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  Reviews by: Pennington  

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

Review Date: Jan 5, 2010 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $540.00 | Rating: 9 

Pros: excellent optical quality, IS, small & light, focal range
a little short for most wildlife, slower aperture range

This is a hidden gem in the Canon lineup, a standard EF lens with the performance of L-series glass. Compared to the other 70-300mm lenses, both Canon's and the third party, this one is vastly better. The optical quality is excellent and combined with the IS system, makes for great images.

I bought mine to use for bird & wildlife photography, and while 300mm is sometimes a bit short, it has let me get some great shots that would have been well out of range of my previous 70-200mm lens. Even at 300mm, shutter speeds around 1/60 are possible with the IS and a steady hand.

I've since bought an even longer telephoto zoom lens, but I'm really thinking about keeping this one for the times when I don't want to carry a monster lens around with me. The 70-300mm is relatively small and lightweight, which is really nice on longer hikes.

If you're looking for a 70-300mm lens, or a good “small” telephoto, this is the best one for the money.

Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM

Review Date: Jan 5, 2010 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $780.00 | Rating: 8 

Pros: light weight, wide range, constant f/4, price
no IS

I bought the 17-40L after a lot of research. I'd used other wide-angle lenses in the past, but hadn't ever been truly happy with any of them, either for their limited range or the distortions at the wide end. I needed a lens to use for both my own landscape work, and for weddings/editorial gigs.

This is my first L-series lens and I have to admit, it does feel good. The build is excellent, it feels solid on the camera on in use. Coupled with the 7D, the weather sealing makes me more comfortable in certain conditions. I find the focal range on this lens to be ideal for the work I do, and the relatively fast aperture comes in handy. For under $800 is was a great buy.

Optically it's solid – sharp photos, nice color and contrast. Being an L lens, I'm surprised that it's not the sharpest lens I've ever owned, but it's still very good.

The only thing I wish it had is Canon's IS system, although I realize that would make it a heavier, and much more expensive, lens. There are times, when shooting at sunrise, that the IS would be really nice – but throw it on a tripod and it works just fine.

Canon EF 50mm f/1.8

Review Date: Jan 5, 2010 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $150.00 | Rating: 9 

Pros: very small & light, metal mount, sharp, fast
cheap build, focus hunts

Having owned both this and the later Mk II version, the Mk I is definitely the better lens. I was able to hunt one down that was still in it's box, virtually unused since it was manufactured in 1987. It's an amazing little lens and really a lot of fun to work with.

The image quality is good wide open at f/1.8, but improves noticeably at f/2.8, and even more so by f/5.6, at which point it can be almost uncomfortably sharp. I grab mine for portraits and party/event shots, especially when I know the light is going to be low, and I am unable or just don't want to setup strobes. I try to keep it at f/2.2, but if I have to drop down to 1.8, at least I know it's there. Matched with the 7D's good high ISOs, there's almost nowhere I can't shoot with it.

50mm is a little long on an APS-C sensor; at parties, for instance, you need either a big room, or have to accept isolating several people instead of an entire group. I sometimes find myself wanting a wider angle, but that's not the fault of the lens – just of the photographer.

Unfortunately, it doesn't feel very solid or integral. I'm often afraid that a good jolt or two could do it in, at which point I'd be stuck trying to find another one. They do appear in the used market, but the price can go much higher than the Mk II version – a testament to just how good the original is.

I'm really more of a zoom guy, but this is a lens that makes shooting with primes fun, and I'm not about to part with it.