My Gear: The White Lady: Canon EF 70-200 mm f/2.8 L USM

Canon EF 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 L USM on the Canon 760D

While looking for a zoom lens with a wide-open aperture for portraits and other occasions, where the combination of a long focal length with the capability to gather lots of light is useful, I rented and tested the Sigma A 50-100 mm ƒ/1.8 lens the end of last year. It rendered a fantastic image quality, but nevertheless, I wanted to try out one of the “classic” 70-200 mm lenses for comparison.

I now had the opportunity to do this after a photographer friend of my sold one of his lenses – used but in perfect condition. So I snatched at the offer and was recently able to gather some experiences.

CANON EF 70-200 mm ƒ/2.8 L USM

This is the original design of the lens without image stabilization. Canon has been producing it continuously since 1995. Currently (August 2017), it sells new for about 1,200 Euros; used copies can be obtained for 600-800 Euros. In the meantime, Canon has released two successors for this lens, both with image stabilization. While the first one had some weaknesses regarding image quality, the current EF 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 L IS ii USM is generally accepted as the benchmark for this class of lenses. Alternatives are offered by Sigma and Tamron; in particular the new Tamron SP 70-200 mm ƒ/2.8 Di VC USD G2 has raised a lot of attention.

All of these lenses are designed to be used on full-frame cameras, where they unfold their full potential. This also means that they are quite large and heavy. The compact body of my 760D looked a bit lost as it held on to the lens mount…

EQUIPMENT

Since the 1970s, Canon uses the ‘L’ designation for lenses that apply special techniques in their optics to ensure low distortion, great sharpness, and high color fidelity. Since then, the ‘L’ has become synonymous with high-class professional lenses. An outstanding characteristic is the white body of the lenses with longer focal ranges. As these are intended primarily for sports and wildlife photography, hence for outdoor use, the white color is intended to reduce the heating up of the lens in direct sunlight.

Designed for rough everyday use, the lens is built in a very robust manner. The body is made entirely from metal, which results in a total weight of 3 lbs., but gives it a very solid look and feel. However, the original design is not weatherproof. At this size, an adjustable solid lens mount is a given.

There are two switches: one for the auto-focus, even though the lens does have full-time manual override, and another switch to limit the focus range. It can be set to either 1.5 m – ∞ or 3 m – ∞. I always kept this switch on the first setting.

Canon 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 L with lens pouch
Canon EF 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 L USM with lens pouch

The appearance of the lens is completed by the deep lens hood that is typical for long focal lengths. It also comes with a padded lens pouch that has a belt loop as well as a shoulder strap. The lens is definitely too heavy to be carried on your belt. But with the lens pouch, it can be safely carried in a backpack.

USE AND RESULTS

A 70-200 mm with an aperture of ƒ/2.8 is the classic lens for photographing at parties and events. The zoom provides the necessary flexibility to capture people in changing distances. At the same time, the wide aperture allows you to separate the subject from the background. If you own a full-frame camera and take pictures at such occasions on a regular basis, there’s basically no way around getting this type of lens.

It never bothered me that this lens has no image stabilization. This feature would reduce the risk of getting blurry images from camera shake when using slower shutter speeds. When photographing people, however, especially at festivities where they laugh and talk and mill about, the main challenge is motion blur. Thus, you will have to use a rather fast shutter speed anyway. Personally, I try to not get below 1/100; at rare occasions I use 1/60. And still most of the images I discarded, I deleted due to motion blur, because some was shaking their head or waving a hand.

While using this lens on my APS-C camera, I quickly realized some disadvantages as well. Due to the 1.6 crop factor, the 70 mm at the short end renders the same field of view as 11o mm on a full-frame body. In a closed room, this makes it very difficult to get far enough away from your subject to fit it into the frame as intended. In addition, the smaller sensor means that even when shooting wide open at ƒ/2.8, the background will not get blurred as much as when capturing the same image with a full-frame camera. So, there are significant drawbacks on the two main selling points of this lens.

COMAPRISON WITH THE SIGMA 50-100 mm ƒ/1.8

For a direct comparison of Canon’s 70-200 mm ƒ/2.8 L full-frame lens with Sigma’s 50-100 mm ƒ/1.8 Art, which is designed specifically for APS-C camera, I once again had the chance to borrow from my wife’s treasure chest. The tailor’s dummy with the girl’s dress was about 13 ft. away from the camera, and the shrubbery in the background another 22 ft. behind that. All pictures were taken with the Canon 760D mounted on a tripod; the images below all show the full frame.

The two series of images below were taken at the focal lengths supported by both lenses: 70 mm and 100 mm. I have a picture each at ƒ/2.8, and then another one with the Sigma at ƒ/1.8. As to be expected, the images from both lenses with the same settings are almost identical. The image taken at ƒ/1.8, on the other hand, shows a much blurrier background, thanks to the wider aperture of the Sigma lens.

Vergleich Sigma 50-100 mm und Canon 70-200 mm bei 70 mm
Comparison Sigma 50-100 mm and Canon 70-200 mm at 70 mm

 

Vergleich Sigma 50-100 mm und Canon 70-200 mm bei 100 mm
Comparison Sigma 50-100 mm and Canon 70-200 mm at 100 mm

Finally, for comparison, images taken at the focal lengths supported by only of the lenses: 50 mm and 200 mm respectively. The difference is significant, in particular at 200 mm. With an APS-C camera, this focal length can be used in a meaningful way only outdoors, or in really large venues. This is why I prefer the focal range covered by the Sigma. The 50 mm at the short end equals 80 mm on a full-frame body, which enables taking great images even at short distances, such as inside a restaurant for instance.  For me, this is the primary use case. In addition, the wider aperture also offers a better low-light performance.

Vergleich Sigma 50-100 mm bei 50 mm und Sigma 70-200 mm bei 200 mm
Comparison Sigma 50-100 mm at 50 mm and Sigma 70-200 mm at 200 mm

ALTERNATIVES

Since the 70-200 mm ƒ/2.8 is an absolute classic for event photographers, it is offered by all well-known brands. For Canon cameras, there are the two name-brand lenses (the “L USM” without, and the “L IS ii USM” with image stabilization), as well as the alternatives offered by Tamron (“SP Di VC USD G2”) and Sigma (“EX DG OS HSM”). The Sigma is the least expensive of the four, but according to reviews of the internet, it can no longer keep up with the other lenses. The same goes for the older Tamron lens, the predecessor of the current “G2” model.

If you’re interested in such a lens, then it will basically become a decision between the Canon “L IS ii” and the Tamron “G2”. The latter one costs new as much as the first one does used. Regarding image quality, there is basically no difference to the naked eye, however, the Tamron lens is accused of focus breathing. This means that the effective focal length is reduced when focusing at short distances, which affects the appearance of the image. There is a lot of discussion about this on the internet; if you’re interested in the details, I recommend watching the videos by Dustin Abbott on the matter. Judging by its original price, the Tamron offers more value for money if having the full 200 mm at close range is not mandatory for you.


CONCLUSION

Recommendation: I recently made the decision to stay with APS-C, for various reasons. Consequently, I just sold the 70-200 again, and got the Sigma 50-100 ƒ/1.8 instead, which I had tested before. It offers a focal range that is much more practical for me, as well as better low-light performance.

