my photography. I was on a Photography Tour with Japanese Photography Yoshiaki Kobayashi, who I’ve mentioned a number of times over the years. Of course, I’d used the 100-400mm in the six months between the last shot and the next, but image number 267, from this second visit to Hokkaido was another memorable image in my photographic evolution. I’d captured three Steller’s Sea Eagles sitting on the ice floe just looked so comical. Like three old guys complaining talking about someone as they watch them in the distance. Strangely, looking back at the EXIF data, this shot was also made at 275mm, which seems to be a nice focal length for this lens. I can also see from this shot that although I’d thought to up the ISO to 400, I was shooting hand-held at 1/30th of a second here, so I was relying pretty heavily on the lens’ image stabilization system.

Sea Eagles' Conversation #1

Sea Eagles’ Conversation #1

During a visit to Florida in March of 2004, I shot image number 350, which is another very memorable shot with this lens for me. I was on an one day eco safari into the Everglades, and was shooting from a converted school bus with no windows as this big alligator charged the bus. I had never realized until this point that alligators can actually stand up on all fours, and run pretty fast, looking more like a large nasty dog than an alligator, with their legs pointing almost straight down, instead of out to the sides, with their belly in contact with the ground. I remember tracking this guy as he got closer, and then filling the frame with his eye as he stopped his charge and looked up at us, as if to say “so that wasn’t scary enough for you!?”.

Alligators Eye #2

Alligators Eye #2

Gear Down - Approaching Runway...

Gear Down – Approaching Runway…

In the September of 2004 I shot image number 465. I called this shot “Gear Down – Approaching Runway…”. It always seems to me as though this butterfly was literally approaching a runway, maybe that orange cosmos flower, looking much like a big jumbo jet, as he entered the depth of field of the 100-400mm lens. This again was an amazing shot for me at the time, and still is in many respects. The face and front legs of the butterfly are the only parts of it that are in focus, and the wings are blurred through both motion and the fact that they are outside of the depth-of-field, which I found pretty cool. This was just such a difficult shot to pull off though, and I’d be lying if I said that I planned this. I’d just been shooting these butterflies as they flew around the cosmos flower patch, and although I’d been tracking in with this guy, the way it turned out was as much luck as it was judgment.

On the second of January in 2005, I shot image number 566. This hawk had just been fed some meat at a falconry display in a park here in Tokyo, and I got close enough with the 100-400mm to fill the frame with his head and shoulders for this wonderful portrait. I was shooting with the 20D now, with all the previous shots made with the 10D. I was at ISO 200 for this shot with the shutter speed set to 1/1250 of a second. This is actually as sharp as tacks, even though I was shooting at full stretch with the lens set to 400mm. This happened every so often, and following some resent tests to see if this lens really was soft at the extremes, I think that most of the bad press that this lens gets, including some of my own from time to time, may more from bad stabilization techniques than it is from the lens itself. It was always hit and miss though, so I also wonder if there were some loose elements inside, which made the lens soft for some shots, and sharp for others. I never really could figure it out, and although I’m confident of my own stabilization and holding techniques, the results with this lens were always unpredictable, which is one of the reasons it kind of fell out of favor. Still, I don’t want to bad mouth it too much today, because I’m still a little sad about its passing from my hands to another’s.

Bloody Beak

Bloody Beak

In March 2005, I shot the image that I spoke about in the very first episode of this Podcast, which is image number 595. Another incredibly sharp image, despite being shot at 400mm, in which we again get in nice and close to the head and part of the wings of a flamingo in the Ueno Zoo here in Tokyo. These are just a few of the nature photos that stick out in my mind over the first few years of owning this lens. Although this last one was shot in a zoo, still, as you’ll have seen, this lens enabled me to really start shooting nature, in ways that had simply not been possible to me until this time.

The Pink Flamingo's Stare [C]

The Pink Flamingo’s Stare [C]

The lens was not only used for wildlife though. Some of you will remember image number 827, which I shot at sunset having almost lost hope that the sun or Mount Fuji would show themselves of this day, and yet I was presented with one of the most spectacular scenes I’ve ever witnessed in my life. This was shot at 135mm, so I would definitely have used the 70-200mm if I owned it at this time, but as I didn’t, the 100-400mm was used for this sort of work as well for quite some time.

