Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Upcoming Canon 200-400mm lens (with built-in 1.4x adaptor) - An Olympic Review

Now that I have returned from the London Olympics, one of the most frequently asked questions from other photographers is "How did you like the new Canon 200-400mm lens?" So, I thought that I would take a little more time (now that I am not running all over London) to give you my impression of this lens. 

It was not a finished product, as all of the Canon 200-400 lenses at the Olympics were hand built models for us to use, and the Canon people asked me to give them my feedback.

Let me start off by saying that I fell in love with this lens, and here is why:
  • Having the built-in adaptor may not seem like a big deal since it is just a 1.4x adaptor built in to the end of the lens vs putting it on when you need it, but having the ability to flip the switch and immediately go from 200-400mm f4 to 280-560mm at f5.6 is AWESOME! I will give you an example of how I was using this. In water polo, when I was shooting the action on my side of the pool (in photo position behind the net), the lens was switched to 200-400, but as soon as the action moved to the far side of the pool, I immediately flipped the switch and get in closer to the action. So easy and effective! Whenever I was shooting a sport at a larger venue, with a fixed focal length lens, I was clamoring for the ability to zoom in or out to change the framing or composition. The focal range of the 200-400 lens was addictive.
  • The lens is tack sharp. (Check out the attached image).
  • It is not overly heavy (as far as these beasts typically go).
  • The zoom ring is really responsive and smooth and goes from 200-400 quickly and easily.
  • Typical L series bullet-proof construction.
Canon 1D X w/ Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM - ISO 200 - f/4 - 1/5000s 

The only drawback of this lens is that it starts at f4 and not f2.8. But, if this lens DID shoot at f2.8, it would likely be WAY more expensive and kill the sales of many other Canon lenses. I have to admit that there were a couple of times when I really wanted to depth of field of a 2.8 lens, but still happily chose the versatility of this lens over a faster lens speed.

People have asked me about the quality of the image stabilization, and I honestly can not tell you. Because I was on a monopod, I generally chose not to use IS, hoping to increase the speed of focus. But, since this is a new L series lens I have to assume that it will be just as impressive as any of the newer IS lenses from Canon.

I know that different photographers have varying opinions about prime lenses vs. zoom, but I am a zoom guy. I love having the ability to change the framing and composition with the lens. And at the Olympics, you have so little chance to get out of a fixed position, that I wanted the option to zoom. One of the Canon guys asked me what I thought of it, and I said, “this thing is $%^ing amazing” and he said “can we quote you on that?” :)

Now the big question – HOW MUCH WILL THIS COST? And nobody seems to know yet, not even the Canon guys over at the Olympics.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

London at Night

I have been back in the United States for a week now and I am finally getting caught up on real life. It is really strange when I am at the Olympics, since it is so all encompassing that I rarely hear about anything outside the Games. Since I was basically doing nothing but shooting, editing, posting blogging and sleeping (well...a little sleep), I had no time to watch TV, surf the Internet, talk to now I am trying to get caught up.

As part of this catch up process, I am posting the last images from the trip to London. Three nights before I left, I had 20 minutes to head into the Olympic Park and take some night shots of some of the venues.

I started with my home away from home, the water polo venue. I spent many hours in this building, but had never seen the front of it from the outside at night, until this evening.

This is a photo of the basketball venue and the velodrome, taken from one of the bridges. To the left of the image, you can see a large crowd of people who were watching a large monitor showing the games live.

A closer shot of the velodrome and the crowd...

Towards the end of the Olympics, I had just enough time to sneak away for one full evening and shoot images of downtown London.I had arranged press access to the "London Eye" (which is the giant wheel that you see in the image above). This wheel has large capsules, which hold 28 people per, and provides a really nice aerial view of the city. But, since they do not allow tripods, I needed to get clearance to have my own capsule and use a tripod.

This is a view of London, facing towards Canary Wharf, where we were living for the month. You can see some of the amusement park rides at the bottom of the photo.

