300mm vs 200mm (L): The Harvest Moon

200mm f/2.8
Shutter: 1/160, Aperture: f/2.8, Lens: 70-200mm, ISO: 400

We got lucky and caught the blue moon (second full moon in a given month) when it was a harvest moon (bright orange). Today is August 31st, the day of Neil Armstrong’s memorial, so it was fitting. I ran out with my tripod and shot the moon with both my 75-300mm f/5.6 and then with my 70-200mm f/2.8. Check out the comparison below.

Drag bar back and forth to see. Does not work in Safari.

LEFT: Shutter: 1/30, Aperture: f/5.6, Lens: 75-300mm, ISO: 400
RIGHT: Shutter: 1/160, Aperture: f/2.8, Lens: 70-200mm, ISO: 400

When I got my first DSLR, I was heading on a trip to Africa and I knew I needed a zoom lens. I was jumping in to the DSLR world blind, and got the longest zoom I could afford on short notice. So I bought the infamous 75-300mm f/5.6 on Craigslist for $100. It worked great in Africa (nice sunlight, amazing subjects) but after I started paying attention to what lenses and, more importantly, aperture does for the image, I started looking at better glass. After renting a 70-20mm f/2.8 (L) a few times, and booking a few paid gigs, I decided to make the investment and get my own. Again, I turned to Craigslist and got that lens gently used for $1100 (no IS). The original owner used it only 3 times and then stowed it in a closet. It is now my baby. You can see what spending $1000 on glass will get you. But it gets even more apparent.

Moon Comparison

Mathematically the 300mm image in the slider comparison should have been sharper, as the source image was larger, and I had to compress it to be the same size as the 200mm. The image on the right (200mm) was taken just about 45 seconds after the image on the left (300mm). Both images were shot at 18 megapixels (5202 X 3465). Now to be fair, if you’re planning on shrinking the image for web resolution, the sharpness isn’t that different. But the image at original resolution looks a bit blurry. (below)

300mm moon original size
300mm original resolution

The Canon L series is the professional grade level for each lens they make. They are the highest quality lens Canon makes for each focal length. (And they are designated with a thin red ring) Typically the price increases with the aperture. The better the aperture, the thicker the glass, and more difficult it is to manufacture. Look at the popular Nifty Fifty. The entry level 50mm f/1.8 is around $100. The next step up is the 50mm f/1.4 ($400) and the L Series version is 50mm f/1.2 ($1400). That’s a prime lens with a fixed focal length. The reason why the 75-300mm which technically gets you closer to the subject is $1000 cheaper than the 70-200mm is because the aperture isn’t that great. Honetly, f/5.6 kinda blows. With the L series 70-200mm f/2.8, the aperture sticks at f/2.8 at both ends of the zoom. You can also see that the glass is just sharper. So the money really goes into the aperture, but you can see how valuable it is. (to make things more confusing, there is an L series 70-200mm f/4 L)

Fisher Price Kid-Tough, Shutter: 1/10, Aperture: f/2.8, ISO: 60

Even after all of that, I’m really the most proud of this image. When my five year old son heard I was going to take pictures of the moon, he wanted to grab his camera and come with me. Shooting the moon with my son will go down as one of those classic moments. Plus I think I can use special times like that to justify the cost of a 400mm f/2.8 to the wife. $12,000. Shoot for the moon.

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2 Responses to 300mm vs 200mm (L): The Harvest Moon

  1. Aaron says:

    That’s an amazing difference! I love the sharpness using the L lens.

    FYI… the image comparison doesn’t work in Chrome either. Had to pop open Firefox.

  2. Hey there just wanted to give you a brief heads up
    and let you know a few of the images aren’t loading properly. I’m not sure why but I think its a
    linking issue. I’ve tried it in two different web browsers and both show the same outcome.