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Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS USM

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97% of reviewers $5,496.88
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Next-generation super telephoto L-series lens with an Image Stabilizer, it's one of the world's best lenses for wildlife and nature photography. The optical system is newly designed with a maximum aperture of f/4. One fluorite element and two UD-glass elements effectively correct aberrations resulting in sharp and excellent delineation.


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Registered: Oct 8, 2004
Location: United States
Posts: 517
Review Date: May 1, 2006 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $5,499.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Sharp at f/4, excellent results with 1.4x, smaller and lighter then I imagined, definately hand-holdable (probably only for short periods of time though)
This isn't really a con, but there are only a couple of options as far as tripod heads go, and you should budget yourself an additional $800 - $1K to spend on a pro setup from wimberly or RRS in order to mount this thing.

one word... amazing. When i opened the case, the first thing that came to mind was "this smells like a new car" It was a wonderful feeling to finally own my dream lens...

May 1, 2006
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Registered: Jun 14, 2005
Location: Canada
Posts: 2
Review Date: Mar 14, 2006 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

Pros: Sharp, sharp, sharp and sharp again! Very fast focus! Quality of construction.
Heavy? well not that much! I can handle it! Price? well, yes and no...depends of you priority in life.

I have this lens for two weeks now, was able to make some test and wow, pictures are so sharp, it reveals the real and full potential of the CMOS sensor on my EOS 20D, even my 10D!
Before making some test, I was thinking of changing my 1.4x and 2x extenders, but after looking to the shots I made with those two old extenders, I don't think I'll need de new II versions!
Focus is very fast, accurate and the sharpness in incredible!!!
Chromatic abberation with this lens? What chromatic abberation? You're kidding...right?
Quality of construction is imppeccable, it is truly a remarquable and exeptionnal lens in any way.
Ok, it is a little bit heavy, but who cares? with a good monopod and little practice, you will eventualy forget about it.
Handling this baby will become a second nature and you will enjoy the full experience of working with it!


Mar 14, 2006
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Registered: Aug 19, 2005
Location: United States
Posts: 0
Review Date: Jan 16, 2006 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $5,500.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Great Lens... Super sharp... Best lens I have in my arsenal... Can't believe the quality of shots you get with this lens..
Price... but hey you get what you pay for...

Jan 16, 2006
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Registered: Mar 3, 2004
Location: United States
Posts: 11935
Review Date: Jan 5, 2006 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $5,500.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: As sharp as it gets. Loses virtually nothing with a 1.4x, even wide open. Is the longest Canon lens that can still be hand held in many shooting situations.
None other than price, but that's unavoidable in quality long glass.

I can't imagine a better lens for wildlife shooting. The image quality is as good as it gets, and it takes a 1.4x wide open with virtually no loss in image quality. If you can afford to spend the money, you can't do any better.

Jan 5, 2006
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Registered: Jul 8, 2003
Location: United States
Posts: 32194
Review Date: Dec 22, 2005 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

Pros: Sharp wide open, even with a 1.4XTC, fast AF, great IS, what more is there?
Couldn't think of anything at this point.

It is my only birding lens; this lens in combination with a sturdy tripod and a Wimberley head, you are set.

Dec 22, 2005
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Registered: Nov 28, 2005
Location: United States
Posts: 32
Review Date: Dec 19, 2005 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated



Sorry if the is not the right place to post this but where do locate the manufacture date and serial number on this lens.


Dec 19, 2005
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Registered: Jul 17, 2005
Location: United States
Posts: 344
Review Date: Dec 17, 2005 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $5,499.95 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Incredible sharpness, even with the Canon 1.4 extender. Manageable in a portable situation, and able to be hand-held.

I've only had the 500mm F4 for about a month, so this review will only deal with a few brief 'highlights.'
I gave very careful consideration to the 600mm, but went with the 500 due to the fact it is easier to carry and able to be hand-held.
Also a consideration is that the 1.4 Canon extender effectively makes this a 700mm supertelephoto.
I cannot detect any sharpness decline at all with the 1.4 extender.
This is especially valuable when birding.
My setup includes the Gitzo 1325 and the Wimberley head and this combination provides a fantastic platform for stationary shooting.
The camera and lens literally 'float', so it's very easy to follow birds in motion. I have also used it with some aircraft flyby shoots with the same exemplary performance.
I have used the 2X Canon extender, and noticed only a very slight decline in sharpness relative to the lens alone, or when using the 1.4 extender.
There are a few top-quality lenses around, but using the Canon 500mm F4 IS confirms for me its reputation as one of the world's best.
I recommend it without qualification.

