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  Reviews by: Andrew Welsh  

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Canon EOS 5D Mark II

Review Date: Jan 7, 2009 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $2,699.00 | Rating: 9 

Pros: THE LCD!!, new features over 5D, ISO6400!!, usable SRAW, video is a fun toy
No video controls (hopefully firmware updates can activate some controls?), my copy kept getting Error 20's which prompted me to return it.

Taking this gem out of the box I didn't realize how old and tattered my 5D was. The first impression I got was the relatively huge LCD.. its practically like having a plasma TV in your palm, especially coming from the original 5D.

I bought the 40D last year and love all the features on it- live view, my menu, the custom dial presets, EOS utility allowing exposures over 30 seconds (that was a stupid restriction on their older cameras, 5D included), 14 bit raws. The 5D II has all of these features plus more.

My particular copy got Error 20's during use, and it required a 20 minute break before it functioned again. The error occurred enough to make the camera unreliable for professional use (weddings), so I had to return it. Now I must wait.

Other minor nits:
- the AF/ ISO/ WB/ etc. buttons are all different on the 5DII. Different than the 5D and different than the 40D. Really annoying trying to use 2 different bodies at a wedding, constantly have to check which button I'm pressing.
- Live view works differently than the 40D, so I fumbled with that a bit at a wedding.
- Menus were perceptibly slow to transition-- I prefer a seemingly instant transition than the 1/4 sec delay. Even though it looks nice, it's unnecessary "gold plating"-- the software and camera are fast enough to be instant.
- I found the top control dial *easier* to accidentally rotate than any of my previous bodies (Rebel XT, 20D, 40D, 5D).

Hidden gems:
- ISO can be incremented in whole stops. Super annoying that you can't set this option on the 5D. I never use ISO 640 or 1000.
- Microfocus adjustment
- 3 Custom dial settings
- bulb exposures when using EOS utility and tethered to a computer. A big, big help for astrophotography

The LCD is awesome- did I mention that?

The image quality is great, just as good as the 5D. Color rendition seemed to be a little cooler than my 5D, could be a difference in the auto WB feature.

SRAW1 is great for weddings. I use the 40D professionally, so 10MP files are more than acceptable.

ISO6400 in a 4x6 print looks like ISO1600 on the 5D. Hardly any grain at all. It is totally usable for weddings, and that's like a 2-stop bonus. I don't like using 3200 on the 5D since it never "looks right" from an exposure standpoint. The dynamic range in the ISO6400 shots are much improved over 3200 on the 5D. I found ISO's above 6400 to be too noisy for use though, and "emergency only". I have yet to come across conditions dark enough to require 12800 or 25600.

Shot this camera mostly with a 300/2.8 paired to it, amazing stuff.

I highly recommend it if you can get one. $2700 USD introductory price is cheap, especially since the 5D debuted 3 years ago at a much higher price.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM

Review Date: Jul 29, 2008 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $300.00 | Rating: 9 

Pros: Good portrait focal length, lightweight, accurate USM Focusing, sharp.
None really, unless you're bugged by primes. Not f/1.4 like the Nikon version. Not good for astro unless stopped down to f/2.8. Prone to some purple fringing at high contrast boundaries below f/2.8.

Excellent dollar value. I wanted this lens for some time, and I wasn't disappointed when I picked one up used. The focal length is really great for portraits-- on a crop and full frame camera. It's like a 135mm on a crop camera, which, as many know, is a well-liked portrait focal length anyway.

Build is similar to the 50/1.4 and 70-300.. plastic + metal, but solid. It reeks of "middle class".. not the magnesium alloy of L lenses, nor the plasticy feel of the 50/1.8 or 35/2 or cheap kit lenses.

The extra focal length over the 50/1.8 means you have to be cautious about camera shake with slow shutter speeds (1/50 sec and slower). Sometimes I forget when I am shooting in dark reception halls this is the case-- and end up with slightly blurry photos. No fault of the lens though.

For portraits, the focal length is good.. it's a good working distance-- not so far that it's "distant" and not so close as to make a stranger / unfamiliar subject uncomfortable. I especially like the close focus distance, and I sometimes use this lens for detail photos at weddings. The focus speed is excellent as well, good for sports. So, for close focus distance and focus speed, this lens is superior to the far more expensive 85L.

For astrophotos, this focal length is a bit awkward-- wide but not wide enough. About the only subject that fits this lens on a crop camera is the north america nebula (NGC 7000 in Cygnus) + surrounding region. Perhaps the california nebula / pleiades and surrounding region, especially if you're able to go really really deep with your exposures to bring out to the dust lanes in the area.. but not much use beyond that. The lens is not optimized for infinity focus and requires stopping down to f/2.8 to get 'acceptable' sharpness (further down for better corner sharpness). Even the 85L needs stopping down to f/3.5 for a flat field on a 5D-- but this is for astrophotos only. However, for $300 I'm not complaining much-- if I'd bought the 85L I'd complain a bit more-- and I complain loudly for the 200/2 IS having this same problem... however this is a highly specialized application that most won't do or care about.

