Tuesday, January 28, 2014
The Essential Zoom
Venerable. Indispensable. Classic. Timeless. For a nature photographer, there just isn’t one word that expresses the true value of a fast, constant-aperture 70-200mm lens.
There was a time when the 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 was the workhorse zoom of choice: a highly versatile range with formidable light-gathering ability. Eventually, over time, a lot of other zoom ranges were perfected that stepped all over the focal range—18-200mm, 28-300mm, 70-300mm, 100-400mm—and gave photographers the option to zero in on the range that suited their very specific needs, and at all price levels. A few years back, Canon thought enough of this category to introduce their Series II version with a substantial price of $2,500. The escalation in price tempted a lot of pros to step down to the smaller, far less expensive ƒ/4 version and step up their ISO a notch. While that's not a bad choice, a constant-aperture ƒ/2.8 70-200mm gives you some particular advantages.
Many photographers first fell for the 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 photographing wildlife. No other lens delivered such quality in low light, had the ability to crop compositions from a stationary vehicle (which can act like a blind) and could be easily amplified with a 1.4X or 2X converter. For the images in this article, we ventured into the Eastern Sierra of California with a Tamron SP 70-200mm F/2.8 Di VC USD zoom steadied with a Giottos 6010 window mount (see sidebar). On a safari in Africa, staying in your vehicle is a matter of preservation. In the Sierra, it's a comfortable way to shoot while seated.
We climbed northwest along the San Joaquin Ridge 4x4 road above Minaret Overlook to get a better angle with the crescent moon closer to the mountains at sunset. Named for their resemblance to the towers of Islamic mosques, the Minarets are a series of jagged, 12,000-foot crags formed by an arête—a blade-like ridge of rock that's formed when two glaciers carve out parallel valleys. The edge is then whetted by freeze-and-thaw weathering. At about 30 minutes past sunset, the alpine glow reaches its peak color while there's still enough light to shoot at reasonable shutters speed and ISO using the lens' large ƒ/2.8 aperture. Only 20 minutes later, and with a teleconverter attached, the shutter speed is reduced to only 1⁄15 sec., but the Vibration Compensation feature in the Tamron lens and the window mount capture a sharp image of the Minaret ridge and the craters along the terminator of the moon. You never know what the evening sky will serve up, but it helps if you watch the calendar to be on hand when moonset coincides with sunset, with the moon following the sun. Often, daytime cumulous clouds that promise a spectacular sunset dissipate with the cooling air. Just two days later, the wind changed and smoke from the Rim Fire in Yosemite Valley reddened the sky, with the sunset clouds casting a curious shadow on the densely polluted air.
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