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Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM

70-300_isusm
Review Date: Jan 27, 2006 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 8 

 
Pros: Sharp. IS is very helpful. Price (compared to the Ls).
Cons:
Build quality. Slow AF. No FTM focus. Lens hood sold separately, at insane price.

I've never really understood people who rave about L lens build quality - I'm quite happy with most of my consumer Canons in that respect. That said, the 70-300 IS is the least well built in my collection and leaves one with a distinct feeling of shake, rattle and roll.
So far, I've used it for a number of real shots (birds and also an indoor event), and done some test shots on a tripod.
Optically it seems good, the test photos gave me very sharp images (especially in the 100-300mm range, my copy seems a little softer below that). The IS is extremely useful, letting you capture usable images even at low shutter speeds, e.g. 1/40s at 300mm. Don't expect micracles, such as prime lens sharpness, under these conditions - there is a fair amount of pixel-level blurriness if the IS has to work too hard, but if you don't magnify too much, it's tolerable (and certainly much better than losing the shot entirely without IS).
On the whole, I can recommend this lens.


 
Canon EF 28-105 F/3.5-4.5 II USM

ef_28-105_35
Review Date: Dec 29, 2005 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

 
Pros: Fast AF, useful range, well built.
Cons:
None really

I bought this instead of the 350D kit lens. I'm continually surprised how good the pictures I can take with this are - high keeper rate, and no L cravings for me. While the Tokina 12-24 is my favourite lens, the 28-105 has a more useful range and therefore gets used more often. Even in low light, I find myself preferring this lens together with a Speedlite 430EX over using a 50mm f/1.4 without flash - the end result tends to be better since I can rely on the AF with this lens (although it did have to go to Canon for calibration).
For the price, I'm more than happy.


 
Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM

ef50mmf_14usm_1_
Review Date: Nov 29, 2005 Recommend? no | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 5 

 
Pros: Sharp. Wide aperture. Full-time MF.
Cons:
AF hit-or-miss. Manufacturing tolerances quite high; no quality control apparent. Lens hood not included.

The first one I bought couldn't take an in-focus shot, even after going back to Canon twice, along with the camera. The replacement I have usually manages to hit the right focus distance, but there's still the odd random OOF shot every now and then.

Anyone who complains about "softness" at 1.4 should do focus tests (with the test setup at varying distances to the camera, since that can make a difference too). In my experience it's plenty sharp if it hits focus.


 
Nikon D70s

D70
Review Date: Nov 18, 2005 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 8 

 
Pros: see below
Cons:

Since my 350D is at Canon to fix back focus problems, the camera store has given me a D70s for a few days as a replacement camera. I thought I'd write a mini-review of the differences I noticed between the two. The one I had came with a 28-80mm (3.3-5.6) zoom which probably isn't Nikon's engineering masterpiece.

Build: The D70s seems a lot more sturdy, and fits the hand much better. Nevertheless it's quite light. I like it. It didn't complain about being snowed on a bit. The lens was about as confidence-inspiring as Canon's kit lens (which I didn't buy), i.e. not at all.

Controls: The D70S has two control wheels, which is useful in M mode. There's also a good selection of buttons for changing frequently used settings. Most of these are well-designed and can even be used with gloves on, except the AF/MF switch which is fiddly. Like on the Canon, ISO isn't shown anywhere until you press a button. "Delete image" and "Confirm delete" are on the same button which seems to invite accidents. The LCD screen on the back is highly dependent on viewing angle. There's really only one viewing position from which you can get a good impression of an entire image unless the whole image is quite bright.

Viewfinder: I don't have the cameras next to each other, but they seem similar in size. The autofocus points flash red much more brightly on the 350D; I sometimes have trouble discerning what the D70s is trying to tell me. The D70s has grid lines in the viewfinder which can be toggled on or off. There's a dioptre adjust slider, but unlike the 350D there doesn't appear to be a way to tell when it's set to neutral.

AF: Well, the AF on my 350D isn't working, but it has two more points where it can miss focus. The D70s I had seemed accurate, but needed a certain level of light for AF to lock on. The lens I had seemed to take a bit of time to attain focus, which led to a larger percentage of shots lost due to lag than I'm used from my Canon, but it probably isn't the camera body's fault. The AF does seem to get slower in low light though.

Images: AWB was consistently off indoors; not a big problem since it's easy to fix if you shoot raw. Images at ISO200 look great - not much difference between 6 and 8 megapixels, and either amount seems clearly enough for my uses. There's more noise at every ISO level than on the 350D, although the difference isn't as big as I expected (except in the "look" of the noise which is just different). Even at ISO1600 you get usable results; much, much better than from my A75 at ISO400 - I checked, since I had forgotten just how bad it was. Another thing I noticed was that the D70s seemed to have less headroom for recovery of blown highlights - using RSP to convert images I find there is more usable information left in overexposed 350D images.

On the whole I think I prefer the Canon, assuming they can fix it. On build quality and useability the D70s may have a slight edge, in terms of image quality I think the 350D wins.