I picked this lens up in early 2010 when I decided I lacked a wide aperture wide-angle. This, the second version of this lens, is RAZOR sharp right down to f1.8 and still damn good wide open. It’s not a cheap lens but it’s a keeper and likely won’t get updated for a very long time. The bokeh it produces is wonderfully creamy and married with my 1.3 crop 1dMKIV it has a focal length equivalent to about 32mm which works perfectly for me for a general purpose walk around lens. Even if I take my 17-40 with me, I still take the 24 1.4 because the wider aperture shots have a unique look to them compared to ones take at f4. I always tell people to have at least one fast prime in their lens collection and this is Canon’s finest to date in my opinion. For travel and lifestyle its great, and for video it will blow you away when you can shoot between f2.2 and f1.4. A look like no other! Its a heavy chunk of glass though but I haven’t gone anywhere without it since the day it arrived. With the solid construction and smooth operation of the focus ring you’ll never want to put it down! A wide zoom like the 17-40 or 16-35 is cheaper and more versatile, so get one of those first, but when you need a little more light, contrast or sharpness then take a look at the 24mm f1.4 II.
Ahh the 17-40 f4 L, my first lens! I picked this lens up when I got a Canon 10d and it was the lens that got my first published ski photos and my first cover shot. I still have the very same lens to this day and it works just as well as the day I got it. At the time I picked the 17-40 to save some money, but even now I personally would not swap it for the 16-35 f2.8 because I prefer the much lighter weight. Even wide open it is crisp, and lacks chromatic aberration to levels that make some more expensive lenses look shameful. At only around $700 it is Canon’s cheapest L lens, but the build quality is still solid enough that I have had this thing banging around in my bag now for years without even so much as a loose screw. I tend to use this lens mostly for shooting urban skiing and half-pipe skiing. People used to use fisheyes a lot for pipe skiing because it made it look like the skiers were going higher in the air. These days though that really isn’t necessary because the skiers go so high anyway so I prefer to keep the lines straight and use the wide zoom instead, though it is still great for those low angle cliff drop shots to accentuate the height of the drop. Only having f4 has never been an issue for me so I’ve never looked at getting the 16-35 though I hear its a little sharper at some apertures and no sharper at many others. As I said above in the 70-200 commentary, with this lens, a 70-200 and a 50mm you can get probably 95% of things done. And for the first couple of years while I explored the possibilities of turning this into a career that was the exact combination that I used to shoot my first stories and put together my first portfolio.
BUY @ AMAZON or B&H Photo
This is a new lens from Canon. I wrote about it HERE on my photographic site when it was first announced and it has quickly become one of my very favorite lenses. In fact when I totaled up all the photos I shot in the 2011 winter season, the 70-300 was responsible for the most photos. For me this replaced my 70-200 f4 L IS which was a stunning lens. But this offers a little more reach on the long end and is also considerably shorter. This might seem like a weird observation because it’s not any lighter than the 70-200 but the short, squat design allows me to stand the lens vertically in my camera bag whereas the 70-200 has to lie down horizontally. The result is that it saves a huge amount of room in my pack. Much more than you would imagine! I use the F-Stop backpacks for my mountain work and with the 70-300 I’ve found myself regularly taking an ICU that is one size smaller than I previously would. A small ICU can hold my 1DMK4 , 70-300, 24mm and 17-40. In terms of it’s performance I have been equally happy with it. From 70-200 it matches my older lenses and up to 240mm or so it’s also pin sharp. At the tail end of it’s range I find it softens a little but still not too bad. If you are traveling light, it’s versatility is very hard to beat and I ever once felt that the smaller maximum aperture was a problem for me when working outdoors.
