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Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III

Review Date: May 4, 2008 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $9,200.00 | Rating: 9 

Pros: Resolution, image quality, big bright viewfinder, build, handling and interface.

Overpriced, yes. A great leap forward in image quality? Not exactly. But I'm still a satisfied customer.

In-camera JPGs aren't bad at all but this camera truly shines in RAW. Spectacular detail (no out-of-the-ordinary softness due to AA filter on my sample). Best of all, the files can take amazing punishment in Photoshop without going crunchy.

Colours and tonal graduations are rendered really nicely and, I think, accurately. I get a strong sense of realism from pictures taken by this camera.

Postprocessing in general is easier and more effective than with my previous digital cameras (the best of them a 5D). There's an innate punch and clarity to images out of this camera that's not to be sneezed at. It's subtle but it's there.

Noise, per pixel, is a tiny bit worse than the 5D but by the time you equalise the file sizes the 1Ds3 has the edge.

So, yes, these are subtle refinements as far as image quality is concerned, but a real advance nonetheless.

Camera handling is superb. The silly multi-button-press interface of the previous 1-series is (hooray) dispensed with. And now that the latest firmware makes it possible to select AF points with the joystick, there's scarcely a word to be said against the interface.

Battery life is prodigious. It goes on and on and on.

Buy a UDMA CF card. You get 11 RAWs before you fill the buffer at 5fps; better than 7 with an ordinary card.

Back to the price. It's horrific; enough to make you faint. And unwarranted, surely. How can this cam be worth twice as much as a 1D3?

But that's just the way it is. If you need lots of megapixels combined with top-end autofocus, there's simply no alternative. Nothing that can shoot five frames a second, anyway.

Canon EF 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye

Review Date: May 3, 2007 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 9 

Pros: Sharp, flare-resistant, well built, compact.
Chromatic aberration at the extreme edges of the image on a full-frame camera.

Somewhat overpriced, as others have noted, but you do get a cool package for your money -- a 180-degree field of view from a lens that is not only extremely sharp but also produces pleasing colours and high contrast.

The lens designer's job is probably easier for a fisheye than a rectilinear ultrawide. Whatever the reason, this lens is sharper than anything I've seen under 24mm, including L primes.

Colour and contrast are also top-notch. Flare is not a bother at all.

Of course, being a fisheye, the lens distorts like crazy, but that's why you bought it, right? Don't pin your hopes on de-fishing your images if you value image quality. The edges and corners WILL go soft from all the pixel-stretching. Still, it's debatable whether the softness is any worse than you'd get from a rectilinear lens in this focal-length range.

Anyway, I love it. Sure it's a gimmick, but it's a cool gimmick, and it is possible to minimise the fisheye effect with careful placement of subject-matter.

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM

Review Date: Jul 22, 2006 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 9 

Pros: Fast, sharp, very effective IS, weather sealed, beautifully made
Ever so slightly softer than my f/4 version at f/4; heavy (but read on)

So I picked up one of these second-hand at a really good price. I wasn't really in the market but it came up (friend of a friend), and you know how it is.

I was fearful, having read the complaints of softness and arm-numbing weight, and so I made dozens of tests in two sessions before I shelled out the money.

Yes, by the most rigorous standards the lens is somewhat soft at f/2.8, but it's perfectly usable. At f/4 and smaller it's pretty much on par with my excellent 70-200mm f/4 lens, although it does seem to be more susceptible to flare.

The bokeh of the two lenses is similar at identical apertures, with the f/2.8 lens having the edge for creaminess and, of course, the ability to open up to f/2.8.

So, as far as I'm concerned, the f/2.8 lens turns in a performance just as good as the f/4 version, and you gain a stop, plus the magical IS.

And the IS is very good indeed. I spent several hours today shooting a kiddies' birthday party for a family with too much money. I used the 70-200/2.8 for a lot of it. The indoor venue had big windows but I still needed to go below 1/30s quite often, even at ISO 800. The IS worked amazingly well, especially in panning mode. I could follow running kids with the lens and get images that were pretty damn sharp, apart from great motion blur in the background and the limbs. I'm still marvelling at them.

Also, I took close-up audience pictures during a clown show, with the lens mostly at the long end, at speeds of 1/15s to 1/60s -- and the only blur in the vast majority of them was caused by subject movement. Mind-boggling.

Focus, by the way, is absolutely spot-on.

And what about the weight? Well, I can only suppose that the photographers who complain about it must be really weedy. I'm a 5'11" male but I'm nobody's arm-wrestling champion. I've had no trouble holding the lens, a 5D and a 580EX to my eye for long periods. Sure, the lens is heavier than some, but it's far from being unmanageable.

All in all, I think this is a pretty fab piece of kit. There's no way I'd buy it at the dizzying retail price, but second-hand it's been a damn nice windfall that will make a lot of my photography easier and better.

