Arizona on film. July 2015

We went out to Prescott, AZ for a week and I decided to take along my Ihagee Exakta VX IIa. It has an 80mm f/1.9 lens on it. Boy is that thing a beast to focus. Here are most of the images I shot there. All shot on Kodak Portra 400. Developed and scanned by photovision. 

Gear Review. Canon Extension Tube EF12 II and EF25 II

I've looked around the internet for a side by side comparison of these two strange pieces of equipment and haven't found anything very helpful. Hopefully this will help some of you who may be looking at macro alternatives. 

About a year ago, I was looking at stepping up my "ring shot" game as I primarily shoot weddings and the ring is definitely a detail that should be captured well. It seems like most wedding photographers turn to the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM. I thought that seemed pretty ridiculous for one shot a day. Here are my thoughts on the 100mm Macro... A. I don't want to carry around another L lens in my bag, the less gear I have to carry the better. B. I don't want to spend almost $1,000 on another lens that I'm only going to use for a handful of shots each wedding. 

I see how people are drawn to the 100mm though. It can be used as a portrait lens in place of the 85 or 135 if necessary. It's a true macro lens with the ability to focus to infinity. These tubes on the other hand are limited in their capacity to focus. They have a minimum and maximum focus distance which varies depending on the lens they are used with. 

I first picked up the EF12 II (the smaller one on the right in the image above) used off B&H. Since there is no glass in either of these Extension Tubes I didn't mind buying used in the slightest. I used it for a while until a friend bought the EF25 II (the larger one on the left in the image above) in which I saw more potential. It took me a few months to pull the trigger on the EF25 II, but eventually I got it and was stunned at the difference. The EF25 II seems to be better suited to isolating rings than the EF12 II. I think both have their place. The EF12 II allows me to pull in environmental details while still having the rings be a decent size in frame without cropping. Below are some sample ring shots in order to help compare the two. For these shots I used the Canon 50mm f/1.2L with either the EF12 II or the EF25 II attached.

None of the following images were cropped or sharpened. All images were shot at minimum focus distance in order to provide consistency for comparison.

Canon 6D. Canon Extension Tube EF12 II. Canon 50mm f/1.2 L. Shot at f/4 - 1/125 of a second - ISO 640 - handheld

Canon 6D. Canon Extension Tube EF25 II. Canon 50mm f/1.2 L. Shot at f/4 - 1/125 of a second - ISO 640 - handheld

In order to provide a little variety, I changed the background up and shot these next images from above. 

Canon 6D. Canon Extension Tube EF12 II. Canon 50mm f/1.2 L. Shot at f/4 - 1/125 of a second - ISO 500 - handheld

Canon 6D. Canon Extension Tube EF25 II. Canon 50mm f/1.2 L. Shot at f/4 - 1/125 of a second - ISO 500 - handheld

Do you need to have your lenses professionally cleaned?

I’ve been shooting with Canon gear for more than a decade now. Until recently, I have never had any of my lenses professionally cleaned. *gasp* I’ve had lenses repaired here and there. Some quite a few times actually. But never simply cleaned. Since going full-time, I decided it was a good idea to get a CPS membership. The one I chose comes with 5 free cleanings (bodies or lenses). I recently replaced my old bodies with new ones so I thought why not have my lenses cleaned instead. I’ve owned one of the lenses for ten years now and as I said before, it’s never been cleaned. So, I braved the traffic up to the Canon Factory Service Center, grabbed a number and waited. Eventually I’m called up to the service desk. I put five lenses on the counter and simply ask for them to be cleaned using my free cleanings…

A nice gal was helping me and she seemed a little surprised. She said, “Do you have any bodies you want cleaned? Most people use their free cleanings for their camera bodies.” I told her that I recently replaced all my bodies, so I really didn’t need them cleaned yet. I asked her if the lenses needed to be cleaned since I really haven’t had it done before and she hesitated to respond. Quietly, she said, “Unless there is something affecting your images?” I took that as a no since I’m sure she probably shouldn't be saying that the cleaning they offer for lenses is really pointless. She then explained what they do to clean lenses. It sounded very similar to what I do every dozen shoots or so. Take off caps and filters, clean the front and rear element, clean the outside of the lens, focus rings, etc. Do they recalibrate the lens during cleaning? No. They just test the focusing and if it fails, they let you know it’s going to be an additional charge to repair it. She took the caps off of all the lenses on the counter one by one and inspected the glass. Her departing words - “Your membership expires in August, come back with some bodies before then.”