If you own a full-frame camera, or if you prefer the longer focal range, then the old Canon “L USM” model without image stabilization will prove itself to be a robust and powerful companion. The lens is very resilient; hence I recommend looking for a used copy in good condition for a reasonable price.

What I’ve learnt: Just because everyone says, “this lens is a must-have”, or “because every pro has one”, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right lens for me. I am very happy that I had the chance to thoroughly test both lenses myself over a long period of time. This way, I was able to take a reasoned decision which lens fits my photography style best.

If you’re struggling with a similar decision, I strongly recommend renting your candidate lens for a week or two and take it to the test. This will be much more worthwhile than reading the 23rd review on the internet. Of course, renting a lens will cost a few bucks, but it will cost much less than what you lose by buying a lens, realizing it’s not the one for you, and then selling it again.


LINKS

Picture Credits: All pictures – own images.


EXAMPLE IMAGES:

Only a few this time – I primarily used this lens on events, and thus would have needed the approval of all pictured persons for each image before publishing it.

Hmmm, yummy - puddle!

 

Shards bring Good Fortune (German Saying)

 

Who's got my treats?

My Gear: Accessories by Peak Design

Canon 760D with "Anchor Links" and hand strap "Clutch" by Peak Design

I travel quite a lot with my camera – I take it with me on vacation of course, on trips, and to events. I want to have it on hand when I need it, but the rest of the time, it should disturb me as little as possible. What bothered me the most in that respect is the original camera strap. I found it impractical for many reasons.

It comes with every DSLR: the strap that needs to be fiddled through the two eyes on either side at the top of the camera body, and that turns everyone into a walking advertisement for the camera manufacturer. With it, you can carry the camera like a neck pouch, where it dangles from side to side with every step, unless you hold it the entire time (which kind of makes the strap a moot point). Or you carry it over your shoulder – but due to the strap being fixed to the top of the camera body, the lens will point outward, which makes it very easy to hit something with. And there are even more occasions when the strap is interfering more than it helps, for instance when using the camera on a tripod. And last but not least, the way the standard straps are fixed to the camera is too circumstantial to quickly attach and remove it again. Long story short, I never use it.

Of course, there are a lot of alternative straps available which allow for carrying the camera in a more practical way. However, many of them are fixed to the tripod socket of the camera, which makes it immediately evident why this is impractical: if you want to put the camera on a tripod, you’ll have to mess around with the fixtures. I was certain that there must be a better solution. And indeed, I found one that works perfectly for me. Thus, I will present you the accessories I use to carry camera and lenses with me when I’m out and about.

PEAK DESIGN

Disclaimer: this post has in no way been sponsored or promoted in any way by Peak Design. I came across their products in early 2016 through a crowdfunding campaign. After ordering the first pieces, the accessories quickly won me over. They are well thought out and made with high quality. Hence, over time, I have added more of their offerings to my equipment.

FIXTURES: “ANCHOR LINK” AND “PLATE”

The core design element of the Peak Design accessories are the “Anchor Link” fixtures. Those are robust plates about the size of a “Connect Four” token with an attached loop. They can be easily threaded through the eyes at the top of the camera body. For the underside of the camera, special tripod plates with holes around the rim are available, which allow for up to four Anchor Links to be attached. Peak Design’s straps have matching quick-connectors, so you can attach and remove them single-handed with just a click.

An der Stativplatte "Pro Plate" können bis zu vier "Anchor Links" befestigt werden
The tripod plate “Pro Plate” allows to attach up to four “Anchor Links” – enough for hand strap and shoulder strap

The tripod plates are Arca Swiss compatible and designed so that they fit into many common tripods, such as my small Rollei “Compact Traveller”, even with Anchor Links attached. Thus, the tripod plate can stay permanently attached to the camera.

STRAPS: “SLIDE”, “LEASH” AND “CLUTCH”

Of course, I want to carry my camera on a strap around the neck or over my shoulder from time to time – just without the disadvantages listed above. The big strap from Peak Design is called “Slide”. It features quick-connectors that match the Anchor Links on the camera, so attaching or removing it is a matter of seconds. My favored way of carrying the camera is as follows: I hook one end of the strap to the eye on the top right of the camera body, and the other end to the tripod plate at the bottom side. When I carry it over my shoulder this way, the lens points down, instead of out. With a single movement, I have it at the ready without having to twist my hand or change my grip on the camera. In addition, “Slide” is padded comfortably, has an anti-glide coating on one side, and can be adjusted in length with a single hand by sliding the handle – hence the name.

Peak Design "Sling" used as a shoulder strap
Peak Design “Sling” used as a shoulder strap – the camera is readily at hand; the lens points down. You can clearly see the quick connectors, in which the Anchor Links click into place

The strap is very pleasant to use, but due to the padding, it takes up a lot of space in the bag when not needed. If space is critical, there is a smaller alternative, called “Leash”. It’s made from seatbelt-style fabric and will easily fit into your trouser pocket. Of course, you can use it as a shoulder or neck strap, but it’s much more versatile than that. An Anchor Link can be attached to the adjustment handle in the middle of the “Leash”, which allows you to securely loop it around your belt or backpack strap. This way, it serves as a safety tether, so you don’t have to worry about dropping your camera when taking pictures from a bridge and getting bumped into. It also makes it a lot more difficult for anyone who might want to quickly grab your camera and run when you don’t pay attention for a moment.

Peak Design "Capture Clip" with "Pro Pad". In addition, the camera is tethered to the belt with a "Leash".
Peak Design “Capture Clip” with “Pro Pad”. In addition, the camera is tethered to the belt with a “Leash”.

Most of the time, however, I do not use the camera with a strap, but with the hand strap “Clutch”. This allows you to safely hold, and comfortably carry, the camera with a single hand. The hand strap is permanently attached to my camera, without ever being in the way. It’s big enough to be easily used on my Canon 760D even with the additional battery grip attached.

CLIPS: “CAPTURE” AND “PRO PAD”

As mentioned before, I want to have my camera readily available when I’m travelling, but I also don’t want it to get in my way when I’m not using it. This includes not suddenly sliding around and hitting something when I bend down, which can easily happen when carrying the camera on a shoulder strap. I have seen rather expensive lenses not surviving such an accident.

The belt clip “Capture” turned out to be the ideal solution for me, especially in combination with the additional padding called “Pro Pad”. Fixed to the belt on the right hip, the camera with affixed tripod plate can be slid and locked into the clip single-handedly. And it is just as easy to release again. This frees up your hands when you’re not photographing, and the camera also doesn’t get in the way if you’re carrying a backpack as well. Of course, the belt clip can also be attached to the shoulder strap of a backpack or messenger bag. I find this a very comfortable solution for carrying the camera for a stroll through town as well as for a hiking tour.

Peak Design "Capture Clip" and "Pro Pad" hold the Canon 760D at the ready. In addition, the hand strap "Clutch" is attached to the camera
Peak Design “Capture Clip” and “Pro Pad” hold the Canon 760D at the ready. In addition, the hand strap “Clutch” is attached to the camera

The locking mechanism of the clip is very reliable. If you still have concerns: the release button can be locked by turning it 90 degrees. This avoids any accidental (or “unauthorized”) release of the camera. If you want to go for double bottom, then you can tether your camera to your belt with the “Leash” in addition. I do this when carrying the camera through rough terrain (where I really don’t want to drop it), or for instance in Paris, where there unfortunately are countless pickpockets. This way, nobody can simply grab the camera out of my hands.

