Saturday, March 15, 2008

Using telephoto lenses for 'compression'

One of the signature effects of long telephoto lenses is 'compression' - the ability to make the background appear much closer to the subject. Here are a couple examples of compression:



Camera: Canon 5D, Lens: Canon 400 f5.6 L, Shooting mode: Aperture Priority (I wanted to to specify a specific aperture), Aperture: F5.6 (widest aperture gives a nice blurry background), Shutter speed: 1/800 (selected by camera), ISO: 1250 (fast enough ISO to get fast shutter speed. It was dusk), Exposure Compensation of +1/3 (to make the dark conditions look brighter), Picture Style: Standard, White Balance: Shady, Event: 2006 Mt. Hood Cycling Classic (5 day stage race.)

Camera: Canon 10D, Lens: Sigma 70-200 f2.8, Shooting mode: Shutter Priority (Tv), Shutter-speed: 1/800 of a second (fast enough to freeze the windsurfer), Aperture: f5.6 (selected by camera), Exposure compensation of -1/3 (the camera was making the scene too bright), ISO 100 (I had LOTS of sun), Focus Mode: AI Servo (so auto-focus could track the subject), auto-white balance [sidebar: I sold my Sigma 70-200 f2.8 and replaced with the Canon 200 f2.8 L - a switch I am very happy with.]

Camera: Canon 5D, Lens: Canon 400 f5.6 L, Shooting mode: Aperture Priority (Av), Aperture: f6.3 (1 stop from wide-open-this gave me a little more sharpness over wide-open-but still gives me a blurry background), Shutter-speed: 1/1600 of second, ISO: 200 (it was slightly overcast and 5D ISO 200 has 0 noise.), Focusing mode: AI Servo (so auto-focus could track the subject), white balance of 'cloudy'. Location: Arlington, Oregon.

Camera: Canon 5D, Lens: Canon 400 f5.6 L, Shooting mode: Aperture Priority (Av), Aperture: f5.6 (wide-open to give me a blurry-background), Shutter-speed: 1/800 of second (selected by camera), ISO: 400 (this gave me fast enough shutter-speed to avoid blur from camera shake on this long lens), Focusing mode: AI Servo. White balance of sunny. Location: Lodi, NY.


Using a telephoto lens to create 'compression' is one of my favorite photo techniques. Lenses in the 200+mm length are particularly well suited to this technique. For this technique to be effective, you must seek out attractive backgrounds.

Some of the 'best values' (quality at good price) for lenses with these longer focal lengths include:
Telephoto Zoom Lenses
  • Canon EF 70-300 f4.5-5.6 IS: This zoom lens offers an excellent range, image-stabilization (IS), is pretty sharp wide-open and very reasonably priced for a telephoto zoom with IS. Very lightweight. 'Pro-sumer' build-quality. (about $550 $US) [Canon spec sheet, FredMiranda.com user reviews.]
  • Canon 70-200 f4 L: This is an L-quality zoom. Lightening fast auto-focus. Sharp wide-open. Relatively small and light. One of the best values in the Canon lens lineup. Pro build quality. (About $580 $US.) $460 $US less than the F4 IS version. [Canon spec sheet, User reviews @ Fred Miranda.]

Telephoto Prime Lenses (they don't zoom)

  • Canon EF 200 f2.8 L: This lens is one of the best values in the Canon lens line-up. Razor sharp @ f2.8. Awesome build quality. Lighting fast auto-focus. GREAT background blur. (Around $660.) $5300 less expensive than the f2 IS version. [Canon spec sheet, FredMiranda.com user reviews.]

  • Canon 300 f4 IS L: This lens is another exceptional values in the Canon lens line-up. L-quality - Canon's highest-end lens designation. Very sharp @ f4. Awesome build quality. Image stabilization. Lighting fast auto-focus. Excellent background blur. (Around $1100.) $2750 $US less expensive than the f2.8 IS version. [Canon spec sheet, FredMiranda.com user reviews.]

  • Canon EF 400 f5.6 L: This lens is another exceptional value in the Canon lens line-up. L-quality - Canon's highest-end lens designation. Very sharp @ f5.6. Awesome build quality. Lighting fast auto-focus. Excellent background blur. (Around $1100). $4100 $US less expensive than the F4 IS version. [Canon spec sheet, FredMiranda.com user reviews.]

Canon L lenses typically exhibit the following characteristics: pro-build quality, fast auto-focus, and sharp wide-open. The L lenses above, in my opinion, represent Canon's best values in telephoto L lenses. With the ability to get such exceptional image quality at ISO 800/1600, I feel the value of IS has decreased. Obviously IS is a desirable feature, but if you concede IS, you can get some of the best glass in the world at relatively low prices.

One more sidebar - for those of you really looking for a reason to buy some nice Canon glass, Canon L lenses hold their value exceptionally well. You can typically sell them for only a 10%-15% loss even after 3-5 years of use. Tell your significant other it's an investment :)

There are other excellent Canon telephoto lenses, but these models are some of the best quality for your $ in my opinion.

3 comments:

swimlappy said...

I have to admit that as a newbie at photography, I have been scared away from L lenses because of the prices. Though I hear and read many praises about them. I wonder if the lens would actually make a difference in my shots, or if I would get better shots spending time learning about color, light, aperture, shutter speed and composition? Probably the latter for now haha! But in the meantime, I can certainly add a few of these to my Amazon wish list ;-)

Clint Bogard said...

swimlappy (I actually just got back from a lunchtime swim -- are you a swimmer?): In regards to L lenses: 1) if you are doing a lot of 'small aperture' shooting, L lenses don't make much of a difference (the 18-55 kit lens does great @ f8) 2) If you are shooting zoom lenses at wide apertures, L lenses tend to be sharp 'wide-open' whereas non-L lenses tend to be 'softer' wide-open (the L's also ave very fast AF, great build-quality, etc). There is a real difference. 3) Most of the Canon non-L primes are SHARPER than any Canon zoom (L or non-L). And are relative cheap - these are a great value. 4) The L lenses I referenced in this blog post are 'cheap' in my opinion. If you want a 200mm telephone lens that's half decent, you're going to spend $600 -- why not get an L (200 f2.8, 70-200 f4) :) 5) I agree that it's best to master technique, prior to buying more gear--at the same time, if you know you're going to buy a telephoto lens eventually, I can see justifying the purchase :)

Edelweiza said...

i've just bought a Canon 1000d and I want to take photos with blur background as well...pls. help. :)