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Sigma 100-300mm f4 EX IF HSM APO

100-300if_1_
Review Date: Oct 7, 2008 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $625.00 | Rating: 10 

 
Pros: Excellent image quality, even with a 1.4x TC. Accurate and reasonably fast AF. Smooth zoom and focus rings. Compact, given its capabilities. Inexpensive on the used market.
Cons:
Paint peels off (like most Sigma EX lenses)

The Sigma 100-300 f/4 is one of the best deals on the used market right now...the image quality is on par with high-end telephoto zooms such as the Canon 100-400. AF is reasonably quick and quite accurate. The zoom ring is very usable for manual focus. While not a small lens, it's reasonably-sized for a 100-300 f/4 zoom. The build quality isn't in the same league as the high-end lenses from Tokina and Canon, but it's solid other than Sigma's typical paint-peeling issues.

I wouldn't recommend buying this lens new...current prices are around $1100, and at that price there are other options. But it's selling for $650 or so used, and it's a steal at that price...L-level image quality for a non-L price.


 
Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM

ef70_200_4_1_
Review Date: May 8, 2008 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $550.00 | Rating: 10 

 
Pros: Image quality, size, price, image quality, build quality, internal focus, internal zoom, takes a teleconverter well, and did I remember to mention how sharp it is?
Cons:
Doesn't include tripod collar. Makes images taken with other lenses look soft.

This lens is what really made me understand why people spend so much money on "better glass". Of all of the other lenses I've tried, the main difference was sharpness. This lens certainly doesn't disappoint in that category; it's tack-sharp at f/5.6, and better at f/4 than anything else I can afford. But I wasn't prepared for the better color reproduction or contrast that I got out.

I do a lot of landscapes, with aviation mixed in. As I usually like to do panoramas rather than use a wide-angle lens, the focal length is perfect for landscapes, and the image quality can't be beat. Photoshop actually does a more accurate job of stitching panoramas with this lens than it did with my old 70-300 IS, no doubt due to the sharpness. And since it has internal focus and internal zoom, it is a snap to use on a tripod with a circular polarizer (although it would be nice if it included a tripod collar).

I use a 1.4x TC with this lens for aviation photography. Such activity around here ideally needs at least a 300mm zoom, but the quality of this lens with a 1.4x TC rivals the 100-400 at shared focal lengths. So it will work just fine until I can afford something more ideal.

My only real complaint about this lens is the tendency to infect its users with "L Disease". I have a good copy of the Tamron 28-75 f/2.8 as my walkaround lens, but somehow it just doesn't seem to measure up...


 
Canon EF 75-300mm f/4-5.6 III USM

ef75_300usm_1_
Review Date: Jan 23, 2008 Recommend? no | Price paid: $159.00 | Rating: 5 

 
Pros: Small. Cheap. Good range. Quick autofocus.
Cons:
Poor image quality. Mediocre build quality.

This is the cheapest telephoto lens available for Canon. In more ways than one.

You can pick one up very inexpensively. But it's soft pretty much throughout the focal length, especially above 200mm. And it takes noisy pictures on my 20D; I haven't seen that much noise since I got rid of my point-and-shoot.

The one thing I liked about it was the quick autofocus...USM makes a huge difference.

If you are only an occasional telephoto user and are unwilling to spend more than $200 on a 300mm lens, this might be a good option, but if you are at all concerned about quality, save up for the 70-300 IS.


 
Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS

EFS18-55_35-56IS
Review Date: Jan 23, 2008 Recommend? no | Price paid: $179.00 | Rating: 6 

 
Pros: Price, size/weight, IS, decent range
Cons:
Very poor low-light performance. Cheap build quality. Slow!

This might be an excellent lens, depending on what you want to do with it. I do a lot of low-light/night city photography, and I have some serious issues with it.

The image quality is certainly better than the kit lens, but nothing to write home about, especially at the wide end. I found myself avoiding going below 24mm because I knew I was going to end up with soft images that had serious barrel distortion. Also, as with most lenses, you need to stop down to get optimal performance, and in this case, that means about f/8.

Obviously, there's an image stabilizer. It's ok, but any image stabilizer is going to have limited effectiveness on a short lens. My keeper rate starts to drop when the shutter speed gets below 1/10 sec. Keep in mind that IS can't freeze the action; it's great if you're shooting still subjects in low light, but a lot of things won't stay still for more than 1/10 sec. It's personal preference to a large extent, but I'd rather have an f/2.8 lens that will really allow me to get action-freezing shutter speeds.

If you can accept the limitations of this lens, you can take some great pictures with it. But it's an easy lens to outgrow; if you like shooting at apertures wider than f/6.3, or you want to use the wide end a lot, you can do a lot better for about $200 more.