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Archive 2013 · Gymnastics: 85mm Comparison
  
 
Russ Isabella
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p.1 #1 · Gymnastics: 85mm Comparison


Equipment questions arise often, and I know I always am thinking about which lenses are best suited to which kinds of shooting. This is particularly relevant when multiple lenses can provide the same focal length. For gymnastics, for me, the main 'competition' is between two pairs of lenses: the Canon 85 f/1.8 vs the Canon 85 f/1.2L II, and the Canon 70-200 f2.8L IS II vs the Canon 200 f/1.8. Regarding the 85mm lenses, the main questions are whether the L glass is fast enough, and whether image quality is in any way better enough than the 85 f/1.8 to warrant use of the much heavier (and much more expensive) glass. With the zoom vs 200, questions of convenience, weight and image quality prevail. I'm not including the 200 in this comparison because I really couldn't find the images from it and the 70-200 that would allow for it. So instead, I'm comparing images from the two 85mm lenses and the 70-200 shot at 85mm. I'm posting seven comparisons of the two 85s head-to-head using photos from beam, and two comparisons between the 85L and 70-200 (at 85mm) on bars.

A few caveats:

My methodology is hapazard--the beam shots are from approximately the same distance from beam, one lens shot from a slight angle to one side, the other shot from a similar slight angle to the other side. Settings are not identical and the shots themselves are not identical, and that's because I've drawn from my coverage of meets--a far cry from the controlled setting a studio might afford. Also, there are a lot of other factors that might play into differences between the images, including fluctuations in the lighting at the arena. Nevertheless, I've tried to handle post-processing in a similar manner across all images, including cropping as well as other adjustments. It is what it is, but perhaps the number of comparisons will help. At any rate, here you go. I'd be interested in hearing about what you see and whether you think there is anything meaningful here to work with.


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Feb 18, 2013 at 04:22 AM
Grantland
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p.1 #2 · Gymnastics: 85mm Comparison


the 85L really shines.

love the color



Feb 18, 2013 at 04:43 AM
John Patrick
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p.1 #3 · Gymnastics: 85mm Comparison


Not to contradict Grant, but my first impression (after discounting and exposure and color balance differences, after all, they were at different locations with different light) was that the 85 f/1.8 really holds up well, here. I know I have used the 85 f/1.8 quite a bit for gymnastics, especially beam. It's light, it's got 1.3 stops more light than the 70-200 f/2.8, and it's light .

Very good comparison. Personally, I don't see a $1k difference here, or however much the f/1.2L costs, especially stopped down to f/2.0 or f/2.2.

John



Feb 18, 2013 at 06:04 AM
ifxbonz
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p.1 #4 · Gymnastics: 85mm Comparison


Russ,
Really nice comparisin sets. ( Thanks for the effort ) I would almost rather real life shooting comparisons than controled steeings. But both have their advantages.
My question is were they all shot on the same camera?

This weekend I shot the 85 1.8 the 135 f2 & the 200 f2 all at f2 and 12800 iso on the dx at 1/1000. Wish I had your light. I couldn't have survived without f2. I tried 2.8 glass and I was at 1/400th I think.

Andy



Feb 18, 2013 at 06:12 AM
Russ Isabella
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p.1 #5 · Gymnastics: 85mm Comparison


Good question, Andy. I should have mentioned they all were shot with a 1Dx.


Feb 18, 2013 at 06:57 AM
rolette
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p.1 #6 · Gymnastics: 85mm Comparison


Russ,

Interesting comparison. How confident are you that you processing these images "equally"? The first pair is probably the best example of why I ask, but I can see it others as well. The processing on the 1.8 shot looks "flat" relative to who the 1.2 shot was done. Cooler WB, less saturation, definitely weaker blacks (obvious on the uniform).

Did you process the images at the same time for this exercise or did you take whatever processing was done to them after the event and use it as-is?

The 70-200 comparison shots are similar - very different temperatures on WB and weaker blacks.

Maybe it's just the quality of light between the shots? If it is something inherent in the lenses vs. slightly different post-processing treatment, it is difficult to tell (for me at least).

Regardless, there are a tremendous number of variables here and that you've been able to pull together something as close as you have on the shots is impressive

Jay



Feb 18, 2013 at 02:41 PM
Chad Bassman
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p.1 #7 · Gymnastics: 85mm Comparison


Yea, it's the color for me... I liked the L in almost all of them but isn't that an easy fix with contrast? For me it's cost, weight, and speed of focus that causes me to take my 1.8 to sports events. I've got the 1.2II as well but only think about it for portraiture work, my bad.