When I first started out in the business this was the lens I dreamed of owning. In 2010 I finally decided it was time, just before I went to Alaska. In AK you almost always need at least 300mm and frequently more. I was not happy with the quality of my 300mm f4 L IS when used with the teleconverters so it was time to get the f2.8 L IS. For the price of a small car, you expect something magical and this lens delivers in unreal detail. I was totally blown away by the sharpness and accuracy of the AF with this lens. Every crystal of snow was suddenly defined and I could read stickers on the side of skiers helmets from half a mile away. Simply stunning. Take a look at another post I wrote about this lens HERE for some more information. It is a VERY big lens though so you really have to plan on needing it. Even just traveling on a plane is a pain in the ass because suddenly your bag is another 3KG heavier than it already was. For shooting in AK this is a must have lens. Some guys are using the 500mm f4 IS but some of my best shots were at 300mm and with this I also have a great 420mm and 600mm when using the TCs (see below). It’s a very versatile combo and physically smaller than the 500mm too, so easier to get in your carry-on luggage on the plane. Not a lens you rush into buying though, so if you are thinking about it, rent one for a day to try it out. I don’t like to ski too far with it on my back but sledding and heli access days are perfect.
I have done an extensive review of it over on my other site HERE. One of the sharpest lenses Canon has ever produced and most amazingly just as sharp wide open as it is all the way up through the aperture range. The new Hybrid-IS means you can shoot at very low shutter speeds and it makes video shooting a lot smoother. I’ve had this lens for over a year now and I have to say that I don’t use it very much but I’ve been on the verge of selling it a couple of times and when it comes down to it I just can’t do it. The few times when I do use it I just LOVE it. I don’t tend to shoot a lot of skiing with it though as I have much more versatile lenses for that. What this lens excels at is shooting product so I use it to shoot all the products that I review on my photography blog, and also for occasional commercial product photography jobs like the sample below. It’s such a fun lens to use, but I do prefer using it on a full frame camera. On a crop, the length is a bit too much for me for product.
You can check out a full review of this lens HERE on my photography website. I took delivery of this long awaited lens in the summer 2011 so as yet I haven’t shot any skiing images with it. This will allow me to shoot full 180 degree fisheye images on a crop body Canon camera though. I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time ! I will update this in the future with ski images but for now check the review linked above to see some samples.
I currently own the MKII version of the 1.4X TC but Canon launched MKIII at the end of 2010. Mostly aesthetic improvement is expected though. I use this on the 300mm f2.8 L IS and if you stop it down at least to f7 then you’ll get some good results. I do find that I loose a fair bit of contrast though but it can be easily fixed in photoshop. AF speed and accuracy is not much affected on this lens combination. This 1.4 X also works great on the 70-200 f4 L IS. So you can make a 280mm lens like that but it is NOT as sharp as the 70-300 f4-5.6 L IS at that length, nor is it ANYTHING like as sharp as the 300mm f4 L IS and obviously the f2.8 L IS. If you have a 70-200 and only occasionally need something longer then it’s a cost effective solution but definitely remember it works best in contrasty light. It amplifies the negative effect of bad lighting but with nice light you can get great stuff. On the super tele lenses AF is not affected much but other lenses do suffer so for field sports a native 300mm lens would be better but for stationary shots you’ll be fine.
There is a lot of bad stuff written about the 2X teleconverter but if you use it with the right lens it can produce some great results. should note that I own the MKII versions of the 2X and Canon introduced a MKIII version at the end of 2010. Mostly they seem to feature a stylistic change though and probably only minimal IQ changes. These teleconverters are designed to work with Canon’s “big whites”. The monster telephoto lenses. I use my 2X with my 300mm f2.8 L IS and I have been VERY impressed with the results when carefully using that combination. When I say carefully I mean being careful not to try and shoot wide open. The more you stop the lens down, the sharper it will get, up to a diffraction point. For example the sample below I set the camera to iso 640 even though it was a sunny day. This mean I could still get a fast shutter speed and stop the lens down enough to get a sharp result. I was so impressed with this combination that I wrote a whole post about it HERE. Now on other lenses I would be a little more wary of using it. You can get OK results with a 70-200 f2.8 but putting it on the f4 lens means you loose AF ability on all but the 1-series bodies. It’s usable like this but I wouldn’t recommend it really. Obviously a 600mm is going to be better than the 300 with the 2X but when you only need that length occasionally I think its a great option for the 300. On the 300mm f4 IS I was less than impressed though and AF speed suffered to the point of uselessness.
