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Canon EOS 1D Mark II

Review Date: May 25, 2004 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $4,500.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Nearly everything is the best there is in a dSLR!
1/250 flash sync, Menu navigation awkward, NiMH battery + charger inferior to Li+, costly, single sourced, and heavy.

You pay your money and get what you pay for with this baby: pure performance. Enough AF & inter-shot repeat speed for PJ & fast action, enough resolution and image quality for portraiture and art (35mm class anyway), as-good-as-it-gets metering and ISO & AF performance for ambient light, WB & in-camera-processing for event photography, great and the best Canon has delivered flash metering. Automatic systems that are all as good or better than anything else in 35mm photography, and nearly complete control over customization to deal with issues the automatic systems can't handle right or situations where you can't adapt the automatic system setup fast enough.

The digital equivalent of the EOS3 / 1v with a drive grip, and a whole lot more. The EOS3 and EOS lens lineup made me move to Canon at great glass expense. The 1D MkII turned that move into one of the best decisions I ever made about photography equipment.

My hat is off to the Canon engineers on this project: they had to have listened hard to what photographers were saying about their previous efforts, filtered the noise from the good and bad, left in the good, improved everything they could, and delivered the best all-around dSLR that exists.

I've shot all the Canon dSLR's, but passed on all of them after serious consideration until the 10D, because I just knew that none of them would really replace my EOS3 + PB-E2, and why bother with another partial-featured camera? I went for the 10D a few months after introduction because, while I knew I was stepping backward in AF performance and speed, the 6MP CMOS sensor delivered the qualities (resolution, high ISO noise) I needed for a fair amount of work, and I knew I needed to learn more about Canon dSLR image development (about how much I was not so insightful, and woefully underestimated). In my equation the 10D performance/price ratio made it a no-brainer.

The 1D MkII delivers on all the positive aspects of the 10D except the battery situation (in which the 10D is the best I've experienced) and the 1D (except a notch in flash sync), adds or even improves the AF performance of the EOS pro bodies, goes beyond anything else I know about in dealing with that darn WB for situations where RAW development is out of the question, and delivers unprecedented speed with the resolution, noise, and image qualities necessary for all my 35mm work. I don't need that 8.5 fps much, but I am SO GLAD to finally have a digicam that eliminates a big frustration I've had with digital photography since getting into it in 1996: forever having to break rythm, miss shots, and waste precious time waiting for a buffer full of images to slog to flash memory.

My "negative aspects" are all really nits. The 1/250 sync limitation, which seems odd at first glance in that it is inferior to the predecedent 1D, is equal or superior to nearly all SLR's, and a trade-off for getting the CMOS advantages over the CCD technology. For photographers who face situations where the 1/500 x-sync really paid off, it's a bummer, but physics is physics, and the 1D's taking advantage of the ability for the CCD to fake the shutter an anomaly. Personally, the CMOS advantages over CCD completely ovewhelm the loss of that one CCD advantage. All other complaints I've heard about this camera are either really nits, personal preference stuff like "it's too heavy", lack of understanding of the trade-offs between CMOS and CCD (and what is going on in the camera to those "sharp" CCD images) and how to deal with sharpening, or just plain wishful thinking comparing this camera to some theoretical ideal rather than what it should be compared to: other 35mm class cameras. With this camera, the comparison need not be limited to other dSLR's: this camera fully outshines 35mm film cams in nearly all ways, even more so than the 1Ds. (That is IF you've invested the time and capital into some rather tedious-and-complicated-but-getting-easier-and-faster development software and workflow.)

Some people might consider me a bit of a gear head, but I got tired of buying a new digicam every year or two only to get totally disgusted with the limitations, and I had no interest in buying each model even as stuff got truly useable with the Canon and Nikon dSLR lines. The 10D was cheap enough to warrant the education, and I've easily saved the purchase price back in film and development.

This time I finally got a digital camera that will suit my needs well on into the future, just like I used to get when (rarely) buying a new film body. Maybe someday when flash memory is way faster and way cheaper, 35mm class lenses have made a quantum leap in spatial frequency performance, and you can pick up a camera of this performance or better with twice the resolution or more, I'll buy another, but in the mean time, I'm finally done having to mess about with new digicams to learn every couple years, and glad to be so.