FOR LENSES: “CAPTURE LENS” AND “RANGE POUCH”

So now I have the camera safe and readily available. Depending on the occasion, I also want to have more than one lens at hand. Many events and exhibitions, however, do not allow for backpacks or larger bags to be taken on the venue. In June, I visited the Miniature Wonderland in Hamburg again. I wanted to have wide-angle lens for landscape shots, and a telephoto or macro lens for details. But the bag had to stay in the locker.

This was a good opportunity to use “Capture Lens” mount for lenses. This can also be fixed to the belt using a “Capture” clip. It is basically made up of two opposing lens mounts and a pivot mechanism. Attaching and releasing lenses works in the same way as on the camera body. You hold the camera in your right hand, and detach the current lens with your left hand. Then you attach it to the free mount on the “Capture Lens”, and turn it around 180 degrees. Now you can remove the other lens and connect it to your camera. I manage the entire lens changing procedure, from the last photo with the previous lens to the first photo with the new lens, in less than 10 seconds. This also spares you any risky maneuver with pinching a lens under an arm or hunkering down in the middle of a crowd, where a jostle can quickly become very expensive.

Peak Design "Capture Lens" with the Canon EF-S 55-250mm
Peak Design “Capture Lens” with the Canon EF-S 55-250mm. The red button on the mount unlocks the lens

There is one disadvantage worth mentioning, though: when you carry a lens on the left-hand side, and the camera on the right-hand side on your belt, this has a distinct “Wild West” look and feel to it. I’ve heard several “let’s meet in front of the Saloon at high noon” jokes at my expense because of this. On the plus side, I did not miss several good photos because I had the right lens at hand in time.

Another, less ostentatious solution is the “Range Pouch” lens bag, which is available in three sizes. I have the medium one, which suitable for all my lenses (except the 70-200). The bag is weatherproof and well-padded. You can carry it either by using the belt loop on its backside, or you use the pre-mounted Anchor Links to attach a “Slide” or “Leash” as shoulder strap. Of course, the “Range Pouch” can carry not only lenses, but all kinds of other useful stuff as well.

Peak Design "Range Pouch"
Peak Design “Range Pouch”, shown with the Sigma A 18-35 mm ƒ/1.8
Peak Design "Range Pouch"
Peak Design “Range Pouch” with reat belt loop and Anchor Links

BAGS

Peak Design also offers a variety of bags: a backpack, a tote bag, a small shoulder bag, and a messenger bag. I don’t own any of these because I already had good bags for carrying my laptop or my camera with accessories before I came across Peak Design.

 


CONCLUSION

Recommendation: I highly recommend the well though-out and high-quality accessories by Peak Design. Hand strap, belt clip and the quickly removable straps have made it much easier for me to take along my camera for trips and events. If you think about getting any of the items introduced above, also have a look at the offered bundle deals.

What I’ve learned: There’s a solution to every problem, including carrying your camera. Well-made accessories aren’t cheap, but for me, they are worth their price – if you invest larger sums into your camera and lenses, a good strap should cost more than 20 bucks. Especially considering that I expect the accessories to last longer than the camera.


LINKS

Picture Credits: All pictures – own images.

My Gear: The long arm of the sensor: Tamron 70-300 mm f/4-5.6

Tamron SP 70-300mm ƒ/4-5.6 Di VC USD on the Canon 760D

When I considered what lenses to get for my then-new Canon 760D, it was clear from the beginning that I wanted to have a telephoto zoom lens as well. I am using longer focal lengths only occasionally, but still have effective use for them every now and them. As a result, good value for money was key for me. After some research, two lenses made it on my shortlist: the Canon EF-S 55-250 mm ƒ/4-5.6 IS STM, which I will talk about more in the ‘alternatives’ section below, and the Tamron, which I am going to introduce now.

TAMRON SP 70-300 mm ƒ/4-5.6 DI VC USD

The concurrent conclusion of many of the reviews on the internet was, that there is almost no difference between the two aforementioned lenses in terms of image quality. Thus, the longer focal range of the Tamron was the deciding factor for me at the time. After all, my “always-on” lens already covers the range up to 70 mm, so the Tamron perfectly falls into line. 300 mm on a Canon APS-C Camera render the same field of view as 480 mm on a full-frame camera. That takes you a long way, literally. Which also justifies the higher price compared to the Canon 55-250. If bought new, the Tamron currently (April 2017) costs around 300 Euros. I bought it used on eBay, in very good condition, for 180 Euros. At the recent CP+ trade fair in Yokohama, Tamron presented a successor to this lens, with slight improvements for the auto-focus system and the image stabilizer. However, it is not clear yet when, and for what price, the new lens will be available.

Tamron SP 70-300mm ƒ/4-5.6 Di VC USD
Tamron SP 70-300 mm ƒ/4-5.6 Di VC USD

EQUIPMENT

The lens’ features are characterized by the three abbreviations at the end of its full designation: ‘Di VC USD’. ‘Di’ indicates that this is a lens for full-frame cameras. Of course, it will fit on a smaller APS-C camera as well. But the point is: it’s huge! In particular, with the lens hood attached and zoomed in all the way to 300 mm, it reaches an impressive size. That also means it will take up a lot of space in your camera bag, and you will think twice whether you’ll take it along on every trip. The large lens hood, as well as the lens caps for the front and back are supplied with the lens.

‘VC’ stands for Vibration Control, which is Tamron’s brand name for its image stabilizer. On the 70-300, it renders quite impressive results, at least for still photos. I mostly shoot hand-held, and even at 300 mm, only a few images turn out blurry from camera shake. I never recorded any videos with this lens; the reviews say the image stabilizer tends to twitch and jump when filming hand-held, though.

Finally, ‘USD’ is short for ‘Ultrasonic Silent Drive’ and describes the type of auto-focus system used. It works sufficiently fast and it is extremely silent. In general, the auto-focus of the Tamron 70-300 works very well together with my Canon 760D. Only at 300 mm does it hunt back and forth occasionally.

The lens has two switches: one for the VC and one for the auto-focus. The lens features full-time manual focus, which means that even when the AF is activated, you can still manually adjust the focus. There is no focus range limiter as on the Tamon 90 mm ƒ/2.8 Macro, but then with the 70-300, the minimum focusing distance is 5 ft. The large zoom ring is very good to handle, but also tight enough so that the lens does not extend on its own when carried upside down, even with the lens hood attached.

USE AND RESULTS

I primarily use the lens to photograph far-away subjects.  With a minimum focusing distance of about 5 ft., the lens does not really lend itself to taking close-up pictures. There are some exceptions, however, as can be seen in the example images below. For portraits, I prefer lenses with a much wider maximum aperture, such as the 90 mm ƒ/2.8 or the 50 mm ƒ/1.8.

Be that as it may, capturing far-away subjects is what the Tamron excels at. Obviously, on a zoom lens that covers such a wide focal range, there will always have to be some compromises in the optics. At least at this price point – there is a reason why the professional lenses in this category cost seven to eight times as much. Hence it is not much of a surprise that the image, in particular at 300 mm on an APS-C sensor, is not razor sharp. On the other hand, the Tamron handles chromatic aberration – the green and purple fringes on contrasting edges – really well. The little that can be seen can be easily corrected in post-processing.

