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Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L USM

Review Date: Aug 1, 2007 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $1,099.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: It's a Canon L-series lens...that says it all!

Price paid is in Canadian dollars.

I've drooled over this lens for some time, wanting it not only for the wide-angle capabilities but also to complete my "Canon holy trinity" of f/2.8 zooms. The price, unfortunately, was out of my range. Recently, though, a Canadian dealer reduced the price almost in half as it cleared its inventory of Mark I's. Naturally, I jumped at it.

I haven't had much chance to play with this lens but I'm impressed with what I've seen so far. It has typical L-lens build quality and feel. Image quality and sharpness is also what I'd expect from a "red-ring." However, I've so far been using it as a landscape lens in the f/8 to f/11 range, so haven't been able to test its performance at wider apertures.

I was surprised at how small and light this lens was. Most of the size comparisons I've seen have placed it alongside the 24-70 f/2.8L (which I also own). I expected it to be almost as big and just as heavy as my "brick." In fact, the 16-35 is a real featherweight. It feels odd carrying it around when I'm used to having the much heavier 70-200 f/2.8 or the 24-70 f/2.8 dangling from my neck most of the time.

My only real complaint - and this has nothing to do with the lens itself - is that it's not quite wide enough on my Rebel XT. Almost, but not quite. In certain situations I've found myself reaching for my Sigma 10-20 instead. Six millimetres is a huge difference, and one that can easily turn an "awesome" shot into a "breath-taking" one. But landscapes are a secondary concern for me: the primary use for this lens will be interior and group shots where it will easily outperform the Sigma.

Do I regret not waiting until I could afford a Mark II version? Not really. A savings of $900 on a top-of-the-line zoom lens is hard to pass up. The 77mm filter size is another plus - no need for additional and expensive 82mm filters or step-up rings. As for any improvements the Mark II might offer - well, the way I see it is that Canon shooters were content with this lens for quite some time so there's no reason that I won't be content with it either. I don't need the latest and greatest, nor do I feel the urge to keep up with the Joneses. I'm sure this lens will more than meet my requirements. Besides, did I mention the $900 savings?

Sigma 10-20mm F4-5.6 EX DC HSM

Review Date: Jul 21, 2007 Recommend? | Price paid: $699.00

Pros: Build quality, HSM

This is an update to my previous review. Some comments may be repeated.

I borrowed this lens twice for informal field testing and read and re-read countless published and online reviews before finally purchasing it ($699.00 price is in Canadian dollars).

I like the build quality - sturdy, solid and the zoom and focus controls are smooth and well-damped. HSM is fast and responsive. The inclusion of a case and lens hood are an added bonus.

In bright sunlight this lens gives deep, saturated colours, especially blues and yellows. Perhaps it underexposes by default but the results are quite pleasing. I can get "Mediterranean skies" even without the use of a CPL.

The extreme wide angle makes for sweeping vistas. It also allows one to get extremely close to a subject yet still include the entire subject in the frame. This is handy when you either don't have the room to back up or, as in crowded spots, where backing up will cause people to come between you and the subject.

Negatives continue to be the front lens cap design (difficult to add/remove with hood installed) and the variable aperture. A constant f/4 would have been nice: however, as a landscape lens, I don't foresee using it much below f/8 or f/11 (my EF 16-35mm f/2.8 will cover low-light duties). Besides, I knew it was a variable-aperture lens when I bought it, so there is little sense griping about that point!

Distortion can be a little tricky. Over 15mm, it is negligible but from 10-15mm great care must be taken. The distortion is not easily corrected by software. Holding the lens level, in most cases, causes the horizon to split the frame across the middle - counterintuitive for most of us who, by instinct, want to emphasize either ground or sky or follow the rule-of-thirds. It takes a little getting used to. But the distortion can also be fun to play with, whether for getting "extreme angles" on a subject or simply to add some playful elements to portraits.

I finally bought this lens because I wanted a UWA but my desired Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8 was out of my price range. Also, I knew I needed something a little wider than 16mm for my Rebel XT's 1.6x crop factor. As fate would have it, I picked up a 16-35mm Mark I, brand new, on clearance special for almost half-price just a week after buying the Sigma. Had I bought the Canon first I wouldn't have bothered with the Sigma 10-20. Although my bank account will suffer for a little while, I'm glad I ended up with both. Because of my shooting style and preferences, I fully expect the 16-35mm to get more use than the 10-20. However, the 10-20 will fill a niche: I've already had a couple of instances where it was the only lens in my kit that could pull off a shot, and I'm sure I'll have a few more of those down the road.

