Tuesday, September 28, 2010
70 To 200
OP’s guide to the professional workhorse lens for nature photographers
Everyone has a favorite lens. It’s usually in a focal length that matches the way the photographer sees in his or her mind’s eye. We’ve heard of studies that show a human’s vision to be roughly equivalent to a 40mm lens on a full-frame DSLR, but we all focus on things within our field of vision a little differently. Some see in 20mm, and some see in 200mm. In addition to “seeing” in a certain focal length, many of what we think of as traditional nature subjects seem to lend themselves to a particular range. At the confluence of these two phenomena is a lens that has become known as a workhorse for nature pros: the 70-200mm.
At the 70mm end, it’s wide enough to take in a broad landscape or show an animal within its full surroundings. At the 200mm end, it’s telephoto enough to get in fairly tight on an animal or to create a foreshortened perspective on a landscape. If you’re using a DSLR with an APS-C-sized sensor, the telephoto end is even more dramatic at an equivalent of just over 300mm. Also, some of the 70-200mm models are designed to work with a 1.4x teleconverter, bringing the telephoto to about 450mm. The lens also hits a sweet spot in its size. While there are size and weight differences between ƒ/2.8 and ƒ/4 models, even the largest and heaviest 70-200mm is manageable when compared to a 300mm or 400mm telephoto.
Early zoom lenses weren’t very sharp, and serious photographers avoided them. But pro-oriented, manual-focus 80-200mm zooms appeared around 30 years ago and delivered good enough image quality that serious shooters started using them. Canon and Nikon introduced high-performance autofocusing 80-200mm ƒ/2.8s in the late 1980s, and these found favor with pro sports and wildlife photographers. Over the next few generations, these high-speed telezooms evolved into 70-200mm zooms as users requested a wider wide end and the technology was able to deliver it with pro performance. Today, a number of manufacturers offer pro-level 70-200mm zooms. And the old 80-200mm ƒ/2.8 isn’t quite dead yet: Nikon still offers one, at a considerably lower cost than its 70-200mm ƒ/2.8s.
In 1989, concurrent with the introduction of its first AF SLR, the EOS-1, Canon introduced its first AF pro zoom lenses: the EF 80-200mm ƒ/2.8L, EF 20-35mm ƒ/2.8L and EF 28-80mm ƒ/2.8-4L USM. This gave pros focal lengths from 20mm superwide to 200mm telephoto in just three lenses, with pro performance. In 1995, Canon replaced the 80-200mm with the EF 70-200mm ƒ/2.8L USM, which contained a quick, quiet USM focusing motor that also permitted manual focusing without leaving AF mode. In 1999, Canon introduced the EF 70-200mm ƒ/4L USM, in response to demand for a lighter, lower-priced high-performance telezoom. In 2001, Canon added IS image stabilization to create the EF 70-200mm ƒ/2.8L IS USM zoom, and five years later added IS to the slower lens to create the EF 70-200mm ƒ/4L IS USM. In 2010, Canon introduced the EF 70-200mm ƒ/2.8L USM II, with improved image stabilization and optical performance.
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