Photo packs have come a long way in the past decade, especially those that are targeted toward outdoor and adventure photographers. Alaska-based adventure photographer Dan Bailey takes a closer look...
I love this lens, about as much as anyone can love an inanimate object. I know
this isn't a very objective way of beginning a review, but I don't think my
praise is unfounded. I hope to be able to provide a few sample images soon in the
way of support for my opinions... I've just got to get that photo CD made first.
Watch this space.
You'll pay more for this lens ($325 at B&H) than you will for similar
third-party offerings or Canon's lesser-quality consumer zooms like the 28-80 or
35-80, but in my opinion, the difference in price is worth it.
Focal length range
28-105 mm. This is a very popular focal length range in consumer-grade gear.
Pentax, Minolta, Sigma, Vivitar, and Tokina all make zooms with the same focal
length range, although most are limited to an aperture range of f/4-5.6 rather
than the Canon's f/3.5-4.5. More about this later.
28-105 seems to me to be a very useful range for many photo tasks. I'm
surprised there aren't any point & shoots out there with this range. I'm even
more surprised that there aren't any pro-grade lenses out there with this range.
I used this lens exclusively for two years (as I didn't have the money for
another one), yet I only rarely felt limited by it. And on those rare occasions
when I did feel limited by the focal length range, a few mm more wouldn't have
helped. (Note: like most zooms in this range, I don't think it actually makes it
all the way out to 105 mm; my best estimate of it's actual focal length fully
extended is about 95-100 mm. Perhaps someone else has hard numbers...)
The range from 28-50 is really useful for scenics and general snapshots. That
extra few mm on the wide end from 28-35 is far more useful than you might expect,
and I've been very glad to have it when the situation called for it.
The range from 80-105 mm is useful for portraits, as long as you have a
reasonably pleasant background. f/2.8 would be better than f/4.5 to throw ugly
backgrounds out of focus. Even so, you can get really nice portraits out of this
lens without too much effort.
f/3.5-4.5. Not bad. Of course, I'd prefer a constant f/2.8 or f/4.0 throughout
the focal length range, but I don't know of any consumer-grade zooms with this
feature. f/3.5-4.5 is bright enough for focal lengths under 105 mm in open shade
or in the 90 minutes or so before sunset at ISO 100. Not so for zooms in the
f/4-5.6 range -- you're forced to use ISO 200 or 400 films if you want to hand
Don't be too envious of your friend's 28-70 f/2.8 L. If he wants sharp
pictures on Velvia at sunset, he'll be lugging a tripod too, especially if he
rates Velvia at ISO 40 like many pros do.
More solidly built than the similar third-party offerings I've had the
opportunity to play with. It's a turn-to-zoom type of arrangement as opposed to a
push/pull, which I like. You can set this lens at 50 mm and aim it straight at
the ground, and it'll stay right where it is. It features internal focusing and a
non-rotating front lens element, so using a polarizer is not a problem.
Ergonomics are good, unless you use the EW-63 lens hood, in which case getting
the lens cap on and off is a chore which requires you to remove the lens hood
each time. Of course, I have very large hands and fingers, so maybe it's not so
bad for people with smaller hands. Regarding the lens hood: use it even if it is
a pain in the butt. I've had a couple shots ruined by not using it, and I'm sure
I've gotten many good shots using it that I couldn't have gotten without it.
The lens utilizes Canon's ring-type ultrasonic focusing motors, so focusing is
quiet and lightning-quick. (In fact, the focusing is so much faster and quieter
than the third-party offerings that this feature alone is enough to justify the
extra cost.) You can override the autofocus simply by turning the focus ring. (No
need to switch the lens to manual focus mode.)
[Ed: The best feature of Canon EOS is simultaneous AF/MF with bodies like the
EOS-1, EOS-5, and Elan IIe and USM lenses; therefore, I don't think it is ever
worth buying a 3rd party lens for a Canon if there is a USM equivalent
Good. Excellent compared to Canon's lower-cost consumer zooms like the 28-80
and 35-80, and noticeably better than most of the third-party offerings. If you
want your pictures to look better than the ones your Mom is taking with her $170
point & shoot, get this lens.
Contrast and sharpness are quite good throughout the zoom range. I'm not
equipped to perform critical sharpness tests, but slide images under a 4x and 8x
loupe and projected big (30" wide) on a screen look razor-sharp.
The magazine reviews mention some minor barrel or pincushion distortion, but
I've never taken a picture with this lens in which the distortion could be
detected. You'd probably have to take a picture of a bunch of straight lines near
the edge of the frame to notice it. (Hint: if your preferred subject matter is
graph paper, you might be better off finding another hobby.)
This is probably the best consumer-grade zoom available for the Canon EOS
mount. Image quality is excellent for the price, and it's solidly built. The
focal length range allows you to leave this lens on your camera for everything
from scenics to snapshots to portraits. And don't worry too much about the price
-- in this class of lenses, you definitely get what you pay for.
As a working-class family man who enjoys photography as a hobby rather than a
profession, I am relegated to that class of photo equipment known as
"consumer-grade" gear. This is not meant as a plea for sympathy; rather, it's
advance acknowledgment that pro-grade gear is indeed better in many ways than the
equipment I'll be reviewing here. Yes, I would choose the Canon USM 70-200 f/2.8
L ($1,540 at B&H) over the Canon USM 70-210 f/3.5-4.5 ($250 at B&H). But
unfortunately my wallet and my wife have other opinions.
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