Zooming Out – The Move to an All-Prime Setup

I have been shooting with Canon’s L series zoom lenses (the 17-40, 24-70 and 70-200 IS to be exact) for almost a decade. Everything seemed fine, I made several great images with them. The seduction began on a cold January night in Norway two years ago – I tried a friend’s TS-E 24. I was immediately sold. So much that I didn’t want to put the 24-70 on the camera any more. Bought a TS-E 24 later that year and the 24-70 started to collect dust.


Floors, 100mm f/2 on a 5D Mark II

The final nail in its coffin was a vacation in Sicily last year. To travel light and be able to enjoy the vacation itself besides shooting, I bought three primes. In addition to having image quality that puts the 24-70 into shame, I really loved to work with them.

There was something that inspired my creativity – maybe the discipline of not being able to easily change the shot’s angle of view and forcing me to move around, maybe the freedom from having to think about focal length choices. I don’t know, I just like the process and the results.

Last year I sold both the 17-40 and the 24-70 and just used the two 24s and the 50. And an interesting thing started to materialize: instead of thinking about which focal length should I use I started to see in 24mm and in 50mm. When I realized this I regularly threw the “travel 100” into my bag. And I preferred it to the 70-200.

The final decision to replace the 70-200 was born last weekend. After going through my former images and checking which look do I prefer on the long end I ended up with a conclusion I find shots in the 150-250mm range uninteresting, and that the 70-200 was more in line with my vision on cropped sensor bodies than on full frame. From here the decision was pretty straightforward: get a 135mm f/2L.

I ordered one on Saturday and selling my 70-200. The lens arrived yesterday (isn’t Amazon great?) and I’m waiting for an opportunity to put it through its paces. The cactus and palm house of my favorite botanic garden will open this weekend, and I’m planning a visit next week. I’ll post my experiences.

So my current setup consists of the 24/2.8, 50/1.4 and 100/2 travel trio and the TS-E 24 II, 50/1.4, 100/2, 135/2 quartet for regular use. I plan to add a TS-E 17 and a TS-E 90 instead of the 100/2 when Canon updates the current 90 (I don’t like the fixed placement of tilt/shift axes).

Unfortunately I start to find the 300mm focal length interesting again. And the only option there is the 300/2.8 IS II. Which is heavy and expensive… So I’m hesitant at the moment.

All in all, if you aren’t shooting in a rush, and can move around, I highly recommend to give a try to Canon’s relatively inexpensive and great fixed focal length lenses. They might shake up your vision and photography – just they did with mine.

L is not Always Better

Canon 100mm f/2 USM, 50mm f/1.4 USM, 24mm f/2.8

My fully loaded camera bag is around 16kg (without the 500/4). So I started a “project” to reduce its weight substantially. The goal is to shave off 3kg. The other reason behind buying the non-L glass you see on the right was that I needed a lightweight travel kit. After contemplating a lot and considering even the Sony NEX-7 and the Fuji X-Pro 1, I had decided to go the most cost effective way: get some good primes for my 5D Mark II.

I had spent a weekend on reading reviews, analyzing resolution and distortion charts. And a strange thing started to materialize in front of my eyes. I’ve found three Canon primes that promised stellar image quality, low weight and low price tags. So I ordered the 24/2.8, 50/1.4 and 100/2 trio (of course with the optional lens hoods).

First arrived the 24mm (at the same day when Canon announced that this lens is discontinued and will be replaced with a much expensive IS version). I was surprised how sharp this lens was, blowing away my two L zooms that cover that range, and providing better center sharpness than the marvelous TS-E 24 II.

A few days later the 50mm arrived. Mounted it on the 5D II and compared it against my 24-70/2.8. It was no contest. The 24-70 was not even in the ballpark. Immediately replaced it with the 50, reducing my bag’s weight by about 600g.

The 100 produces much less shock than the other two. It is just a great lens (although I still prefer the color rendition of the 70-200/2.8 IS). Compared it with a friend’s 100/2.8 IS Macro, and at f/8, although less contrasty, it was on par with the macro lens (in the corners the little 100 produced better image quality).

These primes cost less together than a 24-105 f/4L lens and image quality at modest apertures (f/4-f/11) is much better in almost all aspects (avoid shooting towards the Sun with the 24…). Or to put it another way: I can break or otherwise ruin any of these three times to arrive at the price point of an L counterpart.