FOCUS ON: EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM

March 11, 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?

Stephen Green (SG): I am have been a sports action and documentary photographer for over 30 years and have been the team photographer with the Chicago Cubs since 1982. I spent 7 years, from 1989 -1996, as the set photographer for the Oprah Winfrey Show providing publicity and historical photos for Harpo Productions. I have also worked extensively as a contract photographer for Topps and Don Russ trading cards shooting both the NFL and Major League Baseball and I am a contributor to MLB Photos. I was able to cover all of Michael Jordan’s career More with the Chicago Bulls including 6 NBA finals.

10 years ago my wife, Lisa, and I started to shoot weddings and portraits using the same approach we use to capture moments for pro sports and dance. We are now expanding that business and really enjoying the new challenges and rewards that come along with it.
My skills and training over the years all involve how to capture unique moments under a variety of light and weather conditions and be able to produce excellent images for our clients who demand them whether it is a wedding, a corporate event, dance performance, live music or a professional sporting event.

I also shoot quite a bit of live Jazz and Blues music in Chicago for my personal project just to keep a creative outlet for myself.

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)?

SG: There is no real difference between what I demand in the gear I use for assignment work versus personal work. It all has to be better than good. What I do demand out of my lenses is that they are consistent and produces great digital files under the most pressing situations. I rely on being able shoot sharp photographs at wide-open apertures at either a very fast shutter speed or a very low shutter speed using the IS to help me out. In very low light situations I move toward the Canon prime “L” lenses to gain the extra light through the wider open apertures available to me with them. I am also using the IS feature of the newer lenses more and more to help gain a stop on the shutter speed side of my exposures. I rarely shoot anything beyond f/4. I really prefer to find the light that works by adjusting my exposures and angles rather than create it with external lighting and Canon makes some incredible lenses that allow for that.

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

SG: My favorite lens is totally dependent on what I am going to be shooting that day and what body I am using. For live sports action it is the EF mm 400 f/2.8L IS which allows for such great shutter speeds and background fall-off. It is the central lens for most all of my professional action sports assignments, closely followed by the EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS. I can shoot most any event with those 2 lenses and an EF 1.4x Extender. These are all shot on an EOS-1D Mark III body. After having used an EF 70-200mm f.4L IS lens in daylight this past few weeks I would easily exchange that over the 70-200mm f/2.8 for most any event.

For my personal everyday “walk around” work, I use the EOS 5D Mark II with the EF 24-105mm f/4L IS, and now would certainly add the 70-200mm f/4 to that. It allows me to be far quicker and less conspicuous to use as an everyday lens, which is critical to my style of shooting. With the great low noise high ISO files I can produce with newer cameras like the 5D Mark II, I can certainly afford to use a lens with an f/4 aperture.

CDLC: If the lens you used this month is one of your favorites, what is it about the lens that you love?

SG: The 70-200 f/4 has surely become one of my favorite lenses to use on an everyday basis. It is really fast to focus and very sharp in a variety of situations and lighting conditions. I almost always use it wide open and it is sharp across the whole image with a full frame sensor. The contrast and color are right on the money as well. I like the weight and size of this lens as much as anything else about it given its technical ability to capture a great file all the time. I find myself going to this lens over the 70-200mm f/2.8 most of the time, unless I absolutely need that extra stop for exposure or background fall-off. This lens will not weigh me down at all, and is a lot easier to hold up at eye level waiting for that decisive moment to occur. I am less likely to be caught with my lens down when something happens. It is also sharp even when combined with the 1.4x Extender, which adds another dimension to using it for a variety of focal lengths on an assignment.

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

SG: This lens is really great for stopping action in daylight. The background fall-off is not significantly less than the f/2.8 version to make a difference for action shots. I like it as well for my portrait work. The focal lengths available within the zoom range are pretty much what I would use for doing a formal portrait in studio, or a quick grab shot of an athlete on the sidelines at an event.

I used it to shoot The Cirque de Shanghai on my 5D Mark II at ISO 2500 and it worked like a charm. It was fast to focus, and very accurate under live performance theatrical conditions with changing light conditions. I shot everything at f/4 and adjusted the exposure using shutter speed and ISO settings as needed. The IS function of the lens enabled me to drop the shutter speeds and still freeze some peak action moments of the performers.

This lens is also really great for sports action and portrait work, as well as any sort of documentary work that requires a fast focusing variable focal length lens. I will be using it to shoot baseball day games at the Cubs in place of the 70-200 mm f/2.8 for the remainder of the year (when I can get it out of my partner’s hands). I would think this is perfect lens to keep with you all the time due to its size, weight, and technical abilities – especially when don’t absolutely need to have an f/ 2.8 lens for exposure purposes. As the sensors become more and more sensitive it will be possible to use this little gem in more and more lower light situations.

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

SG: The only challenge I found with this lens at all was not having the extra f-stop (of the f/2.8 version of this zoom) to work with in lower light. On the other hand, that was pretty well compensated for by the lighter weight of the lens and the ability to use it at lower shutter speeds with the IS, and/or boosting the ISO if needed. This lens paired with the EOS 5D Mark II, with its tremendous high ISO files, is a great tool to work with and gives me such great freedom. The real challenge for me is having to return the loaner lens back to Canon!

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