Thanks for your comparison work Russ and great shots here but I'd hope you knew that

Next time, I'd use some 32000 Mw einsteins direct lit to negate the differences in wb and camera settings , overpower ambient and catch some falls off the beam!

Chad



Feb 18, 2013 at 02:56 PM
Paulthelefty
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p.1 #8 · Gymnastics: 85mm Comparison


I also noticed what I would call a "warmth" from the 1.2 that is very nice, but is that the lens or the processing? I would assume the lens based on what Russ has done for us here.

I would say based on these shots that any of the lenses are up to the task!

Thanks for sharing!

Paul



Feb 18, 2013 at 03:02 PM
Russ Isabella
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p.1 #9 · Gymnastics: 85mm Comparison


Grant and John: I agree with both of you. The 85 f/1.8 does a great job, and I've long been very satisfied with it. On occasion I've used the 85L, but never felt there was any noticeable difference, so it seemed the extra weight and slower AF weren't worth it. The 1Dx changes that a bit because it's like a magic potion where the 85L's AF is concerned. And with this comparison, I'm surprised to see the tonal/color differences I'm seeing. It also appears, looking through lots of photos from both lenses, that the L lens may be more consistent where AF is concerned (though this definitely is an area with so many other factors it'd be tough to say for sure).

Jay: I hear you, and you're right about it being impossible to say exactly what might account for any observable differences. A bit more background: All are from RAW files processed with Adobe Camera RAW in Photoshop CS6. Apart from some basic settings that would be the same for all images, I tweak exposure/shadow/highlights, and I adjust WB to taste. Obviously all of this is subjective, and all I can say is that my goal of arriving at the 'best' outcome is the same for all images. Once converted, all received the exact same processing in PS (no color-related adjustments involved). Thus, I don't think my PP can account for differences between the shots from different lenses that are consistently evident. As you point out, it may be that the lighting was different, and I can't account for that, but I would point out that all of the 85L shots were taken at the same meet, while 85 f/1.8 shots were from a different meet, and the 70-200 shots from still a different meet (3 meets represented in all). So it's possible the lighting for the meet where I used the 85L happened, by chance, to be somehow more friendly to color/tonality/WB than at the other two meets, but I'd need more evidence before jumping to that conclusion. Bottom line is that this is a sloppy comparison from a methodological standpoint, but as far as real-world variables are concerned, I'm surprised by the consistency of the differences I'm seeing.

Chad: I keep suggesting they change to white mats, which would go a long way toward solving the lighting problems. I don't know that the color differences are easily fixed, but as long as I've already laid out the bucks for the 85L, the weight isn't an issue (hell, I'm still jostling with the 200 f/1.8) and, as mentioned, AF rocks with the 1Dx.

Paul: Yes, definitely any of the lenses are up to the task. Even so, I'm constantly mulling over the questions of relative advantages and disadvantages of each, and what I'm seeing here is telling. As explained above, I'm leaning toward your conclusion, which is that the lenses are accounting for the observable differences.



Feb 18, 2013 at 04:45 PM
Ben Amato
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p.1 #10 · Gymnastics: 85mm Comparison


Hey Russ: thanks for the comparison. Have you tried the 85L for other sports, such as basketball?

Ben



Feb 18, 2013 at 06:46 PM
 

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Mark Peters
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p.1 #11 · Gymnastics: 85mm Comparison


They both appear to getting the job done. At first look I was thinking the 1.2 was warmer and more saturated, but on second look I'm wondering more about the post processing. Looking at the first and third pairs the warmth/saturation is higher on the 1.2 in the first pair, and the 1.8 in the third. In particular, I'm looking at the red banner in the background as it is a constant in all of the frames.


Feb 18, 2013 at 06:58 PM
amlsml
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p.1 #12 · Gymnastics: 85mm Comparison


Russ, IMHO all of these images are great. I also struggle with what lens to grab. I guess the real question, is what lens to you prefer based on thousands of images? Which one gets quicker focus? More frames that aren't immediately scrapped? For example, I know that when I shoot lacrosse, I much prefer the 200-400, over the 200, 300 and 400 even if they were all f4. I just seem to get better results for me. You are one of the shooters who could get great images with an I-phone so I am sure most of this is subjective. So to pose the question, If all you shot was the beam, and you had to sell all the lens's here but one, which one would you keep? which one can let you shoot all day and still be less tired? Love this post by the way, and to me all of these are great images! Thanks


Feb 19, 2013 at 02:41 AM
gschlact
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p.1 #13 · Gymnastics: 85mm Comparison


Russ,
About the only consistent conclusion I can make given all the variables is your ability to produce so similar captures (pairs) across meets.
That in itself shows how well you know the sport, routines, angles etc. pretty impressive.

