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Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM

Review Date: Aug 10, 2008 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $1,000.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Image quality, color rendering, superfast and accurate autofocus, superb handling, build quality, compactness
Minimum focusing distance 3.5m

There are many reviews concerning the quality and performance of this lens, go along and read them. I will try to add a different, more practical perspective. Please note that I am an amateur photographer and some of my findings might not be the fault of the lens, but lack of my skills.

I cultivate kite boarding (water sport) and specialize photographing kiteboarders, windsurfers and surfers. I have been challenged to make good pictures because usually the subjects are quite far in the see (or the ocean).

I have been using Canon EF 100-400 3.5-5.6L for those purposes for a year but have never been satisfied. The autofocus and subject tracing were very poor, most of the time, because of the autofocus errors the subject was blurred most of the time. Manual focus was no good because it went from infinity to the closest distance too fast; the accurate results were difficult to obtain. The contrast has always been the same story. Not always you can choose the direction of the sun vs. the shore and sometimes you have to shoot almost against the sun (sun in front but out of the picture). In those cases 100-400 produced just black silhouettes. The size and the weight of this lens was also challenging. It was very difficult to handhold the lens for when it is extended it is huge and has a lot of weight in the front.

So I have read the reviews here and decided that I need this lens. Guess what? Everything that was listed as 100-400 negative aspects where solved with 400 5.6L lens! The autofocus speed is simply brilliant, with EOS 20D (handhold) it traces the subject without any hesitation and makes crystal clear pictures. Manual focus is not needed but it is much better balanced that in the zoom cousin. Now I can shoot against the sun and the slightest nuances of color can be spotted on the subject. The contrast is superb. Moreover, with this lens the tripod is not needed! It is easy to handhold this lens and 9/10 pictures are crystal sharp. The weight is distributed much better with this lens and it is lighter by 200g so tripod is not needed.

Concerning the two disadvantages that most people list IS and 5.6 aperture I have my own findings. Neither of those are disadvantages in water sport shooting. In the sunny conditions (with small clouds) in my country (LTU) I set the shutter at 800 (which is more than enough to get sharp images) and ISO at 200. Aperture varies from 7.1 to 11. If the sky is covered with thin/medium clouds the ISO needs to be raised to 400 to achieve the same results. In the evening with cloudy conditions I leave ISO400 and aperture drops to 5.6 (which, as you know produces excellent sharpness results on this lens) and sometimes shutter automatically drops to 640 (which is the lowest recommended shutter speed for 400mm lens (x1.6 crop factor) handheld). The results are that 9/10 pictures are crystal sharp and no ISO noise whatsoever.
As you can see, for the purposes that I use this lens it is just perfect. If you need a lens for outdoor sports buy this lens without any hesitation.

Canon EOS Rebel XT (350D)

Review Date: Apr 10, 2008 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $590.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Weight, battery life, ISO performance, ease of use, compatibility with all Canon EF lenses, 8Mp, compatible with 4GB CFs, $$$
Too small with large lens

First, it is very compact and light. Joy to carry (especially with Canon EF 50/1.8 Mk2 lens Smile
Second, it has enormous battery life. I absolutely disagree with others that battery is a disadvantage. It is a clear advantage! I.e. I shoot two days (~800 pictures) with Canon 100-1400 5.6L lens without recharging the battery. I have never ever faced the battery drain problem. Even if I find out that the battery indicator shows one third, I still never face the battery drain problem.
Third, ISO performance up to 800 (including 800) is very very good.
Fourht, you can use all the canon lenses no matter if they are EF or EF-S.
8MP is enough for almost anything.
Compatible with large CF cards. I shoot sports and it takes hundreds of pictures, so 4GB card makes sense.
And, for the price of 570$ I carry it everywhere, and especially to the beach (where shoot kiteboarding). It has no failures what so ever.
Price Smile
When mounted with large lens like 100-400L the body is clearly too small for males hand.

Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM

Review Date: Nov 28, 2007 Recommend? no | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 8 

Pros: Zoom range! Small, light, IS
A pain in the neck to focus in low light! CA visible in particular situations, a bit soft at f4

I have rented this lens to photograph my cousins wedding. It is perfect on a sunny day. However...

When it became darker the lens started to refuse to focus. Under the clouds the CA was visible. Actually, the bride's white wedding dress even looked a little bit blueish. I have switched to Canon EF 50mm 1.8 II for couple of shots and it did not show any blueish whatever... F4 was a usual condition and the pictures are not very sharp. At least when compared to me 50mm.

The focus problem might be related to my entry-level D350. However, the color distortion was a bit strange.

My verdict: choose the right product for the occasion. If you want a good walkaround lens for your vacation - this one should be one of your best choices.
For indoor shooting and important events like wedding - choose something faster (f2.8 at least) and with better optical quality.

Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II

Review Date: Aug 23, 2007 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $115.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Good colours, f1.8, price, small&light
CA at 1.8, focus sometimes, 50mm on crop - a bit too long

If you are considering this lens, you have to buy it!

It is basically the same price as the 18-55 kit lens but is a completely different league.

First, it has aperture of 1.8, which in practice means that you can easily shoot indoor without any flash at ISO100! And this is accomplished buy having and aperture of 2.2, 2.8. In darker rooms you can use ISO 200/2.2-1.8 settings and still not need a flash.

Second, it has NICE colours. The colours are deep and the contrast is good.

Third, it is so cheap that no one would expect it to be a good lens. But it is.

Fourth, it is so small and light that you will love it from the firt time you touch it.

I have noticed only a couple of negative aspects of this lens. It has a noticable CA at aperture of 1.8. However, one rarely requires 1.8 and when one does he/she usually shoots in low light conditions, where CA is much less noticable.

Second is that if you shoot against the sun, it sometimes finds hard time to find a focus on a subject with AF. Sometimes you even can not focus with AF, need to use manual. But I have founs this problem only when I was experimenting on purpose. In regular shooting - never.

The last one is rather my choice then a problem, but it is obvious that on crop DSLR it it a little bit too long for indoor shooting. It is perfect for portraits though, but sometimes you need to include more than just faces and shoulders. In outdoor conditions it is again - perfect.

I can not do anything else that to put a clear 10 for this lens, because it is unbelievable what Canon has achieved for 115$.