psulonen's reviews

  • Canon EF 35mm f/2

    10 out of 10 points and recommended
    Compact, discreet, inexpensive, reliable, optically excellent
    Buzzy AF, less than professional build, 5-blade iris

    I'm a huge fan of this little gem. On the APS-C crop, it makes for a pretty decent normal, although for that mission the bokeh leaves something to be desired, and it is only f/2.0 rather than the f/1.8 or f/1.4 that you'd expect. However, it only really comes into its own on full-frame.

    On full-frame, it's reasonably sharp in the center even wide-open, and very sharp from f/2.8 down, making it an excellent performer for available-light situational shooting. The discreet appearance and compact size are major assets for street photography -- in my opinion, these characteristics make it even better suited for this mission than it's much bulkier and pricier big brother, the 35/1.4L. In fact, it is my default choice for this type of shooting, although it often alternates with the 50/1.4 USM.

    On full-frame, you need to stop it down to around f/5.6...f/8.0 for sharp corners; this is still well below the diffraction limit, which makes it very well suited for stuff like landscapes and architecture too.

    The lens has no major optical issues worth mentioning; it's highly resistant to flare and a very solid, reliable performer all around.

    However, there is no free lunch. On the "con" side are buzzy (although quite fast) auto-focus, no full-time manual, less than professional-grade build, and a 5-blade iris which means that out-of-focus highlights when stopped down look pentagonal. (In practice, this is a minor niggle, since stopped-down there will be a quite a bit of depth of field so you'll see those pentagonal highlights very rarely; wide-open they're round, of course.)

    I would heartily recommend this lens to anyone who needs a fast 35 but isn't inclined to pay the cost and weight penalty of the 1.4L. It has no glaring weaknesses and a good many strengths, at a very, very attractive price.

    reviewed October 20th, 2005
  • Canon EF 55-200mm f/4.5-5.6 II USM

    8 out of 10 points and recommended
    Optically way better than it has any right to be at this price point
    Well, it *is* a bargain telezoom, so what do you expect?

    I have to say my practical experience with this lens does not agree with the test results published here. I don't know whether this is because I have an exceptional copy, SLRGear tested a duff copy, or for some reason the test does not accurately reflect the lens performance in real-world shooting.

    Basically, I find the lens eminently usable at all apertures and focal lengths, including wide-open at the long end. I've used it on the EOS-20D and now the EOS-5D. My point of comparison is the 200/2.8L I owned before (but sold because it didn't suit my shooting style; it spent more time on the shelf than in the bag, which means I didn't get too many pictures with it.)

    In my experience, it delivers uniform sharpness edge to edge at all focal lengths and apertures -- no mean feat for something this cheap. Also, the bokeh is very nice -- it has none of the chromatic weirdness common on budget telezooms. In fact, the only optical tell-tale that it is what it is -- a budget zoom -- is the contrast: the pictures look noticeably "flat" compared to what primes or pro-grade zooms turn out. However, most of the time this is quite easy to correct in post-processing.

    In use, the lens focuses reasonably fast and accurately -- enough to pass the "terrier test" (tracking a medium-sized terrier scooting around). Build quality is... well, let's put it this way: it feels like a roll of toilet paper in a yoghurt jar, but it hasn't in fact given any indication of dying on me. But it's not exactly a tactile joy to handle.

    On the other hand, it's very light and compact, which means it doesn't take up much space in the bag and can even be stuffed in a pocket in a pinch. I've gotten more keepers with this one than the 200/2.8L for this simple reason -- I've had it with me when opportunity calls, while the L usually made room for something else in the bag.

    My verdict? If you shoot a lot of tele, buy something nicer. But if you want a light "travel" lens, or "just-in-case" lens, or "occasional-use" lens, or just want to experiment with telephoto, in my opinion this is the one to get: there's nothing out there around this price point that is better, and a lot that's worse.

    A note about the ratings -- I feel a bit weird about giving this a "9" in image quality, since there are clearly much better lenses out there, but I figured that I ought to factor in the cost of the lens into the rating. On an "absolute" scale, if the 200/2.8L was a 10 on all counts, I'd rate the image quality at around a 6, the build quality at a 3, and "overall" around 5. Any comments from the mods?

    reviewed October 20th, 2005
  • Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM

    7 out of 10 points and recommended
    Bright, compact, moderate price, very sharp from f/2.0 down, aesthetically lovely results
    Deserves better build, noticeable A-CA wide-open, a bit flare-prone

    On this one, the DxO test results do jibe with my experience. Yes, it is noticeably "gauzy" wide-open, and especially strongly backlit subjects acquire a translucent kind of look; what looks like axial CA also tends to spill over high contrast edges. And yes, it's very sharp stopped-down. Wide-open, it's also somewhat prone to veiling flare; with big bright expanses in or just outside the frame, contrast drops pretty dramatically. This lens benefits greatly from a hood -- too bad it's not bundled.

    However, one thing that the tests don't catch is that the wide-open look isn't, actually, ugly. In my experience, it works rather well for portraits -- sort of like a very mild soft-focus effect, which smooths out little skin imperfections and such. For the other wide-open mission, available-light situational shooting, the performance is more than adequate.

    And yep, stopped-down it's impeccable; very very sharp with a very clean transition to out-of-focus. For sharp corners on full-frame, you need to go down to between f/5.6 and f/8.0; on APS-C, it gives an even frame at all apertures (and makes for a very nice portrait lens).

    Details aside, this lens has "it" optically, whatever "it" is. The results just look... nice. Sort of vaguely "retro." I like it a lot.

