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  Reviews by: Doug Weasner  

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Sigma 17-70mm F2.8-4 DC Macro OS HSM

Review Date: Oct 24, 2010 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $449.00 | Rating: 9 

Pros: Ideal zoom range for my usage, stabilizer gives a chance of usable results @ 70mm 1/10 exposure (and reliable results @ 1/20), very good across the zoom range wide open, useful close focus.
No full-time manual focus, macro mode has VERY short working distance

My previous standard zoom of choice was the Nikon 18-70 AF-S DX. It is a very flexible and useful zoom lens, and I knew I wanted its replacement to be similar. However, I am not very good at handholding lenses, so I wanted the assistance of a stabilizer function. I considered the Nikon 16-85 VR as well as this Sigma lens, and tested both in-store. The Sigma won me over with more aperture. I like being able to treat this lens as a fixed f4 and shoot at f4 in a variety of situations.

Build and handling: This is a substantial lens (noticeably bigger than the Nikon 18-70) that balances better on the D90 size of bodies than the D40 size (I have both). The zoom ring feels great, and doesn't creep even when pointed straight down. The focus ring feels loose, but doesn't wobble. The front element does not rotate on zooming or focusing; focusing is internal, it does extend more than the 18-70 on zooming. Despite the HSM designation, manual focus override is not available.

Optics: The lens focuses absurdly close - you can have an in-focus subject within 2 inches (5cm) of the front element, and IQ is pretty good if you can light your subject that close. I have no problem using this lens wide open, and it leaves nothing to be desired closed down one stop.

Mechanics: Both the auto focus and stabilizer I would characterize as great, but not spectacular. During a recent event with this lens, it only failed to focus once and that was in a scene lit only by a small fire. AF accuracy is pleasing on both my D40 and D90. The stabilizer is good for about three stops of improvement from my normal handholding rule of 1 / 1.5 x focal length.

The bottom line: The combination of the 4x zoom wide to telephoto, close focusing (1:3 macro), aperture (f4 or better throughout) and stabilizer make this lens a unique and great value. There are lenses that have all but one of those things, but this is the only one with all. A worthwhile acquisition for the DX enthusiast; an excellent companion for the D80/D90 level cameras. Bravo Sigma for giving us compelling choices like this lens.

Nikon 35mm f/1.8G AF-S DX Micro-Nikkor

Review Date: Sep 27, 2010 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

Pros: IQ and AF of this lens are stellar for the price, it performs like a ~$500 lens. 52mm filters enhance the value proposition.
At this price? Are you kidding?

Better, more consistent results than Sigma 30 1.4 DC (I have both, Nikkor's biggest advantage is vastly superior consistency in focusing).

I'm happy with this lens shooting at f2.0 on both a D40 and D90.

Has less aperture than Sigma 30 1.4, but is lighter and smaller. Aperture advantage on the Sigma is a misnomer, as the Sigma doesn't deliver usable contrast & sharpness until about f2.0 anyway.

I was ok with the Sigma 30 1.4, but this lens makes it look like a waste of $375. I will likely sell the Sigma.

This lens, along with the 85mm DX Micro, 18-55 II, and 55-200VR give me a kit that covers most photo situations with 52mm filters for under $1000. Bravo! Nikon, please make me a DX 16mm f2.8 and a DX 70mm f1.8 with this kind of value, and I will be pleased as punch.

Sigma 70-200mm F2.8 EX DG APO MACRO HSM

Review Date: Apr 18, 2010 Recommend? no | Price paid: $799.00 | Rating: 8 

Pros: Focus fast and accurate Focus & zoom rings feel excellent Tripod collar very clever & useful Optically excellent from f4 and up
Pictures, at least on my copy, are unusable soft mush, even in the center, at 2.8. Be prepared for sending to Sigma if your copy isn't in spec on your body. Recently announced stabilized version likely a better value.

I needed a 70-200 2.8 for an event. I tried the Sigma and Tamron 70-200 2.8 in the store. I took home the Sigma because of the faster focusing, better tripod collar, and higher build quality.

The pictures from the event were average at best.

