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Canon EF 24mm f/2.8

Review Date: May 14, 2005 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $290.00 | Rating: 8 

Pros: very useful and good sprawl on 1.6x crop, "quick enough" focus, "sharp enough" wide open, sensational color and impressive contrast, good value, surprisingly useful for model photography (as described below)
cheap, marginal by exacting standards, somewhat softish wide open, minor CA and vignetting, no USM or FTM, slightly buzzy, don't take the crop factor for granted (as explained below)

This is a cheap lens that can prove terribly useful for those on a budget.

I learned about "cheap" with this lens - broke the focus ring the day after delivery. But I blame myself too, and the replacement's given me no trouble, though I think my first one was a bit sharper than the second.

By many standards, this lens will match or exceed zoom lens of comparable price (as a prime lens should). It's a little buzzy, but the main time you'll notice is when the autofocus loses its bearing and suddenly lurches way off target. Mostly, it focuses quickly enough and well. Some chromatic aberration in worst-case scenarios, but nothing awful or unexpected. Vignetting, even on a 1.6x crop, can be noticeable, mainly in sky shots, but gradual rather than sudden. (Might be unacceptably worse on a full-frame camera.) Undue distortion seems minimal - haven't really checked but also haven't really noticed, if you see what I mean. Flare seems average, perhaps better than one would expect from such wide glass. Bokeh is nonchalant, not dreamy but never intrusive.

But at the price, the positives make up for the negative and "average" tendencies. It's vibrantly colorful and contrasty almost to a fault. Hard light is a little more challenging with this lens. It's softish wide-open, but very unobjectionably - have yet to regret shooting at f/2.8. My main lens is a 50mm f/1.4, and switching back and forth on the same aperture setting is perfectly functional in practice. Lose a little crisp for taking in four times as much space, and that's a trade-off I can run with. (Their filter threads match too.) At f/4 and higher, I get "plenty sharp," though I've never seen "unreal sharp" from this glass (as I have from the 50mm).

"Crop factor" over-simplifies the effect of mounting a wide-angle lens on a 1.6x camera. Yes, the field of view will match 40mm on a full-frame, but the perspective will not, because you'll be closer to your subjects. Shooting living subjects (like bands, models, or street life) will require a learning curve, so beware mission critical work before you've broken yourself in.

That said, I bought this lens primarily for "head-to-toe" model shooting in my modest studio, and it's been a real asset. Interestingly, it tends toward a very useful "slimming effect" that makes hippy girls look more slender and shorter girls more ambiguous in height (at least at the "head-to-toe" distance from them). Disconcerting at first but terribly useful once you've gotten the hang of it. (Beware chicken legs or the reverse from dramatic perspectives.)

I read every review I could find before purchase, and this lens seemed to be a magic middle between the higher cost clarity of the 20mm and the cheaper lesser sharpness of the 28mm. Near as I can tell, I nailed it. This is not a spectacular lens, but a very very functional one if you need an affordable wider angle that generally won't let you down.

Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM

Review Date: Aug 2, 2004 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $290.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Excellent balance of quality to cost, lovely for portraits, versatile in low light, seems to be an excellent build for non-L
Soft wide open, but an entirely acceptable trade-off for the speed

To accompany my first dSLR, I researched for weeks to identify a single lens with an optimum balance of quality to cost. Settled on the 50mm f1.4 and could not be more pleased. And then, almost immediately, ordered a non-USM 24mm f2.8, and therefore have had another lens for comparing performance.

For my taste, found the 24mm almost TOO contrasty for people photography, and the 50's contrast entirely ideal. In every case in which they've been swapped in the same setting, have found the 50's contrast less harsh/more pleasing, and for color as well. Also, the micro-USM might seem like a concession to learned photographers, but feels entirely silky and swift to me (if not immediate).

Altogether, feel I've been blessed with an exceptional make of this lens. Band photography at f1.4 in low light turns out surprisingly well - soft when viewed at 100% on screen but only barely evident at 50%. And the shallow DOF creates a marvelous "illusion" of clarity that helps make up for it.

Model photography in the studio, ranging between f2.0 and f4.0, is a dream come true. At 2.0, it rounds the corner from soft to completely acceptable, and by 4.0, the results take my breath away. (Haven't stopped down any further yet.)

In over 5000 images reviewed so far, have found no chromatic abberation, no noticable barrel distortion at 1.6x, and minimal flare even when shooting straight into/askance from sunsets (unlike the 24mm, which seemed more "average" by this standard). And, of course, the bokeh is dreamily gorgeous. (The bokeh and micro-USM seem entirely worth the price over the 50mm f1.8.)

So my advice is that if you shoot people and can only afford one "starter" lens for a dSLR, you simply could not go wrong with this one. It's everything I hoped it would be and more. Had been a little concerned that 50mm x 1.6 might be a little TOO tight (hence the 24mm purchase, for "head-to-toe" shots), but really it affords plenty of room for wonderful portraits and performance photography.