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Canon EOS 6D

canon6D
Review Date: Jan 14, 2014 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $1,415.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: easy on the shoulder, amazing image quality
Cons:
No FEC button, missing popup flash

I bought a 6D Fall 2013 and have been on a shooting binge, gaining a good feel for the features and performance of this camera. I also own a 5D MK II and 60D so it's hard not to notice the 6D is a marriage of the two older cameras: full frame innards of the 5D MKII coupled with the petite form factor and controls of the 60D. Toss in Wi-Fi, GPS, AF tweaks, enhanced high ISO, and that's the 6D in a nutshell.

CONSTRUCTION
The 6D is a handsome camera with top notch fit and finish: tough magnesium body shell, engineering grade plastic top panel and lightly textured matte black paint. I suspect the plastic panel was used to enhance Wi-Fi/GPS reception. Canon claims the 6D is weather resistant to the same level as the 7D and 1N and, indeed, mist and light rain don't faze it but I'd protect it in a downpour. The textured rubber grip is comfortable for my medium sized hands and feels secure. It's noticeably smaller and lighter than a 5D MKII and the same size and weight as the 60D.

The 6D is quiet for a SLR and similar to the 60D in this regard. My 5D MKII thunders next to it. However, if quiet isn't quiet enough, 6D silent mode fades to triple pianissimo. Of course you pay for extra stealth with slower FPS and longer viewfinder blackout. Stage shooters will find this camera very useful.

The 3.0" 1,040,000 dot LCD is vivid and clear and spanks my 5D MKII in terms of clarity. It appears to the same LCD as the 60D but without the articulating ability.

CONTROLS
The Spartan control interface was inherited from the 60D. There is no flash exposure compensation (FEC) button, White Balance (WB) button or joystick, and the Quick Control Dial (QCD) is smaller than most EOS models. FEC is set on the LCD. I prefer a FEC button so compensation may be applied while looking through the viewfinder. However the buttons and wheels it does have sport a solid and precise feel compared to the 60D.

It inherits one control from the 7D: the Liveview/Video start button It's a large button/toggle switch on the upper right. The outer switch toggles between video and Liveview while the button starts/stops these functions. Fast and intuitive compared to the 60D's mode dial and button finger twister.

AUTOFOCUS
The 6D AF array has the same diamond shaped coverage as the 5D MKII, a single cross point (center) but two additional outer points. The center AF point has been significantly enhanced and is amazingly sensitive and sure-footed in low light. It can snag focus in closets and caves! The 10 single axis outer points are not nearly as senstive but are better than those of the 5D MKII. All in all, a big step up from 5D MKII AF.

Overall image quality is about the same as the 5D MKII from ISO 100 to 1600, i.e., great! The big wow of the 6D is high ISO performance. By ISO 3200 the 6D starts to pull away from the 5D MKII and is shockingly good at ISO 6400 and 12800 with noise reduction. Beyond ISO 12800 is emergency use only for me but if I ever need to shoot at ISO 102400 that center AF point should be up to the task. I'm not an avid "shadow lifter" but the 6D is amazingly clean (less patterned artifacts) and you can bump up shadows another stop over the 5D MKII if needed.

WI-FI/GPS
I tried Wi-Fi via EOS Remote 1.2 for iOS and it worked well for setting exposure, AF points, EC, firing the shutter, etc. I used an iPhone 5s and iPad 2 for LiveView and could save images to my devices. The saved images are low resolution and look pixelated on an iPad. If the app was optimized for the iPad it would be useful for clients doing live proofing. There is a Droid version of EOS Remote and I hear it similar to the iOS app. Wi-Fi drains the battery fast, so have spare batteries at ready. Finally, Wi-Fi setup is needlessly complicated and far from the experience of jumping on Wi-Fi with an iPhone or PC.

GPS setup is easy: two or three menu selections, point the pentaprism at the sky and you're done. However, acquiring a GPS signal in downtown Honolulu was impossible due to tall buildings and nearby mountains. I was able to catch the signal here and there on Oahu but found GPS spotty. I had hoped GPS would bring clarity to my befuddling vacation images but I'll reserve final judgement until I get travel time in North America during the summer. For now, I disabled GPS since it shortens battery life.

VIEWFINDER
The quality of the optical viewfinder is astounding. On paper the specs of 97% coverage and .71x magnification are less impressive than those of the 5D MKII/III. However, the clarity of the viewfinder is a whole level above my 5D MK II, 60D or 7D. Even with a slowish F4 zoom the focusing screen appears bright, grainless, smooth and extremely vivid. It's a real pleasure to shoot with.

FLASH
Although the 6D is a prosumer camera aimed at serious hobbyists, it lacks a popup flash. I use a Speedlite 430EX II and it works great but I miss having a popup for fill flash and E-TTL trigger use. If you're looking for a small Speedlite, consider the Canon 270EX II Speedlite: it fits in a pocket, can bounce and is about twice as powerful as a popup.

LAST BLURB
Canon has been criticized as non-innovative for this amalgamation of features with little new technology. However, once I got my hands on a 6D, I found the AF and high ISO refinements and blending of the best features from several EOS cameras made it one of the most perfectly evolved cameras ever. Tried and true works for me: menus, features and controls were very familiar. I barely needed to crack the manual. I also love the small form factor combined with full frame format. It's easy on the shoulder, able to capture clean images in almost any situation and, for my needs, the ideal travel DSLR.


 
Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS

35f2is
Review Date: Sep 30, 2013 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $549.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Petite Sharp Natural perspective IS Smooth MF
Cons:
No hood included Hood costs $54

I've owned several prior 35mm optics and found the semi-wide perspective (63 degrees) easy to use, perfect for low light and ideal for showing a subject in its environment. Unfortunately, the $899 debut price of this lens was silly expensive and I held off purchasing it. When the MAP dropped to $599 I clicked and the EF 35 2.0 IS USM landed on my doorstep.

APPEARANCE AND BUILD
The EF 35 2.0 IS USM is compact but a notch larger than the older EF 35 2.0. The slightly textured matte finish is attractive and surprisingly fingerprint resistant. The plastics in the barrel feel solid and sturdy. It features ring-type USM, yielding fast yet silent AF. If you like to manual focus you'll be in hog heaven: smooth turning, long throw for fine adjustments and no play or slop. It also has full-time manual focus override: grab the well ribbed MF ring and turn it. No need to flip a switch.

The front element does not rotate during AF operation, making polarizing filter use a breeze. Speaking of filters, the 67 mm filter threads are a less common size but shared with the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4 L IS USM.

It has a basic DOF scale for hyperfocal shooters but markings only at F11 and 22.

USING THE 35 2.0 IS USM
On an EOS 5D MKII, this lens is balanced, nimble and a joy to use. While no pancake, it's liberating to shoot with such a petite lens after using the bulky 24-105 4L IS USM.

I sold my EF 35 2.0 prior to buying this lens so I couldn't compare them side by side. However my impression is this new lens sports vastly improved build quality, faster and more sure-footed AF and greatly improved sharpness along the edges of the frame. It's also noticeably larger than the old design. The older 35 was no slacker--very sharp in the center--but this one is better in every way save for being larger and heavier. No hesitations about shooting wide open. This lens delivers tack sharp images.

If you're used to the distortion typical of the wide side of zooms, it is refreshing to experince virually no barrel distortion: lines in doorways and artwork are rendered straight as long as you center correctly.

