I have been trying to improve my skills for shooting cheering competitions and arranged to do two pre-meet shoots with the Northborough/Southborough AYF T-Hawk squad. Cheer presents a unique challenge because most events happen in dimly lit gymnasiums, generally flash is not allowed and the girls move pretty quickly requiring a fast shutter speed. My standard equipment includes the same gear that I used for the entire football season: a 7D Mark II and 5D Mark III along with the EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II and the EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lenses. I find that the 70-200mm lens is far too long for the facilities that I have shot in and the 24-70mm, although it is an f/2.8, is not quite fast enough to keep the ISO below 10000. For this shoot I took advantage of Adorama's generous return policy and tried out a new lens and pulled a rarely used lens from the bottom of my camera bag.
The first lens that I tried is the Canon EF 135mm f/2. Although this is a fairly old design, dating back to 1996, it gets solid reviews for sharpness and focus speed/accuracy so I figured it would be a decent candidate for cheer buying me a full stop and allowing me to cut the ISO in half. The second lens that I put through the paces is the Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM that generally sits at the bottom of my camera bag. I don't really have anything against this lens but I just have not found too many uses for it. This should be very similar to the 135mm lens and gives an extra 1/3 stop of light at the cost of reduced reach.
Below, on the left, is a sample shot with the 135mm lens at f/2, 1/800sec and ISO 12,800 with the 5D Mark III. The lens does focus quickly and accurately and I only had a few missed focus shots. The lighting was very poor so even with the full stop advantage from the aperture I still had to shoot at ISO 12,800. The noise from the 5D was noticeable in the full screen shot but after some minor noise reduction the final shot is decent. On the right is a similar shot with the 85mm lens at f/1.8, 1/800sec and also ISO 12,800. I think that the two lenses are very similar in sharpness and focus accuracy but I do like the look of the photo from the 135mm lens slightly better. This might have to do with the exposure and I could probably make the two shots to look a lot more similar.
|Left: Canon EF 135mm f/2, Right: Canon EF 85mm f/1.8|
In the end I decided to return the 135mm lens for two reasons. The first is that it was not significantly different from the 85mm lens and I could not justify spending $1,000 for it. The second reason is that Sigma announced their new 135mm f/1.8 lens on the same day that I purchased this lens and Canon followed suit announcing a $200 price drop on their lens. I could not have had worse timing. Based on the initial reviews of the Sigma lens, if I am going to have a 135mm lens in my bag that is likely the one I want. I also took several shots with the EF 70-200mm f/2.8 lens but with the lighting as bad as it was the ISO was 20,000 and the shots were not really usable. Links to the full galleries can be found at the top of the page.