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Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM

Review Date: Dec 19, 2007 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $1,100.00 | Rating: 9 

Pros: Great color/contrast/sharpness, rugged build quality, weather-sealed, useful focal range, useable at f/2.8, good lens shade design.
Some distortion at the wide end of the zoom, would be nice to have IS.

This is an outstanding lens, a true work-horse. The 24-70 is my most used lens. When combined with the 16-35 and 70-200 (f/2.8 IS), these lenses form the core trinity of my lens collection and are used for 80% of my work.

I have used this lens under extremely demanding conditions and have never had a problem. It has been subjected to continuous salt spray for days at sea, snow storms, downpours, freezing conditions, and some hard knocks. The solid, weather sealed construction can take the punishment and just keep on going as if nothing ever happened. The lens shade is well designed and protects the front element very nicely, especially at the telephoto end of the zoom range. I don't enjoy carrying the weight of this lens all the time but will glady shoulder it if that is what it takes to get such a rugged piece of glass.

I can depend on this lens not only when dependability is critical but also when image quality really matters. The color/contrast/sharpness are very good and the pictures have a natural, but slightly warm, overtone to them.

In spite of the many strengths, there are a few minor draw backs with this lens. These include some moderate distortion at the wide and of the zoom and slight softness at f/2.8, although the images are still very useable. The bokeh at 70mm is not quite as smooth as my 70-200 at 70mm, but then again, they are completely different lens designs. Without a side-by-side comparison I would never think the 24-70 bokeh was lacking.

Sometimes I wish that this lens came with the same focal range, same f/2.8 aperture, but also included IS. But I guess this would make for a very heavy lens and would drive the reasonable price up.

Overall this lens has a wide variety of strengths that overshadow its few minor weaknesses. It is an essential lens for my work and has never failed to perform when it really mattered. I would recommend this lens if you need the best standard f/2.8 zoom available for your Canon body. I use mine with 5D's and have been very satisfied.

-Dan Doucette

Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L USM

Review Date: Dec 17, 2007 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $1,400.00 | Rating: 8 

Pros: 16mm on full frame provides interesting perspective, well built, weather sealed, fast and accurate auto focus, 77mm filters are compatible with other L zooms, useful focal range, great auto focus.
Needs to be stopped down significantly to reduce soft corners, purple CA fringing with high contrast edges, distortion at 16mm, expensive.

Many aspects of photography are a balance of compromises, and this lens is no exception.

This lens has great strengths, like its ultra wide field of view, focal length range, fast f/2.8 aperture, solid construction, weather sealing, fast/accurate auto focus, and generally good color/contrast/sharpness.

But with these strengths one must accept and deal with its weaknesses, including soft corners, purple/blue CA along high contrast edges (in corners), and expensive price tag.

In spite of these weaknesses, I depend on this lens and use it a lot; regularly getting great results from it. For landscape work, I usually stop down to f/11 or f/16 for maximum depth of field. Even here, limited edge softness can be seen when used on a 5D full frame sensor. If edge sharpness is critical to a shot I try to be at f/5.6-11 for best results. For shots where edge sharpness is not critical I can open up to f/4 with confidence and f/2.8 in a jam.

Distortion is a bit of a problem especially at the wide end of the zoom range. I notice this most with landscape work but can always fix it with Photoshop.

As I said, this lens has many strengths to offset its weaknesses. It's exceptionally well built and weather resistant. The focal range is incredibly useful for my photography and the f/2.8 aperture is sometimes a shot saver in low-light, hand-held shooting situations. The colors and contrast, while distinctive from my other L zooms, are great, and the sharpness is generally good.

I have no desire to carry extra filters specifically for one lens, so I appreciate the fact that this lens shares a 77mm filter size with the rest of the L zoom line. This is part of the reason why I choose not to upgrade to the newer version of this lens (with its 82mm filter thread).

This lens, plus the 24-70 f/2.8L and 70-200mm f/2.8L IS form the core trinity of my lens collection and are used for 80% of my work. I would be lost without it (them).

For me the extra expense of this lens over the 17-40 f/4 is worth it. The extra stop can sometimes get a shot that would otherwise be missed.

-Dan Doucette

Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM

Review Date: Dec 17, 2007 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 9 

Pros: Useable at f/1.4 and great by f/2, solid build quality, very good image quality, great bokeh for a 35mm lens.
A tad soft at f/1.4, expensive, extra care must be given to proper shooting technique when using wide open, should be weather sealed

For my style of photography I shoot primarily with f/2.8 L zooms. I switch to a few more specialized primes only as needed. For me, the 35L is one of those specialized lenses. I use it when I need to shoot hand-held in low-light conditions, or if extra shallow depth of field is required at this focal length.

