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Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM

Review Date: Mar 20, 2010 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $949.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Amazing optics; Light weight; USM and image stabilizer makes the lens versatile enough for non-macro work.
Hood is unnecessarily long; Does not include tripod mount;

The EF 100mm f2.8L IS Macro is the sharpest lens I own. It surpasses both my 35L and 70-200 f4L IS, which are two of Canon's sharpest lenses. The lens is very sharp @f2.8, even in the corners --- that definitely surprised me. The only optical flaw in this lens is the moderate amount of vignetting at f2.8. It's largely gone by f4.0, and it shouldn't be an issue for anyone shooting macro. I think the bokeh is also very pretty, but that's subjective.

Initially, I thought Canon was overstating the image stabilization's effectiveness at 4-stops. But it actually works --- I can consistently get pixel-sharp images with 1/6 sec exposures on my 5DII. Image stabilization becomes less effective as you approach minimum focusing distance. At 1:2 magnification, I get maybe 2 to 3 stops benefit. At 1:1 magnification, it's only about one stop of benefit. Image stabilization only corrects for horizontal and vertical shake; it doesn't correct for forward-backward shake. At 1:1 magnification, forward-backward shake becomes a serious issue.

The USM motor is lightning fast and quiet. The focus limiter has three settings: Full range, macro range, and non-macro range. A common complaint about this lens is that it refuses to auto focus to a normal distance, if it's starting from a macro distance (and vice versa). What many people don't realize is that this phenomenon is not due to the lens, but rather to the way a camera is configured. Most Canon SLRs have a custom function for "Focus Seek when AF is impossible". For the 100L to auto focus flawlessly, this custom function should be enabled.

Like any macro lens, the focus throw is heavily slanted towards the macro distances. The focus ring travels about 3 inches when going from minimum focus distance to 1 meter. That allows for very precise manual focus at close distances. Unfortunately, going from 1 meter to infinity requires only a quarter-inch turn of the focus ring. That makes for some extremely imprecise manual focus at non-macro distances. This is true for virtually all true macro lenses, and it's in no way unique to the 100L. People should keep that in mind if they're considering using any macro lens for portraiture work.

The build quality is exactly like the EF 17-40mm f4.0L, which is very good. It's made of some type of lightweight polycabonate material. It's not made of metal, like some of the other L-series lenses are. This is one of the reasons why Canon was able to keep the weight almost identical to the non-L version of this lens, despite having added image stabilization. The lens feels very solid, and oozes quality. Engineering plastic is used in everything from airplanes to rifles. Unfortunately some people still associate weight with quality, and have complained about this lens's non-metallic body.

I don't have much to complain about regarding the lens itself. My only complaints have to do with its accessories --- the missing tripod mount, and the inappropriate hood. The fact that Canon didn't include a tripod mount with this macro lens is a shame. It would've helped justify the huge price discrepancy between this lens, and the non-L version.

The hood of this lens is unnecessarily long. While it provides ample protection from flare, it also ensures that you'll keep bumping into things at macro distances. With the hood mounted, you're left with a working distance of about 2.5 inches at minimum focusing distance. Even if you don't bump into things, the enormous hood will often shade your subject in addition to shading your lens. Naturally, most people would simply reverse the hood when working at close distances. But that's not really a viable option. The hood is so long, when it's reversed it will cover the entire focus ring as well as every single switch on the lens. I really wish Canon had designed the hood with a better compromise between flare prevention, and practicality.

So in summary: The lens itself is near-perfect, but the accessories leave much to be desired.

Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS

Review Date: Feb 20, 2009 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $70.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Sharp; Effective image stabilization; costs only $70 when included in a kit; Small and lightweight; Handles perfectly on a Rebel sized body;
Plastic mount; Mediocre color and contrast;

I'm spoiled by "L" series primes and zoom lenses. And so when this little EF-S kit lens came packaged with my Rebel XSi, my expectations were understandably low. The cheap plastic mount didn't exactly inspire confidence in me. But after playing around with it for a few weeks, boy was I surprised. This lens is without a doubt the best lens for the money in Canon mount.

Image Stabilization works flawlessly. The lens is surprisingly sharp when stopped down to f5.6 or f8.0. It can be edge-to-edge sharp across much of the zoom range, from 18mm to about 45mm. It tapers off at the telephoto end. I won't call it soft at 55mm, but I can't exactly describe it as sharp either. It's somewhere in between, and certainly more than acceptable.

The lens exposes brighter than my EF lenses. By my estimate, the EF-S 18-55 IS lens looks about 1/6 stop brighter than my 35L & 85 f1.8 at the same exposure settings. Contrast is mediocre, and colors are nothing to write home about.

