Gear isn't always about megapixels, dynamic range, or pixel-peeping. This piece of gear has changed nothing about the quality of my photos, but it might be my favorite purchase ever.
The obsession with gear or the next best thing is somewhat exhausting in the photography space. I totally get how sometimes, getting something new can invigorate your drive to get out there and make new images. I was especially guilty of it earlier on in my hobby and willingly admit I probably cared or focused too much on the technicalities of gear. That has changed over the years eventually, leading me to where I am now, where all I care about is equipment or tools that makes my life easier as a photographer.
Of course, I need it to match or hold a level of quality I have become accustomed to, but there are so many great options for nearly every piece of gear. Lenses, tripods, filter systems, storage, you name it, and there are probably multiple great options. Thus, when a piece of gear comes around that can change how I work and make my life easier, it's what I get the most excited about. That's why the Canon RF 70-200mm f/4L has changed my enjoyment of shooting telephoto landscape photography.
This Is Not a Review
This is not a review of this particular lens, nor is it an endorsement that you need this lens. There won't be any comparisons about the image quality or barrel distortion or images stabilization tests here. If that is what you're looking for, there are lots of resources out there that are absolutely wonderful and do a much better job than I ever could. At this point, the technology and competition in the space means that if you're spending a substantial portion of a paycheck on a lens, camera, or accessory, then it's going to have stellar image quality.
I purchased the Canon EF 70-200 f/2.8L IS II nearly 10 years ago, and it has been my favorite lens for quite some time. The idea of replacing it was actually difficult, as if I was betraying all that it has done for me over the years. I don't get sentimental about gear at all, but that lens has a lot of history, so much so that I couldn't bring myself to sell it to help purchase its replacement. All that being said, replacing it was one of the best decisions I've made in my career as a photographer, yet it had nothing to do with upgrading the quality of my images.
Deciding between the f/4 or f/2.8 version of the new lens was quite easy. When I originally purchased the Canon EF 70-200 f/2.8L, I was photographing and filming a lot of live musicians where that extra light really mattered. I went back through many of my catalogs and looked at the metadata for the times that I ever shot wide open after changing my focus to landscape photography. Not only was it rare, more often than not, it was to keep my shutter speed high enough to prevent camera shake during lower-light moments in the field. If I was ever using a wide open aperture artistically for a blurry background, the difference between f/2.8 and f/4 are surprisingly minimal at longer focal lengths.
I ended up purchasing the Canon RF 70-200 f/4L, which meant I was naturally going to shed a little bit of weight by losing that stop of light via the aperture difference, but it also meant a tripod shoe wasn’t necessary anymore either, making it even smaller. Look at the size difference between these two lenses. If you include the EF to RF adapter as part of the footprint for the older lens, it is nearly double the size of the new Canon RF 70-200 f/4L. The weight difference is massive, with the older lens weighing 1,490 g plus 110 g with the adapter (total 3.53 lbs) versus the 695 g (1.53 lbs) of the new RF lens. Shedding two pounds of weight is the dream of any backpacker and puts a lot less strain on my wrists when walking around without any support system.
Above is a comparison of my Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L in terms of size, and the fact that these lenses are nearly exactly the same size blows me away, and that’s without the EF to RF adapter! This meant I didn’t have to have a larger spot in my bag specifically for the longer lens. My camera could have either lens attached and fit into the same spot within my bag, which saves so much time and headache. Previously, if I wanted to put my camera back in my bag, it had to be attached to the EF 70-200mm, and it was the only way for it to fit. Now, I can have whatever lens I own attached, and it all fits in the much smaller space.
My Images Don't Get Better
All of these traits factor into me enjoying photography more. It means I can take my telephoto lens on a longer hike without a second thought. It means I can walk around hand-holding my camera for longer periods without straining my wrists. It connects me to photography more because it doesn’t feel like it’s getting in my way, and that’s what is most important to me over everything else.
The lens did absolutely nothing to improve my image quality or to take better images. Is it sharper corner to corner? Technically, yes, but that isn’t something I’ll ever really notice. What I continually notice is just how much more I enjoy making images with this lens. Gear isn’t always about the next best thing, and I get far more excited about something that makes photography easier for me rather than something that might add a few more pixels to my images.
Have you made any purchases that completely changed the way you make images — anything that didn't necessarily change the quality of your images but just the quality of your enjoyment in photography?