Long story short: I’ve always been very happy with the image quality.

Here’s a small extreme test to give you an impression of the lens’ performance. Below are two pictures taken during last year’s vacation in the Alps near Salzburg, Austria. They show the view from a mountain cottage to the summit of the Hochstaufen, which is a bit more than four miles away. The first image shows the entire mountain, taken in the evening at 90 mm:

Alpenglow: Hochstaufen illuminated by the setting sun
Alpenglow: Hochstaufen illuminated by the setting sun

The next morning, I wanted to see what the Tamron is capable of. Here’s the full image, taken from the same spot, as seen with the lens at 300 mm on an APS-C sensor:

The Hochstaufen summit from a distance of about 4.2 miles - Full picture at 300mm
The Hochstaufen summit from a distance of about 4.2 miles – Full picture at 300mm

The 760D has a 24-megapixel sensor, so the resulting images files have a dimension of 6,000 x 4,000 pixels. I zoomed in to 100% and then cut out the center of the frame around the summit cross. The cross is about 14 ft. tall. If there had been climbers at the summit when I took the picture, you would have clearly seen them. You can clearly see the golden ornament on the cross. There is a close-up image of the summit cross on Klaus Isbaner’s homepage for comparison.

The Hochstaufen summit from a distance of about 4.2 miles - 100% crop from the center of the frame
The Hochstaufen summit from a distance of about 4.2 miles – 100% crop from the center of the frame

I probably could have gotten a sharper image on a sunny day (with a faster shutter speed) and using a tripod. But then, who has perfect conditions whenever taking a photo? This way, I think the images give a representative impression of the lens’ performance. There are more “every day” example images below, at the end of this post.

ALTERNATIVES

As mentioned initially, the main competitor to the Tamron 70-300 mm, at least when using a Canon camera with an APS-C sensor, is the Canon EF-S 55-250 mm IS STM. Since it is designed specifically for these smaller cameras, it is built more compact. For comparison: the Tamron measures (diameter x length) 3.2″ x 5.6″ and weighs 27 oz. The Canon comes in at 2.7″ x 4.3″ and half the weight: 13.2 oz. While the difference in outer dimension doesn’t read impressive, it does make a significant difference in practice. The Canon costs around 180 Euros new; the Tamron around 300 Euros (April 2017). Concerning image quality, both lenses are on par.

In the meantime, I have decided to go for one of the classic 70-200 mm lenses with a constant aperture of ƒ/2.8. The wider aperture offers much more leeway in difficult lighting conditions (at dusk or indoors), for faster shutter speeds when taking action photos, or to blur out the background in portraits. There are several lenses available in this category, but there is one thing they all have in common: they are significantly larger and heavier than even the Tamron. A 70-200 ƒ/2.8 certainly is no lens to always take along wherever you go; I will only pack it for specific purposes. Which makes it important to have a small, light-weight alternative to carry on trips. Hence, I will switch my “everyday telephoto lens” from the Tamron to the Canon. What is a telephoto lens good for if you don’t pack it because it’s too bulky?


CONCLUSION

Recommendation: For its price, the Tamron offers great picture quality and a powerful image stabilizer. If you own an APS-C as well as a full-frame camera, or want to switch in the not too distant future, then the Tamron is the perfect all-round lens for you, and you will definitely have a great time with it! If you’re shooting exclusively with APS-C, and those last 50 mm of focal range are not absolutely mandatory for the type of photography you do, then I recommend the Canon EF-S 55-250 mm ƒ/4-5.6 IS STM for its smaller dimensions and lower price. Both lenses offer similar performance.

What I’ve learned: Personal standards change over time – hence the aspired upgrade to the 70-200 mm ƒ/2.8. I’ve also come to realize that the Tamron, due to its size, is a bit unwieldy – it barely fits into my camera bag. Thus, for the first time now, I will sell one of my lenses again. Nonetheless, I don’t want to miss a telephoto zoom lens in my equipment.


LINKS

Picture Credits: All pictures – own images.


EXAMPLE IMAGES:

Puppy in Action
Puppy in Action – shot from further away, the dog has plenty of space to fool around. The grass nicely shows the depth of field.

 

Short break from playing
Short break from playing – the longer focal lengths lend themselves very well to portraits. The dog was sitting directly at the edge of the field, thus the background is not completely blurred.

The following example images are taken from the post “In Focus: Changing the Perspective“:

Apple Blossoms in the Morning Sun
Apple Blossoms in the Morning Sun. Focal length and aperture help to emphasize the blossoms in the foreground, while the blurred blossoms in the back show it’s just one branch of a blooming tree.

 

Japanese Maple in Fall
Japanese Maple in Fall. Again, the telephoto lens at 300mm and aperture f/5.6 help to pull in the details while at the same time blurring the trees in the background into an even yellow backdrop.

 

Cherry Blossoms
Cherry Blossoms. With the telephoto lens at 300mm, you can get quite close to your neighbor’s cherry tree. At an aperture of F/5.6, the trees in the background get blurred enough to no longer distract.

My Gear: Make the little things count: Tamron 90mm f/2.8 Macro

Tamron SP 90mm ƒ/2.8 Macro Di VC on the Canon 760D

Did you know that a butterfly’s eyes are dotted? It was surprising to me to see that on one of my own pictures. Macros – or close-up images in general – have always been fascinating me, because they allow you to take your time and see details that are usually overlooked.

Even for my old compact cameras I had some screw-on close-up lenses to take pictures of flowers, for instance. Considering my skill level and equipment at the time, the results were not very impressive, though. When I started to get deeper into photography in the fall of 2015, I quickly came across several video tutorials focused on macro photography. There many different technical approaches to doing this; e.g. the so-called “extension tubes”, which are mounted between the lens and the camera body, or retro-adapters, which allow you to mount the lens the other way around to your camera. These are widely used and inexpensive ways to get started.

However, I wanted to get seriously into this from the very start, so I immediately started looking for a dedicated macro lens. A review on a German YouTube channel brought the Tamron to my attention, and I was lucky to get a good deal on it by buying it used on eBay.

TAMRON SP 90mm ƒ/2.8 MACRO DI VC

Tamron SP 90mm ƒ/2.8 Macro Di VC
Tamron SP 90mm ƒ/2.8 Macro Di VC

One thing to consider is the fact that macro lenses aren’t just good for close-ups. They typically offer superior image sharpness, and with an aperture of ƒ/2.8 they also lend themselves well to making portraits. The model of the Tamron I have (F004) is currently (Feb. 2017) available for around 350 to 400 Euros on either eBay or Amazon. Since 2016, its successor (model F017) is available. The new model has a redesigned, more modern exterior, and according to internet reviews also some improved optics. However, the price point for it is between 650 and 700 Euros. From a value for money perspective, the old model is unbeatable in my mind, and has proven itself very well.

