Last night’s game was a tough one to beat, so I wasn’t heading over to the park to see Zito pull off a second perfect game in a row against the Astros. But day games at AT&T are always fun and we were celebrating my son’s promotion to the next grade level and last day of school for this year.
On the way back to Gasser’s to return the lens I had rented last night, I thought I would look through their stock to see if anything caught my eye. Fortunately, they had their Canon 100-400mm f/3.5-5.6 L series push-pull zoom in stock. Knowing the focal range that I would be photographing in, I took the 1.4X extender as well. I had rented this lens about a year and a half ago from another rental house when I still had my Canon 40D camera and was very unhappy with the results. I found all my photos to be soft and not one of them thrilled me with the potential of this lens. Then a few days later, I received a call from them asking what may have happened to the lens in my possession, as the autofocus was not working properly. I hadn’t experienced any problems with it, but luckily I had purchased the rental insurance offered. Murphy’s Law dictates that if there is the possibility, I will definitely experience it. So, I don’t rent without it. I did hear back from them a few weeks later that the lens had failed at no fault of my own and the case was closed.
That left me wondering, since I hadn’t rented it again since then. Would the lens perform differently on a 1D Mark II N? Would I get a good copy that would lead me to believe that this is the next lens that I need to procure for my arsenal? With all these questions rolling around in my head, I walked out of the store with the rental. The one thing that I did want to be absolutely sure of is that my 1D would still autofocus at full zoom with the extender in place. Since the 1.4X extender causes you to lose 1 f-stop of speed, that would put the far end of the lens at f/8.0. Most Canon bodies other than the 1D series will not autofocus. Luckily, everything was working fine and I was able to focus in the store prior to renting the lens.
I happen to be a big fan of the push-pull system. This meaning that instead of twisting the lens to zoom in and out, the outer portion of the lens can be pushed and pulled to zoom in and out. This creates a very quick motion for quick focal range changes without disturbing the positioning of the camera setup in your grasp. The downside would be that this design tends to allow for the entry of air and dust into the inner elements. With time, this can cause significant dust particles that can affect image quality. But, this lens has Image Stabilization, which is freaking awesome!!
The IS system is something that takes some getting used to, but once you get it, it’s a piece of cake. Fortunately for me, when shooting at a minimum of 1/2000th of a second, I can very well turn off the IS system to save on battery power. At those shutter speeds, I’m virtually stopping time and can almost count the stitching on a moving pitch. But, IS comes in very handy in shots that are being taken at speeds that a handheld setup would yield a blurry photo. The system is set up to achieve a focus point and then engage the image stabilization feature. So, when you hear the beep of the autofocus locked on, there is a delay of approximately a second or so where if you are causing shake to the image through the viewfinder, you will not see a change. Then, and almost suddenly, you’ll notice that the image stabilizes and a whirring can be heard at times. This stabilization feature will remain constant as long as the shutter button is depressed and images are being recorded. Once you let go of the shutter button, you have to establish the focal point again prior to having the image stabilization kick in.
The only part that takes getting used to is timing the delay between the focal point being achieved and the IS system engaging. Once you have that down, the system can add up to a 3 f-stop advantage. In low light conditions, this can prove to be a savior. Would I recommend this lens for low light situations? Hell no!! The maximum aperture rating is that of f/3.5 at 100mm and goes downhill from there as you zoom. But yet, this lens is rated as one of the hot ones to own if you shoot sports, wildlife or anything else that requires a zoom with a reach of 400mm. During the daytime, this lens is a beast, but even there it has its limitations.
Zoom lenses are a compromise. This lens happens to be a very good compromise since it is part of the L series lineup and is outfitted with great optics. This copy that I rented was fairly sharp and I enjoyed shooting with it today. It’s not too heavy, so you can definitely hand hold it all day long. I do feel that at 400mm, the lens protrudes quite a bit. If you add the available lens hood to it as well, there is considerable length to take into account when working with the lens around others to make sure you aren’t inconveniencing someone else or bumping into them. Matched with a 1D body, the lens felt evenly distributed in its weight and didn’t feel like the camera was hanging off the back of the lens mount.
Considering the slight degradation of the 1.4X extender, I think the majority of the images taken today were acceptable. They aren’t great and no one is going to be knocking on my door to purchase these images taken from the cheap seats. However, I take the shots recorded as a guide to consider what this lens is actually capable of. I am certain that sitting in the lower levels within reach of 400mm while still filling the image with my subject this lens would be a monster. Also, the 1.4X extender that I was using isn’t the newest model. The newer ones claim to have almost no degradation effect on the L series lenses, so I would be interested in checking that claim out for myself as well.
Also, I am considering the angle I was photographing the players in along with the midday sun. Today was especially bright, so there were plenty of harsh shadows and hard light. This is always a challenge to capture any kind of facial expression on the ball players when photographing from above when their faces are hidden under the bill of their caps. Nonetheless, the view from above is a very interesting one and one that I will continue to photograph. You will never see these types of vantage points in the likes of Sports Illustrated or ESPN, but I have some great shots of various players in some very interesting positions after letting swings rip.
All in all, I would have to give this rental a thumbs up.