I had previously used a pre-production version of the EF400mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens but just before the 2011 F1 Hungarian Grand Prix the first production lenses arrived, so I got one as soon as possible. I picked it up on a Wednesday evening, flew to Budapest on the Thursday morning and got it out of the box and started working with it on the Thursday afternoon.
Normally the Thursday before a Grand Prix is just preparation. Most of the time I arrive on a Thursday morning to make sure I have a desk where I can work at the weekend, get a locker and walk the track. For the Hungarian GP I arrived in the afternoon, so I just shot the press conferences and things like that – the real work for a photographer starts on the Friday.
To be honest the old 400mm f/2.8L is still a lens I really like. The only problem is that when you travel around the world, and have it with you for the whole day, it is quite heavy. In the past I made the decision not to use the 400mm for my daytime jobs so I chose the 500mm lens – it was much lighter and made life a lot easier.
If you shoot football you sit down on the field for a few hours, then take your equipment back to the car. But when you shoot motorsport you pick up your equipment in the morning, start walking around the racetrack, shoot all day and you drop it in your locker at the end of the day. That’s why I decided to use the 500mm even knowing that the 400mm f/2.8L was a great lens.
The great big difference to start with as soon as you pick up the new one [400mm lens] is that it’s almost 1.5 kilos lighter – that already makes you smile. This also ‘worked’ when I handed it [the lens] to some colleagues to hold it and to feel it – they all immediately smiled and said: “this is much more friendly to use”. That’s the big difference.
I shot about 80% of my pictures with a telephoto lens – a 500mm or a 400mm. [In Hungary] I had the new 400mm with me for the first time, and I also had the new EF8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM with me – the ‘real fisheye’ zoom lens. I was really looking forward to having the lenses on my own camera bodies to see how they worked.
I went out into the pit lane and started to take some pictures: just the helmets of the drivers and the eyes. It is a great lens simply because it’s a 400mm [focal length] and, in my view, lenses can never be long enough. I knew from some of the testing I did last year in combination with the new extenders that it works great. I started to use the EF1.4x III and EF2x III extenders on it and then I was even more impressed.
Looking at a picture made at 800mm, by using the 2x converter, looks so good – it’s unbelievably sharp. In the past when you were using extenders you lost light when you were looking through your camera. Here you don’t see a difference – it all works like you have a normal lens. Of course the quality with the 400mm is great but, for me, the big difference is in combination with the extenders – this will really change photography for a lot of photographers in the near future.
I was so convinced after shooting on the Friday and Saturday that I just used the EF400mm f/2.8L IS II USM [with the EF2x III extender] as an 800mm to start with, and it looked unbelievably good – nice colours and very sharp. Like I said it’s a big step forward. In the past, when we started using digital photography, another similar big change was that you had the possibility to change your ISO without changing a film; so you could easily go to 400, then 800, and so on – you had more possibilities within seconds. I think the possibilities you have with the extenders with the new lens – because the 400mm is the first one [of Canon’s new telephoto lenses] coming out – are great and I’m sure it will work the same with the [new] 300mm, 500mm and 600mm.
When I was shooting the start of the [Hungarian] Grand Prix it was rainy; it was quite dark weather and a colleague who was standing next to me was shooting the start with a 300mm lens. He looked at me and said: “Ah, you’re using the 400mm?” I said: “no, I’m using the 800mm because I’m, shooting with a 2x extender.” Normally this was impossible in the past because you couldn’t 100% rely on the combination of a 2x extender on any lens – it was not 100% certain you would get the picture 100% sharp.
The images are so much sharper – in the past you were always happy with your old lenses and you thought that they were sharp. As soon as the cameras got better and better you started to see some ‘faults’ in the lenses because the sensors were so much better in the cameras. So, when you look at the files now, they are so unbelievably sharp; so crisp. I think that the main thing is that new glass was used for the lens and a new structure – there’s so much difference in sharpness.
When you use the extenders you have the same sharpness – everything is exactly the same with or without the extenders – so that’s a big step. The sharpness is unbelievably better. Altogether it’s a much better product.
To be honest the EF8-15mm fisheye is a bit of a strange lens for me – I always have the old fisheye with me and I use it. The problem I always have with fisheye lenses is I don’t use them that often because it gives a strange view to a picture, especially when you use it on a full frame camera. Sometimes if there are nice clouds in the air you can capture them with a fisheye. I would probably only use the 8-15mm between 12mm and 15mm because on a full frame camera I don’t like the views you get at 8mm – it’s just a circle in the middle of a picture. You don’t see much more in the circle than what you see when you zoom in to 12mm or 13mm.
It’s think it’s nice to have it with you just in case you need a 14mm or 15mm but I won’t use the 8mm much – maybe on a [EOS] 7D it could work better because you have a 1.6x crop. It’s a fun lens, you need one in your bag but for me, personally, a 12-15mm [zoom range] would be fine.
I shoot with both an EOS-1D Mark IV and an EOS 5D Mark II because normally there are things I shoot with my lenses on a full frame camera, like the 5D Mark II. So, I have both and just a spare 1D Mark IV just in case something happens. When you use the 5D Mark II with a wideangle lens you see much more than a wideangle on a Mark IV with a 1.3x crop.
For straightforward action pictures I normally choose the Mark IV, for more scenic pictures, behind the scenes and portraits I normally take the 5D Mark II. I use both cameras often – it depends a little bit on my goal for the weekend; some tracks are so nice for shooting action pictures that you take maybe 90% with the Mark IV. Some tracks are a bit boring and you start to play around a bit. For example, at Monaco sometimes you have such nice shots on the wideangle that it’s best to do those on the 5D Mark II, so it really depends on the weekend. Throughout the season I’d say it’s about 60/40 - 60% with the 1D Mark IV and 40% with the 5D Mark II.
I was shooting recently with some other photographers and I was so happy with the 400mm we used for that shoot. I think the one I had out of the box for Hungary was even better, so I am very proud of it and happy to send pictures out as much as possible.
Everybody [photographers] I showed the pictures to was so enthusiastic about the pictures. When they held the lens and tried it I think I could have sold about eight lenses during the weekend of the Hungarian GP! I am 100% it will be a very popular lens, especially amongst sports photographers. The lens is so unbelievably good that I’d spread the word about it as loudly as possible.
- Please note that in this article no post processing has been made to any of the cropped sections taken from Frits van Eldik's original images. They are 100% crops of the original images.
Biography: Frits van Eldik
© Remy Cortin
Top motorsport photographer Frits van Eldik hails from the Netherlands where he worked for a specialist automotive picture agency for seven years before starting his own motorsports publishing company. He photographed his first Formula 1 Grand Prix in 1989 and by 1994 was shooting all of the F1 races in a season. He became a Canon Ambassador in 2008 and enjoys photographing all motorsports and “everything else that moves fast.” In 2011 he is shooting F1 Grand Prix, world touring cars, street racing and a year in the life of the Dutch GP2 driver Giedo van der Garde.