Overall I do recommend this lens for those looking for a nice thin DOF producing portrait lens. It really is an excellent value, especially when bought used. Indoor sports photographers with close access (think volleyball, basketball etc) can use this lens, as well as budget-minded portrait photographers.

Canon EF 200mm f/2L IS USM

Review Date: Jul 26, 2008 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $5,100.00 | Rating: 9 

Pros: Portrait/sports IQ, handholdability, Image stabilizer (truly is 5 stops), and oh the bokeh. It's everything everyone raves about the 135L, but on steroids with IS.
Cost, astrophotos show coma at f/2, f/2.2 and f/2.5 (lens is not optimized for infinity focus)

I posted a thorough detailed analysis and review here on my site including astrophoto tests.

There was great hope among astrophotographers because the fabled 200/1.8 is not-so-good for astrophotos at f/1.8 (it shows purple fringing due to the high contrast stretching normal to astrophotos). Of course stopping the lens down eliminates the problem, but one pays for the aperature-- you can buy a 200/2.8 for $400 USD used and shoot at f/2.8.. why pay ~$4000 for a 200/1.8 to have to stop it down to f/2.8 and get the same performance (for astrophotos)? Anyway, the hope was this lens would offer an improvement over the classic. My tests show it does not Sad and it may actually perform worse. Of course, stopping down to f/2.8 renders crisp flat stars across the field, but af f/2 to f/2.5, there's CA *and* coma.

What does this matter to anyone but an astrophotographer? Absolutely nothing. The 85L and 135L both "suck" as astrophoto lenses, in that you have to stop them down past f/2.8 to get a flat field, but no one complains about their portrait use! The 200/2 is no different. If you never take an astrophoto, you'll never see these problems. In every aspect other than astro, this lens is pure awesomeness.

The 200/2 is like the 135L but with IS, more reach, faster focus, better low-light focusing, and better bokeh due to the extra focal length. If you can handhold a 300/2.8 L IS all day, then this lens will seem light in comparison. I found it unnecessary to use a monopod/tripod.

I own the 300/2.8L IS and this lens is much better for weddings and portraits.. the IS is better on the 200 and the focal length is better. The 300/2.8 is superior for wildlife photos (more reach... the bare 300 is better than the 200 + 1.4x tc, 300+1.4 is better than the 200+2x tc, and 300+2x tc is better than 200+1.4x+2x tc), and the 300/2.8 is superior for astrophotos- more reach, sharp corner to corner wide open at f/2.8.

I rated it a 9 for price because Canon's initial pricing was way too steep ($6000 USD). At the time of my purchase (early July 2008) it had been on the market for 2 months and already dropped to $5500 USD. By the time I sold it at the end of July, B&H was selling it for $5400 USD. A more reasonable price for this lens would be at or near the 300/2.8L IS, ~$4000 USD. I also gave the overall rating a 9 due to the astrophoto torture test. The 300/2.8L rates a 10 in that category.

Indoor sports, event and wedding photographers can use this lens to great effect. You can't beat the extra stop of f/2 over the 300/2.8, and adding the 1.4x tc is 99% as good as the 300/2.8.

Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM

Review Date: Apr 9, 2008 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $3,400.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: What can I possibly add? All the hype is true. Makes a great astro lens too.
Weight, cost if you're not used to super teles. If you are, then the weight and cost are plusses!

An equipment measurbator's wet dream. If you take a bad picture with this lens it's your fault, not the lens' or the cameras. Haven't done many portraits with it but I don't doubt the wonderous bokeh, sharpness and color rendition this lens can provide. I need not worry about a bad copy, because there is no bad copy of this optical gem.

Optically, this lens is in line with the finest APO telescopes offered to the astronomy community too. Flat field corner to corner and mega-sharpness with zero CA's. Sure you might find a few optical warts at 500% zoom (thanks Jerry Lodigruss) but the same could be said for the Keck telescope. Excellent for astro wide open--- which is a claim that only a handful of lenses worldwide can make.

For sports, wildlife I will let the other experts weigh in on it but no doubt it's a ripper. It's not lightweight but you can handhold it with a little practice.

Note: this lens is not discrete. Crowds will part to let you up to the front. People will notice and make audible comments. Yeah, it's a status symbol like a Ferrari, so be prepared for the lovers gushing over it and the haters who want to steal it.

P.S> make sure you have a sturdy mount if you wish to do astrophotos with it :D

Canon EF 35mm f/2

Review Date: Apr 9, 2008 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $210.00 | Rating: 9 

Pros: Lightweight, fast prime, really inexpensive considering
Autofocus chirps a bit, similar to the 50/1.8. I find I twist the focus knob when trying to mount-unmount the lens from the camera, which is a bit frustrating.

Optically this lens is OK. I like the colors and sharpness the lens produces. I also like the FOV and focal length, although this is a matter of taste. Hood works decently and is non-obtrusive.

A good piece of equipment to try out if you're considering the 35L and don't want to risk the money. Relatively easy to pick up on the used market, and it's relatively cheap.