Dec 17, 2005
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Registered: Jan 13, 2003
Location: United Kingdom
Posts: 522
Review Date: Nov 25, 2005 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

Pros: Sharpness, Portability, build quality, reasonable price


What else needs to be said.

Buy it if you need it.

Nov 25, 2005
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Lars Johnsson
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Registered: Jun 29, 2003
Location: Thailand
Posts: 33669
Review Date: Nov 9, 2005 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $6,000.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Sharpness wide open, Build quality is great, Super-fast AF, Good contrast, IS
Very expensive

I have the 300/2,8 IS lens. This lens is just like a longer version of that lens. Image quality and everything else is just the same.
A great lens for birding and also sport. I have only used the lens for a month so I need a bit more practise on my long lens technic. It's a good lens to handhold if you rest a bit between your shooting.
And it works perfect with extenders.

Nov 9, 2005
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Registered: Apr 8, 2004
Location: United States
Posts: 99
Review Date: Oct 16, 2005 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $5,399.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Sharpness, IS, Build quality, Fast AF
Price and weight

This is by far the most expensive lens I have ever purchaced. After reading al the reviews I deccided it was probably worth it so I took the plunge. Well, I am totally satisfied. Price not withstanding the lens is the sharpest I have seen. Despite the weight I still can carry and hand hold it for flight shots. When not hand holding i mount it on the tripod and loosen the ball head for quick movement. However, I must be certain to really tighten the head when I am not actually shooting due to the weight. The IS is great and the AF is very fast. It works great with Canon's 1.4 TC.

Yes, it is a lot of $$, but for wildlife and birds it is worth it.

Oct 16, 2005
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Registered: Oct 7, 2003
Location: United States
Posts: 1566
Review Date: Sep 12, 2005 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

Pros: Simply one of the top performers in super telephoto. Bullet proof AF, superb.. no astounding image quality and tough build.
Some ergonomic nitpicks in review,. and wow.. $$$ they are dear aren't they.

Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS Vs. Sigma 500mm f/4.5 EX HSM

I recently acquired the vaunted EF 500mm f/4L IS which has now replaced my long time standard Sigma 500mm f/4.5 EX as my primary birding lens.

A straight review of the Canon lens is almost unnecessary.. at this point people know well enough that these big Canon primes are almost without fault for image quality and performance. So merely adding my name to the list of fanboys is hardly worth the typing time. Nobody doesn't want the best.. it's just a matter of how to get it and how much it will cost!

However,. I did see that my experience with the Sigma version over the last few years could be a service. To date I have seen but one other side by side comparison.

First Impressions and ergonomics:

Overall Build Quality: TIE
Although they certainly differ in appearance,. both lenses appear to give an equal impression of overall build quality. That being rock solid top notch.

WEIGHT: Winner, Sigma
The Canon weighs in at 8.53 pounds, the Sigma 6.8 for close to a 2 Lb difference.

Manual Focus Ring: Winner, Sigma
On my copies the Sigma focus ring is far smoother to turn and more tactile as far as material. I have found the same conclusion when I compared other EX lenses to Canon L lenses.

Other Controls: Winner, Canon
The Sigma AF/MF switch and focus limit switches, though easier to find,. stand too proud and thus are very prone to being tripped accidentally. In fact it is almost impossible to remove the Sigma from its case without this act turning the AF/MF switch to "manual". The Canon switches are recessed well,. and yet still easy to use. I have yet to see any of them get "bumped". There are also a lot of additional controls, such as the focus stop buttons on the front end of the barrel and the focus preset switches and ring.

Lens Collar: Winner, Sigma
The Sigma's collar is superior in several ways.
It is mounted toward the front of the lens,. as opposed to the rear,. so it is completely out of the way regarding controls on both the lens and camera, and tripod head. I find that this makes the lens seem to balance more easily.
The tripod collar is much smoother,. allowing you turn the lens in the collar easier and with less jerkiness. It is in fact "butter smooth" on the Sigma. It feels like it is on roller bearings. The Canon isn't bad,. but it's not as good. I feel the front mount and larger diameter of the ring on the Sigma must contribute to this,. by balancing the lens better there is less sideways force,. and thus less friction. Canpon got it right on the 200mm f/1.8L which is similar in design to the Sigma.. no Idea why they don't use this design more often.

Tripod Mounting FOOT: Winner, Sigma
Again the Sigma has gone the extra mile on the little things. The Tripod foot is longer,. allowing more leeway to balance the lens with T-cons being added,. and it has four threaded mounting holes,. two 1/4" and two 3/8" The Canon has only two total. The canon is shorter. The grip surfaces when used as a carrying handle are about equal.

