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Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM

EF10-22
Review Date: Jan 29, 2008 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $630.00 | Rating: 8 

 
Pros: Fast, quiet, and accurate focus; light; sharp in the center, and strong on the wide end; not much flare
Cons:
Expensive; weak in the corners; slow on the long end; first copy was decentered

I initially started with the Sigma 10-20. After four copies with significant centering problems and a poor response from Sigma's repair, I gave up.

This Canon is lighter than the Sigma and smaller than I expected it would be. Focus is about the same for both: fast and accurate. The Canon has better colors and both of my copies were even across the frame at 10mm. The only letdown has been some blurriness in the corners, but nothing too extreme, and it cleans up by f/5.6.

At 10mm, the Sigma was equally good or better in the center and better in the corners, but only over 2/3 of the frame. 1/3, usually the left, would be hopelessly blurry. It cleaned up at 20mm.

By contrast, the first copy of the Canon I had was fine at 10mm, but had some centering problems at 20mm. The second copy was noticeably sharper across the board (4 MB vs. 4.3 MB JPEG of the same frame), so I kept it.

If you're in very close quarters, this is a great walkaround lens. If you're not, it's not. I've found that it's excellent paired with the 28-135mm, or even better, the 24-105/4. Definitely recommended. If the first copy hadn't been dodgy, I'd have rated it a 9.


 
Sigma 10-20mm F4-5.6 EX DC HSM

111_small
Review Date: Dec 27, 2007 Recommend? no | Price paid: $455.00 | Rating: 5 

 
Pros: Smooth zoom and focus, excellent build, small and light, included lens hood, potentially(!) superior optics
Cons:
4 of 4 samples were decentered; horrible QC

I want so much to like this lens. I tried four copies in a series, all from Amazon, which has an excellent RMA policy. All of them were decentered.

Decentering on a lens like this means that the center is sharp, the right side (always the right side) is sharp, and the left 1/3 of the frame is soft. The left 1/5 of the frame would be extremely soft. The lens would be weakest at open apertures and 10mm, and acceptable stopped down on the long end. The 18-55 kit lens (not a spectacular optic) had far better edge performance at the same apertures and focal lengths. Center performance on all copies was universally excellent at all apertures, however.

I sent the best copy (mild decentering) back to Sigma to have it serviced. It came back the worst of the lot.

If not for the QC, this lens would be every bit the equal (or superior) of the Canon 10-22 at $180 less. I've seen good copies, I know what it's capable of, I just wasn't able to get one. The HSM focus is almost the equal of the USM on my 100/2. Same soft rolling sound, same speed, and it was exactly accurate at all distances.

The build quality is excellent. I didn't have the 10-20 long enough to comment on the longetivity of the finish, but the focus and zoom rings were very smooth. The general feel is significantly better (and tighter) than my 28-135, but a step down (because it's largely plastic) from my 200/2.8L.

The upshot is this: If you're willing to jump through these hoops to find yourself a copy with all the elements in proper alignment, it's a stellar optic, and even better than the Canon. But if you value your time at all, just buy the 10-22.


 
Canon EF 200mm f/2.8L II USM

1ef200mmf_28_1_1_
Review Date: Nov 4, 2006 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $480.00 | Rating: 9 

 
Pros: Very consistent; f/2.8 to f/8 is about the same. No flare. Relatively small, black, light. Quick AF. Excellent build. Common L filter size; 72mm.
Cons:
No IS. No versatility.

The best reason to buy an L is because it can function wide open. If the lens says f/2, or f/2.8, output at that aperture will hold its own against the same picture stopped down.

And so it is here; the best part of this lens is that it doesn't matter what aperture you use. The only reason to use anything but f/2.8 is if you want more DOF. Sharpness is about the same from f/2.8 to around f/8.

Because it's a prime, it has all the usual prime advantages; it's 2 inches shorter than the 70-200/2.8 zooms, thinner, much lighter, black, and in general a lot less scary. It also flares less.

I didn't say anything there about optics.

This is a sharp lens, but I don't think it's quite what people make it out to be. I strongly suspect a 70-200/4 would give it a run at any aperture, and I doubt the 70-200/2.8 differs at all. If it has an edge on the 2.8 IS, it's not by much.

Moreover, I think my 50/1.4 would beat it at any aperture with the same framing.

Unlike the 50/1.4 and the 100/2 though, it's very strong at any distance. No caveats about shooting 100m or 5m away. Doesn't matter, this 200/2.8L is utterly consistent.

There's only one problem with this lens:

It doesn't zoom. Anytime you're constrained to a certain location, you're going to want something that'll let you change the framing. That means practically all sporting events. Unless you've got a second body with a 135/2, this is not the the strongest lens for varying distances.

320mm on a crop body does not lend itself to versatility.

As a walkaround lens, or if the action is set at a certain constant distance, it's fine, but I'm thinking of trading mine for a zoom.