EQUIPMENT

Size and weight of the lens are in the mid-range. The lens alone weighs around 600g (1.3lb), and together with my 760D it’s around 1.200g (2.6lb). So it can be easily carried around, and, if necessary as described below, held in one hand. It comes with caps for the front and back, as well as a lens hood. The autofocus is relatively quick, and its range can be limited to different settings: 0.3-0.5m, 0.5m-∞, and full range. Thus, you can avoid the camera going through the full focus range when “hunting” for insects, which will save you precious seconds. Of course, the lens also has an image stabilizer – Vibration Control (VC) as Tamron calls it – which renders good results. You’ll have to keep in mind, though, that when working in close range, different rules apply for avoiding camera shake.

USE AND RESULTS

There are many different ways to perform macro photography. There is one thing however that you will always need: lots of light. When shooting close, especially when hand-holding the camera, the shutter speed should be as fast as possible to avoid camera shake. This close to the camera, the image stabilizer is of limited use – even at 1/100 of a second it’s not all that unusual to have some blurry images. When the sun is out, I grab my camera and the lens and go outside, looking for motivation. This is how I found the ice crystals, and the maple seed covered in white frost, in the example pictures below. While the bright sunlight around noon is shunned by landscape and portrait photographers due to harsh shadows and strong contrasts it causes, this is exactly what makes it ideal for macro photography because it emphasizes all the fine details.

If there isn’t enough sun, I use a flash in addition – either a dedicated macro flash that mounts to the front of the lens, or a regular flashgun which I hold in my left hand and then aim for the subject of my motivation as needed. I use wireless remotes, or a cable, to fire the flash. Handling the flashgun is a bit circumstantial, especially because it means having to hold and operate the camera with one hand as well, but it provides more freedom for setting the light. I took the photos of the butterfly and the bumble bee using this approach.

Of course the “hunt” for moving targets such as insects demands a lot of patience. The little beasts are faster than you think, as you will notice when you wish for one to just once sit still for a second. On a single weekend, I took about 500 pictures at our lavender bush – in the end, I kept ten.

Finally, you can set up your camera and flash around a table and position your object of interest in front of the lens. I fixed the dandelion in a small vase and then photographed it piece by piece. Close up, the depth of field is very shallow, so it’s impossible to get the entire blossom sharp from front to back in a single exposure. Hence I took several images, focusing on different areas of the dandelion – front, center, back – and then afterwards combined them in Photoshop to a single sharp image (“focus stacking”).

Looking for the tiny things, or tinkering with focus stacking, is a lot of fun for me, and the results are astonishing over and over again. The fantastic image quality the Tamron renders contributes to this as well.

ACCESSORIES

Over the course of the last year, I picked up a variety of accessories for macro photography; a macro ring-flash, a camera slider for the tripod, a cable for the flash and an additional close-up adapter. I will write more about those in future posts – in particular since now that spring is coming up, the number of interesting motivations quickly increases again.


CONCLUSION

Recommendation: I can highly recommend the Tamron to anyone taking a serious interest in macro photography. The old model (Foo4) renders very good results and provides unbeatable value for money.

What I’ve learned: Macro photography is great fun! No matter whether you’re outside, on the hunt for flowers, insects, and other details, or if you take your motivations back home and then carefully set them up – seeing all the fine details afterwards enlarged on your screen is amazing. And this is how I learned that a butterfly’s eyes are dotted.


LINKS

Picture Credits: All pictures – own images.


EXAMPLE IMAGES:

Dandelion - Composite of nine images by focus stacking
Dandelion – Composite of nine images by focus stacking

 

Butterfly on a lavender bloom
Butterfly on a lavender bloom

 

Bumblebee on a lavender bloom
Bumblebee on a lavender bloom

 

Maple seed with white frost in the morning sun
Maple seed with white frost in the morning sun

 

Ice crystal on a car roof on a frosty January morning
Ice crystal on a car roof on a frosty January morning

My Gear: Refresh – SSD in a MacBook Pro

Mission accomplished: the SSD in its new place

For nearly six years, my MacBook Pro model “Late 2011” has proven itself as a reliable companion whenever and wherever I’m traveling. When I bought it, I consciously made the decision to go for a – for that time – loaded configuration. On the one hand side, I wanted to be able to run demanding software, and on the other hand, I wanted to have a hardware that would remain up to its task for many years. So far, this strategy turned out well. My main computer is a mid-2010 iMac, which will still be good for some time. It was certainly more expensive than a PC when I bought it, but I’m still happy with it, while many of my friends or colleagues are on their second or third PC over the same period of time. So over their lifetime, both the iMac as well as the MacBook Pro have been well worth the initial investment.

However, in one respect the MacBook Pro has considerably lost its punch, and that is performance. This applies in particular to starting the laptop up, as well as launching bigger programs. Once an application runs, there is no reason for complaints. In talking with friends, it was soon clear that the old hard drive was the bottleneck. This assumption is supported by the observation that my iMac, even though being more than a year older, still is a lot quicker – but then it had a SSD built in from the start, which holds the operating system and applications.

THE CONVERSION: HDD OUT, SSD IN

The advantages of a SSD compared to a classic hard drive are obvious: it grants a significant boost in performance, while at the same time using a lot less power. Also, SSDs have now become very affordable. Currently (Feb. 2017), the Samsung EVO 750/850 as well as the SanDisk Ultra II come highly recommended. I have chosen the latter, with a capacity of 960 GB, to replace my old 1 TB hard drive.

The conversion of an older MacBook Pro like mine fortunately is very easy. After saving all relevant data – for instance by means of an up-to-date TimeMachine backup – the laptop is switched off and turned upside down. After removing the ten screws with a small  Phillips head screwdriver, the lid can be taken off.

Everything ready for the upgrade: SSD, MacBook Pro, Tools
Everything ready for the upgrade: SSD, MacBook Pro, Tools

On my 15″ model, those are seven short and three longer screws. In case you forget which screws goes where: don’t worry about it. When putting it back together, simply start with the long screws, as they will fit only into the proper holes.

After taking off the bottom plate, the interior becomes visible
After taking off the bottom plate, the interior becomes visible. The hard drive is in the bottom left corner.

After six years of intense use, quite an amount of dirt had gathered inside the casing. I cleaned it out carefully before proceeding. Then I went to removing the old hard drive. It’s held in place by an easily removable bracket fixed with two Phillips head screws. Once that is out, the hard drive can simply be taken out, and the combined plug for the power and SATA connections can be pulled off.

Removing the old Hard Drive
After removing the bracket that holds the hard drive in place, it can be removed and the cable can be unplugged.

The next step is a bit fiddly: The hard drive is mounted on four screws that fit into rubber fasteners inside the laptop casing. These four screws need to be transferred to the new SSD now. This requires a small Torx (TX) 6 screwdriver as well as a considerable amount of patience.

SSD ready to be mounted
The new SSD ready to be mounted. Switching the the four screws from the old hard drive that hold it in the rubber mounts of the housing was the most fiddly task of the entire upgrade.

The assembly is then done quickly and in exact reverse order: the combined power/SATA plug is securely plugged into the SSD. Then it is placed into its rubber mounts and the holding bracket is screwed back into place. Last but not least, the lid is closed and secured – done!

As the old hard drive certainly was no miracle performance-wise, but still in good overall shape, I quickly put it into an external USB housing. After thoroughly deleting its contents, it is free for future use.

