Tag Archives: Gear

Farewell, Canon EF 180mm f/3.5L Macro USM

Today I sold my Canon EF 180mm f/3.5L Macro USM lens.

For a month or two, I had been thinking of offloading it, and once or twice previously, I had entertained the thought of selling it.

I was recently put into contact with someone who might be interested in it, and today the buyer collected it.

According to my lens utilisation statistics, it was my least used lens apart from my one-month-old Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM.

Looking at my images, I have only shot 10 images with it in the last five years. Two images per year is not much, and I only published a total of 36 images during the time I owned it.

I am just not a macro shooter at all, and I find macro photography too frustrating for my liking.

It is a stunning lens and is in near-mint condition, but it just is not the kind of lens I use much or really need (despite having owned it for over nine years), so it is better for it to be in the possession of someone who will exploit its capabilities.

I will use the money from its sale to fund my NiSi 150mm filter system.

My original intention was to replace the lens with a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM, but as nice as that lens is (I inspected one), it makes no sense at this point in time.

If I ever want a macro lens in the future, I’ll go and pick one up; but for now, the lack of a macro lens in my rig is not a hindrance.

With this most recent sale and last month’s replacement of my Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM with a Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM, that amounts to two lenses gone from my lineup in less than two months!

I have optimised my lens lineup in several ways, and I am content with what is now in my rig.

I would still like to replace my Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM with a Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM, but for the foreseeable future, that notion will remain confined to the realm of wishful thinking.

My New ‘Grab and Go’ Rig

Last year I bought a Lowepro Fastpack BP 250 AW II camera backpack for an international trip.

I found it to be an excellent backpack which allows me to carry a good amount of photography gear (including a small tripod) as well as my 17″ MacBook Pro.  I was tired of carrying a separate laptop bag as well as my then main camera bag (a Lowepro Nova 190 AW).

Having gone for a few shoots this year, I decided it was time to properly, and somewhat permanently, equip my Lowepro Fastpack BP 250 AW II with a camera rig which will cover 95% of my shooting requirements, and which I can literally ‘grab and go’.

Here is what I keep packed in it:

  1. Canon EOS 5D Mark II with LP-E6N battery and SanDisk Extreme 16GB CF card
  2. Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM
  3. Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM + hood
  4. Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM + hood
  5. Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM + hood
  6. Canon TC-80N3 Timer Remote Controller
  7. Canon LC-E6E battery charger + AC cable
  8. Canon LP-E6 battery (spare)
  9. SanDisk Extreme 16GB CF card (spare)
  10. SanDisk Extreme IV 8GB CF card (spare)
  11. Hotshoe-mounted spirit level
  12. Princeton Tec FUEL headlamp
  13. Lenspen
  14. Neoprene lens cleaning cloth
  15. Giottos Rocket-Air blower
  16. Business cards
  17. Print of Street Photographers’ Rights fact sheet
  18. Apple 12W iDevice charger + 1m USB cable
  19. Shintaro SH-XCR3 CF card reader + USB cable
  20. Manfrotto M3293A4 tripod and Manfrotto 494RC2 ball head

The tripod is on the outside of the bag, and is affixed to the bag via an in-built tripod foot pocket, and a strap to keep the legs close to the side of the bag.

What is not packed, but can be packed when we are heading away, is the following:

  1. Apple MacBook Pro 17” + AC power pack
  2. Western Digital MyPassport Ultra 2TB hard disk + USB cable

What is also missing is ND and GND filters.  Having recently replaced my Canon EF 16-35mm  f/2.8L II USM with a Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM, I need a new NiSi 150mm filter system to replace my Lee 100mm filter system, which at the time of writing I have not yet purchased.

The good news is that my Lowepro Fastpack BP 250 AW II will easily accommodate this, and there is still room.

Now, this rig covers most of my shooting needs.  What it does not cover, however, is wildlife, for which I use my three largest lenses.

Fortunately, I have two other backpacks which can accommodate those, as well as fit a lot of the equipment packed in my Lowepro Fastpack BP 250 AW II.

I am very content with both the backpack and the array of equipment I have packed into it.  It holds a lot of gear, is not too heavy, and still has room in the top compartment for more gear if I need it.  Plus, it is ready for a shoot ay any time.

 

New Lens: Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM

Today ushered in a new chapter in my photography, and simultaneously closed another.

A new lens joined its brethren here in my photography den; and an old friend parted ways.

Now, I am not one to buy gear very often.  My days of ‘Gear Acquisition Syndrome’ (GAS) are well and truly behind me; and I have settled on a photography rig which allows me to achieve what I want to achieve.

