Friday, October 03, 2008

Friday: Shifting Gears - Gear Review: Canon 17-85mm IS Lens

Good Morning Everybody,
We made it back safe and sound yesterday, checked in with the team, and are in the process of getting ready for tomorrow's wedding.

Today I thought I would shift gears from my regular Inspiration Friday theme and begin a series on what's in my gear bag, why I made those gear decisions, and how I use the gear on the job. Don't worry, I'll continue to throw in an Inspiration Friday now and then too.

Oh, by the way, don't forget. We still have our contest going that I announced last week - here is the link; How many uses can you think of for the new video capabilities in the Canon 5D Mark II and the Nikon D90? I'll keep it running for the next few weeks, so give it your best shot and you might win BIG! Anyway, let's get to gear review #1

My favorite all around lens, the 17-85mm IS lens;
I shot my first wedding with Canon gear just 4 years ago. It was a Canon 20D loaner from my buddy Denis Reggie. The camera had just barely hit the market, Denis was off that weekend, and gave me his entire gear bag full of all his Canon goodies. I had a Bar Mitzvah in the morning and a wedding in the afternoon and a Master Class starting that following Monday. Needless to say, I gave his gear a complete workout, but what stood out for me was my experience with the Canon 17-85mm IS lens.

I had been shooting a Nikon D1x fitted with a 24-135mm Tamron lens and I was OK with that combination. I say OK because even at 24mm, by the time you calculate the 1.5x multiplication factor from the Nikon D1x, I was really shooting with a 36mm lens - just not quite wide enough for a wide angle guy like me. I always found myself switching to my Nikon 18-35mm lens for that wider view.

Now here it is October 2, 2004, I got the just introduced Canon 20D in my hands and it's fitted with this really cool lens with this great focal length range - 17-85mm and it was image stabilized! I loved the focal length, I loved the image stabilization, I loved my easy experience of the wedding shoot that day. Needless to say, I was hooked. I called Denis on Monday, asked to buy the 20D setup, and sent him a check! The rest is history.

Loved the range;
The Canon 17-85mm IS lens was my only shooting lens for the next several weeks. It gave me "W-I-D-E" without having to change lenses and it gave me reasonably "CLOSE" when I needed it. I know, many readers are wondering why I didn't choose the faster glass. I've never been a big fan of fast glass - I'm a HUGH fan of image stabilization. The 17-85 IS was the perfect wedding lens for me.

Perfect lens for the spontaneous candid shots;
Because of the lens range it was the perfect lens for most of the candid images I shoot. Again, the ability to zoom from a fairly wide 17mm to a decent telephoto 85mm gave me ample opportunity to capture the action wherever and whenever it was happening.

Easy ceremony shots;
I could easily capture shots from the balcony with ease during the service with the image stabilized lens. I just had to wait for "pause points" in the action to be sure the subjects were sharp. The lens did the rest of the work for keeping the image sharp. Pause point, by the way, are typically ends of sentences during the wedding ceremony. That's when everyone is mostly still, and that's when you want to make your exposures if you are shooting at the lower shutter speeds. The F4-5.6 just was not a problem for me either because of IS and ISO 800 which I found very useful on the 20D. It becomes even less of a problem with the new crop of cameras available today.

Perfect for the group shots;
I found the lens was perfect for the group shots too. I know, somebody is going to gripe that I'm not getting the sharpest image because I'm not using the Canon L-series of expensive lenses. Hey gang, we are talking about a picture that's going to go up to maybe an 8x10 in the album - I don't need to be able to make wall murals from these shots. This lens was plenty sharp for the family/wedding party group shots. I typically stopped down to F6.3 for most of these shots anyway. That put me pretty much in the "sweet spot" of the lens so everything looked great.

Bigger prints, no problem;
So how big a print could I go with this optic - easily up to 24x36 inch images and they looked great!! I was shooting another Bat Mitzvah later that month and took some preliminary images at the temple on the Thursday before the Saturday event. I enlarged one of the images to 24x36 inches and printed it on my Epson 9600 printer, presented it to client at the Saturday party, and promptly proceeded to "blow them away." (1/13 second, ISO 800, hand held)
The everything lens for wedding receptions;
The 17-85mm is still my favorite lens for reception coverage - it's focal length is perfect for most of the four hour receptions we tend to have in Cincinnati and the Midwest. That means hardly ever a lens change except for special circumstances. I do have to watch out for over exposure when shooting "cocktail candids" at the 17mm setting at 5 feet away. Being that close to the subject in a tight situation means just reducing the power of the flash to get the perfect exposure. For the rest of the evening, I can easily capture all the festivities of the celebration by remaining wide or just as easily zoom in for a tighter shot.

