Friday, October 17, 2008

Gear Bag Friday: Best Portrait Lens In The Business; Reviewing The Canon 70-200mm F2.8 IS Lens

Good Morning Everybody,
I really stoked today. I've got my hands on Canon's new 18-200mm IS lens which I blogged about on Monday. I've got double-header events this weekend - A Bat Mitzvah in the morning and a wedding in the afternoon - and I plan to give the new lens a run for the money. I know the BIG issue for photographers is the concern of the lens' sharpness at the wide angle range.

I caught a post over at Fred Miranda's forum where a user posted some images taken with the lens at 18mm. In my opinion they looked fine to me. Here is that link again. Anyway, I'll lay that puppy to rest - one way or another - on Monday. You can only imagine how excited I am as I can't wait to give it a test drive.

It's Big Glass Day Today
Today we take a peek at one of my favorite lenses in my gear bag. That, my friends, is the inestimable Canon 70-200mm F2.8 IS zoom telephoto. If you are a Nikon shooter, then the Nikon version is a must have lens in your gear bag for all the same reasons I'm going to state here.
Let me say flat out, this is my only choice for family portraits. Why? Because of the beautiful way it renders the background at my shooting aperture of F4.0 while still keeping the subjects tack sharp. It's rock solid image stabilization also let's me shoot at unheard of slow shutter speeds.
Some quick words of advice - even though this lens is available in a non-image stabilized version - spend the BIG bucks and stick with the image stabilized version - it's worth it. If you really need to save a few bucks because of your budget, then opt for the 70-200mm F4.0 IS version of the lens - it's still a very sharp lens in the Canon arsenal and saves you about $500.

Here are my four quick hit techniques for using this lens;

Family Portraits;
Rule #1;
Set that aperture setting to F4.0. I find that's the best aperture for shooting my portraits. Close it down any more and you bring the background into too sharp a focus. F4.0 is perfect for creating wonderful subject separation from the background. One tip; be sure to pose what I call a shallow group - with all the subjects' heads all in the same plane of focus. At F4.0, the depth of field is somewhat shallow - that's good as stated above, but you will want to keep subject's faces sharp so shallow posing is key.
Rule #2; Rack out the lens to at least 130 - 200mm and enhance the soft background even more with the longer focal length. Whether you shoot full frame or APS size sensors, you still get a great result.

Check out this image - one of my favorite family portraits - taken with the lens at 185mm at F4.0. Notice how nicely the background compliments the setting of the family.

Individual Portraits;
For all the same reasons as above - except in this case, I can reach into the F 3.2 range and even the F2.8 range to soften the background even more. One quick point on softening the background - be sure your subject is pretty far away from that background for the best visual effect. If you get too close, you will not get the best visual effect. Check out the image below - look how the beautiful and soft the background enhances the image and brings your attention right to the bride. Ceremony Candids;
This lens is also about the best "balcony lens" for wedding/Bar Mitzvah shooters too. I gave up carrying a tripod to a wedding years ago once I learned what a good friend I had in image stabilization. I'll typically shoot at 200mm at about 1/50 second as shown below. Even at ISO 1600, as in this case, applying a little noise reduction gives a great result that will easily hold up as an 8x10 in the album. (I'm back in this same location this weekend - can't wait.) Available Light Reception Candids;
I know, you think I'm crazy on this one. But with the very effective image stabilization on this lens, I can capture some super exciting natural light candids of for example; the father of the bride making the toast to his daughter and then their reactions to his words.

Again, no tripod, just a steady hand and waiting for the pause points of the sentences. This is how I get some of my most touching images at the reception. Check out the image of dad making the toast - f2.8 @ 1/20 second - and the bride and groom's almost tearful response to his words - F2.8 @ 1/10 second - all ISO 1600.

I love this series. There you have it - my favorite telephoto lens and my 3rd favorite in my gear bag. The light gathering capabilities of the glass, quality of the image, and the super solid image stabilization make it one of my top choices in my gear bag.

Hey everybody, I'm heading out to pick up the 18-200mm IS lens. Check back Monday to read my first impressions of the lens. I can't wait to tickle some pixels this weekend. See ya' on the flip side. Adios, -David


  1. Right on all counts David. I totally love the 70-200 2.8 Since I'm about to switch to full frame I'm slightly concerned about losing the extra length.

    Crazy things is I have not been using if much for fairly. I'm glad you mentioned that tip. It makes perfect sense.


  2. I'm interested to hear what you think of the 18-200mm IS. I have the Nikon 18-200mm VR, and I leave that on my camera for a solid hunk of the day usually just because I can cover such a broad range with it - and the VR is fantastic too.

  3. Did you see Joe McNally's camera holding technique here...

    As long as you have a battery grip, the shoulder technique seems to work for us right-eye focusers.

  4. I'm really happy that I found your blog. I love the detail that you dive into in your directions. Thanks again.

  5. The pictures of the father and the couple, is too blurred to my taste, sorry, but I too love the 70-200. My only problem with that lens is, that it often gives me a bit of low contrast images, maybe because I shoot wide open.

    since this is my first comment I would like to thank you for this blog, from which I can learn some new tricks and get good inspiration.

  6. Thanks David. Wonderful examples. The softness on some doesn't bother me as they work for portrait images where pin sharp details are not so important. Did you ever consider the range the Canon 28-300 would give you? Noticed as similar question before. I imagine the bulk between the 70-200 and 28 -300 would be about the same.

  7. What are your TWO favorite Canon lenses David? Really like your blog especially since I'm a Canon 40D shooter too. Looking forward to what your experiences are with the new 18-200 lens.

    Dr David Jones
    Muskogee, OK

  8. Thanks for a great post David. Your informative helpful manner is a breath of fresh air.

  9. Thanks David for the blog.

    I'm curious about your use of IS when shooting families, outdoors, I presume on a tripod. I've read that you should only use IS handheld.

    Also what ISO are you using if you plan to print to 24x36 or larger. I use a 5D and a 1DSMk3 and have recently moved from film so I'm sort of timid about large ISOs.



  10. Interested to see you recommend shooting at f/4 with this lens David. I have the f/4 version as I wasn't too keen on the bulk of the f/2.8 one. Is the extra stop worth the extra cost/weight? Or is upgrading worthwhile? I have found the f/4 version to be very sharp and the reviews say it is the better performer of the two except in low light.

    Would be interested in the thoughts of those that have used both.

  11. I'd have to second your thoughts about the 70-200L, the images from it are always among my favorites from every wedding I've covered. Not to mention that the enlargements my clients request are 95% of the time from this lense.

    Thanks for all the time and effort you put into DPT,


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