Being in a position whereby gear is not a limiting factor, is indeed a good position.  Sure, there is always something that would be nice to have; but something that is nice to have, as opposed to something that is necessary for my photographic objectives, is quite a different matter, particularly when it comes to spending money to placate a want rather than a need.

However, every now and then, a new piece of equipment joins my rig, often unexpectedly and rather suddenly.

Today, the spectacular Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM lens found its way into my rig under those very circumstances.

For some odd reason, I had read The Digital Picture‘s comprehensive review of this lens (amongst others) quite recently, and I had pondered, both recently and a number of times throughout the years, the possibility of replacing my beloved Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM with the wider, 14mm prime lens.

For years it was one of those “it would be nice…” scenarios, but today it became a reality.

At 4:16pm I declared that I was actually thinking about doing this.

At 5:33pm, l declared that I had actually done so.

I have never progressed from “I’m thinking about…” to “I just bought…” so rapidly.

The plan I had was to visit my main photographic supplier on my way elsewhere to see what kind of a deal I could get.  When I visit (which is maybe once every year or two), the guy there always recognises me, talks to me for a while, and gives me a good deal on anything I buy.

The visit was purely for research, but it went a bit further than that, as the lens was there (which I did not know before visiting), and the price was right.  I solved two ‘problems’ in one hit.

Firstly, he discounted the listed price of lens for me; and secondly, he gave me a good trade-in deal on my Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM.

As the 14mm prime was intended to replace the zoom, I did not want to spend a significant amount up front and then need to sell my nine-year-old Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM, which has recently been superseded by a Mark III version.  A trade-in was perfect.

The salesman was surprised at the remarkably good condition of my Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM, to which I responded by stating that I take good care of my gear.  Indeed, I do.

The combination of the initial discount and the trade-in value put the price firmly in the “I can do this right now” category rather than the “tempting, but I cannot justify the expense now” world of misery.

So, the deal was done.  My beloved Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM lens stayed in the shop, and a brand-new Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM departed with me.

I honestly did not plan any purchases this year at all, and while I periodically think about lenses and cameras I would like (there is always something), there is a massive difference between the wishful thought, and the cash-depleting reality.

So far, 2017 has started off quite nicely in the photography department, with two pleasing shoots having taken place.

Tonight, I had plans to expand upon that.  And now I was armed with a new lens and all the kid-in-a-candy-store excitement a new toy brings.

Some people’s photography becomes re-invigorated upon acquiring a new camera or lens; some people’s photography becomes re-invigorated as a result of shooting a pleasing image.  In my case, a combination of both scenarios was achieved tonight, and my initial impression of theCanon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM is that it is a brilliant lens.

I have shot extensively with my Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM lens over the past nine years, and according to my lens utilisation statistics, it is my most frequently used lens.

However, I wanted an even wider lens for a more expansive view, and I also wanted to switch to a prime.  Most of my lenses are primes (now seven out of a total of eight), and even though the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM is a zoom, I rarely ever used its zoom capability, sticking fairly religiously to the 16mm setting, and at times forgetting that the lens’s focal length could be changed, which I realised after moving my tripod rig to a slightly different position.

So, now I have a new Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM lens which opens up new possibilities and has given me a psychological boost.  Additionally, I took it for a shoot only a few hours after purchasing it, and I landed a pleasing series of images (about which I will post separately).

I hope my Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM finds its way into the home of someone who will love it as much as I did, and that it will bring years of rewarding images.

I look forward to getting back into photography, and a new lens may just help do that.

New Backpack and Tripod

It is not very often that I discuss photography gear, but given that I purchased a few new items of gear today, I figured it was worth relating the story.

Soon enough, we are heading overseas on a trip to Israel, followed by a small sojourn to the Czech Republic for a few days.

As is always the case when travelling abroad, I bring a camera rig.  While this is not specifically a photographic trip, I certainly intend to engage in some twilight cityscaping in Prague, and may even have time for the odd cityscape in Tel Aviv or Caesarea.

My go-to camera bag for most of my photography (other than wildlife, which calls for the big lenses), is my Lowepro Nova 190 AW.  It is a shoulder bag, and I have a fairly standard array of equipment permanently packed in it, which covers most of my shooting needs, and certainly the needs I will have on this upcoming trip.  This bag has travelled internationally twice now.

However, as is also always the case when travelling internationally, I take my laptop, which has its own bag.  This time we are travelling somewhat lighter, and rather than carrying my camera gear in the Nova 190 AW, and my laptop in its own carry bag, I wanted one bag in the form of a backpack which would accommodate both.

