Photographing a kite festival with the Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM and RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM lenses

A kite-handler is lifted off the ground by his circular, rainbow-coloured kite. Photo by Ulla Lohmann.
Canon Ambassador Ulla Lohmann captured the spectacle of a colourful Indonesian kite festival, as well as the action when a kite-handler was lifted into the air. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 36mm, 1/8000 sec, f/6.3 and ISO400. © Ulla Lohmann

"Kites are very important in Javanese society because of their connection to the gods," says Canon Ambassador Ulla Lohmann, who photographed a colourful Indonesian kite festival using Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM and Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM lenses. "People love to fly them."

During the dry season, when powerful easterly winds blow across Indonesia, kites dot the skies above rice paddies and homes. But they're not just the small kites you're probably thinking of. At the many summer festivals held annually around the country, spectacular traditional kites can reach 10 metres in length, large enough to lift people clear off the ground.

At Parangtritis Beach in the province of Yogyakarta, brightly-coloured kites of many shapes and sizes, some taking the form of fish, birds or dragons, are flown along the coastline set against a dramatic landscape where lush green hills meet volcanic sand and raging surf. This colourful, dynamic display proved the perfect opportunity for Ulla to test out two Canon RF lenses upon their launch – the Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM and Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM.

Colourful kites in the sky over a beach in Indonesia.
Using the new ultra-wide-angle RF zoom lens, Ulla captured the dramatic setting of the seashore festival. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 18mm, 1/500 sec, f/10 and ISO160. © Ulla Lohmann
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German photographer Ulla is best known for her dramatic images of the natural world, from snow-capped peaks to the molten lava spewing from volcanoes, which have been featured by publications including National Geographic and broadcasters such as the BBC. But on a recent trip to Indonesia to photograph volcanoes on assignment for GEO France, she took a trip to the coast to immerse herself in the world of Javanese kites at the Jogja International Kite Festival on Parangtritis Beach.

With fast-moving action, changing light conditions and bright colours to capture, it proved a great test for two new RF zoom lenses for the full-frame mirrorless Canon EOS R System – the Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM and Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM. Together with the upcoming Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM, a super compact 70-200mm tele-zoom, the lenses cover the entire range of most frequently used focal lengths in photography, from ultra-wide-angle to standard zoom, to telephoto zoom, all with a fast f/2.8 aperture.

For Ulla, the Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM and Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM gave her the flexibility she needed to capture the varied aspects of the event, from the dramatic setting to the unpredictable action as it unfolded and also the captivating details of the participants and their magnificent kites.

As colourful kites fly in the sky over a beach, they are reflected in the water.
There’s beautiful detail in Ulla’s wider shots of the kites reflected in the water. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 32mm, 1/640 sec, f/8 and ISO100. © Ulla Lohmann
Colourful buildings in a coastal Norwegian town seen from above. Photo by Richard Walch.

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Zoom over a wide focal range

When Ulla arrived at the kite festival, she was initially restricted to photographing from a distance behind fencing, along with ordinary tourists, but her camera soon generated attention. "In Indonesia, people love photographers," she says. "There are lots of people taking pictures, and they capture pretty much everything.

"So once people saw me taking pictures, a couple of local photographers were asking me what kind of camera I had and invited me to come in. I got access to the inside of the festival, even though I didn't speak a word of Indonesian. Photography is always a really good way of making friends around the world."

Colourful kites of different shapes fill the sky.
The resolving power of the new RF zoom lenses helped ensure crisp results even shooting handheld in the gusty conditions. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 30mm, 1/800 sec, f/7.1 and ISO100. © Ulla Lohmann
The setting sun is reflected in the water at the seashore.
The RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM lens makes the most of the EOS R’s low-light capabilities. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 70mm, 1/400 sec, f/20 and ISO100. © Ulla Lohmann

Shooting with the full-frame mirrorless Canon EOS R, Ulla explored the shoreline with the two RF zoom lenses. "I was using the RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM lens when I wanted to capture a lot in the image, such as for landscapes, while the RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM was my all-round lens for pretty much everything else," she says.

"It has an angle which is still wide enough to shoot in most situations and, at 70mm, enough zoom to isolate the subjects from the background, especially with the f/2.8 aperture. The bokeh worked really well, and I also like that that you can do a really nice sunburst on the wide-angle lens."

Ulla's focus was on the whirling rainbow kites soaring through the sky. "I was really captivated by the size and power of the kites, because they were so big," she says. "They had to have big tracks for tying the line. It was scary feeling the force of the wind. One time they were adjusting the lines and a man was even taken up into the sky – quite high actually."