I took this photo to show some of the city, but also wanted to include one of the capsules in the shot so that you could see what they look like up close. (Photographer tip: I was hoping that the London Eye would stop as they unloaded and loaded each capsule, but that is not the case. The Eye moves slowly, about 30 minutes per full rotation, with people getting on and off while it moves, so there are very few points where it actually stops (usually for wheelchair access...) This means that taking a long exposure photo from the Eye is almost impossible, even with a tripod. Not only is the movement an issue, but all of the glass in the capsule is curved, which means that it is hard to get a shot through the glass without getting light reflections off of the glass.)

Once we got off of the London Eye, I ran down the edge of the Thames River to find a good location for my night shot of the Parliament Building. I wanted to get a shot of this landmark at just the right time of the evening, when I had the dark blue skies (I think it was about 30 minutes after sunset). I shot numerous images from this spot, but liked this one (with a 9 second exposure) with the streaks of light from a large bus on the bridge and a boat in the river.

And then I made my way up to the top of the bridge to get this shot, also using the lights of a passing bus to make this a little more interesting. This photo was taken with a 10 second exposure at ISO 100.

After the traffic had cleared a bit, I played my own game of "Frogger" and dodged traffic to get to the other side of the bridge. I saw that they were projecting images on the river side of the Parliament Building and I wanted to get some shots of that. Because the images were changing rather quickly, I changed the settings on my camera to take this shot with a 6 second exposure, so that I could capture one projected image on the building and not two in the same shot.

This last image was one of my favorites from the evening. I was shooting images of Big Ben from the sidewalk of the bridge, when I noticed these two girls draped in the Union Jacks. They were turned with their backs to me. I took some images of them facing in the other direction, but wanted something better. I introduced myself to them and asked them if I could take their photo. They agreed to be my subjects and we started shooting. I moved them a couple of times, to get them into the light of the nearest street lamp, and then asked them to stay very still during my 2 second exposure. This always looks cool when the subject stays still but everyone else is moving around them. As it turned out, the one girl (sisters) was working at the Main Press Center of the Olympic Park. I gave her my business card and she emailed me a couple of days later, asking for the image, which I sent her for her own memories. A fun image ending a very fun trip.

As it turns out, I will be doing two presentations at B&H Photo (the largest camera store in the world) in New York City on September 5th, and one of those will be on "Night Photography". The other presentation will be on "Sports Photography" on the same day. If you are in the area, sign up and drop on by!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

2012 Summer Olympics: Closing Ceremonies

The 2012 Summer Olympics in London came to an end with a very impressive show at the closing ceremonies. Once again, I was lucky enough to be there to experience it first hand. Even though I have been to three Olympic Games now, this is the first time that I was there to the very end, and able to experience the close.

The closing ceremonies, just like the opening ceremonies, requires that photographers be ticketed to get in. I went to my contacts at the US Olympic Committee and they hooked me up. I got tickets dead center in the stadium, sitting just above the royal family.

Just like the opening ceremonies, there was no shortage of photo opportunities, and therefore this blog entry has more images that I have ever posted at one time (at least that I can remember). we go...

Before the closing ceremonies actually began, they brought down the lights and I looked to my left and saw these people with their British flags. There were some lights shining on them, and so I metered for the flags and grabbed this opening shot to set the stage for what was about to happen.

This is the setup for the beginning of the show.

Emeli Sande opened the show with "Read All About It". (Funny thing is, I am writing this blog from home in CA now and saw the first 30 minutes of this show on NBC and they failed to show a lot of the beginning performances. Although I have not had time to watch all of the broadcast, I was struck by how different it was on TV, some better, some not.)

Actor Timothy Spall playing Winston Churchill from high up in the roof of Big Ben.

The colors in the stadium were really cool (and the sound system was amazing).


The 1980s band Madness played their song "Our House" on the back of a truck, which went around the stadium.

