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Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM

Review Date: Nov 7, 2011 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $6,569.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: image quality, AF speed and accuracy, IQ with TCs, build quality
lens "cap" (only a minor nit)

The build quality is top notch by any measure. Weight, although not reduced from the previous version as much as it was for the 400/2.8 Mk II, is easily managed and perfectly balanced on a 1D series body. On a 1D4, image quality is even across the frame wide open, right to the corners. Stopping down fractionally (f/3.2, 3.5) yields the slightest improvement in corner resolution, but without direct comparison, shots at f/2.8 look critically sharp at the pixel level. I have used the lens a bit with an extender 1.4x II, and quite a lot with a 2x III. Although AF drive is slowed by Canon's algorithm, it is still fast enough for most needs. Focus acquisition with the 2x in wildlife shooting is better than I'd expected, and follow focus is no problem. Focus acquisition with the "bare" 300 is amazingly fast.

As for IQ with the extenders, it is remarkable. I've come to think of this as a portable and relatively affordable 600/5.6 which is more than just usable wide open. I don't have the steadiest hands, so the IS is invaluable to me. It easily gives the rated 4 stops of improvement for me, whether with the bare lens or using either extender.

The only nit I would pick with the design is the padded cover that Canon provides as a lens cap. It is nice to have and use over the reversed hood when putting the lens in bag or case, but it's a little "fussy" to get it on the end of the hood when mounted in shooting position, and it even scrapes the finish of the rubber cover on the end of the (metal) hood. (That might be a concern for gear collectors, not for working photographers.) I'd rather have a push-on or clip-on cap, if it worked well.

Other great features include the focus preset, a third IS mode that's useful for sports, and buttons that can be used to engage spot-AF.

The price has risen quite a bit since I pre-ordered and later received mine, and it is certainly a big jump over the price of the original version of this lens. Nonetheless, if you can afford it and you can make use of its capabilities, I would recommend this L without reservation.

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM

Review Date: Jan 30, 2010 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

Pros: Great optical quality throughout distance range, at all apertures. Very effective IS. Weather sealed, fine build quality. Fast, accurate AF. Versatile lens.

I have used this lens extensively (on 5DII and 1DIII) for all sorts of macro subjects, portraits, and walk-around detail shots. It has not disappointed me in any significant way. The only nit picking observation I'd make is that after shooting at close range in low light, the AF sometimes freezes if I shift my attention to a more distant subject. However, in situations like that it only takes a moment to use manual focus to get close to the mark, and AF will then take over immediately when called. The full time manual focus makes this no problem. This is probably partly a characteristic of the 5DII; I haven't noticed it with the 1DIII, but I haven't done as much of this sort of shooting with that body.

I find the 100L to be a terrific portrait lens. It's not a substitute for an 85L or 135L, but very versatile. Often f/2.8 is more appropriate for a portrait than 1.2 - 2.0, and in low light situations, four stops of compensation for hand held shake (which is the amount of benefit I get from the IS) is often more useful than one to two and a half stops wider aperture.

No one lens suits all purposes, but this one is a winner that I wish I could have had years ago!

Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM

Review Date: Dec 11, 2006 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $1,599.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: High contrast and resolution across the frame (even at wide apertures), beautiful bokeh, consistent AF, flawless build quality and feel.
Price, moderate AF speed.

After head to head testing against my 50/1.4, a bit of real world shooting, and comparison with my other L primes (24, 35, 85Mk2, 135), I'm ready to consider this lens a trusted part of my Canon arsenal. I've checked it out with the 1Ds and 1DMk2. Here are my basic findings:

Using the center AF point and a high contrast target at about 1.5 meters (~5 feet), the focus was dead on. Wide open, the images were sharp at center and pretty far toward the corners. Using an off-center focusing point, the focus was not as accurate. That could be a concern for vertical portraits, but in practice I found that the inaccuracy in AF was not as great as the difficulty of keeping an exactly stable distance to the subject when doing a hand held, close range portrait. In other words, don't rock if you expect to keep the paper thin DOF on the eyes at f/1.2! Working with this lens in that manner is much like using the 85L.

Autofocus is not quite as fast as the 50/1.4, though more consistent, and even quiter. It is about the same speed as the 35L, definitely faster than the 85LMk2, noticeably slower than the 85/1.8.

One minor nit about the AF: I find that at distances of 2 feet and under, the lens back-focuses slightly on either body. Minor, because when I'm that close, I'm going to stop down and/or use manual focus. At portrait distances, AF is acccurate and adequately fast for that use.

There is vignetting at f/1.2, which I consider no shortcoming at that aperture. The exposure in the central part of the frame is close to a half stop greater than that with the 50/1.4 wide open. That is, if (as some have complained) the 50L is not quite a true f/1.2 (I'm not equipped to measure the f/ ratio, as opposed to light transmission), it is at least faster than the 1.4 lens by an appropriate margin.

From an aesthetic standpoint, I love what I'm seeing in out-of-focus backgrounds. Bokeh is not a quantitative measure of "how blurry are the OOF areas", or "how perfectly round are the OOF highlights". Rather, it's a judgment about how prettily things are rendered. To borrow a phrase from Michael Reichmann, I like the way this lens "draws", both in focus and out. It is definitely priced on the high end of its worth, but since I only get fussier about images as I get older, I think I will be glad that I have it, especially when I can forget what I paid for it!

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

Review Date: May 23, 2003 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $500.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: IS can be a lifesaver, optics excellent at middle apertures, great zoom range, light weight
zoom creep, softness at wide apertures

I bought this lens within a few months of its release [6 years ago?], and it continues to be a workhorse for me. I've shot perhaps 10,000 images with it, starting on film and going through generations of DSLRs. When I used to shoot Kodak Technical Pan and make 12x18 darkroom prints, it was clear that Canon's 50/1.4 was sharper [right to the corners, even at f/4, and a knockout at 5.6-11], whereas the 28-135 was soft wide open, and even at f/11 did not quite have the contrast and resolution of the 50 [well duh!]. However, with a DSLR, even my 1Ds, the zoom is about as sharp as any lens at f/11, and for portrait work at 5.6 and 8, the center is as sharp as a tack [and who cares about the corners!], so I'm happy. There is some zoom creep when the lens is angled down, I wouldn't trust it to resist moisture (though it has withstood a few sprinkles over the years), and as you would expect, low light focusing is not as good as with an f/2.8 lens, but all in all, even if I had the full range of L lenses (I have one, and plan in time to add two more) I would grab one of these - it's a very useful lens to have! I won't give up mine unless Canon comes out with a 24-135 with IS, preferably with faster aperture and L build quality but not too much more weight!

Sigma 24-70mm f2.8 EX Aspherical DG DF

Review Date: Mar 30, 2003 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $370.00 | Rating: 8 

Pros: optical quality
dual focus switches

Very useful range, fast focusing in low light, excellent quality at all openings. The only negative is the dual switch system for AF. It does keep the ring from rotating during AF, but means working two switches whenever a quick MF touchup is needed.

Canon EF 35mm f/2

Review Date: Mar 30, 2003 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $200.00 | Rating: 6 

Pros: image quality
not USM

The optical quality is first rate, and the focusing is quick, but because it is not one of Canon's USM designs, manual focusing requires use of the switch. Build quality is only fair, comparable to the 50/1.4, rather than to the L series lenses.

[I purchased mine used; the prices for new ones would be higher than what I paid.]