Guy



Feb 19, 2013 at 03:49 AM
lhryshko
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p.1 #14 · Gymnastics: 85mm Comparison


Some incredible talents shown here by the photographer and gymnasts. Very nice Russ!

From your tests, I can conclude that the 85 1.8 is remarkably capable (or at least that's what I 'll tell myself since I could never get the 1.2/1Dx through purchasing). It's surprising good, isn't it?



Feb 19, 2013 at 06:23 AM
BillP57
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p.1 #15 · Gymnastics: 85mm Comparison


Russ, thanks for the comparisons. Although I think the 85L has a slight edge in most of these pairs, I think they all show that the real difference is behind the camera. Your framing and timing are amazing. The timing on that last pair has to be within milliseconds of the same point in the routine.

As for the lenses I feel you have shown they are all capable of producing outstanding images. Individually any of these images would impress and please a client. Thanks again for taking the time to put this together.

Bill



Feb 19, 2013 at 02:12 PM
Tom D
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p.1 #16 · Gymnastics: 85mm Comparison


Russ, first off- great image choices for comparisons. Second, my overall impression is that this post makes a really strong case for the 85 1.8. It was tougher than imagined to determine a favorite image (as far as image quality) in each of the pairs. And when I did, those frames weren't always shot with the same lens. Maybe even an approximate split for me.

What I noticed as a color advantage in each of the shots also didn't match up consistently with one lens. The main difference I saw, and like I said, I had to look too hard, was a bit better job of resolving detail in the in-focus areas. Mainly, the chalk texture on the girls' legs. But, given the variables of lighting, gymnast movement, depth of focus, and low resolution presentation here, etc, this really does sell the 1.8 for me. Like mentioned above, it seems the tipping point might be in-hand performance- lightness, focus speed, etc. Adequate image quality sure appears to be there with both lenses.

Great thread, Russ- thanks for sharing the images and your detailed thoughts.



Feb 19, 2013 at 04:44 PM
John Korduner
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p.1 #17 · Gymnastics: 85mm Comparison


Your comparison seems to handicap the strengths of the more expensive lens. I doubt people purchase the f/1.2 to be used at ISO 3000@f/2. I assume the 1.2 at ISO 1250 would be the benefit...particularly if you aren't using a 1dx.

I also think a better comparison would be to stress the tracking ability for a gymnast running towards the vault as opposed to examples where you could pre focus.

Using the current methodology, you could just as easily equalize the performance of the nifty fifty, 50L, and 50ZE



Feb 19, 2013 at 06:34 PM
Ed Peters
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p.1 #18 · Gymnastics: 85mm Comparison


John Korduner wrote:
Your comparison seems to handicap the strengths of the more expensive lens. I doubt people purchase the f/1.2 to be used at ISO 3000@f/2. I assume the 1.2 at ISO 1250 would be the benefit...particularly if you aren't using a 1dx.

I also think a better comparison would be to stress the tracking ability for a gymnast running towards the vault as opposed to examples where you could pre focus.

Using the current methodology, you could just as easily equalize the performance of the nifty fifty, 50L, and 50ZE

Indeed, the 85L should have been shot at f/1.4 (making the ISO down around 1600)?



Feb 19, 2013 at 08:40 PM
Russ Isabella
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p.1 #19 · Gymnastics: 85mm Comparison


Thanks for all the thoughts about the two lenses, comments on the photos, and advice about the settings I should be using for my gymnastics shoots. Ben, I never have tried the 85 for basketball--too long a prime for my purposes. Tom, I'm intrigued by your conclusions and will look through the images again to see more of what you are seeing. I'll say again that I don't believe any manipulations of saturation or any efforts to 'equalize performance' are responsible for what's on view here. All lenses were used and all post-processing was conducted following my basic approaches to shooting and post-processing. Thus, for me this is a look at how different lenses perform when I use them as I use them. Nothing more and nothing less.


Feb 19, 2013 at 11:16 PM
Tom D
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p.1 #20 · Gymnastics: 85mm Comparison


Russ, hope you didn't misinterpret my comments. Definitely wasn't saying your post work had anything to do with the what I perceived simply as both lenses capable of producing solid results, low light performance notwithstanding.

I am curious, though, about how the full-res files look to your eye, both out of camera and after your pp routine. I would guess that it's difficult to fully grasp the IQ differences between the two 85's from looking at the low res versions of these shots. Do they both process to a similar end-product, with maybe the 1.2 taking less work to get there?



Feb 20, 2013 at 04:54 PM
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