Friday, December 3, 2010

Canon's New 70-300mm "L" Lens

When I started this blog, I deliberately decided not to write anything about gear, especially cameras and lenses.  As a Canon "Explorer of Light," I think my judgments can be looked at with a certain amount of skepticism.  More importantly, all of the online pixel peeping and blogging about gear has created an obsession with perfection.  Many of the greatest images ever made were taken with manually focused lenses, well before the age of auto focus or  auto aperture, let alone image stabilization.

Occasionally, a piece of gear comes along which is quietly revolutionary, and in that regard, Canon's new 70-300mm "L" lens is, to say the least, extraordinary.  Yesterday I went into New York with the intention of shooting some test shots to show just what this lens is capable of producing.  

A few caveats: all these images were made on a 7D body, which is not full frame.  Is the lens equally as sharp corner to corner on FF ?  Honestly, I haven't tested it yet on the 5D2.  On the 7D, at the 300mm end, it has an effective focal length of 480mm.

Though I shot some images wide open, I deliberately chose apertures of anywhere from f/8 to f/22 for many of the shots as I wanted depth of field when I wasn't shooting parallel to a building.  The first image here, was shot at f/13 and 1/45th of a second.  You read that right.  1/45th second, 480mm focal length.  Hand held.

Besides being the sharpest zoom I have ever used—whether from Canon or Nikon—there is no visible barrel or pincushion distortion at any focal length, nor is there any chromatic aberration.  And yes, shooting at f/13 should be way beyond the "diffraction limit" of the 7D's 1.6X sensor.  So much for theory.  

This lens is a tank.  Relatively short, thick, and somewhat heavy.  Yet compared to, say, the 70-200mm f/2.8, it's a "baby."  

There is one thing, though, that sets this lens apart—I can hand hold it, CONSISTENTLY, at 1/30th second and get sharp images.  The image stabilization of this lens, combined with its balance, shortness and heft, put it beyond the Twilight Zone of reason.  There are some lenses that are examples of the best art and science of optical design.  The Zeiss 21mm f/2.8 Distagon is one, as is the Nikon 14-24mm zoom.

Obviously, I feel that the Canon 70-300mm "L" is in that league.  For the first time ever, I can shoot at an effective focal length of 480mm, at 1/45th or 1/30th of a second, and get extremely sharp, distortion-free images.

Yes, I know, you want to know about "bokeh," or how it does wide open, or full frame, or...well, like I said, this is not supposed to be an analytical examination about "line pairs" of resolution.  This is one sharp lens that makes it easy for me to make images that I could never make before.  That's more than good enough for me: Canon 70-300mm L.