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Canon EOS 5D Mark II

Review Date: Dec 23, 2008 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $2,500.00 | Rating: 9 

Pros: Best of both worlds: comparable high ISO image quality as Nikon D700, and comparable high resolution to Sony's A900. Unique video mode opens up creative possibilities. Excellent ergonomics, and good build quality. Canon's software package is second to none --- and best of all, it comes free with the camera.
Workman-like AF system is adequate, but grossly inappropriate for a $2700 camera in 2008. Lack of manual controls in video mode. Lack of any kind of AF Assist Lamp makes it impossible to auto-focus in situations requiring the highest ISO settings.

Build Quality: (9/10)

Excellent build quality. Body feels like a solid brick. The buttons and dials all ooze quality. The LCD and viewfinder are both large and bright, very easy to use. The only issue I have with the camera is the seemingly inadequate seals along the memory and battery compartments. They are partially lined with some kind of foam material. I would've preferred rubber gaskets completely sealing the compartments.

Features: (8/10)

Too much, and yet somehow inadequate. Confusing? Sure, but that's how Canon seems to have outfitted the EOS 5D Mark II. 21 million pixels is too much. But the workman-like autofocus feels inadequate for a $2700 USD camera. The Full HD 1080p video has great cinematic potential that may prove to be too much for most people to handle. And yet the manual controls for video mode is, again, inadequate. The ISO range is again overkill for most people --- an unprecedented range between ISO 50 to 25600 (D700 bottoms out at ISO 100). And yet the camera lacks any form of AF Assist Lamp that would be needed to focus in situations requiring the highest ISO settings. So once again: Too much, and yet somehow inadequate.

Image Quality: (10/10)

The EOS 5D Mark II produces photos that are simply second to none. Image quality is downright perfect up to ISO 800. At ISO 1600, it remains excellent. Dynamic range and color fidelity is still very good, but noise grain is visible at the pixel-peeping level. There's a noticeable drop in quality at ISO 3200, but it's still good --- a little better than ISO 1600 on modern APS-C dSLRs. ISO 6400 on the 5D Mark II is probably my practical limit. It can still produce good prints, but only with lots of post processing after the fact. Color inaccuracy is very evident, as well as the loss of dynamic range. With very heavy-handed NR, ISO 12800 would be good for HD sized display. And ISO 25600 is usable only for web-sized images.

Overall Rating: (9/10)

I love this camera. But I can't give it a perfect rating knowing that it's not a perfect camera. I do wish it had a better AF system, as it would make this into the Ultimate Camera. Afterall, if the 5D Mark II had a great AF system, then I would likely never feel the need to upgrade ever again. But no company wants an Ultimate Camera at this price range. The Nikon D700 lacks resolution, video mode, and image stabilization The Sony A900 lacks high ISO capability, video mode, or pro-grade AF. And the 5D Mark II lacks image stabilization and pro-grade AF. I suppose it's good that the 5D has only 2 things going against it, instead of 3. But no camera is perfect. Every camera has its faults, and the 5D Mark II is no exception.

Minor nitpick: Why aren't FM Review filtered? It's blatantly obvious that the only reviewer here (ComairCRJ700) who gave this camera a VERY POOR review doesn't even own the camera. He's the same guy who wrote a review calling the excellent 24-105L a junk lens as well.

Canon EOS Rebel XSi (450D)

Review Date: May 18, 2008 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

Pros: Compact & lightweight; full-featured dSLR in an entry-level body; quiet shutter; excellent kit lens; best LCD screen at this price range; noise is well controlled even at high ISO;
Poor build quality; grip is still too narrow to be comfortable; huge RAW files; small continous shooting buffer for RAW; Eyepoint is too close;

FEATURES: (10/10)
The EOS 450D is a full-featured SLR packed with all the latest innovations from Canon. Much of the artificial handicaps applied to previous entry-level models from Canon & Nikon are gone from the 450D. The spot meter is finally available. You can now use the pop up flash as an autofocus assist strobe, without being forced to use it during exposure. There's the customizeable MyMenu interface that lets you move your favorite functions to a top level menu, accessible at the press of a single button. There's a LiveView mode, albeit designed as a great tool for tripod work (not for handheld exposures). LiveView works very well when doing remote control tethered shooting via Laptop. There's the class-leading 3" LCD screen too. Other advanced features that made me salivate for the 1Dmk3 just 12 months ago have made it into this entry level camera: 14-bit RAW files, very effective High-ISO Digic3 Noise Reduction, Highlight Tone Priority. These advanced features are simply unheard of in an entry level camera.