I used to carry the 50mm f/1.4 and the 24mm f/1.4 for these occasions but found the image quality of the 50mm to be seriously lacking in the f/1.4-2 range (where I needed it to be good). This left just the 24L, which I liked, but was too wide to be a one lens solution for my low-light, hand-held shooting. The 24L was also a bit soft wide open under some conditions.

I was able to borrow a 35L to try for a few weeks and was hooked. I sold the 50 and 24, bought a used 35L and have not looked back. I can use this lens wide open and get good results, but I try to stop down to f/2 if possible to increase image quality a bit.

I did need to send this lens in for repair as the AF unit was causing every 5th shot or so to be out of focus, even under great lighting. The repair was made and I have not noticed a problem since.

I shoot with the 5D and find that for best auto-focus results in poor lighting I must use the center focus point and not the less-sensitive peripheral points. This requires using the focus-recompose technique that can sometimes result in out of focus results in shallow depth of field situations, but so far this has not been an issue for me.

Some people say this lens it tack sharp wide open. My experience has been that it provides useable results wide-open, but still sharpens up some when stopped down a bit. Overall it's a great lens, with very good color, sharpness, and contrast, smooth bokeh, and is built to last.

I would recommend this lens if you need the f/1.4 capabilities, are looking for a top quality lens, and can afford the investment. It will help you get shots that would otherwise be missed.

-Dan Doucette

Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM

Review Date: Feb 16, 2007 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $310.00 | Rating: 8 

Pros: Affordable, small, lightweight, discreet, portable, f/1.4 for use in a jam, did I mention how affordable it is? It's very affordable.
Poor image quality in the f/1.4-f/1.8 range, just acceptable build quality (but what do you expect for this price).

I bought this lens to use only in the f/1.4-f/2 range when lighting conditions fell below what I could hand hold my f/2.8 zooms in. I never used it in the f/2.8-22 range (except for tests). My comments about this lens must be viewed from the perspective of only using the lens for hand-held, low-light, indoor/outdoor shooting.

I have mixed feelings about this lens.

I love the small size and light weight. It is somewhat discreet and unimposing. I could carry it in a pocket if needed. The price is amazingly affordable for a f/1.4 lens. The colors and contrast that the lens produces are great. It's a fun lens to use and small enough to go everywhere. When stopped down below f/2, the image quality is good and below f/2.8 its great. But I was not using the lens often at these stopped down apertures.

I was using it almost exclusively in the f/1.4-f/2 range for low-light, hand-held shooting, and often at these apertures, the image quality was not good enough for my needs. The lens was soft in the f/1.4-f/1.8 range and produced halos around bright highlights. Sometimes there was a "dreamy" overall softness and "smudging" in pictures at f/1.4 The lens, at these wide apertures, works best for pictures where the subject is close to the camera. As they get farther sway, the image quality degrades significantly. People say that you need to stop this lens down a bit to get good image quality and they are right, but I did not buy this lens to use it stopped down, I needed f/1.4-1.8 performance, and in this respect the lens was lacking.

I ended up selling it (and a 24L) and getting a 35L (with provides better wide aperture performance). The results, for my demanding low light shooting are much better.

I still recommend this lens, but with a note of caution. Its a great bargain because it's an f/1.4 lens for $300. In many respects the lens performs great, like when stopped down a bit to f/2. The colors and contrast are good. Just don't expect stellar performance from a $300 lens when shooting at f/1.4. I wish it had performed better because it was a great little lens to use.

-Dan Doucette

Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L USM

Review Date: Feb 16, 2007 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $1,120.00 | Rating: 7 

Pros: Very fast (f/1.4), well built, good wide field of view, great bokeh (difficult to achieve with a wide angle lens), good colors
Mixed sharpness performance in the f/1.4-f/2 range (not always as sharp as I needed), auto focus sometimes off a bit (which shows in wide aperture shots), vignetting (unavoidable with fast, wide angle lenses).

I bought this lens to use specifically when lighting conditions fell below what I could hand hold my f/2.8 zooms in. As such, I can comment only on the lens' wide aperture, low light performance. I never used the lens for any shooting in the f/2.8-22 range except for a few tests. I always used it exclusively in the f/1.4-f/2 range.