But this lens only adds $70 to the cost of a camera. Frankly, it's downright stupid for anyone *not* to include it in a kit with a Rebel camera. It's a sharp lens with a useful zoom range, and with effective image stabilization too. It's small and weighs only 190 grams. A perfect lens to pair with the XSi for casual shooting.

I tend to rate lenses in a price-performance ratio. And even with all its imperfections, the EF-S 18-55mm f/3.4-5.6 IS easily proves itself to be the most lens for the money.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM

Review Date: Feb 20, 2009 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $350.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Very nice bokeh; USM and FTM; Small & lightweight; One of the best lenses for the money;
The optional hood isn't particularly nice.

[ Reviewed on an EOS 5D Mark II and Rebel XTi]

Good build quality. The lens is small & lightweight, balances very well on both a Rebel-sized body, and on an 5D body as well. Features ring USM and Full Time Manual Focusing, two very important features in a prime lens. USM is quick and responsive, very silent. There's some play in the focus ring, but otherwise FTM is perfect.

When I first got the lens (originally with the Rebel XTi), I felt it was a bit soft when shooting wide open @ f1.8. Turns out it was back focusing a little. One trip to Canon's Service center made all the difference. The lens is razor sharp in the center, even when shooting wide open. There's a slight loss of contrast when shooting wide open, but it's not a big deal.

However, the lens doesn't really comes into its own until it's mounted on a full frame body. The EF 85 f1.8 is an ok lens for a Rebel, but it is downright gorgeous on a 5DII. The bokeh is beautiful, and the ability to isolate subjects with shallow DoF is amazing. I even like the vignetting effect on full frame --- I often leave it uncorrected because IMHO it adds some mystique to the photos. I'd say that 90% of my shots with this lens are done at an aperture of f2.2 or larger. It's that good.

In my opinion, the 85 f1.8 is one of the best bargains in Canon's lineup. I'd have a hard time finding another lens that offers USM, FTM, a very large aperture, and excellent bokeh all for only $350. For that reason, I rate this lens a 10.

Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM

Review Date: Feb 19, 2009 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $850.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Versatile zoom range; Excellent build quality; Very good sharpness;
Barrel distortion and vignetting is higher than normal;

[ Reviewed on a EOS 5D Mark II ]

I must've read every single review of the 24-105L review I could find on the Internet, including the 400+ user reviews here at FM. Quite a few people were saying that the lens becomes soft at the long end of the zoom (70mm to 105mm). And that the lens has questionable sharpness in the corners on full frame. Reviews at slrgear and photozone seemed to confirm these complaints. However, there were also plenty of people who swore that the 24-105L is edge-to-edge sharp at all focal lengths.

Needless to say, I was conflicted about buying a 24-105L. Too many conflicting opinions from too many people. After 2 years, I finally caved in and bought one for myself. And I must say I'm pleasantly surprised with the lens. It has definitely exceeded the expectations I had formed from reading so many reviews.

My thoughts? The 24-105L is one strange beast. Center sharpness does not change at all, regardless of focal length or aperture. It's amazingly consistent. Whether at 105mm @ f4.0, or 70mm @ f8.0, or 24mm @ f4.0... they all look the same when pixel peeping with a 5DII. Sharpness at the edges does improve when stopping down from f4.0, but it quickly peaks at f5.6. Overall, sharpness is remarkably consistent across all focal lengths and all apertures. It is extremely sharp in the center, and acceptably sharp along the corners. This is true pretty much for the entire zoom range. I am very, very pleased with the results.

Build quality is superb. It handles well with my 5DII, but feels oversized when mounted on my Rebel. Image stabilization works very well. Color rendition is beautiful, and contrast is just about perfect. Zoom ring is nice and stiff, and the barrel has no play or wobble.

My complaints about the lens? Barrel distortion is quite pronounced at the wide end (24mm). The distortion is easily fixed when processing RAW in DPP, but the "repaired" image will end up looking more like 26mm than 24mm. Vignetting is also disappointingly high for an f4.0 lens. I also wish the lens has a zoom lock mechanism. There's no zoom creep on the lens (yet), but I can imagine that problem developing a few years down the road. It would've been nice to have a zoom lock mechanism --- just in case.

Optical distortions are inevitable for a lens that boasts a 4.4x zoom factor. These are compromises in an ambitious lens design, so I won't hold it against Canon. Bottom line is that the 24-105L is the PERFECT zoom lens for full frame. Excellent zoom range, wide field of view, image stabilization, and sharp all the way through. What's not to like?

