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Thursday, 29 December 2011

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

It was never my intention to purchase this lens originally, I was quite happy with my EF-S 55-250mm lens in all aspects apart from the focus in terms of both speed and accuracy which could be frustratingly unreliable for things such as airshows where you don't have the opportunity to have a few tries at a given subject. My plan was to buy the Canon 100-400mm to use for such occasions, the idea being that the autofocus is faster and works better in AI servo mode and of course the lens goes out to a much more powerful 400mm. So I would have the smaller, much more portable lens for carrying around and the larger professional lens for things such as airshows when using a tripod wouldn't be a hindrance, these two lenses in theory would cover all my autofocus needs comfortably!

It didn't work out quite that way though, primarily because it seems there are about two decent copies of the 100-400 in existence, I literally went through four copies of this lens before giving up and the best one I ever got was sharp at the bottom of the image and soft at the top, I think the quality control is appalling with these lenses, especially considering the price which I am not too proud to admit is the kind of money that takes me many years to save. When you're dealing with an amount of money that takes you that long to save you tend to get panicked and stressed easily when things go wrong and by copy number four I had endured just about all the stress I could take and gave up on the idea completely.

I was tempted by the Sigma 50-500mm OS but reviews seemed to give inconsistent opinions on sharpness and while the Sigma may be a bargain in the scheme of things I expect a lens to be sharp and to focus well when it costs upwards of £1000! There was also the Tamron 200-500mm but this was a similar story.

The only other option left was to make a sacrifice on the tele end so I narrowed it down to two options, any lens that ends at 300mm was going to be uncomfortably close to the 55-250mm so it would really need to offer the best image quality and thoroughly superior autofocus to be worth bothering with which narrowed it down to the new Tamron 70-300mm SP and the Canon 70-300mm L, I was reluctant to try the Canon because in some ways I would be paying the same as the 100-400mm would have cost for a lens that was essentially 50mm longer so I gave the Tamron a go but it just wasn't as good as I expected it to be, it was somewhat soft at 300mm so it really didn't seem to offer enough over the 55-250mm to be worth buying. Eventually I gave in and tried the Canon, it costs a colossal amount more than the 55-250mm and yet only gave 50mm more reach so it was a really tough decision to make and my fingers were firmly crossed that it would be worth it!

This lens divides opinion a lot and it isn't helped by the fact that the focal and aperture range have until now been very much associated with "consumer grade" lenses, nobody has ever attempted to make a top of the line professional something-300mm lens before but that doesn't necessarily have to be a bad thing, it is a very useful focal range and providing the image quality is exceptional then even carrying such a huge price tag this lens could be a very powerful and versatile tool.

Build quality, finish and operation:

All I can say is WOW! This lens is built like a tank yet isn't as heavy or as huge as it looks in photos. The finish is superb with the usual Canon L textured finish over an all metal body which is also weather sealed. Having spent so much I was obviously eager to feel that my purchase had been justified but this really is the most tightly assembled and smooth Canon lens I have handled so far and easily outclasses the 100-400mm.
The autofocus is of the ring USM type and is blazingly fast, silent and offers full time manual focus so is everything I could hope for, so far the price is being justified!
The Image stabilizer is also very impressive and is Canons latest version offering up to a 4 extra f stops if you have steady hands and probably at least 2 stops if you have hands like mine which offer about as much stability as a bowl of jelly, once more the lens puts in a first rate performance!

Image Quality:

The good news continues when it comes to image quality too, it starts off blisteringly sharp at 70mm and stays that way all the way to 300mm, there may be tiny reduction in sharpness at 300mm but it's still absolutely pin sharp and offers resolution that has never been seen on such a lens before, the contrast is also superb all the way out to 300mm, the lens gives sharp, bright, colourful and punchy images at all apertures and all focal lengths, I have never felt the need to stop the lens down at any time! The lens produces only a negligible amount of chromatic aberrations throughout the zoom range which really helps to make images look super sharp. Furthermore, the lens appears to display absolutely no longitudinal chromatic aberrations (known as bokeh CA or bokeh fringing) at any aperture/focal length.

To top things off the lens even delivers very smooth and attractive bokeh including out of focus highlight discs that remain round thanks to the 8 curved aperture blades and suffer from no outlining effect.