After more time with the lens (about a year now), I have verified that the AF is fine. The lens just doesn't produce results that are printable at larger than 4x6 inch, at f2.8. At f4, it will print at 16x24 inch from my D90. I have never seen such a "Jekyll and Hyde" lens before. If this lens needed stopping down to f5.6, I would have rated it a 6 or lower - My 55-200VR can shoot at 5.6 for a quarter of the cost and weight of this Sigma. Usable f4 is a disappointing result, but a 2.8 telezoom of some sort is needed to achieve it in Nikon mount.

I have not yet sent it to Sigma. $800 investments shouldn't need customer quality control. If you are considering this lens, make sure you have the chance to thoroughly test either before buying or with a return period before investing.

Nikon D90

Review Date: Nov 27, 2009 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $999.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Best in class image quality, even to ISO3200 Robust yet intuitive and approachable controls Live view w/ full VGA LCD and wireless flash control possibilities Assertive shooting in all but the worst light
AF, (especially off-center points) while very good, is not in the same league as the IQ.

Short version: The D90 is the best camera I've ever used. The only reason to own a D300(s) or D3/s/x is superior AF, weather sealing, high frame rate, or mind boggling sensitivity. Everything else a photographer could want, the D90 delivers.

If you aren't getting images that look great at 11x17 or bigger from the D90, it isn't the camera's fault. Look at your lenses, your support, or in the mirror for better results.

When I first switched to Nikon, I started with a D40, 18-55, and 55-200VR, and a cheap video tripod. My D90 has delivered increasingly improved results as I've added a Manfrotto tripod & ballhead, 18-70 DX, a pair of SB-600s, Sigma 30mm f1.4, Sigma 70-200 2.8, and Tamron 180mm Macro. My D40 is probably jealous of all the attention my D90 gets.

I can recommend the D90 without reservation to its target market, the advanced amateur and enthusiast, especially now that it goes for $800 US.

Nikon 55-200mm f/4-5.6G IF-ED DX VR AF-S

Review Date: Mar 7, 2008 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $150.00 | Rating: 8 

Pros: Solidly sharp and largely free of distortion, CA, etc. VR helps.
Build definitely reflects the low price point, AF performance is merely adequate.

Sharp? It nearly outresolves the sensor on my D40 at f8, is still very good at f5.6, and it is usable wide open. I haven't observed CA, distortion, or any other optical shortcomings.

VR is good for about two extra stops of hand-holdability - think between 1/40 and 1/60 depending on the level of your technique at the long end. Team this lens up with standard zoom for DX, and you'll have a two lens combo that is conistently hand holdable at 1/60 or better without breaking the bank.

This is not a high-speed lens (sports, birding, etc). Neither the aperture nor the AF meet such demands. However, it delivers great snapshot results and is an excellent value.

Tokina 12-24mm f/4 AT-X 124 AF PRO DX SD

Review Date: Mar 1, 2008 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $499.00 | Rating: 9 

Pros: Solidly sharp, excellent metal construction, nearly perfectly smooth focus and zoom controls.
CA present - not for pixel peepers

Out of about one dozen lenses I've purchased so far, only three I would never consider doing differently - this lens, the Tamron 17-50 2.8, and Canon 85 1.8.

For my shooting style, the 19mm FF equivalent delivered here is always wide enough. There is a world of difference between the typical DSLR zooms that start at 17 or 18mm and this true wide angle lens that starts at 12mm. My copy is certainly usably sharp wide open, the constant f4 is unique in super wides available for Canon DSLRs, and it feels like an indestructible tank in your hands and on your camera. Tokina does an excellent job on the controls - both the focus clutch/ring and zoom ring are beautifully smooth and damped. That you get all of this for $499 is proof that third party makers are able to, and do, get it right.

This lens does vignette noticeably at 12mm f4, but that otherwise is not a problem. CA is a problem on all super wide lenses, and this lens is no exception. However, it is pretty easily fixed in software, and I haven't noticed it on my copy of this lens at reasonable print sizes or in monitor viewing. I may get the Sigma 10-20 or the upcoming Tamron 10-24 for my Nikon D40 to drive my wide angle down to 15mm FF equivalent, but I know I will miss the excellent build, freedom from vignetting at virtually all settings, and constant max aperture of this truly excellent lens.

