on June 18, 2010
First impression: I was expecting this lens to be heavy because of all the whining about how heavy it is. It's not heavy. It's not even close to heavy. What's heavy is this lens, with a 5d-II body, a battery grip, a 580-EX and a light sphere. And a second 5D-Mark II body with all that, plus a 70-200 2.8. That's heavy.
If you are not prepared to do whatever it takes to get the best image possible, perhaps you should rent this lens first and see what you think of it's weight. If you're a pro, you know that pro level equipment is heavy because it is done right, and you're used to dealing with that fact in the quest for image quality.
I'd like to address another point I see in the previous reviews. If you are a hobbyist or an amateur who is only thinking about buying this lens because you can afford it... don't complain when you can't use it with your on camera flash. It's not designed for use with an on camera flash. It's a professional lens, and professionals rarely if ever use an on camera flash. Why? Besides being sorely underpowered, an on camera flash is too close to the lens and gives horrid lighting and shadows. So if you get this lens, expect that you'll be either using available light, or a real flash.
Okay, on to my review.
Well, it's surprisingly light for all the complaining I read about it being heavy. I'm not a very big guy, either.
It feels solid, but don't equate that with "heavy". Focus ring and zoom ring are very smooth on mine, but the 24-28mm range seems a bit more resistant. I am finding that it's confusing to me which ring is which after using the 28-135 for so long because the focus ring is where the zoom ring used to be, and the zoom ring is significantly smaller. Now the zoom ring is close to the camera and smaller, and it's slightly awkward to zoom. I used to be able to hold the camera body with my right hand and hold the lens with my left, and zoom from this position. Now I cannot zoom from a lens holding position (beneath the lens) and must switch to an overhand position to zoom, which defeats the support and puts added stress on my right wrist and forearm. I'm sure I'll get used to it, but that's probably going to smart once I start shooing weddings again.
Indoors, I was getting shots I simply could not believe using my standard wedding photography settings - not because it was so sharp (more on that in a bit) but because these settings produced EXACTLY what I saw with my own eyes, in camera, regardless of light. I mean EXACTLY... even when I was shooting a window in a dark room. Even when I was shooting in the dark room with nothing bright in the scene. I was stunned, because usually I have to constantly fiddle with the exposure compensation to get this result. Somehow, this lens paired with this camera body seems to be more intelligent with regards to this consideration. It does require some fiddling occasionally, but a standard -2/3rds compensation seems to work wonders indoors with no flash -- perhaps it's just that this lens isn't struggling, as my 28-135 used to.
It quickly became apparent that I have a sharp copy because even magnified as much as my camera can magnify, the results are noticeably sharper than my best day with the 28-135. I can count blades of grass across the street, see power lines in the distance that escape my eyes, differentiate the stones in a wall a mile and a quarter away, and read the labels of small bottles across the room, by ambient light.
Testing showed that this lens resolves such fine detail that ISO really affects the sharpness of the results. I'm shooting at 2.8/ISO 2000 in this dim room, and it's bringing the IQ down to about the level of my 28-135. However, when I use my 580-EX II with a light sphere attached, I can see the pores on people's faces clearly in the resulting images shot from several feet away. Individual eyebrow hairs are also clearly present and separated from each other.
Out in the garden, shooting in overcast conditions, I set my camera to 1/80th, Tv, auto-ISO and a -1 exposure compensation. The resulting images are so vibrant that I can't believe my eyes. Saturation, contrast and color accuracy are insane. It chose an aperture of f/4, though, which didn't give me much DOF to work with... but wow. I then turned my attention to a car a block over, and was able to read 4/6ths of the license plate letters in the magnified image. I could not even see the license plate with my naked eyes (and with glasses, I have 20/20 vision)!
I spent many years wishing I could afford an L lens. Now that I have one, I have absolutely no regrets spending that kind of money on this lens. If I didn't want the best, I'd have bought something else. Now I can rest assured that any mistakes are mine, and not the camera or the lens. It's going be good for keeping me on my toes.