A few months ago I discovered the Lowepro Fastpack BP 250 AW II backpack when looking in a camera shop one day.  This bag seemed to fit the bill nicely.

It has a laptop compartment which will accommodate a 15″ laptop (according to the specifications), a lower compartment (with dividers) which will accommodate a large DSLR with a 70-200/2.8 mounted, plus another medium-sized lens or two; and it also has an upper compartment which will accommodate anything else, including non-photography equipment.

Today I decided to buy a Fastpack BP 250 AW II.  Now, my laptop is a 17″ MacBook Pro, but having compared its specifications with the backpack’s specifications, it fits.  I took the MacBook Pro with me to the store, and verified that it actually does fit — it does.

So, that solved a definite problem, and has given me a comfortably-sized, airline cabin-friendly backpack which will allow me to remain hands-free whilst traversing airports, fit my camera gear and laptop in one bag, and have room for other things such as a water bottle, light jacket or other day-trip equipment.  This will be perfect for walking around Prague.  Additionally, it has a tripod compartment on the side, along with a strap for keeping the tripod in place.

This brings me to my next subject: tripods.

I am rather accustomed to larger tripods, particularly as I have a few heavy lenses and both want and need the height, stability and load-bearing capability they provide.

A few years ago I toyed with the idea of buying a smaller tripod for travelling, but did not quite find something I liked, or something which gave me much confidence, as I was wary of smaller, lighter tripods.  Additionally, they were rather expensive for what they were.

After buying the Fastpack BP 250 AW II today, I browsed around the store, and found a Manfrotto combination of a 290-series set of legs (Manfrotto T293A4) and a ball head (Manfrotto 494RC2).

I played with the tripod for maybe ten or fifteen minutes as I mentally debated whether it was suitable.  While it’s certainly not as tall as my Manfrotto 055XPROB, or even my 2005-vintage Manfrotto 190D, it is tall enough, and the extension of the centre column will give sufficient extra height if necessary.  The legs have four sections and quick release clips, which is definitely desirable.

The ball head was also quite nice, and as with all my other Manfrotto heads, it accommodates the Manfrotto 200PL quick release plate.

Soon enough I decided to buy it.  The salesperson advised me that it was a discontinued model, and as it appeared to be the last unit and lacked both the quick release plate and packaging, he gave me a nice discount.

So, now I have a suitable, light-weight but sturdy tripod which can be taken on international trips, which reduces the bulk and weight of what I am carrying, and nicely attaches to the side of my newest camera backpack.  For the kinds of photography this trip will present, this rig is more than enough to suit my needs, and it will also be quite suitable for other photographic outings locally and inter-state.

Equipment I Use – Camera and Lenses

As a photographer I believe that the ability of a person to capture photographic images is more important than the equipment used in the process.

However, and somewhat at odds with that ideal, I also believe that quality equipment is a vital part of the ingredients that go into producing a great image.

Put simply, high-quality equipment will both reduce gear-induced limitations as well as produce images of better quality.  It is to be remembered, however, that the world’s greatest camera in the hands of the world’s worst photographer will produce an expensively bad image.

Philosophies aside, this first article of several is intended to explain the camera and lenses I use and for what applications I use them.  Further articles will go into the details of other equipment such as lighting equipment, filters, supports and other accessories, as these are equally important in achieving my images.

While I love good gear and have a significant amount of it, I’d prefer to be using that equipment to capture good images than sitting here talking about the equipment; but be that as it may, many photographers are interested in knowing what gear other photographers use, so without further ado, here’s a breakdown of my camera and lens equipment.

Camera

I use only one camera: a Canon EOS 5D Mark II DSLR.   I purchased this in May of 2010 to replace my Canon EOS 5D, a camera I had been using since 2006, and which was destroyed by a dramatic encounter with the ocean at Kiama.

The biggest feature of the Canon EOS 5D line of cameras is the full-frame sensor.  A full-frame sensor is the same size as a frame of 35mm film (ie, 36mm x 24mm), and there are multiple benefits of a larger sensor than the smaller APS-C (1.6x crop) sensors in most of Canon’s other cameras; namely:

  1. less digital noise due to a physically larger sensor;
  2. easier composing due to a larger viewfinder;
  3. easier focusing due to a larger viewfinder;
  4. a brighter viewfinder due to the larger size; and
  5. no cropping of a lens’s native field of view.

