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Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM

Review Date: Feb 3, 2005 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $375.00 | Rating: 8 

Pros: Very useful zoom range; Better contrast than other Canon consumer zooms; Very sharp around f/8; IS is useful; USM quietness.
Not sharp wide open or even 1 top down.

I do have mixed feeling about this lens. Overall it is an very good lens. It is better than 28-105mm, and all Canon's consumer zooms with "F/3.5-4.5" or worse max aperture. To this sense, its price setting is at the right ranking, but could be cheaper. All USM zooms are over-priced compare to, say, Minolta's zooms.

However, this one used to be my work horse for 10D. It does have a very useful zoom range. The IS feature is very useful at low light situations for relatively still objects. (For fast moving objects, the IS is useless!) It did deliver very contrast pictures and the sharpness is excellent at around f/8. The reason I sold this one and bought a new Tamron 28-75mm Di zoom is that its sharpness is not good at wide open or even 1 stop down. I always doubt my shooting technics. However, when I calmed down and did some on-the-tripod test, I realized that this lens does not deliver sharp images at large apertures. The result is actually good for 4X6 pictures. But with digital post-image editing for digital SLR's, the sharpness does not meet my needs. The Tamron's 28-75mm does deliver extremely sharp images (although the color and contrast do not exceed 28-135mm's). The f/2.8 constant aperture almost offset its non-IS disadvantage. So, 28-75mm is a better choice to me! By the way, it is cheaper than 28-135 zoom!

So my suggestion is that if you don't enlarge your pictures or like to view your digital photos at 100% view, this is your excellent work horse! But, if you care about the sharpness, pick Tamron 28-75mm. I think it performs 95% as well as Canon's 24-70mm L. If you don't believe me, buy both and sell the one you don't want on Ebay for almost same price you pay for a new one!

Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM

Review Date: Jan 27, 2005 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $255.00 | Rating: 9 

Pros: Fast USM focus. Very sharp and uniformly sharp. Light weight. Fast f/1.4.
A little bit over-priced.

No doubt this is a great lens. For Digital SLR users, this is a must for its F1.4 and 80mm film-equivalent focal length.

However, since I have not fully used its features (like 1.4 and FTM), I sold it to easy my financial status. I have my 50mm 1.8 metal version. The pictures I took from 50mm 1.4 and 50mm 1.8 are not quite distinguishable, for I am not using 1.4 or even 1.8 much. Also the focus speed of the 1.8 (both I or II) are nearly as fast as the 1.4 (but noiser). So for my purposes, it justifies using this 1.8 version by sacrificing a some 1.4 or FTM features. My goal, of course, is to purchase another 1.4 when I have more time to take serious photos. I don't agree that 1.8 version (I or II) front-focuses or back-focuses because I have used both. It is just a matter of a bad sample.

Canon EF-S 17-85mm f4-5.6 IS USM

Review Date: Jan 27, 2005 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $575.00 | Rating: 7 

Pros: Very convenient zoom range. Good build-quality. Compact in size. Fast focus. Very useful IS function. Good sharpness at f/8.
Can't Canon make a f/4.5 at 85mm? Soft (although better than 18-55mm) wide open.

I purchased this lens with my new 20D. I did take it with me in my Bahama vacation. Over all, I feel that this lens has a very convenient zoom range. Its IS feature made me shoot at 1/20 with acceptable sharpness under low light. When shooting under bright sunny light or bright shaded areas, this lens performs as well as L lens in sharpness. Distortion is not too bad either. Plus it has fast focus speed. So this is one of the best candidates for "vacation" uses. I also took my 50mm 1.8 prime. The results are: all pictures taken from 50mm were noticeably better than this 17-85mm took in same conditions. But the difference is much less under brighter light than under low lights, which is to my expectation.

However, if you are willing to carry two lenses (assume no children), theTamron 17-35mm and Tamron 28-75mm combination easily blow this lens away! Therefore, if you would like the convenience and do not often edit/crop/enlarge your photos, I would strongly recommend this lens. The photos from this lens generally look very good with 4X6 size. But if you often look at the details of your digital photos (view them at 100%), you will very often be unsatisfied with the photo quality. I passed this lens to my father who is using digital rebel. I am holding the Canon 17-40mm and Tamron 28-75mm (for this range).

Tamron 28-75mm f2.8 XR Di Zoom AF

Review Date: Jan 24, 2005 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $310.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Image Quality is first rate. Lightweight. Good build and fast AF action.
Color is not always pleasant although neutral. No other major bad points.

I have used this one for more than half a year. This is the only 3rd party lens I kept after experiencing half dozens 3rd party lenses on my Canon 10D/20D. I have not used Canon's 24-70mm L lens. However, when I compare the image quality of this one with Canon's 17-40 L, 28-80mm L, 50mm f/1.4, 70-200mm, I am convinced that this is a very high quality lens.

First, its sharpness is in-line of Canon's L lenses. Over all, the sharpness beats that of Canon's 17-40 L. meets or exceeds 28-80mm L, gets very closed to 50mm (1.8 or 1.4) and 70-200mm. Its focus speed is fast enough and fairly quiet too. I don't feel it is significantly slower than my 17-40 L, although a little noiser. The Canon's 17-40L is almost dead quiet.

I don't agree that this lens is sharper than 50mm prime, epecially at aperture larger than 5.6. But its resolution really meets the 50mm one. The image from 70-200mm f4 seem sharper and more color-pleasant. But when you view the pictures at 100% size, you don't feel that the Tamron's pictures have less details. This one can deliver more sharp photos than Tamron's own 17-35mm lens. I feel that Tamron's 17-35mm zoon is over all sharper than Canon's 17-40L for still pictures.

