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Old January 31st, 2012, 12:37 AM   #1
Inner Circle
Join Date: May 2006
Location: Camas, WA, USA
Posts: 5,457
Just upgraded to L lenses...

I upgraded my mid-level Canon lenses (28/1.8, 50/1.4, 85/1.8, 200/2.8L, 2x Extender II) to a smaller L lens kit - with the exception of the 50/1.4. I kept that one. My kit is now the 16-35/2.8L II, 35/1.4L, 50/1.4, and the 100/2.8L Macro IS.

It's kind of odd. Rather than pure primes or zooms, I have a zoom, a fast L prime, a non-L prime, and a macro. But they make sense as a kit to me. :)

For perspective, I also have the following at work: ZE 21/2.8, ZE 35/2, ZE 85/1.4, and the EF 70-200/2.8L IS II. So why did I choose the 16-35, 35, 50, and Macro IS?

First, I stuck with Canon for two reasons. I shoot both photos and video, so having autofocus is nice, at least from 35mm and up. The next reason is Peripheral Illumination Correction. I did some tests and found that PIC is implemented just right - before s-shaping and 8 bit rounding - in the camera. That means that even when the falloff in in the corners is pretty bad wide open, you still get all eight bits to play with in post all across the frame. With a Zeiss lens (and lets not kid ourselves here, the mechanics and coatings are awesome, but they do suffer falloff), you get darkened corners in the eight bit file. Boost those corners and you have less than eight bits for color correction. Because the blacks got smooshed in the s-curve, you can get some strong contouring down there. The only place it's good is when you have a practical light in a corner. It can work like an ND grad in that case - but that's almost never the case in the bottom corners.

I based the kit around the 35/1.4L. It's cheaper than the Zeiss 35/1.4, is faster than (and has a longer focus throw than) the Zeiss 35/2 (which has been a favorite of mine). Add autofocus and PIC and it really nails it. With reasonable support, IS isn't needed for 35mm on the 5D2. It's my favorite focal length for showing space - natural, but with a little bit of attitude.

I had planned to sell the 50/1.4, but decided that it was too good a bargain to lose. The 50/1.2 beats it in sharpness to 2.8 or so, but from there, the f/1.4 lens wins. I don't tend to shoot with the 50 much, but it helps plug a gap. You can only get so close with the 35mm for portrait shots, so this is my fast portrait (not closeup) and two-shot solution. Again, I get autofocus and PIC. Unfortunately, a 50mm isn't that great on a shoulder rig, but it's fine for photos and on a tripod. At work, I've got a jib, dolly and nice tripod. For my personal gear, I often need to shoot light, so this might have limited video use for me. BTW, the focus ring might not feel very good on the 50/1.4, but it has over 200 degrees of throw. As long as it's stable, it's totally viable for video.

Next, I'd love to have a fast 85, but Canon jumps from the 85/1.8 straight to the 85/1.2 with its terrible electronic focus. (Terrible for video anyway.) It costs nearly $2k new. You really want stabilization at that focal length. When Canon can give me f/1.4 with IS, I'm all in. Maybe I'll eventually get a Sigma 85/1.4. In the meantime, I can borrow the ZE 85/1.4, so I'm not hurting. But given that I usually travel light, this will rarely be the case. And the ZE lacks AF, so forget it when photographing moving kids and animals.

That brings me to the 100/2.8L Macro IS. What a great choice! I had considered the 135/2L, which has speed, AF, and PIC, but lacks stabilization. The hybrid IS in the macro rocks. And while the macro has more (PIC-corrected) falloff by about a stop than the 135L, it is nearly as sharp. Best of all, it's MUCH lighter, smaller, and stealthier than the 70-200L IS II. Compared to the standard 100 macro that I just sold, the breathing is better controlled between 1m and infinity, and the focus ring feels worlds better. (The old lens just felt a bit loose and clunky.) For sports, get a monopod and the 70-200L. For handheld portraits and closeups, the 100L is my choice. Yeah, it's only f/2.8, but can I really nail focus manually at 100mm much faster than that?

Finally, I chose the 16-35L II over the 24/1.4L II, but it wasn't an easy decision. Eventually, I'll add the 24L to the arsenal for low light shots. The 24 is sharper and faster. But the 16-35 gives flexibility when you want to get the whole building in a photo or when you want that really broad landscape. Put it on a tripod, stop down, and shoot a long exposure or HDR photos. The only thing you don't get is low light video at 1/60. BTW, the 16-35 is really optimized at 24mm. You get barrel distortion at 16 and pincushion at 35, but it's ruler straight at 24mm. The 24L, however, has barrel distortion. Go figure. I'll just have to shoot my night videos with the 35L. I can handle the sacrifice. :)

So, there you have it. Until Canon releases some f/1.4 zoom macros with IS and long-throw focus rings, I think I'm set!
Jon Fairhurst
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Old February 1st, 2012, 08:33 AM   #2
Join Date: Jan 2003
Location: Kansas City, MO
Posts: 4,448
Re: Just upgraded to L lenses...

A nice and versatile package.

I just bought a used Canon 20-35 L lens. It gets great reviews and was their first really pro zoom. It's a 2.8. Hasn't been made for a number of years. It seems to have a more solid feel than the newer ones. My wide angle is a 24mm 2.8 Nikkor, and I've had a number of shoots where I'm in the back of a vehicle shooting out the window to other vehicles, people, etc. The 24 is my usual choice but sometimes it's too wide, and by the time I switch to the 35 and switch the ND filters, I have to have the driver, actors and all make another pass. That's one of those situations where a zoom is better than primes. I was going to get the 17-40 but ran across this nice used classic.
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Old February 1st, 2012, 10:49 AM   #3
Inner Circle
Join Date: May 2006
Location: Camas, WA, USA
Posts: 5,457
Re: Just upgraded to L lenses...

Hi Bill,

Just before I sold my mid-budget primes, there was a 20-35L on the market here. I considered it. I've never handled one, but it wouldn't surprise me that it would be more solid. The metal to plastic ratio has gone down over the years.

I think your choice of the 24 as your usual wide is spot on. It's as wide as you can get without looking like a special effect. Frankly, 20mm can be dangerous because it can look natural at one moment and like an effects lens the next. I find it best to push 20mm and wider into situations where the effect is obvious from the start to the end of the take. 16mm is easy. It always looks weird. :) One thing that sold me on the 16-35L is that it's optimized around 24mm - it's mid-way between the barrel at 16mm and the pincushion at 35.

Good choice getting the f/2.8 over the f/4. It takes some effort to light at f/4 and its more expensive to light a wide shot than a tight one. And when you do shoot f/4, you generally get better results with an f/2.8 stopped down than with an f/4 lens at its limit.

I see film lighting in two categories. Under controlled lighting in small/medium spaces, one can easily get to f/2.8 and can push it to f/4. In non-controlled lighting, f/2.8 is about as much as you can hope for. The controlled lighting person has it easy with lens choice: a Canon zoom will have falloff at f/2.8 to f/4, but it's corrected in-camera. A non-Canon prime gives you the long focus ring and falloff isn't an issue at f/4. And at f/4, you're not likely to buzz focus and lose that best take. Either approach (zoom for speed, prime for controlled focus) works. However, for the uncontrolled lighting shoot, the fast Canon prime is the only way to fly. You get speed and in-camera falloff correction. Hitting focus is tough, but at f/1.4 in the dark, that's a fact of life.

Lenses are fun. Too bad they cost money! ;)
Jon Fairhurst
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