FOCUS ON: EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM

February 28, 2011

Are great images a product of the photographer, or their camera equipment? This series (formerly known as "Lens of the Month") explores the idea that it's BOTH: Featuring a professional photographer and a single Canon lens, the Canon Digital Learning Center focuses on the relationship that artists can have with their gear.

Canon Digital Learning Center (CDLC):What type of photography do you do, professionally? What field(s) do you prefer, for personal projects/as a hobby?

Rick Rosen (RR): My commercial photography includes advertising; people, products and architectural. I began my commercial career while in college in Detroit. My first assignments involved the automobile industry. I photographed new car models prior to their official introductions. Those images were used for brochures and display at auto shows, etc. Later, after moving to California, where automotive photography was not the main opportunity for me, I added small products, fine jewelry and architectural clients. Most of my work was for Moreannual reports and product catalogs. I have considerable experience and knowledge in studio lighting and shoot a good segment of my business in studio. Fine jewelry has a very specific set of challenges.

In the past I have used all film formats for my commercial work. Since the advent of digital imaging most of the commercial assignments have been for clients that now prefer digital.

About eighteen years ago I added a fine art approach to documentary wedding coverage and portraiture. My wedding style involves minimal involvement with my subjects. I silently observe the activities around me and always remain ready to capture the personalities and emotions.

My personal photography frequently involves the outdoors, in particular landscapes and wildlife. I really enjoy getting away from the studio and into the mountains or desert for some quiet time and the chance to photograph the natural scene. My other personal work involves working in my studio with still life and the nude as my subjects of interest. I work alone with soft music playing. When I have more time and can get away I especially enjoy the solitude of the outdoors and the challenge of creating images in a variety of subject areas that are in many ways the exact opposite of my standard commercial assignments. I call this my photographic therapy.

I have been very fortunate to be able to turn my passion for photography into my profession.

CDLC: What are the most important features you need in the lenses you use professionally? What about for personal work (if there is a difference)?

RR: Since the quality of my images is at the core of my professional work, the image quality I am able to obtain from my cameras and lenses is paramount in my decisions when selecting my equipment. The lenses must be optically sharp, and able to hold that sharpness even when using wide apertures - especially as I shoot frequently at wide-open apertures. Many of the non-Canon lenses that I have tested in the past, while having wide apertures of 1.4 to 2.8 have not been very sharp at those wide open apertures. If I have to stop a lens down by three or four stops before I see real sharpness the lens is not one that I would select.

Obviously, the focal lengths available must also fit my requirements. My lens inventory spans a range of zooms and prime optics from 15mm through 400mm. I prefer to stick with one brand of lenses. By doing so I am guaranteed to get consistent color balance in the optics and familiar handling characteristics. I have found everything that I am looking for in the Canon EOS line of lenses.

The build quality of my equipment must also be of top quality. In my professional shooting, while not abusive or rough on my equipment, I do not "baby" my gear and frequently have to shoot in less than ideal conditions. I change lenses quickly "on the fly" and under those conditions I expect my gear to work without any problems.

Lastly, in the journalistic environment of my weddings I need equipment that can react fast to capture a fleeting moment. The speed of Canon's auto focus technology never fails me and in fact it was one of the main attractions of Canon that caused me to switch systems when I first started shooting weddings almost twenty years ago. I have been very pleased ever since.

All of my lenses, whenever possible, are Canon's L-series professional lenses. I have found that the Canon L-series can provide me with all the lens options that I may need and with optics that I know from experience will be superb with accurate color rendition and sharp optics.

CDLC: What is your favorite Canon lens, and why?

RR: That's a tough one to answer! My favorite Canon lens is tempered by the application and subjects that I am using it for. All things considered though, to generalize I would say that my favorite Canon lens is the EF 70-200mm 2.8L IS. The focal length range of 70mm to 200mm works well for my wedding and portrait work as well as much of my personal photography.

