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Bogen/Manfrotto 3021 Tripod Legs

Review Date: Nov 16, 2004 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $35.00 | Rating: 8 

Pros: Solid Inexpensive Solid Repairable Sturdy Solid Inexpensive Repairable

It's a great, inexpensive tripod that does what a tripod is supposed to do--and does it forever. This is a one-time purchase, folks. Once you own a 3021, you can buy another tripod if you WANT to, but you can't ever claim that you NEED to.

It's heavy...hikers may gripe. But it's still going to do what tripods are supposed to do.

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

Review Date: Nov 13, 2004 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $499.00 | Rating: 8 

Pros: Image quality Light weight
Variable aperture (but I knew that when I bought it) Works better with the Tokina BH-775 hood (originally for the Tokina 28-80mm f2.8 ATX Pro)

After reading very good reviews of the Tamron 17-35mm f2.8-f4 Sp AF Aspherical DI LD (UF) zoom lens, I decided to spring for it. These results are from initial tests of the lens in Canon mount, made with Canon 300D, 10D, and 20D. As these are near-APS format cameras, they do not capture the full format of a 35mm camera, so these results apply only to the lens effectiveness in the center portion of the image.

The only manufacturer's prime I have in this focal range is the Canon f2.8 24mm. I also have a Sigma f1.8 20mm that I used in this comparison, as well as a Canon 50mm F1.8 Mark I normal lens that I use as a baseline for comparisons of all my lenses (with resonable consideration to the fact that I'm comparing apples and oranges).

Indoors with images taken by electronic flash, I found the Tamron lens every bit equal in sharpness to the Canon and Sigma primes at corresponding focal lengths. There was no difference at all. Barrel distortion at the short end and pincushion distortion at the long end were both very low (although, again, this was a test in the near-APS format). Just for argument's sake, I did compare the 35mm setting for sharpness against my wonderfully sharp Canon f1.8 Mark 1 50mm lens, and still found very little difference. The Tamron lens is very sharp across the Digital Rebel format.

I've read some comments in other forums that this lens has a problem "front focusing" (actually focusing just ahead of the intended point). I tested specifically for that and found none in my sample.

I made some tests taking images with the sun just outside the frame using the Tamron lens hood. Here there was a clear difference, with the Canon prime lens resisting both solar reflections of the sun as well as maintaining better contrast. To be sure, both lenses lost contrast, but the Canon prime was clearly better. This is not a great surprise--it's actually rather unfair to compare any zoom with a prime lens under these conditions. For its part, the Tamron is better than many others. With the loss in contrast, there were also about four small solar-reflection spots.

When I switched to the Tokina BH-775 hood, the contrast was considerably better, nearly as good as the Canon prime 24mm.

However--this was a surprise--when I did some indoor electronic flash comparisons with the flash unit firing directly into the lens over the head of a mannkin, the Tamron held contrast and resisted flare JUST AS WELL as the Canon prime 24 and 50mm lenses! I ran this several times with some differences in light position, but this held true.

Something else of note: I've compared image color tone of Canon lenses with Tamrons, Tokinas, Sigmas, and Nikkors, and I find that Canon lenses have a cyan cast compared to the others. Tamrons are often accused of having a "yellow" cast, but from my tests, it's actually Canon that is out of step with the color tone of other lenses.

Shooting a clear north sky, I found perhaps half a stop of light-fall off at full aperture and 17mm (barely discernible), but not worse at 24mm than the Canon 24mm.

Build Quality
The build of the lens is about the same as Canon non-L, non-USM mid-range lenses, such as my F2.8 24mm. I actually found no problem whatsoever with build quality, although it does not have the environmental sealing of a Canon L lens. This is a mostly polycarbonate lens, making it very light. There is no looseness or play in the focusing ring (my Sigma has an annoying "yaw" when you twist the focusing ring).

There are no cosmetic errors, the mount is cleanly machined with four mounting screws and a Canon-like red index marker. It comes with a tulip-shaped lens hood that bayonets on. It takes 77mm filters, which is getting to be very common among this kind of lens.

BIG TIP: Get a Tokina BH-775 hood (originally for the Tokina 28-80mm f2.8 ATX Pro) for this lens. It bayonets onto this lens perfectly, and is the appropriate width and depth for this lens on an APS-C camera. B&H and Adorama carry it for $40.

The lens does make a mechanical growl as it focuses, but it's quick enough that it's of short duration. It does a better job in this regard (quicker and not as noisy) than Canon's mid-range lenses. It switches from manual to autofocus with a shift of the Canon-like AF/M switch.