IMAGE STABILIZATION
The IS feature sends this optic over the top. I'm not as steady as I used to be so having 3 stops of slower hand holdable shutter speeds is a Godsend. The Canon spec of 4 stops was a no-go for me. Nevertheless F2.0 with IS engaged and I can get sharp images in dim bars, restaurants, casinos or alleys until the cows come home! Yee haa!

NO LENS HOOD INCLUDED
The only gotcha is the lack of a lens hood. For $600 Canon should toss one in. And, if you want the dedicated EW-72 hood, it will cost you $54. Ouch!

FINAL BLURB
The EF 35 2.0 IS USM is one of my favorite walk around lenses on my 5D MKII. It is easy to carry and take pictures with due to its natural perspective and petite size. Moreover, the EF 35 2.0 IS USM is an extremely sharp lens, sharper than the 35 mm end of Canon's best zooms and sharper than the EF 35 2.0 that came before it. There is virtually no flare or ghosting but a wee bit of light falloff wide open. With its ultra fast F2.0 aperture and IS, I can take a picture in nearly any available light situation. Finally, the fast aperture makes for bright viewfinders, a great feature if you shoot in dark interiors or twilight. Highly recommended!


 
Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM

ef70-200lisusm
Review Date: Mar 10, 2012 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $1,200.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Killer image quality kickarse build Rippin' fast AF IS Deluxe!
Cons:
Long, skinny and white

The 70 to 200mm range is ideal for portraits, landscape and outdoor sports, yet is still hand holdable. The EF 70-200 4L USM was my favorite telezoom for years: sharp, fast focusing and sturdy. The only thing missing was Image Stabilization (IS), a feature I came to appreciate on my normal zooms. By nature a telezoom is more difficult to hold steady than shorter lenses, thus IS in the EF 70-200 4L IS USM makes perfect sense. So my faithful EF 70-200 4L USM hit the auction block and a new EF 70-200 4L IS USM landed on my doorstep.

Construction & Feel
The optical design and antireflection coatings of today's best zooms rival prime lenses. Unfortunately, most zooms are flimsy plastic with silk-screened symbols and coarse zoom and focus action. Canon's EF 70-200 4L IS USM bucks this trend and combines modern optical design and ultra fast AF with durable construction and silky zoom and focus action. At $1300, it ain't cheap but is more affordable than its F2.8 siblings, while offering similar build and optical quality.

The hybrid metal (barrel) and polycarbonate (trim) construction and seals on switches and mount make it tough as nails, but it's reasonably light. Build quality is better than the EF 24-105 4L IS USM and very similar to the EF 300 4L USM. Both zoom and focus mechanisms are internal. Internal mechanisms are less prone to sucking in dust than front extension designs.

The EF 70-200 4L IS USM is a classic two-touch design: focus ring near the end of the barrel and zoom ring near the mount. The large twist action zoom ring is smooth and fast. Unlike most AF lenses, the manual focus ring is large, ribbed, rubberized and nearly as smooth turning as the manual lenses of yesteryear. The focusing ring feels too far out on the barrel. At least I never confuse it with the zoom ring! Once you get used to the design, handling is nimble and decisive.

The off-white finish is elegant and the overall appearance similar to the EF 70-200 4L USM and EF 70-200 2.8L IS USM. The off-white finish screams "L glass" and draws attention. However, this lens stays cool even in the blazing Hawaiian sun. Unfortunately, my black EOS bodies aren't nearly as cool.

Auto Focus
This lens sports a ring-type USM (Ultrasonic Motor) that drives a lens group between the front element and diaphragm. The combination of internal focus and ring-type USM yield very fast AF. The front element does not rotate nor does the barrel expand or contract during focus or zoom operations.

The motor of the EF70-200 4L IS USM is silent during AF, but in a quiet room I hear a pianissimo "rolling" sound as the elements move along the gear train. It has FTM, allowing you to manually focus without switching out of AF mode. If you prefocus manually, the distance window in meters and feet is extremely useful. It also sports an AF limiter. However, AF is so accurate I found little use for the limiter.

The zoom's AF worked flawlessly on my EOS 7D and 5D2 bodies. That is, AF is fast, accurate and decisive. Moreover, the maximum aperture of F4 is sufficient to fully enable the center AF cross sensor on EOS 3, 1V and 1D series bodies.

The filter size is 67 mm, making filters expensive and difficult to share with most Canon lenses. However, two normal range zooms, EF 24-85 3.5-4.5 USM and EF-s 15-85 3.5-5.6 IS USM, also use 67 mm filters and pair well with this lens.

Image Stabilization

This would be a really good lens without Image Stabilization (IS). However, IS propels this zoom straight into freakin' hog heaven. Small gyro sensors coupled to a CPU detect the degree and direction of camera shake and counteract this vibration by moving a compensating optical group. Subsequently, I nearly always get a sharp picture, even three to four stops below my normal hand held shutter speed (e.g. 1/15 sec instead of 1/200). If I brace myself or shoot a volley of shots I can get away with another stop or two! Like most modern Canon zooms, this model includes both standard and panning IS modes.

One minor gotcha with this IS design is it is audible. Sound levels are pianissimo so I can only hear it in a quiet room--never in street or field--but it grinds and clicks more than both my EF 24-105 4L IS USM and EF-s 17-55 2.8 IS USM. The only louder IS unit I've heard was in the EF 75-300 4.0-5.6 IS USM.

Optical Performance
Paired with my EOS 5D2, the EF70-200 4L IS USM proved to be an extremely sharp, contrasty and flare-free zoom, a level above my EF70-200 4L USM in terms of sharpness and flare control. Images were sharp edge to edge, even at F4.

The contrast and snap of this optic is apparent even through the viewfinder. After all, there's some fairly exotic glass in there: 1 Fluorite and 2 UD elements. Image magnification is a little less than my EF 200 2.8L USM, leading me to suspect this zoom is just shy of 200mm. There is little distortion and flare control is the best of any zoom I have owned. I assume Canon has improved its Super Spectra coatings and interior flocking as suppression of flare and ghosting in blazing Hawaiian sunsets is extremely effective. Realize this zoom has 4 more elements than the older EF 70-200 4L USM, so reduced flare and ghosting is an impressive feat.

Extenders
Most L series telephotos and telezooms are designed to use L series Extenders. The rear of these lenses have a space for the protruding element of the Extender (that's why Canon didn't use the faster focusing rear element focus group). The EF 70-200 4L IS USM sports 20 elements, so I'm not excited about adding 5 to 7 more elements with an Extender. Extenders are best used with prime lenses as there is less degradation of image quality. Nevertheless, the Canon Extender 1.4x yields a reasonably well performing 98-280 F5.6 zoom and bests the EF 75-300 4.0-5.6 IS USM I previously owned.

Tripod Collar
The EF 70-200 4L IS USM has the option of using a tripod collar, i.e., Tripod Mount Ring A II W (white). Although this lens is so light a tripod collar is unnecessary, a collar makes tripod use easier, especially verticals. The tripod collar is interchangeable between the EF70-200 4L USM, EF80-200 2.8L, EF200 2.8L USM, EF300 4L USM and EF400 5.6L USM. I probably would not have bought the Tripod Mount collar for this lens, but already owned a Tripod Mount Ring A (W) left over from an older lens. Tripod Ring B will not fit.

Final Words
I love the EF 70-200 4L IS USM as a "walkaround" and landscape optic on my EOS 5D2. The 70mm end is close enough to a normal perspective for snapshots while the longer end yields reach and isolation of detail.

A major advantage of this lens over consumer zooms is it exhibits little degradation of image quality at large apertures or the long end. In other words, it's sharp wide open and across the zoom range. Top image quality wide open is essential if you frequently hand hold your camera or work in poor light.