The lens is tack sharp, even wide open and the f/2.8 maximum aperture affords me the creative option of limiting my depth-of-field to my selected subject area. I shoot most frequently with my lenses at wide-open apertures so the sharpness at those apertures is very important to me. In addition to the ability to throw my backgrounds out of focus to emphasize my subject area, the fast apertures of this Canon lens allows me to shoot in low light conditions without always relying on a flash. By keeping my selected subject area in focus and having the background out of the depth-of-field range the soft background creates two distinct advantages in my images; for one, it isolates my chosen subject from the background and as such it creates a sense of the third dimension of depth in my images.

The IS feature affords me the ability to shoot in a lower light environment than I normally would be able to while hand holding without the worry of losing sharpness due to camera movement. The technology really works and it gives me the ability to shoot at speeds that are slower than I would normally be able to use with a similar lens' focal length that did not have the internal stabilization technology.

The lens features easily accessible switches for auto focus, IS, etc. This allows me to switch these features off and on at will often without removing the lens from my eye. The build quality of the 70-200 zoom is excellent. The metal construction allows me to not have to worry about the lens in less-than-ideal conditions. The rotating tripod mount is important when I use a tripod. It is a rock solid lens with superb optics!

My other favorite Canon lenses include the EF 15mm f/2.8 fisheye, the EF 16-35mm f/2.8L and the EF 85mm f/1.2L.

CDLC: What types of assignments do you think this lens will really excel at, and why?

RR: Portraiture certainly comes to mind immediately. The lens is capable of very sharp images through the entire range of apertures. Consequently, I can utilize the longer focal lengths of it's zoom range and the wide open aperture of f/2.8 or any other aperture that I select. When shooting with wider apertures the result is a photograph with a subject in sharp focus and a background that is softly out of focus. This visual affect sets the subject apart from the background for emphasis and creates a lovely softness, often referred to as Bokeh, in the background. With that option of minimal depth-of-field I have the creative control over just how sharp I want my backgrounds to be. I can shoot wide open or a few stops down and have a nicely softened background or I can stop down further and throw the background into sharp focus. Having that full range of creative options, which would be more limiting in a lens without as large a maximum aperture or one where the maximum apertures would not yield sharp images, allows me more creative control over my images.

In addition, the lens is perfect for wedding photography. The zoom range allows you to be positioned discretely during the ceremony, often near the back of the sanctuary. Because many churches do not allow flash photography during the ceremony the lens has the added significant advantage of a wide aperture of f/2.8. At 2.8 and an ISO of 400 to 800 (depending on the ambient light) the photographer can easily hand hold the camera and still expect sharp images. This is especially true because of the IS (Internal stabilization) of this lens.

Another assignment that comes to mind it sports photography. While probably not a long enough telephoto for "big field" sports like football or baseball, the 200mm focal length would work really well for other sports like basketball, tennis and certainly amateur sports where you can get in closer to the field.

Artistic compositions, similar to my floral examples, are another subject where this lens would be an excellent choice. The zoom range combined with the wide aperture range of f/2.8 to f/32 gives me all the choice I need to set an ideal exposure and depth-of-focus for my creative imaging. The lens is well balanced so it is easy to carry and the lens hood included is ideal for blocking out unwanted sunlight to reduce flare.

The 70-200mm focal length range is suitable for many subjects. It is a range that is suitable for candid photos of people as well as some of the other specialties I mentioned above. When I photograph a social event this is my main lens.

CDLC: What, if any, challenges did you experience working with this lens?

RR: The only limitation, and it's not really that limiting, is when I use the lens for close-ups of flowers. While the lens works very well for isolating my flower subjects and the zoom range gives me complete control over the composition, the closest focus of just over three feet can occasionally limit my point of view. It isn't really a problem though.

On the other side of the issue, the long zoom range allows me to capture flowers and other subjects that are a distance away. I recently photographed some lily pads in a Japanese Garden and the ability to "zoom in" to those distant subjects gave me the ability to photograph them.

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