More on Lenses – Canon Macro EF 100mm f2.8 USM

Since I last posted I’ve looked around a few other blogs.

Looking at some old favourites and seeing if there are any tips to pick up. One thing that struck me was that there are quite a few bloggers who blog every day or every week.

I don’t think I can do that.

It might be possible to have a picture a day or something but I find it necessary to spend some time thinking things over and of course in my own life since I last posted I’ve been ill (not very badly), spent a month or so in England on mainly family business and I’ve been looking all the time to find photo subjects with stock photography in mind.

So I thought for this post I could probably continue where I left off with lenses. Mainly from the point of view of how my ideas on lenses have changed since I went over to digital capture and of course most important how they can effect the kind of photographs I take.

So I’ve been spending some time and, unfortunately, some of my hard earned money on updating my lens lineup so I thought I might share some thoughts on why I’ve chosen the lenses I have. Not a a formal review but a how they fit in with my photo practice.

These are the lenses that I’ve acquired in the last few months.

Canon EF 100mm f2.8 USM
Canon EF 70-300mm f4-5.6 IS USM
Sigma 10-20mm f4-5.6 EX DC HSM
Tamron SP AF28-75mm F/2.8 XR Di LD

Canon, in common with other companies has different lens lines and this can be confusing.

Top of the line are the L series. The main problem for me is that the very solid construction means that these lenses can big and heavy. I’m looking for a good level of construction, optical quality and the features I need.

The only one of these lenses I’ve used for a while is the Canon macro so I can give a few comments. The web is full of reviews so this is only a personal view. One important point is that Canon equipment is freely available in Bulgaria where I live.

First impressions were of solidity. It’s a bit on the big size for me. But this actually conceals one of the main benefits. All the focussing and movement is internal so the lens does not get longer and nothing rotates.

This means that a polarizing filter is not a problem. Another great benefit is if you want to hold the lens up against glass or wire netting. I use a rubber lens hood in these situations both to protect the lens and to prevent reflections. It’s really great to be able to focus without worrying about lens movement.

The autofocus is lightening fast and there are two settings depending on how close you are. Of course with a lens of this sort good manual focussing is important and this Canon is very well equipped.

Now all reviews score this lens very highly on a full frame film or sensor and on a cropped sensor the overall definition is excellent. It seems to be good at all apertures but it’s always worth finding the “sweet spot”. I plump for f11. This provides a good depth of field but without the problems of diffraction at smaller apertures.

Of course, in practical terms many macro subjects are three dimensional so a flat field is not all important.

A macro lens of this kind also makes a great short/medium wide aperture telephoto.

I’ve found the Canon performs well in both these roles.

Here are some examples.

I looked around the garden in England and came across a number of spiders nests with lots of babies. Many of these were inaccessible or very dark.

One nest was on a fence near a wall where I could balance the camera to avoid shake. It was still quite windy and the light quality was variable. I decided to use manual exposures and take a number of pictures with the in-camera flash to provide mixed lightening.

I sellotaped a tube of white paper over the flashgun to provide diffusion and I also made a reflector of cardboard covered with kitchen foil to lighten the shadows.

One of the great joys of digital capture is that you can take large numbers of shots and experiment freely. From about a hundred attempts only a few were satisfactory. Here is one of my better examples.

baby spiders - digital photo by john rocha

Baby Spiders

For the second type of shot I decided to try out the Canon macro lens at the Rose Festival in Kazanluk.

Over the years I’ve covered quite a few festivals with great results. The first festival I can remember was the May Day Hobby Horse Festival in Padstow in Cornwall in England. For one day of the year this tiny village is crammed with visitors as the Hobby horse is lead through the streets by the teazer.

The Rose festival at Kazanluk here in Bulgaria is another of my favourites. Over a weekend at the beginning of July each year this town is also filled with visitors. The main events include the choosing and crowning of the Rose Queen, the picking of the roses in the Valley of the Roses just outside the town and the march from the valley through the town where folk dancers and figures in traditional costumes and masks dance through the streets.

Roses are big business in Bulgaria as these roses provide a good amount of the perfume used in the international cosmetics industry.

From the photographic point of view most of the participants who come not just from Bulgaria but adjoining Balkan countries expect to be photographed and the danger is that they might pose too much.

A word of warning – if you plan to visit book early because the hotels are all booked by international tour groups with the Japanese particularly in evidence.

Festivals like this are heavily weather dependent. In the days before the festival there were heavy storms. Luckily the three days of the festival provided clear weather.

Here is one of the main problems. None photographers believe bright sunlight is the best for photography but experienced photographers know that harsh contrasty lighting is almost impossible to handle even when shooting RAW.

What’s to be done. On the day of the rose picking I saw the local press photographers trying the usual expedients which included flash to fill the shadows, posing groups in the shade, using backlighting together with flash.

For posed groups these techniques work pretty well but it’s more difficult if you’re looking for a candid record.

I believe that “thinking digital” is part of the solution. In fact it’s so important that It’s worth a separate post.

My first solution was to go out into the city square in the late evening when the light was more diffused and see if I could capture some of the dancers there.

Here is an example.

rose festival dancer - digital photo by john rocha

Rose Festival Dancer

This means that I am well satisfied with the Canon macro as an addition to my lens lineup and it also panders to my traditional preference for prime lenses over zooms.

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Stock photography by John Rocha at Alamy

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