The build quality of this lens is good enough for amateur uses. And price-wise, it is unbeatable. For my purpose, this is a much much better buy than Canon's 24-70mm. (If 24-70mm drops to $500, I would buy it.)

I think if you are advanced non-professional shooter, you must own this lens! I would not hesitate to rate this lens a 10.

Sigma 17-35 mm f2.8-4.0 EX DG HSM

Review Date: Jan 12, 2005 Recommend? no | Price paid: $300.00 | Rating: 6 

Pros: fairly fast focus. Good center sharpness. Small in size.
un-uniform corner performace. Distortion worse than Canon or Tamron. Rough focus motions.

I have used this one together with Canon's 17-40 L and Tamron's 17-35mm. The performance of Sigma seems to trail in the group. I may have got an bad example. The left lower corner is noticeably worth than other corner in image quality at wide end. The focus action is rough (not like an HSM supposed to be). Focusing for dark environment is not consistent. Corner distortion is much worse than Canon or Tamron.

However, it does have some good points. It has f/2.8 at wide end, although it is not quite useful. The center sharpness can be as good as or even better than those from Canon and Tamron specially at 35mm end. This is to say that if you mainly shoot single person or groups with very few people, this lens can do a nice job! So, I would say that if you get a used one for $300 or lower price and it does perform normal. Get the lens! This is a newer version lens so it cannot be two old! Or if you care about the uniformity of the pictures, choose either Canon (for good quality and fast action) or Tamron (for good quality only).

Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM

Review Date: Jan 6, 2005 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $550.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Light, fast, quiet and, yes, sharp! Very very sharp!
Performance at extreme corner is noticeably poor sometimes.

I purchased a used 70-200mm a year ago and did not find astonish results on this lens. Thatís partially because that used one (later proven to have some problems) was not calibrated well with my then 10D. Many pictures were sharper than 70-210mm f/4 but over all not as sharp as reviewers suggested to be. At least I found that my even older used 80-200mm L performed significantly better. To prove that most reviewers did not over-praise this lens, I simply purchased a new one this week for my new 20D. The result is..

This new lens and my new 20D (purchased Nov, 2004) matched perfectly! The result was very very sharp even at f/4! Also, I am satisfied with the newspaper-shooting test results too. Resolution, color, contrast and light uniformity were all first-rated. Got more on-focus shots than my Tokina 100-300mm F4 (which is also excellent at optical quality.) I only found that the extreme lower-left corner had a little more decreased sharpness than the lower-right corner for some shots. I only had this lens for one day. More tests should have been done before I post this review. However, the difference between this one and the used one I purchased last year is so significant that I cannot help letting the reader know this result!

So my suggestion is that purchase NEW 70-200mm f/4 lens from authorized dealer! The new one costs $550 (plus rebate discounts now). Don't buy used ones on Ebay that cost $525 on average! I do trades on Ebay a lot to test out different lenses. My experience tells me not to tough used ones if you don't save over 50%! Because generally used ones do not perform as well as the brand new ones. This is because that if people like the lens very much, they won't sell it! What is put out for sale are mostly problem ones. Bad samples do exist. But if you buy from authorized dealers, you are safe!

I would rate this lens a solid 5. And if you don't need f2.8, this is an absolute best buy!

Tamron 17-35mm f2.8-4 Di LD Aspherical

Review Date: Jan 4, 2005 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $465.00 | Rating: 8 

Pros: Fairly sharp images. Good uniform lighting and sharpness. Low distortions. Light in weight. low-noise focusing.
low-speed focusing sometimes which can also cause mis-focussing. More flares than Canon's L.

I spend a lot of time on trying different lenses. For the middle range, I found Tamron's 28-75mm Di to have the best performance/price ratio. So I purchased this 17-35mm Di because of the reputation of Tamron's 28-75mm Di.

I found this Tamron, with extended in-house and field tests, to be a very good performer, just as Photo Mag claimed. Its sharpness and picture uniformity (including light fall-off, sharpness, and distortion) can really rival Canon's 17-40mm L. It can also deliver neutral colors. I found Canon's 17-40mm L delivers more eye-pleasant colors for un-modified pictures. But you can always use Photoshop to manipulate the colors. The focus speed is generally fast although it gets slow sometimes under low-lights or so. To be fair, Sigma's new 17-35mm DG focuses faster but with rough motion and louder noise. (Do I get a bad sample?) Also, Sigma's center sharpness meets or exceeds even the standard of Canon's 17-40mm. But Tamron has better corner sharpness. So if you need the picture to contain figures from center to corner, the Tamron is obviously a better choice. Tamron also has some advantage over Canon at wide angle due to its f2/8 speed. But I found at f/4, Tamron and Canon gave me similar picture qualities.

I also noticed that I can take more good pictures using Canon's 17-40 lens. This is due to Canon's butter smooth and fast focusing mechanism. Also, Canon's lens has excellent flare controls. But if you only take pictures for still objects, I would strongly recommend the Tamron lens. Because I need to deal with my kids often, my choice would still be Canon's 17-40mm. However, I would not hesitate to recommend Tamron to you if you do not always need faster shootings. For 1-2-3-cheese shots, Tamron performs as well as Canon. So overall, Tamron may have a better value for its price (Now $479-$40 rebate from 1/1/05.) Compare to Canon's 17-40mm, I would rate this Tamron 4.5. Canon gets a 5. Sigma's 17-35mm DG gets a solid 4. However, if the price factor is considered, I would rate this Tamron a little higher than even Canon. Remember that Infinity's G35 was rated higher than BMW 330i after the price was considered?