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Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM Pancake

pancake-1
Review Date: Sep 21, 2012 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $199.00 | Rating: 8 

 
Pros: Compact size, light weight, acceptable image quality, low price
Cons:
A little too long on a crop body and sits in the middle ground where it doesn't particularly excel at anything - it's something of a compromise lens

I bought this lens not because I particularly needed a prime 40mm lens, but because it was new, cheap and something of a novelty. It certainly makes carrying around a DSLR a lot more comfortable compared to most other lenses. If you just want to have a camera on you, without necessarily going out specifically to take photos, a DSLR plus several weighty, bulky lenses can start to weigh/get you down. The 40mm STM pancake's small size and light weight is most welcome.

The 40mm focal length is really too long on my 1.6x crop body and would be better on FF. This lens has been spoken about as being good for street photography because it is small, inconspicuous and doesn't draw attention. In practice I haven't found it great for street photography.

I prefer my EF-S 10-22 for great perspectives, composition and huge DOF. I prefer my EF 85mm f/1.8 for stunning colours, contrast and image quality. I prefer my EF 70-200 f/4L for getting in close when I am distant.

There is no doubt the EF 40mm STM pancake is compact, light and convenient but I have found it to be a compromise lens. It is more convenient to carry around than other lenses, but it can't do things as well or doesn't have the same 'pop' as other lenses.

It certainly has a place in anyone's camera bag and the low price makes it something of a no-brainer. There are certain situations where this will be my lens of choice, but it isn't the great all round lens I thought it might be.

The STM AF technology works fine. It's maybe not as fast as some other lenses but it is no slouch. I haven't experienced the AF problem that has been highlighted, which needs a firmware update.

Some more thoughts and a few sample images here:

http://phil.uk.net/photography/canon_40F28_STM_pancake.html


 
Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM

ef400mmf_56_1_
Review Date: May 7, 2010 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $1,357.00 | Rating: 9 

 
Pros: Reasonable price for the focal length, reasonable weight, great image quality, fast and accurate AF, built-in lens hood, tripod collar included
Cons:
No IS, minimum focusing distance not that close

In theory the EF 300mm f/4L IS lens plus an EF 1.4x extender should be a better choice than the EF 400mm f/5.6L lens. Instead of just 400mm @ f/5.6, you get 300mm @ f/4 or 420mm @f/5.6 plus Image Stabilisation.

That's the theory. In practice, it didn't work out for me because the EF 300mm f/4L IS lens I owned never really delivered the results I was expecting. I sold it and bought the EF 400mm f/5.6L.

So far, this lens has exceeded all my expectations. The image quality is very good, and with small subjects I think the limiting factor is my 40D's sensor. I'm sure the extra pixel density of a 7D will help, and that will probably be my next acquisition.

Autofocus is accurate and very quick. The image quality is still perfectly acceptable with the Canon EF 1.4x extender but - of course - autofocus ceases to function on bodies other than 1-Series cameras.

When using an extender, manual focusing using Live View works adequately but the process is slow and not really suitable for photographing quick moving subjects, such as birds. The lens isn't too bad for hand-holding but after a few hours my forearms start to ache a little.

The biggest drawback is the lack of IS. After using lenses with the latest technology IS, it is something that I miss very much. I feel happier using this lens on a tripod but it isn't possible all the time.

I won't get into the EF 400mm f/5.6L vs the EF 100-400mm L zoom lens debate because I've never used the 100-400mm.

My buying decision was based on the theory that with the zoom I would probably be using it at 400mm most of the time. The prime was cheaper, and probably sharper - although I know some people say it isn't.

I'd love an updated version with improved optics and four-stop Image Stabilisation. When/If Canon announce that lens I will upgrade, but until that happens I am happy with the version that's available now.

