Wilson Freeman, Photographer

Alexandria, VA - 703-380-3786

Driftingfocus Photography Photography from Wilson Freeman

Some thoughts on recently rented gear:

Since I’ve had a couple big shoots recently that required me to rent some extra equipment, I’ve gotten to experiment with a few new lenses and a new camera body.  I really enjoy renting gear, because it allows me to see what kinds of gear I actually use, vs. the stuff that barely leaves my camera bag.  If you’re considering buying a new lens or any other major equipment, I highly suggest renting it beforehand, to see whether you actually enjoy shooting with it or not.

20140516-115852.jpgThe First Rental:

Now, this stuff was all rented for the first wedding I’ve ever agreed to shoot (I’ve been asked for years, and I only recently started saying yes).  There wasn’t too much shooting to be done of the “prep work”, the ceremony was outside, and the reception was at night in a restaurant, so, keep that in mind within the context of my reviews.

Canon 70-200mm f2.8L  USM

Now, I have the Sigma version of this lens, but I was curious to see if the Canon version was worth the $1200 difference in price.  Short answer?  No.

Since I was shooting a wedding, in which having a good telephoto is crucial, I figured that this would be a good opportunity to test it out.  While I will admit that the lens was better than my Sigma – the autofocus was a bit faster, it’s a bit lighter, and it has better anti-shake protection – I didn’t feel that it was $1200 better.  If my Sigma breaks some day, I will probably buy the Canon version, but for now, my Sigma is perfectly fine.

Canon 50mm f1.4

Similar to why I rented the 70-200, I rented this to see if the extra stop of brightness this lens has over the 50mm f1.8 (which I own) would really make that much of a difference.  Nope.  Would I rather have this than the “nifty fifty”?  Yeah, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s really not a priority.  At all.

For comparison, the photo on the left was taken with the 1.4, the photo on the right was taken with the 1.8:

Tokina 11-16mm f2.8

This was the second time I’ve rented this particular lens (the first time being for a shoot at Fort Ticonderoga last year).  I’m definitely a fan of this lens, and though it didn’t get nearly as much use as I had expected, it was critical for a couple shots, like this one:


I’m not sure that this is a lens I would buy right away (especially since it only works with cropped sensor cameras, which I will hopefully be moving away from soon), but it definitely is handy in a number of situations.  On a cropped sensor camera, it works out to be roughly a 24-28mm lens, which is a nice range.

Canon 35mm f1.4L

This was my best discovery.  Now, given my photojournalism background, I tend to prefer wide lenses to long ones, but this lens truly takes the cake.  I should have had Marc take a photo of me coveting it, because that’s pretty much what I did the entire time I had this lens.  Even on a cropped sensor, this was really a phenomenal lens.  Here’s two very different examples of what it looked like on my cropped sensor 7D:

Battery Grip

I got this because everyone seems to swear by them, but I can’t say I’m a convert.  It adds bulk and weight to the camera, and I have so many spare batteries that really, the fact that I have two in the camera instead of one didn’t make that much of a difference to me.  I pay close attention to how much battery life I have left, and switch out at convenient times, so the extra life just wasn’t all that useful to me.  I’m also very used to shooting in a vertical position already, so the secondary trigger wasn’t that helpful.

Canon 7D

I already own a 7D, but I rented a second one as a backup for the wedding I shot.  I had thought that it would barely leave my bag, but in reality it was extremely helpful to be able to have a wide lens on one body and a longer lens on the other, and to be able to switch between the two focal lengths without switching actual lenses.  I’m hoping to get a new body soon, and I will probably keep my 7D around as a backup, even if it now feels like a bit of a redheaded stepchild compared to what I rented the second weekend, which was…


2014-05-15 13.12.40The Second Rental:

This rental was for my annual shoot at Fort Ticonderoga, one of my favorite clients.  I had an additional challenge this year:  a large portion of the shoot would take place at night, with minimal light, and with no flash allowed (I had to be as unobtrusive as possible).  I also originally was supposed to shoot the reenactors from within a boat, so wide angle was the name of the game for this shoot.

Canon 6D

Given the nature of this shoot, I needed something with great low light performance and a high ISO available with minimal noise.  Enter: the 6D

The 6D is the newer generation of my current camera, the 7D, and sports the same sensor as the much more expensive 5D Mk III, making it a full frame camera.  This was my first time shooting with a full frame for more than a few minutes at a time, and wow, I’m a convert.  This camera performed spectacularly at night, amazingly during the day, and has the first autofocus I’ve found that actually seems to think the same way I do (my 7D almost always has to be on single-point mode).  I didn’t think I’d be upgrading my camera body for another year or two, but after a week with this camera…I now realize that it’s pretty critical if I want to advance much.  Here are some of the low-light shots I took, in near complete darkness, at 8,000-25,600 ISO:

Canon 85mm f1.4

I rented this lens as a smaller, lighter alternative to carrying around my 70-200.  This was a wise move, and though I did use my longer lens, I found that the 85mm length, especially on a cropped sensor camera (making it roughly a 120mm lens), was a good length.  If it was a macro lens as well, it’d be a phenomenal pick for any camera bag.  I really enjoyed using it for portraits, especially since most of the other lenses I rented for the weekend were on the wide range of things.  It’s not too expensive of a lens but it’s still quite fast, so I consider this a very good choice for someone wanting a longer lens, and I’ll definitely rent it again.  Here are some of the portraits I took with it:

Tokina 11-16mm f2.8

I found less use for this lens than I thought I would, but that’s mainly because I constantly had the 35mm on the 6D, and with this lens on a crop sensor, the two are quite similar.  I did, however, occasionally put this lens on the 6D, and even though that resulted in some distortion, I did find it handy for super-wide context shots like these:

So, I enjoyed this lens, but if I do end up upgrading to a full frame camera like the 6D, I’m not sure how much use I would get out of it.  I highly recommend it for those folks out there with crop sensors, though!

Canon 35mm f1.4L

I have saved the best for last, here.  Rather than waxing lyrical about how much I am in love with this lens, I’m just going to show you how much more I shot with it than any other lens, over the last two weeks:

Screen Shot 2014-05-16 at 4.15.51 PM

Yes, I took over 70% of the photos I’ve taken over the last two weeks with just this one lens.  It’s sharp, it’s fast, it’s just…beautiful.  It’s also extremely versatile.

For instance, it looks equally good at close range:

as it does at medium range:

and as it does at a wide view:

So, I hope that at least some of you found this to be helpful.  If you would like me to continue to do gear reviews in the future, please let me know!

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About the author

Wilson Freeman: