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Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM

Review Date: Apr 29, 2008 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $300.00 | Rating: 9 

Pros: Focal Length Range, Price, IS, Image Quality, FTM, Fast USM-based Focusing.
Aperture fairly slow, may not be wideangle enough for some on a 1.6X crop body.

After having laboured over the choice of a one-lens walkaround solution, I eventually settled on this. I compared this with the Canon 24-105L and 17-85, as well as the Sigma 18-200.

Personally the 24-105L was too expensive and did not yield markedly better results (and the huge price difference would allow me to me to buy two other good lenses). I just cannot justify the cost of the 24-105L, even if I did have the money for it. One thing to note though is that it is a constant aperture lens - and the 28-135 is not. That being said, I don't personally find either lens is very fast aperture-wise.

The 17-85 I found a little short for a walkaround (and found the distortion to be very high on the wideangle as well as slower wide-angle aperture, and the EF-S designation limited future lens use),

The lack of HSM, slow aperture @ 200mm, and the higher cost of the Sigma 18-200 (almost double that of the 28-135) turned me off that last choice.

I am quite pleased with the image quality of the lens. After doing some resolution tests it is clear that the lens is weakest (especially in edge sharpness) at 135mm, but I have not really suffered from this in the field. I believe the lens is acceptably sharp wide-open, with this of course improving stopped-down. I generally always use it wide-open and an pleased with the results. As for CA, and Vignetting, not enough has really cropped up in my photos to really be a real-life issue. Flare control is decent but I would definitely recommend a hood for most outdoor shooting. AF is whisper quiet and very fast in all but the worst situations (in almost no light the focus of course swims). Again, I do NOT feel that the 24-105L is a markedly better lens, especially for the price. Buy that for the build quality, faster telephoto aperture, and the wider angle. I do not recommend purchasing that lens over this for image quality alone.

Some may want to know that the IS in this lens is an older version - you will see the viewfinder jump a tad when the IS kicks into gear. Not a dealbreaker by any means in my opinion but important to note. The IS works well enough for me to often shoot at 1/30 speeds, handholding. This of course does not apply to fast moving subjects.

Using this lens on a 1.6X FOV Crop body, you do lose quite a bit of wideangle, but the trade-off is in the telephoto. Quite often I find the wideangle to be wide enough for 80% of the situations I run into, which can be complimented easily with a wider angle zoom such as the Canon 10-22 if you are concerned about shooting wide angle (this was too you can shoot "true" wideangle). Personally, I prefer to bring a specific lens for just wide angle shooting because I will usually plan for shooting this type of photography ahead of time (I usually know if I am going to go out and shoot buildings or landscapes)... Most often, then, especially if I am keeping outdoors, this lens covers almost all of my situations. Most often I end up bringing more than one lens around with my anyways, so bringing an extra wideangle is not a huge concern for me. Thus, if I had to say, this lens is actually a perfect focal length range for me for a walkaround single-lens solution. If you are concerned about the focal length, I recommend trying it out in a camera store or renting it - that is the only way to know for sure!

Build quality is nice. The zoom is fairly smooth with a slight bit of stiffness at the wide angle end. The focus ring is maybe being a little too small and easy to shift. I find the distance travel too short on the focus too for my own tastes, but this means you will be able to focus much faster when using MF (albeit less accurately). The Hood for this lens is fairly large (not as large as some L Hoods but I definitely would not call it small) - I would recommend purchasing a pinch cap instead of the included cap simply to simplify the ease of use while using this lens with a hood. I would not call this lens heavy or large but if you are used to the 18-55 kit lens, this lens is definitely sizeably bigger. I do however find this lens to be very well balanced on even smaller bodies such as the Rebel or Rebel XT. Also if you are used to the kit lens, you will be much happier with the build quality of this lens.

For those looking for a zoom lens that is capable inside and out, you will likely have to settle for shorter focal lengths. Sigma, Tamron, and Tokina all offer lenses in the 28-70 range with a 2.8 aperture that would be more suitable for indoor use. I see this lens as being complementary - a 28-70 would be more appropriate in a two or three lens solution, and the 28-135 is more appropriate if you can only bring one lens with you for the day. Note that this is a very acceptable solution - do not feel you have to do it all with one lens! You will not always need the extra reach past 70mm (especially on a 1.6X Crop Sensor)... when shooting people generally the 28-70 range is perfect for the situations that I have run into. I recommend the Sigma 24-70 or Tamron 28-75 in this case - the Sigma has a wider angle and the Tamron has a longer telephoto - choose depending on which suits your needs better. Tokina's 28-70 is also very nice because of its all-metal body. Lastly Sigma also has a nice 24-60 if cost and size is a big issue. I would generally recommend all these lenses over the Canon 24-70L which is huge and exorbitantly priced. I also find the Canon 17-55 EF-S lens over priced and too short on the telephoto end for a walkaround. If I had to recommend one f.2.8 zoom it would probably be the Sigma 24-70 for its wider angle, but your mileage may vary.