What's in my bag when I go on vacation?
For me, it's always my 17-85mm IS lens. So, if you spotted me with a camera around my neck at some conventions recently, it was probably fitted with the 17-85mm lens.

This focal length is just perfect for 75% of the images we take at a wedding. Sure, I've played around with the 17-55 F2.8 IS lens Canon makes too, but it's just too short at the top end for me. I was very happy to trade the F2.8 for 85mm. - life was good again. So, does that mean it's always going to be my FAV lens, well..... I really can't wait to get my hands on Canon's new 18-200mm IS lens. So until that happens'll just have to wait till I keep you posted.

Hey gang, that's it for me today, me and my pixels are laying low and taking it easy today. Remember, pixels need their rest too. I'll see everybody on the flip side of the weekend. -David


  1. You are psychic. I'm prepping myself for a wedding I'm going to shoot in March (long story - years since I've done one, relative, budget, etc) Anyway, I'm trolling to see what the favorite lens are with the thought I'm going to have to rent a high end lens. Then I see your blog for TODAY - I own the 17-85, it hardly ever comes off my camera. It was a duh moment. If David Ziser can shoot that lens, I sure can. I guess I will have to rent a longer lens though, my 70-200 f4 is not IS.

    Thank you David - I read your blog every day and the only thing I can say is that I wish you were my neighbor.

    Brian in Houston

  2. I am feeling the same way too :)
    I was about to buy a Canon 24-105L IS (for my Canon 40D) but I decided to give the EF-S 17-85 IS a try -- actually I found a used one at a very nice price.
    Thank you David!

  3. Owning the 5d's and Mark III's my favorite lens so far has been the 24-105.

    It seems to stay on my camera the majority of the time. I also own the 85 1.2/70-200 IS/17-40/

    It just seems to hit the sweet spot so much I am thinking of purchasing another one for my second shooter.

  4. "I've never been a big fan of fast glass" - D.Z.

    David -

    I am new DSLR enthusiast, trying to really learn photography and understand the equipment well. Your comment about 'fast glass' is really interesting.

    Could you (please) do a posting on the advantages and disadvantages of fast glass?

    Your perspective would be really valuable, and may save a few people from going broke...

    Thanks, Erik
    (Cincinnati, OH....)

  5. I'm surprised you like the 17mm-85mm so much. My favorite lens is 24mm-70mm 2.8 L. It's Sooooooooo much sharper than the 17-85, at least to my eyes anyway.

  6. 24-70L is a very nice lens but it is also very expensive.
    Also, for not-moving subjects IS can save you more stops than a fast lens.
    Imagine a Sony A700 (with build-in IS) with a CZ 24-70/2.8 lens...

  7. Two Words: DUST MAGNET!

    I have two of them, but they are a pain when removing dust. One of them looks like I sneezed in it.

    Still, best lens for a 1.6 if you need to be close. The only way to go for table shots.

  8. David,

    I am a Nikon shooter and my bread and butter lens is the 17-55 f/2.8. I would have to agree with you in that the lens leaves me wishing it had a bit more reach. I had considered the Nikon 16-85mm VR but it has been drilled into my brain that fast glass is a must for wedding photographers. I am still new to wedding photography so my question stems from inexperience not snobbery. If I am working alone, without anyone to hold an off camera flash, would I still be able to get away with slower glass in a dimly lit venue? I typically bounce my SB900wherever I can to avoid the harsh look of direct flash.
    Fantastic blog!!

    Thanks you,

  9. Hey everybody, thanks for the comments. Yes, 24-105mm my fav for 5D - look for this in future post. Hey Brian, man, if you got one of those super ISO Nikon's, you are in business. -David

  10. seattle wedding photographer7:33 PM, October 07, 2008

    I too am surprised you like the 17mm-85mm so much. I always work with 2 cameras and my favorite lenses are the 24mm-70mm 2.8 L on one body and the 70mm-200mm 2.8 L on the other.
    I have to shoot with at least a f 2.8

  11. I personally like a bit more on the top end so I usually like to use a Canon 70-200 F2.8 L on a full crop body (Canon 5D).

  12. Thanks for review, it was excellent and very informative.
    thank you :)