My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

Testing the Canon 70-200 mm f/4 L series lens

” I’m missing the purple branches already.”

After I posted the photos that I’ve taken with my new Canon 60D and the Sigma lens on Facebook, that’s one of the comments that my brother left on one of the photos that I took of a bird through the branches it was hiding in.

My old Nikon 70-300 mm lens had so much chromatic aberration that it often shifted the colors to the point that branches in the foreground looked purple, and ones in the background were rendered as green. The chromatic aberration was visible in photos of other subjects as well, but I seldom posted those.

In case you’ve never seen chromatic aberration, here’s a couple of examples taken with the Nikon body and lens.

Barred owl, purple branches in foreground

Barred owl, purple branches in foreground

Barred owl, green branches in background

Barred owl, green branches in background

So far, I have seen no chromatic aberration in any of the photos that I’ve taken with the Canon 60D and Sigma lens, which is what prompted my brother to post the comment that he did. And, I have shot a few photos with that combo already that come close to matching the adverse conditions on the day that I took the owl photos. Here’s an example.

American goldfinch

American goldfinch

What a difference! There is not a hint of any chromatic aberration in that photo, or any of the others that I have shot with the new combo.

It has rained everyday this week, and that’s the forecast for as far out as they are forecasting, periods of rain everyday. Because of the rain, I haven’t been carrying my new combo around while I go for my daily walk, the Sigma lens is too large for me to carry in inclement weather.

OK, so the title of this post is “Testing the Canon 70-200 mm f/4 lens”, the Sigma lens is one of several that I planned on purchasing, on Wednesday, I picked up number 2, the Canon 70-200 mm L series lens. The L series of lenses are weather sealed, not that I am going to trust that, but being much smaller than the Sigma, I can carry this new lens inside my rain-gear to protect it from the elements.

I didn’t have the time to do another complete walk after picking up the lens, but I did step out of my apartment and shoot a few, while there was a very light mist/rain falling. Horrible conditions for photography, but it’s those conditions that are the toughest test of photo equipment.

First up, wild turkeys.

Wild turkey in the rain

Wild turkeys in the rain

Wild turkeys in the rain

Wild turkeys in the rain

The second photo was cropped considerably, and the turkeys were running, making the shot more difficult as far as sharpness.

Next up, a crow attacking a red-tailed hawk perched in the top of an evergreen tree.

Crow attacking a red-tailed hawk

Crow attacking a red-tailed hawk

Crow attacking a red-tailed hawk

Crow attacking a red-tailed hawk

Crow attacking a red-tailed hawk

Crow attacking a red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk, uncropped

Red-tailed hawk, not cropped

Red-tailed hawk, cropped

Red-tailed hawk, cropped

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

I know, I do everything wrong! I’m supposed to wait for a sunny day with just a thin layer of clouds to produce near perfectly diffused lighting when testing lenses and cameras.

Since such days are very rare in west Michigan, and since I am an all-weather hiker and kayaker, it only makes sense to me to try out new equipment under the conditions that I expect to use it in. Any camera and lens can produce a good photo in ideal conditions, it’s weather like what is happening this week that is the true test.

Number one, the sensor and exposure control of the 60D continues to amaze me! The camera reads the focal length of the lens, and adjusts the exposure triad accordingly, and extremely well. I couldn’t be happier! With the Sigma lens on the camera, and zoomed to 500 mm, the camera keeps the shutter speeds high enough to prevent camera shake at that focal length. With the Canon 70-200 mm on the camera, it drops the shutter speeds down, along with the ISO, to produce better photos. I could not adjust those things myself quickly enough manually to capture shots like the crow attacking the hawk.

The dynamic range of the sensor in the 60D has to be vastly superior to the one in my old Nikon, the cloudy sky isn’t blown out like the Nikon used to do. Those may not be excellent photos, but shooting an all black crow against a cloudy sky, and being able to see the details of the crow in motion, again, I am extremely happy with the results!

I can also see that even under bad conditions that the 70-200 mm lens is even sharper than the Sigma 150-500 mm, as is to be expected. And, there is absolutely no chromatic aberration showing up in any of these photos either.

The auto-focus is extremely fast and accurate, and that’s helped by the way the 70-200 is built. It has two different auto-focus ranges, one is the full range that the lens is capable of, but you can set a switch to limit how closely the lens will auto-focus, which speeds it up at normal shooting distances. For extreme close-ups, flip the switch to full range, and the lens will focus down to 4 feet. In the shorter, faster range, the lens focuses from approximately 10 feet to infinity.

All you have to do is compare the shots of the owl, taken with my old Nikon, and the shots of the crow and hawk to see what a huge difference that there is between the two! Both series were taken on days with almost identical weather conditions, the owl photos are bad, really bad, the crow and hawk photos are very good considering the weather conditions. Oh, and I had the light right for the owl photos, although it doesn’t look like it. For the crow and hawk photos, I was shooting in the direction of the sun, not that it makes much difference under the thick clouds.

I can hardly wait to see what this new lens will be capable of in better conditions, but I am going to have to wait.

If Wednesday was a horrible day for photography, Thursday was even worse if you can believe it. Not only was it raining, but there was a gale blowing out of the northeast, dropping the temperature enough that there were a few snowflakes mixed in with the rain. There were few critters stirring, and the ones that I did see were all too far away for a photo. I couldn’t even shoot any plant photos, as everything was whipping about wildly in the wind. The one shot I did take was taken with my Powershot, of my new camera, the new lenses, and my old Nikon lens for reference.

Sigma, Nikon, and Canon lens

Sigma, Nikon, and Canon lens

It may not look very much smaller than the Sigma, but believe me, the Canon 70-200 mm is much easier to carry, and a whole lot lighter!

