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  Reviews by: Antje  

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Tokina 35mm f/2.8 AT-X M35 PRO DX

Review Date: Jun 22, 2011 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

Pros: Excellent image quality, 1:1 macro, focal range gives "wider" macro look, sharp, good colours, not a lot CA
Noisy AF, of course neither IS nor USM, AF/MF clutch, plasticy (but still trustworthy)

I bought this lens to complement my Canon 100/2.8 L IS USM, the MP-E, and the 100-400 with 500D diopter I normally use for macro. I wanted the slightly wider, more 50ish look of this lens, and it really delivers... The perspective is noticeably wider compared to 100mm, which presents you with a different set of options. You can now show animals within their environment, or for instance flowers plus their surroundings.

What I love about this lens is obviously the excellent image quality. Already at 2.8, the lens is very sharp, shows very little CA, and delivers good colours. The focus, though slow and noisy, is quite snappy and actually focuses on what I want (using a Canon 7D). I'm not too fond of the clutch mechanism for changing AF and MF, but I can live with that.

On top of that, the lens is very small and light, so it basically comes along on every trip. It's just a no-brainer.

If you consider buying this lens as your first macro lens, please keep in mind that many insects don't really like being approached this close - you're almost touching the subject at 1:1. When starting out, or when you focus on insects (excuse the pun), a longer lens would be a better choice.

Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1-5x Macro Photo

Review Date: Jan 22, 2006 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $1,000.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Magnification of course, huge focus ring, stable foot, image quality
Foot interferes with camera and flash bracket sometimes

Okay, if you're looking for this lens, you probably know what to expect. This is a highly specialized macro lens. It focuses from 1x lifesize to 5x lifesize (and it does nothing else). So if you are looking for a more versatile lens, I'd recommend the two Tamron macro primes.
But if you really want to get close and personal, this is the lens for you. It can do what no other lens can do, and it will show you a whole new world. No matter what you are shooting, flowers, animals, products, this lens will take you closer and reveal detail you cannot see otherwise. That's what it was made for, and this is what it does superbly.

That comes with a price, of course. Focusing is very hard, especially in the field, and more so with moving subjects. DOF is extremely thin - you are close, and you deal with huge magnifications, and shallow DOF is the tradeoff. That said, this lens does everything to make focusing easier, it has a smooth, big focus ring that's a dream to use, even if you are used to the already great ring of the Tamron 180/3.5! And you can (and should) attach a good macro rail to the foot. What makes focusing really difficult is the lack of light - the more magnification, the more extension, and that means your viewfinder will get very dim when you increase magnification. In the studio, you can get around this by using lamps, obviously, otherwise, a flash with focusing light might help. I have to say you do get a feel for focus after a while, and it gets easier. A series 1 camera will obviously help too as the viewfinder is bigger and brighter.

Speaking of light: A flash can come in handy, but that doesn't mean that this lens *needs* a flash. No doubt, when dealing with moving objects, you will want a flash. But if your subject is stationary or light is abundant, shooting with available light delivers very pleasing results.
As I don't really like the rather flat lighting a ring flash produces, and as I don't like the price of the Canon twin flash, I have bought a Wimberley macro bracket to use with my 420EX. That works great - using a diffusor, you can produce very evenly lit shots because your subject is so tiny and the background isn't exactly spacious either. And using the flash tilted to the side, you can even produce dramatic rim lighting or, if you place the flash behind your subject, even backlight. When chasing critters, I appreciate the simplicity of the one-flash-setup very much, too, and the Wimberley bracket is a dream to use as it's both reasonably sturdy and versatile on and off the tripod.

That leads us to tripods: At high magnifications, you will notice that even slight wind or someone walking in your studio (in a massive German house! Smile ) will cause the image in the viewfinder to wobble. My cat has ruined a shot because she had wrapped her tail around a tripod leg. So you really need a good tripod and a great head. I'm happy with my Gitzo and the ArcaSwiss head.

A gadget I also found incredibly helpful is a remote release. Touching the camera quickly results in slightly OOF pictures, especially when you're working with shallow DOF. Apart from that, an angle finder might help you find the focus.

Oh, I almost forgot the most important part - the image quality is excellent. That's not easy for such an extreme lens, but Canon did a great job here. OOF backgrounds are smooth and pleasing, and in focus areas are crisp. That is, if you did everything right, if you stopped drinking coffee, did your yoga lessions, and purged your mind of all thought!

If you are a macro addict, you will very likely end up buying this lens. And I can tell you I love it. Every serious macro addict probably is also a masochist, and this lens really puts the pain into painstaking focusing. So what's not to love? :D

Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM

Review Date: Dec 18, 2005 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $300.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Sharp, fast, light, compact, USM
Feels a little wobbly compared to L lenses, of course

I mostly use this lens for low light photography, and it makes a great combo with the 20D. My copy focuses nicely and is actually quite sharp at 1.4 - of course the image quality improves when stopped down, but I'm already very pleased with the performance wide open. I made the jump from the 50/1.8 to this one mainly because of the focusing speed, I needed something that's able to track motion a little better. And it delivers. The bokeh is also a little prettier.
Overall, it has been worth the money. I sometimes wish it were built like an L lens, but then, it would also be considerably heavier. As it is, it's a great low light lens that is also pretty inconspicious, especially when used with the great high ISO capabilities of the 20D.

Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM

Review Date: Aug 24, 2004 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $700.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Sharp, good contrast and neutral colour rendition, good built quality, weather sealing, small and light, price, USM
Hood, relatively slow (f4), distortion (minor point to me)

I bought this lens because I needed something smaller and lighter than my Sigma 15-30 to take it on holidays, and I felt the need for some more mm at the long end. The extra 10mm at the long end made me skip taking the 50/1.8 with me all the time, something that was impossible when using the Sigma 15-30 because I really missed a standard lens or even a slight tele. The Canon 17-40 is a better compromise as an all-around lens than the 15-30.

The Canon offers a good, neutral colour rendition. As I actually liked the warm rendition the Sigma has, this is a minor point for me, but it may be important to you people out there so I mention it. Smile It's sharp of course, I think it's visibly sharper than the Sigma. The quality is excellent as is to be expected from an L lens. I took it to the beach with all the salt water spray and wind and sand with confidence (though I used a protective filter there as recommended). After handling this lens for a few days, you'll feel it doesn't need to be babied.

I bought it as a lens that doesn't take up much space and doesn't weigh much when hiking, and that's what I got. It's excellent as a walkaround lens, much more so than the big and heavy Sigma 15-30. It is slower than primes and also slower than its bigger brother 16-35, but offers a greater range and all of the advantages of being a zoom, of course, and that at a reasonable price. The lens is *much* less prone to flare than the Sigma, but it still is. Another advantage over the Sigma is the filter size, it takes 77mm filters just like my 300/f4. There is quite a lot of distortion at the wide end, but that can be corrected with Panotools.

The letdown is the hood, it's clumsy and not very effective. It gets caught in almost everything, including the bag, and fits poorly in about everything I own. But then, it does the job...

All in all, this is a relatively light, small and reasonably priced lens, sharp and contrasty and built like a tank. A wonderful all-around lens.

Tamron 180mm f/3.5 Di LD IF Macro Autofocus SP AF

Review Date: Jul 27, 2004 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $700.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Sharp, relatively light, good working distance (it's a 180mm after all), good colours and contrast, filter control, good focus ring (I like the clutch mechanism), accurate AF, easy to MF
Hood is huge! Lens doesn't feel very solid.

I don't think it's fair to compare this lenses AF with other telephoto lenses - after all, it focuses all the way from infinity to 1:1, and that takes some time! Smile Agreed, it focuses slowly, but it does so relatively quiet (no USM or HSM here, sadly) and when it stops, it usually is in focus even on my 10D. It's best focused manually though. The giant focus ring helps a lot, focusing is smooth and accurate even with the dim viewfinder of the 10D.
The build quality isn't very high, but then, this is not an L lens, is it. It's made of plastic - but it doesn't feel like it's going to fall apart any minute. I don't expect it to stand as much abuse as my 300/4 L USM. The tripod ring indeed is solid on my copy. Be prepared though that it does require steady support. A good tripod and head is mandatory here whereas its smaller brother, the 90/2.8, is far less demanding. That said, the lens is quite light - it's easy to lug around and to handhold when using flash. That's the good thing about the plastic casing and I do like it, my bag is too heavy already...
The image quality is superb, nothing less. The colour, contrast and sharpness are top notch, the detail is fantastic - what more can one want?
It comes with a nifty bag with a rather unique shape. The bag is usable though, well padded and easy to use. Another great thing is the filter control ring which allows you to control a polarizer with hood attached. Great, you would not be able to turn the polarizer with that huge hood otherwise.

Overall, this lens is recommendable, a very good macro lens with excellent working distance, sharpness and overall image quality.

Canon EOS 10D

Review Date: Feb 1, 2004 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $1,600.00 | Rating: 8 

Pros: Feels solid, ok menues, easy to use dials, has all the features I need, great accurate colours, very good image quality
ISO setting not displayed in viewfinder - accounts for some of my noisier pics... Sometimes I hate the write speed. Viewfinder could be better. Would have liked a spot meter.

