The Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III Lens is all about speed and fast-moving subjects ideal for the 400mm focal length are scarce in my location right now. The race cars are all being re-built in preparation for the next season. With a layer of snow on the ground, outdoors sports are in the off-season. The ski slopes benefit from the snow, but the closest is hours away. The horses, however, are always ready for some galloping and provide a convenient subject for an AF performance testing session.
This American quarter horse's name is "Nugget", as in "gold nugget", referencing the coat color. "Gold" also reflects the parent's perspective of what it costs to keep a horse. The positive in this investment is that the kid's have had to do most of the horse maintenance work, teaching them responsibility and how to work hard. The horses are of course fast and fast makes them good focus performance test subjects. An added benefit of such testing is some nice pics of the kid(s), as long as the camera and lens perform well of course.
And to that matter, the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II and EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III Lens combo performed stellarly. They performed so well that they created a bit of a problem. It took forever to go through the well-over-2,000 images captured in this session as most were keeper-grade. With a great camera and lens, one's brain needs to be retrained to be OK with deleting really nice images. I keep telling myself that.
With steady lighting conditions (solid clouds), the setup for this shot was easy. Using manual mode, the shutter was set to 1/1600, a setting that I know works well for freezing galloping/cantering horse and similar action. The aperture was set to f/2.8 to let in as much light as possible and to create the strongest background blur possible. Having the shallowest depth of field possible also emphasizes the AF precision. The ISO was then adjusted until the snow was slightly overexposed, causing the brightest areas to blink while reviewing test images on the LCD. With the exposure locked in, I could concentrate on composition.
The AF mode was of course set to AI Servo (continuous) and the top-center AF point was selected with the surrounding points assisting (the horse bounces a lot, making it difficult to keep a single point on the rider's head).
While this camera and lens combination is handholdable, shooting it from a monopod is still more comfortable (especially for long shooting sessions) and doing so made tracking the subject easier.
Nugget was not moving very fast in this frame, but I liked the heavily-clouded sky in the background, making the subject pop with a bit of a high-key look. Note that snow is a great reflector and gives images a different look, usually in a positive way. I'll share other images of this horse in fast motion in the review. Some of these images will show another way this lens can make the subject pop – by strongly blurring the background.
A larger version of this image is available on Flickr.