If you're normally tied to a tripod, you can save $600 by buying the EF 70-200 4L USM (non-IS version). However, if you need a telezoom with IS and weather seals, this one is among the best, and even edges out my old EF 70-200 4L USM in terms of flare control and sharpness. For discriminating hikers, travelers and amateurs this zoom deliverers quality without breaking their shoulder albeit at a fairly beefy price point.


 
Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM

ef50lusm
Review Date: Mar 10, 2012 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $1,250.00 | Rating: 9 

Pros: F1.2, killer bokeh and excellent build quality
Cons:
A little heavy and bulky AF isn't as good as most USM zooms

On full frame cameras, e.g., EOS 5D II or EOS 1V, the 46 degree coverage of the 50mm lens is equivalent to the sweet spot of the human eye. Hence, "normal lens," refers to the venerable 50mm prime lens. The natural perspective of this optic makes it easy to pre-visualize images.

One of the main reasons to own a 50mm lens is for available light photography. At F1.2, 1.4 or 1.8 you can use a hand holdable shutter speed to take pictures unobtrusively in low light. The fast aperture also makes for bright viewfinders, a useful feature if you shoot in dark conditions. Fast optics tend to have smooth bokeh (background blur). The soft whirl of an out of focus background makes your subject pop. Finally, a compelling reason to use a 50mm lens is size. Even fast 50mm primes are so small and light you'll hardly notice it in your bag.

Introduced January 2007, the EF 50 1.2L USM is an impressive feat of engineering: ultra fast aperture of F1.2, ring-type USM, beefy construction and weather resistant seals. It replaces the legendary EF 50 1.0L USM (available used at astronomical prices).

Build Like A Friggen Brick

For a normal lens, it's on the heavy side, 590g, but still petite and light compared to pro zooms. It feels solid and reassuring in the hand. Build quality is first rate but sports more plastics than L series telephotos. The black speckled finish is handsome and stealthy compared to the attention grabbing off-white of Canon's super telephotos.

This lens has the same degree of sealing as the EF24-70 2.8L USM and EF 24-105 4L IS USM: gaskets on the lens mount, under switches, and behind the focus ring. To complete weather sealing, Canon requires the use of a filter.

Like other L optics, Canon includes a hood (twist-on), storage bag and manual in a dozen languages.


Focus

A ring-type USM (Ultrasonic Motor) achieves focus by driving the front lens group. AF is reasonably fast and surefooted on my EOS 3, 5D II and 7D bodies. For example, it's faster and more reliable than my EF 50 1.4 USM but not as fast or reliable as my EF 24-105 4L IS USM. I suspect the razor thin depth of field (DOF) makes AF more challenging compared to slower aperture optics. Accurate focus with narrow DOF requires precise and thoughtful placement of AF sensors on subjects. For best results you need to control AF and not let the camera select AF points for you.

Sweeping landscapes and well lit situations rarely present AF problems. However, shooting at close focus (e.g., 1 meter) in low light is sometimes problematic for 5D outer AF points. Thus, it is best to use the center AF point for these situations. Fortunately the 5D center point is very reliable and accurate. My 50D and 7D were less troublesome in this respect as they have all cross-type AF sensors. Oddly the outter points of my 5D Mark II, with a similar AF array to the 5D, is a little better than the 5D in low light (tweaked algorithms?). I suspect older cameras with single axis outer AF sensors (10D, 20D, 30D & Rebels) will also be iffy under similar conditions. High end AF systems with all cross sensors work best with this lens.

The front element does not rotate and the barrel does not expand or contract during focusing. However, the front element group does move slightly within the barrel during AF. Of course, being an USM lens, it is silent during AF.


It has FTM (Full Time Manual Focus), allowing you to manually focus without switching out of AF mode. The focus ring is large, smooth turning and covered with ribbed rubber. It's not as silky as a manual Nikkor but above average for an AF lens. If you prefocus manually, the distance window in meters and feet is extremely useful. It also sports a DOF scale although spacing is too tight for critical use. Although not a macro lens, it focuses close enough for head shots and small details (.45m/1.5 ft).

There has been some concern on internet forums with back-focusing problems at 1 meter or less between F2 and 4. Some folks claim back-focusing is inherent to the design (no floating element). I was not able to duplicate these problems and close focus with the center AF point of my 5D was generally accurate, albeit a little less surefooted than my EF 17-40 4L USM and 24-105 4L IS USM. Nevertheless, I have reasonably accurate focus below a meter while stopped down or wide open. Perhaps all my cameras are defective and causing the lens to focus correctly.

Filters

Focus operation requires a small movement of the front element group within the barrel. The air space between element group and barrel is a potential point of entry for dust and water. Hence Canon requires a 72mm filter to complete weather sealing. The 72mm filter size makes for expensive filters, and is at odds with the 77mm size used for many L optics. Judging from the small diameter of the front element, Canon could have designed this lens with a smaller filter size (58mm?). I assume the extra space around the front element allows for use of a deeper hood and thicker filters.

The manual recommends removing the hood while using a polarizing filter. If you have long fingers it's not difficult to rotate the filter with hood intact.

Optical Quality

I can't say this is the sharpest 50mm prime I have used. That honor goes to the EF 50 2.5 CM. However the EF 50 1.2L USM is damn fine. It is sharp and contrasty from wide open all the way to F16 (smallest aperture). And, yes, it whips my old EF 50 1.4 USM and EF 50 1.8 senseless in terms of sharpness, contrast and bokeh at any aperture larger than F5.6. F1.4 on my EF 50 1.4 USM was terrible--utterly useless. The EF 50 1.2L USM is very good wide open but contrast and sharpness improve a notch at F1.4 and 1.8.

The contrast and snap of this lens is apparent even through the viewfinder. Compared to a zoom the optical design is simple, with 6 groups and 8 elements, although it sports an aspherical element.

Flare is well controlled and, unlike most zooms, I've had no flare problems with sunsets or bright lights in the frame.

Like all large aperture primes there is some light fall-off when used wide open. Stop down a little and it's gone or reduced considerably. I rarely noticed light fall-off even at F1.2 save white wall tests. However, DPP 3.6 and Aperture are very good at auto correcting light fall-off if it bothers you.

If you shoot with a APS-C body, e.g., Rebel, 40D or 50D, light fall-off is a moot point as 40% of the image circle is cropped out.

Bokeh

A lot of people will buy this lens mainly for the creamy smooth bokeh. The use of an 8-blade diaphragm maintains a circular shaped aperture even when stopped down. Of course, the melting of background shapes and hues is strongest at F1.2, but is still prominent and pleasant stopped down to F2.8 or even F4 if your subject is close and well separated from the background. At F1.2 the images take on a quasi painterly quality due to reduced contrast, a slight glowing quality and the ultra smooth bokeh.

DOF is so shallow at F1.2 focus must be absolutely perfect. Even being off a few millimeters renders the image useless. It took me weeks to get used to precisely picking the point of AF. I had to disable auto AF point selection for most subjects except those at infinity focus.

Normal Perspective

Like wide angle lenses, objects nearer in the frame, i.e., within a couple feet, appear slightly exaggerated in size. For example, full or upper body images look natural. But step closer for a head and shoulders portrait and the nearest facial feature--e.g., nose or chin--may appear unflatteringly broad and flat. The above mentioned is why the 50mm optic is generally not regarded as a portrait lens on full frame cameras. Instead it shows off your subject best when you step back a little and show it within the context of its surroundings. Such is both the strength and weakness of the 50mm lens.