Thanks, Canon!!! My EOS3 is now fully just a backup camera, and, based on my experience abusing Canon pro equipment, I might as well take the batteries out of it.

Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM

Review Date: May 25, 2004 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $840.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: F2 @135mm FL !!!, color, bokeh, AF performance, unobtrusive for such an FL
none really

If you're into L class primes, I'd say this is the first "must have" in the Canon L line. As everyone says, the optics are fantastic in all criteria and the AF performance is as good as any in the Canon lineup, and that's not a slouchy lineup in the AF department.

If you're used to this FL on FF, you know what it does for head shots, and it's a regular portrait lens, with this model being the best in that FL I've used.

On a 1.6x, I found it just too long for most posed people shooting, but it makes a nice stealth candid shooter at outdoor events -- you are far enough away the subject isn't concious of the lens, and this lens doesn't attract anywhere near the attention of the Big Whites. It makes a heck of a big cage zoo lens on a 1.6x.

On a 1.3x, I find it useful for some nice shallow DOF headshot work outdoors, things like having all but one head in a group of people out of focus.

This lens with a 1.4x teleconverter is a nice lightweight fast 200mm, and still sharp enough.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L USM

Review Date: May 25, 2004 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $1,500.00 | Rating: 8 

Pros: Good build, sharper than expected wide open, fun headshot lens on 1.6x
As everyone reports: the AF is the black sheep of the EF mount L glass line -- YEESH

Everything about this lens is wonderful, except the AF. It is a VERY fun lens to use. I would rate this lens excellent, because used in situations within it's AF capabilities, it's absolutely first class. However, the AF is really, really, a dog compared to others in the Canon EF mount L glass family, and those can't be rated above excellent, so Great is all I can give this one. The fact that it doesn't have distance encoding is a bit of a drag for those caring about flash use with an E-TTL II camera (1D MkII).

I don't know which is more unbelievable about this lens: that an 85/1.2 can be so sharp wide open, or that the AF performance can be such a dog compared to the other Canon lenses in the price range, some of which are absolutely the best AF performers I've used. In any case, when things aren't moving fast, this lens is great on all cameras.

After buying a 10D, I found my 135/2L to be just too long for any portrait work, and for a lot of other stuff I used it on a FF camera. Yet the 50/1.4 was just a tad short for those v. shallow DOF head shots. The 85/1.2 fills that bill very nicely. I bought this lens about 5 months ago, and it has probably been my most used lens on the 10D since. I just happen to love the FOV in so many of my uses and that DOF is just plain fun!

With the 1D MkII, it becomes even more of a portrait lens for me, and with people posing, the AF performance just doesn't matter. With the improved AF of the MkII, the 85/1.2 seems to work quite well even in low light, though s-l-o-w in comparison.

The only serious drawback I find in my uses of this lens is use on the 10D for low light shots, such as weddings where flash is not allowed. It is an ideal focal length, and certainly aperture, for that type of work, but between the 10D AF performance, and this slug, I find the AF speed too slow in many circumstances to allow me to finish dialing in with the FT MF ring and it becomes a shot misser.

On the other hand, I notice this lens has a high frequency of getting mounted on both the 10D and 1D MkII, so I can't say it isn't an overall performer. Furthermore, were Canon to come out with an equivalent lens that had AF performance like the 135/2L, I would upgrade immediately and never look back, despite the high probability that the resale value on the current model will be about zilch if they bring out the same lens with an improved AF so that USM doesn't mean "Ultra Sluggish Mode" as it does on this lens.

If you have a 10D and are shooting portraits, you need this lens. If you have a 1.3x or FF camera, and don't have the 135/2L, buy it first -- the AF on that is full performance, it too shoots sharp wide open, and F2.0 at 135mm can let you play all the shallow DOF games you want.

Oh, yeah, as others have said, the bokeh is cool too, but I don't bother mentioning that in Canon L glass lens reviews much, because I have yet to run into anything but great bokeh with them.

Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM

Review Date: May 25, 2004 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $340.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Incredible aperture for the money, fast AF, nice color and sharpness stopped down
A little soft wide open

I bought this lens right with my 10D over a year ago. I hadn't used a 50mm much for a while, and didn't buy one for my EOS 3, but on the 10D with the 1.6x, this became a portrait lens. It's one of three non-L Canon EF mount lenses I've bought, and the only one I still have. On the 10D, it performs nearly to L glass expectations, particularly stepped down to F8. If you're out of luck in the light department, the F1.4 is sure handy, though it's a bit soft for portrait work to my taste wide open, so the shallow DOF afforded at 1.4 isn't really a factor for me.

I have shot hundreds of portraits under studio strobes with my copy of this lens, and it has always been a winner. For the price, it's a steal, and I'd say "if you're starting out an EF mount lens set, particularly for a 1.6x camera, buy it immediately" except that the 50/1.8 is nearly free, and the performance-to-price ratio of that lens is hard to ignore if you are on a really tight budget...

All of the above applies to my uses on a 10D. I have hardly used it on my EOS3, and since I've had my 1D MkII (two months now), I really notice a gap between this lens and my L glass. The AF just isn't in the same class with the L primes on the 1D MkII, and the lens has a decidedly cheaper feeling when shooting...but hey, it should, it costs less than 25% as much.

Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L USM

Review Date: May 25, 2004 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $1,350.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Nice build, superior AF performance, sharpness incredible for a WA zoom.
None really that aren't a part of zooms and extreme WA lenses

I've had this lens for about a year now, and it has been a consistent performer. I bought the 16-35/2.8L a few months after I got my 10D with the 1.6x, and found my lens arsenal severely needed more WA flexibility than the rectilinear 14mm and Canon 24/1.4 I had. I was immediately floored by the performance from such a WA lens, and a zoom no less. I'd tried out a 17-40, and found it OK, but clearly inferior in image sharpness and color.

This lens amazes me. I've not run across an extreme WA zoom like this ever before, and wonder if I ever will again. Now, I mostly shoot this on a 1.6x, and now 1.3x dSLR, and, gee, yes, there is some CA and soft corners with FF film wide open at 16mm, but any idiot would expect that.

Clearly, from some of the reviews above, like many of the Canon EOS products, there are QC issues, and you can get a lemon: if you buy the lens and don't find it spectactular, don't give up: exchange with your dealer or pursue a tune-up through Canon.

Many of the reviews above were clearly written by people who haven't done much with extreme WA, and expect an extreme WA zoom to be as sharp as a WA prime, or an equivalent class zoom of a much longer focal range. That simply is missing the point: this lens is a superior performer for the range it covers. Most of the real issues of the extreme WA are not noticeable on a 1.6x crop dSLR, and the extreme WA is necessary to give you the focal range of an easier-to-design lesser WA. That's the trade-off you get for the 200mm suddenly having the FOV of a 320.

If, like me, you had shot FF for many years and then suddenly got into a Canon EOS dSLR with a 1.6x crop factor and found all your zooms too long, buy this sucker now.

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM

Review Date: Apr 21, 2003 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $1,650.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: F-A-S-T AF, good low light AF, quiet, IS makes handholding in less than full sunlight easier
will make you not so happy about your previous favorite lens

The fastest AF lens I've ever used. No weird image abberations This lens was a big factor in convincing me to move to Canon. Beware first time use of IS handholding this lens -- the IS may fool your instincts. It fooled me the first time I used it -- I was used to seeing the camera shake at 200mm, and that kept me warned to watch the shutter.

This lens feels perfect on my EOS 3 with PB-E2. It feels awkward on the 10D alone, but OK with PB-E3. If you're going to walk around with it a lot as I do, I recommend the E1 handstrap (if you have a battery pack): you don't want this tank hanging off the neck strap and banging your midrif. This is an A-1 sideline sport lens.

I wish Canon had an equal lens in 28-105 or so range.

If you are feeling ambivalent about this lens just now, just go buy it -- this lens is never going to be in the "fire sale junk -- no bids" list on eBay.