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  Reviews by: davidearls  

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Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS USM

Review Date: May 30, 2007 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

Pros: Image quality - what else is there?

In praise of older lenses, then.

My copy of the 600 f4 is date-coded UI - 1994. That's pre-image stabilization. Pre-magnesium. This beast topples the scale at 13 pounds - quite a bit heftier than the newer version.

Irony of ironies is that the weight of the beast is its own best friend. Mount this thing on a REALLY sturdy tripod (15kg rating), and it's not going anywhere. Inertia is its own form of IS.

This particular copy has seen at least three owners on FM, and there's a review of this copy somewhere down this thread. So why another review?

Mainly because when you shell out what you do for one of these things you want to know it's not going to wear out. I don't know the full history of the lens. It looks like Joanie Weston used it to distribute strategic blows through several seasons of roller derby. But you don't buy 'em for the outside.

Ugly doesn't matter. Stopped down to f5.6, this lens minimizes the amount of additional sharpening required in post processing, and we all know enough about PP to realize that it's an activity that's destructive to the image.

I was lucky to learn my long lens technique without IS lenses, and in fact, I think the way to learn to use a lens with IS is to turn the IS OFF until you start getting good shots. Then you can turn it on if you feel the need. But if you've got your technique developed, you may find you'd just as soon have the $3-4K you'd otherwise pay for a new piece of equipment that has IS.

I guess my point is that if you're itchin' to get into LONG, don't be afraid to look at older copies that don't have IS. Look hard, ask tough questions, they're out there - and they still deliver jaw-dropping images -

Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM

Review Date: May 10, 2007 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $975.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Sharpness, contrast, focus speed
single thread hole in tripod foot

One of the great steals in Canon's L-glass line-up. IQ has been noted over and over, and for under $1,000 used, nothing I've seen is better.

There are two ways to look at anything, and my view of the lack of image stabilization (IS) on this lens is that it's a positive. One thing I notice about the big-name pros who preach IS is that they all developed their techniques on non-IS lenses. They're better photographers with IS, but they all learned without it.

This is in some ways a "student's lens" in that it returns images that are only as good as your technique. There is a direct correlation between the quality of your images and the improvement in your technique. If learning hand-held is your thing, you would develop some amazing HH technique with this lens. I don't shoot HH, but shooting without motion from a stable platform means more than just "bolting it down." This lens doesn't require a $500+ tripod and a $400 Wimberley. Mine's rock-steady on a Bogen 3021 or Gitzo 2220, but it wasn't when I bought it, or so I thought.

"Slow" shutter speed? Again, you need to learn to shoot at "slow" shutter speeds. If you're shooting wildlife, you need to study your subject and learn to anticipate your shot. I frequently shoot at f8 or even f11 with this lens, and stopping it down almost eliminates the need for sharpening in post processing. Using fill flash means learning another valuable technique.

I've owned this lens for over a year, and it's helped me become a better photographer. This lens reports exactly how good your technique is with every exposure.

My only suggestion for an improvement would be to extend the tripod foot and add a second screw mount. 400mm exerts a lot of leverage against a single mounting screw, and my lens has always had a tendency to twist on the tripod (not during a shot).

If you're a grade-B western cowboy shooter, kicking the doors open with your guns blazing, well, this probably isn't the lens for you. If you're serious photographer who wants to advance your technique, this is a great lens, and one that will leave you with with many, many memorable reminders of your learning days.

Gitzo 2220 Aluminum Explorer

Review Date: Jan 3, 2007 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $190.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: solid as a rock
haven't found them yet

Picked up one of these used from a fellow FMer. I've been using a Bogen 3021BPRO for the past two years, but I'm adding a gimbal head to my kit and thought a second tripod would make sense.

Wish I'd bought this one first. I don't know what else a tripod needs to be except stable, and this thing is stable - more stable, even under load (ballhead/Canon5D/400f5.6L), than the Bogen. Haven't had a chance to try it with the column extended, but it appears that the column is also more stable here than with the Bogen. That would be nice for me; at 6'2", the Bogen ends up being a little too short, and the Bogen column clamping isn't as solid as I'd like.

I like the flexibility in the leg spread; I shoot mainly outdoors, so the pre-set leg angles on the Bogen were more restrictive than anything else. Haven't had a chance to experiment with the tilting column; I was never terribly impressed with the Bogen when the I inserted the column horizontally. Given the column length on this beast, it looks like the only way to get close to the ground with it will be setting the column off at an angle; the Bogen's sole advantage over this pod is that you can leave the bottom of the column off completely.

The weight doen't bother me; I'm not a hiker. My property adjoins a 2400-acre county park, so I don't have far to go to do the outdoors thing.

Just a great piece of kit - a steal for the money.