Tag Archives: dSLR

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM

I’ve had the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM for years, it is one of the sharpest lenses out there, and it shoots 1:1 macro. I shoot commercial product photography professionally, so the 100/2.8 macro was the lens with which I made probably more than 80% of my income from photography. I however only used that lens for work, but almost never for personal work. I shot a couple of macro shots to test out the lens when I first got it, it was a fine lens but the aperture was not round enough, so the out of focus area was too harsh for my liking. It worked fine for product closeups, but for anything else the harsh bokeh really bothered me, so the lens never left my studio since I got it.

Canon introduced an L version of this lens, it does 1:1 macro, but has the new IS system that provides up to 5 stops of stabilization, the aperture is also near-round, so it yeilds similar soft and dreamy bokeh like my other lenses. I looked on eBay and was surprised to find out that I could easily sell my 100/2.8 with the hood for around $500, so that means it will only costs about $500 to upgrade, which I think is well worth it. The improvements will make me want to take the lens out of the studio and have fun with it. Amazon has this lens for about $1k, which is an amazing deal IMO. I brought it to the SF botanical garden for a test drive, it performed as expected: much smoother transition between in and out of focus areas, way smoother bokeh, the MTF graphs comparison shows that it is even sharper, but pretty much the whole graph is under the Nyquist frequency of the 5D Mark II so I don’t think anyone can really tell the difference. It is tack sharp for sure though. I accidentally shut off the IS so I didn’t get to test it much, I was able to take test portraits without camera shake at around 1/15 the night before, at 1:1 it will have to give a few more stops to be safe.

Some shots from the botanical garden:

sf botanical garden
f/4, 1/1000s

sf botanical garden
f/3.5, 1/1250s

sf botanical garden
f/3.2, 1/640s

This lens is pretty inexpensive for what it offers, other than the crazy MPE, which is very specialized and it’s pretty much a microscope, the 100L is the best macro lens for Canon right now. The AF is very fast, f/2.8 at 100mm is pretty bright, and it is tack sharp at wide open. The lens also makes a really good portrait lens, not quite as insane as the 85L, but it is half the price and it does 1:1 macro. I would definitely recommend getting this over the non-L version of the 100/2.8 macro. The non-L version is $599 and the hood is about $40, so the 100L is only about $360 more, but you get round-aperture, amazing IS, weather seal, an amazing lens hood (best Canon lens hood I’ve seen), as well as a lens bag! Definitely worth the extra $360 IMO. If you have a full frame body and are ready to buy your first L lens, I’d say forget the 24-70L, get the 100L, it is a much cooler lens to have.

You can pick one up at Amazon, btw, the price on Amazon has been fluctuating between $1060 to $1005, if the current price is too high, you should be able to wait a couple of days for it to drop back down to about $1005:

Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM

85 vs 24-70
85/1.2L II vs 24-70/2.8L

The top reasons I chose Canon was because of insane L primes, out of all the lenses out there, the one I’d always wanted was the 85L, as it is arguably the best lens for portraits. The price of this lens has gone up over the years, especially after Canon introduced the Mark II version. Recently the price went down a little bit, so I picked it up soon as that happened. After shooting with it for a few weeks, all I can say is that I should’ve bought this lens long time ago.

The lens however is not for everyone, it is expensive, heavy, large, AF is relatively slow if you’re used to other fast L primes and zooms. The minimum focusing distance is 0.95 meter, which is probably farther than what you’re used to. It is also a very difficult lens to use if you don’t have strict shooting discipline. Shooting anywhere close to wide open requires expert focusing techniques, especially if you have a camera with AF-points pattern that doesn’t make sense for portraits; focus-and-recompose is not an option when operating with an inch of depth of field. But if you know what you’re dealing with, this is one amazing lens. Some images I shot with the 85L:

Puerto Vallarta for Mia's wedding
f/1.8 1/2000s with B+W ND4 filter

Puerto Vallarta for Mia's wedding
f/1.4 1/100s

Puerto Vallarta for Mia's wedding
f/1.2 1/500s

ninja espionage
5D Mark II, 85/1.2L II, f/1.2, 1/50s, ISO 6400

caliber photowalk

caliber photowalk

f/1.8 1/3200s, B+W ND4 filter

farmers mkt
f/1.4 1/800s, B+W ND4 filter

Before I got in the world of L primes I thought a fullframe body with a 24-70/2.8L is a really good setup for serious photographers. But after shooting with L primes, I can say that the 24-70 is not even close to the sharpness, contrast, and quality (especially bokeh softness) of the 50L and 85L. Now, for the serious photographers, I think the perfect Canon starter “kit” is the 50/1.2L with a full frame body. With foot works, it is pretty much a 24-70, only much faster and better image quality. I am seriously considering selling my 24-70L for a 35L now. I do like the 24mm end though, but the 24L is not nearly as good as the 35L. If I didn’t have the 85L I would get the 50L for sure, but they’re a bit too close and expensive to own both. I also upgraded my 100/2.8 Macro USM to the new L version with IS, will talk about that in my next post.

btw, the 85L is very cheap right now, lowest price in the past few years:

Does your 5d Mark II overexpose when you’re not shooting full manual? Check your focusing screen setting.