Conclusion

This is the big daddy-o of normal primes. It's exceedingly well made, sharp at all apertures, contrasty and exhibits ultra smooth 'n creamy bokeh. I love the normal perspective, AF, sharpness and feel of this lens. It balances perfectly on my EOS 3, 5D II and 7D.

I bought the EF 50 1.2L USM during Spring 2008 and rarely remove it from my 5D. It's the ultimate walkaround for full frame cameras and I love the ready for any light potential of the F1.2 aperture. I didn't like it nearly as much on my 50D and 7D. On a crop camera the view is too tight for walkaround. However, I'm sure most wedding and portrait shooters will find the EF 50 1.2L USM a great portrait lens for crop cameras.

This is not a lens for everybody. It is for the shooter whom places extreme value on fast aperture, smooth bokeh and durability. Most photographers can be served well by the far less expensive EF 50 2.5 CM, 50 1.8 or 50 1.4 USM.

Highly recommended for hardcore available light hounds, bokeh lovers and the well-heeled. Not recommended for zoom lovers and those with a feeble credit card limit.


 
Canon EF 75-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM

ef75_300_1_
Review Date: Aug 21, 2003 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $450.00 | Rating: 8 

Pros: very sharp from 75 to 200mm and IS feature is amazingly effective
Cons:
Slow AF, flimsy build quality for the bucks and pincushion distortion at long end

I bought this zoom in 1999 as a replacement for my EF 100-300 4.5-5.6 USM. It's slightly larger and heavier than the EF 100-300 4.5-5.6 USM, tipping the scales at 670 g (1.5 lb). The zoom action is a little coarse, i.e., it isn't not as smooth as the other telezoom. Unfortunately, it is prone to zoom creep. When used on sunny days, the plastic parts expand and make the lens feel loose. The manual focus ring is a nice size but feels loose and gritty, as if Canon added sand to the gear train.

A Micro Ultrasonic Motor drives the heavy front lens group and, thus, AF is painfully slow compared to the ring-type USM and internal focus of the EF 100-300 4.5-5.6 USM. The front element turns and the barrel extends/contracts during focus making use of polarizer filters frustrating. Furthermore, the AF mechanism lacks a clutch--primitive for an expensive lens--and, hence, the manual focusing ring rotates during AF. Watch your fingers! It lacks FT-M so you must flip a switch before manually focusing. If you want to prefocus manually, forget it because there is no distance window. The filter size is a modest 58 mm, making filters affordable and easy to share with common Canon lenses.

This is a good lens for the Elan series or D30/60/10D. It isn't as well suited for pro EOS cameras, e.g., EOS 1V or 1D, as the variable aperture of F4.5 to 5.6 is too slow to activate their cross AF sensors.

Stopped down to F8 to 16, images are very sharp and contrasty from 75 to 150, but get softer as you approach 300. However, image quality is fine for 11 x 14 prints (slight color fringing may be apparent at larger magnifications). The main problem at the long end is pincushion distortion. It's noticeable when shooting straight lines near the edges of the frame, e.g., ocean horizons or architecture. The EF 100-300 4.5-5.6 USM is better in this respect. Although flare is reasonably well controlled for a zoom, flare and ghosting will occur if you shoot bright sunsets, more so than the EF 28-105 USM. Hazy sunsets come out fine.

The ET64II lens shade is massive and should be used at all times. When installing the lens shade (it twists on), hold the manual focusing ring tightly so that the barrel won't turn (or turn off AF), otherwise you may damage the AF motor or gear train. Nevertheless, the AF motor in my lens failed and was replaced during the last month of the one year warranty.

This would be just another an average 75-300 lens without Image Stabilization (IS). However, IS sets this lens apart from other telezooms. Small gyro sensors coupled to a CPU detect the degree and direction of camera shake and counteract this vibration by moving a compensating optical group. IS allows me to get sharp pictures two to three stops below my normal hand holding shutter speed. Racked out to 300 mm, I can consistently nail sharp images while hand holding at 1/60 sec., 1/30 if I brace myself. The IS mechanism in this lens emits a soft "grinding" noise, kind of like a muffled electric shaver. IS in my EF 28-135 IS USM is nearly inaudible.

Image Stabilization is not just for low light conditions, it helps eminently in any high vibration situation such as high wind, airplanes, automobiles or boats. When windy, I use Image Stabilization with a tripod mounted camera and it makes a major improvement in sharpness.

Remember the old saying, "bad love is better than no love?" This lens reminds me of a bad girlfriend I had trouble breaking up with. I hate the lack of ring-type USM, internal focus, FT-M and the distance window, but I can't live without the IS feature. Why couldn't Canon have just updated the EF 100-300 4.5-5.6 USM design with IS? That zoom has much better ergonomics and performance features, it just lacks IS. I guess Canon designed it that way so you'll be impelled to upgrade to the $1600 EF 100-400 IS USM L.


 
Sigma 50mm f2.8 EX Macro 1:1 Lens

05_02_1_
Review Date: Aug 3, 2003 Recommend? no | Price paid: $225.00 | Rating: 2 

Pros: Sharp, distortion free, good looking and well made
Cons:
Didn't work with my new bodies (needed rechipping). MF a bit loose.

I bought this lens in late 1999 along with an EOS 3. Unfortunately, the body was too new and the lens needed a ROM upgrade to work properly which, at that time, was unavailable. So, I used it on my A2 and found it to be an excellent lens. The following year I bought an Elan 7E and the dad burn lens wouldn't work on it, even after a ROM update! So, I sold the Sigma on Ebay. It's really a pity Sigma reverse engineers its ROM code, resulting in so much hassle for users. Otherwise it was a fine optic.

 
Canon Speedlite 420EX TTL

CA420EXU_1_
Review Date: Jul 24, 2003 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $175.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Small, light & powerful The only flash with AF assist that covers all 7 of AF sensors of the 10D or Elan 7
Cons:
I wish it had manual zoom of the flash head

The 420EX is a simple yet powerful flash: GN 138.6 feet at ISO 100 (42m), 24-105mm auto zoom head, near-infrared AF assist light, bounce and swivel, modeling light (slave mode only), flash exposure confirmation light (finally!), wireless ability, E-TTL, TTL, second-curtain sync, FE Lock (flash exposure lock), flash exposure compensation and FP Flash (high speed sync). You won't notice many of these features as the control panel is rather barren: on-off switch, ready light, FP Flash switch, slave switch, channel selector and zoom position scale. There are no manual controls or LCD. FE Lock, flash exposure compensation, modeling flash, and second-curtain sync are controlled from the camera. And, yes, the Elan 7E or 10D has a full complement of E-TTL flash controls onboard. If you have a camera without such controls, e.g., Rebel 2000, you can still use the the 420EX in automatic mode, but cannot access all the special features.

The 420EX is surprisingly small and light (300 g) for such a powerful flash. I no longer think twice about keeping a flash in my camera bag while traveling. I power it with four AA lithiums to keep weight as low as possible.

Focusing in the dark is quick and discreet thanks to the near-infrared AF assist light. With the 420EX mounted, low light AF is vastly improved: the Elan 7E or 10D will AF a blank wall in total darkness from over 30 feet away. You can disable the flash and use only the AF assist light with a Custom Function. The 420EX is the only flash that works with all 7 of the Elan 7 or 10D AF sensors. The 220EX, 380EX, 430EZ and Sigma EF-500 Super only cover the center AF sensor. The 550EX and ST-E2 only work with the 5 horizontal AF sensors. Thus, as far as low light AF is concerned, the 420EX is the best flash for the Elan 7E or 10D.

