Monday, June 01, 2009

Buying Gear That's Right For You

Recently, a PGS reader asked me to help him decide between a couple of lenses he was thinking of buying: Either a Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L or f/4L. He also wondered whether he should cough up the extra bucks for IS (Image Stabilization) or not.

First thing I asked him, before pretending to be Mister Know-It-All, was what he was mostly going to be shooting with the glass and whether he shoots on a full-frame or cropped-frame dSLR? The second part of the question was in response to his query regarding how far away from his subjects he would need to be, with a 70-200mm, to photograph them in full body shots.

It's no accident that Canon manufactures it's "L" series 70-200mm zoom lenses in 4 different iterations. Yeah, part of the reason is the arrival of IS technology after already producing these lenses with two, different, minimum apertures. Or should that read, "maximum" apertures? I never get that right. Regardless, part of the reason, I think, is to make that lens available to photographers with both deep and shallow pockets. I'd also like to think that part of it is because each of those 70-200mm zoom lenses are appropriate for different applications.

I own a 70-200mm f/4L (non IS) version of the lens. When I bought the f/4 non IS version of this lens, doing so saved me a heap of dough while without compromising the quality of the images I regularly produce. You see, I'm a specialist. I shoot pretty girls. As a rule, I almost never photograph landscapes, weddings, sports, flora, or fauna, and I rarely shoot in low-light environments. Since I'm almost always working with strobes and I almost never shoot at an aperture of less than f/5.6, a non-IS, f/4 version of the lens suits me just fine. In other words, I get all the optical goodness of one of Canon's premier "L" series lenses... for less!

Hobbyists, for the most part, are generalists when it comes to their photography. For that matter, commercial photographers, wedding photographers, and others are a bit that way too as they routinely encounter (uncontrolled) shooting environments where a lens, for instance, with more capabilities, e.g., the f/2.8 IS version of the 70-200mm, might be the best choice.

While generalists might sometimes shoot pretty girls with strobes, many of them also shoot that other stuff I listed above... the stuff I almost never shoot. If a hobbyist (or one of those other types of photographers I mentioned) is considering purchasing a 70-200mm "L" series lens, they might do well to plunk down the extra dough for a f/2.8 (IS) version of the lens. If not, perhaps the f/4 IS version. Yeah, they're pricey. But for generalists and others, those versions of the 70-200mm will serve them well for all the stuff they photograph and in all the environments they find themselves shooting in.

So, when considering new gear, it's very important to consider what you'll be shooting with that gear. It's not simply about "The Best." It's also about what's best for you and for what you shoot. Don't just go with the hype and marketing! Figure out what gear will serve you best. Don't waste your money on more than you need. Don't waste your money on things you don't need. Don't waste your money on stuff that doesn't satisfy your needs.

The pretty girl at the top whose name I can't recall -- Sheesh! I'm getting senile! -- is from a shoot a couple of years ago. I do remember that she's from Brazil.


steve prue said...

i am a generalist as a professional photographer, i have the 2.8 IS version of that lens, but shooting pretty naked girls is only about 50% or so of my professional day to day work.

both the IS and 2.8 have saved my bacon during low light event shooting.

it really is horses for courses and your posting is spot on as usual.

drinks next week! yay!

Lee said...

when are you gonna start shooting some pretty girls?

by the way, your photos suck.

jimmyd said...


Maybe you could send me some? Along with a few phototography tips?

Anonymous said...

I bought the 70-200 f4 before the IS version came out. Best bang for the buck in my opinion.

jimmyd said...


100% agree!

Lee said...

Man, I'm sorry. I was under the influence and decided to slate you as a sarcastic 'joke'. Now that I'm sober I'm thinking "why would anyone find that funny?!" :D I'll be honest, your work doesn't really do anything for me, not because I think it's bad but because I'm not into studio photography and models. I'll be honest about this too: I envy people like you. No matter how annoying your job may sometimes get, I think most people would kill to be able to do what you do for a living!

jimmyd said...


No problem. Different strokes and all that. :-)