I ended up leaving two lenses to get “cleaned” because they both have a few years of work on them with no repairs. When I received the lenses back I was surprised by two things. One, Canon replaced the weather-seal (the gasket that mates with the camera body) on both lenses. I could immediately tell because the old seals were completely mangled and when I got them back they were immaculate. That was a nice freebie. The second thing is that I went over the lenses with a q-tip dipped in lens cleaning solution and by the time I was finished both ends were black with dirt and grime. They might have cleaned the lenses, but from what I can tell, it’s not a very thorough cleaning. 

Bottom line, clean your lenses at home… unless you need some new weather-sealing.

A Walk with the Canon 300mm f/4 L USM

The Canon 300mm f/4 L USM is a great old lens. I often forget how fun it can be to shoot at longer focal lengths. The 300 f/4 L came out in 1991 and has since been superseded by an Image Stabilized version. Most photographers swear by IS. I really could care less about it. I've shot IS lenses before and I can't see the benefit outweighing the cost for me at this point. I like how light this lens is. I can sling it over my shoulder and not worry about getting sore. This lens feels lighter than the Canon 70-200 f/2.8 L (again, no IS) if that helps put it's weight in perspective. I recently took it down to the Dana Point harbor to see what I could create. I don't own a 1.4x or 2x extender so I was shooting at 300mm in the most accurate way possible. Using a 6D, there was no crop factor to account for either. I bet this lens would be amazing on a 7D. I was lucky there weren't a lot of people down at the harbor. I don't really like walking around with long white lenses as they often draw attention. As I walked, I came across a variety of great opportunities to use the longer focal length. I thought I'd share some of the photos from the day here. 

Here are a few shots of a Cormorant I found while walking. I guess it was sunning and didn't mind me being about 10ft from it. Got in nice and close for this portrait with the ocean in the background. I love the color the sun put on the bird's chest. 

Canon 6D. Canon 300mm f/4 L. Shot at f/4 - 1/500 of a second - ISO 200 - handheld

Canon 6D. Canon 300mm f/4 L. Shot at f/4 - 1/500 of a second - ISO 200 - handheld

This next sequence was gifted to me as I was just about to leave. I saw this Great Blue Heron stalking along the rocks just in front of where I had parked my car. I got pretty close, I could have shuffled closer, but then he found a fish and I just had to stabilize and go for it. The sun was going down behind the breakwater and I had already accounted for it. 

Canon 6D. Canon 300mm f/4 L. Shot at f/4 - 1/2000 of a second - ISO 800 - handheld

Canon 6D. Canon 300mm f/4 L. Shot at f/4 - 1/2000 of a second - ISO 800 - handheld

I'm hoping to get out more with this lens. I'll try to post more when I do. 

What's In My Bag

Below I will attempt to explain what tools I keep in my bag and how I use them. I should start by saying that a more expensive piece of equipment will not give anyone the knowledge and experience required to produce consistently beautiful images. That takes time, patience, and practice. 


Canon 35 f/1.4 L

It took me a while to become comfortable with the 35. I learned on a 50, and shot portraits primarily with a 50 for years. 35 always seemed too wide for me. I like the classic feel of a longer focal length. When I started shooting more and more weddings, I realized that a 35 would be ideal for getting ready, large group portraits and dancing. This lens gets a lot of hype and for good reason. It can produce beautiful images.  

Canon 35 f/1.4 L vs Sigma 35 f/1.4 ART - I work with a very talented photographer who uses the Sigma in place of the Canon. The images he can produce with it are nothing short of stunning. I chose to go with the Canon version because the Canon Service Center is about 20 miles from my office. Quick turn-around time and no shipping costs for inevitable future repairs and maintnece pushed me towards the Canon. I do not regret my decision. 


Canon 50 f/1.2 L


I learned how to use a camera with a 50 as my only lens. When I started shooting portraits, the only prime lens I owned was a 50. The 50 is my go to lens all throughout the wedding day. I use it for details, couple portraits, group portraits, documentary images, and even ring shots when coupled with an extension tube. If I was only allowed to bring one lens to a shoot, the 50 would be it. I have shot entire portrait sessions with a 50 by accident - I would arrive with the 50 on my camera and by the end of the shoot, I would realize I never opened my bag. For me, it doesn't even have to be the 50 f/1.2 L. I had repaired my Canon 50 f/1.4 four times before deciding that the cost of the L version would be worth it if I didn't have to keep replacing the AF system. At the last wedding I shot as a second photographer, the primary photographer dropped his 50 f/1.2 L during portraits. I gave him my 50 f/1.2 L and used the backup Canon 50 f/1.4 the rest of the day. Other than the significant difference in weight and audible focusing, it felt exactly the same as it's larger brother and the images I produced that day were indistinguishable from one lens to the other.