My only beef with this flash is the flimsy battery door. My old 420EZ and 430EZ both had metal hinges. Canon designed a cheapo plastic hinge for the 420EZ. Subsequently, take care when changing batteries, especially in cold climates. Fortunately, you may increase the 420EX's recycle time considerably over alkaline and lithium batteries by using rechargeable Ni-MH or Ni-Cad batteries.

If you shoot weddings or sports, or need manual control, get the 550EX instead. Why? First, unlike the 430EZ, 540EZ and 550EX, you can't use Canon's external power pack and will run out of power after about 200 flashes. For most folks, the 420EX is more flash than they'll ever need. Plus, there is a gotcha with the 550EX: in low light only the 5 horizontal sensors of the 10D Elan 7E work with the 550EX's AF assist beam. The 550EX beam pattern is optimized for the 45 sensor AF arrays of the EOS 3, 1V and 1D. The upper and lower sensors of Elan 7or 10D have trouble with the horizontal beam pattern.

The 420EX is a near perfect balance of simplicity, power and features in a petite package you won't mind carrying anywhere.


 
Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM

ef70_200_4_1_
Review Date: Jul 22, 2003 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $550.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Superb optical and mechanical quality. Internal zoom and focus maintain balance and resist sucking in dust.
Cons:
Rather long--takes up almost as much space in the bag as the F 2.8 version. The white color attracts attention. I prefer black instead.

If you like sharp, contrasty images, save your money for the best lenses you can muster. Ultimately, the caliber of your images is determined by the quality of the lens and your technique, not the camera. Of course, a good eye for composition and design is helpful. Quality lenses are an investment for the future as they will work on all EOS SLRs, film or digital.

The optical design and antireflection coatings of today's zooms have evolved to the point that the best examples rival prime lenses. Unfortunately, most consumer zooms are cheap plastic affairs with silk-screened symbols and coarse zoom and focus action. Canon's EF70-200 4L USM bucks this trend and combines modern optical design and AF with the durable construction and silky zoom and focus action of yesteryear. At $600, it is more affordable than the EF70-200 2.8L USM ($1200) or EF70-200 2.8L IS USM ($2000), but offers similar build and optical quality.

I bought an EF70-200 4L USM during Fall 2001 to replace my EF75-300 4-5.6 IS USM. The hybrid metal and plastic construction and quality components make it tough as nails, but it's a reasonable 705 g (24 oz). Both the zoom and focus mechanisms are internal so there is absolutely no zoom creep. Moreover, internal mechanisms are less prone to sucking in dust than front extension designs. The large twist action zoom ring is smooth and fast. Unlike most AF lenses, the manual focus ring is large, ribbed and nearly as smooth turning as the manual lenses of yesteryear. The focusing ring is too far out on the barrel, but I got used to it. At least I never confuse it with the zoom ring!

This puppy sports a ring-type USM (Ultrasonic Motor) that drives an internal lens group (behind the front element but in front of the diaphragm) and, thus, AF is very fast. The front element does not rotate nor does the barrel expand or contract during focus and zoom operations. Surprisingly, the AF of my EF70-210 3.5-4.5 USM is even faster, perhaps due to the small elements in the rear focus group. The motor of the EF70-200 4L USM is silent during AF, but I hear a pianissimo "rolling" sound as the elements move along the gear train. It has FT-M, allowing you to manually focus without switching out of AF mode. If you prefocus manually, the distance window in meters and feet is extremely useful. It also sports an AF limiter. However, AF is so fast and accurate I found little use for the limiter.

The zoom's AF worked flawlessly on my EOS 3, Elan 7E, 10D, Elan, IX and A2 bodies. That is, AF is fast, accurate and decisive. Moreover, the maximum aperture of F4 is sufficient to fully enable the center AF cross sensor on all six EOS bodies. Unfortunately, this lens isn't well suited for older pro EOS cameras, e.g., EOS 1 or 1N, as the maximum aperture of F4 is too slow to fully enable their cross AF sensors.

The filter size is 67 mm, making filters expensive and difficult to share with most Canon lenses. The only other Canon lens with this size is the EF24-85 3.5-4.5 USM. However, the complementary zoom ranges and shared filer size makes these two zooms an excellent travel kit.

As expected, the EF70-200 4L USM is very sharp and contrasty, a level above my EF70-210 3.5-4.5 USM (a decent lens). A big advantage of this lens over consumer zooms is that it exhibits little degradation of image quality at large apertures or at the long end. In other words, it's sharp wide open and across the zoom range. Stopped down to F8 or F11, chromes from this lens and the EF70-210 3.5-4.5 USM are nearly indistinguishable. Nevertheless, top image quality wide open is essential if you frequently hand hold your camera.

The contrast and snap of this lens is apparent even through the viewfinder. After all, there is some very exotic glass in there, 1 Fluorite and 2 UD elements. The long end is not as sharp as my EF200 2.8L USM prime, but it's close. Image magnification is a little less than my EF 200 2.8L USM, leading me to suspect the zoom is slightly shy of 200mm. There is little distortion and flare is extremely well controlled. With full frame coverage (35mm), some flare and ghosting may occur with bright sunsets. Smaller formats, e.g., APS and digital, exhibit virtually no flare or ghosting. Nevertheless, this lens is more flare resistant than any telezoom I have owned--almost as good as a Canon prime. You should use the huge lens shade (ET-74) to help keep flare in check.

Most L series telephotos and telezooms are designed to use L series Extenders. The rear of these lenses have a space for the protruding element of the Extender (that's why Canon didn't use the faster rear element focus group). With 16 elements in the barrel of the EF70-200 4L USM, I'm not excited about adding 5 to 7 more elements with an Extender. Light will really have to struggle to make it through all that glass (21 or more elements). Extenders are best used with prime lenses as there is less degradation of image quality. Nevertheless, the Canon Extender 1.4x allows a reasonably well performing 98-280 F5.6 zoom. Unfortunately, bright light sources--e.g., sunsets, street lights, car headlights--will generate more flare with an Extender.

The EF70-200 4L USM has the option of using a tripod collar, i.e., Tripod Mount Ring A (white, #2889A002). Although this lens is so light a tripod collar is unnecessary, a collar makes tripod use easier, especially verticals. If you you want a tripod collar, you may save $40 by purchasing the Tripod Mount Ring A (black, #2888A002). It's exactly the same as Tripod Collar "A" (white) except for the black finish. The tripod collars are interchangeable between the EF70-200 4L USM, EF80-200 2.8L, EF200 2.8L USM, EF300 4L USM and EF400 5.6L USM. The Tripod Mount Ring B will not fit.

There aren't many cons about this lens, so I'll have to nitpick. Compared to the EF70-210 3.5-4.5 USM or EF100-300 4.5-5.6 USM, this lens is big and tends to draw attention to itself. Of course, that's the price you pay for constant aperture and internal zoom and focus. Plus, the EF70-200 4L USM is nearly as long as the EF70-200 2.8L USM and, thus, requires the same amount of space in my camera bag. It's heavier than most consumer zooms so it balances better on heavier bodies, e.g., EOS 3, 10D or A2. You may find it a bit front heavy on a Rebel Ti. That's all the cons I can think of!

If you find yourself mainly using the long end of a telezoom, buy the EF200 2.8L USM or EF300 4L IS USM instead. However, if you need a telezoom, this is one of the best. The EF70-200 4L USM has similar build and optical quality as the famous EF70-200 2.8L USM, but at half the price, weight and shy a F stop. Most pros buy the EF70-200 2.8L USM as the extra stop may mean the difference between getting an important shot (paycheck) or not. For discriminating hikers, travelers and amateurs this zoom deliverers quality without breaking their shoulder (and bank) and can take the knocks they dish out. This is a great telezoom.