All-in-all, this is a nice little lens. It does have its faults but if you can live with them, or work around them, you'll enjoy using it. Because it's both slow and variable aperture I wouldn't recommend it as a general purpose lens. However, as a UWA landscape lens, or simply as a fun lens where distortional effects can be used for effect, it nicely fills a niche.

Sigma 10-20mm F4-5.6 EX DC HSM

Review Date: Mar 16, 2007 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 7 

Pros: Price (in relation to Canon EF-S 10-22mm), build, hood and case included.
Soft, poor lens cap design, slow (aperture).

I briefly tested a Canon-mount version of this lens. I was looking for something cheaper than Canon's EF-S 10-22mm and wider than either the 17-40 f/4L or the 16-35 f/2.8L.

The build quality seems good, much better than Canon's consumer lenses, including the under-built and over-priced EF-S 10-22mm. Like others, I don't like the lens cap design but that can be easily and cheaply remedied. It's nice that Sigma includes both a hood and a soft pouch. Lens extension during zooming is minimal, and internal focus is a great feature. Controls were smooth and responsive. AF was fast on my Rebel XT/350D. Distortion, in my opinion, was acceptable.

Unfortunately, the test photos I took told another story. Images were soft at all focal lengths, even at f/8 and f/16. Although I know I am not comparing apples to apples, I was amazed to see that this lens was softer at f/8 and f/16 than either my EF 24-70 or EF 70-200 are at f/2.8. That just isn't right, even for a consumer-grade lens. I have read many of the complaints in this and other forums about softness and quality-control issues with lens. I don't know about the quality control, but the softness is definitely real and definitely an issue.

I'd like to conduct more tests, if possible, just to be sure that my initial findings were correct. However, from what I've seen so far, I'd be hesitant to buy this lens unless I was guaranteed a sharp copy. And that's too bad because, otherwise, I think this would make a great lens.

Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM

Review Date: Dec 19, 2006 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $1,379.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Exceptional image and build quality.

I needed something wider to compliment my 70-200mm f/2.8L USM. I looked at a number of options, including other Canon models (EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 and EF 24-105mm f/4L IS) as well as Tamron's 17-50mm f/2.8 and 28-75mm f/2.8. I kept coming back to this lens.

The Tamrons, despite the significant difference in price, simply didn't have the same feel as the Canon L-series lenses. The EF-S 17-55mm was rejected since I can't use it with my 35mm film camera. The 24-105mm f/4L, although being a very nice lens, was also unsuitable: IS and an extended focal range just don't make up for the loss of one f-stop and the nicer bokeh for portrait work.

Some people complain about the weight of this lens but, compared to the 70-200mm f/2.8L, it feels significantly lighter. And, being shorter than the 70-200, it also seems to be better balanced on the RebelXT. I also don't see the over-sized lens hood as an issue since it remains fixed as the lens extends and retracts during zooming. Instead, I see this as additional protection for the barrel when it's extended and, more than likely, at its weakest.

Some people also complain about the focal range being "odd" or "impractical" when used on a 1.6x FOVCF body like the RebelXT (38-112mm equivalent). Personally, I find the "roughly" 35mm wide-end acceptable for group shots and some interiors (larger rooms). I don't do a lot of landscape photography, so don't lament the loss of the 24-35mm (35mm equiv.) focal range when used on my RebelXT (of course, I still have that capability when used on my film body). I like the fact that, when used on the RebelXT, this lens extends well into the focal range generally used for head-and-shoulder portraits, meaning it serves well for both full-body and close-up portrait work.

This lens performs just as well as my 70-200mm f/2.8L. Images are sharp, even wide open, and contrast and colour saturation are great. AF is quick and responsive. I love the additional option of Full-Time Manual, which is great in low-light and low-contrast situations.

What more can I say - I think this lens is fantastic!