Lens Hood: Winner, Canon
This was tougher to call. the Canon is more significant,. deeper and clearly doing a better job. It is easier to mount and remove. But the Sigma hood has a more substantial feel,. and when it is mounted it is far more secure. The Canon will break very easily,. (and is in fact prone to it) The Sigma seems less likely to do so.
That said,. the Canon gets the nod due to it's greater depth and my assumption it is more effective because of it.

Ergonomic impressions summed:
Some of my findings may be a surprise to a lot of you,.
...but it was what I have come to expect in fact.

Sigma may not always be Canon's equal in optics and focus speed etc.. But I have found that with there EX line Sigma seems to try and "outdo" Canon and Nikon on the things that they "can" beat them at,.. and this is where Sigma EX lenses can, and often in my opinion do, succeed in being "better" than the OEM's.

Performance IN USE:

So this is where we get down to the nitty gritty. Shoe size and "smooth rings" are fine for ogling in your living room,. but the real issues are how does it perform Optically,. how fast does it focus,. how accurate. And here is where the Sigma EX often starts to fall behind it's nearest "L" competitor...

Viewfinder Image: Winner, Canon.
Fluorite equipped lenses and .5 on the f/stop do have an effect, bringing a slightly brighter view finder. If you've never seen the viewfinder image that a Supertelephoto will provide,. either of these lenses will drop your jaw.

Auto Focus Speed: Canon!
Sigma's HSM (HyperSonic Motor) focus motor is the second fastest AF you can put on your EOS DSLR,... and on the high end Sigma 500mm 4.5EX it is the fastest iteration of the HSM I have encountered,. equaling and besting many Canon USM lenses,. even many L lenses. Likewise,. the USM (UltraSonic Motor) is at it's fastest when installed on Canon's big primes. You simply can not find faster focus than a 1D with a Canon Supertelephoto L.

Auto focus Accuracy: Canon?
In the two years I have had the Sigma 500mm f/4.5 EX I found it's focus accuracy and speed to be as good as, and possibly better than any lens I own, including a number of L lenses. Mated to the 1D MkII it simply never fails at nailing the focus. However, in my minimal experience with the Canon 500mmL I have noticed that the Canon HAS to be better. Not in use,. but in final product. When reviwing images with the Canon, I see many more birds eyes in perfect focus. Suffice it to say,. if the Canon is better,. it is a small difference , but the devil is in the details.

Focus Tracking: Juries out for now.
Thus far I have used the Canon to track a moving object only once Vs. two years with the Sigma. To me there was no clear advantage given to the Canon in my simple test with some gulls,. but this is a subject that requires more difficult circumstances and much more testing to see what the Canon can really do.

Image Stabilization: winner, Canon
I have now used the Canon 500 f/4L IS hand held! I would never dream of using the Sigma hand held,. and in two years I never once tried it. I shot the Canon hand held on day one out of necessity (it was a timing thing involving a moving vehicle and Cedar Waxwings) and hand held it works! Also,. I am looking forward to using the Canon with just a Mono pod as opposed to always relying in a huge and heavy gimble head tripod affair,. something I would never have tried with the Sigma. If Sigma ever gets it's "OS" but in gear.. we may have a more even playing field.

Aperture: Winner, Canon
F/4 Vs. f/4.5
Not much else to say. 90% of the time that .5 may not amount to much, but it does bring up the shutter speeds which is always a plus. Plus it effects T-con usage. (see below)

Teleconverter Functionality: Winner, Canon
Canon has this wrapped up in two ways.
1st with the f/4 aperture the Canon can AF with the 1.4X T-con on all bodies, and with the 2X T-con on the "1" bodies.
2nd, the Sigma has a "problem" with it's "1" series compatibility. This leaves the Sigma with the 1.4X t-con unable to AF on the newer 1 series bodies despite the fact that it SHOULD AF at the max aperture of only f/6.3? To date we have no explanation.

Weather Sealing: Winner, Canon
Some Canon L lenses including the 500mm offer weather sealing. I can not attest to how well this works in extreme conditions, but I have heard tales of 1D cameras dropped into puddles and surviving. For the full benefit of weather sealing the lens must be mated to a weather sealed camera.. this is the Canon "1" series. The Sigma is very well built,. and unlike the Canon I have had my fair share of run ins with it and weather. No it's never been drenched, but some drops never hurt it either.