In the meantime, the old hard drive moves into an external USB casing
In the meantime, the old hard drive moves into an external USB casing

The last remaining step was freshly installing macOS Sierra on the MacBook Pro. By means of flash drive that I had converted into an installation media beforehand, this was quickly accomplished as well. Including installation of all relevant application, the whole conversion was done well inside of one afternoon.

All that remains is reinstalling the software
All that remains is reinstalling the software.

CONCLUSION

Recommendation: In particular for the owners of older laptops with a classic hard drive, the conversion to a SSD is very worthwhile. Good and sufficiently large models have become very affordable by now. On an older MacBook Pro such as mine, the modification is quick and easy. In particular when starting the computer up, the gain in performance becomes evident: while it used to take several minutes to boot and log on until it was ready to actually do something, it now boots in about 20 seconds. Logging on takes about another half minute and then I’m good to go. All in all, this afternoon was well invested!

What I’ve learned: Formerly, when I worked (and played 🙂 ) with PCs, tuning and rebuilding them was more or less a daily task. Hence, switching the hard drive was no challenge. SSDs have overcome their teething problems and are an established media now. It did surprise me that even models with large capacities no longer cost an arm and a leg. I am confident that my MacBook Pro, primed like this, will be a trusted companion for several years to come.


LINKS

Picture Credits: All pictures – own images.

YouTube Recommendation: Christopher Frost

Christopher Frost Photography

When I started looking for additional lenses for my 760D, the YouTube channel by Christopher Frost was among the first I subscribed to. Chris is an enthused photographer living in Cardiff and currently training to be become a vicar. He characterizes himself as a “lens enthusiast” and continuously publishes detailed reviews.

I’ve come to appreciate these reviews a lot. Chris follows a thorough and consistent scheme, so that his reviews can be easily compared to each other. From time to time, he takes advantage of that himself and combines several reviews into a “battle” – for instance, ten different 50mm prime lenses, or eight ultra wide-angle ones. Hence, it not only becomes evident how one particular lens behaves under various settings or on different cameras, but you can also easily compare lenses to each other.

He assesses the following points:

  • Look & feel, build quality, and equipment
  • Image quality (sharpness, contrast, chromatic aberrations) – on a full-frame as well as an APS-C camera, as far as applicable, at different apertures, and (for zoom lenses) at different focal lengths.
  • Distortion and vignetting
  • Close-up image quality
  • Behavior against bright lights
  • Bokeh

When it comes to lenses, he tests about everything that can be mounted to a Canon DSLR; in particular off-brand ones. Thus, he created more than a 130 videos by now. Recently, he obtained a mirrorless camera, so that lenses made specifically for DSLMs are now being reviewed as well.

The videos are made in a very likeable way. In addition to the always-similar test images, they always contain some example images as well as personal experiences when using the lens. He’s enthusiastic about what he’s doing, but he doesn’t overdo it. The videos have a very convenient duration of five to ten minutes each. His British English can be easily understood. Based on his reviews, for instance, I have decided to go with the Tamrom SP 70-300mm ƒ4-5,6 Di VC as my telephoto zoom lens.

PLAYLIST RECOMMENDATIONS

In addition, Chris has some other playlists mostly focused on music, TV shows, and his engagement at Church.


CONCLUSION

Recommendation: If you’re looking for well-made, substantiated, and informative reviews on lenses for Canon cameras, then Chris’ YouTube channel comes highly recommended!

What I’ve learned: Due to the comparability of the reviews, I have learned how significantly different lenses can behave concerning sharpness and color-fringing at different aperture settings and focal lengths, and also how big the differences can be when using one and the same lens on full-frame body or an APS-C camera.


LINKS

Title image: YouTube Screenshot

My Gear: Vast Spaces – Tokina 11-20mm f/2.8 DX

Tokina AT-X Pro SD 11-20mm ƒ/2,8 DX on the Canon 760D

The main reason for me to get a new camera in the fall of 2015 was the unique opportunity to photograph the Milky Way in the mountains on the edge of the desert in New Mexico (USA). This also meant: I needed a lens suitable for astro-photography. From research on the Internet, I quickly learned two essential criteria:

  • widest possible angle, to catch plenty of sky
  • widest possible aperture, to gather enough light

For APS-C cameras such as my 760D, “ultra wide-angle” means a focal length between 10 and 20mm.  A wide variety of lenses from different manufacturers are available in this range. Most of these have a variable aperture, from ƒ/3.5 or even ƒ4.5 to ƒ/5.6, which means they do not let in a lot of light. But then there is one lens with a quite unique setup.

TOKINA AT-X Pro SD 11-20mm ƒ/2,8 (IF) DX

Tokina AT-X Pro SD 11-20mm ƒ/2,8 DX
Tokina AT-X Pro SD 11-20mm ƒ/2,8 DX

The Tokina has a constant wide aperture of ƒ/2.8 and thus lets in a lot more light (about two to four times as much) than the other lenses in this focal range. With a price tag of around 600 € (Jan. 2017), it is also the most expensive lens, though – aside from Canon’s professional lenses such as the 14mm ƒ/2.8 for around 2,000 €. If you want to capture the night sky and hence need the wide aperture, the Tokina is well worth the investment.

BUILD QUALITY

A wide aperture always means a lot of glass, hence the lens is big and heavy. Together with the camera however, it balances well in your hands. It feels solid, and even though the casing is made from plastic, it doesn’t feel too “cheap”. The focus switch, however, is subject to critique: the lens has a push-pull mechanism, i.e. you move the focus ring back and forth to switch between manual and autofocus, as can be seen by the respective markings on the image above. Most of the time this won’t work without wiggling and you’ll inadvertently shift the focus point. Aside from that, the autofocus is reliable, and the manual focus is smooth and precise. The lens doesn’t provide image stabilization, but at such short focal lengths, this is not really needed in my opinion. The lens comes with front and back caps as well as a lens hood. Due to the wide angle of view, the hood is short, but has a very large diameter. This means it doesn’t fit into most pouches along with the lens but needs to be stored separately.  Because of its size and weight, I don’t take the Tokina with me whenever I go out, but pack it only when needed.

USE AND RESULTS

I use the lens on a regular basis now. Of course I use it for capturing the night sky, as can be seen in the examples below. There are other uses as well – it also lends itself to taking pictures in confined interior spaces, in particular with atmospheric lighting. For instance, the picture of the steam engine cab, which was illuminated just by a simple lamp, would not have been possible with a longer focal length because of the limited space. It is also great for landscapes, such as a sunrise at the beach. These uses technically do not require the ƒ/2.8 aperture, but it still offers the advantage of reaching a sharp image throughout the frame earlier than other lenses when stopping down.

The example images below have all been taken at the short end – i.e. at 11mm – because that is what I bought the lens for. Even though I do have alternative lenses for the long end with the Sigma C 17-70mm, or the Sigma A 18-35mm, the Tokina’s zoom range up to 20mm offers the flexibility to snap a “regular” wide-angle shot in between without having to change lenses.

I am quite happy with the image sharpness the lens renders. It’s always sharp in the middle; the corners of the frame however are perceptibly softer at ƒ/2.8. This can be seen in the shot of the Milky Way below, by comparing the sizes of the stars in the center of the image to those in the corners. This behavior is typical for all ultra wide-angle lenses, and stays within acceptable bounds for me. When you stop down, the image gets sharp from end to end at ƒ/5.6 at the latest. If you close the aperture even further to ƒ/11, you’ll get beautiful sun stars. However, when shooting into the light, the lens will create very prominent lens flares. They can look stylish, but often they are not desired.