A few image samples at:

http://phil.uk.net/photography/canon_400F56L.html


 
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM

ef10028lmisu_586x225
Review Date: Apr 18, 2010 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 9 

 
Pros: A flexible lens that can used in true macro mode or as a medium telephoto. Consistent, reliable autofocus and effective IS. Very sharp with pleasing colours, contrast and bokeh. Fairly compact and light.
Cons:
Good for telephoto use, but not stunning. For portraits my 85mm f/1.8 performs just as well, if not slightly better.

I should still have my original Canon 100mm f/2.8 macro lens but although it worked well for macro shots, the autofocusing was completely unreliable when used for telephoto work. It frustrated me so much that I sold it.

I am very pleased to be able to report that its successor has inherited none of the autofocusing problems that I personally experienced with the original lens.

This is still a new lens to me but early impressions are very positive. In macro mode (with or without extension tubes) it is very sharp. I am looking forward to doing lots more close-up work.

Used as a telephoto lens for portraits, the autofocus works flawlessly with good colour, contrast and bokeh. The new IS system is very effective but no better than my EF 70-200 f/4L IS.

What's not so good? I'm not absolutely convinced about the new hybrid IS system. This new IS system has supposedly been designed especially for macro work but I always find I need a tripod for macro, so turn off the IS. Maybe I will find a use for this some time in the future?

For portraits the lens gives very good results but actually no better than my humble Canon EF 85mm f/1.8, which was a lot cheaper.

In summary, if you plan to do an equivalent amount of macro and telephoto it's a useful lens. If you think you will mainly do telephoto work, then there are cheaper lenses that will probably perform just as well.

Some sample images and more thoughts at the following link (more images to come soon):

http://phil.uk.net/photography/canon_100F28LIS.html


 
Gitzo G2227 Explorer


Review Date: Apr 7, 2010 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

 
Pros: Light enough to carry around comfortably, fairly small when folded, very high-quality construction, incredibly versatile and flexible, works flawlessly in the field, it's a Gitzo.
Cons:
Puts a dent in your bank account, however, you only ever get what you pay for.

This review is for the Gitzo GT2541EX CF6X Explorer, which I couldn't find on the list. The G2227 seems to be about the closest match. Sorry.

I came so close to buying a cheap imitation Gitzo but at the last moment I came to my senses. I'm glad I did. For what seems like a fairly simple piece of equipment, Gitzo prices seem high ... especially compared to all the cheap knock-offs.

Once you are in the field though, you can feel the quality. Also, with your expensive camera, lens, teleconverter, flash, etc., sitting on the top, you don't want to take any chances. So many times in life it seems that we can get a better deal elsewhere, but all we are really doing is making a false economy.

This tripod is amazing. The leg and centre column design means that you can set it up anywhere, and have your lens pointing wherever you want. It works fine as a standard tripod, but excels doing macro work in the field.

If you are tall and want an eye level tripod while standing up, the GT2541EX probably won't be tall enough. If you have big lenses and gimbal heads, then it probably won't be strong or sturdy enough.

If you want a lightish tripod for travelling and trekking that is extraordinary flexible and, at the same time, constructed to the highest standards, this is the one.

For some photos in the field and more thoughts, see:

http://phil.uk.net/photography/gitzo_gt2541ex_tripod.html


 
Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM

ef85mmf_18usm_1_
Review Date: Mar 27, 2010 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

 
Pros: Cheap, light weight, great low-light performance, very good image quality, pleasant bokeh, good reach on a crop body
Cons:
None really

This lens is a real bargain. The image quality is indistinguishable from my L lenses and it is a lot faster than any of my L lenses.

The construction may not be to L standards, but it feels quite solid. Not being an L lens, it doesn't come with a lens hood but I haven't really found a hood to be necessary.

The shallow depth of field and smooth bokeh makes it a good portrait lens. It's particularly good for street photography and candid photos. It's not much bigger than a 'standard' lens; it's not white; and it therefore doesn't attract attention.

The reach is good on a crop body camera and for portraits you have a comfortable working distance from your subject.

Compressed landscape scenes are also good. The closest focusing distance isn't that close so there are limits with macro-type work.

Considering the image quality and price, I can't criticise any aspect of this lens.

