Thanks to Paul, I was able to use the most amazing lens the other night for football. I am talking about Canon's 400 mm f 2.8 monster. 11 of the 15 photos I submitted to the paper this week were from that lens!
To be sure, there are certain limitations to using this beast. It is heavy to lug around and and does not offer any zooming capabilities. That means that you do not move around following the action in the same way as with my usual arsenal. BUT, these design limitations also bring out the strengths that this lens gives the sports or wildlife photographer. My venue was a very darkly lit HS football field (ISO 3200, 2.8, 1/250th in the bright areas, ISO 6400, 2.8 1/320 in the dimmer places for you photo geeks).
There are a couple downsides to using this lens:
It is large and heavy, about 18 inches long and 12 pounds before you attach a camera to it. You absolutely need a good monopod, because all movement will be magnified, and that includes camera shake. I turn off IS, but YMMV.
Being stuck at 400 mm means you are literally watching the game through a straw. I missed a few shots because I was watching the action unfold through the lens. To master this lens, you really need to use both eyes. And to shoot the game, you really need a 70-200 (which I traded to use this lens :) in addition to the 400. Pro sports photographers lift weights and juggle to get ready for game night! Where I normally carry two cameras, I now understand why the pros carry three.
What made this lens such a joy to use?
Instant acquisition of focus. There was only one time that the lens had to hunt for focus so long that I noticed it. If I owned the lens or used one regularly, I would very much enjoy the <Focus Preset> feature and <AF Stop> buttons on the lens.
An aperture of 2.8 means that the backgrounds were beautifully blurred, eliminating all the distractions that ordinarily hide back there. That translates to sharply focused subjects that are easily separated from the background.
Incredibly sharp detail. Yes, calling this lens "razor sharp" is appropriate. Since my personal style is to shoot "long and tight," I can quickly see the difference between this beast and the 100-400 that I normally carry.
Color faithfullness. Not only were the details in sharp focus, but the color distrtibutions were correct. This was perhaps the first time that I did not have to color correct a whole bunch of pictures when I got home.
You really only notice these things when you can actually compare the results you get with inferior equipment. I usually use a 100-400 mm lens that is pretty good, but much slower than the EF400 2.8. Now I know what my pictures would look like if I had the better gear .....
I guess its time to win the lottery!