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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Long Lens Tips And Techniques

Big-glass guru Arthur Morris shows you how to use long telephotos to get your best up-close wildlife shots ever!

This Article Features Photo Zoom

My first long lens, purchased back in 1983, was the Canon 400mm ƒ/4.5 FD. I worked with that lens for seven years, not fully realizing the incredible benefits of the really big glass until some guy let me look through his 600mm ƒ/4 Nikkor lens on Sanibel Island.... Soon after, I jumped all the way up to the old Canon 800mm ƒ/5.6 FD and entered the world of huge magnification. Since the advent of autofocus, I've owned and used several Canon EF 500mm and 600mm ƒ/4 lenses. Today, I've come full circle—my favorite big lens right now is the EF 800mm ƒ/5.6L IS. That said, I'm looking forward to the availability of Canon's two new big guns, the EF 500mm and 600mm ƒ/4L IS II supertelephotos.

Over the years, I've reviewed, sold and, most importantly, enjoyed more than a few images that were created with long lenses and teleconverters. In this article, I'll share many of the techniques that I've used and developed over the past two-plus decades.

1) Big Glass And Teleconverters Lens Correction
Many folks who invest in big glass shy away from using teleconverters. Doing so is a huge mistake as they're forfeiting focal-length flexibility and extra magnification, which provides more pixels on the subject. By practicing your sharpness techniques—try supporting the lens with your left hand from below rather than above—making sharp images with the 2x TCs and either the 300mm or 400mm ƒ/2.8 lenses should be child's play at most reasonable shutter speeds. And I've long believed that competent photographers should be able to create sharp images with a 2x TC and a 500mm or 600mm ƒ/4 lens down to 1⁄60 sec., as long as the subject isn't moving. And that goes double with the sharper optics and the improved image stabilization and vibration-reduction systems of newer lenses.
Canon EOS-1Ds, EF 600mm ƒ/4L IS USM, Extender EF 2x II, Gitzo 3530LS tripod, Wimberley V2 head

2) The Sharp, Fast, Versatile 300mm ƒ/2.8
For years I had my eyes and my mind closed to the 300mm ƒ/2.8 lenses. That all changed when I borrowed one for my big Antarctica trip with Cheesemans' Ecology Safaris in early 2012. I loved it so much that I extended the loan and brought it along to Japan for a month. On the Southern Oceans trip, I needed to travel light; the Canon 300mm ƒ/2.8L IS lens was my big lens. It was great in the Zodiacs® and great for handheld birds-in-flight photography with or without the 1.4x TC. I used it with the 1.4x TC for all of my sea eagle flight photography in Hokkaido, and it was great for the snow monkeys as well. Aside from the light-gathering ƒ/2.8 speed, the lens is mind-bogglingly sharp.
Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, EF 300mm ƒ/2.8L IS USM, Extender EF 1.4x III, handheld

3) How To Recognize Good Situations
Telephoto lenses offer a narrow angle of view, a bit more than 3º with the 800mm lens on a full-frame camera and well less with crop-factor bodies and/or teleconverters. Many folks don't realize that if you wish to create images that feature clean backgrounds, working with a narrow angle of view is much more important than working at the wide-open aperture. The farther the background from your subject, the softer the background will be. Learn to look for great situations where your long lens can provide clean backgrounds. Nearly all of the gannets at Bonaventure, Québec, nest on the ground. When I came upon a pair building a nest atop a viewing shelter, I stayed with them for several hours.
Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, EF 400mm ƒ/4 DO IS USM, Gitzo 3530LS tripod, 4th Generation Designs Mongoose M-3.6

4) A Tripod Is A Necessity!
Working off a sturdy tripod with long focal lengths will—almost without exception—pay huge dividends in terms of image sharpness. For years, I've used and depended on the sturdy and rugged Gitzo GT3530LS 6X carbon-fiber tripod. When using the 800mm ƒ/5.6L IS lens with the Canon 1.4x III teleconverter or the 300mm ƒ/2.8L IS II with the 2x II teleconverter as for the Macaroni penguin image, you'll always find my long lenses on a tripod. When working with relatively static subjects, snugging up the knobs on your tripod head will help you produce even sharper images.
Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, EF 300mm ƒ/2.8L IS II USM,Extender EF 2x III, Gitzo 3530LS tripod, 4th GenerationDesigns Mongoose M-3.6

Keeping Steady
One of Arthur Morris' skilled students, Clemens van der Werf, shows good technique. He's supporting the lens from below with his left hand, and his face is pressed firmly against the back of the camera. This is much more reliable than holding the lens on top and trying to keep it steady with downward pressure. With these long lenses, even the slightest movement results in softness in the image, so proper technique is mandatory.


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