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Sigma 18-200mm f3.5-6.3 DC OS

18-200OS
Review Date: Sep 2, 2007 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 8 

 
Pros: A terrific niche-filler, a stabilized single-lens grab 'n go solution previously unavailable to EOS digital shooters without having to split the baby of carrying more gear or making more lens changes than is desirable for a given scenaro or taking a step backward to a P&S.
Cons:
Nervous bokeh and lack of FTM and HSM focusing.

The 18-200 OS' best characteristic is it successfuly manages the many compromised required of a compact super zoom while adding the invaluable benefit of stabilization, a feature that is especially indispensible for a lens designed for such overwhelmingly handheld use and moderate speed.

It's very acceptably sharp, but it's biggest benefit isn't anything it does particularly well, but rather that it can do so much without perfoming poorly. It's a Swiss Army knife, not an artisan's Samurai sword... and there are times when a Swiss Army knife is far more suited to the task.

It's very robustly constructed with an excellent fit and finish that could easily be mistaken for one of Sigma's EX series lenses. The lack of FTM focusing is awkward given how generally ubiquitous a feature it has become, and though the lack of HSM is a shame, it's hardly slow to focus and does so swiftly and surely. It's rather frantic bokeh might benefit from a skilled hand during post processing.

Given its purpose and reasonable expectations of what it's supposed to be, I'm very pleased to own one, even alongisde my comprehensive arsenal of L-series optics.



 
Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM

16-35II
Review Date: Apr 4, 2007 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $1,599.00 | Rating: 9 

 
Pros: Outstanding edge to edge - vices of original 16-35 rectified. Excellent throughout entire focal length range with far better stray light control. Great L build and feel.
Cons:
Only 82mm in L lineup - unique filter required.



 
Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM

24-105lisusm
Review Date: May 29, 2006 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $1,249.00 | Rating: 9 

 
Pros: The finest "walkaround" lens available. Vivid, sharp, and rock-steady with its 3rd Generation IS. Incredibly useful focal length range for all EF mount types and crop factors.
Cons:
None.

My only reason for rating the 24-105 L a 9, despite having no obvious vices and being an absolutely tremendous investment, is that I believe there are other L-Series lenses that, unto themselves, are the epitome of optical science. I only wish a 9.9 rating was available for the 24-105.

The 24-105 f/4 IS should be the cornerstone of every handheld photographer's lens line-up. Period.

It is tremendously sharp and vivid with superbly rich colors and very nice bokeh characteristics (considering its f/4 maximum aperture).

Its 24-105 range makes it very possible to enjoy a day of outdoor shooting without a lens change or feeling that keeping the 24-105 on the camera would be short-changing the outcome.

Being stabilized, it affords an additional degree of sharpness for handheld shooting above and beyond many primes within the same range. This is a traveler's dream.

Light fall-off is negligible throughout, and sharpness is ubiquitous from edge to edge, without regard for aperture or focal length.

Some might view the f/4 maximum aperture as a weakness, favoring a wider f/2.8. While this would make for a better "creative" or "artistic" lens due to narrower DOF potential, and it would permit faster shutter speeds to stop action, this is not what the 24-105 was designed to do. It thrives outdoors; and even though f/2.8 would certainly be nice to have, its wide-open sharpness makes it useful for quality that most f/2.8 lenses only realize when stopped down to f/4, making the practical difference much less than it might seem at first.

I would not, however, choose the 24-105 for indoor available light shooting or broad portraiture. Such shooting requires a wide aperture and low-light capability. I see this as more a matter of choosing the right tool for the job than something the 24-105 may be inherently lacking.

As such, and while the 24-105 is, by far, the most-used of my 20 professional-grade optics, I also own the 24-70 f/2.8 L; and together they make an almost-perfect pair. While I own (and love) the EF-S 17-55 f/2.8 IS, to have a stabilized option with the best of all aperture/stabilization combinations, I am really waiting for Canon to offer an equivalent for the EF mount. If, and when, this happens, it will have to be superb for me to shift from my 24-105 altogether without feeling like I am compromising something. While I will certainly welcome a stabilized available light standard zoom lens for handheld shooting, I fear that at f/2.8, it would be very heavy for convenient and comfortable "walkaround" or travel use, which is where the 24-105 absolutely shines, and for which a stabilized f/4 option is more than adequate.

It's cost is high compared to other stabilized standard zooms like the 28-135 or 17-85 (for the EF-S mount), but its image output is absolutely unrivaled, and its 24-105 range makes it beautiful for realtively narrow European streets and long enough for most casual shooting.

I'll close as I began by stating that the 24-105 should be the cornerstone of each and every photographer's lens lineup. Period. I know of no greater praise to offer, and have rarely felt I've spent $1,250 so well. Thank you Canon.


 
Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM

ef_24-70_28u_1_
Review Date: May 29, 2006 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $1,200.00 | Rating: 8 

 
Pros: L-Series Construction, Tremendously Useful Zoom Range, Fast f/2.8 Aperture, Very Nice Contrast and Vivid Color
Cons:
Weight/Balance, Average Sharpness

For a non-stabilized standard zoom, the 24-70 f/2.8 L is a very useful handheld portrait and interior and available light lens.