Build quality is on par with the 50/1.8, that is to say plasticy and light. Almost feels like something might rattle loose inside even though it doesn't. For $200 how much can I complain? I guess a little considering the 50/1.8 costs $80 new. Either way, this is a great little add to my kit and a nice low cost low light alternative.

Canon EOS 40D

Review Date: Jan 3, 2008 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $1,145.00 | Rating: 9 

Pros: FPS, 14-bit RAW files (big deal for astrophotos), live view, etc.. basically all the new features vs the 20/30D are a plus here. A superior camera next to the 20D, and makes the 20D look like a toy.
RAW files sometimes are flaky.. Canon's DPP sometimes can't read them... I'd heard reports of this from others too and I forget the solution. The copy I bought also had a backfocusing problem and had to be sent to the factory repair center for service.

It's very unlike me to go and buy the latest years' model. I prefer to buy a used item at a lower price... which I did in the case of this camera. 14 bit raw files, live view and PC exposure control with the Bulb setting ON (i.e. remote shooting with longer than 30sec exposures) are tremendous astrophotography advantages. Thank you Canon! I couldn't pass up these features for this hobby of mine.

14-bit raws and highlight tone priority will be helpful for weddings as well. The FPS hands down makes this a sports and wildlife camera for enthusiasts and advanced amateurs, esp. with the 1.6x crop. Affordable for mere mortals!

AF improvements are TBD for me, but the spec sheet from Canon sounds great.. I'll have to try it out once I get my camera body back from the facotry to repair my backfocusing problem.

Already these can be found used with very few clicks for $1100ish being sold here on FM and and the camera has only been out since September.

I like the feel of this camera better than the 20D. Just beefier. The shutter sound is less obtrusive but also less film camera like. So it will be less disturbing in situations where you need to be discreet. There are so many new features and upgrades in comparison to the 20D it's crazy not to upgrade if you have the funds.

Oh and the camera will cook toast and pour a bowl of cereal for you for breakfast if you ask nicely. It's that great. Buy it now, you won't regret it!

Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM

Review Date: Jan 3, 2008 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $810.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Best... lens... ever... (well, almost). Like everyone says, great bokeh, great colors, super-sharp, etc.
Awkward focal length on a crop camera for 3/4 or full body portraits, requiring you to stand 30 feet / 10 yards / 10 metres away. Focus sometimes loses it's mind w/20D using one-shot focus mode even with center point selected. The remedy is to aim at a higher contrast point to get focus "in the area" and try again. A little annoying.

What can I say? It lives up to its reviews. Pretty fast focusing even on a 20D. I have yet to try it on my 40D which is under warranty repair at the moment. The images from the lens let me pick a sharpening of 5 in Canon's DPP software and look stunning, which is astounding for me, since other lenses I've used look like crap with sharpening past 2 or 3! It seems to me anecdotally this lens out-resolves the 20D.

It's not without a couple of minor quibbles:
- awkward focal length for full body portraits on a crop camera
- focus occasionally loses it's mind and you need a really high contrast edge for the 20D autofocus to grab onto something. A little disappointing since I don't see the same behavior with the 50/1.8 and 85/1.8 on the same body with the same settings. Otherwise it's super-accurate even at f/2.
- Minor, minor purple fringing (1 pixel) on high contrast edges at f/2. Stopping down even to f/2.2 reduces this and it's gone by f/2.8. Other than for astrophotos, this will be a non-issue for most.

Overall for the price point, I'd recommend this purchase for anyone looking to fill the 70-200 focal length range with fast prime coverage. I feel this lens with the 85/1.8 (or the 1.2L down the road) will more than adequately cover this range for me at weddings.

Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM

Review Date: Apr 4, 2007 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $950.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Relative low cost gives you optical performance on par with $8,000+ USD 600mm/f4 lens
For astrophotography, the star diffraction pattern at f/5.6 is "chunky". Much nicer and symmetric at f/8. This is a higly specialized nit however

I did a review in the FM forums here before I realized I could post one here. I am using a 1.6x crop factor camera (Rebel XT)

In essence, this is a superb lens all around. The "US Treasury Department MTF Resolution Chart" (i.e. a $20 bill) tests bear out the fact that this is an outstandingly sharp lens edge to edge. In the most demanding-of-your-optics photography, astrophotography, this lens shines on par with far more expensive APO telescopes. And it autofocuses on bright stars using the Rebel XT. I can only imagine a 1D MkII strapped to this guy focusing on the dimmest of stars...

Fast focus, sharp images, blah blah I can't say anthing else here that hasn't been said. From an astrophotography angle, this lens will make an excellent open cluster / widefield nebula / large galaxy lens. Targets like the Plieades, North America Nebula, Andromeda Galaxy are perfect. And in the astro-world, f/5.6 is actually rather fast when compared to many scopes being f/10 or more.

I found the f/5.6 star diffraction spikes to be slightly asymmetrical, just not to my taste. Here's an example:
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Stopping down to f/8 (where the lens is sharpest anyway) the diffraction pattern is much nicer:
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As you can see this is an outstanding lens for the price!