 
Canon EF 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 USM

ef_24-85_35_1_
Review Date: Jul 22, 2003 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $325.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Excellent image quality Petite, light and versatile Absolutely No Zoom Creep Great walk around lens
Cons:
67mm filter size is unusual for Canon

This zoom is unique inasmuch as the range encompasses a true wide angle, 24 mm, to short telephoto, 85 mm. Most of Canon's "normal" zooms start at 28 mm. Not too long ago 35 mm was the norm. If you love wide angle perspectives or shoot in tight interiors, this is the zoom for you. Personally, I find 24 mm images somewhat difficult to compose in full frame formats--28 to 50 mm comes more naturally--but having an extra 4 mm is nice when you need it.

An internal lens group is focused by ring-type USM (Ultrasonic Motor). This motor dives the small rear elements easily, resulting in extremely fast AF. Thus, the front element does not rotate nor does the barrel expand or contract during focusing. Plus, ring-type USM features full-time manual focusing (FT-M), allowing you to manually focus without switching out of AF mode. Of course, being an USM lens, it is silent when focusing. If you prefocus manually, the distance window in meters and feet is very useful. Unlike many Canon consumer zooms, this puppy exhibits absolutely no zoom creep, even after 1.5 years of constant use.

This EF 24-85 3.5-4.5 USM sports a 6-blade diaphragm. Thus, out of focus areas (bokeh) are reasonably smooth. A molded glass (GMo) aspherical lens element (4th) is used to correct astigmatism, achieve sharp definition and to make the lens compact. Canon manages to pack 15 elements into a 69.5mm (L) x 73 mm (D) barrel! With all those elements, the optional petal hood, the EW-73II, should be used at all times to protect the front element and reduce flare.

The filter size is an odd (for Canon) 67 mm, making filters expensive. There is only one other Canon lens with this filter size, the EF 70-200 4L USM. Fortunately, the EF 24-85 3.5-4.5 USM and EF 70-200 4L USM complement one another well and make an excellent kit. Plus, there are a few advantages to large filter sizes: 1) the extra space between the front element and filter threads minimalizes the possibility of accidental scratching when changing filters; and 2) thick filters such as polarizers may be used without vignetting.

For a consumer zoom, the EF 24-85 3.5-4.5 USM delivers sharp and contrasty images. I found it on par with the EF 28-105 3.5-4.5 USM. Although quality is decent wide open, the best image quality is at F8 or 11. The long end is slightly softer than the wide angle side, but sharp enough for excellent 11 x 14 inch enlargements.

This zoom suffers from considerable barrel distortion at the wide end and a small amount of pincushion distortion at the long end. If you shoot architecture, avoid this zoom and embrace the superior correction of prime lenses. For general use, distortion is not a problem except with ocean horizons or closeup subjects with parallel lines. Indeed, distortion increases considerably in the macro range, especially at 24 mm. Distortion is normal for zooms and is an optical compromise that allows the convenience of multiple focal lengths.

Flare and ghosting are well controlled for a zoom, but extreme conditions, e.g., a shearing Hawaiian sunset, may cause some flare and ghosting with full frame formats. After all, 15 elements give ample opportunity for light to bounce around. Amazingly, flare and ghosting are better controlled than both my EF 28-105 USM and EF 28-135 IS USM. With an EOS 10D (DSLR), there is no flare and ghosting even with blazing sunsets, perhaps due to the small sensor size. Maybe the rectangular flare mask between the first and second elements really makes a difference. Nevertheless, I always keep the lens hood on to help keep flare in check.

The EF 24-85 3.5-4.5 USM is a wonderful lens for the EOS Elan series, Rebel series, IX series, A2/A2E or D30/60/10D. The 24mm wide angle makes it especially useful on cameras with small image sizes, i.e., 1.25 to 1.6x cropping factor, such as the IX series or D30/D60/10D. Due to its light weight, it balances well on smaller cameras such as the Rebel or Elan series. It isn't as well suited for pro EOS cameras like the EOS 1V or EOS 3 as the variable aperture of F3.5 to 4.5 is too slow to activate their cross AF sensors. It's only about $300 new. What a deal!


 
Canon EF 35mm f/2

ef35mmf2_1_
Review Date: Jul 22, 2003 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $90.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Tack sharp, small, light, virtually no distortion, extremely flare resistant & inexpensive
Cons:
So inexpensive people don't take it seriously

This semi-wide lens (63 degrees) is one of my favorites and is always on one of my cameras or in my bag when I'm shooting. It's great for showing a subject in its natural environment. The EF 35 2.0 is small (42.5 mm L), light (210 g) and focuses close (25 cm). The front element does not rotate, but the lens changes slightly in length when focusing. Although it uses AFD, it focuses fast due to the small extension needed for a 35 mm lens. AFD makes a small amount of motor noise but is relatively soft compared to most non-Canon AF lenses. This lens has 52 mm filter threads and uses the clip-on EW-65 II (or EW-65) lens hood, two features it shares with the EF 28 2.8. The manual focusing ring is fairly smooth turning, but a little coarse for fine adjustments. Like the EF 24 2.8, this lens only has DOF markings for F11 and 16.

Build quality is excellent considering the price, about the same as the EF 50 1.4 USM, but it ain't no L lens. It sports DOF markings, distance scale and a metal lens mount. If you're a build snob take heart as Canon gives you the option of the EF 35 1.4L USM for $1000 more. However, my EF 35 2.0 has survived many drops, rolls and bangs since 1995 and keeps on ticking.

This lens is easy to take pictures with due to its natural perspective and ease of handling. These qualities make it an ideal "walk around" lens. I tend to "see" images most often at the 35 mm perspective. Moreover, the EF 35 2.0 is an extremely sharp lens, sharper than the 35 mm end of Canon's best zooms. With only 7 elements, there is virtually no flare, ghosting or loss of light. With its ultra fast F2.0 aperture, you can take a picture in nearly any available light situation. Finally, the fast aperture makes for bright viewfinders, a nice feature if you shoot in dark interiors or twilight.

This wonderful lens goes for only $200 new.


 
Canon EOS 10D

10D
Review Date: Jul 21, 2003 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $1,350.00 | Rating: 8 

Pros: Cool rig: beefy and offers up great image quality and ease of use
Cons:
Smalll and slightly dim viewfinder. USB1.1 is extremely slow. Canon software suks bigtime.

The EOS 10D is basically a digital Elan 7 on steroids. The AF, metering, basic feature set and control layout are ripped straight off the Elan 7: seven AF sensors; Quick Control Dial (QCD); three meter patterns (35-zone Evaluative, partial & center weighted); automatic, semiautomatic and manual exposure and AF modes galore; 30 seconds to 1/4000 second shutter speeds; custom functions; E-TTL flash ability; dioptric adjustment; and nearly silent operation. As a digital camera the 10D is no slouch. The 6.5 megapixel CMOS sensor produces 3072 x 2048 pixel images at a rate of 3 per second in bursts of 9.

Besides the obvious (digital output), there are significant differences between the 10D and Elan 7. The first thing I noticed is the 10D has an extremely solid feel due to the magnesium body. Of course, it's also much heavier than the Elan 7 (790g vs. 580g). The satin finish is slightly rough and industrial in appearance. The Elan 7 has aluminum body plates and a plastic film door. The finish is smoother but the body feels flimsy in comparison.

