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  Reviews by: Chris Bennett  

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Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM

Review Date: Dec 17, 2008 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

Pros: Excellent sharpness, even at maximum aperture. Great peripheral illumination, contrast and very good flare resistance. Almost no rectilinear distortion. Very high build quality. Much cheaper than its predecessor.
Some CA, though pretty tightly controlled.

I have not being using Canon wide angle lenses much in the past few years, particularly for critical work like architecture where the detail extends to the edge of the frame. Canon (and Nikon for that matter) have not been able to make a critically sharp wide angle lens for the 35mm format. I have used Carl Zeiss Distagons for this. There are Leica lenses which are also suitable but they are more expensive. (The Zeiss lenses aren't cheap either but, together with the superb Canon sensors, they are [arguably] able to take on the job of a very expensive medium format setup).

In my opinion, the EF14mm f/2.8L is the first Canon wide angle lens which truly does justice to its remarkable full frame sensors. This is a superb wide angle lens by any standards but when you consider that it is their widest rectilinear design, and therefore the hardest to re-design, it gives you faith that Canon has taken up the wide angle challenge seriously. Next will be the 24mm f/1.4L II, I hope Smile

The new 14mm is beyond comparison with the old one. It is much sharper, especially at the wider apertures. It has less vignetting, more controlled chromatic aberration, higher contrast and costs much less. The current L series ultra-wide zooms are arguably better optically than the old 14mm whilst being more versatile. Not so with the new design. It has excellent sharpness, even at maximum aperture. the peripheral illumination, contrast and flare resistance are vastly improved. Unless you are very close to your subject, there is almost no rectilinear distortion.

This is a workhorse lens for me in my architectural and landscape photography assignments. I would highly recommend it to any photographer needing this extreme angle of view. You can get pretty creative with such a perspective too.

Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM

Review Date: Dec 17, 2008 Recommend? no | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 6 

Pros: Fast aperture. Good flare resistance. Good colour.
Random focusing. Mediocre performance wide open (sharpness, CA, fall-off). Price.

I won't add any details to the many posts about the complex focussing issues of this lens except to say that you shouldn't expect too much when trying to autofocus with this lens. I have calibrated it to my 1Ds MK III and 5DMK II bodies multiple times. The best hit rate I can get from either camera at wide apertures, (spot on focus) is about 60-70%. That is if I choose an optimal working distance. In my case I mostly need to use it between 1.5 and 2 meters. Use the lens at a different distance at your peril. This is very poor when compared to my MK 1 85mm f/1.2L. That lens design is about 20 years old and at nearly twice the focal length for the same maximum aperture, it's much more impressive, (a beautiful lens). You would think that Canon could have actually produced an equal or better lens in an easier to design focal length after 18 years or so.

Your other choice is the EF 50mm f/1.4. Unfortunately this lens isn't perfect either. It's focus accuracy was no better in my tests. It is not capable of being quite so sharp wide open (neither are really sharp), and it is prone to flare. Having said that, it is about 1/4 of the price, half the weight and its image quality is actually better when stopped down past about f5.6. This is a lens that every serious EOS photographer should consider. It's a bargain. I use both lenses but when I need a sharp 50mm and can get away without autofocus I put on my old Carl Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 Planar. The difference wide open is night and day. This is much sharper than the Canons, albeit warmer.

I think Canon should have done the right thing by its "L" series customers and recalled the EF 50mm f/1.2L to fix the focus issues. The same could have been said of its predecessor, the 50mm f/1.0L but that's a different story . . . .

Canon EOS 5D Mark II

Review Date: Nov 29, 2008 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $2,600.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Class leading image quality. Build quality. Clean high ISO files, Remarkable video quality. User interface. Screen in varied light. Size and weight. Modular system with grip.
Availability (currently). Poor histogram display. Small AF area.

The original 5D broke new ground by making Canon's unique and outstanding 35mm chip affordable. It really leapfrogged the, then top of the line EOS 1 Ds Mk II by improving on its image quality in low light and adding a more advanced user interface and a larger screen. I loved my 5D. I had it since it was launched. When the 1Ds Mk III was announced. It promised a similar jump while giving back the tank-like build and reliability of the 1 series cameras. This came at a greater price of course. I have been shooting exclusively with the 1Ds Mk III since it became available. It was hard to imagine how to significantly improve it as a high resolution DSLR until the 5D Mk II was announced. This camera promised to do the leapfrog thing again.

I am happy to say, after just two days of owning my new 5D Mk II that it is clearly the leader of the pack in terms of image quality. The feel of the 21 MP chip has not changed from the 1Ds Mk III but it does it at comfortably a stop and a half less light. I think I'm being pretty conservative in saying that. Exposure, colour balance, contrast and saturation all required very little tweaking when processed through an Adobe Raw pipeline. Very nice images, straight from the camera.

The user interface is much evolved from the original 5D though it lacks some of the high end features on the current one series cameras. This is totally understandable considering the price difference. There is a lot of talk about the new screen with resolution to match Nikon's recent cameras. It is a great screen but the older 3 inch screen from the 1D/s III cameras did a fine job. This one is impressive in its visibility in bright light. I thought the auto brightness might be a problem when judging exposure but, in reality, I think it works very well. The menu system is up to date with the EOS 50D which means it is pretty easy to get to where you want. My major gripe with all of the recent EOS cameras is that the histogram display has a background which is very dark grey against black. Like most of us, I don't care so much about the middle of the graph but I really need to see the clipping points at each end. The display might look cool but a really important piece of shooting information is compromised for the sake of styling. Come on Canon!

The AF is very similar to the original 5D though there are some reported upgrades. By comparison with 1 series cameras, its relatively small diamond of 9 AF points seems a bit limited. In reality it works fine for most situations this camera is intended for. It does seem more snappy than my 5D Mk I did but that is pretty subjective. It is a good autofocus system. Frame rate is up slightly to 3.9 fps. Though not the highest by any means, this is fine. Sports photographers should be looking at other Canon cameras anyway. It's actually very impressive considering the enormous files. The 1Ds Mk III uses two processors to achieve 5 fps.

The live view is improving all of the time. Canon has been behind Sony and Nikon in this area. Now there is a form of autofocus but it isn't going to break any speed records. It is a big design challenge to acheive this off the sensor that is recording the final image. This is really only important in movie mode. I'm not a movie make (though I do have some experience), but all I can say is, believe the hype! The first clip I shot was in virtual candle light. Shaky, yes but so clean and sharp. As this is not a dedicated movie camera and Canon, quite understandable doesn't want to destroy their other markets, the camera lacks many of the control features of a dedicated video camera. You can't change frame rate and focusing options are limited but all in all this 1080p HD capability is a very generous gift from Canon. The camera is superb value. Get on the waiting list now.

I can't wait to see what the next generation of one series cameras have in stall but for now, I'm going to use this little beauty to evolve my career.