One significant point needs to be made on the issue of digital noise.  One of the critical factors that comes into play is the pixel density.  Simply put, the more pixels you cram onto a given surface area, the closer they must be in proximity, and the higher is the likelihood of digital noise resulting from heat.

The 5D was known for its low noise, and likewise, the 5D Mark II also offers very low noise. I have shot a band at ISO speeds of 3,200 and 6,400 and landed very good results.  Granted, at 100% magnification, the image is very grainy, but it is completely impractical to view a 21mp image at full-size.  When viewed at more realistic sizes such as 1,024 x 683, the low level of visible noise is very acceptable indeed.

My first DSLR was a Canon EOS 20D, which I purchased in 2005; and prior to that, my first digital camera was a Canon PowerShot S45, which I purchased in 2002.  This was a high-end compact camera, which at 4mp, had the highest pixel count available at the time.  This camera also offered raw mode, video, and had manual exposure controls — all for the handsome sum of around $1,300.   A current-model, entry-level DSLR can now be bought for under $1,000. How times have changed!

See my gallery of images captured with the Canon EOS 5D Mark II, my gallery of images captured with the Canon EOS 5D and my gallery of images captured with the Canon EOS 20D for an insight into these cameras’ capabilities.

Lenses

More important than the choice of camera is the glass in front of it.  At the time of writing I have seven lenses, all being from Canon’s “L” range, and all having the widest apertures in their respective focal lengths.

I use my various lenses for different purposes, and the following paragraphs will provide some details on each lens.

1.  Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM

This is my seascaping lens.   I use it exclusively for seascape and landscape work, and while it is a zoom, I tend to shoot it like a prime, rarely deviating from the 16mm setting.  I like the ultra-wide, 108-degree diagonal field of view this lens offers at 16mm, and for ‘scapes it produces wide vistas and allows a foreground subject to be given striking prominence in the frame.

I have also used this lens for an indoor band shoot, but I tend to prefer faster primes for their increased light-gathering ability.

The 16-35 is very sharp, and with the brightest aperture currently available in 135-format lenses, it offers a brighter viewfinder which assists with autofocus.   The f/2.8 aperture of this lens also allows creativity in non-landscape/seascape scenarios.

I mostly shoot it at f/8 or f/11, but as above, it can be used to somewhat diffuse the background in a photograph whose foreground subject is within close proximity.  Granted, producing much background blur with an ultra-wide lens isn’t going to be easy nor practical for most of the purposes for which such a lens is used.

See my gallery of images captured with the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM for an insight into the lens’s capabilities.

2.  Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM

This is a great general-purpose lens when a wide aperture is needed.  On a full-frame camera the 35mm focal length is quite useful, in that it is wide, but not too wide; and it is not too long such that the framing is tight.

I use it for bands and portraiture (when I want a wider view than my usual telephoto view), and any other general indoor photography.  It works well for over-the-table people images at dinner parties and the like.  I also used it for a wedding shoot.

It is extremely sharp, works very well in low light and produces nice background blur at f/1.4.

See my gallery of images captured with the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM for an insight into the lens’s capabilities.

3.  Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM

This highly desirable and excellent performer of a lens is desirable to many photographers, and it has a place in my rig.  I consider it to be a general-purpose, fast telephoto zoom.  I don’t use it a great deal, but it’s hard to beat when I do need a lens of its range.

My main uses of this lens include portraiture, bands, aviation, sports, wildlife and general photography.  I’ve also used it for a wedding.

It’s hard to comment negatively about this lens, as it is tack-sharp even wide open and is quick to focus.  It is also compatible with Canon’s tele-extenders, but I would not recommend using the 2x tele-extender, as image quality will invariably suffer, along with the light loss of two stops.

See my gallery of images captured with the Canon EF 70-200mm f/1.8L IS USM for an insight into the lens’s capabilities.

4.  Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM

This extremely fast tele is my staple for portraiture.  The moderate telephoto length is perfect for portraits and the very wide aperture not only allows subject isolation, but produces a creamy background blur distinctive to this lens.

My other main use for this lens is band work or any other low-light indoor setting in which moderate telephoto reach is needed.  When shooting bands, even with an aperture of f/1.2 it’s still necessary to push the ISO into four-digit territory.

I have used this lens for the odd still-life image, but I have found that the combination of the 85mm focal length and the minimum focus distance (MFD) of around 90cm does not produce ideal framing, and instead I use longer lens with an almost identical MFD.

The very narrow depth of field and slow focus-by-wire autofocus of this lens makes it more challenging to use than other telephoto lenses, but when you get it right, it delivers magical results.