Sigma 105mm f2.8 EX Macro 1:1 Lens

Review Date: Feb 12, 2008 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $400.00 | Rating: 9 

Pros: Very sharp with a nearly 3D "pop," solid construction, EX pack-in hood and soft case both nice touches.
AF is slow and loud under any conditions and unreliable under all but the best light, dual focus control takes some getting used to.

Optically, this lens is in excellent to spectacular territory. However, achieving the focus necessary to lock in such results can be frustrating. The AF on this lens needs loads of light to be accurate, and using the limiter is strongly recommended. (The focus limiter cuts the focusing range in two halves - 1:1 through 1:2 magnification and 1:2 through infinity. In terms of rotation of the focus ring and travel of the focusing group, this is a roughly 50-50 split.)

However, once you do achieve focus, the results are worth it. This is the sharpest lens in my kit, and is likely to hold that title for quite some time. Also, vignetting, distortion, and CA are non existent in the shots from it. If AF performance is important to you, or you plan for a ~100mm Macro lens to double as a telephoto lens, I'd skip this one and go for the Canon EF 100mm 2.8 / Nikon 105 2.8 Micro-Nikkor. For me, I have an EF 85 1.8 for telephoto, so I use this Sigma for macro work only, and for manually focused dedicated macro work, it's a winner.

Canon EOS Rebel XTi (400D)

Review Date: Nov 25, 2007 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 8 

Pros: 10MP gets great results from great glass Excellent Canon high sensitivity performance
Grip is subpar 10MP is too much for casual shooting

From a technical perspective, this is probably as good as it gets in a small SLR. 9 point AF, 10MP, Canon sensor. Where this camera does fall short is from the feel perspective. The grip is a letdown - I didn't notice how bad it was until I tried my recently acquired D40. Also, the sheer size of the output from this camera makes even my pretty high spec computers (quad cores with 2GB+ of RAM choke).

However, with investment in the EOS system, you will get fabulous results from this camera. It gets "wow" from friends and family, after popping for a Tokina 12-24, Tamron 17-50, Tokina 50-135, as well 35 2.0, 50 1.4, and 85 1.8 primes from Canon. A great "8" for this camera body.

I am far from wealthy - I work two jobs to support this habit. When I want serious results, I grab this camera and the solid glass that I can put in front of it. When I just want to have fun, I grab my new D40 and the plastic fantastic 18-55 and 55-200VR lenses because using them is less work.

Nikon D40

Review Date: Nov 25, 2007 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $499.00 | Rating: 9 

Pros: Great grip, especially for such a small camera. Solid IQ

I've used a Rebel XTi with some very good to great glass for the past six months (35 2.0, 50 1.4, 85 1.8, Tamron 17-50 2.8, Tokina 50-135 2.8) as well as a SpeedLite 430EX. The results are nothing short of wonderful - when I get all of the gear out. However, as time has gone by, I've found it harder and harder to justify getting the gear out. Also, the XTi isn't perfect. 10MP on a crop sensor demands a lot from your glass. The roughly 4MB JPEGs make even my quad core based computers choke. On 22" monitors, I rarely view the output of my XTi past 70% of full size. And in seemingly just another gripe, I can't really keep all of my fingers on the XTi's grip with the large EF mount on a small body.

A local shop was running the instant rebate on the 55-200 or 70-300 Nikkors with any Nikon SLR purchase, and I bit. I took home the D40 kit and the 55-200 VR. The D40 has addressed all of my problems with the XTi. The grip is much better, the output doesn't choke my computers, I get AF assist without an external flash, and the results look just as good (I don't pixel peep - just 22" monitors and prints up to 8x10 on occasion). Throw in actual useful auto ISO and spot metering (which I'd pay over twice as much for to get from Canon) and the D40 really does look pretty good. For fun shooting, I couldn't care less about the 9 point AF or the extra 4MP that I'm missing from the XTi.

