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Canon EOS 5D Mark II

Review Date: Jun 22, 2011 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $2,699.00 | Rating: 8 

Pros: Image quality is a 10, or even a 10+. Autofocus is about a 5.

Kudos to Canon for creating the finest manual focus digital camera ever designed!!! Oh wait--you bought it as an autofocus camera? Well, tough luck.

Maybe the center focus point will work with a high speed lens half the time. Forget about the outer points.

Sigma 14mm f2.8 EX Aspherical

Review Date: May 24, 2010 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $400.00

Pros: Quality to price ratio makes this an acceptable compromise in lieu of the Canon 14mm II. It can give a reasonably sharp image, and the corner performance on full frame is better than I had expected.
Flares easily

This is a hard lens to rate, because one might rate it two ways--in terms of sheer optical performance, and in terms of price vs. performance. In terms of the latter, let's state a simple fact: if you are considering this lens at all, it means that price is a consideration. If price were not a consideration, you would have already gone out and spent 2000 USD-plus for the Canon 14mm II. I have tried that lens--it's better than the Sigma. Definitely. For sheer optical performance, the Sigma cannot be a 10, because that level is the Canon II, it's an excellent lens. It's sharper, and also it does not flare the way the Sigma does. That, more than anything, is the main problem with the Sigma. Other than that, it's really not that far behind the Canon, well my copy at least isn't. The sharpness is decent, and I have been quite surprised at how well the corners hold up on a full frame. I used to have a Sigma 14mm 3.5 for my film camera, anything in the corner on that lens looked like something from Poltergeist, the Sigma 2.8 is much better. Like I said, my copy at least not far behind the Canon in those respects, but then there is the issue of flare. This lens should come in the package with a giant sheet of cardboard, because you're going to need it to block out flares. Because they are there. Simply put, if you live in a solar system in which there is a sun, assume that this lens is going to pick up some kind of flare spot. Might be small, might not be too bad, but it will flare. Electric lights will do it too. Sometimes just as bad. To me, that is the main compromise you are making--well, provided you get a copy that performs decently in other respects. You are saving a lot of money, getting a lens that is quite close to the level of the Canon II, but you might need some patience. If you are OK with the flare, no problem, you are going to be a very happy person. But if you don't want flare, you are going to need to take a shot, look carefully at it, try to figure out how to block out the flare, and shoot again, and if you don't have it quite right go through the process again. But in the end, you'll probably get the shot you want. If you don't have that patience though, and if the flare bothers you, I will warn you right now that this lens will drive you nuts. I think it is important to note though that I had also in the past tried the Canon 14mm I--and that is a terrible lens, seriously the Sigma is not only cheaper it is much better. Like I said, (a good copy at least) is quite a decent lens. But you are probably not going to want to shoot the Sigma wide open. If you really want to shoot a 14mm lens at 2.8, just give up and pay for the Canon II. It's not even so much that the Sigma is that much softer, my copy can get some decent center sharpness at 2.8, but the problem is focusing it at that aperture. With a lens like this, and a thin depth of field, geez, you really have a hard time focusing manually on the typical dim DSLR viewfinder, and Sigma, face it, is not known for their precision autofocus. The Canon will focus much better; probably makes it look sharper wide open than it actually is, but nonetheless, this Sigma wide open will seem soft most of the time. Anyway, I did not give this a numeric rating. On optical performance, well I think people usually rate too high here, I would give it an 8 though--the Canon II is a 10, very fine and high level, the Sigma is a touch off that, but then deduct a point further for flare. But in terms of price vs. performance ratio, and what you could achieve with it if you are patient and try to work around the flare issue, this lens can deliver very nearly a 10.

Canon EOS Rebel XSi (450D)

Review Date: Jan 31, 2009 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $800.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Great image quality for a low price.
Considering what it does vs. the price it costs, nothing.

Ironically, looking over the ratings here, as of today when I am posting this review, the XSI actually has a higher rating (9.6) then any other Canon camera--and I concur, this is a fantastic camera, and considering the price I think it may be the best bargain in DSLRs.

I used this camera for awhile and was very fond of it. I wound up getting a 40D, but then took it back because I thought my XSI gave me better quality images. When the 50D came out I got that too--and returned it. Again, I liked the results from the XSI better. So I hung on to it all the way until I got my 5d II.

Of course, you have to take this camera for what it is--a mass market, popular camera, designed for for budget-minded consumers and hobbyists. Obviously if you want super high ISO settings, the ability to shoot very fast for sports, professional level handling, you won't such things from this camera, but I don't consider them faults of the camera as it was not intended for that kind of use. But what you will get is the most affordable camera that gives you top notch image quality.

As a tribute to this camera, the other day I got an email from the art director of a magazine I had written an article for. To go with it, I also gave them some photographs I had taken, but I had taken them way back last year when I was still using the XSI. The art director wrote to me, told me the photos were fantastic, among the best that anyone has given them in a long time, and praised the sharpness, clarity, richness, and color. Like I said--really, it's good camera.