Canon EOS Rebel XSi (450D)

Review Date: Jan 20, 2009 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $750.00 | Rating: 9 

Pros: Excellent image quality; Performs great at high ISO; Full featured prosumer digital SLR that's "entry level" in name only;
Uncomfortable grip; A step backwards in low-ISO RAW dynamic range;


-- Grip is too narrow for comfort
-- RAW dynamic range at low ISO is a major step back for Canon


-- High ISO image quality is excellent
-- AF system is the best available at this price range
-- Very good per-pixel sharpness gets the most out of lenses
-- Full-featured prosumer digital SLR in an entry-level body
-- Excellent kit lens
-- ISO button and indicator in viewfinder
-- Included software suite is comprehensive
-- Small and lightweight: Perfect for travel
-- Controls and Menu interface are intuitive

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

Review Date: Jan 20, 2009 Recommend? no | Price paid: $450.00 | Rating: 7 

Pros: Very sharp; Good build quality; compact size;
Warm color cast; Unreliable autofocus; Bokeh quality is below average;

[reviewed on a Rebel XTi]


-- Autofocus is unreliable in low light
-- Slight loss of contrast & sharpness at telephoto end
-- Heavily warm color cast, easily seen in photos & viewfinder
-- There's a little too much contrast
-- Bokeh quality is below average
-- Focus ring is too small, too flimsy, and too loose
-- Vignetting can be severe @ f2.8
-- At 17mm, it has a noticeably curved field of focus @ f2.8
-- Tamron's rear lens cap annoyingly won't fit some other lenses


-- Excellent sharpness when stopped down to f4.0 or smaller
-- Build quality is very good (except for focus ring)
-- Zoom ring is nice wide, and stiff... plus no zoom creep at all
-- Tamron's front lens caps are the best I've ever used
-- Handles well with any camera because of its compact size
-- Decent lens for the money

This was a lens that made a good impression on me in 2006, mostly because of its sharpness. But I grew to like it less and less over the years. The colors it produced were noticeably poor compared to my EF lenses. This lens projects images with a heavy yellow tint --- some people may not realize it immediately because their cameras are compensating through Auto White Balance. Unnaturally high contrast got to be irritating after a while. Inconsistent AF in low light also got to be very annoying.

Not recommended. This was a decent lens in 2006. But today, there are better options out there. No question this is a sharp lens, but sharpness isn't everything.

Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM

Review Date: Jan 20, 2009 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $625.00 | Rating: 10 

Pros: Excellent sharpness, color, and contrast; Very good build quality; Zoom range is versatile; Excellent lens for such a relatively low price;
Optical distortion is noticeable at the wide end;

[reviewed on an EOS 5D Mark II]


-- Chromatic aberration is noticeable at the wide end
-- Barrel distortion is noticeable between 17mm to 20mm
-- Ugly looking hood


-- Very sharp in the center at all focal lengths, all apertures
-- Very sharp edges at the longer end, at all apertures
-- Sharp edges at the wider end, when stopped down
-- Excellent build quality
-- The smallest and lightest of all "L' zoom lenses
-- Superb color and contrast
-- Quick and reliable autofocus
-- Versatile range goes from Ultra Wide to Normal Field of View
-- Arguably the best lens for the money, regardless of brand

Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM

Review Date: Jan 19, 2009 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $1,100.00 | Rating: 9 



-- This is an old design where lens barrel is only plastic
-- One of the few remaining "L" lenses that is not weather sealed
-- Lens is heavier (580g) and bigger than a prime lens should be
-- Bokeh quality is decent, but severely overrated by reputation


-- Not many lens sharper than this @ f/1.4
-- Autofocus is quick and responsive
-- At $1100 USD, it's relatively cheap compared to its peers
-- Arguably the most versatile low light lens available in EF mount
-- Contrast and color rendition are just about perfect

Canon EOS 5D Mark II

Review Date: Jan 19, 2009 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $2,500.00 | Rating: 9 

Pros: Resolution; High ISO performance; Video; Ergonomics & Interface feel very refined;
AF system; Creaky CF Car Door; Mediocre dynamic range;


-- Autofocus system did not improve from the 2005 model
-- CF Card Door creaks loudly whenever I grip he camera
-- Lacks any kind of lamp, either pop-up flash or AF Assist
-- Dynamic range is poor when compared to the FF competition
-- Canon withheld manual controls from Video Mode to cripple it


-- Excellent image quality up to ISO 3200. ISO 6400 is decent
-- Per-pixel sharpness is impressive, even with 21 million of them
-- Best implementation of Live View in a digital SLR
-- Build quality is great (except for CF/Battery doors)
-- New battery system now indicates charge as in percentage
-- Menu system is arguably the most intuitive of any camera
-- Excellent ergonomics and interface, without button clutter
-- Canon's software package is far better than competition's
-- First digital SLR to feature full HD 1080p video recording
-- Option for small RAW for those who prefer it
-- Silent Mode allows shots to be taken discretely