So I’ve had the Canon 70-200mm f/4 L USM for around 8 months now, using it with my Canon 60D, and I’ve decided to return to this post (originally published August 26th 2011) because this lens has grown to be my favourite lens in my bag, and proven itself along the way snapping some of my favourite photos – all seriously sharp and all lovely and vivid in colour.
What I Originally Said:
I took it to The Big Chill Festival where I was asked to photograph the event for the weekend and I also did a few bits of video here and there too. I took it with the belief that I’d probably use it when the sun was out and then have to switch over to a shorter focal length, faster lens as the light disappeared. Turns out I barely took it off the camera as it performed brilliantly even in the lowest light. Rodrigo y Gabriela were on at 9.30pm on the final night and the sun has set, but still the Canon 70-200mm f/4 L USM managed to snap this:
Before heading off to the other side of the country for the festival I’d also feared that I’d snap away and maybe 10% of my photos would be sharp due to the 200mm focal length becoming 320mm on the 60D’s 1.6x crop sensor and therefore less useful for hand-held shooting. The lack of IS on my bottom-end version of Canon’s 70-200 range would also be an issue given that I couldn’t get a tripod into the arena with me. This also turned out not to be the case, I even used it one-handed to reach around the front of the crowd and snap a lucky shot of Jay Electronica getting up close and personal with the crowd:
Another thing that has to be said for the 70-200 is it’s lightning quick (and silent) autofocus. I rarely missed a shot or focused incorrectly and that’s testament to the lens because I’m typically a “just one more” kind of photographer – Check out my full set of “keepers” on Flickr.
It’s now January 2012 and since posting about my bargain-buy lens (£370 second-hand on Gumtree was a steal considering it was like-new anyway) I’ve had a chance to use it in many more situations, including loads of video work – an area where I thought a 70-200 (effectively 112-320mm on the 60D’s 1.6 crop) lens would just be too long. It has continued to impress me whilst also proving that the 2.8 version would be handy in certain specific situations.
I’ve had the pleasure of photographing a few weddings since buying it and for the one I did in August where we had non-stop sunshine, it was just superb. Firstly it’s brilliantly lightweight which allowed me to use a two body set-up, switching back and forth between one camera with a wide lens and the other with the zoom. When hanging off my shoulder or even around my neck, the weight wasn’t overbearing or aching at all -the f/4 IS and f/2.8 versions are between 600 and 800g heavier than the modestly weighted 705g f/4 L USM. So first of all, no need to visit the chiropractor with this one!
More importantly, the images I got on that summer’s day were just excellent. Brilliantly sharp, super-fast and silent autofocus and my own personal favourite feature: the vivid colours that it captures. For a sub-£500 lens when purchased new, it’s a must-have if you’re shopping for a zoom on a budget. The proof is in the pudding… (click to see large version.)
However, on another wedding I shot later in the year (a cold and dull December day in fact) the lens stayed in my bag for the most part. It was of no use to me inside the church as there simply wasn’t enough natural light to shoot at a clean ISO. I ended up switching between a 16-35mm f/2.8 II L USM (a beautiful wide zoom that I now desperately want to own) and an the hefty, mega-bucks 85mm f/1.2 L USM. Both were fast and sharp enough to get what the 70-200 couldn’t. So it has it’s advantages and disadvantages like any other, but realistically, if you shoot outdoors or you want a lightweight high-quality zoom lens for travelling, the f/4 L USM fits the bill.
Canon 70-200mm f/4 L USM for Video
Much like the comparison of the wedding scenarios, I’ve found that daytime or studio (well-lit) shoots are great conditions for the 70-200, but shooting with it in the evening or indoors is probably out of the question unless you’re happy to shoot over 1250 ISO (which I never am, I like my video clean and noise-free!)
Don’t let that put you off though as it has been absolutely essential when shooting on certain video projects, particularly a recent studio shoot where it excelled at being pin-sharp and well-suited to focus-pulling. The focus ring, as with many large Canon L lenses, is nice and big and very smooth making focus-pulling in video mode really easy and accurate.
Aesthetically it’s also proven to produce excellent filmic images whereby the shallow depth-of-field twinned with a long, narrow focal length (between 70 and 135 is great) makes excellent movie-like shots. Here’s a still from an upcoming short film I helped shoot which sort of demonstrates my point (watch this space for some video examples when I get time to put them up.)
So that’s my 2 cents on this tried-and-tested (and pleasantly affordable) Canon 70-200 f/4 L USM lens. Feel free to ask questions/comment with your thoughts… If you’ve read this far you’ve done well as I’ve definitely rambled here!