Well, it’s about time: A Canon 200-400mm lens

Updated with thoughts about teleconverters and existing lenses…
Canon 200-400mm f/4L IS Lens with built-in 1.4x TC
Canon 200-400mm f/4L IS Lens with built-in 1.4x TC | Photo from dpreview.com

I don’t have to think about switching to Nikon any more?

For years now Nikon has had one lens that makes nature photographers who use any other brand salivate: the Nikkor 200-400 f/4 VR lens.  Well, evidently Canon listened to all the complaints–or realized they could make a killing–and they have come up with their own 200-400 with an interesting trick up its sleeve: a built-in 1.4x teleconverter (I imagine that explains the “hump” on the side of the lens barrel).

No word on what size hole it will leave in your wallet, but it is supposedly shipping this year.  Canon made a similar announcement last fall for the development of new 500mm and 600mm lenses, and today Canon has released weights for each (both reduced, the 600mm dramatically so compared to the original 60mm f/4L IS).  However, it’s the 200-400 that really has my attention.  I’ll try to get on the list at CPS to test one as soon as they start shipping.

To my mind, the biggest question is will this new lens accept teleconverters?  Sure, it has a 1.4x built in, but can you put a 2x teleconverter on it so it becomes a 400-800mm f/8?  Or stack another 1.4x with the internal teleconverter engaged to have a similar 392-784mm f/8 range?  (I mention the latter option because it’s at least possible the image quality would be higher.)

Whither the DO?

At present, the longest lens I own is the 400mm f/4 DO IS.  It’s light-weight, extremely compact, and with a little toning the images that it produces are stellar.  The lens remains sharp with a 1.4x TC (560mm f/5.6) and with proper technique I’ve made good images with the 2x teleconverter (800mm f/8).  Hell, I’ve even stacked teleconverters, although the quality declines noticably at that point.  When I heard about the 200-400mm f/4, the first question that popped into my head was whether this would be the lens that replaces the 400mm DO.  If it can accept teleconverts, I’d hedge my bet that the answer is “probably.”

But for those who simply want a walk-about zoom lens, there’s already a surprisingly good alternative to the 400mm DO, albeit a stop slower.  Last fall, Artie Morris began posting about using the new 70-200mm f/2.8L IS Mk. II with the 2x teleconverter to make a 140-400mm f/5.6 zoom, and I tested the combination myself and was duly impressed.

For a lot of wildlife photography, the new 70-200mm with a 2x, combined with a standard telephoto (400mm, 500mm, 600mm, etc.) will pretty much “do it all.”  Does that mean that a dedicated 200-400mm zoom is even necessary anymore–that Canon missed its window of opportunity?  Alternatively, are the 400mm DO’s days are over?  Only a side-by-side comparison of all three will do.

Canon Press Release

LAKE SUCCESS, N.Y., February 7, 2011 – Canon Inc. today announced the development of a new super-telephoto lens, the EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXTENDER l.4x, for use with all EOS SLR cameras. A prototype of the new lens will be exhibited at the CP+ tradeshow, held in Pacifico Yokohama, from February 9 – 12, 2011.

The EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXTENDER l.4x is being developed as an L-series super-telephoto lens with an integrated 1.4x extender and high-performance Image Stabilizer technology. The new lens will offer exceptional flexibility by incorporating a built-in 1.4x extender that increases the maximum focal length to 560mm for sports and wildlife photography. High-quality images with high levels of resolution and contrast will be possible through the use of advanced optical materials such as fluorite crystal. The new lens will also include dust- and water-resistant construction designed for extended usage under harsh conditions.

Canon will continue to respond to the needs of various users ranging from beginners and advanced amateurs to professional photographers, in an effort to enrich their photographic expression with SLR cameras by continuing to develop attractive new lenses with improved optical technology.

(press release from the Canon USA Web site)

A good change, but is it worth the price?

Mode dial lock
Mode dial lock modification - image from usa.canon.com

What?

Canon is now offering to modify 5D Mark II and 7D camera bodies with a mode dial that locks in place to prevent the dial from moving accidentally.  Unfortunately, it’s not free of charge: $100 per camera body.

Why?

You know the frustration: you’ve set your camera to “aperture priority” and then you sling it over your shoulder.  You pick it back up to make a quick image and suddenly the viewfinder blacks out far longer than you expected.  A second-long exposure in bright daylight?  “Oh, ” you realize, “it slipped over to shutter priority which was set for making blurs.”  But the decisive moment?  It’s long since gone on account of a technical problem.

I’m going to make a broad-spectrum criticism here: the mode dials on pretty much every camera suck because most of them do not lock in any way, shape, or form.  Nikon locks the “sub-dial” beneath the mode dial on many of their bodies, but even they are not blameless.

Time to celebrate?

