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Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM

Review Date: Aug 31, 2005 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 8 

Pros: Tact sharp and excellent color., at f/2.0 this lens is very very sharp. Pretty compact and light. The cheapest f/1.4 lens you can buy I believe. Micro USM is decent, it focuses quiety and has full-time manual override, but doesn't seem quite as fast as Ring USM. Excellent portrait lens for 1.6x crop cameras. Better build than the other Canon 50mm primes.
Fairly expensive, when compared to its cheaper sibling the 50mm f/1.8, which is a good performer nonetheless. On 1.6x crop cameras, this lens is effectively has an 80mm lens FOV, which makes it tight for indoor use other than portraits/people shots.

I previously had the cheaper 50mm f/1.8 II sibling and probably never thought of the day I would trade up for the f/1.4 version. In some ways I am glad I did, and at other times I'm not quite sure why I blew the extra money.

The problem is that the f/1.8 is a fine lens and for $70 USD its hard to beat. Yet, for some reason or another I ended up buying this lens at $275 USD even though the f/1.8 gave me good results.

I began being very fond of quiet and fast USM focusing, which was obviously the first knock against the f/1.8 lens. Although this lens does not have a full Ring USM system, it is unique in that it is one of a few Canon lenses utilizing the Micro USM system. The exception being that this lens has a full-time manual override, unlike the other Micro USM lenses. For all intensive purposes, it is exactly like Ring USM, though slower I find.

Optically this lens is a beauty. Wide open it is not superb, but will allow you to get some really narrow DOF or low light shooting. At f/2.0 this lens really starts to pick up and sharpness is fantastic. Color richness and contrast are also superb, and on par with output from "L" lenses.

Compared to the cheaper 50mm prime, this lens also utilizes a 8-blade aperture, giving smoother bokeh (out of focus area). A minor detail but nice.

I believe this lens is sharper than the 50mm f/1.8 from f/1.8 to f/2.8 -- and of course can be used below f/1.8 down to f/1.4. Above f/2.8 it becomes hard to discern the differences in sharpness between the two 50mm primes. One area where the 50mm f/1.8 falls behind is in color. Colors seem richer and more contrasty with the 50mm f/1.4.

On a 1.6x crop camera, the 50mm lens effectively becomes a lens with an 80mm FOV. This makes it tight for indoor shots other than people/portraits. For people/portraits this lens is excellent. I love using it primarily for capturing people/portraits at social gatherings, parties, dinners, etc.

Even though this lens is comparatively more expensive, I have no hesitation in recommending it. It really is an excellent lens. However, if you don't mind some of the 50mm f/1.8's well-documented flaws you will be just as happy with the $70 USD 50mm f/1.8.

Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM

Review Date: Aug 31, 2005 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 9 

Pros: Very sharp, high contrast, a relatively small and light lens for its class, Canon "L" build quality, very quick and decisive USM focusing, works with a wide variety of 1.4x teleconverters with good results, excellent value (you'll easily find a used one as people unload it for an upgrade to the 70-200/2.8 lenses).
White color is a bit gaudy, aperture is limiting in low light, tripod collar is not included, tripod is expensive if bought.

Using this lens is a total pleasure. The output produced by this lens is absolutely fantastic. Photos shot with this lens are sharp and have excellent contrast.

Handling is superb as well. The lens feels very manageable, not too long and not too heavy for a lens of its type. USM focusing speed is very quick and very decisive. Full-time manual is easily used if needed with a very smooth, large, and textured focusing ring. The same can be said of the zoom ring. The 67mm filter size is used. This allows you to use lower cost filters, however they will not be interchangeable with most Canon "L" lenses which use 77mm.

Build is up to Canon "L" standards and materials. There is no play in any of the lens pieces and the whole lens feels like one piece. With the exception of all-weather sealing, this lens is up to par with the higher end "L" lenses.

Full compatability with most 1.4x teleconverters helps extend the reach of this lens. Apparently, 2.0x teleconverters produce less desirable results.

To some the white color can be a bit gaudy. When used in public places, I find that it draws attention. According to Canon, the white is used to maintain lower temperatures for the calcium fluorite elements used. Personally, I wish this lens could have been finished in black.

The f/4.0 aperture is fine for outdoor shooting, though it limits its usefulness indoors or in lower light. This is generally this lens' biggest weakness. At this price point I can't complain though. We all know it is an f/4.0 lens from the outright. On the flip side, this lens is perfectly usable wide open and does not need to be stopped down for very good quality.

Another common complaint with this lens is the absence of a tripod collar, which is included with other "L" telephoto lenses. To add insult to injury, Canon charges over $100 for the optional tripod collar. Luckily, this lens is not so heavy that it necessarily needs one, and can be used effectively on a tripod without a tripod collar and from the body's tripod mount.

The closest comparisons for this lens will be made with the Sigma 70-200 f/2.8 and Canon's own 70-200 f/2.8 and f/2.8 IS. The Sigma is slightly more expensive but affords you a one stop advantage. It is larger, but finished in black, and includes the tripod collar. Most reports say that quality is about as good as the Canon 70-200 lenses. Canon's own 70-200 f/2.8 and f/2.8 IS are similar optically, larger, faster, and the latter includes Canon's very useful Image Stabilizer system -- extending the usefulness of this lens. However, they are significantly more expensive.

Sigma 18-50mm F2.8 EX DC

Review Date: Jun 10, 2005 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 9 

Pros: Fast constant aperture F/2.8 across entire 18-50mm focal range, excellent lens sharpness on par with EF 17-40L, cheaper price than the EF 17-40L, fantastic finish and build, comes with a lens case and hood, relatively cheap compared to lenses of similar quality.
Slightly warm colours characteristic of Sigma lenses, only a EF-S style mount, so this lens will not be compatible with traditional EF-only mount cameras, edge softness on one side only.

Bought this lens recently and have been pretty impressed with it. I am using it with a APS-C sized Canon dSLR (Rebel XT/350D) and it gives me wide enough angles for the 1.6X cropping factor.

Optically this lens is sharp and comparable to the EF 17-40L from Canon. Reviews on the Internet have been favorable when this lens has been compared to the popular EF 17-40L. Aperture speed is great, and the lens can be used at F/2.8, though it is improved as it is stopped down.

Sigma is known to have warmer colours and this shows in the photos. It is a slight difference but noticeable.

Edge sharpness has been one disappointing area with this lens though. For some strange reason, the left side of photos, right in the corners seems quite unsharp. The centre of photos are sharp, and the right side is relatively sharp too. This problem is mostly present when the lens is wide open.

Build quality is fantastic. I love the material that Sigma uses on their EX lenses. It is sort of rubberized, but not. The only unfortunate part is the small speckle shimmer in the otherwise beautiful black material.

Zoom and focus rings are smooth, but the focus action is not quiet. The action is decisive and quick, though not to the standards of Canon's USM (or Sigma's HSM for that matter).

The lens is pricey, but considering the class of lens it is, it can be considered by some as a good deal. It is clearly cheaper than the EF 17-40L, its most direct competitor, but offers a full stop quicker aperture, slightly wider focal range, smaller and lighter size.

Speaking of size, I like the size of this lens. It is not too heavy or long, about 80% of my 28-135mm IS lens.

For the total price, you also get the lens hood and a ballistic nylon Sigma carrying case.

The filter size is 67mm, which is a fairly popular size and not too big (and expensive).

Apparently, I've read one report of this lens having difficulty with Canon EOS cameras and external flash. The focus assist light does not work properly.

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

Review Date: Jun 10, 2005 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 8 

Pros: Fantastic focal range, good contrast, reasonably sharp, edge sharpness is decent, image stabilization improves steadiness effectively, good build quality, smooth and quiet USM focusing, not too large, cheaper than comparable EF-S 17-85 IS lens.
Wish there was faster apertures than F/5.6 and full telephoto, need to stop down for optimal sharpness, large filter size 72mm.