I bought this 12 Megapixel camera with the expectation that it comes with increased noise levels in high ISO. Much to my surprise, the high ISO noise levels on the 450D are a noticeable improvement over the 400D. I've shot test images with both cameras. Comparing RAW files, I'd say they are nearly indistinguishable from ISO 100 to ISO 800. In that range, noise levels are very similar. However, the older 400D started falling apart in the darker areas of ISO 1600. The 450D, on the other hand, held up extremely well in ISO 1600. A huge improvement at ISO 1600 RAW. I've also compared RAW files from the 40D and 450D, and there's little to differentiate between them. Amazing that Canon was able to do this inspite of the increase in megapixels from 10 to 12.

The plastic used in the EOS 450D seems flimsy, a noticeable step back from the EOS 400D. It's less glossy, and feels less solid. Unlike the 400D, the 450D plastics start to creak when I grip the camra tight --- a major turnoff. The grip itself remains too narrow for comfort, even for small hands. It really causes your fingers to "pinch" the grip, especially if you mount anything heavier than the kit lens into the camera. Prolonged use puts a strain on my hand.

On the bright side, the grip is at least 1/4" taller than it was in the 350D/400D. The pinky finger no longer slips below the grip. And there are rubberized padding on the grip, similar to the 40D and 5D. The viewfinder looks much bigger than before --- partly because of the increased magnfication (0.80x to 0.87), partly because the eyepoint is moved closer. The downside of the short eyepoint is that you really have to stick your eye up against the viewfinder, or else the edges will be obstructed. Not a good thing if you wear glasses.

OVERALL: (10/10)
I think the EOS 450D is the best camera Canon has ever made for the entry-level Digital Rebel series. Feature-wise, it's essentially an EOS 40D without the fast AF/burst mode, transplanted into a cheaper body.

Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS

Review Date: Apr 12, 2008 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 9 

Pros: Image Stabilization; Excellent sharpness; Very small and lightweight;
Poor build quality; No dedicated focus ring; Slow max aperture at the long end; front rim rotates and extends while focusing;

First, we'll start with the obvious: Very poor build quality. The mount is plastic. The front rim extends and rotates as you focus. Certainly a major annoyance for people using circular polarizers. And like most kit lenses, there's no dedicated focus ring at all; instead you have to manually twist the front rim yourself. And the part of the lens that extends for zoom/focus has a lot of play. It wobbles a lot, making this cheap lens feel even cheaper.

But all this is expected for a kit lens that adds only $70 to $100 to the retail price of the camera body. You get what you pay for.

So what's good? Everything else. Image Stabilization works as advertised. I can easily hand hold this lens at the wide end for 1/4 sec with consistently good results. Very impressive indeed --- especially in situations where you want to take indoor pictures with a large depth of field. Set the aperture to f5.6 and use 1/4 sec exposures. It won't do any good for taking people pictures; but certainly it makes for a great travel/musem lens.

Optical quality is unbelievably good. I had to check and recheck my results twice, I couldn't believe it. The lens already exhibits *acceptable* sharpness when shooting wide open at all focal lengths. But stopping down to f5.6, it's tack-sharp corner-to-corner at almost all focal lengths (except 55mm, where f5.6 is wide open at that point). At f5.6, this little kit lens held up reasonably well against my Tamron 17-50 f2.8 and EF 35 f1.4.

Color tones are very neutral, not warm like the Tamrons and Sigmas. Contrast is decent, maybe a little below average. The lens is only 190g, which is almost nothing. The kit lens mounted on a digital rebel is a breeze, and a joy to use. A nice change of pace from the f2.8 zooms and "L" primes I use.

I do note that my kit lens is conspiciously marked "Made in Japan" in front. I understand that some others have received the same kit lens without the "Japan" marking. Instead, they had the label "Made in Taiwan" hidden towards the rear. Whether or not this affects quality control remains to be seen.

So this review brings into question the rating process here at Fred Miranda. Do we rate lenses on an absolute scale? Or do we rate them based on their performance level at their given price bracket? I think it's the latter. I rate this kit lens a solid 9 out of 10, with one point taken off for the poor build quality. But if I was grading on an absolute scale, it probably would be a little lower than that.

Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM

Review Date: Mar 10, 2007 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $1,100.00 | Rating: 9 

Pros: Excellent resolving power when shooting wide open at f1.4; Beautiful bokeh; Fast and accurate focusing; Jaw-droppingly beautiful color and sharpness starting at f2.8.
Very poor color contrast and extreme levels of color fringing at f1.4; An "L" lens that is not weather sealed; An old film lens that hasn't been optimized for the digital age;

Wide open at f1.4, the lens has SUPERB resolving power in the center portion of the image. It can resolve the smallest of details, which is truly amazing. As expected for a wide angle lens at this large aperture, it is very soft towards the borders. What bothers me is the poor color contrast at f1.4. It's like you're looking through a fogged up window. High resolving power for small details, but very poor color contrast. Post processing will help the color problems, but it may look unnatural and overprocessed.

At f2, the contrast problem is halfway gone. The resolving power in the center portion is at a peak. Border sharpness improves from "very soft" to just "soft". I do not hesitate shooting at this aperture.

At f2.8, the color contrast and center sharpness is already at a peak. This is as good as you can imagine, which is EXCELLENT. The images you get from this baby at f2.8 and below are simply jaw-droppingly beautiful. At f2.8, I would term the edge sharpness as "acceptable" on a cropped camera. The edges on a full 35mm sensor would still qualify as "slightly soft." Edge sharpness doesn't really peak until somewhere between f5.6 and f8 --- depending on sensor size. But that's entering uber pixel-peeping territory. For all practical purposes, the images you get from the EF 35L is already magical at f2.8.

Focusing speed and accuracy is as good as you can get for any EF lens. Build quality is excellent... however, it is not weather sealed. In that sense, it falls short of what you'd expect from a $1100 USD lens.

The one thing that truly bothers me about the lens is the high levels of distortion at large apertures, which is VERY disappointing for such an expensive fixed focal "L" lens. This is unfortunate, because this is a lens people buy *specifically* to use at large apertures.

Chromatic abberation is pretty high at f1.4. Even worse, the color fringing and blooming are very extreme when shooting wide open. In high or medium contrast situations, it's not uncommon to see purple and green blooming surround the out-of-focus background blur. It has ruined many of my shots. And unlike chromatic aberrations, these asymmetric color bloom are NOT easily fixed in post processing. Stopping down once to f2 greatly diminishes these distortions, although they don't really completely disappear until f2.5 or so.

This 1998 lens is also getting a long in the tooth. It was designed for film, and not fully optimized for digital photography. In recent years, we've seen new versions of older lenses greatly benefit from optimization. Less flare, less color aberrations, etc. The EF 35mm f/1.4L is a great lens that could be even better.

Regardless of these flaws, there's no question the EF 35mm f/1.4L remains one of the most beautiful lenses today. The bokeh is dreamy, and its sharpness at f1.4 is as good as it gets for any lens at this aperture. I'd rate this lens 9 out of 10.

Tamron 17-50mm F/2.8 XR Di II LD Aspherical [IF]

Review Date: Mar 9, 2007 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $450.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Extremely sharp at all focal lengths; Very compact and lightweight design; Best price to performance ratio of any lens;
Questionable quality control; loud focusing noise; focus can hunt in very challenging situations --- low contrast objects in low lighting;

What can I say? This is one of the sharpest lenses I own. It starts off fairly sharp at f2.8, and so I certainly do not hesitate using the lens wide open. It noticeably improves at f4, before peaking at f5.6. The lens is amazing --- it's corner-to-corner sharp at all focal lengths. And yes, I've done the obligatory pixel peeping photos of newspaper clips on the wall. Side-by-side comparison shots with my 70-200L and 85 f1.8 lenses were done... and the Tamron's sharpness certainly holds its own.

My complaints with the lens is the loud focusing motor, as well as its tendency to focus inaccurately under very challenging situations --- low contrast subjects under low lighting.

Build quality is superb, and it's as good as I've seen on any non-L Canon lens. The plastic feels dense, and certainly does NOT creak like most EF-S lenses. The thick rubber zoom ring is very nicely tight. My only complaint with regards to the build quality is the somewhat loose focus ring. Not only is it not tight enough, but the focus ring barely rotates a quarter turn from min to max focusing distance. Precise manual focusing can be difficult with this baby.

One of the nicest features of this lens is its compact size! The lens simply looks beautiful on a camera like the EOS 400D or the Nikon D40. Handles extremely well, and it's perfectly balanced. In comparison, the EF-S 17-55 lens is nearly twice as massive (20 cubic inches vs 37 cubic inches) and weights 50% more (435 grams vs 650 grams). Maybe size wouldn't be an issue on a bigger camera like the EOS 30D or Nikon D80. But on the smaller cameras like the 400D and D40, it *is* a big deal. A digital rebel with Tamron 17-50 is about as compact as the bigger point & shoot cameras.

