A few weeks back I got a chance to try out a pre-production model of Canon’s new 100-400mm f/4.5 – f/5.6 USM II lens shooting on the sidelines for an NFL game (Eagles vs. Titans) up at Lincoln Financial Field in Philly, and I thought I’d deliver a field report here in a quick Q&A format. It’s not a technical look or in-depth review, just my initial thoughts after shooting it for a game. Here ya go:
Q. How is the physical size of the lens?
A. It’s really close to the size of Canon’s 70-200mm. It’s just a little bit wider but I was surprised to see it’s actually a little bit shorter than the 70-200mm. However, with the large lens hood attached, it definely looks beefier than the 70-200mm.
Q. How was the weight compared to the 70-200mm?
A. If I handed you the two lenses, you’d think they weighed about the same, but I think technically the 100-400mm weighs about 2 or 3 ounces more.
Q. Which other lenses did you use during the game?
A. None. I shot the entire game using just this one lens.
Q. What was it like shooting with just one lens?
A. It was absolutely awesome!! I cannot tell you how sweet it was using just one body, just one lens, no monopod needed and so lightweight compared to what I’m usually lugging along the sidelines (two camera bodies, a 400mm f/2.8 and a 70-200mm f/2.8 and a monopod). Shooting on a monopod definitely limits you, and affects your shooting angles, so it felt like it does when I shoot my 70-200mm, so that was really nice.
Q. Did the lens get heavy to hold up as the day went on?
A. Not at all. Like I mentioned, it’s about the same as size and weight as my 70-200mm (which I shoot quite often, and it’s usually on my 2nd body at games anyway) so the weight wasn’t an issue.
Q. How’s the overall sharpness of the lens?
A. I felt it was a very sharp lens (especially for the money). It was super-crazy sharp at 300mm and under, and only slightly less at a full 400mm, but I was using a pre-production model on loan (just for that one game) so it didn’t have all the final tuning and adjustments the shipping model will have, but even at that it was still very crisp. I called a buddy of mine who is one of the tech gurus at Canon and he said that the Canon engineers internally are saying the final shipping version of this lens is really close in overall sharpness to the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 (which I think is one of the sharpest lens ever made by anybody), and for a 100-400mm at this price, that’s saying something.
Q. When is it supposed to ship?
A. I believe B&H Photo is shipping their pre-release lens orders today, so I’d say “any day now.”
Q. How was the overall “feel” of the lens?
A. Well, in the first quarter of the game I was surprised how tight the zoom barrel was on this lens (the older version of this lens was a push/pull lens — you didn’t rotate a barrel to zoom — you pulled the lens outward or pushed it in). Luckily, between quarters I saw a circular adjustment that lets you set the exact amount of tension you want, so I set it right then to how I like it (which is a looser zoom than the default setting).
Q. Did you use it on a full frame or crop sensor body?
A. I shot on a full frame Canon 1Dx, which is why I could get away with using just that one lens all day.
Q. So, is there a downside to using it on a cropped sensor body?
A. I wouldn’t say it’s a downside, because you gain something but you also lose something — it’s more of a tradeoff. On a crop sensor body, you’d gain 60% reach, so your 400mm lens suddenly has the reach of a 640mm lens on a full frame body, which is awesome (especially if you’ve ever priced a 600mm lens). However, that means when you zoom all the way out to 100mm, on a crop sensor that’s the equivalent of a 160mm and that would be too tight once the players get close to where you’re shooting from. So, if you’re shooting on a crop sensor body, you would want to have a 2nd lens to switch to for when the team gets inside the 20-yard line (something like a 24-70mm would probably be ideal).
Q. How did the auto-focus perform?
A. I was impressed — it was pretty snappy! I’m used to shooting some really high-end lenses and this one still felt pretty quick overall.
Q. Who is this designed for lens for?
A. I’d say it’s really designed for daytime sports photographer and for wildlife photographers, but of course it will take a picture of whatever you aim it at, so you’ll see everybody from wedding photographers to portrait photographers using this same lens, especially at its size/weight and price (B&H Photo has it for $2,199).