For some sample images see:

http://phil.uk.net/photography/canon_85F18.html


 
Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM

EF10-22
Review Date: Mar 27, 2010 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 9 

 
Pros: Sharp, good image quality, light weight, offers unique composition capabilities
Cons:
For crop body cameras only, vignetting can be a problem, AF/MF switch easy to knock accidentally, focus and zoom ring positions reversed compared to other Canon lenses

For Canon crop body cameras there is only one Canon ultrawide lens available. This is it.

If you are used to lenses of a more conventional focal length, you are in for quite a surprise when you first look through the viewfinder with this lens mounted.

The composition opportunities are nothing like standard lenses, but at the same time composition can be difficult because there is just so much in the frame.

In some situations, only this lens will do. In other situations, other lenses can be used but the perspective using this lens can give a completely different kind of photo. For that reason, it can be quite addictive.

On a crop body camera it gives a minimum focal length of 16mm. The Canon 550EX flash (using the built-in diffuser) is only supposed to cover 17mm but this combination seems to work OK.

In bright conditions vignetting can be a noticeable problem but this is easily fixed in post-processing.

For some more thoughts and sample images see:

http://phil.uk.net/photography/canon_10-22.html


 
Canon Speedlite 550EX TTL

CA550EXU_1_
Review Date: Feb 28, 2010 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

 
Pros: Flexible, powerful, portable, reliable. Can be used alone, or as a Master or Slave in a wireless system. If you can pick up a good used 550EX for a low price it should prove to be something of a bargain.
Cons:
Doesn't have the features of the 580EX II but this fact won't necessarily affect your photos.

The 550EX (now discontinued) was Canon's top-of-the-range flash unit before the 580EX and 580EX II. You are unlikely to be able to buy a new one now, but picking one up second-hand will probably be a lot cheaper than a new 580EX II.

Is it worth it, or should you just buy a 580EX II?

The 580EX II is smaller, lighter, more powerful, has more features, adjusts to the sensor size in your digital camera, and looks better. It also features E-TTL II compared to E-TTL in the 550EX.

This all sounds good, but in reality nothing about the 580EX II guarantees you better photos compared to using a 550EX.

As I read on one review, understanding the way your camera and flash system works will make far more difference to your photos than whether you use a 580EX II or 550EX.

The 550EX is very flexible and can be used as part of a wireless Speedlite system - either as a 'Master' or 'Slave'.

If money is no object, just get the latest and greatest model. However, if you are on a budget and can get hold of a used 550EX in good condition I don't think you will be disappointed.

For more thoughts and some sample photos, see:

http://phil.uk.net/photography/canon_550EX_speedlite_flash.html


 
Canon Speedlite Transmitter ST-E2

st-e2
Review Date: May 4, 2009 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 8 

 
Pros: Dedicated, thus retains E-TTL/E-TTL II functionality. The battery-powered system is totally portable so you can use it in the middle of a field. The ratio control is a convenient way to adjust lighting.
Cons:
This is just one component off an off-camera lighting system and if you buy everything separately it starts to get expensive. It is low powered compared to studio lighting, and batteries run out.

I bought my ST-E2 when I started to get interested in off-camera lighting. I then needed to buy a lightstand, bracket and umbrella for my 550EX ... which was expensive. Had I continued down this path, I would then have needed to buy another Canon flash unit, another lightstand, etc etc. Buying all this stuff separately is not cheap.

I bought an entire budget studio lighting kit for less than I paid for the ST-E2 alone. The kit has three strobes, three light stands, two diffusing umbrellas, and all the accessories you need. It's not as portable (because it needs mains power) and I no longer have E-TTL, so getting the exposure right is a bit trickier but no big deal.

It was a cheap kit but it works very well and puts out a lot more light than the Canon dedicated system.

There are still occasions when I am shooting outside that I can find a use for the ST-E2, but for portrait work and product shots indoors, a cheap studio lighting kit was better and cheaper for me.

