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Zeiss 50mm f/2 Makro-Planar T*

Review Date: May 11, 2013 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

Pros: Great up close and far away. Focus ring is smooth. Built better than any Canon L lens - though, it lacks weather sealing - and is all metal. Front element is set back quite a bit and small. Just stupendously sharp and contrasty wide open.
No red dot to figure out where it enters the mount. Metal hood scratches if you look at it wrong. Pretty dense lens, could see it sliding out of my grasp more easily than other lenses I have. Metal focus ring digs into my fingers over time. No AF - but everyone looking at this lens knows it. The focus throw between MFD and infinity is 300 degrees, from 2ft to infinity is roughly 30 degrees - that isn't a whole lot to play with.

I thought I would hate this lens but a good friend of mine kept pestering me to buy it since I was looking into other 50mm lenses. Tried the 50L and hated the unreliable beast on my 5D2. canon 50 1.4 has too many reliability issues. 50 1.8 is a great value but not what I was looking for. The sigma 50 has mechanical failures out the wazzoo and notoriously bad AF so I skipped past that after my experience with the 50L... which left me with all of 2 options when it came to using a 50mm focal length: buy an M9 and a summilux 50 or give this 50 MP a try. Glad I tried the 50MP because I just saved a boat load of money.

This lens is stunningly sharp wide open. I have had it for nearly a week at this point and am very much infatuated with the quality of the photos this lens is able to produce. It renders skies in a very painterly manner compared to my canon lenses. Speaking of rendering - I have no flipping clue what "3D" or "microcontrast" means but this lens definitely gives images a good bit of extra pop that differentiates it from anything I have used in the past except for the 135L which is similar but lacks the definition that this lens is able to produce. I was worried about not having enough subject isolation at f/2 wide open but it is definitely able to pull it off in most circumstances. I never knew that buying a lens from a different manufacturer would lead to such major differences in the photos I am able to take.

Anyway, there are a few negatives that people seem to skim past:
- the focus throw for the usable street photography range is a paltry/pathetic 30 degrees. That is absurd in a manual focus lens that boasts 300 degrees of focus ring rotation. I understand it is a macro lens but good god man, does it really need 270 degrees from 2 ft to MFD?! Beats me, but it takes great flower photos.
- All metal sounds awesome. It looks pretty slick and feels great to pick up for the first time and have the cool-to-the-touch metal feel. But metal scratches significantly more often and more noticeably than plastic. Especially the hood. Clearly Zeiss hasn't learned from Apple's terribly thin anodizing aluminum experiences.
- Same note as above, metal focus rings feel good at first but can really dig in for the long haul (1 hour into holding this lens and I was pretty happy to set it down for a bit).

Outside of those problems, I really enjoy using this lens. It is nice to slow down and manually focus everything on days when I just want to relax and take photos. I doubt i'll ever use this for event or concert photography but I am sure it would work well if I didn't suck at manually focusing so much. As of early 2013 - this is by far the best 50mm available in a native EF mount if you do not absolutely need AF. Even if you do need AF, give this little fella a try and experience a totally different kind of photography.

Highly recommended.

Sigma 14mm f2.8 EX Aspherical

Review Date: Jan 26, 2013 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 8 

Pros: Inexpensive, good build quality, interesting above all else.
Autofocus was inaccurate, mustache distortion, CA/fringing all the time, my feet ending up in a few photos ;)

First the bad:
- AF was never all that accurate. I don't know how it could miss, pretty much everything should be in focus by f/5.6 on this lens. Wasn't hard to remedy this issue by just manually focusing all the time.
- Lots of vignetting at f/2.8.
- Lots of CA and fringing until f/8, even there you'll see it rear its ugly head occasionally
- Worrying about that massive bulging front element ALL THE TIME. This is a problem with all 14mm lenses due to the convex front elements. It is genuinely scary every time you hear the hood hit something because you instinctively pray that the lens didn't get destroyed.
- Plenty of distortion all the time. That said, it is a 14mm lens and it kinda comes with the territory.
- f/2.8 should only be used in emergencies. I recommend keeping it at f/4.0+. This isn't difficult when you have to keep the shutter speed higher than only 1/14th of a second.