Like many others here, this popular lens finds itself into the camera bags of many Canon EOS owners.

The best thing about this lens is the focal range. At 28-135mm, it is by far the most flexible lens I own. On a APS-C dSLR with 1.6X cropping factor, the length is more like 45-216mm.

Optically the lens is fine. Photos taken with this lens are relatively sharp and have good contrast, black seem just a tad darker and the whites just a bit brighter. Edge sharpness, a major concern for lenses is quite acceptable, probably because this is an EF lens on a 1.6X cropping factor camera (Rebel XT/350D).

Despite the inclusion of Canon's Image Stabilization (IS), I do wish this lens had faster apertures. IS is great for stabilizing hand held shots, but does nothing for freezing action. Still, IS is a welcome feature that truly impresses. For instance, I was able to shoot at a shutter of 1/10 second at a full 135mm focal length and still get away with a pretty clean shot.

Build quality is good and the lens is not too heavy. It is about the same size as the popular EF 17-40L lens and slightly larger than the comparable EF-S 17-85 IS lens. The zoom and focus rings are rubberized and have a nice smooth feel to them when you twist them. The end of the lens extends as you zoom, but the front element does not rotate, facilitating easier use of a circular polarizer if you use one.

USM is fast, quiet, and fairly reliable so far. IS makes a low humming noise when it is activated.

The filter size is 72mm, so they are quite pricey. The lens hood is also large but can be reversed for storage. Unfortunately the lens hood is not included.

Compared to the EF-S 17-85 IS lens, this lens seemed like a better deal. At the time I was shopping for it, it was a good deal cheaper. With the 1.6X cropping factor, this lens gives me far more reach than the EF-S 17-85 IS, but the 28mm wide end is quite narrow and does not serve as a wide angle lens (I have a separate wide angle).

Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II

Review Date: Jun 10, 2005 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 8 

Pros: Cheap price, fast aperture, low distortion, crisp photos, light-weight, small.
Plastic and cheap construction, five blade aperture, noisy focus action, no built-in distance scale (though there is a nice DIY for that).

In all honesty, there weren't many reasons for me to go out and get this lens. I have several lenses that cover the 50mm length, and one lens that is almost as fast.

Despite the reviews of cheap build quality, fixed focal length, noisy focus action, this lens still found a way into my camera bag, and apparently many other camera bags like mine!

Optically it is a fine lens. Photos taken with it are crisp and relatively distortion free. The fast aperture is tremendous fun, allowing you to play around with low available light and shallow DOF. For optimal sharpness, you should stop down a bit. I find F/2.8-4.0 good enough if you have limited light.

Build quality as others have said is not spectacular. It is on par with similar plastic mount EF lenses, such as kit lenses. Focusing is noisy too.

However, the plastic build also lends itself to one of its key advantages. This lens is lightweight. Combined with its small size, it's a pleasure to carry around in your bag or on your camera. Since the lens is also relatively cheap, it makes a great guinea pig lens for those situations where you wouldn't want to risk using a more expensive lens.

There is a simple AF/MF toggle switch, and thin manual focus ring for those times you need it.

The most likely comparisons to this lens will be the Mark I version of the EF 50mm F/1.8 and the EF 50mm F/1.4.

I initially scouted out Mark I versions of this lens on eBay, but found the bid prices on those to go maybe double the price of the Mark II version. Reports are that the optics are the same and that the primary differences are more solid construction with metal mount and distance scale. The distance scale can be overcome with a cheap DIY project found here I made my own distance scale and adhered it to my lens, and it works all the same.

The EF 50mm F/1.4 is slightly nicer optically, solidly built, with a six blade aperture helping bokeh. It costs almost five times more though. If money is no object than by all means go for that.