Sigma 10-20mm F4-5.6 EX DC HSM

Review Date: Jul 6, 2006 Recommend? | Price paid: Not Indicated

Pros: Sharp (my copy was), flare-resistant, fast-focusing, reasonably well built
In the end, just wouldn't bloody focus on a 30D

I was one of the first and most enthusiastic to review this lens here. Many months later, I stand by my assessment of the excellent optical and mechanical qualities of my sample.

However, I've had to get rid of the lens. I changed from a 350D to a 30D and the autofocus of this lens, along with that of my other Sigma HSM lens, the 30mm/f1.4, went wildly wrong with the change of body.

Both lenses front-focused dramatically. In the case of the 30mm, this made the lens unusable; the 10-20mm could still be used as a manual-focus lens easily enough -- or a fixed-focus lens set to the hyperfocal distance -- thanks to the huge depth of field.

But it wasn't right, and in the end I tired of the runaround I got from Sigma South Africa (and from Canon for that matter). So I traded the Sigmas and the 30D in on a 5D body, and got ultrawide back thanks to my 17-40L.

I've always been reluctant to join the popular Sigma-bashing chorus -- and indeed I had two of Sigma's better lenses. However, my experience with the focusing problems has convinced me that it's a far, far better thing to stick with the camera maker's lenses. That way the lens people can't blame the body people, and vice versa.

I hate it that this is the way it is, and I strongly suspect Canon of going out of its way to sabotage Sigma lenses when it releases new bodies, but I'm now a convert -- Canon lenses only for me in future. Blast you, Canon, you've got your wish!

Canon EF-S 17-55 f/2.8 IS USM

Review Date: Jul 6, 2006 Recommend? | Price paid: Not Indicated

Pros: Sharp, IS
Build, flare, EF-S, price

Just an addendum to my review below, because people have asked me to compare this lens with the 24-70L.

The comparison is kinda hard to make because I only had the 17-55 for a day and a half. Nevertheless, I think I can say the following with reasonable confidence:

1) The 17-55 is sharper towards the wide end (but the 17-55 doesn't [effectively] go as wide as the 27-70, so perhaps the comparison is a little unfair);
2) The 17-55 produces somewhat less saturated colour, but also has excellent contrast;
3) The all-plastic 17-55 has inferior build quality;
4) But the 17-55 weighs less;
5) The 17-55 has IS and the 24-70L doesn't;
6) The 17-55 has worse flare;
7) The 17-55 seems wholly untroubled by CA, whereas the 24-70L shows some towards the wide end (though it's never severe);
7) Considering the so-so build quality, the 17-55 is expensive.

Of course, as far as focal length range goes, the 17-55 is a much better choice as a standard zoom on a crop camera. A no-brainer, in fact, unless you decide to eschew the whole APS-C world, as I did.


Canon EOS 5D

Review Date: Jul 3, 2006 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

Pros: All-round great camera.
Expensive, build quality though excellent overall is lacking in battery door, CF card door and terminal covers.

I can't really add to all the gushing praise written so far, so I just wanted to make an observation.

Everyone seems to complain that your lenses have to be sharper to be adequate for use on the 5D. That is not true.

In fact, a given lens will produce a sharper print of a given size when used on a full-frame sensor than it will on a cropped sensor. The reason is both simple and obvious -- the print made from the full-frame sensor is enlarged less. I'm surprised nobody seems to have realised this before.

This doesn't factor in such full-frame problems as vignetting and edge softness, of course. But in my experience so far, using primes and L zooms, they are only minor difficulties.

I might as well make another observation while I'm about it. A certain kind of iconoclast likes to discount the extra megapixels of a high-resolution sensor by pointing out that twice the megapixels gives you only 40% extra linear resolution. Perfectly true, but so what? That's only one way of looking at it.

The other way of looking at it is that you can produce, say, an A4 print of a certain resolution from a 6MP sensor, but you can produce an A3 print of the same resolution from a 12MP sensor. That's twice the area, just like the megapixel count. And surely that's worth it.

Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM

Review Date: Jun 29, 2006 Recommend? | Price paid: Not Indicated

Pros: Sharp, contrasty, colourful, brilliant on full-frame (5D), lightweight, fast accurate focus
None, other than f/4, but we knew that

I previously left a rather lukewarm review of this lens. I was feeling a bit cheated that the famous L quality was not quite as marvellously better than ordinary lenses as I'd been led to believe.

That was true on a 1.6x crop camera.

But now I have a 5D and the true quality of this lens has become strikingly evident. Where other lenses go blurry at the borders or have their lack of resolution revealed by the 5D's big sensor, the 70-200 f/4 L just gets better and better.

It's comparable in sharpness to the 50mm/f1.4, and probably better in colour rendition and contrast.

Interestingly, my f/4L version is appreciably sharper at all f-stops than an acquaintance's Holy Grail, the f/2.8L IS. That fact just underscores what excellent value this lens truly is.

If I could I would withdraw my previous score of 8 and replace it with a 10, thanks to the lens's stellar performance on a 5D.