The good?
- A decent 14mm lens for 1/4 the price of a canon 14mm mk II! It is definitely better than the canon 14mm mk I in my opinion.
- Really really fun to play around with.
- You will never again worry about not having a wide enough lens to get anything
- Macro (you can literally be an inch from the object you are focusing on) can be used for some VERY interesting perspective images at f/2.8.
- Some pretty amazing longer exposures can be shot hand held because this lens is so wide.

I bought this as a lens to play with and widen my creative horizons. You will have to approach situations "laterally" to get a good image with this lens but that ended up allowing me to grow as a photographer. In the end, this lens was sold because I never found a really great situation to use it in for my business and needed to liquidate the lens in order to fund another lens purchase. It certainly has its flaws, but everyone should pick up a 14mm at some point just to experience the bizarre world found beyond the viewfinder when using this lens.

If you need a 14mm and just want it for fun or because you are on a budjet, this is an excellent lens. The hardest part is finding one for sale it seems. For what its worth, i have a 24"x36" canvas print of one of the photos I took with this lens on my wall because the images this lens produced were just interesting.

Sample photos:

Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L USM

Review Date: Jan 26, 2013 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $1,150.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Sharp sharp sharp, contrasty, great coloration, little to no distortion, built like a battleship.
No IS (depends if you need it or not), no weather sealing.

This was the first L lens I ever purchased. Couldn't afford IS and didn't need it for sports/action photography. This lens is a work horse and is designed to be used into the ground. It has never let me down in a single situation: sports, concerts, events, portraits, scenery - this lens does it all.

The lens barrel is solid metal. Focus and zoom rings are fluid. The tripod mount is smooth and solid.

Downside? You are saving a pretty penny over the IS lens, but make sure you don't need IS. I imagine it would come in handy for low light situations where it is relatively difficult to keep the shutter speed at 1/200 of a second. However, if you are going to be shooting sports or people scrambling around, you'll need the shutter speed at least that high anyway. From what I have seen in testing - this lens is in general marginally sharper than the IS mk I variant. That said, the IS mkI has weather sealing in addition to IS. When you pull this lens out, you generally wont want to screw around with weather because again, it is a workhorse, so that weather sealing is a big selling point against the non-IS variant.

Overall, I never really had any problems with this lens and it certainly took everything I threw at it over my ownership. I recently sold my copy to fund an upgrade to the 70-200 IS mk II for the improvement in sharpness and critically the addition of weather sealing and IS.

If you need a 70-200 for sports and action photography and are on a budget - this is the lens for you! If you intend to use it in adverse conditions or low light, I recommend getting the IS mk I or II and saving a little frustration in those scenarios.

Sample photos:

Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM

Review Date: Jan 26, 2013 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $1,150.00 | Rating: 9 

Pros: Good contrast, OK sharpness, good coloration, fast AF, built like a tank.
Hood is massive, not-small amounts of CA/fringing wide open, distortion wide open at both ends of the zoom spectrum.

While I used this lens with a 1.6x crop factor camera for a while, the 24mm end really shines on a full frame sensor. In fact, this lens lives to be used on a full frame body. There is a fun bit of distortion to play with at 24mm but you really have to be careful with it when taking photos of buildings.

For the most part, this lens is for photojournalists who need the zoom range to quickly adjust the crop factor on a dime. It gets the job done every time and wont miss a focus point (the hit rate is astonishingly good).

The reason I sold it was that it never really produced superb images in my hands. Sure, it ALWAYS captured the moment and did it in focus with good color and decent sharpness but the photos never had that magical/3D/whatever feel that a great photo has. I'll be damned if there isn't a better all around "get the job done and do it well" lens though... except for the 24-70 f/2.8 mkII.