I bought the ST-E2 on a whim without thinking ahead long term as to what I wanted to achieve. If I had given it more thought, I wouldn't have bothered.

It is by no means a bad product but for what I wanted, a budget studio lighting kit gave me the best option for the best price.

http://phil.uk.net/photography/canon_ST-E2_speedlite_transmitter.html



 
Canon Extender EF 1.4x II

exef14_1_
Review Date: Apr 9, 2009 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

 
Pros: A light, easy and not too expensive way to extend the focal length of your existing lenses with no noticeable degradation in image quality. Minimum focusing distance of the lens remains the same when the teleconverter is used.
Cons:
One stop loss of light. A bit fiddly assembling in the field. Used with lenses that have F5.6 maximum aperture, this is reduced to F8 which then means that autofocus won't work on xxD bodies.

The 1.4x converter works very well on my 300mm F4L IS and 70-200mm F4L IS lenses. It's small, light, easy to carry around and gives me a lot more flexibility.

There's not a great deal else to say. I've read lots of reports about image degradation but although this may be noticeable under lab conditions, I can't see it in real world photos.

Judge for yourself. I've posted some shots using the lenses mentioned above with and without the teleconverter. These images will give you an idea of both the magnification effect and the image quality.

http://phil.uk.net/photography/canon_14x_teleconverter.html


 
Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM

ef70_200_4_1_
Review Date: Apr 5, 2009 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

 
Pros: Image quality; build quality; bargain price. Lens hood included.
Cons:
Rather obviously: no IS! Other than that, perfect. As you will be aware, this becomes a 320mm lens on a crop body and that is starting to stretch the limits of hand-holdability when the light starts to go.

This has to be the best Canon 'L' lens bargain there is. I'd owned a Canon FD 70-210 F4 for many years while shooting film so this was a natural purchase after moving to digital.

The image quality blew me away. Not only that, but it was always 100% consistent and reliable.

I'd still have it today if Canon hadn't brought out the IS version. A version of this lens plus four-stop IS was just too much to resist.

I didn't want to sell it but after purchasing the IS version I had no need for this lens. It continues to sell for a bargain price new, and there are many good samples available second-hand.

If you are on a bit of a budget I would recommend this lens to anyone unhesitatingly.

I've posted a few sample images at the following link. Click on the thumbnail images to see a larger version.

http://phil.uk.net/photography/canon_70-200F4L.html


 
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM

ef_100_28_1_
Review Date: Apr 5, 2009 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 7 

 
Pros: Capable of very good image quality and amazing sharpness. Good build quality - feels solid. When taking macro shots, provides a decent working distance.
Cons:
Inconsistent focusing was my major gripe but this may have been a fault with the particular copy I had. When used as a portrait lens, the focal length is a little too long on a 1.6x crop body. No lens hood or tripod mount included. Some AF hunting in low light.

I feel like I am the only person ever to have had a problem with this lens. At its best, it was capable of all the positive things I have read about.

However, the copy I had didn't focus consistently. Maybe it was user error but I've been taking photos for a long time and I have never experienced the same kind of problems with other lenses.

Maybe I just got a bad copy?

Anyway, I couldn't live with a lens that I couldn't trust ... so it went. I still want a macro lens but my dilemma now is do I go for the 60mm EF-S, or chance my arm and go for another 100mm hoping it will be a better copy this time?

I've posted a few image samples at the following link. Click on the thumbnails to see large versions.

http://phil.uk.net/photography/canon_100F28.html

You can see the amazing sharpness in some images, but in others you will notice they are slightly soft. I haven't posted the ones that are very soft.


 
Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM

ef17-40_4l_1_
Review Date: Oct 26, 2007 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 8 

 
Pros: Excellent, versatile walkaround lens. Good colour rendition, fast and accurate focusing.
Cons:
A little extra length at the telephoto end would be welcome. No IS, which is something we are coming to expect on all lenses these days - even wide angle.

This is the first lens I bought when I switched to a digital system and the lens that I use most of the time. It is an excellent, versatile lens capable of delivering very pleasing images.