Canon EF 75-300mm f/4-5.6 III USM

Review Date: Dec 4, 2006 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $229.00 | Rating: 3 

Pros: Cheap, light, extended focal range, great for beginners.
Soft with noticable vignetting (on full-frame cameras) over 200mm. Soft wide-open.

I bought this lens when money was tight and I was desperate for a replacement for my older 70-210 Magnicon.

I have the non-USM version, so I won't comment on AF or noise.

This lens has cheap build quality and fair to average optical quality. It is soft over 200mm, although the softness is much more noticable on digital than film. It also suffers from vignetting over 200mm but, fortunately, 1.6x FOVCF cameras like the Rebel XT/350D eliminate this problem with their smaller sensors. Images also tend to be softer wide open but, as anyone will tell you, this is a problem inherent to even the most expensive zoom lenses.

On the good side, this is a great lens for beginners, especially those who want to take a slow, measured approach to acquiring their photographic skills and equipment (ie: start at the bottom and work your way up gradually through better equipment as your skills improve). It is very light and lacks the bulk of L-series zooms, making it both inconspicuous and easy to carry around for extended periods. The large zoom factor and extended focal range also make it a good walkaround lens where portraits, sports, wildlife and similar styles are concerned. Obviously, its use for street photography and landscape work is limited. Likewise, it makes a good general-purpose telephoto zoom for the "weekend snapshot" type photographers who aren't as concerned about image quality, etc, but do want to capture shots of their kids' sports activities or take the odd bird/animal picture during Sunday hikes at the park.

Image quality is drastically improved by stopping down to f/8 or so. This, combined with the fact that it's already a "slow" lens, means it's best used outdoors in bright sunlight. Camera shake also becomes an issue in questionable light: it wouldn't hurt to have a tripod handy to help maximize sharpness. Be prepared to use high ISOs most of the time when hand-holding this lens.

If you take your photography a little more seriously you will either find this lens to be extremely limiting or will quickly outgrow it. In this case, I wouldn't recommend it: save your money for an L-series lens. Or, look at some of the third-party offerings instead (Sigma, Tamron, etc). Their higher-end glass is still cheaper than Canon's L-series lenses but offers improved build and optical quality over this and other Canon consumer-grade lenses.

To those people who complain specifically about cheap build-quality, slow AF, slow apertures, and poor image quality - you get what you pay for. Don't expect L-quality results from a bottom-of-the-line consumer lens (either quit your bitching and buy the best to begin with, or learn to work with what you have). But, don't dismiss this lens, either. As I noted above beginners, "snapshot" photographers or those looking for a cheap telephoto zoom to toss in their camera bag, will find this lens will do as good a job as any other consumer-grade 75-300mm lens. Even more serious photographers can still use it if they accept its limitations and work within them rather than against them. This lens can take some excellent shots when used properly.

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L USM

Review Date: Jul 2, 2006 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $1,200.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Sharp, fast (large max aperture), fast AF.
Must remove lens from camera to add/remove tripod collar.

I just purchased this a couple of weeks ago. I'm still getting used to the size and weight but do not find it as large or as heavy as I first expected. I have been using it as my primary walk-around lens and am not overly troubled by the weight, even after carrying it for several hours. It does make one stand out, though, which is rather unnerving for someone like myself who prefers to remain inconspicuous.

I'm amazed at the sharpness of this lens. I've mostly shot wide open or at f/4 and find it as sharp as my 50mm f/1.8. My Rebel XT is set at Parameter 2 (no in-camera sharpening or other adjustments) and I have yet to add any sharpening during post-processing.

The AF, compared to my previous non-USM consumer grade lenses is extremely fast and accurate. I can easily track the action at soccer and football games - the few shots I've lost have been due to my own carelessness and not any faults with the lens or autofocus.

My only major complaint, at this point, is that the lens must be removed from the camera in order to add or remove the tripod ring. It's not a difficult or time-consuming process, but I am worried about getting dust in the camera or on the rear element.

I had originally planned on purchasing the much cheaper 70-200mm f/4L USM but decided to make the jump to the f/2.8 while I had the chance. I'm glad I did as that extra stop comes in handy, not only for indoor/low-light photography but also for adding great bokeh to portraits.

This is my first foray into L-series glass - I'm hooked! Even though money is tight and I'm just an amateur photographer, I don't think I'll ever look at another consumer-grade lens again!