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  Reviews by: Joseph N. Hall  

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Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM

Review Date: Sep 2, 2008 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

Pros: Tank-like construction, super fast and accurate focusing, reliable workhorse, IS makes this lens incredibly versatile
Heavy, big, conspicuous, a little soft at f/2.8

In my opinion, this is probably the most useful lens Canon makes. Even though it's a little pedestrian now, it was really a revolutionary and game-changing design when it was introduced. This used to be my "pry this from my cold dead hands" lens, until I began doing more shooting with shorter lenses.

I've never found the weight and size to be a problem, but then again I guess I'm used to lugging around 30 lbs of gear whenever I head to a shoot. However, this lens will get you noticed. If that's a problem, you may want a backup like the much more discreet (and black) 75-300 IS. I'll probably cover mine with black gaffer tape one of these days.

Optically it's outstanding until you mate it with a TC; I wouldn't advise that combination unless you really need it. There is some fairly obvious CA wide open at 200mm on high contrast subjects. Aside from that, nothing to complain about. This is a fantastic portrait lens and wonderful to work with in available light even when there's almost no light available. I've photographed bands under dim club light at speeds down to 1/10-1/15 sec zoomed to 200mm with the lens supported on a wall, table, pillar, whatever. Works great.

I urge people not to buy the non-stabilized version of this lens. Adding IS to it makes it so much more versatile. If you've ever used a 135/2 in low light you understand how difficult it is to handle. It's very difficult to shoot acceptably sharp photos handheld (even braced) at 1/30-1/60 sec. Not so with the 70-200/2.8 IS. 200mm at 1/30 sec held in one hand, no problem. This lens loves low light. If you buy the non-stabilized version, and start to think about all the photos and opportunities you've missed, you'll forever wish you'd spent the extra $600.

Sigma 24mm f1.8 EX DG Aspherical Macro

Review Date: Sep 2, 2008 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

Pros: Excellent image quality, fantastic bokeh, unusually high magnification, great depth of field effect potential
Annoying dual focus system, clunky handling

I guess that as usual there are good copies of Sigma lenses and not so good copies, but this is one of the best wide angle lenses I have ever used. It's quite sharp corner to corner on my 5D wide open. Among other things, this is obvious in the starfields when I photograph auroras. Flare and contrast are fine, by my standards anyway.

The special thing about this lens, though, is that it has a very high magnification for a wide-angle lens, and as a result, when used wide open on a subject near the lens, you can get some tremendous depth of field effects. The bokeh is also fantastic. (Sigma irises are nice.) "A" to "A+" image quality. For the money, unbelievable. I doubt that the Canon equivalent will make better pictures.

The dual focus and focusing in general is annoying but it's easy enough to live with. The handling is kind of clunky. Oh well. Can't have everything.

Highly recommended if the handling doesn't get in your way. If you get one that's "blah," exchange it for another (and maybe another), until you get a good one.

Sigma 18-50mm F2.8 EX DC

Review Date: Sep 2, 2008 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

Pros: Lightweight, well built, fast, image quality excellent.
Slight droop; focus ring rotates (no HSM).

At this price, and in general, I can't find anything major to complain about with this lens. I actually have the SA (Sigma mount) version, but it's electronically equivalent to the EF - Sigma uses the EOS signaling protocol, so I'm assuming that the lens will perform and handle similarly on both bodies.

At a constant f/2.8, it's fast. It's light. It handles well. Seems solid like my other EX lenses. There's not much to complain about image quality wise. I'd consider the IQ "A-" to "A" depending on focal length and aperture. It performs well wide open.

There's a slight tendency for the barrel to droop when the lens is pointed straight down (or up). Not really a problem. It would be nice if the lens had HSM, but the rotating focus ring doesn't pose much of a handling problem. Basically, the lens takes good pictures, is an all around good performer, and is reasonably priced.

Sigma 17-35 mm f2.8-4.0 EX DG HSM

Review Date: Sep 2, 2008 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 8 

Pros: (Very) inexpensive alternative to Canon 16-35/2.8L. Fairly light. Solid build and good appearance.
Image quality varies by copy. Usual iffy Sigma focuser.

I'm on my second one of these (same model). My first was purchased c. 2005. Image quality was so-so (although acceptable for many purposes, even full frame), but the main problem was that the lens never focused properly. At all! It focused at more or less random distances regardless of the subject or distance to the subject.

The focuser froze in 2006 and I returned the lens to Sigma; it was returned in working order after a free repair. But the original focusing problem continued. Having other lenses in this focal length, I eventually, for the most part, stopped using it.

Last year I sent it to Sigma, complaining specifically about the focusing problem. I received a brand new lens (new in box with accessories). This one focuses perfectly, and the full frame image quality is good to excellent depending on focal length and aperture. I'm perfectly satisfied with it at the moment and really don't think I would get a lot more out of the (HEAVY) 16-35/2.8L.

Pixel peepers will want the L glass but I'm pretty picky myself, and I'm content with this guy for now.