Q. Is it a Daytime only lens?
A. Well, it’s like this: it’s an f/4.5 to f/5.6 lens, so unless you’re shooting a body with really great high-ISO (low noise) performance (like the 1Dx I was shooting at this game) you’re going to have some really noisy images after dark, or inside a gymnasium or an arena. For wildlife photographers, this probably won’t be much of a problem, but for sports photographers this is something you have to consider, which is why I say it’s a daytime lens. During daylight, it rocks! I set my f/stop to f/4.5 and didn’t change it all day. I had Auto-ISO turned on and set it so the slowest shutter speed it would ever take would be 1/1000 of a second, so the ISO would climb as high as it needed to get that shutter speed. It worked awesome. It would be less awesome (at f.4/5 to f/5.6) at night or indoors.
Q. How did the f/4.5 to f/5.6 range affect you for this game?
A. At first, at the 1:00 pm kick-off it didn’t at all, but later in the game some cloud cover rolled in and my shutter speeds started dropping. Then the game ran long (lots of penalties) so by around 4:30 pm it looked like dusk and the stadium lights were on, and my Auto ISO started climbing. Take a look at the shot up farther on this page — the shot where Titan’s Lineman Mike Martin is pulling on Sanchez’s jersey — that was shot at 1,600 ISO and it’s just 4:41 pm in the afternoon. Lenses with these higher f/stops make you shoot at higher ISOs when it’s not bright sunshine — it’s that simple, and that’s why I call it a daylight lens. Just my take on it.
Q. Wasn’t there (ahem) an “incident” during this game? Something to do with a bullet pass?
A. Next question, please.
Q. Did you sharpen any of these images?
A. Of course. Every image you see from a pro game is sharpened (I applied an Unsharp Mask filter with these settings: Amount: 90; Radius 1.5, Threshold 0 – to the full-sized images). I didn’t think it would be a fair comparison to put un-sharpened sports images from any lens up against the sharpened sports images you see every day.
Q. Can’t you post an unsharpened image?
A. Sure. Here ya go (below) — this is an un-edited, un-cropped, tilty, unsharpened, JPEG shot straight out of the camera that needs straightening, brightening, cropping and sharpening. Still looks nice and sharp, but outside of this blog post I would never post ANY sports image without, at the very least, applying sharpening first.
Q. Did you shoot in RAW or JPEG?
A. I shoot all my sports in JPEG, so these are all JPEGs.
Q. Anything else strike you about it?
A. Not really. I think Canon did a nice job with this lens, and I think at this price, it will make a lot of people happy (especially since the old version was introduced about 10-years ago). What was most memorable for me about shooting with it was just how awesome it was shooting an entire game with just one lens. Shooting without a monopod gives you a big advantage, so that was a big thing, and not ever having to switch bodies or lug all that gear was a real plus for me. I took all my gear to the game, and was expecting to switch to my regular much (ahem) high-priced lens for the 2nd half, but I was enjoying the freedom, size, weight and results so much I decided to just stick with it, and I was really happy with the results.
Q. By the way, who won?
A. The Eagles won 43-24.
(Above: Although I was shooting for the Titans that day, my buddy John Geliebter shoots for the Eagles and I snapped this one of him during a time out. After the game he drove me to the airport in record time to catch my flight, so I owe him several beers next time I see him).
(Above: That’s my buddy Donn Jones, Titan’s Team Photographer and just one of the greatest guys out there. However, I feel like his iPhone is outdated…well…especially since my 6-plus just came in last night. I’m not sure Donn and I can be friends any longer). ;-)
This weekend off I’m to shoot with the Falcons on Sunday for their home game against the Steelers. Might do a few remotes (you know I love that!). I have some shots from the game next week. :)
Hope you all have a great weekend (#gofalcons, #riseup) and we’ll see you back here on Monday.