Image Quality: ?? So damn hard to say!
And this where the Sigma is really earning it's keep. Again I have only had the Canon for a while,. and I have gotten some STELLAR images with it. But the Sigma has also given me the best images I have ever had with all of my DSLRs to date. Literally thousands of superb images with detail and contrast that no other lens I have owned can equal save for this new Canon 500mm and the Canon 200mm f/1.8L.

If the Image quality of a lens that can be had used for $2,200.00 is on par with .. or even hardly noticeably less than the $5,500.00 Canon.. than that is a feat in itself. Interestingly, the other Side by Side review of these lenses that I have read had about the same conclusion re: image quality. Both perform to perfection wide open.

COST NEW: Winner Sigma
Obviously the Sigma costs less,. but significantly so. The Canon is $5,500.00 @ B&H and the Sigma is about $3,400.00 (B&H suddenly does not carry it?)

COST USED: Winner Sigma
This is where it starts to get really interesting. As the Canon holds it value almost completely, but Sigma's drop about 1/4 - 1/3 in value almost the day they are sold. The Sigma in perfect condition can be had for about $2,400.00, where as the Canon's sell regularly for about 10% less than new price,. still at or over $5,000.00


Well,. as seen in the details above. There is no one lens that wins every category. Even where the pricier Canon excels in many aspects,. some of the finer details of ergonomics and use usability go to the Sigma. Obviously with the dramatic price differential,. a pure value winner has to be the Sigma. For a lot less money... one gets a lens that is very close to the equal of the Canon overall, and better in some ways.

Either of these lenses will go a long way to making any nature photographer's kit better than it is with Zooms or standard telephotos alone. You can't go wrong with either choice.

But if price is no object,. and the extra weight is "doable" then the Canon has to be the overall winner.. the trouble is, the "win" is a remarkably slim margin. This slight lead makes the $Dollar value issue even more compelling.

Cash to burn?
Get the Canon.

Looking for quality the equal of Canon,. but on a budget?
Find a good used Sigma for less than half the price. Enjoy all the benefits of the Canon Supertelephoto and sacrifice only Image Stabilization, AF with T-cons, and weather sealing.


Sample Images taken with EF 500mm f/4L IS

Sigma 500mm f/4.5 EX HSM
Sample Images Taken with 1D MkII
This lens in combo with the MkII offers literally bulletproff AF. I spent about 7 hours on a sunny Saturday shooting Osprey in flight and diving for fish. I took about 300 photos that day.
NONE of them were out of focus.

Sigma Sample Images Taken with 10D;

Sep 12, 2005
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Registered: Apr 3, 2004
Location: United States
Posts: 213
Review Date: Jul 26, 2005 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $5,500.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Build Quality, Image quality
Price, Size/Weight (I guess)

I'm not really sure what you are willing to pay to dramatically revolutionize your telephoto work, but the 5500 dollars that I paid to do it has been worth every penny.

It is an indespensible tool for wildlife shooters who live in the real world. (AKA: areas where wildlife is afraid of people and doesn't let you walk up close to it.) The image quality is out of this world - best of any L lens I own. Even w/ a 1.4x extender attached I've pulled extensive amounts of detail out of shots taken in tough lighting where the shutter speed was technically "too slow" to do so.

Its handholdable for a bit, but don't buy it to use it handheld. Mine has never seen a tripod. I put a monopod on it and have hiked as many as 3 miles with it on my shoulder with no problems.

If you want to completely change the way you do wildlife photography (or whatever area you shoot) and you can afford it, this lens is a can't miss. Its worth every penny.

Jul 26, 2005
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Registered: Oct 21, 2004
Location: Australia
Posts: 1311
Review Date: Jul 7, 2005 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

Pros: Great build,super image quality overall superb!!

Well i saved my butt off for a year for the 500 and what can i say.
Its more than i expected.
I use it for aviation photography and it is perfect for the job.
Easily handholdable and light enough to move around its simply built for the job.
Image quality is outstanding as you expect from the big L series primes.Totally usable with the 1.4 and capable of producing images i only dreamed of prior to grabbing it.
I really cant say enough about just how good ithink this lens is and how it has changed the way i take aeroplane photo's.
A superb piece of gear.
Darren Howie

Jul 7, 2005
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Registered: Feb 4, 2002
Location: United Kingdom
Posts: 32
Review Date: Jun 23, 2005 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $5,200.00 | Rating: 9 

Pros: Image quality, build, reach
Price and size

I don't think there is any dispute as to the image quality of this lens - it gets a less than perfect mark from me because

a) it is ludicrously expensive (I wonder how many Canon would sell if they cut the price by 30%? - I suspect people would switch camera systems to use it)

b) the lens hood is a bit clumsy and the tripod ring can't be removed.

