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  Reviews by: Robin Smith  

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Canon EF 16-35mm f/4 L IS USM

Review Date: Jan 13, 2016 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $1,000.00 | Rating: 9 

Pros: Great performance, good price and nice size and weight
Inevitable distortion compared to good primes

This is an excellent lens with apparent sharpness that is absolutely up with a good prime lens equivalent. Good at f4 and even better at f8. Performance at 16mm is particularly good. 35mm performance is on paper poorer, but I have not noticed any deficit in practice. Part of the reason is that this lens has very high contrast which helps in the perception of sharpness. The size and weight is also very good for its range and the IS makes it even more useful. I rarely have to think whether I should use this or the 24-70II or the 24/2.8 IS I use them interchangeably. In fact, the flatness of field of this one may be better than the 24-70 from 28-35mm. The only negative is that, being a zoom lens with the inherent difficulty of design of these kinds of lenses, is that it does have higher distortion than the prime equivalent. One can notice it on critical subjects. It is not a big deal and most of the time it can be fairly easily corrected. I guess I am not used to seeing it at 35mm. I recommend this lens without reservation. No need to muck about with Zeiss or other primes if you are after great performance. The only reason to get these would be for faster than f4 or if the distortion annoys you, but remember: many prime's distortion levels may be not much better.

Sigma 85mm F1.4 EX DG HSM

Review Date: May 14, 2015 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $850.00 | Rating: 9 

Pros: Very nice image quality and great bokeh. Good value compared to competitors
Color fringing f1.4 to f2 Not 100% reliable AF

This is a better lens than the Canon 85mm f1.8 as it is sharper at equivalent apertures. The sharpness is excellent at f1.4 although out of focus areas exhibit considerable color fringing. This is not at all unusual: the Canon 85mm f1.8 and 100mm f2 do too. The AF is pretty good, although about 10% of the time I find it misfocuses for reasons that are unclear to me. I find it excellent on AI Servo, but on one shot AF, I take extra care with a 5DII and 6D. If you want a fast 85mm with excellent bokeh for portraits and other small depth of focus effects this is a great lens, and much better value than the 85mm f1.2L. I found it had demonstrably better image quality at wider apertures than the 85 f1.8 too.

Interestingly, this lens does not have as good imagery as the 135mm L, which has much less color fringing wide open; but these are different focal lengths, and the 85 is a stop faster, and many find an 85mm a more useful focal length.

So, for a classic portrait lens, I recommend this strongly. It could be improved though - perhaps the forthcoming Art lens will do this. As it stands though, this is still a very nice lens.

Canon EF 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye

Review Date: May 14, 2015 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

Pros: Good image quality. Light and compact
No USM. Lens cap a bit loose.

Excellent image quality even at f2.8 - may need a tweek in sharpness or clarity on LR to match your other 35-50mm primes, but very good for a fisheye. AF is right on too. This is a better lens than the Sigma 15mm, which is pretty good itself. Sharper across the image area at full aperture and better AF. The Sigma has very unreliable AF (unfortunately a common trait with Sigma), and I used to resort to Live View focusing with that one - not a big deal with a fisheye of course due to the great depth of field, but it is very nice to have the quick AF with the Canon.

The AF is old and not USM - but who cares really? The large cap tends to fall off. The Sigma cap is much better. Thoroughly recommend this lens if you like full frame fisheyes, and much, much better value than the current Canon 8-15mm zoom.

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

Review Date: May 14, 2015 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $1,100.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Great image quality. Comparatively compact and light in weight
Zoom creep

I bought this lens to replace the 70-200mm f4IS. I use it in tandem with the 70-200mm f2.8II. This is a fantastically useful lens. Image quality is identical in practical terms to the 70-200 f4IS and yet it goes to 300mm, where it also performs excellently and considerably better than any 70-200mm with a 1.4X. It is f4 from 70 to just less than 135mm and is f5 at 200mm, a 2/3 of a stop penalty, but back it off to around 170mm and its f4.5. Not much of a penalty for the extra ease of getting to 300mm.

Although heavier than a 70-200mm f4 it is actually considerably shorter and therefore just as easy to fit vertically in a regular bag. No special case or back pack is needed for this lens, unlike the 100-400s which may require laying down in a regular bag, or requiring a separate lens case. The lens is much easier to handle size and weight-wise than a 70-200mm f2.8.

My only complaint is that the zoom does tend to creep when unlocked, which can be a bit of a nuisance. The lens does not need a tripod ring in normal use and on a good tripod it is quite stable without one, so the fact they don't supply one is a complete non-issue to me. The reversed focus and zoom is easy to get used to: some people are just lacking in flexibility.

If you are thinking of getting a 70-200mm of any type, then you should definitely check out this superb and versatile lens.

Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM

Review Date: Apr 22, 2014 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $400.00 | Rating: 9 

Pros: Excellent image quality. High quality to price

This is an excellent standard lens.

At full aperture, despite what many say, this lens produces a nice image as long as you have the focus where you want it. There is reduced contrast and, as expected, the image quality in the corners and edges is not as crisp as it is at f2.8. You will need a Zeiss Otus for that. However, many people's issues with this lens are I suspect due to inadequate focusing, focus the lens via live view and then check out the image - it'll be much better than many naysayers pronounce. By f2 the lens is nicely crisp and at f2.8 and smaller, very good indeed.