Maybe.  I own both bodies, and I’m not really thrilled at the thought of contributing $200 into Canon’s coffers for something that is really a fix, not a “modification.”  And I’m disappointed that there’s no suggestion that a locking mode dial will be a standard feature of future camera bodies.  Finally, a mod for the 5D Mk. II really gives me pause: this camera was announced over two years ago, so shouldn’t owners be looking for its replacement, not pouring more money into the existing body?

I think this one is worthy of discussion, so what do you think?

Photokina is coming…can you tell?

Every two years, camera manufacturers descend upon Cologne, Germany to push their latest wares. In the past week, on the lead-up to the trade show, Nikon, Sony, and Canon (in that order) have unveiled their latest offerings.

The Sony pellicle mirror diverts 30% of the incoming light to a phase-detect autofocus sensor. Image from DPReview.com.
The Sony pellicle mirror diverts 30% of the incoming light to a phase-detect autofocus sensor. Image from DPReview.com.

The more interesting announcements, to my mind, include Sony’s decision to revive the Pellicle mirror concept in the form of a “Single Lens Translucent” body that is always in live view, but retains phase-detect autofocus even for video.

Canon has announced a new 60D body that loses many of the features that it’s predecessor, the 50D, had but it gains video and an articulated LCD screen.  I can only hope that articulated screens are found on every future body that shoots video…Note also that this camera has another edge over the higher-priced 7D: manual audio control.  Canon has yet to release firmware to give the 7D the capability to control the audio level, but this lower-priced model might actually become very attractive to videographers for the articulated screen combined with audio control.  That is, if Sony doesn’t steal the show.

However, Canon didn’t end there: the 300mm f/2.8L, 400mm f/2.8L, and 1.4x and 2x teleconverters have all been refreshed with new optical designs.  The updated teleconverters have improved electronics that might only affect their performance with the newly-announced telephoto lenses, but the improved optics should benefit all telephoto lenses.  So, while I can’t say that any of the super-telephoto lenses are in the cards for me at the moment (the longest lens I have is the 400mm f/4 DO IS, and my sights are set on the 800 f/5.6–some day) the new teleconverters are sure to pique the interest of everyone as they are a frequently-used accessory and are therefore an easy way of improving the image quality of one’s photographs.

Also, Canon announced that they will be redesigning the 500mm f/4L IS and 600mm f/4L IS super-telephoto lenses, complete with the new “flourine coatings” on the aforementioned lenses and teleconverters.

Canon 8-15mm f/4L fisheye zoom lens.  Image from DPReview.com.
Canon 8-15mm f/4L fisheye zoom lens. Image from DPReview.com.

That said, the icing on the cake of the announcements?  An 8-15mm fisheye zoom.  Sure to be of interest to a lot of people for the creative perspectives offered in such a range.  Particularly, owners of reduced frame (APS-C and APS-H) cameras will be interested in this lens for the wider perspective.

Really, the only offering in that mix that doesn’t make sense to me is the 70-300mm f/4-5.6L zoom lens.  I know that the 70-300 range is popular, but how this lens fits on the totem pole in relation to the 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 DO IS lens is something of a mystery to me.

I was curious enough about this “L” version of the popular zoom range that I fired off an e-mail to Scott Andrews, the photojournalism representative for Canon in North Carolina, and his estimate is that this lens will have greater contrast and sharpness as compared to the DO lens.  It is, however, heavier at 2.3 pounds versus 1.6 pounds, bright white as opposed to matte black, and will be priced some $200 more than its DO sibling.  I do wonder if this is Canon’s way of tiding people over while we all wait for an update of the 100-400mm zoom…provided it’s even coming.

Canon 70-300mm f/4-5.6L zoom lens.  Image from DPReview.com.
Canon 70-300mm f/4-5.6L zoom lens. Image from DPReview.com.

A Positive Repair Experience (how often does that happen?)

Canon 24-70mm lens and repair paperwork
Canon 24-70mm lens and repair paperwork | Panasonic G1 and Olympus 17mm f/2.8 lens; exposed 1/25 sec. @ f/2.8, ISO 400. | Color corrected with X-Rite Color-checker Passport

Background

In my Lightroom library, 5,824 photographs were captured with my Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L lens that I purchased  in the summer of 2005.  While the actual numbers of images made with the lens are certainly higher (I delete a fair amount), it is the most used lens that I have.  The second place honor goes to my 50mm f/1.4, with 1,856, and third runner up is the 400mm f/4 DO IS lens and its combinations with the 1.4x and 2x teleconverters.

Because of the heavy use that my 24-70 receives, I had become concerned that it was getting a little worn.  While cosmetically it looks fantastic–better than camera bodies that have been used less–I noticed that the zoom was a little “stiff” sometimes, one of the mounting flanges was a little dog-eared, and I wondered about the effectiveness of the rubber seal after all of this time.  This lens has been to Africa, the Galapagos, and all over the United States.  It’s been exposed to blowing sand, blizzards, and rainstorms.  It’s banged against countless door frames and walls as its hung on my camera body, slung over a shoulder.

