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Tamron 28-75mm f2.8 XR Di Zoom AF

Review Date: May 15, 2005 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $400.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Very sharp and contrasty even wide open through the zoom range; light weight compared with the Canon 24-70.
A little noisy when focusing compared with Canon's USM lenses. Some distortion on the wide end.

If you don't like the size and weight of the Canon 24-70L but still want an excellent lens with constant and large maximum aperture, you probably won't be disappointed with this one.
After my bad luck with the Canon 70-200 f/4, I was happy to get an excellent copy that has none of the front-focusing (on the wide end) problem people are talking about. This means my review here is based on a good copy; your mileage may vary.
Optically, this lens is probably as good as you can get from a zoom. Sharpness and acutance characteristics are as good as my 17-40 f/4. Since I shoot RAW, the "slightly warm" color issue is not that big a concern. Some distortion shows up between 28mm to 35mm; so frame carefully.
The build quality is good enough for the price -- not as good as the L lenses but I don't really care that much. The focus is in fact faster than I expected, even though I am not into those action shootings.

Canon EF 28-105 F/3.5-4.5 II USM

Review Date: Dec 18, 2004 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $230.00 | Rating: 8 

Pros: Sharp after f/5.6. Light and well-built for the price. USM focusing system.
Bland color rendering. Not contrasty when you need it. Not very flare-resistent.

If you check, some of the best pictures were shot by this lens. On the other hand, a lot of pictures shot by 24-70L were mediocre at best. The range of this lens is very useful -- 70mm to 105mm can be used as a poor man's telephoto. This makes it a very good walkaround lens. Compared with 28-135 f/3.5-5.6, this is much lighter and less intimidating -- almost like a prime. Compared with more "serious" lenses like the monstrous 24-70 f/2.8 or the first half of the 70-200 f/4, this lens' advantage is quite obvious. For street photography, this lens is a good choice for anybody fond of the midrange (35mm-70mm) in the traditional 35mm world.

Optically, this is a "good-enough" lens. On the wide end, wide-open is not really an option. When you reach f/4.5, it begins to make sense. When you zoom to the longer end, this lens gradually becomes quite usable even when wide open. Alas, If you need it to be very sharp, f/5.6 is probably a safe bet for the entire focal length range.

For anybody who hasn't played with Canon's "L" lenses, this lens is indeed a flexible tool. On the other hand, it should be pointed out that the lens is, like most consumer lenses, susceptible to flare and thus not very contrasty in a lot of shooting situations. Do not use it in the woods or high mountains. For city streets, it's very good. The color rendering of this lens is also blander than most primes and higher-up lenses.

This lens, depite its cheap price, comes with a ghostly silent USM motor, better than the 50mm f/1.4. It's solidly built yet light and short.

I have been using prime lenses in the range for quite a long time. This lens rarely got out of the camera bag. However, in any street shooting situation, this lens will always be called for duty for fast and nice snapshots.

Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM

Review Date: Dec 15, 2004 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $579.00 | Rating: 6 

Pros: Excellent sharpness (if AF happens to work), color, acutance across all aperture and focal range.
Very bad and widespread quality in autofocus at least for digital bodies. Wide end (70mm-100mm) normally show back focussing.

First warning, don't buy this lens after you have used a good prime like 85mm f/1.8, because you are unlikely to be very impressed by it. Or, more harshly, you might be disappointed.

Second, a lot of complaints about the backfocus issue (on 10D, 300D, and probably some copies of 20D) have been circulated. The quality control of Canon in the presence of digital SLRs should have been more stringent.

This zoom is probably the best compromise you can get for excellent sharpness, color rendition, and acutance. Even at f/4, my outstanding 85mm f/1.8 is just tad sharper than this zoom. The color rendered is very pleasing to the eyes. The acutance of this lens is more in line with my 17-40 f/4 -- the Canon "L" trait, where my 85mm f/1.8 is a little more natural and subdued (probably because of its intended use as a portrait lens). Bokeh is a little harsher than my 85mm f/1.8.

Because of the backfocus issues, I have put this zoom under the most extensive tests I could execute. One thing that bothers me is the accuracy of this zoom. From 70mm to 100mm, if you focus at objects near infinity (at the distance scale), it can be a hit-or-miss. You could probably blame this on the 300D I own, but my 85mm f/1.8 and lowly 50mm f/1.8 "hit" the targets at f/2.8 every time on every side-by-side test. This caused me to conjecture that the not-so-bright f/4 lens is finally showing its flaw here. On the other hand, I tested my lowly 28-105mm f/3.5-4.5 USM II against this lens at f/4 (wide open for both) and 70mm; the 28-105 go the AF right every time. The only conclusion is that the 70-200 f/4 is deeply flawed in QC or design at least for digital bodies.

I then sent it to Canon to fix the AF problem. Now it came back much worse. The lens is now seriously backfocused as never before and the AF is very very bad for not-so-far objects.

I am giving it 3/5 for bad QC.

Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM

Review Date: Nov 30, 2004 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $680.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Excellent resolution and acutance. Great color rendition. Accurate autofocus system.
Some chromatic abberation on the edges when shot wide open at the wide end.

This is a so-called "no excuse" lens like my 85mm f/1.8. The USM system focuses accurately and silently; the high resolution and acutance in the optics produce very sharp images; the color rendition reflects what an "L" lens should be. From now on, any failure to produce good wide angle photos is entirely my own.

My copy is sharp wide open through the focal range. Two stops down to f/8, the lens manages to push my 1.6x crop 300D to its limit. From 30cm to infinity, it consistently and instantly locks the focus points without hesitation, unlike my previously owned EF 24mm f/2.8. Optically, this lens is as good as the primes in the focal range except for the distortion on the wide side.

