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Technique

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PowerShot G11 preview
September 2009

Canon lenses: taking a wider view

With their backs literally against a wall, architecture and interior photographers can’t help but turn to the widest wideangle lenses if they are to give a truly representative view of their subject. Out in the open landscape photographers are forced to go short if they are to the sheer scale of a scene in nature. In the third part of CPN’s series on photographers and their favoured lenses Ed Sheen talks to two Canon professionals about their trusty wideangle zooms...

Most photographers pack wideangle lenses because of their creative possibilities. Their power to make the immediate foreground dominate the frame means that they can create a compelling statement from even the simplest of scenes. The unusual perspective that it allows emphasises key parts of a scene, without losing any of the all-important surrounding context.

Stock photographer Felipe Rodriguez.
 

Stock photographer Felipe Rodriguez.

Within Canon’s current EF lens range there are surprisingly few wideangle options. And the choice becomes even more narrow if you need a model that both provides full sensor coverage for a full-frame or APS-H sensor camera – and more limited still if you want a range of focal length options in the one unit. But the L series of lenses does have two wideangle zooms in the shape of the EF17-40mm f/4L USM and the EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM…

Felipe Rodriguez - EF17-40mm f/4L USM

Felipe Rodriguez makes his living as a stock photographer, contributing to half a dozen agencies, including Getty Images and Age Fotostock. The 44-year-old Spaniard is a self-taught photographer who only bought his first camera nine years ago. He specialises in travel and pictorial pictures for editorial and commercial markets.

© Felipe Rodriguez.

Rice field, Isla Mayor, Spain. Shot on the EOS-1D Mark II with the EF17-40mm f/4L USM; exposure was 1/100sec at f/6.3; ISO rated at 400.

“I converted to the Canon digital EOS system in 2004”, says Felipe, “and the EF17-40mm f/L USM L series zoom was one of the first lenses that I bought.” His decision to buy this popular professional zoom was a particularly pragmatic one for a self-employed shooter: “This is one of the least expensive lenses in the Canon L series line-up. Pro-quality lenses are rarely so affordable, so it was an obvious first choice when I switched from another brand.”

Back then he was shooting with a Canon EOS-1D Mark II, and some of the first pictures that he took were of the Doñana National Park – an area of marshland not far from his home in Seville, Spain. “On the Mark II, the 17mm settings gives an angle of view equivalent to a 22mm, which is still pretty wide for most uses,” Felipe explains, “and was great for showing the boundless space of the area.”

© Felipe Rodriguez.

AVE high-speed trains, Santa Justa station, Seville. Shot on the EOS 5D with the EF17-40mm f/4L USM; exposure was 1/200sec at f/5.6; ISO rated at 400.

Several years ago he moved up to the larger-sensored EOS 5D, and found that his trusty L series zoom became even more useful. “Landscapes and cityscapes are my main subjects. On the full-frame camera, the 17mm setting provides really dramatic compositions.” This is Felipe’s favourite end of the lens and one that proved invaluable, for example, on a stock shoot in New York – with this wide setting enabling him to get his unusual shot of Times Square (see the lead image with this article). “I set out to try and take the classic shot of a yellow cab against the neon lights, but as I set up I saw this cyclist approaching. The fast, accurate autofocus got me the shot, even despite the fact I was using the relatively wide f/5 aperture setting.”

The other end of the zoom range is no less useful in his book. “The 40mm has an almost a ‘normal’ focus length so with the 17-40mm lens you have a really handy range.” Along with either an EF85mm f/1.2L II USM or EF135mm f/2L USM short telephoto lens, it is the one lens of the many that Felipe owns that he always carries with him, as he explains: “you never know what you might capture on the fly.”

Even when shooting sports, his 17-40mm zoom will stay fixed to his back-up camera. It was with this combination and philosophy, on his way to cover a football match, that he captured his beautifully lit study of high-speed trains sitting in Seville’s main railway station. This time, it was the 40mm setting that proved perfect for the scene.

This USM lens offers full-time manual focusing from its wide focus ring, but Felipe admits he has never used this facility. “The AF is so good that I’ve never had to focus manually”, he reveals.


 

Editorial portrait photographer Neil Turner.
 