Working close, Ulla caught the moment one of the kite runners was lifted off his feet, as well as wider shots on the Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM lens, showing the shapes and patterns of the kites reflected in the sea washing against the shore. As the sun started to set, Ulla was able to test the low-light capabilities of her equipment from a higher vantage point.

A view through stone towers over the jungle towards distant hills in the mist.
Ulla explored the landscapes in the area and took advantage of the new RF zoom lenses’ wonderful depth of field. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 50mm, 1/320 sec, f/8 and ISO200. © Ulla Lohmann

Pin-sharp images with 5-stop Image Stabilization at f/2.8

"Where the festival is held is a very important beach in mythology because there's a link between the volcano – basically the centre of the earth – and the Sultan and the beach," she says. "It's an important place for Indonesians and I tried to capture the special, mystical atmosphere with the images at sunset.

"One of the big advantages of these lenses is that you can open out to f/2.8, so you get wonderful depth of field, with a really nice blurry background. You can also use the lenses in low light without any problems, because they have Image Stabilization and are really fast, with beautifully smooth autofocus," says Ulla. "They work very well with the Canon EOS R, which is amazing at focusing in very dark environments."

The 5-stop Image Stabilization built into each lens meant Ulla was producing pin-sharp images, even during the fading, fast-changing light at sunset. "It is a big plus to have the Image Stabilization because it's not only better for filming, but also for low light. I was shooting images handheld at long exposures up to one second, to try it out. That isn't something I would have been able to do with previous lenses."

When examining her images on her computer, Ulla was particularly impressed with the sharpness and overall image quality. "The Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens is the sharpest lens I had worked with so far, and my reference point. The Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM lens is at least as good, and I think it offers a whole new world of possibilities."

A lone figure stands by a river at the edge of a jungle, with mist drifting low.
Ulla demonstrates convincingly why the RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM makes an ideal travel lens. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 59mm, 1/500 sec, f/7.1 and ISO100. © Ulla Lohmann

The future is mirrorless

Ulla is known for her intrepid photography, which brings her and her cameras face to face with the elements – wind, dust and even acid rain – so her kit needs to keep up with her. She is impressed with the robust build and durability of the Canon EOS R System with these lenses, even in the fierce winds and sea spray of the Indonesian seafront.

"We've had the Canon EOS R mountain climbing, on the paraglider and on a volcano. If a camera is not waterproof and weatherproof enough, within a very short time I manage to destroy it. But I've not destroyed this yet! For me, it works."

Up till now, the Canon EOS R was Ulla's go-to for more active shoots, thanks to its smaller size, but it remained a back-up body which she used with her existing EF lenses, using the Control Ring Mount Adapter EF-EOS R. Across her trip in Indonesia – plus another project documenting reforesting efforts in Madagascar – thanks to the new native RF lenses, Ulla found herself using the Canon EOS R without even reaching for her usual Canon EOS 5D Mark IV.

Looking out to sea from a rocky shoreline as the setting sun shines from one side.
Even in the high-contrast conditions of a sunset by the sea, the full-frame mirrorless EOS R and RF zoom lenses captured impressive detail in both landscape and water. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 35mm, 1/100 sec, f/8 and ISO100. © Ulla Lohmann

"In combination with these lenses, the Canon EOS R is definitely a camera to take seriously," she says. "It's fun to use – and if you have fun taking pictures, it's a different way of telling a story. I think the full-frame mirrorless technology, especially in combination with the RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM and RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM lenses, is the future, and I believe that every professional photographer should consider investing in the system and getting an EOS R at least as a second body.

"It's really important for professional photographers to follow the development of new equipment because it pushes your photographic abilities, possibilities and style. Everyone can compare technical specifications, but it's another thing if you have it in your hands, to try out and see for yourself if it's something for you. For professionals, there is always so much value in upgrading your gear and staying on top because you get new possibilities that other people don't have."

Written by Lucy Fulford

Ulla Lohmann's kitbag

The key kit pros use to take their photographs

Ulla Lohmann holds a Canon EOS R with RF zoom lens. Photo by Sebastian Hofmann.


Canon EOS R

A full-frame 30.3-megapixel sensor with impressive detail, ISO performance and Dual Pixel CMOS AF. Alongside the new RF lenses, Canon EOS R offers the ultimate shooting experience to take your storytelling further.


Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM

Canon’s fastest ultra-wide-angle zoom and part of a trinity of essential pro lenses, boasting superior performance thanks to a Nano USM motor, 5-stops of image stabilisation plus 3 Aspherical and 2 UD elements for stunning sharpness.

Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM

A professional 24-70mm zoom that is part of the new trinity of essential lenses alongside the RF 15-35mm and RF 70-200mm. Built to perform, the RF 24-70mm boasts a fast aperture and image stabilisation plus a Nano USM motor for silent focusing.

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