It also controls flare quite nicely when used without protective UV filters. When used in-doors with flash, be sure to take off the UV filter before shooting. If it weren't for the weather sealing, I would have gotten rid of the UV filter altogether.m Also be sure to use the lens hood EW-83D II (for 24mm 1.4L) when mounting it on 1.6x DSLRs.

The only flaw I can think of is the chromatic abberation introduced on the edges when shot wide at F/4 against very contrasty objects using DSLR.

Before using this lens, I thought shooting wide angle to be very difficult because I constantly struggled with autofocus systems. Now, with the experiences of my short telephoto 85mm f/1.8 and this one, I am sold on the importance of advanced focus systems like Canon's USM.

Get this lens if you can afford it. Don't buy it if you don't want to get addicted to L lenses.

Canon EF 35mm f/2

Review Date: Aug 31, 2004 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $180.00 | Rating: 8 

Pros: Fine optical performance and close focusing; useful focal length in a 1.6x-crop DSLR.
Loud AF. Manual focus ring is a joke.

I bought the lens to fill the gap between my 24mm and 50mm. On a 1.6x sensor, it practically becomes a substitute for 50mm on a full-frame camera with a slightly larger DOF. This makes it very useful for me to shoot photos about street people, a task that 24mm seems too wide while 50mm too long.

This lens has a dual personality: (1) optically, it is similar to the 50mm f/1.8 II I own, and (2) the AF is similar to the 24mm f/2.8 I also own.

Like the 50mm, it is soft wide open but still useful. The improvement from f/2.0 to f/2.2 is dramatic (at least for my copy). It becomes good when reaching f/2.8 and very good on the mark of f/4.0. Colorwise, it is truthful but uninspiring. The contrast is OK but not "3D-like." Overall, the optical design seems to make it a decent street-photography lens in which accomodating all the subjects/non-subjects is primary while making colorful presentation like landscapes is not. Because it records all the details faithfully, people who are used to L-lenses like 24-70 f/2.8 may need to photoshop the resulting images.

The build is ok, like the 24mm f/2.8 but much better than the toyish 50mm f/1.8. Since this lens has a very useful focal length that makes it versatile, I really wish that it had a good USM motor that doesn't bother people in a quiet setting. The autofocus on the 300D (and possibly 10D) is not entirely satisfactory. Moreover, if you are up to the manual focus, don't bother with this lens -- it's even worse than the "dog toy" 50mm f/1.8 Mk2.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM

Review Date: Aug 10, 2004 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $330.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Very sharp and contrasty; the color is nicely saturated and the bokeh is nice. Fast, accurate, and silent focusing. Solid build and good price.
CA or blooming on digital sensors when wide open. It's possible to find them under an overexposed area even at f/8. Lousy hood attachment design.

Buy this lens.

The image quality deliever by the 85mm f/1.8 is very good. Wide open at f/1.8, it's much better than the 50mm f/1.8 II (As I said in the review of 50/1.8, this is probably caused by the 50mm's primitive autofocus system). When both lenses are in f/2.8, the difference is almost gone. The shallow DOF along with good optical elements produces very nice bokeh that cannot be found in 50mm f/1.8. The color rendered by this lens is very similar to the "L-color" found in my 17-40 f/4 and 70-200 f/4 without the feel of being "gaudy" or "flashy." Compared with my 70-200 f/4, the pictures produced by this lens are more smooth and the bokeh more natural. In subtle scenes like portraits (of humans or flowers) where high contrast is undesirable, pictures taken by this lens express themselves with grace without sacrificing any details.

The USM is ghostly silent, unlike my 50mm f/1.8 and 35mm f/2 It focuses quickly and accurately without hesitation. It is really joyful to use this lens in all kinds of applicable situations. This kind of description also applies to my 17-4 f/4.

You can only fault this lens's optics when it's shot wide open under more contrasty lighting conditions. I don't know whether film will respond like that, but my 300D consistently shows purple fringes (blooming or CA?) everywhere. The 50mm f1.8 also shows the same thing but in a much less pronounced way.

One the usability part, the hood is the worst kind of design I've ever seen: attaching and detaching is a constant struggle.

Overall, this lens is outstanding for its capabilities and quality. Moreover, the price is good for a lens with such build and optics.

Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II

Review Date: Aug 4, 2004 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $70.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Very good sharpness, contrast, and color. Lightweight.
The build quality is cheap. Alas, it a $70 lens.

This is probably the best $70 you will ever spend in photography. This is my first lens for my Canon 300D.

Wide open, it's not really usable because the autofocus is so erratic under my 300D that, even using tripod with MLU, continuous shots on the same subject will have blurred to tack sharp images.

From f/2.5 and down, my copy shows increasing improvement until f/8.0. It's excellent to outstanding between f/4 and f/8. This lens is basically distortion-free, a big plus. If you always use a lens hood to protect it from flare, it will produce very contrasty images with nice colors. Even though the autofocus is noisy, my copy never misfocuses, unlike the notorious 70-200 f/4.

I am not going to upgrade to the current version of 50mm f/1.4 unless it is revised to have the same build quality (and ring USM) as the 85mmm f/1.8.

Added comment (Jan 01, 2005): I recently tried manual focus as well as the technique of forcing 300D into AI servo to check whether this lens at f/1.8. To my surprise, it is very contrasty and sharp. This confirms my suspicion that most of the "softness" complaints against this (and possibly the 50mm f/1.4) originated from bad autofocus instead of bad optics. It is therefore suggested that you use the same technique when the DOF is very small.