CONCLUSION

Recommendation: If you want to photograph at night, to take pictures in moderately lit confined interior spaces, the Tokina is definitely worth the investment. It is solid, reliable and renders good image quality. It’s not flawless, however, and the recommendation is primarily based on its unique feature, the constant wide aperture of ƒ/2.8.

If you don’t need such a fast lens, I highly recommend the Canon EF-S 10-18mm ƒ/4.5-5.6 (Link to Amazon). It is considerably smaller, lighter, and most of all a lot less expensive (Jan. 2017: 230 €) than the Tokina. It also renders sharp images, but it lets in a lot less light – only a quarter of the amount compared to the Tokina – so you’ll be tied to brighter scenes, slower shutter speeds or higher ISO setting.

What I’ve learned: Taking pictures with an ultra wide-angle lens is a lot of fun – in particular because you can get a lot into your image even in a small space, or capture vast landscapes with just a single shot. This however poses the challenge of finding something interesting for the foreground, otherwise it’s easy to get lost in the scene because everything is pushed back – something I’m still working on. In particular with the Tokina, I have discovered the joy of astro-photography – even though that’s not an easy task considering the amount of light pollution in the area I live in.


LINKS

Picture Credits: All pictures – own images.


EXAMPLE IMAGES:

Sunrise on St. Simon's Island
Sunrise on St. Simon’s Island

 

Fire Basket on the Terrace
Fire basket on the terrace

 

Driver's cab of a steam engine (HDR)
Driver’s cab of a freight-train steam engine (HDR)

 

Milky Way over Albuquerque
Milky Way over Albuquerque

 

Mountain cottage in a full-moon night
Mountain cottage in a full-moon night

Rented and tested: Sigma A 50-100mm f/1.8

Sigma A 50-100mm ƒ/1.8 on the Canon 760D

One remaining gap in my equipment list is a high-quality tele-zoom lens – in particular one that can capture portraits with a nice blurry background (bokeh). I already have two prime lenses that can be used in this way: the “nifty fifty” Canon 50mm ƒ/1.8 and the Tamron SP 90mm ƒ/2.8 Di VC Macro. But for situations like events, where people are moving around, I prefer the flexibility of a zoom lens.

Two types of lenses come into mind: first, the “classic” 70-200mm ƒ/2.8, which is available from Canon, Sigma and Tamron in various different styles. Second, the rather new Sigma 50-100mm ƒ/1.8, which is designed specifically for APS-C Cameras like my Rebel T6s. All these lenses have one thing in common: they are in a price range where you no longer buy one “on a hunch”. Of course there are numerous test reports and reviews online. But there is only one way to find out which glass fits my personal photography  style: try it out.

SO TEST THEREFORE, WHO JOIN FOREVER

Only a few of you will be so lucky to have a photographer friend who will happily lend such a lens for some time. Fortunately, there are now quite a number of suppliers who offer to rent photo equipment – not only lenses, but also cameras or entire flash and lighting equipment. I have used such a service twice now, and have had very good experiences doing so.

ZOOMYRENTALS

The company I use is ZoomyRentals.de. They are in Berlin, Germany, and offer a wide variety of camera, lenses and accessories by and for Canon, Sony, and Nikon. They ship only inside Germany of course, but wherever you are – search for “rent camera lens” online, and I am sure you will find a provider in your area. The steps described below will most likely be the same. Here is how it works:

  • You register
  • When ordering for the very first time, you have to upload a copy of your ID to your user profile for verification. Your name and address have to be clearly visible.
  • You select the desired equipment
  • You choose the starting date and the term of lease – this can be from 3 days to 4 weeks.
  • There you go!

I highly recommend signing up for the option insurance that is offered with each order. With expensive equipment, it is better to go safe than sorry.

SHIPPING

A DHL messenger does the delivery. You will receive your equipment on the morning of the first day of the lease, and a messenger will pick it up again on the morning of the last day. This is very reliable; delivery and pickup will be acknowledged with a signature, so you are on the safe side. Most of all, the package won’t accidentally end up on your porch or at a neighbor who might not be there when you need it.

Gut verpackt: Sigma A 50-100mm ƒ/1.8 fertig zum Versand
Carefully packed: Sigma A 50-100mm ƒ/1.8 ready for shipping

All lenses come with front and back caps, lens hood, protection filter, and a pouch. This all will be safely packed between thick layers of foamed material. The box also contains the delivery slip as well as the return-shipping label.

Now you’re ready to go: you can use the rented equipment whichever way you want as long as you have it. Careful handling of all items is a matter of course.

SIGMA A 50-100mm ƒ/1.8

In December 2016, I rented the “big brother” of my Sigma A 18-35mm ƒ/1.8 for one week. I had friends visiting me during that time, and I also attended a festivity, so there were many opportunities to test the lens.

LOOK & FEEL

The lens immediately draws attention: It is big. And it is heavy. Holding the camera leisurely with one hand quickly becomes an athletic challenge; certainly not a lens to carry with you at all times, but only for specific occasions. If you set this in relation to its price tag of around (Dec. 2016) 1,000 €, you’ll quickly realize that this investment had to be thought through thoroughly. There’s a reason for the weight, though: A focal length of 100mm and an aperture of 1.8, as well as the zoom, require a lot of glass. In addition, the lens is made from sturdy metal and manufactured to high standards.

I liked the handling of the zoom as well as the focus ring very much. All in all, the finish, which is similar to my 18-35mm, is very convincing. Also, I didn’t mind the tripod collar, which is criticized in many online reviews, when handling the lens.

Sigma A 50-100mm ƒ/1.8
Big, heavy, high quality: Sigma A 50-100mm ƒ/1.8

CONFIGURATION & OPERATION DOMAIN

This lens serves but one purpose: the creation of professional-looking portraits with beautiful soft backgrounds with an APS-C camera. The constant aperture of ƒ/1.8 is its unique feature. The zoom range is rather limited – just 2x, compared to almost 3x on the classic 70-200. However, especially when taking pictures at an indoor event, I quite liked the zoom range. The extra 20mm at the shorter end definitely are an advantage in this case, and at the long end, you can make up for a lot of the missing focal length by cropping the image. Thanks to the fantastic sharpness this lens renders, this is no problem at all.

One point you will definitely notice is that this lens lacks image stabilization. In a room with lights dimmed for a festive mood, even using an aperture of ƒ/1.8 and ISO 800, I ended up with shutter speeds between 1/60 and 1/10 of a second. Even when seeking support on a table or armrest, this makes it difficult to avoid camera shake – especially at 100mm. I could have increased the ISO, but with my Rebel T6s I don’t like to go above 800 when I don’t absolutely have to. The resulting image noise at higher ISO settings becomes too intrusive in my mind.

Consequently, I will definitely also try one of the 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 lenses with image stabilization. Even though the shutter speed will become even slower due to the aperture being one and a third stops smaller, the risk for camera shake blurring the image will still become significantly smaller. I will see how this actually turns out in practice.