If you don’t have a 50mm lens then there really isn’t an excuse to not get this one. It’s only $100! I’ve had this one for a while and honestly I’m not much of a 50mm guy, I guess I just don’t see the world in that way so I hardly ever use it. But I do take it with me on all my trips because it only weights a couple of hundred grams. Don’t expect good build quality for $100, it feels like a toy, but there is so little to go wrong with it that is seems quite robust. I probably treat this lens worse than all my others but it’s still going strong after about 5 years now. Stop it down to f2.2 for the better results and be prepared for the slowest auto focus of all time! In general though, 50mm is a weak spot in the Canon lineup which is why I still have this one and not something better. The 50mm f1.4 is notoriously fragile and not a lot sharper for something 7 times the price and the 50mm f1.2 is also not sharper than the f1.4 version but comes in at something like $1600. So until Canon replace the aging f1.4 version I’ll keep this as it’s not a length I use much anyway.
I often switch up lenses to check out new options. By buying L series lenses for the most part I find that they hold their value very very well. I can buy a lens and use it for a year and when it comes to sell it I lose very little money. When you figure out how much value is lost over a year I just think of it as a well priced rental! Occasionally I buy second hand lenses too and often re-sell them for the same price. So the list of lenses below here are ones that I no longer own, though I could potentially buy back again at some point!
The 70-200 is the most important lens in my collection. I originally began with the 70-200 f2.8 L IS but a couple of years ago I swapped to the f4 L IS and I’ve never looked back, even when I tired the new f2.8 L IS MKII. The f4 L IS is MUCH sharper than the original f2.8 IS that I had and it is also fully half the weight. For me, these two factors make this lens a no-brainer. I like to try and keep the weight of my pack down as much as I can because it keeps me more mobile on my skis. The f4 IS is also physically much smaller so I can fit other things in my pack. Before I made the switch I looked through my shots and found that very rarely did I shoot the lens bel0w f4 anyway because all my work is done outside. So I was carrying around all the extra weight for no good reason. On my other website I conducted a comparison between the new f2.8 L IS II and the f4 L IS. It contains some examples and also side by side size comparisons. Right now this is THE lens that I tell everyone to get when they want to start out. It represents excellent value too when you look at the other zooms out there and even takes the 1.4x Teleconverter pretty well if you need something longer. With a wide zoom like the 17-40 , a 50mm and the 70-200 f4 L IS you can get most things done.
A lot of people pick this up as the kit lens with the 5dMKII as I did. For a travel situation where you just want to walk around with one lens then it’s a good choice. It’s the widest lens Canon makes that incorporates IS and for low light its a blessing to have. I do find though that this is my least sharp L lens and it lacks the contrast of the 70-200 f4 IS. Most of the time I have to apply a little sharpening to shots from this lens, whereas I tend not to bother with any of the other lenses that I use. Regardless, this is a great lens because it allows you to grab several very different compositions of a subject very quickly. For shooting big jumps it is great and I just always seem to be in the 50-100mm range for that sort of thing. Another GREAT use for his lens is shooting landscapes from a helicopter like I was doing for Whistler Blackcomb in this post. Helicopters produce a lot of vibrations so you have to shoot at a higher shutter speed than you normally would think. IS goes some way to smooth out this problem and the versatility means you don’t need to change lenses, very useful when hanging out of the door of a heli. Not typically a place you want to start switching lenses! I wish it was a little sharper, but it makes up for it in versatility and compactness. I don’t take it on regular ski says as i find the 17-40 , 50 and 70-200 work better for that but it comes with me for travel shots, park shoots and heli rides!