    The lens deserves better build, though. The micro USM AF motor with the slip-clutch hacked in to permit full-time manual feels rougher and "stepped" compared to ring USM motors. Overall the lens has a distinctly plasticky and down-market feel to it. I would expect better for the price (and the optics).

    I wish Canon made a really good f/1.4 normal -- with wide-open sharpness to L standards and build at least as good as on the 85/1.8 USM, but without the huge bulk and price tag usually associated with L's. But there you are, currently this is the best 50 Canon offers, and even though it's not exactly the brightest jewel in Canon's crown, it's a long shot from being a let-down. But it really ought to be a bigger step up than it is from the dirt cheap and shoddily-built but optically very respectable 50/1.8.

    reviewed October 20th, 2005
  • Canon EF 200mm f/2.8L II USM

    10 out of 10 points and recommended
    Optically awesome, built like a brick outhouse
    None that aren't inherent to what it is

    OK, I actually had the Mark I rather than the Mark II, but since the only difference between the two is the design of the hood (the Mark I had an integrated slip-on-slip-off hood while the Mark II has the regular reversible twist-on-twist-off design), I figure I could post my comments.

    First off, optically this is an awe-inspiring lens -- as good as equally sharp at all apertures, beautiful contrast and clarity, beautiful bokeh, literally no optical boogers worth mentioning. It'll even take a teleconverter without breaking a sweat. This, friends, is as good as it gets optically.

    The same goes for build -- it's very confidence-inspiring in feel, and focuses lightning-fast and accurately.

    Why did I sell mine, then? Because I didn't really have a use for this kind of beast. While much lighter than an f/2.8 telezoom, it's still a pretty big and bulky beast, and for telephoto were "zooming with your feet" is often not an option, it's a fairly limiting lens.

    But if your main interest is, for example, wildlife, I can't think of a better Canon lens for the mission -- when you need both the bright aperture for those dawn or dusk moments, and every gram in the backpack counts, you can't really do any better at this focal length.

    Another situation where I found the lens highly attractive was fashion-type shooting: you do need to back up a quite a bit, but the telephoto compression does good things to the features, the control over depth of field is great, and, of course, optically this one is the bee's knees.

    In a nutshell, an awesomely good lens... with a fairly limited range of potential applications. If one of those applications is your thang, it's a bit of a no-brainer. If it isn't, it's a dust-collector.

    reviewed October 20th, 2005
  • Canon EF 24mm f/2.8

    8 out of 10 points and recommended
    Very compact, nice enough optics, solid all-around performer
    Not very bright for a prime, not significantly better than many zooms

    (Comments based on tests and experience on the EOS-5D.)

    One Canon's "pocket primes," the 24/2.8 often falls through the cracks: not too many people seem to own one. I think the reason is the large variety of 24-something zooms, most of which are not much darker nor much pricier than the 24/2.8, and some of which are very good. And there's its big brother, the big, pricey, and two stops brighter 24/1.4L.

    Taken on its own terms, the 24/2.8 is a very nifty little lens, packing a quite an optical wallop for the small size. It's excellent wide-open, sharp in the center, with moderate light fall-off and corner softening. The corners get steadily better until f/8...f/11 or so, by which time the frame is very very good. It also has remarkably little distortion or CA.

    The lens is highly resistant to veiling, and moderately resistant to flare spots even in extreme circumstances like night cityscapes. The six-blade iris does give its signature to highlights, which you may or may not like.

    In use, it's a simple, reliable performer. The AF is on the noisy side, but quite quick; it's internal focusing too with all that implies. No fancy widgets like USM or such, build is solid but nothing special.

    I can highly recommend this lens for anyone looking for... well, this kind of lens. That is, a very compact 24 mm prime, for whatever reason. If you're just looking for a good 24 mm, you won't really gain much by picking this over, say, the 24-85/3.5-4.5 USM -- perhaps a bit of sharpness wide-open and a half-stop or so of brightness.

    In a nutshell, while being a very nice lens in its own right and having no glaring problems, it is bound to have something of a limited appeal simply for being what it is. But if you like what it is, go ahead and get one -- I don't think you'll be disappointed. And do get the rather nice petal hood Canon offers for it as well; it really makes a lot of difference.

    reviewed October 23rd, 2005
  • Canon EF 135mm f/2.8 Soft Focus

    10 out of 10 points and recommended
    Small, cheap, optically excellent, fast-focusing, funky soft-focus effect
    Dated build and feature set, hexagonal iris.

    The lens's main strengths are in the optics and the compact size and discreet appearance. Wide-open sharpness is very good in the center and good in the corners. Center sharpness improves to excellent at f/4 and peaks at f/5.6. Corner sharpness improves to excellent at f/5.6 and peaks at f/8. Flare resistance is excellent at all apertures. Bokeh is neutral, but improves to pleasing with even small amounts of soft-focus dialed in -- try 1 notch at f/4 or two notches at f/5.6. The soft-focus effect cannot be effectively duplicated in software; uncorrected spherical aberration behaves very differently from a gauze filter.

    Focus speed and precision are very good, and for an AFD lens it's not particularly noisy.

    The lens's biggest problem is the company it's in -- the 85/1.8 and 100/2.0 have comparable optical quality and roughly similar price, but are brighter and have more modern builds with ring USM; the 135/2.0L is a stop brighter and a hair sharper wide-open (although twice as big and three times as expensive).

    OTOH, if you want the unique mix of features this lens brings to the table, you're unlikely to be disappointed. It has no hidden flaws and one hidden strength -- namely, the options that subtle use of the soft-focus effect will give you.

    reviewed January 11th, 2007 (purchased for $295)