Friday, 9 September 2011

Canon 75-300mm f4/5.6 USM II

In my last post I extolled the virtues of the 18-55mm 'kit' lens as a decent all-purpose walk-around lens worthy of keeping on your camera. I also mentioned my intention of getting its companion telephoto, the 55-250mm.

I had my eye on a couple on Trademe (NZ's internet auction site), but was also coming across a few other options in the process. And I should preface all of this by saying that I already own the outstanding Canon 70-200mm f4 'L' which I use on the 5D (and occasionally the 20D) - and which I have absolutely no intention of getting rid of.

So why do I need another telephoto lens? Well, as part of a lighter 'travel' kit, I'm looking for an option that I can put together as a complete package - a two lens, go anywhere kind of kit that I will take away on holidays etc. A lighter lens that I can use with the 20D without its grip attached - with even more reach than the 70-200mm gives me at the moment.

Which leads me to the Canon 55-250mm lens - or variants on a similar theme. My two criteria: light enough to carry around all day and use on the 20D body, with as much 'reach' as possible. So with this in mind, the other lens that kept coming up on Trademe is the 75-300mm in all it's different guises.

Canon have produced more 70 to 'something' telephoto zooms than any other focal length you can name, so you would expect them to have a fairly good handle on producing them by now. And never one to shy away from offering options, whenever they introduce a new 75-300mm lens they always produce a USM motor and non-USM motor model, together with an IS version.

Canon 75-300mm f4/5.6 USM II
The IS model would be great, but is usually at least $400+ more expensive - so it's out of my price range. What I usually try to find is the middle of the three - the USM motor driven model, normally available for only $20 to $30 more than the non USM version. With the 'micro' USM system, autofocusing should be a tad quicker - so that's the model I go for. It's worth saying, however, that optically all three models (of that version) will be identical.

So in looking around on Trademe I found a version II (they're up to version III) USM motor 75-300mm Canon lens (see above) for $140NZ. That's about half what I was going to have to pay for a 55-250mm, and while it means I give up IS - it does give me an extra 50mm reach at the long end. That takes my focal length on the 20D effectively out to 480mm! Now where talkin!!

Of course I've read the reviews on the internet, and for such a 'budget' lens the news isn't all good (depending who you read). Most talk about edge softness throughout the zoom range - and overall softness at the maximum 300mm focal length. Not a brilliant performer then...?

But dig a little deeper - think a little harder - and you might come up with a slightly different 'take' on these reviews. For a start, a good deal of them were written by people shooting film and then looking at their slides/scans at 100%. If that's the case, then all discussions about 'edge' softness become moot when we look at it in the digital era. And indeed, a more recent review of this lens gave two final conclusions - one for a 5D, and one for a 20D. On the 5D - a full frame camera -  the lens does exhibit edge softness at all focal lengths. The reviewer didn't recommend the lens for a 5D user. But, on a 20D, where the edges of the lens are always cropped out due to the smaller sensor size, the reviewer saw excellent edge to edge sharpness! And highly recommended the lens for a 20D user. Makes sense to me.

The overall softness at 300mm? Well, that very may well be true - or it might depend on lens variances?  When I was a Nikon shooter, I owned the equivalent nikkor lens which also got a bad rap from reviewers at the 300mm end - but I found my lens to be a good performer, even wide open. In fact, one of my favourite images is taken with the Nikkor 75-300mm wide open at full zoom. And it's tack sharp.

I'll reserve judgement until I actually have the lens in my hands (should be next week), and then I'll do some testing. Will post some images and results with the lens when I have them...

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