I'm sure you get the idea by now but this lens is just a phenomenal performer at all settings and is easily the best zoom lens I have ever used and also comfortably beats many prime lenses. There is frequent discussion on the internet including the forum where it has been confirmed that this lens is as sharp as the Canon 70-200mm F/4 where the lenses overlap, the 70-200mm f/4 is considered by many to be the sharpest zoom lens ever made which I think says it all!





Eye Contact



Coychurch Higher

Coychurch Higher


This lens is very expensive but it is absolutely fantastic in every aspect, the build quality is superb, the image quality is stunning and the focal range is versatile. While it may appear to be a consumer grade lens on steroids with a price to match the truth is that this is easily one of the finest zoom lenses Canon have ever made and I can say that without reservation! Yes it's expensive but it's sooooo worth it, this really is an exceptional lens in every way. The only thing that might make me give up this lens is the new version of the 100-400mm that is apparently waiting in the wings, it uses a conventional zoom action instead of the old fashioned push/pull "trombone" style mechanism and should be a far superior lens but it will have to be REALLY special for me to consider choosing it over the 70-300!

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Review: Fujian 35mm F/1.7 C-Mount CCTV Lens

This now famous lens is a very cheap and basic CCTV lens that can be bought for very little on ebay and with an adapter can be fitted to Micro 4/3 and Sony NEX cameras among others. It's unusual for a CCTV lens in that it casts an image large to cover the APS-C sensor in the Sony NEX although originally it was intended to work with much smaller sensors hence the "interesting" rendering around the edge of the frame.

The obvious appeal of this lens is a combination of the cheap price, the fast maximum aperture and the fact that even in a world where adapting manual focus lenses has become popular it's still something a bit different!

A modified version of this design is sold by SLR Magic and I once wrote a blog entry criticizing SLR Magic because like many I assumed the lens was simply plucked off the mass production line and sold at a huge mark up however after speaking to Andrew at SLR Magic it was explained to me that some changes are made to the lens both cosmetically and optically so whilst this lens and the SLR Magic version share the same ancestry the SLR Magic version is, in theory, a superior lens so the results of this review do not apply to the SLR Magic lens.

How this lens compares to the SLR Magic version in terms of image quality I do not know and some people claim to see no tangible difference but if you want to avoid the risks of poor quality control it might be a better choice as a "luxury" version and of course it also has a native mount fitted from the factory so you won't have to endure the hassle and even potential risks of buying an adapter. If this sounds appealing to you then I would suggest you buy the SLR Magic version. If, on the other hand you get a kick out of doing things as cheaply as possible you may be interested in buying the basic Fujian version!

Build quality and finish:

Well it starts off well in as much as the lens is made from metal but it's not very well finished and the rubber grips for the focus and aperture rings are terrible. The focus ring is somewhat gritty and the aperture ring tends to stick if you turn it hard against the internal stop. If this was an expensive lens I would be disappointed but it's not an expensive lens by a long shot and when the price is put into consideration it's not that bad, the finish is poor but it's a fairly solid lump of metal so I'm not going to be too hard on it!

Image Quality:

Interesting is the operative word with this lens, you are initially greeted with a tiny circle of sharpness in the centre of the frame that just refuses to grow no matter how much you close the aperture! The sharp part gets sharper on stopping down but does not increase across the frame! There's a very extreme case of field curvature going on which tricks some people into thinking the lens cannot be focused on objects towards the edges of the frame when it can, it's just that the field curvature is so bad that you simply cannot have the centre and edge of the frame in the same plane of focus no matter what! Even when taking a photo of a brick wall you cannot have uniform sharpness across the frame at any aperture, this is related to the fact that the lens was only designed to give a flat plane of focus on sensors much much smaller than those in digital cameras.

Does this mean it's a bad lens to use? Not at all! I have an absolute wail of a time using this lens, it's so fun and quirky and the images are full of character, the colours are very saturated, fringing is surprisingly low all things considered and the bokeh is actually quite smooth apart from highlights which can look busy but I like the look a lot, it works great with out of focus city lights etc. The lack of sharpness across the frame can often give the impression of a lens with an even faster aperture and make the depth of field look really paper thin! This is probably one of the cheapest lenses I own but might very well be the most fun to use! I thought I would get bored of the quirkiness eventually but I still enjoy taking the lens out for a spin, it just seems to get the creative juices flowing!

