Sunday 29 August 2010

Sparring Lens Tests 50mm, 85mm primes and 70-200 Zoom

At the NZ World Champs trials last weekend, I was experimenting with two unfamiliar lenses. Most of my sparring action images since the 2008 World Cup have been captured with my Canon 85mm f/1.8 prime lens.

However, I had just purchased a new Canon 50mm f/1.4 prime lens plus Craig Oliver lent me his amazing Canon 70-200 f/2.8 IS Mk1 lens as well.

I've posted 50+ sparring images taken with each lens, warts and all, and you can check out the results for yourself.

All images were taken with the Canon 7D body. It has an APS-C size sensor (1.6x magnification vs 35mm sensors) ISO and f/stop readings are all under the "More" link next to each picture when viewed full screen.

My impressions were:

Canon 85mm f/1.8 prime - NZ$825
"Old Trusty". I love the results I get with this lens. Standing near the side of the ring you are in close. It is incredibly sharp. I tend to set it to about f/2.0 - f/2.2 to keep the background out of focus and to get the low iso / fast shutter speed combination that I prefer. Depending on the avaialble light I try to run the camera at < ISO 800 and shutter speed 1/200 + (the closer towards 1/500 the better).

Canon 7D, 85.0mm, 1/200s, f/2.0, ISO: 320

More 85mm sparring images...

Canon 50mm f/1.4 prime - NZ$765
I purchased this lens because, at tournaments, the 85mm tends to magnify too much and I have to stand up to 3-7 metres away from the side of the ring. 60-70mm would be more appropriate but Canon and others don't make this in a suitable prime lens so the closest to it is 50mm.

To start with I hated it, everything was softly focused. However, once I got things setup correctly on the camera the sparring images were good. The images let you see the bigger picture without appearing too far away from the action. It didn't seem quite as good as the 85, but at this stage I'm ok with it. Time will really tell. The alternative lens was a Sigma 50mm f/1.4 which is more expensive and according to reviews, is sharper but has slow auto-focus vs the Canon. For sparring fast auto-focus and sharpness are both important.
The lens is tiny which has the advantage that people don't necessarily realise you're a serious photographer - a big advantage in getting good candid images.

Canon 7D, 50.0mm, 1/500s, f/2.2, ISO: 1000

More 50mm sparring images...

Canon 70-200 f/2.8 L IS Mk1 - NZ$3,795 for the MkII
This lens is amazing. It has a lot of glass in it and is therefore large and, for me, heavy. I'm used to light weight prime lenses and even my Canon EF-S 17-55 f/2.8 zoom is very light. This lens would take a while to get used to. However, the images are sharp and clear. It takes beautiful images and I loved being able to zoom from as close as 70mm to 200. Many of the sparring images I took with this were taken between 70-90mm. Would I like to buy one - yes. Will I? Not at this stage. The image quality is great but I get at least twice the shutter speed from my 85mm prime under the same ISO setting. And in capturing sparring, a low ISO (high quality detail captured in the image) along with a fast shutter speed (1/200 - 1/500) makes a ton of difference. Also, the minimum aperture is f/2.8 and it gives you more depth of field. This means that the crowd in the background is more in-focus than I would like. With my 85 or 50 I'm getting less depth of field at around f/2.0 and the crowd is more blurred - therefore focusing the viewers eye fully on the sparring action. And, using this lens for 4 x 10+ hours per day of world champs tournament would kill my weakling arms and shoulders.

Canon 7D, 70-200mm at 75mm, 1/160s, f/2.8, ISO: 800

More 70-200mm sparring images...

I'd be interested to know what you think so please leave a comment if you have some thoughts/observations.