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Richard Walch extends his creativity with new Canon superzoom

Richard Walch extends his creativity with new Canon superzoom

© Richard Walch

August 2013

In the frenzied world of action sports, Canon Ambassador Richard Walch likes to keep pace with innovation. As CPN writer Mark Alexander discovers, getting his hands on Canon’s EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXTENDER 1.4x proved to be a tantalising glimpse into the future…

For Richard Walch, photography is about capturing the buzz of a haakon flip, a frontside rodeo or a simple layback. He is also partial to a bit of jibbing, luffing and reefing. To put it simply, it’s all about thrill-seeking…

© Richard Walch

A head and shoulders shot illustrates the versatility of the new superzoom. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D C with an EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXTENDER 1.4x lens at 406mm; the exposure was 1/1600sec at f/5.6, ISO 320.

“I like shooting adrenalin,” says the German photographer. “Watching these guys do their stunts; it’s all about adrenalin for them and it is what drives me. It’s common ground. Their goal is to do great stunts and mine is to snap an excellent image. You’re just on the same page and that’s what makes it fun, interesting and engaging.”

Although Walch’s career started on the glamorous surrounds of European ski slopes, he soon took to the water to photograph yacht racing and in 2005 became the official team photographer for the German Americas Cup Team, later publishing a coffee table book about the event. The gut-busting energy and excitement of life at sea was an immediate fit and it’s where he sees his latest piece of kit – the EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM with built-in 1.4x Extender - coming into its own.

“The lens is ultra flexible which is perfect for my style of shooting,” he explains. “If I am out on a little boat shooting a race, the distance between me and the subject can change very quickly. My standard set-up would be a 300mm lens, plus a 600mm lens and 1.4x Extender, but this can be too slow. It takes time to change a lens or an Extender which means, at the end of the day, you miss shots. And with a rain cover on, changing the Extender can be impossible – it takes way too long and everything gets wet.”

Extending the possibilities

With a 1.4x Extender built-in, the EF200-400mm provides Walch with countless shooting possibilities all wrapped up in one package. “Think about it; you have 200mm to 400mm and then you can go all the way up to 560mm. When you work with it, you understand how much flexibility it gives you and sooner or later you just want to have it in your kit bag and never give it away.”

© Richard Walch

A wide view of gymnast Kristian swinging round a pommel horse at an airbase in Croatia. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D C with an EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens at 75mm; the exposure was 1/2500 sec at f/5.6, ISO 400.

Walch first got his hands on the L-series superzoom for a Canon shoot in Croatia during which he shot sports, portrait and fashion using the EOS 5D Mark III and filmed in 4K with the EOS-1D C. According to him, the combination of the superzoom and the 4K DSLR changed his workflow significantly. “It’s the next level in technology.”

“My first impression of the lens was that it was beautifully built,” he recalls. “The first time I held it, it felt like a lot of lens. But, when you think about it, you’re not holding one lens; you’re holding three. Very often I have to fly to a location and weight can be an issue. If I can bring one long lens and it does the whole job, it makes my life a lot easier.”

Walch says having a professional zoom with such a large range and a constant f/4 maximum aperture has also made his job less complicated and that has helped him focus on getting the shot. “When I was shooting fashion in Croatia, I lay flat on the ground to get the angle. The model used an aircraft runway as a catwalk and walked towards me. When you’re flat on the ground, it’s really neat that with a quick twist you can change your lens - it makes for a much easier workflow.”

Add to that the EF200-400mm’s Image Stabilizer technology, which includes three modes for panning and instant stabilisation at the moment of exposure, and you can see why this superzoom is causing such a stir with busy professionals.

Taking it further with movies

But Walch doesn’t just shoot stills. With the introduction of the full-frame EOS 5D Mark II in 2008 and the HD video possibilities it offered, the thrill-seeking photographer diversified into filmmaking, embracing the potential of the moving image. The way he worked changed overnight. “Shooting motion was completely new, so I had to learn to connect images. I had no problem operating the camera because I had been using Canon cameras for years. But to learn how to build a story, that was definitely a learning curve. If you are a photographer and you are open-minded, it is a mountain of knowledge to understand, but it is one you can climb.”

This storytelling element, and the greater number of incidental shots needed to make films flow, added a new dimension to Walch’s approach where the ability to capture detail as well as wider shots became a necessity. “When filming, it’s a different kind of storytelling,” he explains. “If I am shooting a person, I shoot their feet, their upper body and then close in on their face – those three images will be used to tell the story. You can do that easily with a lens like the 200-400mm because it is powerful enough to show a full-body shot, half body and face.”

© Richard Walch

A full-length shot of model Maria and lights on a deserted runway in Croatia. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with an EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXTENDER 1.4x lens at 266mm; the exposure was 1/1250sec at f/4.5, ISO 100.

Much of the flexibility of the lens comes from the internal Extender which increases the focal length to 280-560mm. “When you work with a tripod, it takes a while to get everything set up so it’s a big advantage to use a zoom because it gets you more shots,” Walch says simply. “Three years ago I was concerned about using Extenders, but not today. When Canon introduced the Mark III Extenders, they did a tremendous job. You can combine them with the 300mm, 400mm and 600mm lenses and get really good results.”

Having the Extender built into the body also eliminates the need to make lens changes in potentially harmful environments such as the erratic and salt-laden extremes of the open ocean. But as Walch points out, combining the lens and Extender into the same package also maximises quality, which can be invaluable for photographers looking for an edge.

“When you use an external Extender,” he explains, “there is still a compromise because it has to work with both a 200mm as well as with a 600mm lens. When you build the Extender inside the lens there is no compromise. They’ve built this thing in such a way that I can’t tell the difference in quality. The stuff that I’ve shot with the lens and the Extender has been excellent.”

Game changer

With clients as diverse as Audi, Apple, Oakley, Tommy Hilfiger and Red Bull, Walch produces an eclectic mix of work that is vibrant and brimming with energy. To maintain his high standards, he is constantly looking for ways to improve his set-up by embracing the very latest technologies. His brief time with the EF200-400mm in Croatia has convinced him that it is time for a change.

“Coming back from that shoot, I was thinking about the EF200-400mm and I remember thinking that I am ready to switch,” admits the action sports photographer. “I want to learn more about this lens and use it in different situations. My favourite prime lens has always been the 300mm f/2.8, but I think I am ready to move up to a new way of working.”

Biography: Richard Walch

Richard Walch

German photographer Richard Walch started out over 25 years ago shooting snowboarding and skiing, and now specialises in dramatic action shots of snow and water sports. He was 16 when photography became a passion and at the age of 18 he started shooting for magazines professionally. Since 2008 Walch has diversified from stills into shooting HD movie projects with Canon EOS DSLRs, including TV adverts and commercial projects. He is always on the move to find out what technology has to offer and how this can influence his photography and filming in a positive way.


A closer view of gymnast Kristian swinging round a pommel horse at an airbase in Croatia. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D C with an EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXTENDER 1.4x lens at 448mm; the exposure was 1/2500 sec at f/5.6, ISO 400.