Unusually for a Canon L-series prime, the objective element extends from the barrel as the focus is adjusted.  The large, heavy objective element may explain the slower autofocus, as the motor has to push a very heavy piece of glass backward and forward.

See my gallery of images captured with the Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM for an insight into the lens’s capabilities.

5.  Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM

The 135/2L is a mind-blowing lens on several counts:

  1. at f/2, it is very fast for the focal length;
  2. it produces very creamy bokeh;
  3. it’s light and small (for its specifications);
  4. it’s one of the least expensive L-series lenses;
  5. it has a very short (for the focal length) MFD of around 90cm; and
  6. its autofocus is stunningly fast.

I’ve never experienced a lens which focuses as quickly as this one does.  It’s ready before I am, and I daresay its AF is faster than that of my 300/2.8 super-tele.  That’s saying something!

My main uses for this lens include portraiture, bands, weddings and general-purpose telephoto photography, but I have found it to be a very good lens for still-life photography due to its frame-filling focal length and short MFD.  Quite a few of my still-life images were captured with this lens.

It would also do well for indoor sports, although a sports shooter  I am not.

The 135/2L is a ridiculously sharp lens and will deliver very pleasing results.

See my gallery of images captured with the Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM for an insight into the lens’s capabilities.

6.  Canon EF 180mm f/3.5L Macro USM

This is a specialised lens, and one I use for only one thing: macro photography.  I don’t shoot a lot of macro images, so it sits on a shelf most of the time, but when I need it, it’s hard to beat.  Its longer focal length provides greater working distance, but the down-side is the reduced depth of field, and macro lenses have inherently shallow depth of field in the first instance.

Even when shooting at f/11 at its MFD, this lens can be challenging to use.  However, it is extremely sharp, and I’ve found that images captured with it require no sharpening during post-processing.

A macro lens (focal lengths of 100mm and greater are typical for macro lenses) can also double as a portrait lens, although given I have four other telephoto lenses which get used for portraits, I don’t find that capability particularly useful in this lens.

Unlike all of the other macro lenses in Canon’s lineup, the 180/3.5L Macro is compatible with Canon’s tele-extenders, which allows even greater magnification than that 1:1 (life-size) magnification this lens natively offers.

See my gallery of images captured with the Canon EF 180mm f/3.5L Macro USM for an insight into the lens’s capabilities.

7.  Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM

This is my longest, largest, heaviest and most expensive lens.  It could also be considered my sharpest, but in my experience, all of my lenses are sharp!

It is one telephoto lens a lot of people want, and it sure delivers fantastic results.  I use it mostly for aviation, wildlife and astrophotography, but I have used it for portraits and band photography.

I often combine it with my Canon Extender EF 1.4x II and Canon Extender EF 2x II to provide 420mm at f/4 and 600mm at f/5.6 respectively.

Despite the size and weight, I almost always shoot hand-held with it.  I can quite comfortably shoot with a lens of its weight all day without issues.  However, for shooting subjects like the moon, a tripod is essential.  For sports, a monopod can help, but during the very little sports photography I have done, I still found hand-holding was more to my liking.

See my gallery of images captured with the Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM for an insight into the lens’s capabilities.

Tele-Extenders

As mentioned above, I have the Canon Extender EF 1.4x II and Canon Extender EF 2x II.  I generally only use these on my 300/2.8 for the very useful and approachable reach they provide, but three of my other lenses are also compatible with these: 70-200/2.8L IS, 135/2L and 180/3.5L Macro.

I tend not to use the tele-extenders on these three lenses, as I don’t need the focal length increases the combination provides, and in some cases I can achieve the equivalent or a marginally longer focal length with a brighter aperture.

The 1.4x tele-extender is universally considered to be the better of these two units, with greater image degradation (and two stops of light reduction) occurring with the 2x tele-extender.

What convinced me to buy the 2x tele-extender was a set of images posted by someone who paired it with the 300/2.8L IS.  The images were very sharp, and image degradation was very minor to the point of being unnoticeable (if it even existed).  My own results with this combination have shown it to be a good match.  However, I’d only recommend the use of the 2x tele-extender with the absolute fastest of super-teles (eg, 200/1.8L, 200/2L IS, 300/2.8L IS and 400/2.8L IS).

See my gallery of images captured with the Canon Extender EF 1.4x II and my gallery of images captured with the Canon Extender EF 2x II for an insight into these tele-extenders’ capabilities.

So, there’s a summary of my camera and lens equipment.  I’ll discuss my other equipment in subsequent articles.