RELIABILITY & IMAGE QUALITY

The Sigma Art zoom lenses with an aperture of ƒ/1.8 – the 18-35mm as well as the 50-100mm – are famous for their rather ambiguous relationship to autofocus. It seems to depend on the individual lens whether the autofocus works reliably in phase detection mode (through the optical viewfinder) or not. The copy of the 50-100mm I had was exemplary: on every picture I took, the focus was on the spot. With my 18-35mm on the other hand, this is a matter of luck. On about one third of the images, the focus misses completely. Online test reports confirm the impression that this behavior depends on the particular lens; the conclusions for both lenses in this respect range from “hopeless” to “no problems at all”.

The back-up solution is to use the camera’s live view, because the contrast detection autofocus will always work – though slower (if you want to know why this is the case, watch this lecture). If you’re patient enough, you can also focus manually. When taking shots on a tripod, I prefer this option anyway.

The image quality is simply brilliant. Even when shooting wide open, the images are amazingly sharp throughout the frame, with just a touch of softness in the corners. And they have to be, because apertures below 2.8 are this lenses specialty. The blurred backgrounds are nice and soft; only occasionally the bokeh becomes busy when there are lots of little lights in the background. When you stop down, the lens produces beautiful stars around light sources. The images I made, indoors and outdoors, people and cityscapes, consistently enthused me. The image quality is definitely a very strong argument in favor of the Sigma A 50-100mm ƒ/1.8.

Sigma A 100-150mm ƒ/1.8 - Beispiel 1

Sigma A 100-150mm ƒ/1.8 - Example 2


CONCLUSION

Recommendation: The Sigma A 50-100mm ƒ/1.8 occupies are small niche: making professional portraits with an APS-C camera. It occupies this niche very well, though. The outstanding image quality was what excited me the most. The look and feel match the high value. Working with it was definitely very enjoyable!

Given the appropriate occasion, I will definitely try one of the 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 lenses with image stabilization for comparison. Based on the experiences gained with both lenses, I will then make my decision. You will read about that here as well.

What I’ve learned: Renting a lens for a week is the perfect way to test it thoroughly and gain an impression whether it fits your imagination and expectations. I will certainly use this option in the future again.

And: it is a lot of fun working with a professional lens like this! The week of testing however also proved the lens’ limitations. As beautiful as the images are, the 50-100’s wide aperture isn’t everything. Before taking a decision, I definitely want to compare, hence renting the lens for a week was the absolute right thing to do.


LINKS

Picture Credits: All pictures – own images.

My Gear: The “Always-on” – Sigma C 17-70mm f/2.8-4

Sigma C 17-70mm ƒ/2.8-4.0

After I had chosen my new camera, the next question obviously was which lenses to get for it. This time, I had deliberately bought the camera body without the kit lens that usually comes with it, the Canon EF-S 18-55mm ƒ/3.5-5.6. I wanted something with a bit more “punch”.

KIT LENS ALTERNATIVES

Canon themselves offer the Canon EF-S 17-55mm ƒ/2.8 as an upgrade to the kit lens. It lets in two thirds more light at the short end, and even four times as much light at the long end! The downside is, it costs around 750,- € (Nov. 2016). Fortunately, there are “off-brand” lenses available as well. This resulted in the following short-list:

  1. Sigma 17-50 mm ƒ/2.8
  2. Tamron 17-50mm ƒ/2.8
  3. Sigma 17-70 mm ƒ/2.8-4.0

The main similarities and differences can be quickly summarized:

  • No. 1 and 2 both have a 3x zoom, and a constant maximum aperture of ƒ/2.8. Both have a price tag of around 300,- € (Nov. 2016)
  • No. 3 has a 4x zoom, but a variable aperture with “only” ƒ/4.0 at the long end. It costs around 400,- € (Nov. 2016)

After studying numerous reviews, I dropped the Tamron from the list. The reviews consistently stressed that the Sigma lenses to have better image and build quality. So the remaining question was: what do I consider to be more important – longer focal distance or wider aperture? 17-70mm or constant ƒ/2.8?

In the end, I decided for the 17-70. I preferred the greater flexibility given by the extra 20mm.

SIGMA C 17-70mm ƒ/2,8-4,0 DC MACRO OS HSM

Sigma C 17-70mm ƒ/2.8-4.0
Sigma C 17-70mm ƒ/2.8-4.0

The Sigma plays a major role in the fact that photography has become so much fun for me with the new camera. Not only because it lets in much more light, making it easier to take good pictures indoors or at night – image sharpness and colour rendering have enthused me as well. As a result, it has truly become the “always-on”. Its external values are also convincing. I consider the used materials and the build quality to be very good. It comes complete with lens cap and lens hood – something Canon likes to charge extra for. Though it adds to the kit lens in terms of size and weight, it handles very well together with the camera.

Regarding taking pictures: The autofocus works very reliable on my 760D, as does the image stabiliser. This makes for good hand-held images even in difficult lighting conditions. It is not a true macro lens  – but an image scale of 1:2.8 still allows for some impressive close-ups. And thanks to the wide aperture, pictures with nice out-of-focus backgrounds (bokeh) are feasible as well.

ARE THERE ANY DOWNSIDES?

Yes, based on my experience from the past year, there are a few points to consider. What I notice the most: the zoom is very easy-going. When carrying the camera with the lens pointing down, on a belt clip or shoulder strap, the lens extends to 70mm by itself, due to its own weight (including the lens hood). This can be a bit awkward, because it becomes more likely to hit something. Plus you’ll have to adjust the zoom most of the times when picking up the camera again.

When recording video, as long as you do not use an external microphone well away from the camera, quiet clicking and chattering from the image stabilisation and autofocus will be audible. I rarely record videos, so that doesn’t bother me too much.

The images themselves offer hardly any reason for critique. The light vignetting (darkening of corners) when shooting wide open can easily be fixed in post-processing with just a few mouse clicks. In Adobe Lightroom, for instance, simply choosing the correct lens profile already does the trick. Chromatic aberrations – green and purple fringing on contrasting edges – are negligible.


CONCLUSION

Recommendation: If you are looking at an upgrade from the kit lens, I can highly recommend the Sigma C 17-70mm ƒ/2.8-4.0! It is very versatile, reliable, and renders compelling results. Even more so when taking into account that the “original” from Canon costs twice as much – but in my mind, it’s not worth the extra money.

The sister lens, Sigma 17-50mm ƒ/2.8, is worth having a look at as well – especially when you’re taking videos on a regular basis, where a constant aperture is more important. Two of my friends have it, on a Canon 350D and a Nikon D7100 respectively, and they are happy with that choice as well.

What I’ve learned: The thorough research before getting the new lens was absolutely worthwhile. In particular: when you are looking for a new lens, have a look at the third-party manufacturers as well: Samyang, Sigma, Tamrom, Tokina etc. In terms of quality as well as value for money they offer some very interesting alternatives.


LINKS:

Picture Credits: All pictures – own images.


EXAMPLE IMAGES:

Fall Colors
Fall Colors
Portrait of a Snail
Portrait of a Snail
Frankfurt - Night Skyline (HDR)
Frankfurt – Night Skyline (HDR)
December Sunrise
December Sunrise
The Forge (HDR)
The Forge (HDR)
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