There are differences hidden beneath the skin of the 10D.:
1. The 10D sports popup E-TTL flash, 1/200 X-sync and a PC terminal. The Elan 7 has a popup TTL flash, 1/125 X-sync and no PC terminal.

2. The 10D has A-DEP mode (auto DOF and hyperfocus control), normally a Rebel feature. Like pro EOS bodies, the Elan 7 has DEP mode.

What's the difference between A-DEP and DEP modes? A-DEP mode requires simultaneous alignment of AF sensors on the nearest and farthest objects desired in focus--a near impossible task! DEP mode lets you focus on the nearest and farthest objects separately. There's one more step but it always works.

3. The 10D lacks the ability to tie partial metering to the active AF sensor. The Elan 7 has a custom function for this feature. I don't miss this option but some may cry foul.

4. The 10D has illuminated LCDs. The Elan 7 leaves you in the dark.

5. The 10D only allows expensive N series wired remotes. The Elan 7 has both an inexpenstive wired and IR wireless remote (RC-1).

Finally--the most important difference--the AF system of the 10D is more sure footed in low light than the D30/D60, but also slightly better than the Elan 7!

This third generation consumer DSLR is the most feature packed and refined design of the series (D30, D60 and 10D). I don't understand why Canon didn't incorporate the Elan 7's AF into the D30 and D60 to begin with! And, yes, I really wish the 10D had ECF. I love ECF and use it about 50% of the time with my EOS 3 and Elan 7E. I suppose that will debut in next year's model.

The coolest feature of the EOS 10D isn't digital output but dial-in ISO! ISO 100 to 3200 is available, but I found ISO 800 the maximum low noise setting. ISO 1600 and 3200 are gritty, similar to film grain. Dial-in ISO 800 is a real life saver when light gets dim!

I have one major complaint about this otherwise incredible camera: like the Elan 7, the AF assist light is the popup flash! A brilliant white strobe pulses in low light thereby blinding and confusing your subjects before you take the picture. Yuck! The near-infrared AF assist light of the A2 and Elan IIE was discreet and elegant. Fortunately, you can use the AF assist light of an external Speedlite and focus on blank walls at 30 feet if you wish. For situations where flash is inappropriate but the AF assist light is needed, you may disable external flash by setting custom function 5-3.

Here's my minor beef: the 10D viewfinder appears about 35 or 40% smaller than the Elan 7 viewfinder. Compared to the EOS 3, it's downright tiny! Think of it as the Elan 7 viewfinder with a black cropping mask. However, at least it's reasonably contrasty, although not as bright as an EOS 3 or A2. Of course, you have the 1.8 inch LCD to review images after the exposure. The LCD works great except in bright sunlight where it's not very useful.

Many have decried the 1.6 magnification factor of the 10D. For example, a 300mm lens mounted on the 10D is equivalent to a 480mm lens (1.6 x 300 = 480). For me, 1.6 magnification is a plus most of the time. But, if you're into wide angle, you won't be happy. My widest lens, an EF 24 2.8, has the field of view of a 38mm lens! To reclaim the 24mm view you'll need to purchase an expensive 15mm optic!

The image quality, features and handling of the EOS 10D are nothing short of fantastic. Is it better than film? For my use, no. It's merely different with its own unique strengths and weaknesses. The 10D complements my use of film but does not replace it. It's just another emulsion for me. However, the thing I like best about the 10D is it behaves and operates almost exactly like my Elan 7E or A2. I hardly had to crack the manual and all my lenses, remotes and flash units fit. Also, digital looks and responds very similar to slide film so, again, I feel right at home. If you're coming from negative film, watch those highlights as they're easy to blow out. I won't be giving up film anytime soon (I love variety), but I'll be shooting less of it!



 
Canon EF 100-300mm f/4.5-5.6 USM

ef100_300f45_56_1_
Review Date: Jul 17, 2003 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $325.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Fast AF, FTM, nice zoom range and good quality for the price
Cons:
Zoom gets loose with use.

I bought the EF 100-300 4.5-5.6 USM in 1990 along with an EOS 10S. The 10S center cross sensor and ring-USM of the zoom produced jaw dropping fast and accurate AF. It was an earth shattering improvement after struggling for months with the slow and unreliable AF of a Nikon 8008. Polycarbonate construction, but with a metal mount, keep this zoom to a reasonable 550 g (19.4 oz). The twist action zoom is smooth but tends to creep after wearing in. Like most AF lenses, the manual focus ring is small and is not as silky or fine as the manual lenses of yesteryear.

It sports a ring-type USM (Ultrasonic Motor) that drives a rear lens group and, thus, AF rips. Amazingly, AF is slightly faster and quieter (no gear train noise) than the EF 70-200 4L USM. The front element does not rotate and the barrel does not expand or contract during focusing. Of course, being an USM lens, it is silent when focusing. It has FT-M, allowing you to manually focus without switching out of AF mode. If you prefocus manually, the distance window in meters and feet is very useful. The filter size is a modest 58 mm, making filters affordable and easy to share with common Canon lenses.

The EF 100-300 4.5-5.6 USM is a wonderful lens for the EOS Elan series, A2/A2E or D30/60/10D. It isn't as well suited for the pro EOS cameras like the EOS 1V or 1Ds as the variable aperture of F3.5 to 4.5 is too slow to activate their cross AF sensors. Couple this zoom with the EF 28-105 3.5-4.5 USM or EF 24-85 3.5-4.5 USM and you'll have an excellent but affordable all purpose kit.

For a consumer telezoom, the EF 100-300 4.5-5.6 USM is reasonably sharp and contrasty, a notch above the EF 75-300 IS USM. If you stop down to F8, it is as sharp as a prime lens at 100 mm. After 200 mm, the image gets softer but still makes nice 11 x 14 prints if your stop down to F11-16. Distortion is much better controlled than than the EF 75-300 IS USM. In fact, unlike the EF 75-300 IS USM, ocean horizons don't exhibit noticeable pincushion distortion! Moreover, flare is well controlled for a zoom. Although some flare and ghosting occurs if you shoot bright sunsets, this lens is more flare resistant than the EF 75-300 IS USM. Of course, you should use the lens shade (ET-65II or ET-65III) to help keep flare in check.

When the EF 100-300 4.5-5.6 USM first appeared in 1990, it sold for about $325 (NY prices). Now its about $250 new, a bargain. If Canon added Image Stabilization, this zoom would be a perfect balance of cost, ergonomics and performance. Heck, I'd gladly pay a couple hundred more for it.


 
Canon EF 50mm f/2.5 Compact Macro

ef_50_25c_1_
Review Date: Jul 12, 2003 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $175.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Ultra sharp, even sharp wide open; small and inexpensive
Cons:
Needs the converter for 1:1 thereby becoming a 70mm optic

This lens is optimized for macro photography and, thus, is able to focus as close as 23 cm (9 inches) and create 1/2 life size (1:2) images. With the Life Size Converter EF it's capable of life size (1:1) images. It looks similar to the EF 50 1.8, but is more beefy at 63 mm L and 280 g. It has a 6-blade diaphragm instead of the 5-blade version common to most of the old AFD prime lenses. The front element does not rotate, but the lens changes in length when focusing. Surprisingly, AF is very peppy and is only slightly slower than the EF 50 1.4 USM. Like the EF 50 1.8, this lens has 52 mm filter threads. The manual focusing ring is smooth turning, a bit loose, but more useable for manual focus than the EF 50 1.4 USM or the EF 50 1.8. Unfortunately, there are DOF markings for F16 and 32 only. Finally, this lens may be stopped down to F32 for maximum depth of field, verus F22 or F16 for most 50 mm optics.