So, I strongly recommend this lens for what it is; a long, fast, consistent, discrete telephoto that mates well with a 1.4X teleconverter. I'd recommend the 28-70/2.8L as well, but like that lens, if you have a crop body, think long and hard if the working range is one you want.


 
Canon EF 100mm f/2 USM

ef100mmf_2usm_1_
Review Date: Nov 4, 2006 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 9 

 
Pros: Surefooted AF, solid build, small size, very sharp at close distances, excellent bokeh
Cons:
Not sharp until at least f/2.8 past ~2m

This is a stellar portrait lens.

Various reasons why:

Unlike a 70-200/L zoom, it's small, short, and black. It rarely ever causes people to give it a second glance. It's possible to be unobtrusive with this lens.

AF is very accurate in low light, very fast, and almost completely silent. On my 300D, it'll pick up contrasty targets in a room lit by a single 60W bulb with no assist.

Build is very good; similar materials as my 50/1.4, but with more heft, and no loose pieces inside. I've dropped this one from a short distance. Save for a dented filter, no harm.

Optical quality is way up there at close distances. I have Provia portraits on this one from my Elan II, wide open, that are just exceptional. I can count lines on the irises on certain subjects.

It isn't so strong over longer distances. Detail perks up at f/4 or so, but it's definitely soft at f/2 if I'm shooting people 10m to infinity. Over very long distances (>50m), I'd rather use ISO 1600 and f/2.8 than ISO 800 and f/2.

---
I should point out my copy is a refurb, and unlike my 50/1.4, I haven't sent it back to Canon a dozen times for calibration, so I have no idea if this performance is 'OEM spec'.
---

But none of this is surprising. It's optimized to be a portrait lens.

Incidentally, at 160mm equivalent, it's a little long for the job on a crop body. I tend to use my copy in good light because handshake becomes a major problem indoors. Even f/2 and ISO 800 isn't enough when you want to maintain 1/200. My 50/1.4 is at least two stops faster in relative handholdability.

Nor is it so easy to zoom with one's feet at 160mm. If you want to take a picture of two people, you'll have to stand about ten feet back. That makes it bit impersonal, and if it's at all crowded, you may not be able to move that far back.


I highly recommend this lense for the following:




Anyway, I highly recommend it as a portrait lens when you need discretion. Various zooms can catch it at f/4, but none have that gorgeous f/2 bokeh.


 
Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM

ef50mmf_14usm_1_
Review Date: Nov 2, 2006 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $250.00 | Rating: 9 

 
Pros: Sharp at f/1.4, extraordinary at f/5.6, excellent bokeh, relatively quick AF
Cons:
Strong halation f/1.4-1.6, tentative build quality, AF is inconsistent in low light, some barrel distortion

This is my favorite Canon lens.

I use it primarily for portraits on a crop body, alongside a 100/2 and a 200/2.8.

It's not a head and shoulders lens. If you try that, the close perspective combined with barrel distortion will give everyone a bulbous head. Waist-up shots, though, are extraordinary.


Opitcs:

When I first bought it used, it was soft at f/1.4, decent at f/2.8, and sharp at f/5.6. It was also front focusing on my 300D. At one point, I dropped my camera about two inches to hardwood floors. The lens never hit the ground, but the rear element popped out.

I sent it to Canon with the body.

When I got it back, it was sharp at f/1.4, and extremely sharp from f/2.8 and up. But it was still front focusing. I sent it back again, for the third time, and they finally got it right. Now it's both sharp and accurate. And with DOF at close distance of less than inch, that's critical. It was my least favorite lens until it stopped front-focusing.

People say this lens is soft wide open, but that hasn't been my experience. It's very sharp indeed (in the center). What it doesn't have is contrast; f/1.4 and f/1.6 have a dreamy look caused by halation. It improves dramatically stopped down; by f/1.8, contrast is fine. Frankly, for portraits, the dreamy look is precisely what I want.

No problems with flare.



Build:

Heft is fine, but it feels like a metal wrapper around a pile of very delicate parts. My 100/2 is much better built, and the 200/2.8 is a tank.


Compared to the other two primes:

AF is similar across the range. The 100 and 200 are very fast. The 50 trails, but it's still not slow. Accuracy is stellar with the 200, followed by the 100, with the 50 in last by quite a lot.

Standing in my kitchen at night under moderate fluorescents, I can nail eyelashes from across the room with the 200 with no hunting. The 50 won't hunt either, but more often than not, it'll get it wrong. Calibration helps. An ST-E2 would help a lot more.

Optically, the advantage of the L is that I don't have to think to use it. Every aperture is about the same; f/2.8 looks like f/8.

The 50 isn't as consistent until it gets to f/2, but it is better than the 100 at every aperture. It's sharper at f/1.4 than the 100 is at f/2, though the latter improves dramatically at f/2.8.

As to contrast, they're all similar. Slight nod to the L, followed by the 50 and 100.

In sum, the 50/1.4 is an optically superlative, though slightly delicate and with AF not quite befitting a lens of this speed. Still, totally worthwhile.