I know some people have complained about the weight of this lens but it never bothered me in the few years I owned it and walked carried it around for 8 hour days. For reference, my 70-200 f/2.8 non-IS never bothered me either during 3 hour football games.

Some sample photos:

Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM

Review Date: Jan 26, 2013 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 10 

Pros: superb bokeh/sharpness/color/contrast, can take images with a full moon and ISO6400 if you have a streetlight within a few blocks. Nails focus every time.
Slow AF. And I mean seriously slow. I have seen sloths move faster than this AF.

This lens is always a mixed bag of chips for me. On the one hand, it takes flipping phenomenal photos if you subject will stay still long enough for the AF to lock on. Hell, even if they don't the image will still look amazing. Even at f/1.2 it is plentifully sharp - at f/2.0 its a razer-blade corner to corner. You will never think to yourself "I could use more subject isolation" at f/1.2. It makes easy work of portraits - aim for the eyes and kiss the wrinkles on most of the face goodbye (and the background). You will be able to take pictures using a single candle for a light source at night, embarrassing all of your friends trying to use their lesser lenses to get that amazing night shot. Hell - this is THE available light lens to have.

So whats the drawback? The disgustingly "deliberate" AF. I have found it less frustrating on a 1DIII body than a 5DII. Even on a good day, it takes some work to nail focus on a moving subject with this lens. You learn to anticipate it and find tricks to get it to lock on, but there are still a not-insignificant number of out-of-focus shots after I use this lens for events. When people come up with kind terms like "deliberate" to describe a lenses AF - know that they mean "sometimes I want to throw this lens out a window because it is SO SLOW to focus." For those of you thinking that you can manually focus this lens faster keep in mind that it uses focus by wire technology that lags ever so slightly behind your movements with the focusing ring (read: frustrating).

Also, the lens hood latches on to the rotating focusing ring. Because this lens is full-time manual focus override capable, you can't rest the hood on an object unless you keep REALLY still (the depth of field at 1.2 will be thrown off if you breath).

So then, why do I use this lens more than any other? It nukes backgrounds and creates the most amazing subject isolation of any lens I have used (no, I haven't used the 200 f/2.0). Nothing else is able to produce images quite like it in my experience. Even if the AF is slow, I just overshoot events with it so that I know I have at least one frame in focus. It is a great lens, it just isn't for everyone.

Sample photos:
Subject isolation:
Scenery (mountain w/ polarizer):

Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM

Review Date: Jan 26, 2013 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 9 

Pros: Sharpness wide open, color, contrast, build, "Magic", fast AF
No weather sealing, CA and fringing wide open

I have always read about this lens being somehow "magical" without much of any proof to back it up. It doesn't have the crystal clear sharpness and microcontrast as a Zeiss. What it does have is a whole lot of character. Not the 6 year old BMW "it breaks a lot so I have bonded with it" character, but the kind of good joo joo feel you get after a great night out with friends.The best way I can describe this is the difference between a lens like a master prime that is technically brilliant BUT lacks the soul/feel/emotion of a lens with a couple of non-intrusive flaws that makes it special.

This lens has a way of turning what has ever right to be a dull photo into something fantastic. It is tough to explain why or where this step happens between pressing the shutter down and editing in post but it happens nonetheless. Until I purchased this lens, I was using a 24-70 and 70-200 almost solely. After buying this, I switched over to using primarily this lens for my general purpose. After 2 months, I sold the 24-70 because it never left the bag anymore!

The focusing motors are fast enough to keep up with bands playing on dark stages. The contrast is plentiful. Coloration is phenomenal. Bokeh is great if you don't mind getting closer to your subject.

Really wish this lens had weather sealing because it would be phenomenal out in the rain (and having to throw a trashbag over the lens/camera is never fun). That along with the significant fringing wide open are the only two problems I have with the lens. Fringing/CA are fairly easy to fix in lightroom/photoshop these days though.

Here are a few sample photos: