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Canon EOS 20D

Review Date: Apr 13, 2006 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 9 

Pros: Contruction, AF, AE, ISO noise control, customisable, res for highend lenses.
Viewfinder crop, ISO not in viewfinder,

Upgrade from a 300D. The ISO noise handling was the biggest selling point for me and the 20D doesn't disappoint. The choice was between this and the 350xt. The main point against the 350xt was the lack of size. I'm not a big person by any means, but the 300D was as small as I would like to go. I normally have expensive glass (to me) hanging off my camera's and I just don't feel secure having them on such a small camera which all of my fingers all won't fit on the grip.

Colour accuracy is quite good and has a certain refined quality about it that is hard to describe but is something that really sets it apart from the 300D. Setting the profile to adobe1998 is a good start.

Build quality is as much as you would expect from a camera of this class. I don't baby any of my gear, it gets taken to some pretty unfriendly places, but I won't have any worries about this body not being able to stand up to it. This is why I don't go for more expensive gear, the chance of it being wrecked is kinda high.

AF/AE are good. I use a 100-400L a fair bit but it had a bit of softness from 300-400 on the 300D and had to be stopped down to 11. On the 20D I can get away with stopping it down to 8 or 9, a huge advantage for me and is what is considered normal for this lens. Maybe its a question of lens detail to sensor res or perhaps the 300D had resolving issues with this lens, i'm not sure.

I'm indifferent to the shutter noise. It is a little noisy, but it has that grunt tone to it, like my muscle cars are pretty noisy, but I wouldn't necessarily say that was a bad thing Smile.

The price you can pick these cameras up for is very fair for what you get. It has a refined quality about it that is more than what I was expecting from a camera in this class.

All in all a good serious amateur/semi pro lens or a backup for a pro.

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM

Review Date: Feb 16, 2006 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 9 

Pros: Build quality, sharpness, IS, USM speed and quietness, robustness, versatility (big plus)
Dimensions, Linear zoom, friction ring design.

First of all, my photographic style and habits.

I take my camera everywhere I go so in order to be practical all of my equipment has to fit into a small diagonal single strap bag on my back. To make life even worse, I like to shoot macro, extreme wide angle and 400mm+ zoom as well as mid focal range stuff. Plus i've never used, let alone bothered to lug around, a tripod.

Because of these requirements i'm pretty much limited to three lenses at the most, so they all have to be zoom types. This is where this lens really shines; full coverage from 100 to 400mm (160 - 640 @1.6x) with IS, accurate USM focus and optics you would expect from an L class zoom. It's not as sharp as a good prime, but then again, it's not a prime is it? If you really need that sharpness that covers this focal range then have fun hauling all that prime glass about the countryside.

In practical usage i've found the lens to be quite a good performer, but it's not something you can expect to pick up and start taking top quality pictures with straight away. It takes a fair bit of time to understand how it behaves in different conditions. Some people tend to complain about poor quality control and them getting a bad lens because of this. Maybe this was their first 400mm lense and haven't learnt to appreciate the magnitude that aperture has at these focal lengths and getting bad DOF control. When you start to make settings that take this into true consideration you really start to appreciate the IS.

Although it weighs a fraction of the primes or smaller focal range lenses it replaces, its still a tank. The weight is signifigant. I don't find it a problem personally, but this will be something you need to consider. To make it easier to handle I fabricated a stainless steel handgrip that bolts to the tripod ring mount on the lens itself.

The dimensions of the lens in longer zooms with the hood on makes it stick out like a sore thumb and draws alot of attention (sometimes unwanted).

I found it took me some time to put more faith in the IS's capability to offset the slower apertures and learn to use slower shutter speeds. It always amazes me how well pictures turn out with what I would think to be stupidly slow shutter speeds.

I've seen people often remark that the lens is too slow, but to get 2.8@400mm, you would end up with a lens with diabolical proportions I would imagine. Good for some perhaps, but not something I could be bothered to lump around all the time.

Without the hood its prone to light scattering on the front element if the sun isn't behind you.

The linear zoom is a good thing to me. Although I don't hate it, I would prefer a twist zoom. The push/pull is faster if you need to reef the zoom in or out to track something moving fast, but if you don't shoot fast moving subjects then maybe its unwarrented. As far as being a dust pump then it obvious that its got that potential, but if you cycle any lenses zoom fast enough it will become a pump, it's just that the linear zoom makes it easier for you to do this. I've taken this lens to some very dusty places and when there I take care not treat the zoom like a pump-action shotgun. No dust inside so far.