A recommendation

In preparing for my big photographic day out on Sunday 22nd, I’d rented a big monster lens from the lovely people at Calumet PhotographicHere it is – the snappily titled 70-200mm f/2.8G ED-IF AF-S VR NIKKOR.

These Nikon lens names take a little unpicking.  In order:

  • 70-200mm. That’s the easy bit. It’s a zoom lens with a 70-200mm focal length; on all but the top end Nikon cameras there is an effective adjustment of 1.5x, making this equivalent to a 105-300mm lens on a 35mm camera.
  • f/2.8G.  The maxiumum aperture of the lens is f/2.8 throughout.  Which means very shallow depth of field when fully open – ideal for wildlife tomorrow when I’ll want to blur out both the fence in front of the lens and the one in the background.  The G is more difficult.  It means that the lens has no aperture ring; so it’ll only work with a camera that has auto-exposure or some way of setting the aperture from the camera body.
  • ED. Extra-low Dispersion.  Lenses bend light of different colours by slightly different amounts.   What this means is that you may see some slight colour fringes – extra-low dispersion reduces this effect.
  • IF. Internal Focusing.  In the old days lenses used to change length as they focused. IF lenses move internal elements, meaning that they stay the same physical length (in this case some 215mm long) wherever they are focused.
  • VR. Vibration Reduction.  This one passes the Ronseal test – it does exactly what it says on the tin.  In practice it means that you can take pictures using a shutter speed up to three stops slower than you would normally be able to without noticing camera shake.

I also rented one of these:

A TC-20E II Teleconverter – basically doubles the focal length of whatever lens you attach it to – so turning the 70-200mm into 140-400mm; or in effective terms meaning a stonking 210mm-600mm.

So I had to go practice – another trip to the Watercress Wildlife Association in St Albans.  Sadly it was getting a little dark by the time I got there, but to show you how close you can zoom:

80/365 Dinner on the wing
Long-tailed tit Little Grebe

Despite the late hour, I did manage to catch a few birds – a collared dove, a long-tailed tit and a little grebe.

Would I recommend Calumet Photographic?  Yes! They were helpful on the phone to a first-timer renter like me; their weekend deal was particularly good – pick up Friday afternoon, back Monday before 10am and you only pay one day’s rent; pick-up took 3 minutes, return 2 minutes; and renting a lens like this is clearly a good plan if you don’t fancy stumping up to buy one – it’s not what you’d use every day and you need a lot of £35+VAT rents to justify a purchase somewhere north of £1500!

Would I recommend this lens? It handled well. I’m not sure I’d want to walk around for it too long without a tripod or at least something to rest it on. But it was perfectly practical to use – assuming of course you can get far enough away to merit 70mm. I found it easy enough to use – although I’d had a little practice I didn’t really need it. The key to using it well was aperture priority – that way you could force f/2.8 to knock the background out of the depth of field and let the camera handle the shutter speed; with VR turned on I could still shoot at ISO 200 in reasonably low light and get tack-sharp shots.  And with the teleconverter I could get as closer still – worth it when you saw the teeth on what I was taking on Sunday.   The only drawback is that you’d not really want to walk round a strange city sightseeing with this lens – it’s not what you’d call inconspicuous; and probably not needed as f/2.8 isn’t needed really for general landscape shots except at dusk or dawn.