The build quality is OK: nothing special and not nearly as sexy as the Sigma 50s or the 50L for example - which I think is one of the reasons why people may downgrade this lens. I find the AF works with no problem and is the equal of my other Canon lenses (L and non-L). Manual focusing is not as smooth as those lenses with the usual USM focusing mechanisms. Although I have had no problems with this lens at all, there is quite a lot of negative feedback about its AF, and I suspect this may indeed be because the lens has less robust USM. Poorly treated secondhand copies may largely account for these negative reports. Mine was bought new and is 5 years old with zero issues. I do treat this lens more carefully than my other lenses because of these reports, but apart from this I think this is a very good "classic" standard lens. Yes it could be better at f1.4, but I am not sure that I care as the % of shots I take at f1.4 is about 1% - most of my wide aperture shooting is at f2.

Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM Pancake

Review Date: Mar 25, 2014 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $150.00 | Rating: 9 

Pros: Small, excellent image quality
manual focusing by wire is not the best (STM lens)

If you want small then this is it. With this on your DSLR you have a camera that can quite easily fit in a brief case with the lens attached - not so easy to do with a standard 50 or 35mm lens. Image quality is excellent and I use this instead of the 35IS or 50/1.4 or 24-70II and notice no significant difference. I am fan of the 40mm angle of view anyway so love the view.

As it is only f2.8 you won't get the same look as you get when shooting at wider apertures with a 50 or 35mm lens (obviously!), but that is not the point of this lens - this takes up no room and your camera is now as small as it can get, and, importantly, you give up nothing image-quality wise.

I don't bother with the hood as it is not needed as the flare is very low. Also putting a hood on only makes it bigger.

The only negative is that this is not a great lens to use when focusing manually as it is an STM lens so it focuses "by wire" with a lag that makes precise focusing in Live View slightly awkward, You can do it OK, but it's not what it is best at: so it is just as well that its AF is excellent.

Many people may have little use for this lens - but I know when I need to get it out in preference to any of my other lenses - when being compact is particularly important. It is a bargain too which is the cream on top.

Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS

Review Date: Mar 25, 2014 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

Pros: Fantastic image quality, IS
None really, although as usual with the non Ls you have to buy the expensive ($50+) hood (which I found hard to find)

I sold my 35L and got this instead. The 35L is a superb lens with lots of character, but after 4 years with it I got the 35/IS because of its much smaller size and weight. The 35L is a large lens and, after a while, this becomes wearing as the number of shots I took at f1.4 are a small percentage of the total, so I was carrying the extra bulk to little advantage. To me, for a 35mm, f2 is plenty fast enough.

It has great build quality and imagery is as good as it gets - to my eyes superior to the 35L at f2 and then there is IS on top. It's not a small lens but not large either. AF is accurate all the time - probably not something you can say about the Sigma 35/1.4 (as good as it is). If you want a big, "prestige" optic you can brag about to your friends then this lens won't do it, but if you just want to take great 35mm shots with an equivalent light gathering power of an f1 lens or so, together with excellent performance, then this is the lens for you.

Canon EF 24mm f/2.8 IS USM

Review Date: Mar 25, 2014 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $650.00 | Rating: 9 

Pros: Sharp, IS
No hood included

This is a first class modern optic, superbly well corrected and with no worrying distortion - I have no idea why the reviewer before me says there is. It has less distortion than any of the other Canon options at 24mm except the TSE II- not as little as the 35mm or a good 50+ lens, but excellent for a wide angle. Very useable at full aperture and the IS gives you 2 stops. Small and light. The price is very reasonable now it has come down from its initial heights. The hood however is rather expensive at $50 and does not attach as firmly as with the earlier 24mm f2.8.

This was a luxury purchase for me because I was impressed with the original EF 24/2.8, but the IS is nice to have and this brings the apparent crispness up to match a good 35/50mm lens at f2.8. Is it worth upgrading from the original 24/2.8? Logically probably not, but you can see the improvement in your files and the lack of chromatic aberrations at wider apertures is a plus. Highly recommended.

Canon EF 24mm f/2.8

Review Date: Dec 19, 2012 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 9 

Pros: Good image quality even at full aperture. Cheap. Light weight. Handles well with dedicated hood.
No USM. Color fringing present at high contrast boundaries. Build quality only adequate. Some distortion.

This lens is an older design and was never particularly expensive. It does not inspire with its build quality which is adequate However this does not matter as it is a surprisingly good performer. Completely useable wide open on a full frame 5DmkII and gets even better stopped down. Some color fringing is noticeable at harsh contrast transitions - this can be removed in post processing. This is not an important issue in practice. AF is accurate but is not USM. I don't care about this since I find AF accurate, so I don't miund switching to MF when I need to focus manually. In performance terms it compares very well with the 24L at about 1/4 to a 1/5 the price. The L is faster and has better central resolution so shows a little more "snap", however the edge resolution is indistinguishable from the more expensive lens. Bokeh is OK but not stellar (few, if any, lenses of this focal length have great bokeh). There is some distortion, but about the same as its competitors. Wouldn't it be nice to get a non-TS 24 lens with negligeable distortion? To sum up: this is a bargain lens but with good-to-excellent performance. I periodically think about replacing it with a nicer 24/25mm lens (TS 24/Zeiss ZE 25/2) , but I have yet to decide that the much more expensive lenses really have much extra to offer for full frame, general use given their extra cost, larger size and greater weight . This is a superior lens to the equally old 28/2.8 and it is certainly staying in my bag.