Tools Of The Trade:Canon 600mm f/4
In surf photography, size matters. That might be one explanation why Canon’s 600-millimeter f/4 super-telephoto lens is the undisputed heavyweight champ of surf photo gear. Its ability to get up close and personal with almost any wave on Earth has made it the choice of every great surf photographer alive. In fact, surf photographers who don’t own a 600 are often passed over for magazine travel assignments. It’s almost as if there’s something incomplete about photographers without access to the white beast.
Because of its massive telephoto power and hefty weight (over twelve pounds), the 600 is exclusively a land-based lens. While it’s unable to literally get in the barrel with a surfer like the compact and lightweight fifteen-millimeter fish-eye, the distance from its subject provides several photo opportunities per wave instead of just one, as is usually the case with wide-angle water photography. Its great focal length also makes for a unique perspective on action, flattening the depth of field and giving the image a look that’s more natural to the human eye.
When mounted on a late-model Canon EOS camera body, the 600’s focusing reflexes are catlike, perfectly making minute adjustments as the subject it’s focusing on moves unpredictably through space. And with several fluorite and UD optical elements, the lens’ f/4 rating provides it the ability to get a tack-sharp image in most lighting conditions.
Canon’s magical creation does have its downsides, though. Aside from its price tag ($10,000), massive thirst for electricity (due to the size of the lens, the auto focus system can suck a dozen AA batteries dry in a half-hour), and size (it travels in a suitcase big enough to hold a tenor saxophone), it’s also a sure target of petty thieves, and acts as an anchor when its owner’s trying to escape a pack of unfriendly locals. Also, when you’ve got the sunshade on it, its NASA-esque appearance makes it a beacon for amateur photographers who, upon seeing it, suddenly feel the need to talk to you for hours.
The 600 f/4 is a proven combat veteran, and while the world of photographic equipment changes on a daily basis, the Moby Dick of lenses won’t be going anywhere soon … not if surf photographers have anything to say about it.-Joel