The 24-70 L produces color-rich output with only minimal corner softness and light fall-off at its widest apertures. Its sharpness and image quality are consistent throughout its range.

Without a substantial body, it can seem large and a bit awkward in achieving a comfortable balance. However, it is every bit of an L lens, built for front-line combat duty, yet with surgical instrument precision.

The 24-70 is the functional alternative to the 24-105 L f/4 IS for those who need wider aperture to stop action or narrow DOF more than the ability to mitigate camera shake. Some see these two lenses as an either/or decision, however I own both and find myself reaching for either depending upon the circumstance as they bring very different strengths to the table.

It controls CA and flaring very well for a lens whose range is as wide as 24, and light fall-off is nothing remarkable for a standard zoom capable of f/2.8 maximum aperture.

Although it is very versatile and useful as a convenient and capable portrait zoom in addition to being a popular "wedding lens" for its ability to shoot indoors without flash (in many circumstances) without unduly compromising output quality by excessive ISO-induced noise, and providing a DOF/focal length range that affords very good creative potential, I found it to be somewhat less-than-razor-sharp at f/2.8. I'm certain that this is as much a result of the nature of things than the lens itself, but when shooting for detail, despite everything else there is to like about this lens, I was somewhat unimpressed.

Given its tremendously useful focal length range, it is very useful on all EF mount types and crop factors and represents very good value for mone. Should Canon produce a stabilized version of the same lens, it would be the ultimate handheld lens, bar none.


 
Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L USM

ef_16-35_28_1_
Review Date: May 29, 2006 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $1,379.00 | Rating: 8 

 
Pros: L-Series Quality Build, Fast f/2.8 Aperture, Very Useful Zoom Range, Sharp Throughout Frame.
Cons:
Price/Value for Money

As the widest entry in Canon's fast L-Series zoom lineup, the 16-35 f/2.8 L is the wide angle zoom to own for the EF mount.

It is sharp throughout the frame and is no more subject to flare, CA, or light fall-off than others in its class, as these phenomenon are more a product of the focal length than lens.

Its f/2.8 maximum aperture makes handheld indoor and available light shooting possible at relatively low ISO sensitivities and affords a reasonable degree of creative DOF control.

It's distortion at the extremes of its range are unremarkable (a good thing), and the L-Series build quality makes it a pleasure to hold on a 1-Series or non-1-Series body with grip.

The only notable potential drawback is its price which is relatively high. However, given its combination of performance and image quality makes it clearly the best in its range and the lens of choice for those who find the 17-40 f/4 L's slower maximum aperture to be a limiting factor.


 
Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L USM

ef85mmf_12_1_
Review Date: Jan 7, 2006 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $1,399.00 | Rating: 10 

 
Pros: Permits absolute artistic control, optical work of art, capable of shots which are unmistakable to this lens. Ideal for portraiture and human life-subjects. Ethereal bokeh, unlike nothing else.
Cons:
Massive mass. Unique (unfamilair) focus ring. Power-assisted USM is slow and lacks tactile response.

This is a true artist's lens; and it comes with a steep learning curve. It isn't a lens that's made to be "stopped down" just because it's fast, nor is it a lens that one should shoot with, hoping that everything will be sharp edge-to-edge at f/1.2. It's beauty is in the heavenly bokeh, razor thin DOF, and unique optical color transmission that makes shots taken with it, when hitting its sweet spot (takes LOTS of practice to do consistently, but few endeavors are as worthwhile), like none other and true examples of photographic art.

 
Acratech ballhead

57ballhead_1_
Review Date: Sep 11, 2005 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $299.00 | Rating: 5 

 
Pros: Light, inexpensive (relatively), and innovative design. Nice progressive quick release knob. Exposed works.
Cons:
A bit too clever. Too many compromises, especially when compared side-by-side to more conventional designs. Lack of vertical orientation detente. Exposed works.

Lightweight and having the "cool factor" on its side, I had great hopes. It is a well-build precision device.

Acratech plates and accessories are competitively priced and often less expensive than competitors', and with ballheads and plates, every penny counts.

Several characteristics make the Acratech seem to be reaching a bit beyond its grasp. The lack of an absolute veritcal position for use with vertical grips and gimbal add-ons like the Sidekick are a definite disadvantage. Full access to all components is a benefit for cleaning and maintaining its works, but the works are generally much more exposed to fouling at the outset.

While l love the progressive speed knob included on the default Quick Release clamp, the lack of a spirit level in Acratech clamps is a serious disadvantage, especially when trying to achieve level orientations with articulating tripods or bases.

The lack of friction control is a significant drawback, especially given the wide area of travel the head can exploit and the fact that most competing products include them as an integral part of their design. While weight is a nice characteristic, if a ball head does not offer the fundamental features of durable, smooth, and secure operation capable of easily and steadily orienting equipment, everything else is failry moot; and I feel the Acratech makes too many compromises in favor of attempting to save weight and offer a unique design.

Many may be entirely satisfied with the Ultimate Ballhead, but its lustre quickly fades when placed next to more capable and conventional designs. However, if $100 really makes a difference, then it certainly should be one of the candidates considered.