First new lens in 10 years!

I’ve been using my Canon 17-40 f/4L and 70-200mm f/4L for 10 years. I purchased them in early 2004 with an EOS 10D body. (I had graduated college, had a good job, and I was still single.) Before that, my best lenses were an EF 28mm f/2.8 and the famous “nifty fifty”, Canon’s 50mm f/1.8 II, which I purchased in 2001 for $85. And I had a cheap (and soft) Sigma 28-80mm zoom that I sold with my old film camera.

I never use the 28mm f/2.8 because my 17-40mm L lens covers that focal length, so I finally sold it and used the money to “subsidize” a new lens. The replacement is a Canon EF 35mm f/2.0 IS. I discovered it while drooling over the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 A. There are some pretty awesome photos out there from both lenses! They were both released less than 2 years ago. I went with the Canon because I saw too many complaints about the focus accuracy of the Sigma. One of the reasons for me to get a fast prime with IS is to take pics of my quick-moving kids, so focus speed and accuracy is critical. When I found the Canon for $250 less than the Sigma (which opens wider, but has no IS), I pulled the trigger.

I got it a week ago, but between work and weather I haven’t been able to go out for a shoot until yesterday. When I sat down at my computer to do some post on the images I was amazed by the sharpness! This thing beats my L zooms!  Primes often beat zoom lenses for image quality, but we’re talking about a non-L lens beating highly rated L lenses. Here are some of the photos I got at Tolmie State Park near Olympia, WA.

Blue Shell

Blue Shell – 1/45th, f/9.5, ISO100

This is with the lens stopped down to f/9.5, yet you can still see where the depth of field starts to get soft. The effect is more dramatic the closer you get to the subject (a basic photography rule) but it also seems more pronounced than on my 50mm f/1.8. I’m guessing this is because the 35mm’s elements are considerably larger than the 50mm. I was also pushing my luck with the shutter speed to test the IS capability, because this is the first lens I’ve owned which has it.

But look at those nearly microscopic sand grains! The detail (resolving power?) of this lens is impressive to me.

 

Beach Log - 1/750th, f/2.8, ISO100

Beach Log – 1/750th, f/2.8, ISO100

I almost stepped over this log and walked on down the beach, but my eye caught the odd “gouges” in it. I’d guess the saltwater and sand have ground away the softer wood from the harder fibers. I read that this lens is better at f/2.8 than f/2.0, so I tried it here. This photo was edited in NIK Silver Efex Pro.

 

Tint & Pink - 1/60th, f/2.8, ISO100

Tint & Pink – 1/60th, f/2.8, ISO100

I like sharp, contrasty images, but I also like a nice bokeh. These two flowers were about the size of my pinky nail, and they were only inches apart. I switched the lens to manual focus, minimum focus distance, and moved the camera closer until I got a sharp flower. The 35mm is not a macro lens, but it does focus closer than the 50mm f/1.8 II.

Unfortunately, my mid-level close-up filters from Tiffen are 52mm for the 50mm lens, and they won’t fit the 35’s 67mm filter threads. I’ve been eyeing achromatic, 2-element close-up lenses, but they cost $100 or more, and I just broke the bank on this 35mm lens. Maybe in another 10 years I can afford a real macro lens.

 

Tolmie State Park Bridge - 1/20th, f/9.5, ISO100

Tolmie State Park Bridge – 1/20th, f/9.5, ISO100

Once again I was pushing my luck with the shutter speed. But the image stabilization seems to do a great job with mild hand shake. If you pretend to be a sniper, relax your muscles, breath out, gently and slowly squeeze the trigger – I mean shutter button, it helps too. It might be hard to see in the JPEG version I posted above, but the bits of moss and woodgrain showed fine detail.

 

Tolmie State Park Beach - 1/125th, f/11, ISO100, -2 ev

Tolmie State Park Beach – 1/125th, f/11, ISO100, -2 EV

I was watching my histogram (trying to get in the habit) and the auto-exposure clipped highlights badly in this scene. Re-shooting with a minus 2 exposure compensation setting still retained enough detail in the dark areas to bring it out in post processing.