Along with my 1D IIN, it survived the downpour that sent my 50mm to the repair shop this past fall.  My 400mm DO actually went in for a repair in 2007 when its image stabilizer died in Kenya, and the 50mm was inspected and repaired in October.  But I had two vouchers for Canon to clean and inspect my gear for free that were due to expire this coming March, and they were burning a hole in my filing cabinet, so to speak.

I received the vouchers as part of re-upping on Canon Professional Services last year, and did not think much of them at the time.  I’ve had these clean & check vouchers in teh past, and let them lapse without using them.  However, something told me that my semester of working for the Columbia Missourian had strained a lot of my gear.  So, as soon as Christmas was over, I packed up my 1D IIN and my 24-70 and shipped them off to Canon’s facility in Jamesburg.  I figured that the worst that would happen is that Canon would clean my 1D’s sensor for free.

Continued after the jump!

Continue reading “A Positive Repair Experience (how often does that happen?)”

Unseasonably warm for Thanksgiving

Les Bourgeois Winery, Rocheport, Mo.  Canon 7D and 16-35mm f/2.8 L II lens @ 16mm; exposed 1/500 sec. @ f/14, ISO 400
Les Bourgeois Winery, Rocheport, Mo. Canon 7D and 16-35mm f/2.8 L II lens @ 16mm; exposed 1/500 sec. @ f/14, ISO 400

A belated Happy Thanksgiving to American readers of this blog.  Here in Columbia, Mo., the weather has been ridiculously warm, with today reaching 71 degrees Fahrenheit.  The past few days have been fairly relaxing–a welcome reprieve from the rest of the semester.  I have mostly been using the 7D to continue my evaluation of the body.

Of particular interest to me was the usefulness of the new built-in wireless transmitter for the Canon speedlite system, shadow noise, and live-view functionality.

More after the jump!

Continue reading “Unseasonably warm for Thanksgiving”

Bassnectar & the continuing story of the 7D

Fans wave glow sticks on the balcony of the Blue Note at the start of the Bassnectar concert, fashioned to be like a rave party.
Fans wave glow sticks on the balcony of the Blue Note at the start of the Bassnectar concert, fashioned to be like a rave party, on Friday, Nov. 20, 2009 in Columbia, Mo. / Canon 7D and 24-70mm f/2.8 L lens @ 24mm; exposed 1/8 sec. @ f/2.8, ISO 4000.

Last Friday I was assigned by Vox Magazine to go to a pseudo rave at a Bassnectar concert held at the Blue Note, a theater-like venue here in Columbia, Mo.  I decided to pack the 1D Mark III and the new 7D, leaving my 5D II on the shelf at home.  While it is a great camera in low light, I was more interested to see how the other two would perform as they are both relative “unknowns” to me.  Risky?  Sure.  But I figured it made sense to have one pro body with me, and my own 1D IIN is terrible in poor lighting conditions.  The only rule imposed on me was “no flash.”  This was going to be ISO 3200+ territory.

More photographs after the jump!

Continue reading “Bassnectar & the continuing story of the 7D”

Missouri Tigers’ victory over the Kansas State Wildcats – A Story of Two Cameras

Contemplating victory / Canon 1D Mark III and 24-70mm f/2.8L lens @ 24mm; exposed 1/4000 sec. @ f/4, ISO 1000
Left to right: T.J. Moe, Kirk Lakebrink, Andrew Gachkar, Donovan Bronner, and Tanner Mills take a moment after their victory over the Kansas State Wildcats at the Bill Snyder Family Stadium on Nov. 14, 2009 in Manhattan, Kan.  Missouri defeated Kansas State 38 to 12. / Canon 1D Mark III and 24-70mm f/2.8L lens @ 24mm; exposed 1/4000 sec. @ f/4, ISO 1000

Preamble

I began to write this from up in the press box at the Bill Snyder Family Stadium.  The game had ended a couple of hours before–Missouri won 38 to 12, with most of the points racked up in the second half.

I used two camera bodies (initially I planned to use three, but I loaned my 1D IIn to my colleague whose camera was down to half battery before the game even started): my new 7D, and a 1D Mark III on loan Canon Professional Services.  While I don’t like many parts of the Mark III, especially the way in which one chooses the focusing point, and I am wary of its ability to autofocus given its less-than-stellar history in this regard, I love the way that files look from the Mark III.  And, besides, it’s about to be replaced with Mark IV bodies, so I figured I’d give it a chance as the used market is about to be flooded with them.  And wow, was I surprised.

More after the jump!

