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Undercover at the KGB Bar

A week ago Friday I was at the KGB Bar on East 4th in NYC to photograph writers reading from their works. The light in the bar was as low as low can get. Not wanting to disturb the activity with a flash, I had the bartender turn all the fixtures up full. This provided the bare minimum of light needed to work (ISO 3200, the limit on my Canon 1Ds Mark III’s.)

85mm f/1.2L II, f/1.2 @ 1/60
85mm f/1.2L II, f/1.2 @ 1/60
85mm f/1.2L II, f/1.2 @ 1/60
85mm f/1.2L II, f/1.2 @ 1/60
85mm f/1.2L II, f/1.2 @ 1/60
85mm f/1.2L II, f/1.2 @ 1/60

As fun as it is to be a fly on the wall with the 85mm f/1.2 II lens, it was a blast to continue to push the new 70-200mm f/2.8 IS II and the new 24mm f/1.4 II lenses to their limits.

70-200mm f/2.8L IS II, 135mm and f/2.8 @ 1/10
70-200mm f/2.8L IS II, 135mm and f/2.8 @ 1/10
70-200mm f/2.8L IS II, 100mm and f/2.8 @ 1/8
70-200mm f/2.8L IS II, 100mm and f/2.8 @ 1/8
70-200mm f/2.8L IS II, 150mm and f/2.8 @ 1/40
70-200mm f/2.8L IS II, 150mm and f/2.8 @ 1/40
70-200mm f/2.8L IS II, 70mm and f/2.8 @ 1/10
70-200mm f/2.8L IS II, 70mm and f/2.8 @ 1/10

Probably not a big surprise but there was more light on the street at 9pm than in the bar. These images are at ISO 1600.

24mm f/1.4L II, f/1.8 @ 1/40
24mm f/1.4L II, f/1.8 @ 1/40
70-200mm f/2.8 IS II, 70mm and f/2.8 @ 1/15, ISO 1600
70-200mm f/2.8 IS II, 70mm and f/2.8 @ 1/15, ISO 1600

Both lenses are great improvements over their predecessors. The 24mm f/1.4 II is just shy of the new 24mm TSE II lens in terms of quality. It has little to no chromatic aberration, less distortion, and is noticeably sharper overall. Wide open it has none of the fuzzy hazy dreamy look common to Canon’s older f/1.4 lenses.

The 70-200mm f/2.8 IS II builds on the previous generation (a very good lens in its own right) and kicks it up a few notches. It’s sharper, focuses faster, and as seen above, it extends the IS range. Getting sharp images at 1/8 second with the new lens is very easy. The old model lens was about 2/3 stop more limited, with it 1/15 second handheld was my limit.

The new 70-200mm f/2.8 IS II is also a more consistent focuser than the old version. My copy of the old version would often have trouble with vertical images. It was not uncommon to get a vertical sequence which would miss focus when a horizontal sequence of the same subject was fine. I have yet to have this occur with the new lens in three weeks of shooting.

I assume the 70-200mm f/2.8 IS II and the 24mm f/1.4 II both have Canon’s new lens coatings, similar to the 24mm TSE II and 17mm TSE. I don’t know how they work but work they do. Combined with the lower distortion, images from the new lenses feel crisper and more three dimensional.

All of the images above were processed in Aperture 3 with no noise reduction and only a touch of sharpening added to the sized-down jpegs.

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