If you truly want as much focal length as you can from one lens, I would recommend the Sigma 18-200 OS instead. It will handle more situations than the 28-135 lens and may be the only lens you ever really need. In my opinion though, the purpose of an SLR is so that you can interchange lenses that are more capable for specific situations, so because of this, I would recommend this lens over the sigma, because of its USM focus, FTM, and guaranteed future use with Canon Full-Frame bodies.

Another thing to note is that I would definitely hunt around for bargains for this lens. I believe it can go for up to 699 on camera stores in Canada - but can easily be got new for ~$350 on eBay.

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

Review Date: Apr 29, 2008 Recommend? no | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 8 

Pros: 400mm on a 1.6X crop is very dramatic, Image Stabilization, Build Quality, Silent USM AF.
Weight, Size, AF Hunting in Low-Light, 1.8m minimum focus distance, push/pull/tension ring combo, price.

This review is based on a rented lens.

I used this lens primarily at the zoo, an obvious application of such a lens.

Straight up, I found the tension ring/push pull zoom combo hard to get used to, and definitely slow to use in a pinch. Typically you will use the ring to lock the zoom when carrying around the lens, and loosen the tension when you go to shoot - however, if you need to take a quick shot, the necessity to change the zoom tension to adjust the focal length can invariably make you miss the shot (unless the position that you lock your lens in is exactly the position that you need to shoot, which in my opinion is rare). Also, the potential of forgetting to tighten the tension ring will cause the lens to drop very quickly if put in a downward position - definitely something you don't want to happen to such an expensive lens. Also an annoyance was the fact that the tension ring sits flush with the focus ring - meaning that you're quite apt to accidently knock the focus around when adjusting the zoom tension. This comes into play often if you are finely adjusting focus thanks to full time manual focusing, hit the zoom tension by accident, which may cause the zoom to shift. At its tightest setting, it is very hard to unlock/loosen without using two hands. Understandable, since you dont want it over-easily unlocked, but it is definitely something that you have to get used to using. I find holding the focus ring with your middle and ring fingers and adjusting tension with your thumb will often get a good result - but the fact you have to develop a technique to use just this specific lens is a tad questionable.

For the application of a Zoo lens, this had particular trouble focusing through some glass and especially mesh. Of course this represents a difficult AF situation, but I was hoping that the lens would be able to behave better than it did in this regard. This also happens if you are shooting with foreground elements in the composition... focus will swim back and forth and not always lock on the subject you intend on.. you often need to specify an AF point in this case.

Keeping on the subject of AF, shooting indoors with this lens definitely caused the USM to swim back and forth, causing me to miss a shot here and there. It was silent, however.

For those shooting animals, I figure it's important to mention that focusing on darker subjects such as black panthers or gorillas confuses the focus plenty, it seems... the AF needs enough contrast to lock a focus on, so shooting such animals with AF can be problematic. Expect to use MF or AF with some manual focus adjustments.

I also found the minimum focus distance to be a tad long @ 1.8m... there were definitely times where a subject was closer than this and the lens was unable to lock focus. Extension tubes can be bought to aid this but I typically shoot natively with the lens.

For shooting animals, I found the 4.5-5.6 aperture a tad slow for moving subjects, with both the AF and the aperture often missing and losing out on many good shots. This was especially true indoors.

IS was a definite help.. I was able to often shoot at shutter speeds of 1/30 @ 400mm indoors and still get some shots in.

Wide open, the shots when the AF did lock were quite sharp. I did not have time to do any resolution chart testing, only real life shots, and was generally impressed by the sharpness. That being said, my shot ratio of hits was rather low because of the combination of problems listed above. My feeling is if you are shooting outside, with slower moving far-away subjects that are unobstructed, this would be an ideal lens. However, if the subjects start to move closer, if you're shooting through fences or glass, or are fast-moving, you're likely going to get a low hit ratio with this lens. Of course, the more you use it the more you can learn to expect what it will do, so my assumption is that this ratio would get better over time. But being an L Lens I am being extremely critical...

The overall image quality was quite good. Bokeh is definitely very pleasing, colors very neutral, contrasty, with an appropriate amount of saturation. Vignetting and CAs did not show up in my field pictures enough to really be a factor. I think it is important to note that owning mainly non-L Lenses, I was not especially blown away by the images taken with this L Lens (especially as much as I had come to expect).

A small niggle - I found the distance window almost obstructed by my built in flash... it is very close to the lens mount which definitely makes it harder to see.

Handholding the lens with the tripod mount is not recommended.. the distance between the lens and the mount is very small and getting your hand in a comfortable position is a tad difficult (but not impossible). In fact, the ideal spot to grip the lens is squarely where the tripod mount sits. Also, You also must remove the lens to remove the tripod mount. A minor nuisance, but a concern nonetheless.

The build quality is very good. Being built of an all-metal chassis definitely makes it make like it was built to last. The plastic lens hood definitely feels like it would not hold up to as much punishment as the lens would though...

The included lens case was more than adequate for carrying this lens around. It's too bad Canon does include all these accessories with their other non-L lenses.

Through all this, my overall impression is the 70-200 L lens is a much more versatile lens, especially with being able to combine this lens with 1.4 and 2x extenders. The usability of that lens seems to be much more typical and the f2.8 aperture with a slightly closer focusing distance means that this would probably be a much more used lens for me, of course, your mileage may vary.