I shoot M 95% of the times, gotta use that lightmeter whenever I can, you know. But when I shot Av in the last several months, the images were often bit overexposed. I would usually check the histogram and adjust and didn’t think much of it, but it bothered me that the exposure was a bit off if I didn’t change the EV compensation myself.

I was casually shooting at a park last weekend and it dawned on me that I forgot to change the focusing screen settings to Eg-S after I upgraded the firmware. I got the Eg-S for more accurate DOF display, but it’s a much dimmer focusing screen, and it pretty much requires f/2.8 lenses to be bright enough to see. After changing the focusing screen I changed the settings in the camera so it would meter appropriately, but I guess upgrading the firmware must have reset that setting to the default factory focusing screen, so the processor thought the frame was darker than it actually was and bumped up the EV.

Now the setting is back where it should, I find myself shooting at aperture priority a little bit more.

5D Mark II

Those who follow my Twitter and Flickr photostream probably already know that I got a new camera – the Canon EOS 5D Mark II (Amazon link, B&H link). Before last Friday I had been shooting with a 20D, my first dSLR. I’ve had the 20D pretty much since it was released, and I was really happy with it. I never felt the need to upgrade to a newer 1.6 crop factor bodies, I really wanted to go full frame so I had been waiting for the 5D2 probably for more than 2 years. When Amazon got it in stock I JUMPED on it.

My 2 main lenses work a lot better at full frame, the 70-200/2.8L becomes a lot more useful without the crop factor, now I actually shoot in my studio with it pretty often. The 24-70/2.8L becomes a wide angle lens at the short end. The color rendition of the sensor is amazing, Adobe camera profiles in Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom 2 further bring out the colors in the images. I’ve also started to work in the ProPhoto RGB space for even larger gamut.

Noise performance in high ISO is impressive, with ISO expansion turned on it goes from ISO 50 to ISO 25600. I shot in a pitch dark lounge in ISO 12800 and the results look fine after a little bit of NR and B&W conversion in post-processing. I would say, loosely, the ISO 12800 is the ISO 3200 on my 20D.

Pretty much everything works better on the 5D2, going from the 20D is quite an upgrade for me. One thing I would really like to have is a better AF points pattern, but I guess Canon only put that on the 1D and 1Ds series bodies. The 9-point AF pattern on the 5D doesn’t really make much sense to me, especially if you’re shooting portraits and working with relatively shallow depth of field. I always avoid the “focus-and-recompose” technique, as that easily put things out of focus, it’s simple geometry. The camera has enough resolution to crop, but I generally avoid cropping whenever I can. The AF-on button is very useful, I set it up to do AF-stop, so I can use the shutter half-pressed to focus, and then I can press and hold the AF-On button to prevent the camera from focusing again. The 20D didn’t have such feature so I had to move the switch on the lens to MF.

The video capability of the camera is interesting, I am slowly learning how to use Final Cut Pro to edit and process videos. Shooting videos also require manual focus tracking, which is not something I used to do.

I’ve had the camera for 5 days and I’ve done a couple of casual shoots with it already, I’m at over 1200 frames. I’m doing 3 days of catalog shoots next week with it. I also picked up an extra AlienBees B400 and an octobox from Craigslist. I’ll probably have a lot more to write about the camera a week later. Here are some selected shots I’ve done with it so far…

Quick test shot after I unpacked the camera, lit by available light from ceiling only, ISO 1600, with 24-70/2.8L:
test shot (by Andrew Ng Images)

That night Sherry modeled for me in my studio to test it out, I shot this with a single AlienBees B800 with a softbox on her right, with a silver reflector from her top left for fill and hair, 70-200/2.8L:
test shot II (by Andrew Ng Images)

Drinks at Wish last Saturday night, ISO 12800, NR’ed and duotone conversion in post-processing, image looks pretty clean, the place was almost pitch dark:
Maggie x Ashley x Angela x Sherry @ Wish (by Andrew Ng Images)

Did a shoot with Kourtney for her website last Sunday, this was lit by a 580 EX II on the side triggered by PocketWizards:
Kourtney (by Andrew Ng Images)

Sherry got me an RS-4 R-Strap, and it got here yesterday, so this afternoon I went for a photowalk to test out the strap, I attached it to the D-Ring of my Manfrotto QR plate, which was screwed into the tripod ring of my 70-200/2.8L, after 4 hours of walking my shoulder felt just fine, but then I am pretty used to carrying heavy photography setup. Some images from the photowalk:
photowalk (by Andrew Ng Images)

photowalk (by Andrew Ng Images)

balanced (by Andrew Ng Images)

photowalk (by Andrew Ng Images)

I also shot some video footage and attempted to put it together in Final Cut Pro: