Nothing Special, Except…

I’ve used a 70-200 2.8 L lens on my Canon’s over the past ten years, and have appreciated the sharp results it renders when I do everything right. And there’s the rub: I’m not doing everything as well as I did a decade ago.

Hand-holding a camera has become a particular problem. I’ve never been especially loyal to tripods, although I’ve owned several: even when I’m not in a hurry they tend to get in the way. So I spend most of my shooting time untethered. Now, my hands aren’t shaking so you’d notice…I’m not spilling coffee yet…but when I enlarge shots taken below 1/250 of a second at any focal length to a 100% view on the monitor my keepers rate is waaay down. That’s frustrating, and when you’re shooting for stock also expensive.

So, when I went to get the paper this morning I was toting a new lens, Canon’s diminutive 70-200 4 L with Image Stabilization, or IS. I knew this technology works from an early model zoom I’d shot with briefly, but wasn’t aware how much it’s improved. I think there are lots of little techie things we overlook that just seem to evolve on their own, and IS is one of them. For the picture above I pushed it past its advertised four-stop improvement, shooting at 150mm at f11 and 1/10 second. 1/10!

In the afternoon, pleased but still slightly suspicious (good things always have a catch, right?) I shot a series with each of the two zooms using an old shed as a subject. I’m mercifully omitting them here (they’re on a par with the many brick walls photographed for this same purpose) but take my word: the smaller IS zoom handily spanked the heavy 2.8 lens without stabilization. I also compared the IS at 135mm versus my sharp 135 2L, both at f4. The prime would normally enjoy a visible advantage since it would be stopped-down two full stops while the little zoom was wide open, but…not hand-held by me.

In the evening, as the light was draining from the day, a whitetailed deer appeared across from the house. At this time of year I leave a section of yard unmowed, aka The Salad Bar: the light flattered the deer’s coat and contrasted nicely with the surrounding dense greens and browns. I upped the camera’s ISO to 200 (the mailbox was at my normal setting of 100) and shot with the lens fully extended to 200mm, at f4…and 1/15 second. It’s been well-said by many photographers that IS does not stop a subject’s motion: it merely steadies the photographer. And so it is: out of 30 or so shots I had three I was pleased with. But at 1/15 second…and 200mm…how many could I rightfully expect?

I think this little zoom will be in my bag for a long time to come.


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