A lot has been said about the 10D already, I'll just add my $0,02. Smile This is not my first SLR, I've owned a EOS 1000F and I have learned shooting with that really low-end camera. That's why I liked the 10D from the start and still do.
The camera feels very solid, it's very easy to hold and is heavy enough to feel comfortable with a heavy lens attached. The mount feels as if it's going to accomodate even heavy telephotos. The LCD is sufficient for what I'm doing, though I don't rely on it for DOF, colour and contrast - that's what I use the histogram for. The histogram is very handy, btw, it really helps in determining the correct exposure. Dials and menues are ok, though I'd wish for a better way to enable mirror lockup... It's not really a bother, though.
But how's the image quality? I actually like it very much. Given a good lens to work with, it provides sharp, smooth pics with accurate colours, and noise is very low up to ISO 400. The AF has been commented on a lot, but actually, coming from a low-end camera, I think the AF is sufficient for a camera of this class. The area it focuses in is bigger than one expects from the look of the boxes, that takes some time getting used to. The AF likes to lock on contrasty things, that's why it ends up focusing on the twig and not the bird, but that's true for AF in general. And the AF isn't as accurate as the 1D's - sure, that's why the 10D costs less.
One thing that does bother me sometimes is the viewfinder. My eyes are pretty bad, and thus I find it hard to focus manually with the 10D. With a split-focus screen it's no problem for me, but with the 10D I do have to rely heavily on the AF. Works out most of the time, though.

What I really miss is a spot meter. I often end up adjusting the exposure manually when I could just spot meter the subject and be happy. But that's maybe a pro feature I traded in for the lower price. Smile As is weather sealing. How I would love to be able to take it out into the rain without wrapping it like a Christmas present - but to be honest, I don't even own a weather-sealed lens so that's just a dream.

All in all, the 10D produces good, sharp photos with accurate colours, is quite easy to use and a good choice for anyone not willing to drop the extra cash for a pro body. It isn't perfect, there are things I miss, there are shot have missed because of inaccurate focus, but that's really really rare and would have happened to me with almost all non-pro bodies. I'm glad I have it and I'm having tons of fun with it all the time.

Canon EF 300mm f/4L IS USM

Review Date: Jan 19, 2004 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $750.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Sharp even wide open, of manageable weight and size, good lens hood, fast and reliable AF, seems sturdy
Makes you want more, longer L primes

I'm commenting on the non-IS version here which seems to be a bit sharper than the IS lens. Wondering why I have bought the non-IS? Well, obviously it's much cheaper which is a good thing European prices being so very high, and I didn't want to pay for IS because I use a tripod anyway most of the time. Plus, I shoot mainly small birds with this lens so I have to have a high shutter speed anyway. Oh, and I got it used.
How does it perform? Coming from a rather crappy Tamron 70-300 telezoom, I fell in love instantly with this lens. The viewfinder is much brighter of course, the AF is almost instantaneous and reliable most of the time, even with the 10D. It misses in perhaps 5% of all shots, and that's while shooting birds so I think this is quite good for this combo. Images are sharp straight out of the camera and need only very little post-resize sharpening. Colour is beautiful too, very natural, and it has a beautiful, smooth bokeh. Backgrounds are really really nice wide open with this lens. The tripod collar comes in handy actually, it feels bad flipping this combo even with my sturdy 3-way-head but with the collar, it's no problem at all.
I own this lens now for maybe three months and have taken around 1.000 shots with it, maybe more. I have never been able to shoot at apertures smaller than 5.6 in that time because of a particulary gloomy winter, but I have found the image quality to be outstanding even under these conditions.
The only thing I long for is more reach. This is the perfect lens for shooting small, relatively tame birds from a blind and maybe bigger birds like herons, but this prime makes me want longer primes desperately - so beware! Smile I found there isn't any noticeable deterioration in image quality with a 1.4 teleconverter, but focus tends to hunt in low light (which is what I'm shooting in now, actually) so you end up getting really sharp shots of the surrounding branches, not of the bird which is a shame considering what this lens can do without the teleconverter. It's a 10D problem too, no doubt, I'd think a 1D might perform better. I feel this lens was only the beginning, more L primes will no doubt follow.

All in all, it's a wonderful, reasonably priced lens that delivers outstanding image quality and has great AF performance. I can't think of things I don't like. I can only recommend it!

Sigma 15-30mm f3.5-4.5 EX Aspherical DG DF

Review Date: Sep 29, 2003 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $600.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Sharp, wide, sturdy, not expensive, picks up colours nicely
Heavy (the downside of being built like a tank), double AF/MF switch can be cumbersome (I don't care), huge and expensive filters needed (82mm), not exactly a low light lens (3.5 - 4.5)

In my opinion, this lens is excellent. It's built very well and the overall feel is that of a trusty tool. It's sharp and picks up colours very well. You may not even need a polarizer with that lens (though I plan to buy one eventually). If you don't want to use the drop-in filter drawer, filters like polarizers for that lens are very expensive because they're so huge, and you have to attach polarizers to the detachable hood that comes with the lens. That is a minor point for me though: I think the hood is essential because that lens is quite prone to lens flare. I keep a hood on every lens, and because I own a 10D, I don't have to worry about vignetting.
I took this lens on a vacation and used it mainly on landscapes. It did really shine, produced lovely images and was a joy to use. I got used to the Sigma oddities like ring direction and MF/AF switch very soon and don't even notice that anymore when shooting. I carried it in a Lowepro TrimTrekker backpack on long hikes and didn't notice the weight. I wouldn't recommend it as a walkaround lens though, it's too heavy to have it dangle from your neck.

Overall I'd say it's a sturdy, sharp and rather cheap WA. I haven't regretted buying it.