The summertime in Indianapolis is one of the coolest things in the world I’ve ever experienced anywhere I’ve lived.  Not because I’m a big NASCAR fan either, but that’s a part of it since it’s race season; in the racing capital of the world.  The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is one of the greatest venues int he world (in my opinion).  The greatest Spectacle in Racing happens there every year, unlike the superbowl which happens someplace different every year.  Every year the Indianapolis 500 happens right here; in Indianapolis.  Anywhere in the world you could say the words “Indy 500” to someone and they will know what it is.  No other sport, or event has that kind of recognition.  Of course, that’s not the only race at the IMS, the Brickyard 400 is there too, and it’s easily one of the most recognized NASCAR races around too.  What’s the point if I’m not a fan, you might ask?  Every year I shoot the races as part of my employment with the Indianapolis Star and in this particular weekend I had a nice surprise on Saturday when going to the speedway.

That was my spot for Saturday, and my Spot for Sunday was just a little further South towards the pole sitters pit.  The spot wasn’t my surprise, although it was better than shooting in the pits like I’ve done in years past.  The surprise that I had was from my friends at Canon Professional Services who are at all of the Speedway’s events repairing and loaning out gear.  When I went into their office to have my 70-200IS1 cleaned they were incredibly gracious and loaned me a 1D Mark IV, a 70-200IS2, but most importantly a Canon 600mmF4 USM IS II, which the last I checked not many have been able to see in the flesh, much less shoot with.

(Canon 1D Mark IV, 400ISO, Canon EF 600mm F4L IS USM II, 1/800th@F4. Hand held)

When Mary brought the lens out from the back she said I was in luck since it was the new one.  I told her I would sit and hug it hopelessly for a minute and then she could have it back; only to find out that was the one they were loaning me for the race.  I originally saw one at the superbowl in February and was just as surprised then as I was this time when I picked it up to find that it was significantly lighter than it’s predecessor.  When I say that, don’t think I’m exaggerating out of excitement either.  It’s actually almost 30% lighter, meaning that it weights only 8.6lbs, down from the almost 12lbs that it’s predecessor weighed.  Frankly if there was one way that Canon could have improved upon their initial 600mm F4L USM IS lens, the weight was it; and they hit this one out of the park.

(Canon 1D Mark IV, 400ISO, Canon 600mm F4L IS USM II, 1/800th@F7.1.  Shot is a bit of an extreme crop, so I put the full size file for your ‘click to biggify’ examination)

It’s just as sharp as it’s predecessor which you would hope for, and usually the long primes are pretty fast and sharp as it is whether whether you’re shooting the Nikon or Canon variety.  The shot above is of Kroger President Bob Moeder starting the Inagural Nationwide 250 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (formerly the Kroger 200 at O’Reilley Raceway Park, later Lucas Oil Raceway).  If you do click to biggify like the shooting data suggests, you can actually see the cars in his sunglasses sharply, even in the extreme crop from 16 down to 3 megapixels.  Even though the shot is sharp, I may have to get Canon’s 800mm the next time I’m up there to see if I can get in a little tighter.  Maybe if I’m really lucky NPS might loan me a Nikon 800mm if those ever materialize to see if I can do it with theirs.  Plus the Nikon’s D4 will focus with lenses down to F8 so if I need a little more reach I can always use a teleconverter…..Even on the 800mm.  That’s all probably just a wild dream and also completely beside the point since I’m sure that Bob will like the shot of him above it when it gets sent to him.  Not to mention that I got started on this topic because of how sharp that image is.  Of course, if you’re going to play $12,999 for a lens; it better be freakin sharp.  That shot of Bob starting the race is at F7.1, but the shot of Danica is wide open at F4.  Here is the 100% crop of the earlier shot of Danica.  Looks plenty sharp to me for a shot taken hand held with a 600.  Took lots of em too, since I was shooting tight and I wanted to make sure I got a reasonable expression, as well as her GM in her sunglasses.

(click to biggify for maximum sharpness-ness checking)

How’s that for reach?  The lens wasn’t all I needed for the day, in some cases it would have been nice to have the 800mm (these are first world problems aren’t they?  ehhh the $13,000 600mm isn’t enough, how about the $14,000 800mm??  In some cases I had to break out my Canon EF 1.4x II teleconverter, and actually I think that the new 600mm actually performed better than the old one with the version II teleconverter in both Autofocus, as well as sharpness.  Canon’s 1.4 Teleconverter version II (at least my copy) is usually a little soft at ALL f stops.  At least at 100%.  Overall it’s still very useable, which is why like many other photographers I use it when needed, but not more.

(Canon 1D Mark IV, 400ISO, Canon EF 600mmF4L USM IS II with a Canon EF 1.4x II Extender making the focal length 840mm.  That coupled with the APS-H sized sensor in the 1D Mark IV means I was shooting at a total of 1,092mm)

So how’s that for a reach out and touch someone combination?  I shot the above photo from across the track about 5 stories up on top of the grand stands.  I Liked the shot I had of Brad Keselowski actually drinking his Miller Lite after opening it while standing on his race car, and I knew how great of a shot it was because a TV camera on a boom managed to swing perfectly between me and him during that time and TV got it.  That’s how I judged it, because if someone else got it from my angle it must have been a good shot right?

(Canon 1D Mark IV, 400ISO, Canon EF600mmF4L USM IS II, 1/5000th@F4)

Despite all the previous pictures, I DID actually see some race action in the pits like you can see above; or more notably HERE.  Either way, Canon’s new 600mm F4L USM IS II is fantastic.  It’s got a great reach to it, it’s lightning fast as it should be, and it’s sharpness definitely doesn’t disappoint for a lens as expensive as it is.  Was the old version bad?  Not at all, in fact I had the old one for most of the day of the Brickyard 400 race because one of my coworkers had much further to travel than I did and we thought it would be better for him to carry it out to his spot in the heat being so much lighter.  Brand new, the version 1 was about $9500 as compared to the new one at $12,999, so if you happen to find a used version 1, you’ll probably find it for about $9k would be my guess.  If Money is no option get the new one, the super lightness of it is where it’s at.  If, like most of the world, you’re on a budget; then for $9k the Version 1 is an outstanding lens and not a bad investment in the least.  Pay less, get a heavier one.  Pay more, and you’ll get a light one.  Just depends on what you want.  If you do happen to want to buy one though, go to Roberts here in Indy and online.  Great people and they will assure you that your hard earned cash is going towards exactly what you’re looking for; and if they think you would be better off with a lesser expensive lens, (as there aren’t may more expensive than this 600mm), they won’t hesitate to tell you.  If anything, they will just get you as excited as Matt here.  No, being that excited isn’t as bad as you think.  More Soon.