Drama through a Letterbox

Drama through a Letterbox

It also isn’t just about birds either. I have a wonderfully crisp memory of time I shot image number 927. I was just sitting in the cold snow, with the 100-400mm, watching this young mail deer just a few feet in front of me, again in Hokkaido, this time in February 2006. I can almost smell the cold and wood of the trees as I recall this precious though relatively short time while I snapped off a few frames of this deer in the snow. All great memories and none of the shots we have looked at so far would have been possible without the 100-400mm. You are probably asking yourself why I sold the lens if I have so many fond memories of using it. Here’s the thing though. From this lenses perspective, I made the fatal mistake of buying a 70-200mm F2.8 lens, in July of 2006, five months after this Hokkaido trip. From that point on, the 100-400mm lenses days were numbered. The 70-200mm F2.8 lens was probably responsible for changing the quality of my Nature and Landscape photography to almost as large a degree as the 100-400mm did for changing the direction of my photography, but that’s a different story. The problem now was that as much as I loved the 100-400mm lens, I rarely took it out for the two years following my buying the 70-200mm F2.8 lens, to the present day.

Ezo Deer in His "Element"

Ezo Deer in His “Element”

The last time I used the 100-400mm was in my December 2006 trip to Hokkaido. Although I now owned the 70-200mm, the versatility of the 100-400mm cannot be denied. Being able to just push that lens barrel forward and with a suck of air go from 100-400mm in a fraction of a second will always be something that I’ll miss. I have shot so many shots of the Japanese Red-Crowned Cranes with this lens that I really cannot choose a favorite, so I thought we’d look at one last shot from this lens, from the last day that I really used it, which is image number 1288. On the last day of my December 2006 trip to Hokkaido the weather cleared, and I got a number of nice shots of the cranes just flying across a beautiful clear blue sky. This is a shot from that batch. I shot this at 200mm, but really, the beauty of this lens is being able to just swoop through such a long range to grab shots with such a wide range of focal lengths.

Red-Crowned Crane (Tsurui #56)

Red-Crowned Crane (Tsurui #56)

Having become so attached to using the 70-200mm F2.8, coupled with the 1.4X extender when necessary, and also now having the 300mm F2.8, another dream lens of mine, which becomes a 420mm F4 lens with the 1.4X extender, I decided not to take the 100-400mm on our January trip to Hokkaido this year. Sure, the new lenses take more messing around, either changing out the lenses or putting on and taking off the Extender, but the image quality is there for all of my shots. That unpredictable softness of the 100-400mm, that you never quite know when it would show up and ruin your shots, made the new combinations so much better, even though I might miss the odd shot through not having the focal length range. The final nail in the coffin for the 100-400mm was that I didn’t really miss it in Hokkaido this year. I literally hadn’t used the lens apart from one week in Hokkaido at the end of 2006, so I just saw no reason to hold on to it any longer.

I thank the 100-400mm for showing me the direction in which I was to take my photography. There have been other quantum leaps, as I develop my style, and explore other possibilities, and I have to say that I still don’t agree with the people that say the equipment is unimportant. Equipment can and has for me, very often opens doors to new areas of photography that would not have been realized without it. I’m not going to get into this today, as there is a whole podcast on that right there. I just wanted today, to recognize how much this lens did for me, and I hope I haven’t bored you in doing so. Call me a big softy, but I was literally very close to tears as I held the lens for the last time having taken off the UV filter, and blown the dust off the front element for the last time. I really hope that the person that picks up my lens from the store I sold it too learns to love it as much as I did.

A little bit sentimental, but I really felt that I owed it to this lens to say something as it passed from my hands to another user. At least we have a second hand market for camera gear. I wouldn’t have liked to let this lens go without knowing that someone else would continue to use it after me. Anyway, that’s it for this week. You have a great week, whatever you’re up to. Bye bye.


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