Once you have yourself a 70-200, a wide zoom of some sort and one large aperture prime of some sort the next thing I recommend for action sports shooters is a fisheye lens of some sort. Currently I have this Sigma 15mm f2.8 and it is comparable to the Canon 15mm f2.8 in most areas. These days the prices are similar for both, and in fact the Canon one was discontinued towards the end of 2010. This lens is plenty sharp and built tougher than other sigmas that I have seen. I even left this out on a mountain one night buried in snow (accidentally) and when I dug it up the next day it worked perfectly. On a full frame camera, 15mm will get you a full 180 degree view and you will notice some softening in the corners. On a 1.3 crop 1 series camera though the softness is not visible and wide open vignetting is well controlled. This is my only non Canon lens but it’s never let me down. I don’t always carry a fisheye with me but for urban and park its great for shooting rails and jumps. I tend to leave it behind on resort skiing missions but take it if I’m on a snowmobile or in a helicopter where I’m not continuously carrying the pack the whole time. Also great for shots in the heli while you are flying! The fisheye look can get a bit over used though so make sure you limit it’s usage by only using it when no other lens will show what this one can.
In March 2011 Canon will launch their new 8-15 f4 L fisheye zoom lens which I have talked about on my other site. When they do this I will sell the sigma and move on to the Canon lens because of its ability to produce a full 180 degree view even on a 1.3 crop camera. Expect that lens to be expensive but EVERY Canon action sports shooter will be getting it without a doubt. it really looks like a revolutionary lens but it’ll be twice the price of this sigma which still does a killer job.
I loved my time using the 45mm Tilt-Shift lens. It inspired creativity with the way in which you can position the the focal plane and the images were sharper than my zoom lenses. CA is very poorly controlled though when you have a large amount of shift or tilt applied, to the point where it ruined a couple of images beyond repair. Lack of auto focus was not too much of an issue and it worked great for urban shooting where the path of the skier was predictable, enabling pre-focusing. In the end though I sold it to partially fund the purchase of my 300mm f2.8. Last year Canon updated the old 24mm tilt-shift and I would expect them to do that same soon with the 45mm and the 90mm at which point I might be tempted to re-invest in the lens. Portraits and product shots are also a great use for this lens and my original reason for buying it was to shoot a catalog with, a task it performed admirably. Liveview is a must though for focusing if you are going to get it spot on, and video shooting is also a great use. I used it a lot in my popular Cliff Trampoline video……
If you are considering this lens, make sure to have a read of my article on long lens selection for ski and snowboard photography where I compare it to a few other choices. I have also written a detailed comparison between this lens and the Canon 300mm f2.8 L IS on my other site. It’s not as sharp as its bigger brother but it’s less than a quarter of the price and still produces wonderfully sharp photos. I bought this lens when I got a snowmobile and began doing a lot more backcountry missions. I only occasionally wished for 300mm back in the day when I shot most stuff in ski resorts. But as soon as you leave the safe confines of ski resorts things tend to get a bit bigger and I quickly found myself needing more reach. The 300 f4 is an older lens , and focus speed is a little on the slow side but if you can pre-focus (which is what I do for 90% of my shooting) then it’s no issue. It’s only slightly bigger than a 70-200 f2.8 L IS so not really prohibitively large like the f2.8 L IS version. Out of all Canon’s older lenses, this is probably the one that you hear the fewest update requests for. People are always clamoring for an update to the 100-400 , of adding IS to the 400mm f5.6 but the 300mm f4 IS goes mostly un-mentioned. The reason is simply that it is already a VERY good lens and I only sold it when I switched to the f2.8 IS.
This is one of Canon’s best kept secrets, a veritable bargain of a lens and a must have if you are really into shooting video with you DSLRs. When I switched my 70-200 f2.8 L IS for the f4 IS version I grabbed this lens to use for portrait shooting. 85mm on a full frame is a great length for such things and after a couple of shoots I was blown away by how sharp it is. Much sharper than any of my L zooms and almost on par with the 24mm f1.4. The only problem is some purple fringing is evident alongside highlights at f1.8 and f2.0 but if you are aware of it you can control it somewhat. AF speed is mediocre but I rarely use it in a situation that requires this anyway. For video with the 5dMKII this is one of the best lenses I have used. Wide open it looks stunning! For a lens that is under $400 you really can’t complain and even build quality is solid enough, though the manual focus ring feels a bit cheaper than the build of the body. If you want an 85mm prime, your next option is the 85mm f1.2 L and that lens is 5 times the price. I’d recommend you at least give this one a try before you decide to drop the big bucks on the f1.2 “keg”.