I’d normally use a circular polarizing filter for a shot like this, but I don’t have a 67mm, or a 67-77 step ring to fit the 77mm I use on my 17-40mm. Still debating whether to buy an expensive B+W polarizer, just to see if they are worth it (my 70-200mm also takes 67mm filters), or get a $5 step-up ring and use my 77mm Tiffen. No complaints over 10 years with the Tiffen, so I may go the cheaper route for now. Only downside is: you can’t use a hood with a step-up ring.

So I used a combination of Polarization, Pro Contrast, and Graduated Neutral Density filters in NIK Color Efex Pro 4. Might have added too much drama to the clouds, but I did get sprinkled on while shooting and re-shooting this scene.

Alright, one last indoor close-up shot to illustrate the fine details this lens is capable of.

Inari Sushi - 1/45th, f/8, ISO800

Inari Sushi – 1/45th, f/8, ISO800

This shot tells me two things: 1. How incredibly sharp this 35mm f/2 IS lens is, and 2. how well the EOS 7D does at ISO800. No professional lighting, this was done under two incandescent bulbs in the range hood above the kitchen stove.  I only used Apple Aperture to adjust white balance, contrast, and for sharpening the RAW file.

So far I have no regrets about not paying $250 more for the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 A. I don’t mind having a plastic outer barrel, because the Canon has a nice weight and feel of quality about it. And it allows for sharp photos at stupidly slow shutter speeds.

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In Search of Reflections

As we grow and develop our photography skills, one thing that we try do to is hone the ability to spot things in our surroundings that could make a good photo.  There are a lot of distracting and complex details in our world, but a good photographic eye can block out parts of a scene and zero in on the parts that, properly framed and edited, could make a stunning image.

I’ve been to the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge many times, but I always find something new to take pictures of. Here is a photo of the old barn windows, with reflections of the other barn’s windows showing up in the panes.

Windows in Windows

Windows in Windows

I did the post processing in Aperture and Nik Color Efex Pro 4. These two barns were built almost 100 years ago when the land was privately owned! Now the government uses them for environmental research. I was drawn to the reflections in the windows, and the sun was at the right angle to light up the other barn.

Here is a last shot of the day, when I had almost reached my car. My 70-200mm lens was cropping the scene a little too much, so I pulled out my “nifty fifty” (EF 50mm f/1.8 II) and screwed on a polarizer.

Spring Branches

Spring Branches

The circular polarizer is a pretty amazing little filter. How can it cut out the bright, flaring types of reflection, but leave the true, saturated reflections? Pretty cool!

Sometimes reflections are not defined shadows of objects which cast them. Sometimes they are simply a color, like the reflected sky in the water in this picture of the twin barns from across a flooded marsh.

Twin Barns - Spring

Twin Barns – Spring

So the point I was making earlier, is that none of these things stand out to the casual observer. The place is just a lot of trees, grass, and water with a couple barns. But by zeroing in and focusing on specific parts of the environment, I was able to find and create some interesting images. This is a skill I am trying to develop further: spotting what will make good photos.

 

Spring is here!

Washington is always green, even in winter. But it gets much brighter and more colorful in the springtime.  Here is a photo I shot in my back yard a couple weeks ago as the sun was dropping toward the horizon.

Sunlight through Fence

Sunlight through Fence

Priest Point park is a great place to go walking or have a picnic just outside the downtown Olympia area. Here are is a shot of the new and budding foliage as viewed from one of the trails.

Priest Point Park Spring

Priest Point Park Spring

I took some HDR sequences on a tripod the same day. The light was so contrasty I thought it might be a good idea. That turned out to be true, because I couldn’t get my normally exposed image to look as good as the HDR trio combined into a single image. I tend to go a little extreme with the colors and contrast, so of course they don’t look completely natural.

Ellis Cove HDR 1

Ellis Cove HDR 1

Ellis Cove HDR 2

Ellis Cove HDR 2

 

All of these photos were taken with my Canon EOS 7D and the EF 17-40mm f/4L lens. I have used this lens for 10 years now and I love it!  It’s been well worth the $750 I forked over for it. If the 16-35mm f/2.8L wasn’t more than twice the price, I might have gone for that, but the 17 does such an awesome job that I’m very happy with it.