Know Your Lens

by Derrick Story

I have three zooms in the 70mm to 200mm+ range, and they couldn't be more different from one another. My favorite of the bunch is the Canon 70-200 f/4 L. I think it's one of the best lenses I've ever owned in terms of sharpness, color fidelity, and that magical X-factor that's hard to describe, but you see it in the pictures. I keep the 70-200 in my Canon 5D kit for assignments.

Crowd Portrait at AT&T Park

I also have an older Canon 70-210 f/3.5-4.5 USM that I bought for the original film-loading Elan body. I liked that lens on the Elan and have many good pictures to show for it. Since I don't shoot much film anymore, I moved the 70-210 to my lighter, "grab as I run out the door," Canon XTi kit that also includes the 17-40 f/4 and an older 24-85 f/3.5-4.5 USM. It's a nice ensemble for bopping around because it's so light.

The thing that I've realized however, is that I can really tell the difference between these two zoom lenses, and need to shoot accordingly with them. I've used the 70-200 L on the XTi before, and I know the types of pictures it renders. Yesterday, however, I grabbed the "light kit" on the way out the door to take some snaps at the Giants-Dodgers game at AT&T Park. That meant shooting with the older 70-210.

Note to self: for sporting events, I should swap out the older 70-210 for the newer L lens. Its resolving power is so much better, showing the fine detail in uniforms, etc. even in action shots. But I do like the portraits with the older lens. It has a flattering, softer quality that still renders the eyes nice and sharp, but the skin tones look younger.

So, during the shoot at the Giants game, the action shots weren't as good as I knew they could be with the 70-200 L, but I did end up with some very nice crowd portraits. I kept in mind the strengths of that old workhorse, and adjusted my shoot accordingly. That being said... I wish I had a 70-200 L in both kits.

Photo by Derrick Story. Canon XTi with 70-210mm f/3.5-4.5 Canon USM lens. Focal length was 155mm, f/6.7 at 350th of a second, ISO 200. RAW file format.


random bob, a.r.c.
2007-09-10 08:28:27
What's a good resource for accurate lens reviews? I am but an amateur and haven't yet justified the purchase of higher-tiered lenses for myself. I have a Tamaron zoom that does Macro too, mostlly because I definitely wanted a zoom lens when I bought the camera but wanted to break into digital photography slowly (read: cheaply). I know it can't be that great a lens as I only paid like $150 for it, but....

If you go to places like Amazon to get reviews, it seems almost everything is positive. Hardly anyone has anything negative to say (probably because they're self-justifying their purchase). But I'd like to read some experienced, hard-hitting reviews on lenses. So I can see where I am in the spectrum and have an idea of what I can expect with whatever I purchase next. Basically so I can be informed when I go shopping and get the most for my $$.

2007-09-10 08:58:49
Hi Random Bob, Your point is a good one. One of the sites I like (for what feels like independent reviews of lenses) is:

Take a look and see what you think...

random bob, a.r.c.
2007-09-10 09:51:22
thanks. I'll check that out.
Dave Camp
2007-09-10 10:50:27
Both and are places I've visited in the past when looking for user reviews of Canon gear.
2007-09-10 11:12:16
The site is great for people interested in lenses for Nikon as well. They also look at many third-party lenses. It was very useful when I was deciding on a wide-angle lens, because I could see what they had to say about the Sigma and Tokina lenses, not just the Nikon (Unlike Canon, Nikon priced their wide angle DX lens at a premium price point - so third-party lenses are quite popular).

A Nikon-specific site that a lot of people trust is

2007-09-10 11:41:20
You should really try the 70-200 f2.8 ;-)
2007-09-10 12:08:38
Hi Mike, I know the 70-200 f/2.8 L is a beautiful lens, no doubt. But it's also a big lens that weighs much more than the f/4 (and costs much more too). As you can tell from this post, I really like to travel light. Thanks though!
2007-09-10 13:17:22
I have the same lens (70-200), and i have never used a better one, it's great for portraits and action shots.
random bob, a.r.c.
2007-09-10 20:43:16
Here's an idea for an upcoming entry: Comparisons on CF cards. Which ones are best, which ones most closely match advertised transfer speeds, etc. And in the same vein, card readers. Which do you prefer & why?

I carry a multi-card USB2.0 reader with a SanDisk 2GB CF card. the combo seems dead slow to me. I once tried a card reader that utilized the ExpressCard slot, but for whatever reason that seemed to take longer (though theoretically it should be faster?) and whenever I used that I noticed some odd screen distortion within aperture switching between views.

What are you all using & why? What works best for you?

2007-09-11 00:15:38
The 70-200 L was my first 'premium' lens, since then I bought 3 more. I agree, it's the best lens I have ever tried, it just has the x-factor. I have the one without IS which they stopped making I think.