Lenses, of course, will definitely make a difference, and so while I quite clearly recommend the camera, I also recommend upgrading the lens. In my case, the lenses I really liked with it were the Canon 50mm 1.4 and the 17-40L.

Sigma 24mm f1.8 EX DG Aspherical Macro

Review Date: Jan 31, 2009 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $320.00 | Rating: 8 

Pros: Price; center sharpness
Most notably handling, speed of AF

This lens gives me results a lot like the Canon 24L--but, is that good news or bad news? I didn't much care for the 24L and got rid of it. The center sharpness on this lens is very food, and my copy gives a nice, smooth, clear image. The corners (and I am shooting full frame, might be different on cropped) are mediocre, and there is some purple fringing. Well, that's what the 24L was like. I suppose the 24L had better colors, although with that lens the purple fringing got worse when you stopped down, on the Sigma at least it seems to get better. Of course, these defects are a lot easier to justify in a $300 one than in a $1200 one. Of course, the one huge difference is in handling. This one does not handle well--it has the somewhat annoying clutch and switch that several people mention, also the focusing speed can be quite slow. It is a fast prime, but it seems like it kind of undermines itself by being a fast prime that focuses slowly.

This lens is also considered a macro. In fact, that is the reason why I chose it, rather than, say, the Canon 24 2.8, which might overall give better results. As a macro it is idiosyncratic, because it is such a wide angle. It probably would not appeal to macro purists, or people who want a very precise and scientific look to their macro photography. Because it is a 24mm, when you get up close for macro shots you can have the severe distortions that are typical of wide angle lenses. I like this effect, and I find it expressive--as a macro, then, it will have a lot of appeal to people like myself who like a distorted and exxagerated aesthetic in extreme close up shots. People who don't like that look will definitely not like this lens as a macro, however.

So would I recommend this? If you really want a wide aperture prime, if wide aperture really is a priority for you, then yes--I would recommend it because I honestly don't see it as being that much different than the 24L, and it costs a quarter the price. But that recommendation would come with the caveat that you had better be willing to sacrifice handling and focusing speed. If those things are important to you, I would not recommend it. I would also recommend it to people who like an exxagerated style of macro photography. But for people who really want a top of the line, over all excellent 24mm lens, no, I would not recommend it. But up until now, I don't think such a lens really has existed for Canon shooters, so in the respect the Sigma can't be judged too harshly. Who knows, maybe the 24L II is the one, maybe the ace lens has finally arrived. . . . I have never tried it, so I don't know.

Tamron 28-75MM F/2.8 XR Di LD Aspherical (IF)

Review Date: Jan 30, 2009 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $389.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: It gets the job done effectively--bottom line, that's the best you can hope for, right?
Build quality is average, not great (but not bad, either--it's sturdy enough); admittedly the autofocus motor is not super fast.

I think this is a very good lens. Now, as context, understand that statement comes from a guy who had pretty much given up on zooms a long while back, has in fact largely given up on Canon's own lenses and has been using Zeiss primes, and returned the only other Tamron product he ever bought within 6 hours. So for me to state that I think it is good, well it means I'm impressed.

I bought this recently because I wanted a zoom to take with me on a trip to South America, and didn't want to spend too much because I wasn't sure whether I would want to keep using a zoom. I chose this one because it seemed to have a decent reputation for a reasonably priced consumer zoom. I find the results to be very good in all aspects--sharpness, color, corners, etc. I think it's strength is on the wide end. At 28mm even the corners on my copy hold together well (and that's on a full frame 5d II) and the center sharpness is great--honestly, this is better at 28mm than some of the lousy primes I have owned.

If you are a Canon shooter, there is always the inevitable comparison with the 24-70L, and quality vs. price, etc. Yes, I am a person who has owned the 24-70L. I am also one of the people who found it to be a major dissappointment. In fact, the 24-70L is pretty much the reason I gave up on zooms in the end--on a full frame I found the corners to be dreadful, and I found even the cheap primes to be an improvement. I honestly, sincerely think the copy of the Tamron that I have is better than that copy of the 24-70L--if the guy I sold it to offered to trade, I would say no. So in my opinion, based on my copy, I don't just think this is a better lens "for the price," I think it is simply a better lens. Obviously, there is the issue of sample variation--it is certainly possible (and I have always assumed) that I had a lousy copy of the 24-70L (of course, when someone pays $1200 for a lens, there is no excuse of sticking them with a lousy copy . . . ), and I might also have a great copy of the Tamron. Even if that is so, I can only assume that an average copy of the Tamron 28-75 is still a pretty good lens. Obviously, the L lens is built better and is faster, so if those are major concerns to you than you need the L lens, but if you are just interested in image qualities, I strongly recommend you take a look at the Tamron.