Canon EF-S 17-55 f/2.8 IS USM

Review Date: Jun 28, 2006 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 9 

Pros: Stunning sharpness at all apertures and focal lengths, excellent colour, IS
Flare, build quality, EF-S mount, expensive

This fantastic lens finally pushed me into going full-frame and buying a 5D. I'm sure that sounds odd, so let me explain.

The image quality from the 17-55 is wonderful, about the best you could hope for in a zoom. However, the lens is expensive and the build quality, though fair enough, is well below L standards.

I bought the 17-55 out of crop-factor frustration: we've all been salivating waiting for a lens like this. Previously, there was no APS-C option with high image quality: not the kit lens, not the 17-85. Canon's quality standard zooms (I have the 24-70L) are just the wrong damn length for the 1.6x crop.

So I was going to think about selling the 24-70L to fund the 17-55, and I did trade in my 17-40L on the new lens. Got the 17-55 home, played with it and was stunned by virtually every image. It really is that good -- it's a pixel-peeper's wet dream.

But -- and this was a big but -- as buyer's remorse set in that evening, I realised that I was now so heavily invested in crop-factor gear that I would probably never be able to extract myself from the small format. I also realised that the price of the 17-55 plus the 30D was only a shade less than the cost of a 5D body, and I already had the 24-70L (picked up cheap second-hand a while ago) to use on the 5D.

A restless night followed. In the morning, though, my thoughts were clear -- get the hell out of this stop-gap midget format and move up to full-frame, especially since the cost premium would not be huge.

A further factor in this decision was the build quality of the 17-55. It's far from being horrible, but it's plastic and a little flimsy feeling when you've got used to handling Ls.

So back to the shop the 17-55 went, and also the month-old 30D (on which I was kindly given a trade-in at 90% of its new value). Another $500 or so and out I walked into the sunlight armed with a 5D, much happier in the knowledge that the cycle of upgrades had finally come to an end for a good long time.

Oh, and I also bought my 17-40L back at the trade-in price, so I'm in the ultrawide business now too.

I thought this tale might be helpful to those who are dithering about committing themselves to the crop-factor format with the purchase of a lens as expensive as the 17-55.

If you can honestly say you will never hanker after full-frame, then I reckon you can't possibly do better than this fine lens (although Canon could have built it better). But if full-frame is in your tea leaves, then leave it alone, do your sums, and maybe make the jump to the 5D now, as I did.

One last thing about the 17-55. Many reviews lament its flare problem, but I think they're somewhat overstated. Yes, it does flare, and you have to be careful, but I was quite surprised at how negligible the problem was in normal use and at how manageable it was even in adverse lighting conditions. I think flare has come to the fore as a criticism by default because the lens is so very good in most other respects.

Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM

Review Date: Apr 29, 2006 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 8 

Pros: Damn good lens, cheap for what it is.
Will not bring about world peace.

Make no mistake, this is a very good lens. Everything they say is true: it's sharp, contrasty and well-built; it transmits nice colour; it focuses fast and accurately; it's fairly light and it handles well. It is much better than my flaky old non-L EF 100-300mm f/5.6, which it replaces. Yet it is not the cure for the common cold.

This is my first foray into the deep and dangerous world of L lenses and I must say that (unlike most people, it seems) I'm not completely blown away.

Perhaps my expectations were too high, given the breathless excitement of most reviews and the abundance of flattering sample pictures. Or perhaps I have buyer's remorse.

But I'd like to sound a gentle warning to others who may imagine than possessing an L lens will give them supernatural powers.

This lens is not as sharp as a cheap prime like the 50mm/1.8, all the hype notwithstanding. Close, but not quite. (Of course, the bokeh is better.) And it is not *that* much better than a decent consumer zoom such as the 28-105mm/3.5-4.5 USM. The improvement seen in A4-size prints isn't vast, although pixel-peeping does show it up, and colours are probably better. But old-fashioned considerations like lighting and technique make more of a difference.

These things are, of course, difficult to quantify. On the whole I'm very pleased to have the 70-200mm/4, and I'd buy it again. But I think it's worth injecting a spoilsport dose of L-scepticism into the general rapture.

Sigma 10-20mm F4-5.6 EX DC HSM

Review Date: Jan 17, 2006 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 8 

Pros: Cheap, sharp, good flare resistance for an ultrawide, good build quality
Slow max aperture, some vignetting wide open at 10mm, uneven distortion (but minor and correctable with PTLens)

I have to disagree with the first poster... My lens is sharp, even wide open. It also displays remarkable flare resistance for an ultrawide. Build quality is excellent. Focus and zoom rings were stiff at first (seems to be a Sigma tradition) but soon eased up with use.

Those who complain of distortion need to understand the difference between perspective distortion (common to all wide angles, and one of the reasons you buy them) and oddball lens distortion. This lens does display a minor amount of the latter, but it's easily fixed with the free PS plugin PTLens, and it's not apparent in the vast majority of pictures.

For me, this lens was the answer to a prayer -- a good-quality ultrawide for 1.6x crop factor at a reasonable price. Sigma has a winner here. Points off only for the slow max apertures. Overall, highly recommended.