I still prefer my Canon gear for low light, but $650 worth of Nikon gear has made photography fun again, rather than just work. The all plastic kit lenses are well matched to the capabilities of the body without breaking the bank. This unit gets an excellent "9."

Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM

Review Date: Oct 24, 2007 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $330.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Like having a set of night vision goggles.

Flash free hand held shots with a lens that is less than three inches long produce excellent candid shots at parties and the like. F/1.4 is incredible - coupled with ISO 800 you can get usable shots in what seems like no light. The results only get better, at least from a technical perspective, with a flash at lower ISO and stopped down some.

I replaced a 50 1.8 with this unit, and am glad I did. My 50 1.4 is somewhat soft but usable for candids and small prints wide open, an improvement over the 1.8's wide open halation. USM (although not ring type) is an improvement, as is the better build (metal mount, etc). A worthy piece of glass for indoor work. Basically, this lens improves on the 50 1.8 in pretty much every way, while keeping the price reasonable.

Canon EF 35mm f/2

Review Date: Oct 24, 2007 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $230.00 | Rating: 7 

Pros: Plenty of aperture and sharpness for the price. This is also a good lens to develop manual focus skill.
Loud AF, my XTi doesn't meter correctly with it (at least my copy)

The quality of this lens is a step above the 50 1.8, with a metal mount, actually usable manual focus, and no halation wide open. With 180 degrees of travel on the focusing ring through the range and a pretty nifty distance scale window, manual focusing is actually usable with this lens. However ...

This lens stays in my bag. My 50 1.4 gets my low light work, and my Tamron 17-50 gets my moderately wide to standard shots. I do get this one out occasionally when I want to experiment with manual focus at large apertures, but it doesn't see any front line work. One of the biggest reasons for this is that this lens defines buzzy AF, completely spoiling its very discrete visual impression. I've never heard anything like it from any lens manufacturer.

Also, (and this may be sample specific or operator error) but this lens seems to meter half to maybe two thirds of a stop to low on my XTi. I could forgive the shortcomings of this lens if it had zoom to make up for it, but I need my prime lenses to just work without having to reconfigure everything. $230 I wish I would have put towards something else.

Tamron 17-50mm F/2.8 XR Di II LD Aspherical [IF]

Review Date: Oct 24, 2007 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $420.00 | Rating: 9 

Pros: Image quality competitive with good prime lenses, compact, competent AF. If I can only take one lens to an event, this one gets the call.
Wish it had USM/HSM level AF.

Not perfect in any area - but over 80% of the way there in zoom range, image quality, low light performance, discrete operation. The list of things this lens does "well enough" just goes on and on - especially for the sub $500 price point I got it at.

F/2.8 and great IQ make this a huge step above the typical kit lens. A respectable do it all lens for photographers that don't like the cost or size/weight of Canon's L series glass or comparable lenses.

If Tamron develops an AF system comparable to Canon's Ring USM or Sigma's HSM, their compact high quality zooms would be even more attractive.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM

Review Date: Oct 24, 2007 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $360.00 | Rating: 9 

Pros: Fast and reliable autofocus, even in low light on a Rebel XTi. Fabulous sharpness and incredible bokeh, especially for a consumer lens.
Pay extra for a hood...and a clip on one at that? Buyers of genuine Canon glass deserve better than that, L or not, IMO.

This lens gets it done without breaking the bank. Ring USM with full time manual, usable wide open with great sharpness from f2.0 on (at least on my copy). Good color, flare resistance, and other hallmarks of high optical quality are there as well. Past reviewers have mentioned unusual CA with this lens - I haven't noticed it with my mostly indoor use of this lens.

Sharp. Zoom. Cheap: Pick 2. For photographers on a budget, Canon's lineup of prime lenses will introduce you to a new level of image quality that consumer zooms just can't reach.

After using this lens, then going to pick up the hood about a month later, that was a sizable let down. My Tamron and Tokina lenses have solid bayonet mount hoods; I feel like I'm going to break the hood for this unit every time I clip it on/off. The excellent performance of Canon consumer prime lenses in general keep me loyal to them in that segment, but I will look at either L units or to other manufacturers (as I did with my Tamron 17-50 and Tokina 50-135) for my zoom lens needs.