One disconcerting thing is that the focusing ring does turn while autofocusing. I consider this a design flaw, because on a lens this short, it's inevitable that one's fingers will frequently overlap the focusing ring in normal use. On the other hand, it does give the lens a "full time manual override" capability of sorts. But I'd probably never use that, except when guess focusing from the scale.

Frankly, I haven't been happy with the build quality of Canon lenses since they discontinued the original Rolex-fine FD line, but compared to current Canon mid-range lenses there is nothing to gripe about with the Tamron, except the turning of the focusing ring.

When this lens reached the shelves, B&H carried it for US$479. Recently they've raised it to US$499, which is what my local dealer charged me. Although I consider that a lot of money, it gets you more lens than you're going to get anywhere else for the same amount. I wish the focusing ring didn't turn during autofocus, but even so, I'd judge this lens a winner

Canon EOS 20D

Review Date: Oct 9, 2004 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $1,499.00 | Rating: 8 

Pros: High image quality; very fast operation; accurate focusing; robust shutter; 250volt flash sync
Cost-cutting measures show with fit and finish of doors.

Before this camera appeared, I had stated more than once in the Fred Miranda forums and elsewhere that I would pay $2000-2500 for a camera with the image quality of the Canon 10D if it had a more robust shutter, more accurate autofocusing, and a 250-volt flash sync.

I had also complained about there not being an AA-battery option for the battery grip. Although I'd not mentioned it, I was also griped by the slow operation of the LCD review and slow writing to the CF card.

Weeeell, doggy, if Canon didn't answer my desires, throw in slightly better image quality, and not even demand that $2000-2500. The 20D isn't a 1D, but it certainly makes it much less likely that I'll buy a 1D. It pretty much answers all my professional requirements for reliability, and gives "good enough" image quality for professional portrait results.

Recent statements from Canon execs in Japan indicate for at least the next five years, Canon has no plans to release a "tweener" camera between the 20D and the 1D Mark II--nothing with a 1D-sized sensor. So the 20D is it for anyone who doesn't desire or can't step up to the 1D; Canon's press releases call the 20D the "camera for professional photographers who buy their own equipment," which tells us where their heads are at with regard to the pricing of the 1D.

I really like the quick card writing, that shows up most dramatically during shooting when I want to check the LCD for exposure, lighting, and composition. The 10D seemed to take nearly as long as a Polaroid; the 20D is virtually instantaneous.

Autofocusing is fast and accurate--much better than the 10D. The new AF mark pattern isn't quite ideal--"ideal" would be eye-controlled with marks right at the "Rule of Thirds" intersections. However, the marks are pretty close to those intersections, and the "joy button" is quick to operate with a little practice. It's certainly more intuitive a control for both the AF marks and maneuvering around in LCD review magnification than twiggling with a combination of buttons and wheels.

The shutter sounds a bit sharper, which seems to bother some people, but I've never thought any SLR was especially "quiet"--these people must have never listened to a Leica or even an Olympus OM-1. It's bark is no worse than most other professional-level SLRs.

The viewfinder is no brighter than the 10D. I know Canon can do something about that (the Olympus OM-1 viewfinder was also extremely big and bright), but they seem loathe to take the few grams of weight it would cost. I think virtually all users would accept another 100 grams of weight for a nice, bright viewfinder. Although it's no brighter than the 10D, they have coarsened the focusing screen to make it easier to focus manually, so that's an improvement, if not ideal.

What does bug me a bit is the fit of the CF door and the battery door of the BG-E2 grip. Both have longitudinal play that is obviously a cost-cutting measure on the assembly line. The movement is disconcerting when I'm holding the camera firmly with a heavy lens. Also, it's an old complaint about the Canon lower-priced cameras, but it's still a valid complaint: The CFcard door needs a positive latch. It's not hard to accidently slide the door just enough to trip the "door open" microswitch without actually opening the door. That will send any unwritten images to bit heaven.

The BG-E2 battery grip--while having the AA option I wanted--also allows enough flex to trip the "door open" switch of the camera battery compartment, which will monentarily shut off the camera. That's something Canon REALLY needs to fix. In the meantime, a workaround fix is to use a bit of duct or gaffers tape to hold down the "door open" microswitch in the lip of the battery chamber. Perhaps they will give us a pro-quality BG-E3 in the near future.

Many people have complaints that baffle me with their banality. They complain about the battery grip being too heavy (the 20D with grip is 100 grams lighter than the 10D with grip); too large (the BG-E2 is 1mm deeper and 1mm thicker than the BG-ED 3); poorly shaped (except for rounded edges under your index finger and thumb, it's exactly the same shape); and other trivial complaints.

Although my camera has never suffered from the lock-out bug, I hope Canon has found a way to workaround it with their latest firmware update. Otherwise, I consider the 20D a definite keeper.