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Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM Pancake

Review Date: Jun 27, 2012 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $200.00 | Rating: 9 

Pros: Small, Lightweight, Quick, Quiet, Build Quality, Great IQ
STM is Strange (See Review)

I give this lens about a 9.5/10. It's small, lightweight and has great build quality. My first snaps with my 5D Classic (the camera I bought this lens for, specifically) are sharp with good contrast and the OOF areas are nice and smooth.

The focus is quick enough for me for general snaps and travel photos (my main, intended use for this lens). The focus is also quiet. I can hear it just a little bit but it's mostly just a breathy electronic sound. Nothing buzzy like the 35 f/2 or 50 f/1.8.

The build quality is superb. I would rate it with the 28 f/1.8 and 85 f/1.8 (even slightly better than the 50 f/1.4). It doesn't rattle or creak. The metal mount is nice and attaches securely. The focus ring is smooth and exhibits good resistance. It's also large enough to easily focus with one finger and far enough away from the front element to prevent my fingers from getting in the way.

Where this lens loses a tiny bit of confidence is in the STM motor. While it is fast and silent, the lens can't be focused without the camera being on. So what, right? Typically, when I turn a camera off, I spin the focus ring to retract the front of the lens (yes, this lens extends when focusing). With the camera off, even with the lens in MF, you can't adjust the focus. It's driven solely by the camera's battery. This is a small quibble but one that I noticed and, unfortunately, they lose a half a point for the inconvenience of having to remember to retract the lens prior to turning off the camera. This may not matter to anyone else here, but to me, it's something I think could be a little annoying.

Otherwise, this lens is really great for the money. It's great for travel or lifestyle stuff when you just need a small lens on a body to tuck away in your bag. I'll pretty much be using this exclusively on my 5D Classic as a travel/walkaround setup. For that, it's a perfect lens.

Tokina 17mm f/3.5 AT-X 17 AF PRO

Review Date: Oct 29, 2009 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $220.00 | Rating: 9 

Pros: Low Price, Low Distortion, Flare Resistance, Decent IQ
Only Decent IQ, Cheap Lens Cap & Hood, Quirky AF/MF Clutch Mechanism

I picked up this lens very recently for use on a Canon 5D and so far I'm very pleased.

When I unpacked the lens, I was pleased with the decent build quality and heft of the lens. I was also pleased to see that it is a relatively compact lens.

Attaching the lens hood for the first time, I was a little turned off. It doesn't have an easy, satisfying click like the hoods on my Canon brand lenses. It sort of feels like it's being forced onto the lens. The lens cap is useless if the hood is on as well because of the release buttons being at the very edges of the lens. A center-pinch lens cap would have been a smarter, more user-friendly design.

The lens sports a fairly fast aperture of f/3.5 which does very little to boost it's value as it's essentially useless at f/3.5 due to softness, especially at the corners, and vignetting. Stopped down to f/8 or f/11 this lens performs well. The vignetting is nearly gone, if not gone completely and the lens is acceptably sharp throughout the frame with some softness at the extreme corners.

This lens wont win any races as far as focus speed is concerned, but it's not slow either. Going from its closest focus distance to infinity takes a moment, but I think it speeds up a little in bright conditions. Speaking of focus, if you want to manually focus this lens, you've got to push the focus ring into MF mode to engage it and then slide the switch close to the camera body to MF just as you would on any other lens. Why Tokina has chosen this method, I don't know, but I've heard mention of it in regards to other Tokina lenses as well. For the money, it's a small quibble and if you're using this lens on a Nikon body (or others, I'm sure) I don't think you'll have to engage both buttons, just the focus ring. However, the focus ring is positioned nicely towards the end of the lens and feels good, but it's a little loose for my taste and doesn't give much resistance so it makes it a little hard to focus manually. With this being such a wide lens and me using it mostly at smaller apertures (f/8, f/11, etc.) I tend to trust the accuracy of the AF.

Perhaps this lens' best attributes are its extreme resistance to flare and it's low distortion. I get almost no flare when shooting into the sun with the sun in the frame and the lens holds colors and contrast well in these situations. The low distortion is a huge factor in the value of this lens for me. I get virtually no barrel distortion, even with vertical or horizontal lines at the extreme edges.

Given that there are very little alternatives for this lens save for a Tamron Adaptall version, a Canon TS-E (10x the price) and a couple of Olympus and Zeiss options (easily 2-5x the price), it's kind of gotten itself into a little niche that makes it more desirable than it probably normally would be. In comparing it with the Canon 20-35 USM and Canon 20/2.8 USM, the Canon wins in terms of sharpness across all apertures and focus speed, but other than that, I think the Tokina takes the cake. Much less distortion and at a few degrees wider, it's, to me, the clear winner.

Don't hesitate if you can get your hands on one of these. I don't see them too often, but they seem to hold their value well. I'm sure if you put $200 into it and decide it's not for you, you'll get your $200 back out of it. At least until someone decides to make something to compete.

Bogen/Manfrotto 3021 Tripod Legs

Review Date: Mar 15, 2008 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 9 

Pros: Sturdy, versatile
A tad heavy.

I bought this tripod as a replacement for a much cheaper tripod that I had after a near-tragic experience with the Bogen's less than sturdy Wal-Mart counterpart.

I can't remember for the life of me which head I have on this tripod and I'd look, but it's out in the car.

This tripod is very sturdy, strong as an ox and holds my 5D with any of my lenses quite well. I bought the Pro BN Model as I thought I would appreciate the boom feature of the center column. I use it a lot less than I thought I would.

The tripod is a bit heavy, but worth its weight in gold. The more expensive carbon fiber tripods only save a couple of pounds and I don't carry it long distances, so the extra weight doesn't bother me much.

All in all a great value.

Canon EF 28mm f/1.8 USM

Review Date: Mar 7, 2008 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 9 

Pros: Great build quality, Super fast USM, Fast 1.8 Aperture, Great Price
None as of yet

I just received this lens today from KEH.

This lens is absolutely fantastic for the price. Even brand new I think it's easily worth the price. My only complaint for other buyers is that it doesn't include the much needed lens hood (Surprise, surprise). Mine came with it from KEH and I think you can get your hands on a decent 3rd party hood for under $20 so it isn't a total bummer. Oh, and while we're on the subject of the hood, it's a little awkward. I like to store my hoods backwards on the lens and this hood completely covers the lens. So that's not really an option while using the lens. Other than that, it's great.

The optics on this lens are as good as I've seen from Canon. I currently own this lens and the 50mm f/1.4 and honestly I think this lens is built better than the 50. It compliments it nicely though and seems to be sharper than my 17-40 f/4 L at the 28mm mark. (Zooms are never as sharp as primes, but still...)

I'm shooting on a 5D and this lens doesn't show the extreme CA or vignetting that I've been reading about. It's a tad soft at the corners but the center is tack sharp especially at about 2.4 and above. At 1.8 it's still acceptable and with the 5D's resolution and sharpening abilities in Photoshop I think this can be easily corrected.

If you're looking for a good wide-angle prime, this is the lens for you. I'm completely satisfied. I'll update if anything else comes up.