This was my "must have" shot of the evening. No, not because I like the boy band "One Direction", but because my daughter and her friends were counting on me to get this shot. I made sure to have a 500mm f4 lens to get in close. And since I was sitting above the royals, most of the performers were facing in my direction (for me of course and nothing to do with the royal family!)

More cool colors as they lit up a representation of the London skyline.

I happened to be shooting another wide shot of the stadium right as they sprayed out a whole bunch of confetti.

And just like the opening ceremonies, when I shot images of the team from Great Britain entering the stadium surrounded by confetti, I shot this image of some of the athletes being covered in the paper.

All the flag bearers by the Olympic flame.

Once all the athletes came into the stadium and filled the middle area, it created the Union Jacks.

As always, they perform the medal ceremony for the marathon at the closing ceremonies.

I really liked this part of the show, when people came walking in with different puzzle pieces which came together to form the face of John Lennon.

At every seat, there was mounted a small box (about 5" x5") with 9 small LED lights, which allowed them to create very cool graphics in the audience section of the stadium. (Very cool to look at, but a pain in the butt for us photographers who are trying to juggle numerous cameras and lenses in a very small space, with that LED light right in the way.) 

I was amazed at how many cool graphics they could make from those 9 small LED bulbs.

George Michael performed for 6 minutes (seriously!). Enough said...

And they had some famous fashion models...

My favorite musical performance of the night came from Annie Lennox who rocked the house. I love her voice and she did not disappoint.

Russell Brand made his entrance up top of a psychedelic bus that was supposed to have something to do with Willie Wonka...and sang "I am the Walrus"

More cool colors coming from the LED lights around the stadium.

Fatboy Slim mixing his music inside a giant octopus. Either I am too old, too young, or too out of it, but I don't remember this guy.

The giant inflatable octopus was really cool and made for some cool photos.

Jessie J performing. If I had a choice between her or the car, the car would win out! :)

And then, after much anticipation, it was time for the reunited Spice Girls.

Their entry into the stadium was pretty cool. You saw 5 black cabs cruising around the arena, and then all at one time, they lit up and the license plates changed from normal numbers to Spice. 

There was a cool tribute to Queen, with Freddy Mercury being projected on digitally enhanced mobile displays.

And Brian May playing lead guitar, with Jessie J coming back to add vocals.

After a lot of music, it was time to take down the Olympic Flag.

The head of the IOC waved the Olympic Flag and then passed it off to the Mayor of London, and then finally to the Mayor of Rio de Janeiro

There was a large group of Brazilian supporters just below us, and knowing that they all had their flags, I slowed the shutter of the camera and shot this image of them waving their flags during the handover process.

I have no idea what was going on here. Most of you see this on television with commentary, but we sit there in the crowd not getting everything. I actually had a press guide which explained a lot of this, but only read half of it. I was planning on reading the rest after the fact, but had to ditch the guide on my long walk back to the press center, since it was too awkward carrying all the cameras and lenses and a press guide. I had a choice to make, and the cameras and lenses won! :)

Something to do with Brazil, but all I know is that it looked great in camera.

As the logo for the Rio Games was inflated in the middle of the stadium, lots of fireworks were set off.

I really like the logo for the Rio de Janeiro games. So much better than the logo for these London Games (which I have never really liked).

This was really cool as a pheonix came flying into the stadium as part of the dousing of the Olympic flame. The toughest part of being a photographer at these types of events (and not having any prior knowledge of what is going to happen), is finding and capturing all of the key moments. Thankfully, I was looking off to my right when I caught her flying into the stadium and had enough time to focus and get the shot.

This last shot shows the Olympic flame as it is being lowered to the ground and being put out. I shot this frame to capture the flame, the phoenix and the Olympic rings all in one photo.

Well folks...after 3 weeks of shooting, editing and shooting more, these Olympic Games are officially over. Now it is time for me to return home, back to my somewhat normal routine. Wow - this has been another WILD ride!