All the pros and cons apply equally to making video as they do taking still photos.


What this lens lacks in build quality and optical consistency it more than makes up for in terms of being fun and interesting to use, for the money it's an absolute blast and I can't help but recommend it! And if you want the same thing but with better quality then you know where you can get it!

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Latest Panasonic GH2 hack unlocks mind blowing ISO 12,800 Video!

Unless you've been living under a rock you'll no doubt be well aware of the fantastic work Vitaliy Kiselev has done unlocking features in both the Panasonic GH1 and GH2 and the latest version of his firmware for the GH2 has taken things one step further!

It was this article at EOSHD that bought the fact to my attention, the noise at iso 12,800 is obviously somewhat high but when combined with one of the high bitrate modes of the hack it is rendered like a fine film grain instead of being smudged by the high compression of the standard bitrate. The result while slightly gritty is very film like and amazingly attractive to watch, it also means that you can film under incredibly dark conditions!

The GH2 is a great camera on it's own but Vitaliy really turns it into something amazing, I never cease to be amazed at how far this little camera can be pushed! I can't imagine any of the expensive professional digital video cameras could give this kind of quality at ISO 12,800!

Just take a look at the amazing video! Credit to the talented Andrew Reid at EOSHD

Darkness Seeker from Andrew Reid on Vimeo.

Then Take a look at this video using the same hack by John Twigt shot in colour at ISO 10,000 with some mild noise reduction applied, it's iso 10,000!!!!!! Not 1000, 10,000!!! Amazing!

Gh2 Color footage 10.000 ASA ISO test from John Twigt @ on Vimeo.

Sony NEX-7 on Ebay, How much will it go for?

It looks like someone had the right idea for making a quick profit, an NEX-7 has shown up on ebay and only has a few hours to go now! The price is already over $2100!! How much will it finish for? I don't even want to guess, some people have a lot of money and not a lot of patience! Click here to view the auction! UPDATE: Found another one, also pricey! Click here.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Tamron 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 Di III VC for Sony NEX System Out Now?

It's good to see Tamron putting their support behind the Sony NEX system and whilst they have gone for what is obviously the most commercially safe lens they could have released it's still good to see a third party company offer an autofocus lens for the system.
Obviously this lens will suffer from optical compromises due to it's design but the new 18-270mm lens Tamron have out is very acceptable considering the huge zoom range so providing this lens is a new design and not a variant of the existing SLR version then there's potential for it to offer surprising image quality, if it can combine some of the technology of the 18-270mm in a slightly less ambitious design there's no reason why it couldn't offer acceptable performance and best the overpriced Sony 18-200mm.
There is speculation that the Sony branded 18-200mm is made by Tamron anyway so this lens should offer at least equal IQ and hopefully will be significantly less expensive!
It's also a nice touch that the lens is offered in both black and silver finishes, something you could quite easily do too Sony!
Apparently the lens is available from this weekend in Japan so I look forward to seeing how it goes down!

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Olympus announces the M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 EZ lens to mixed feelings


Today the financially uncomfortable Olympus announced an interesting weather sealed zoom lens that seems to be dividing opinion. The most interesting aspect is no doubt the weather sealing if only because it is now inevitable that a weather sealed body is somewhere on the horizon! Another interesting feature is the power zoom similar to what has been seen on Panasonic's "X" range of lenses, this is a very welcome feature or those who shoot video as the zooming should be very smooth. From reading the press blurb it also seems this feature can be deactivated and that full manual control of the zoom ring can be activated, if this is true it's good news! In keeping with the traditional abuse of the term, the lens is advertised as having "macro" functionality and with a maximum reproduction ratio of 0.72X it can hold it's head pretty high among the "macro lenses that aren't really macro" crowd! The final feature I like the sound of is what Olympus refer to as the L-Fn (Lens Function) button, this temporarily disables auto focus which is great for preventing the camera hunting for focus if the subject is momentarily blocked by a person or obstacle moving through the frame whilst recording video!

There is some bad news and it's somewhat significant, the maximum aperture at the tele end is somewhat pathetic! This isn't going to be a particularly cheap lens and I can't really think of any reason why it couldn't have been at least f/5.6! This is not only going to result in slower shutter speeds but also diminish the ability to use shallow depth of field to isolate the subject from it's surroundings which is a shame because on paper at least this lens gets so many other things right.

Overall the pros (Good zoom range with a very wide starting point, weather sealing, power zoom, non rotating front element and good "macro" performance) outweigh the cons (sloooow aperture at 100mm)

As long as the image quality is high then it could become a popular lens even with the F/6.3 curse. It could go either way at this point, we'll have to wait till the reviews are in!

It looks like the lens will be out in January and will cost $499.99 so expect a suitably exchange rate ignorant conversion into your native currency soon!

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Review: Samyang 18-28mm F/4-4.5


So, I'm sure some of you have seen this lens before, it was manufactured by Samyang and released under many different names, off the top of my head I can think of Phoenix, Vivitar, Sirius, Falcon, Cambron and in the case of the lens in this review, Centon!

This lens sparked some interest at the time of it's release because it was uncommon to find such a wide lens at an affordable price, and almost unheard of to find a zoom this wide at an affordable price. The lens has what I would consider a mixed reputation but I will be open minded because this lens was and still is an affordable option among manual focus lenses.

Samyang 18-28mm F/4-4.5

Samyang 18-28mm F/4-4.5

Samyang 18-28mm F/4-4.5

Samyang 18-28mm F/4-4.5


Build quality and finish:

This lens is pretty well put together, it's all metal and the finish isn't too bad although the inner lens tube suffers from a very slight wobble which brings the perception of quality down slightly. I would say for the money it's a pretty well made lens, in summary perhaps quality parts loosely assembled would be the best way to describe it. The lens has a72mm filter thread even though the front element is relatively small, this sudden trumpet like extension at the end of the lens basically form a built in hood which is a wise move on the lens designers part as you will discover in the next section!

Image Quality:

I only really tested this lens stopped down because even wide open the aperture is useless for any kind of shallow DOF effect and for landscape work there's no reason not to stop a lens down for optimum sharpness so my findings are based on using the lens between f/5.6 and f/8.

The good news is that the lens really delivers in the colour department, it's not often that the standard set of adjustments I apply to every image have to be tamed back but it was certainly the case with this lens, the colours are very vivid and appealing.

The sharpness of this lens is also respectable, both on micro 4/3 and APS-C sensors there is decent sharpness quite far into the edges as long is the lens is stepped down, I had heard this lens suffers from very poor edge performance but it honestly wasn't bad in my experience, this suggests that the lens only really shows it's flaws in this regard when used on a full frame camera.

Contrast was generally pretty good although it was effected by the flare resistance which can be pretty poor, if the sun or other light source is close to the frame but still outside then the resulting loss of contrast can be bought back with processing but if a strong light source is inside the frame you sometimes get an unsightly flare that can be time consuming if not impossible to remove. It doesn't always happen but when it does it's a real pain and can make attempting some shots pretty much impossible. It doesn't help matters that the flare itself is unattractive, it's not bold or even interesting to look at but rather indistinct and blotchy so it can't even be used as a creative effect, at least not in my experience.

The biggest problem with this lens which has an effect at all times is the distortion, it is severe especially at the widest setting and can be quite tricky to correct fully, this is the biggest weakness of the lens and can make landscape work quite difficult, especially when man made structures are involved.

Cardiff Bay

Cardiff Bay

Cardiff Bay

Lightship 2000 @ Cardiff Bay

Lightship 2000 @ Cardiff Bay

Lightship 2000 @ Cardiff Bay

Lightship 2000 @ Cardiff Bay

Interesting cloud!

Cardiff Bay

Cardiff Bay


Overall I think the lens puts in a decent performance when cost is factored in, the distortion is bad and flare can be a problem but the sharpness is decent and the colours are absolutely fantastic. It's by no means a high quality lens but for the price it costs there's little to compete with it in the manual focus arena. If you have a digital camera and already own a kit lens then I would probably avoid this lens as it would probably be a downgrade in some areas but if you're a manual focus nut or don't already own a kit lens then it's a cheap way to get wide!