That aside, I love this lens. I rented one on a couple of occasions last summer, and while I was pleased with the results, had some concerns with weight, portablility and hence how much use I would get out of it. Being a rental, I felt obliged to use the Canon carrying case. Big mistake, and totally unnecessary.

I spent much of the next 6 months trying to decide between this and the 400 DO, the latter having the obvious benefits of size and weight. Ultimately I decided it was image quality that mattered, and went for the 500.

In practice the size and weight have not been nearly the issue I feared. Putting the Canon case away in the loft, I discovered this lens will fit in a Lowepro Phototrekker AW (albiet without a body attached) this dispensing with the portability issue. Further, with a bit of experience, this lens is hand-holdable for extended periods - hence my slight annoyance with the inability to remove the tripod ring and shave off a little weight!

To my mind this is the ultimate telephoto selection - the 600 is just plain too expensive, and in my view, just the other side of hand-holdability. Image quality is amazing - with a 1.4x I can detect no loss of quality, and only a slight loss with the 2x. With stacked convertors, I'd equate image quality to say a decent consumer zoom at the long end (provided of course that atmospheric conditions are ideal).

In short, a lot of money, but no regrets

Jun 23, 2005
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Registered: Apr 2, 2005
Location: Canada
Posts: 4906
Review Date: Jun 14, 2005 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $5,200.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: IS, sharpness of images through range with and especially without a 1.4 tc. Focal length for birding is awesome. Built like the proverbial tank. Canon L quality.
PRICEY! I thought my friend was nuts for spending 5 grand on a bbq!

Well, I have owned this lens for about 3 months now and I must say I doubt there is anything that will ever top the quality images this beast is capable of.
I wanted to test just how effective the IS is when hand holding this baby so I went to a local conservation area just before dusk and proceeded to shoot hand held at 1/125 and even 1/60. Although some images were fuzzy, some were absolutely crisp and perfectly sharp. Unbelievable! I should mention that handholding this lens is a challenge and I am in pretty darn good shape. After each shot I needed a breather for my left arm. Lets be realistic though, the main purpose of this lens is not hand holdability. It works like a dream when I attach it to my Kirk King Cobra. Power steering for your lens.
I had some hikers walk by and ask me if it was a telescope!
It is also very easy to carry from spot to spot if you use the tripod collar like a suitcase handle. A little scary, yes, but it is too heavy to depend on a camera strap. And this way, the lens is supporting the camera, not the reverse. If you try to use a strap, you will need to give some hand support.

I am only an amateur hobbyist, but I know good quality when I see it, and this lens ouzes quality. The bokeh is beautiful. af is fast and sure even with the Canon 1.4 tc 11 attached. I haven't tried it with a 2x converter.

I look forward to a long and loving relationship with this lens!


Jun 14, 2005
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Registered: Jul 10, 2003
Location: United States
Posts: 9149
Review Date: Jan 31, 2005 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $5,500.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Pruduces beautiful images, very sharp and good contrast, fast focus, IS, hand hold in a pinch
Cost, fairly hefty, lens cover

I am using this lens for wildlife photography, mainly birds, either hand-held or with an Arca-swiss B1+Wimberly sidekick.

I bought this lens because of the images I've seen produced with it. This and the 600/4's image quality have a unique and very pleasant look. I haven't been disappointed.

The next sharpest long lens I have is the 400/5.6. While it is very sharp in fine detail, the sharpness seems "harsh" compared to the 500/4, and the 500/4 shows better detail even when projected on a 6MP sensor - so the MTF for this lens must really be something. I think it must be that the 400/5.6's contrast falls down in the mid spatial frequencies, whereas the 500/4's contrast is great across all frequencies.

I mostly shot flight shots handheld with the 400/5.6 before this. It is taking some getting used to shooting flight with this big lens off a tripod, but I am having a ball learning something new.

The lens cover is horrendous though - its just too difficult to take on and off. I bought a strech cover I can put over the hood in the field, so that works out OK.

I can't wait for spring to bring the migrating birds for me to shoot with this lens! Here is a gallery of samples from this lens (Eagles etc.), including 100% crops:

Jan 31, 2005
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Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS USM

Buy from B&H Photo
Reviews Views Date of last review
87 240239 Nov 29, 2016
Recommended By Average Price
97% of reviewers $5,496.88
Build Quality Rating Price Rating Overall Rating

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