With that restriction in mind, my experiences were as follows:
This lens can be a life saver when you need wide angle coverage in low light situations (ie, when flash is not allowed, it's inappropriate, or would alter the mood of the picture too much). Sometimes I would find myself maxed out, shooting at ISO 3200 and f/1.4, and still getting slow shutter speeds. Nothing but a fast lens can help you in lighting like this (it's not always feasible or possible to use a tripod).

I have mixed feelings about this lens in relation to the results I got in low light. Sometimes the pictures were simply amazing, with the lens being very sharp at these wide aperture settings, but other times I was underwhelmed by the rather average results I was getting. By "average" I mean that they were just borderline acceptable for me. Sharpness was often just mediocre. But then again, in some situations, especially with close to camera subjects, it could be great. It was a bit frustrating, because I was using the same shooting techniques and the results were varying. With all my other lenses I never have problems getting consistently sharp images, even with other f/1.4 lenses.

The bokeh and color that this lens produces are very nice and smooth. I love a wide angle shot with good bokeh and this lens does it. The lens is well built and solid. It's comfortable to use and feels good on the camera. The few times I took pictures stopped down, the image quality was very good, but that's not what I got this lens for, so I did not use it stopped down very often.

I had the chance to use a 35L for a couple weeks and found that I was getting consistently better results from it when shooting in the critical f/1.4-2 range. After about a year, I sold my 24L and bought a 35L instead. It was a difficult decision, as I liked the 24mm focal length better. In the end, I decided that predictable and sharp results were more important. The 35L seemed to produce a higher percentage of sharp usable images in the small aperture range I needed to use it in.

I still recommend this lens but with a note of caution. It's the fastest wide angle lens in the Canon line up (as of Feb 07) and can produce very good image quality, although sometimes at wide apertures it lacks a bit of sharpness. I found it very useful for low light indoor/outdoor photography. In the end, consistently sharp, wide aperture results were more important for me and the 35L seemed to have an edge in this respect.

-Dan Doucette

Canon EF 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye

Review Date: Feb 15, 2007 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $580.00 | Rating: 8 

Pros: Good image quality (sharp, good contrast/colors), small/compact/light-weight, offers 180 degree field of view and interesting perspective/distortion
Very annoying lens cap, no USM motor makes for noisy focusing, front element could get damaged because it protrudes (unavoidable), build quality is just acceptable

This is a very specialized lens. It offers a 180 degree field of view and interesting perspectives and distortion. It is meant to be used sparingly, when the right situations present themselves. As such, I tend to only use it occasionally, (as most pictures do not benefit from the distortion, and perspective that this lens offers). But when the time is right, and the situation calls for the unique fisheye characteristics, it can produce very memorable images.

The lens is decently built, although the auto focus ring could be better. The front element protrudes (unavoidable for a lens with this field of view) and I sometimes worry about damaging it when I'm using it. The very small built in lens shade is really to protect the front element, and not to block flare. When it comes to flare, I find that this lens can handle it pretty well, even when shooting directly into light sources, (which you often will when your lens takes in such a vast field of view).

The image quality is good. Sharpness, contrast, and colors are all fine; I have never noticed them lacking. The front lens cap is prone to falling off, so I keep the lens in a small pouch when it's stored in my camera bag. Tape or maybe an elastic band could help hold it on.

For the limited amount that the average person will use this lens, the price is a bit high. This is probably due to the fact that Canon sells fewer units of a specialized lens like this then they do with a more conventional model (ie 50mm f/1.8 or f/1.4).

I shoot with full frame 5D cameras and bought this lens so I could capitalize on the wide angle potential of the full frame sensor. If used with crop sensor cameras, the value of the fisheye lens might be less, as you end up essentially with a wide angle lens with tons of distortion (distortion that can be removed with software). In my opinion, one of the main reasons to use a fisheye lens is to accentuate the distortion, and a full frame sensor can do this to best effect.

So overall, I don't use this lens often, but in the right situations, I have been able to make some really good photographs with it. It's good to have one around, just for those times when its unique effects are called for.

-Dan Doucette

Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM

Review Date: Feb 15, 2007 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $1,100.00 | Rating: 9 

Pros: Image quality (impressive contrast, sharpness, and colors), affordable price, solid build, relatively lightweight (portable/hand-holdable), fast auto focus, built in lens shade, easily removable tripod collar
Only f/5.6, no IS, minimum focus distance, not weather sealed (but improving any of these aspects would probably make the price skyrocket and it would no longer be such an affordable L telephoto)

I don't do much wildlife, bird, or sports photography, so I don't often need a telephoto lens longer than 200mm. However, there are always times when something longer comes in handy, especially when using the full frame 5D that does not offer any crop factor.