I heartily recommend this lens with only one reservation: Please buy it at a store where you can test it on your owncamera. Tamron's quality control can be fairly questionable. Of the 4 lenses I tested at a store, 2 were great, 1 was badly de-centered, and 1 had a severe backfocusing problem. I would most definitely not risk blindly buying any Tamron or Sigma lens without having tested it first --- and that means a big "NO" to online retailers. Trust me, it's not worth the little online savings to risk getting a lemon.

The HUGE upside of this lens greatly outweighs its negatives. I heartily give it a "10 out of 10". It's not just a great lens for the low price. It's a great lens, PERIOD.

For reference, I've only ever given a "10" for one other lens review --- the heavenly EF 70-200 f/4L IS lens. I rated the 85mm f/1.8 a "9", and gave the EF-S 10-22mm a "8".

Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM

Review Date: Feb 23, 2007 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $675.00 | Rating: 8 

Pros: Brings out the creativity in the photographer; Lens is corner-to-corner sharp at most, but not all, focal lengths; Small and lightweight; low levels of distortion;
Very average build quality; Asymmetric softness at 17mm in my copy; More expensive than an "L" lens that serves the same function on pro cameras;

I will start with the Bad:

The build quality is very average. Better than the cheapest Canon lenses, but certainly not up to par with "L" lenses. It's not even as good as most Tamron and Sigma lenses over $400. The plastic feels cheap and creaky too. I worry about dust slipping inside this thing whenever I twist the zoom ring.

The glass of the front element portrudes dangerously outward when the lens is fully extended. In fact, a visual check wouldn't ease my mind that the curved front element doesn't portrude beyond the plastic outer rim. I've never even dared setting this lens down face-down without a cap. The front element is practically begging to be scratched. This is one lens that would DEFINITELY need a protective filter.

The zoom construction is also iffy. The lens is fully extended at 10mm, retracts fully at 17mm, and extends out again towards 22mm. Probably not a coincidence, but my lens has asymmetric softness around 17mm when the lens is fully retracted. The left side becomes quite a bit softer than the right side, and the softness never goes away regardless of the aperture I use. The left side with 17mm @ f8 is much softer than at any other focal length wide open.

Needless to say, that asymmetrical shoftness @ 17mm was my BIGGEST disappointment with the lens. No doubt this is a case of copy variation, and it may not affect other copies of this lens. It shoud be pointed out that this asymmetry quickly disappears when I zoom wider or longer than 17mm.

The price is also a huge drawback. After buying the lens, the very ugly lens hood, and the lens pouch, this consumer EF-S lens ends up costing a lot more than a EF 17-40L (which includes all those things, plus metal body and weather & dust sealing). That "L" lens serves the EXACT SAME purpose on a professional dSLR, as the 10-22mm lens on consumer dSLRs. How can the consumer lens be more expensive than a professional lens, when both serve the same function? Canon should be ashamed with their pricing system.

The learning curve on an ultra wide angle lens is also fairly steep. It's easy for your photos to look very distorted and amateurish if you don't use proper technique.

The Good:

People who are worried that a 10-22mm lens isn't that much wider than a 17-XXmm zoom should reconsider. A scene shot at 10mm shows 70% more detail than a 17mm lens. It's strange that so many people are worried about the numerical proximity of 10mm to 17mm. With film SLRs, nobody ever said that the 16-35mm lens is too similar to a 28-135mm lens. And yet, those two lenses are numerically identical to the 10-22mm and 17-85mm lenses on a 1.6x crop EOS dSLR.

The EF-S 10-22mm is one of the few wide angle solutions to a EOS dSLR with a cropped sensor. Its best feature is, without a doubt, its very useful focal length. It brings out the creativity in you. I truly enjoy the ability to play visual tricks in a photo by creating the illusion of larger distances between objects. An ultra wide-angle lens can make an otherwise boring scene into something -far- more interesting.

Everybody uses the lens for landscapes and architecture photography. But it's also very useful for creative half-body portraitures that show your subject within the context of the locale. It's the opposite of the standard portraiture technique of isolating the subject with background blur.

Surprisingly, I found the lens to have good corner-to-corner sharpness wide open at most focal lengths. I did not expect this out of an ultra-wide angle lens, so it's definitely a bonus. This is true even at the widest focal length (10mm) @ f3.5. Peak sharpness occurs between f5.6 and f8.