Editorial portrait photographer Neil Turner.

Neil Turner - EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM

Top editorial portrait photographer Neil Turner studied Advertising & Editorial Photography at Medway College, Kent, England. In 1987 he joined together with Jez Coulson and David Stewart-Smith to form the photography collective ‘Insight Photographers’. In was at this time that Neil’s long association with The Times Educational Supplement began – where he became staff photographer for 14 years, and where he developed his distinctive style for environmental portraiture and his signature use of moody fill-flash lighting for portraits.

© Neil Turner

Portrait of comedian Vic Reeves for Friday magazine. Shot on the EOS-1D Mark II with the EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM; exposure was 1/180sec at f/11; ISO rated at 200.

An early convert to digital, in 2000 Neil launched dg28.com – a website devoted to showing other photographers how to make the most of flash photography in the digital era. He is a vice-chairman of the British Press Photographers’ Association, and was on the jury of The Press Photographer’s Year 2009 contest.

Canon’s EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM zoom, and its predecessors, have been favourite companions on assignments over Neil’s distinguished career – helping to provide arresting portraits that show the subjects in their surroundings.

It’s a lens that he finds is best suited when used with a crop-factor camera. The angle of view that it offered made it his ‘go-to’ lens when used in combination with his EOS-1D Mark II. At the end of last year he traded up to the EOS 5D Mark II DSLR, and he admits that he now uses the 16-35mm zoom slightly less (with the EF24-70mm f/2.8L USM zoom now taking a larger role in his gadget bag).

© Neil Turner

Portrait of a gravedigger taken to illustrate a feature in The Guardian newspaper on unusual jobs. Shot on the EOS-1D Mark II with the EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM; exposure was 1/180sec at f/8; ISO rated at 200.

But the 16-35mm zoom still goes with him on every assignment. “I am best known for my portraiture and one of my key messages to young photographers is to always try to use every lens in the bag on every job”, Neil explains. “Clients like to see options and it is a good idea to give them what they want”. In the last year or so, the 16-35mm has also found new life – fitted to a 50D body; there’s a “certain magic about this combination for portrait work”, he explains.

Many of Neil’s shots in his portfolio have been taken with the 16-35mm. His powerful picture of a gravedigger at dusk is a great example – the wideangle lens proving great foreground and background detail in the unusual setting for a portrait. Shot at dusk it was lit with four different flashguns, to ensure that as much detail in the dusk scene remained visible.

Master of the xenon tube, Neil is equally at home using flash to hide detail. “The shot of the soldier is of a Captain in the Royal Anglian Regiment – a Territorial Army officer and a Geography teacher who had just returned from a tour of Afghanistan.” he explains. “It was shot mid-afternoon but I used a lot of flash power to overcome the dominance of the daylight. The location had to be military but the Ministry of Defence had asked that it was not easily identified.”

Neil admits that he has also two wideangle prime lenses – the EF28mm f/1.8 USM and the EF14mm f/2.8L II USM. “But using zooms makes more sense for most of the editorial work I do. I also use the EF24-70mm f/2.8L USM and the EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM - both of which are wonderful lenses and I find that having the set of three zooms covers 95% of my work,” he reveals.

© Neil Turner/The Times Educational Supplement

Portrait of Territorial Army officer and geography teacher for The Times Educational Supplement. Shot on the EOS-1D Mark II with the EF16-35mm f/2.8L USM lens; exposure was 1/250sec at f/22; ISO rated at 100.

The weather protection of the L series lenses is a must in his line of work, he claims. “Dust is an issue with all digital SLRs and anything that helps to keep it at bay is a big bonus. I have my lenses serviced regularly and get the rubber seals replaced.” says Neil. “I never use filters for protection. Why spend thousands on a lens and then put an inferior bit of glass on the front ‘just in case’? On the other hand I always use lens hoods. Always. They offer real protection and genuinely improve your images by stopping stray light.”

Despite using the 16-35mm throughout its full focal length range, he is not so keen on using the focusing ring. “I always use AF”, admits Neil. “I find that Canon's focusing system does a better job than I do. I manually select my focusing points and use single frame AF most of the time. I have never had to worry about the 16-35mm missing focus – unless I make a mistake in selecting the focus point!”