Auto focus is very fast and very accurate, nearly instant but not necessarily dead-on. What I mean by that is, it jumps to the focus point and then makes one minor adjustment. This all takes about a fifth of a second in most lighting conditions. Focus is very accurate as far as I can tell so far. It managed to find focus in about half a second in a room that was darker than I have ever been able to focus in by ambient light, on a dark subject. I'm impressed!
Image stabilization: It would be nice, but I'm not missing it. I only used it on my 28-135 when the lens was unable to keep up with lighting conditions, an I don't see myself having too much trouble with that. I shot some portraits by ambient light in a dimly lit restaurant and was doing spot on exposure at f/3.2, 1/80, ISO 2000-3200. Not the largest DOF, and not the least possible noise, but the shots are quite usable. It seems that this will allow me to work in most situations without having to use a flash, as long as I am careful about the plane of focus and the DOF.
So far, I am very impressed overall, and I can feel myself falling in love. The real test will come when I have more time to hammer this baby and see what she's really capable of, and when I have had some time to do that, I'll update my review here.
So far: 4.9 out of 5 stars. (I'm finding the zoom ring placement isn't quite as easily accessed as I would like right now.)
I am now noticing a recurring theme to my night time photographic outings. I can get the shot, usually hand held, and my uncle has trouble even on a tripod. He shoots Nikon, but the killer is that he's using mid range lenses that are 3.5-5.6. I'm using 2.8 constant. For instance, last night we went to shoot a train and a bridge at night. Both using tripods, both shooting at 3200 ISO, both using 1/40th of a second shutter speed and both using full manual. I got usable shots (slight motion blur), and he didn't. It's all about that 2.8.
I was shooting at a rest stop on the Interstate with him the other day, shooting semis, and I was getting clear shots (no motion blur) at an incredible 1/13th of a second hand held (!) at 24 to 50 mm, while he was struggling to get the shot on a tripod. Still having a hard time believing that!
So far, there has been no reason at all to take this thing off my camera. The 16-35 L and the 70-200 L II are going to be its only competition, when I get them.
So I have had six months now to use this lens, and I have had the 70-200 2.8 L II lens for a few months as well. This lens is a tad less sharp than the 70-200 when I am shooting at ISO 100-640 on my 5D-Mark II, and above that noise equalizes them. But while I love the concept of the 70-200 more than I like the "boring" 24-70, it is this lens, my beloved 24-70, who stays on my camera 98% of the time. I try and I try to find use for the 70-200, but... well... in most situations, I have to return to this lens within 5 minutes of shooting.
The only thing I can think of to knock this lens on is that while it makes a wonderful portrait lens, it's a bit too sharp for that sometimes... and, I have noticed that if you try to make a panorama with it set at 50mm, you'll get a little too much edge distortion to do so without compensating in software.
Since using this lens to shoot models, my keeper rate has jumped from 1 to 5% (with the 28-135) to 25% and up. It's getting to the point that I end up with several times as many awesome images as I need from every shoot... I'm sure part of that is me getting more skilled, but this lens certainly contributes it's share.
I can't tell you how much I love this lens, and my work has dramatically improved since I got it. It took me a few days to get used to the difference from the 28-135, and now I use this like it's a part of me. If you only ever get one lens... you should make it either this one, or the 50/1.2, depending on whether you need zoom more or speed more. Awesome lens, and one I suspect that will be thrilled to use forever. If you don't have one, and you prefer zooms to primes, get one. If you prefer primes, get the 50/1.2.
Update 11-07-2011: After returning from eight weeks wandering the country doing photography, I can say that this lens was the one I used more than the 16-35 or the 70-200. It is sharper than the 16-35, but not as sharp as the 70-200, and in most cases during the day it's just what the doctor ordered for focal length, especially for landscapes. But I am now seriously noticing a real need for this lens to have IS when I can get a shot with the 70-200 that I can't get with this lens, both hand held, same settings, same light, and there is no time to change lenses or no way to frame the same image with 70-200 mm focal length. Tripods aren't always an option, although I do prefer to use them when possible. Based on that... I think this lens goes from 5 stars to 4 stars. Still a great lens, but starting to show the age of the design, without including IS.