Continue reading “Missouri Tigers’ victory over the Kansas State Wildcats – A Story of Two Cameras”

A few images from the 7D

20091107_kennedyd_MG_0543
Baylor Bears’ corner back Clifton Odom dives unsuccessfully for Missouri Tigers’ wide receiver Danario Alexander at Faurot Field in the third quarter of the game on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2009 in Columbia, Mo. / Canon 7D and 400mm f/4 DO IS lens; exposed 1/3200 sec. @ f/4, ISO 500.

I have not yet formed a clear idea in mind of what I think of the performance of the new Canon EOS 7D dSLR.  I purchased it specifically for action photography–sports and wildlife–to accompany my aging 1D Mark IIn, and I photographed the college football game between Missouri and Baylor with these two bodies this past Saturday.  I made about 800 frames on the 7D (about 700 too many), and was happy with the focus on several, but certainly not all of the frames.  I will be photographing another football game this weekend, Missouri Vs. Kansas State, to be held in the “Little Apple.”  I will go into further detail about what settings I am using in a future posting, but I will make a few remarks about the camera here.

Missouri Tigers' quarterback Blaine Gabbert attempts a pass while the Baylor Bears' Jason Lamb dives after him during the second quarter of the game.
Missouri Tigers’ quarterback Blaine Gabbert attempts a pass while the Baylor Bears’ Jason Lamb dives after him during the second quarter of the game. / Canon 7D and 70-200mm f/4 L IS lens @ 183mm; exposed 1/3200 sec. @ f/4, ISO 400.

Handing

Without question, I think that this camera feels better in-hand than any other, with the exception of the 1D series.  The grip is, for once, contoured for a person’s hand.  It is very well constructed, and the buttons are easy to find and also “stick out” a bit more so that a gloved hand can actually manipulate them.  As a native of the Midwest, this is particularly important, as our winters seem to last about six months!  Strangely, while virtually every button is improved over the xxD series, the depth-of-field preview button has taken a turn for the worse.  It is almost flush with the camera body, and does not push in very far.  Disappointing.

The viewfinder is a joy to look through with this camera.  Not quite as nice as the 5D II (which, frankly, is not as nice as Sony’s Alpha 900 viewfinder), but worlds beyond the 40D or 50D.

So far I am unimpressed with the RAW/JPEG button, which enables whichever format you are not using by default, but only for one frame.  Nevertheless, it is better than the “direct print” button than it was in the original 5D, and I suppose I should be thankful because it could well have returned to that state of stupidity when Canon moved the “Live View” button from that position, where it is on the 5D II, to a spot above the joystick controller.

What I will also state, to a great deal of dismay, is that this camera feels worlds better in-hand than does my 5D Mark II, which carries a $1,000 premium over the 7D.

More after the jump! Continue reading “A few images from the 7D”

Canon 7D on its way

A month after an opportunity arose to purchase a Canon 7D locally (I simply wasn’t ready, and there weren’t many reviews of the camera at the time), I have pulled the trigger and a 7D body is on its way from Robert’s. I will be photographing the Mizzou Tigers’ next two football games against Baylor and Kansas State, and will report back on my experience with the body afterwords.

Rice to the Rescue…With Help from my Favorite Tool Kit

The other night I found myself on assignment in the pouring rain and my 1D Mark II N, as well as my cell phone and a 50mm f/1.4 lens, all came into contact with the buckets of cold water falling from the sky.  After I got home, as a result of improper weather precautions, generally wet conditi0ns, and some forgetfulness regarding the acclimation of a cold camera body to a warmer, drier environment, I found myself resorting to dunking my lens, cell phone, and even my 1D II N into containers of rice.  To recount: rice: 1, weather: 1.  My cell phone came back alive, but my 50mm is on its way to Canon’s facility in Jamesburg, N.J. at this moment.

What I didn’t mention much in my previous posting was the sad state of my 1D II N’s viewfinder.  It completely fogged up after coming home, and I immediately began to kick myself for not sealing it in a plastic bag before taking it inside, as the viewfinder had not been a problem–had not been fogged up–before bringing it in.  Absolutely brain-dead stupid!!!

1D II N with rear viewfinder cover plate / convex lens removed.
1D II N with rear viewfinder cover plate / convex lens removed.

Anyone who knows me well knows that one of my greatest personality flaws is my impatience.  When I want something to work, I want it to work right now.  I also have a tendency to tinker with the electronics that I own; when they stop working and they’re within warranty, I’ll send them in for repairs.  Why not?  But when something is long-since out of warranty, I have the proper tools, and the fix looks like something anyone can do, why should I spend lots of money to FedEx the product to the manufacturer to have them do exactly what I could have done, and have them bill me for it?

Story continued after the jump!

Continue reading “Rice to the Rescue…With Help from my Favorite Tool Kit”