Its nine-element design is one of the most flare resistant I have encountered, better than even the EF 50 1.4 USM and EF 50 1.8. Moreover, it is supremely well corrected for distortion and is sharp and contrasty from edge to edge from macro to infinity (Photodo 4.4 MTF). This lens is ideal for photographing coins, documents and other inanimate objects as there is virually no distortion in the macro or normal ranges. However, this is not an ideal lens for little critters and flash as the working range is very short (you could use off-camera flash or reflectors).

There is no official Canon hood for this lens, probably because of the extreme front element extension required for 1:2 or 1:1 reproduction. However, the front element is so far recessed that this is nearly a moot point. If you're not using the macro range, use of a screw-in generic hood is a good idea. The filter threads are 52 mm, making filters and hoods affordable.

Nature photographer John Shaw recommends that if you're going to buy a 50 mm lens, get a macro version. Subsequently, you'll get small F-stops and the ability to focus close if you need it. This lens is about $300 new. I bought a used one in mint condition for $175.


 
Canon EF 50mm f/1.8

3029ef_50_18_1_
Review Date: Jul 12, 2003 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $95.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Sharp, cheap, small, light, dependable & kick ass lens
Cons:
Gritty MF & people keep asking if I want to sell it...

For years this was one of my favorite lenses due to its sharpness, perspective, portability and low cost. It shares many characteristics with the EF 35 2.0: small (42 mm L), light (188 g), 5-blade diaphragm, 52 mm filter threads and focuses close (45 cm). The front element does not rotate, but the lens changes in length when focusing. This front element extension is why AF is a little slower than other AFD lenses such as the EF 24 2.8.

Surprisingly, AF is about the same speed as the EF 50 1.4 USM. Unfortunately, the AF motor is noisier than most AFD lenses. The manual focusing ring has a loose gritty feel, the worst I have used. This lens has DOF markings for F11 and 16. In contrast, the EF 50 1.8 MK II lacks a DOF scale and the EF 1.4 USM only sports F22.

The six-element design is highly flare resistant compared to a zoom lens. Moreover, it is extremely well corrected, sharp and contrasty (Photodo 4.2 MTF).

The EF 50 1.8 has been out of production since the early 90s, so it's difficult to find the original ES-65 lens hood. Unfortunately, there are three good substitutes that clip-on just like the original: the EW-65 II, ET-65 III and ES 65-III. The EW-65 II is the hood for the EF 35 2.0, so it's on the small side. The ES-65 III is the hood for the TS-E 90 2.8 but fits perfectly and affords excellent protection. The ET-65 III is the hood used for the EF 70-210 USM, EF 100-300 USM, EF 85 1.8 USM and EF 100 2.0 USM. Although it looks too big, I have used the ET-65 III with this lens for years and it gives the maximum amount of protection possible without vignetting, plus it looks cool.

Unfortunately, this wonderful lens was discontinued in 1990 and replaced by the cheaply made EF 50 1.8 MK II. Optically they are identical, but the newer version has a plastic mount rather than metal, lacks a distance window and uses a bogus screw in manual focus adapter on the end of the barrel. What a step down! [hurl] Canon probably did this to make a clear distinction between it and the EF 50 1.4 USM, a wonderful lens if you don't mind spending $350. The result is that the old EF 50 1.8 holds its value on the used market, selling for more than a new EF 50 1.8 MK II.

If you wish to buy a MK I used, expect to pay about $100 for one in excellent condition. Mint ones may be a bit more.


 
Canon EF 24mm f/2.8

ef24mmf_28_1_
Review Date: Jul 11, 2003 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $300.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Sharp, small, light & inexpensive
Cons:
More DOF markings needed

My widest prime is the EF 24 2.8. There are a lot of things to like about this lens: small (48.5 mm L), light (270 g), close focusing (25 cm), well corrected for distortion, extremely sharp (Photodo 3.9 MTF), contrasty and very flare resistant. Because it employs a rear focusing group, the front element does not rotate nor does the lens change in length when focusing. This lens would complement a travel kit nicely with its 58 mm filter size and diminutive statue.

Although it uses the Arc Form Drive (AFD), the EF 24 2.8 focuses fast due to its internal focus (IF) design. AFD designs aren't totally silent like USM, but are quieter than the AF motors of most other lens makers. However, this lens and the EF 135 2.8 SF are unusually quiet during AF. Unfortunately, AFD designs lack the FT-M feature of ring-type USM lenses. I don't miss FT-M much on wide angle zooms (telephotos are another story). The EF 24 2.8 uses the EW-60 lens hood, a twist-on cutout design. The manual focusing ring is smooth turning, but not as fine and silky as the manual lenses of yesteryear.

The 24 mm is the widest lens I am able to easily take pictures with full frame formats (wider lenses take in too much). If you like an exaggerated, ultra-close foreground object set against a sharp but distance background, this lens can do it. For maximum depth of focus, switch off AF, dial in F11 to 22, set the hyperfocal distance on the distance window and everything from 2 feet to infinity will be in focus (the distance window has DOF markings for only F11 and 22). If candid street photography is your bag, wade in a crowd and start shooting with AF off and the lens set for maximum hyperfocal distance. With 84 degrees of coverage, you can shoot off-center subjects and they won't realize you took their picture because the camera isn't pointed at them. This is also a great architectural lens due to its virtually distortion free design. All this quality will cost you about $300.


 
Canon EF 135mm f/2.8 with Softfocus

ef135mmf_28soft_1_
Review Date: Jul 6, 2003 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $275.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Ultra sharp, compact, light, fast AF, inexpensive & dial-in soft focus
Cons:
Minimun focus only 1.3 m; loose & gritty MF

The EF 135 2.8 SF was one of Canon's original EF lens offerings in 1987. The designation "Soft Focus" refers to the two levels of dial-in spherical aberration that softens and imparts a beautiful glow to the image. Unlike a soft filter, you can quickly vary the effect by changing the aperture or soft focus setting. AF works perfectly with soft focus engaged, but if you change soft focusing settings after AF, you'll have to refocus. The soft focus effect is only visible from F2.8 to 4, so you need to use Av or M mode and shoot slow film during the day. Highlights, especially on backlit subjects, enhance and intensify the glowing effect. Level 2 at F2.8 is usually too soft for my taste. When soft focus is turned off, this is an extremely sharp, contrasty and flare resistant (only 7 elements) telephoto lens.

The front element does not rotate, nor does the barrel change in length when focusing. Although it uses AFD, it focuses surprisingly fast due to its IF design, almost as fast as ring-type USM. Moreover, the sound of the AFD motor is soft and muted, softer than most AFD designs. It has a distance window but lacks FT-M. Manual focus is loose and gritty, but slightly better than the EF 50 1.8 (MK I). I wish the minimum focusing distance was closer than 1.3 m (4.3'), but at least that's near enough for a head and shoulders shot. This lens has 52 mm filter threads and uses the massive ET-65 III (or ET-65 II) lens hood, a clip-on design.

I don't use this lens for anything except outdoor portraits of women and occasional street photography. It's too long for most studio or indoor use. Most women love the glamorous, blemish free glow it imparts. The 135 mm perspective makes models look thinner than 85 or 100 mm lenses. Although build quality is a little light and plasticky (what do you expect for so little $$), I've had no problems with this lens in over 13 years of use. For only $275, you won't see much better quality this side of an L lens.