I did get some very good news on Wednesday. The bookkeeper at the company I work for met me at the door to explain that she had made a mistake last April, as far as what she has been paying me. She never entered the raise I received last year into the payroll software, so I had been shorted in my paycheck for an entire year. So, I had two paychecks yesterday, my normal check, plus a check to make up what I should have been paid after my last raise for an entire year, what a pleasant surprise! It’s not like winning the lottery, but every little bit helps, and this was a little bit. But, it will be enough for me to purchase the next lens on my list much sooner than I expected. That will be the Canon EF-S 15 to 85 mm lens for shooting landscapes, and close-ups.

Also, I think that I have a buyer for the Nikon 70-300 lens and the flash unit that fit the now defunct D50. The son of one of my co-workers will be the editor/photographer for his school yearbook next year, but my co-worker wasn’t really thrilled with the idea of his son carrying his more expensive lenses for school. The 70-300 isn’t a great lens, but it’s good enough for school yearbook photos, and an inexpensive way for my co-worker to pick up a lens for his son’s use.

On Friday the weather was slightly better, the gale out of the northeast was now just a nasty stiff breeze out of the west. The rain was no longer constant, but more of the intermittent variety, however, it was even colder, not much above freezing.

Four and a half days of rain has turned the ground to a spongy sloppy mess. There were few birds about yet again, I think that even some of the robins have left for drier ground. I did shoot a few photos though.

Turkey tail fungus?

Turkey tail fungus?

Lichen on a tree trunk

Lichen on a tree trunk

American robin

American robin

Female mallard

Female mallard

I can see from these that I need to do some playing around with this new camera and lens to get the most from it under adverse conditions, but it won’t be as bad as the old Nikon was. I think that a little tweaking will go a long way, as far as setting the exposure for better photos. I was shooting at rather slow shutter speeds, and low ISO settings, I think that if I had bumped up the ISO manually, so that the shutter speed was higher, that these would have come out sharper. We’ll see.

I am still planning a weekend trip somewhere, but that is iffy right now. The weather forecast is not looking good, but we’ll see. There may be some sunshine Saturday afternoon, or Sunday morning. I’m hoping, but not holding my breath. There’s rain or rain/snow in the forecast for at least part of everyday for the next week, so I’ll have plenty of opportunity to play, even though I am hoping for at least a few hours of sunshine this weekend to see what this new lens can really do.

That reminds me, one of the things I can do with the 70-200 that I can’t with the Sigma 150-500 is to use the built-in flash on the camera for low light situations. Because of the length and size of the Sigma, it will cast a barrel shadow when using the built-in flash.

I’m going to call this one completed and publish it, hoping that this weekend turns out good enough to do a post on the weekend, or even each day if I get really lucky. It’s getting close to the peak migration for some of the early migrating birds, so even if the weather is perfect, I’m going to be out there someplace finding something to shoot.

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

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12 responses

  1. Looks like a good lens and does well on small things like fungi too. 70-200 was the lens I used more than any other in the film days. That one was also macro capable.Those do look like turkey tails that might be drying out. We’ve gotten about 1/4 inch of sleet here today-hope you see some better weather for the weekend.

    April 12, 2013 at 2:40 pm

    • The turkey tails may have been dried out over the winter, but we’ve gotten 5 inches of rain this week, so it will be a while before anything dries up here. 😉

      April 12, 2013 at 2:56 pm

  2. Wishing you better shooting weather for the weekend. I’m anxious to see more of what your Sigma (and you, of course) can do under better conditions.

    April 12, 2013 at 4:11 pm

    • Thank you, but it’s not looking good.

      April 13, 2013 at 1:47 am

  3. You’ve been busy.

    April 12, 2013 at 7:02 pm

    • Thanks Tom.

      April 13, 2013 at 1:47 am

  4. How wonderful that you got the 70-200mm L lens. You’ll never regret it. You can trust the weather seal on the lens, but the 60D is not weather sealed (found that out the hard way.) I love how you are sharing your experience and progress with this equipment. We all can learn so much from you. Thanks and have fun this weekend.

    April 12, 2013 at 8:33 pm

    • Thanks, I am really loving the 70-200 already. But, the question I have is why doesn’t Canon build a very similar lens, say 70-300 rather than the rather odd ones that they currently produce in that range.

      I swear that I read that the 60D is weather sealed, but looking at it, I didn’t think that it was. I consider weather sealing to be like insurance, I try not to expose even weather sealed gear to the elements any more than I have to.

      I am learning a lot as I get to know this new stuff, and I enjoy passing it on, and trying to do so in a manner that most people can understand. Most camera gear reviews are full of technical jargon that few people understand, and the end result is always buy the most expensive whatever that there is to buy. Not every one is independently wealthy, so going for quality on a budget is something that a lot of people can relate to.

      April 13, 2013 at 1:57 am

  5. Congratulations on your new lenses! Looking forward to seeing more of your photos with both.

    April 12, 2013 at 10:28 pm

    • Thank you, you will!

      April 13, 2013 at 2:17 am

  6. Great start with your new equipment! I look forward to seeing more as you learn all the ins and outs. Thanks for sharing so much information, it’s really helpful for people like me who like to just play at photography and are looking to upgrade. We were planning a trip north this weekend but postponed due to the weather. It’s crummy here in s. Michigan also, although just rain and wind and cold, not snow, thankfully. But, extended forecast is looking bleak for the next 7 days. Rain, rain and more rain. Looks lke we are making up for last years drought.

    April 13, 2013 at 8:13 am

    • Thank you! I’m from southern Michigan as well, around Grand Rapids. I’m writing about what I am learning in hopes of passing that on to others, so I’m glad that you’re finding it useful.

      April 13, 2013 at 9:37 am