At just over 27mm (full frame equivalent) on the wide end, it is adequate for almost all of my needs but occasionally a little extra length on the telephoto end would be welcome.

The 17-55mm F2.8 EF-S IS sounds like an interesting alternative but I would need to upgrade my camera body first, my 10D not being able to accept EF-S lenses. The extra stop, extra zoom range, image stabilisation, and reportedly high image quality all sound great.

The 17-40mm - as with all L series lenses - is built like a tank and feels like a serious piece of equipment. Colour rendition is good; focusing quick and accurate. It actually makes for a good portrait lens without subjects suffering from ugly perspective distortion.

Physically, it's a big lens (77mm filter) and with the lens hood attached I cannot use the onboard flash on the 10D at 17mm although it is OK at 40mm. The built-in flash on later 1.6x crop body cameras raises higher so this may not be a problem with the 20D/30D/40D.

Even if I were to buy the 17-55mm, I cannot imagine selling the 17-40mm because it has served me so well for over three years.

Some sample images at:

http://phil.uk.net/photography/canon_17-40F4L.html


 
Canon EF 300mm f/4L IS USM

ef300mmf_4_1_
Review Date: Oct 24, 2007 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 7 

 
Pros: Capable of taking pleasing photos, weight and size for focal length, built-in lens hood
Cons:
IS noticeably less effective than current generation, unreliable focusing with 1.4x extender

I would have rated this lens higher had I reviewed it before buying the 70-200mm F4 L IS.

The 70-200mm F4 L IS illustrates the improvements that have been made by Canon in recent years in the areas of image stabilisation and lens coatings. The 300mm F4 L IS is not a bad lens but the IS it uses does not freeze what you see in the viewfinder in the same way as the latest generation of IS used in the 70-200mm F4 L, nor do images taken with this lens have the same degree of 'pop' as that of the 70-200mm F4 L IS.

It's not a lens I use often. With an effective focal length of 480mm on a 1.6x crop body camera, it is quite specialised and not suited for general 'walkaround' photography but it is still a handy lens to have at times.

The IS works - and you can easily notice the difference if you switch it off - but, as stated above, it is noticeably less effective than the latest generation of IS.

Combined with the Canon 1.4x II extender, results have been variable. The extender doesn't appear to degrade the optics very much but focusing is a lot less reliable (although this could be due to focusing limitations with my 10D). I am hoping that a future 40D upgrade will improve this weakness.

I have taken some decent photos with this lens but the 'keeper' rate is a lot lower compared to the 70-200mm F4 L IS which is a lens I find difficult to fault at any level.

I like the convenience of the built-in lens hood and a tripod ring is also included.

There is a nice opportunity for Canon to upgrade this lens and work the same magic they did with the 70-200 F4 L IS. Were they to do that, I would definitely sell my existing lens and upgrade.

A few sample images at:

http://phil.uk.net/photography/canon_300F4LIS.html


 
Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM

ef70-200lisusm
Review Date: Oct 20, 2007 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

 
Pros: Image quality, size, weight, consistency, reliability, ease of use
Cons:
None

In 25 years of photography, this is the finest lens I have owned to date. It is exceptional and, for what it gives me, I don't regard it as being overpriced.

I upgraded from the non-IS version purely for the benefit of IS, not expecting a great improvement in image quality, but whatever Canon has done with the lens coatings, or such, the improvement in the areas of contrast, colour and sharpness are quite noticeable.

I can carry this lens around with me all day, along with a 1.6x crop body and a 17-40mm and not suffer any backache as I do if I also take along my 300mm F4 L IS.

The 17-40mm and the 70-200mm F4 L IS are sufficient for almost all my needs. If I think I might need a little more reach I use the Canon Extender 1.4x II which is light and works well with the 70-200 although focusing with this combination on my 10D isn't as consistent compared to using the lens without the converter.

http://phil.uk.net/photography/canon_70-200F4LIS.html