Canon 50 f/1.2 L vs Sigma 50 f/1.4 ART - Again, I work with a very talented photographer who uses the Sigma in place of the Canon. The images he can produce with it are nothing short of stunning. I owned the Canon before the Sigma came out so I really didn't have a choice. If I did I would probably go with the Canon again because, as I've mentioned before, the Canon Service Center is about 20 miles from my office. I honestly can't remember the last time I used f/1.2, however, it is nice to know that I can drop it down to 1.2 if I was in a pinch. 


Canon 85 f/1.2 L II

The 85 always seemed to be a little out of reach for me. I could never justify the cost because I really didn't use the 85mm focal length often enough. I owned the Canon 85mm f/1.8 for a few years and eventually I let it go because I used my 50 more often than not. I came across this lens at a price I could not dismiss. Everyone who has shot one talks about how amazing it is, how it's the best portrait lens Canon offers. When I made the decision to buy this lens it felt like I was about to set upon a journey to tame an ethereal beast. It's an odd lens, the manual focus ring is powered by the camera, and it's very touchy. The focal length is neither long nor short for portraits. I shoot this lens primarily at f/2 as with most other primes. I really like how crisp the images look at f/2. I think, for portraits, and the way I shoot, f/1.2 on this lens is usable but I still like the wiggle room of f/2. I use this lens mainly for portraits, ceremony shots, first dances, and toasts. 

Canon 85 f/1.2 L II vs Sigma 85 f/1.4 - When you find a Canon 85  f/1.2 L II hardly used, in impeccable condition, knowing who the original owner is, at a price so close to the Sigma it would make you start foaming at the mouth... you don't really think about other options. You just run to the bank and make the transaction as fast as humanly possible. Any questions?


Canon 135 f/2 L


I lack the words to describe the images this lens produces. The 135 is nothing short of spectacular and I would recommend this lens to anyone who wants to take portraits. It's my primary ceremony lens and is amazing for capturing candid moments throughout the wedding day. I shoot this lens at f/2 all day long and the images are simply stunning. It's the only prime lens I shoot at it's widest open aperture on a regular basis. The 35, 50, and 85 all get stopped down 99% of the time. 

Canon 135 f/2 L vs Canon 70-200 f/2.8 L (pick a version) - Bottom line is that I chose the 135 because it's light, usable at f/2, and gets the job done. I used to own a Canon 70-200 f/2.8 L and used it primarily for shooting college sports. It was nice to have the zoom range, but when I started shooting more weddings, the weight of the lens just became a nuisance. Someone recommended a 135, I rented one, fell in love, bought one, sold the 70-200 and never looked back. If I start shooting action again, I'll pick up a 70-200 but until then, the 135 gets my pick. 


CANON 24-70 F/2.8 L

The 24-70 was my first lens as a Canon shooter. I knew enough about photography at the time of my transition from Nikon to Canon to not buy kit lenses. This lens has been a workhorse in my bag for over a decade. It's still in great condition but could probably use a new hood (not pictured). It's my go to backup lens in case my 35, 50, or 85 bite the dust on a wedding day. It's also handy to have the 24mm focal length just in case an extremely large group shot is desired. I used to own the Canon 17-40 f/4 L, and I never see myself shooting wider than 24mm ever again. 

Canon 24-70 f/2.8 L vs Canon 24-105 f/4 L IS - Image stabilization doesn't really do it for me. I have never owned an IS lens. I've shot with them, but never bought one. I owned the 24-70 before the 24-105 came out. I don't believe Canon had an IS lens in this focal range at the time I made the purchase. That being said, if I had to make the decision today it would be tough with all the other options out there. I really don't use f/2.8 when I shoot with this lens so I think a maximum aperture of f/4 would do just fine. I would like to point out a key difference between this lens and some of the other offerings in this category now. This lens is retracted when zoomed to 70mm. It protrudes when pulled back to 24mm which is opposite of what the current version II does. I prefer this type of zoom as that way I can zoom in on a subject and they have no idea. In fact, if they are looking at the camera they may think I'm getting a wider shot when I zoom in and it's a bit more sneaky. I don't think it really matters all that much though. I'm so used to this lens that all the new lenses feel foreign to me. I'm going to be very sad when Canon stops servicing this lens.


CANON 300 F/4 L

You read that title right. There is no "IS" after that "L". I use the 300 mainly for personal work. It's an awesome lens that produces consistently beautiful images. You can see some images taken with this lens here.


CANON Extension tube ef 12 ii

This extension tube is a great alternative to a macro lens. I use this tube paired with the 50 for rings, jewelry, boutonnières, cufflinks and any other small detail shots. I opted for this over the Canon 100 f/2.8 L IS because I didn't want the extra weight. I can only carry so much with me on a wedding day and this little extension tube is tiny, thin, and light. There is no glass in the tube and the images produced when paired with the 50 are amazing.