Barrel distortion is fairly low, which is very impressive for an ultra-wide angle lens. Chromatic abberation is present, especially at the widest angles... but manageable.

All in all, I recommend this lens. A perfect lens would be rated a '10'. I take off 2 points for the ridiculous price, the very average build quality, and the asymmetric softenss at 17mm. Overall, it's 8 out of 10.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM

Review Date: Dec 11, 2006 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 9 

Pros: Small, compact, lightweight. Excellent build. Very sharp, colors rendition is excellent. It's the perfect portrait lens on FF and 1.6x cameras alike. Price is very reasonable.
Severe purple fringing when shooting high contrast scenes at apertures wider than f2.8. Also, I had to send my lens back to Canon for recalibration due to backfocus.

This is a great lens. With an f1.8 aperture, you can get beautifully blurred background to isolate your subject. Colors are nicely saturated. Contrast and sharpness are somewhat mediocre at f1.8, but improve leaps and bounds by stopping down once.

When shooting wide open at f1.8, center sharpness is OK while borders are a bit soft. I was using a cropped sensor. I can only imagine the edge performance on a full frame dSLR would be quite soft when shooting wide open at f1.8.

Fortunately, corner-to-corner sharpness starts to become very impressive by f2.8, and critically sharp around f5.6.

Build quality is as good as it gets for non-L lenses. USM gives quiet and quick focusing. There's Full Time Manual focusing, and also a distance scale. Excellent sharpness, contrast, and color saturation. It has everything you could ever want in a lens, except weather sealing. For less than $350 USD, it's a bargain.

Unfortunately, my lens has a fairly severe backfocus. I had to send it back to Canon for recalibration. It's not an "L" lens, the retail price is very reasonable, and it's under warranty... so I won't hold this temporary setback against the lens rating.

Purple fringing is also fairly severe at any aperture wider than f2.8... especially at f1.8. It can ruin some shots.

All these negatives aside, the EF 85mm f/1.8 is a PERFECT lens for portraiture. On a full frame dSLR, it's great for half-body portraits. On a cropped sensor, it's more suitable for head shots.

A good alternative to this lens is its twin sibling, the EF 100mm f2 lens. Both lenses are virtually identical in build quality and sharpness. However, the EF 100mm reportedly does *not* suffer from the same level of purple fringing at wide apertures. Unfortunately, 100mm isn't nearly as popular a focal length as 85mm.

In conclusion, I heartily recommend the EF 85mm f/1.8 lens, and give it a rating of 9/10.

Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM

Review Date: Dec 11, 2006 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

Pros: Extremely sharp wide open, hardly any room to improve sharpness when stopping down. Relatively lightweight and very portable. It's so sharp, it made my other lenses seem dull in comparison.
No tripod collar. Image stabilization starts off with a very audible scratchy sound. Canon's claim of 4-stops image stabilization benefit may be overstated.

This is a great lens. The colors are nicely saturated, contrast is excellent, and it's as sharp as any lens I have ever had the pleasure of using. Image quality is nearly at a peak when shooting wide open at f4 --- there's hardly any room for improvement when stopping down.

I'm a rabid pixel peeper, so I tested this lens taking photos of newspaper clippings taped to a wall. With a blind test at 300% magnification at all focal lengths and at all aperture, I couldn't consistently differentiate between my test images! It's incredible.

Personally, I would never, ever buy any telephoto lens that doesn't have Image Stabilization. There are just too many situations where a tripod isn't available, and too often poor lighting prohibits any shutter speed faster than 1/100 sec --- especially with an f4 lens. Image stabilization allows me to get good results in low light, at shutter speeds of 1/20 seconds or slower. This feature is expensive, but I really believe the price is well worth it. Especially if it means not missing all those shots.

Canon claims the I.S. gives 4 stops of hand holdability. In practice, though, I found that I can only *consistently* get pin sharp results with 2 stops. At 3 stops, I'd say my keeper rate is about 50/50.

This is a GREAT lens, as long as you realize it's limitations --- with a maximum aperture of f4, don't expect it to stop action in low lighting.

The f2.8 versions of this lens are much bigger, and twice as heavy. Those were great lenses, but many people end up leaving them home too often because they were such a chore to lug around in many situations. What good is a great lens if it's left at home so many times? For this reason, I feel the new 'EF 70-200mm f/4L IS' lens is a far better lens.

I enthusiastically give this a 10/10!