Regarding sample variation, since I had heard some conflicting reviews on this lens, when I went to the store to buy it I asked the clerk to bring all the copies he had out to me so I could test them and choose the one I wanted (the clerk knows me, and humors my eccentricities). I think that was a good move, because I did sincerely believe from looking at the images that the copy I chose was a tad better. Well, and obviously I feel I am getting very good results, so as it turned out I did pick a good copy. That's my one bit of advice for anyone buying a mass market, consumer type lens like this (or any lens, really)--copies can be different, and if you have the chance, don't just take the one the clerk hands you, ask to try multiple copies to see if there is one that might be better.

Canon EF 200mm f/2.8L II USM

Review Date: Jan 24, 2009 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $550.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Everything--meaning I have nothing bad to say about it, I guess.

I find this to be a functional, sharp lens, that always delivers fine results and handles very well. I am aware that there is a 200 1.8 that is supposed to be even sharper, and in fact is considered among the very sharpest 35mm lenses in existence, but honestly no normal mortal needs a lens that is any sharper than the 2.8. And considering what some of the other L series lenses cost, it's a bargain.

I don't do much telephoto work, so at first I was skeptical--a salesman was pushing it, he seemed convinced I would like it. But he is salesman I trust, so I bought it, and in fact now I keep trying to invent more and more reasons to use it, just because I like the results.

Also, I have gotten good results with the 1.4 extender. I have to be deliberate, but if I used the extender with care, mounted on a tripod, with a timer or remote, test it out the scene to determine the best possible aperture, etc., I can get pictures that show no noticable degradation. So if you get the extender as well, and are very careful in using it, it is like getting a first class 280mm prime in addition.

Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM

Review Date: Jan 24, 2009 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $600.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Sharp, versatile, and in general a good value lens.
At 17mm there can be a certain amount of distortion especially at the edges.

This lens seems to have some detractors; this review in particular comes to mind: . From my experience, the criticisms are unfair. You should first of all realize what you are buying--this is not a race horse of a lens, but a versatile, sharp, all-in-all good-performing lens that functions best when stopped down. If you need a fast lens, and you want to shoot wide open, this lens will be unsatisfactory. Stopped down, however, I have always found it to be very solid. I have owned several L series Canon lenses, and frankly I have found most of them to be over-hyped and over-priced, and I have sold of the bulk of them. This lens is a keeper for me, however. It fits the way I shoot, and it has always produced well for me, and it cost only half the price of some L lenses which were a major dissapointment. Frankly, I find that stopped down (and I am talking about between f8 and f16) my copy of this lens outperforms Canon's wide angle primes. In fact, I dumped my 24L and kept this lens--stopped down, I found this lens to be sharper in the corners, and without the annoying fringing of the 24L. The 17-40L is a quality product, and the best bargain among Canon's L lenses--but like I said, realize what you are buying. If you really want a fast lens (24L, or 16-35L) to fit your shooting style, and you buy this lens instead due to the more affordable price, you will not be satisfied. In such a case, you would be much better off to wait until you can afford the more expensive lens. But if this is a lens that can meet your needs, I am sure you will be as satisfied with it as I have been.

Canon EOS 50D

Review Date: Nov 29, 2008 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 8 

Pros: Good handling; produces good colors; for most applications this is a nice camera; fantastic display screen
Diffraction--well, see comments below

For most consumers this will be a great camera. For me it turned out to be useless, and in fact I bought it as a "step up" from the XSI, but it wound up being a step down, producing inferior images. I don't want to be too unfair though, because as I said for most people this will be a nice camera, so let me explain my gripe with it. I probably use the camera in a different way than most people. I am a university professor, so of course when I travel and research I take a camera to document what I am doing, etc. To that end, the most important features to me are usually sharpness, clarity, and depth of field. The first time I used it (in the UK) something seemed amiss, but I shrugged it off as either my own inexperience with it, or a fluke. But soon after I went to Italy and again did not get the pictures I expected. I have been using several DSLRs--a couple Canons, a very nice Sony, and also a nice Olympus, and the pictures I got from the 50D were just not that good. They had detail and they were recording a lot of information, but they were not sharp and the quality seemed questionable. When I did some research (wish I had done it before I bought it) I found my problem--because of all the pixels on the small sensor and because of certain filters (or whatever they are) built into the camera to handle everything it tries to do, diffraction, regardless of the lens, starts at f/7.6. This is the earliest diffraction starts on any consumer DSLR ever made. Suddenly I realized my problem--because depth of field is important to me I usually shoot at f/11, and hence diffraction was degrading the images more noticeably than on any camera I own or have used. As I said, I think this is in general a good camera and for most people will be very useful. But for me it is useless. Like I said, it gives me worse images, not better. My personal opinion is that it is counterproductive to have a camera in which diffraction starts so early, and I think it was a mistake for them to pack that many megapixels onto a small sensor. I owned a 40D at one time and thought the camera did need an upgrade, but this was not the upgrade to give it--I think 12 megapixels would have been right, but that would not have made it "different enough" from the 40D to compel people to buy it, so I think they added the extra megapixels to make a more saleable, but not necessarily better, product.