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4 Lessons from Experimenting with a Canon 800mm Super Telephoto Lens

It's important to develop an aesthetic and a shooting style for your brand, but equally as important to push boundaries and experiment. So on a whim, I emailed our friends at LensProToGo and asked to borrow an 800mm super telephoto lens. They said yes!

 

Trying new gear, like new lights, new background paper, or a super-specialized $13,000 telephoto lens, can help keep things fresh and inspire creativity. We learned some good lessons from shooting with the 800mm Canon f/5.6 super telephoto lens, and we boiled it all down to four main takeaways for this post.

Background compression

With a lens this powerful, you can create some wild optical illusions. I knew the fundamental rule that zoom lenses will flatten out images, but I had never used a lens that compressed everything like the 800mm.

During our time with the 800mm, we successfully recreated the iconic landing strip scene from the movie Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

 

We also recreated the "hamster wheel" visual effect from The Graduate, when the main character, Benjamin, is running towards the camera, and the visual effect communicates that he's not getting anywhere.

Every lens can help to tell a different story visually. The lack of depth in each shot was new and fun to work with. The gears started turning for me and our creative director, Dan, when we began to imagine different ways to use this flattened image effect in a video.

"Every lens can help to tell a different story visually."

Stabilization is hard

I knew that getting a steady shot would be a challenge with this beast of a lens. So I mounted the lens on the largest tripod in our fleet. Even with the lens on the tripod and the lens image stabilizer turned on, it was so incredibly difficult to eliminate camera shake.

While we were outside, the wind was knocking the lens and causing shake. Inside the office on the second floor, the camera would shake anytime someone walked within 25 feet of the camera!

I must be doing something wrong here. How do you get stable video footage with this thing?! If you know how… let us know in the comments.

In the end, I had good luck applying the Warp Stabilizer plugin to our footage in Adobe Premiere. This did a dang good job smoothing things out and minimizing the jello effect.

Sneaky shots are fun

Within the first few hours of renting this lens, we began sneaking around the office, shooting footage of teammates from way far away. Once we set up the shot, we'd send them the "you're on camera!" message on Slack, and they'd start searching for us. The aha moments were pretty hilarious.

 

Being able to shoot from that far away and still get a quality close-up image was totally eye-opening. It was an entirely different shooting experience to be a fly on the wall. Just like in the movies, you really could be inconspicuous with this lens and still be getting super sharp close-up visuals.

"Being able to shoot from that far away and still get a quality close-up image was totally eye-opening."

With all that being said, this lens is truly made for the great outdoors. The Wistia office is pretty big and all, but the 800mm wasn't even breaking a sweat shooting all the way from one end to the other.

Experimentation breeds creativity

For me, this is where the real takeaway is. New gear will give you new perspectives, which ultimately supercharge creativity. It's like a crazy powerful brainstorm session.

In a business setting, it can be hard to justify spending time experimenting, but the truth is, the new ideas, team-building, and creative energy that these sessions inspire make it all worthwhile.

If you're eager to try some new gear, I highly recommend renting. It gives you the opportunity to try something on, see if you like it, and return it at the end of the day.

Do we know how we'd use this super telephoto lens for a business video? Not yet. And while the 800mm lens will never make my desert island gear list, I'm really happy to have experimented and ventured past the 200mm mark.


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