I needed a long lens that was affordable (no sense spending tons on a lens that would see limited use), would be light/small enough to carry (in anticipation of those times when it would be useful), and that could offer good image quality.

Initially I wavered between the 400mm f/5.6 and the 300mm f/4 IS. In the end, I decided that I could add a 1.4x extender to my 70-200 f/2.8 IS to effectively get a 280mm f/4 IS with acceptable image quality. Therefore the 400 f/5.6 seemed to be a better solution for me. In hind sight I believe it was. (The 70-200 with a 2x extender offered poorer image quality than I was willing to accept).

As it turned out, the 400L offered exceptional image quality and build quality. The colors are great, the sharpness is fantastic, (great wide open, and improving only marginally as stopped down), and the contrast is amazing. The overall image quality is very high (it sometimes surprises me). This lens is extremely well built and offers very fast/accurate auto focus. I like that the tripod collar can be removed without taking the lens off the camera. The built in lens shade (very convenient) offers great protection from the elements and flare is rarely a problem.

I have used this lens in many challenging situations where only a lens as long as the 400 would have gotten the shot. It has proven indispensable on several occasions.

The lens is not weather sealed, (which would be useful for a lens that will see mostly outdoor use), but so far this has not been a problem for me, even when using it in rain or on boats at sea. Some people may find the minimum focus distance to be too great (I have on occasion) but usually this is not a major issue either.

This lens offers acceptable image quality when used with a 1.4x extender. (You lose auto focus with the Canon 1.4x extender and a 5D, but can regain limited auto focus operation by covering the three contact pins on the left side, when the front of the extender is facing you, with tape). With the extender your maximum aperture becomes f/8, so you'll need good light.

Sure I would like IS in an f/5.6 lens (it would be very useful), and/or a faster aperture, but these features would drive the price higher, and because I only use this lens for specialized occasions, I would not want to have a more expensive lens sitting around unused so often. But if there were an IS version, and the price was not too much higher, I might think about upgrading.

The lack of IS or a faster aperture can be overcome by boosting your ISO. With the 5D I can use ISO 800 and 1600 with confidence, knowing that image quality is usually very good at these settings, with relatively low noise.

Overall, I am extremely satisfied with this lens. In spite of it's limitations, it offers many strengths. It's a real bargain as far as telephoto lenses go. You can get amazing results when proper telephoto shooting technique is used. Although it sees only limited use with me, the results speak for themselves. This has become an important lens for me when 200mm is just not long enough.

-Dan Doucette

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM

Review Date: Jan 18, 2007 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 8 

Pros: Very sharp, good contrast, lightweight, affordable, fun to use.
Unusual/poor bokeh characteristics at times (see below), relatively short camera to subject distances (but unavoidable without longer lens). Build quality is just acceptable (but don't forget the reasonable price of this lens).

Overall this is a great macro lens at a reasonably affordable price. It has great sharpness, very nice contrast, and is relatively easy to get good results with, (provided you use good macro shooting technique). The lens is light enough to be carried often, in anticipation of those times when you will find a use for its macro capabilities. The build quality is acceptable, especially for the price, but is certainly not "L" construction.

I use this lens only for macro shooting, so I can not comment on its capabilities and handling in conventional shooting situations.

The only main problem I ever find with this lens is unusual out of focus highlight points. Sometimes when grains of sand, dew drops, rain drops, snow/frost flakes, etc. are out of focus in the background, the spectrum of light breaks down and you can see each color that makes white light, as if the light were passing through a prisme. It's odd, and showns itself to lesser or greater extents depending on the strength of the highlight point. Larger areas of bright background highlight do not show this characteristic, just smaller points of light. Also, the overall quality of the out of focus background bokeh is sometimes a bit harsh, and not as smooth as I would like. This only becomes apparent under some shooting situations (see salamander photo in gallery at the link below).

Overall I am very satisified with this lens and often get good images while using it. I highly recommenrd it, especially considering the good price.

To see images taken with this lens, visit my website: http://www.infotography.com/nature/index.php?album=close-up&image=001+close+up.jpg All images in this gallery were taken with the 100mm macro.