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Archive for the ‘Lenses’ Category

A Little Tele Talk

Today I am going to chat up a couple different Canon lenses. The Canon EF USM 70-300 IS DO and the EF-M 55-200 IS STM are my newest acquisitions. I also picked up a sweet little Kamlan 50mm f/1.1 for my M5. Yes 1.1 :D. I’ll save that for another day. I have been busy spending my son’s inheritance on some tele lenses and I figured I could present a few observations.

First the EF 70-300 USM DO. This is a much maligned product that Canon launched way back in 2004. The idea was that they wanted a high quality tele-zoom lens for full frame that was ultra compact and relatively free of common lens aberrations. Canon had already experimented with “Diffractive Optics”, which is where the “DO” comes from. That was the 400mm f/4.0 L DO. This lens is basically a “pro” version of the already spendy 75-300 USM IS which retails out in the $600 range.

Diffractive Optics are just a fancy name for modernised Fresnel lenses. That said, Canon has done a great job making a very short (albeit quite chubby) lens for such a long reach. The positives are that indeed the lens is nearly free of any disturbing aberrations, is built very well to nearly “L” standards (but no weather seal), and truly is compact when zoomed to the widest setting. The negatives are mediocre sharpness at the tele end, sub-par performance for the image stabilizer, and a price tag that makes Warren Buffett say, “How much was that again, really”? Yes Canon is quite proud of their 21st Century adaptation of the Augustin-Jean Fresnel 19th Century invention that bears his name. The lens currently retails for around $1400.

But I got mine for a sweet deal used, frankly a bit beat up. The optics however are in perfect shape so there is no excuse for any optical issues. Yet there are some optical issues. The 200-300mm range is a tad soft. It isn’t unacceptably soft if not for the gold-plated price. As I mentioned the IS is not up to Canon’s typical amazing standard. It does work mind you, but I don’t think it is much better than 1.5 to 2 stops on my DSLR and on the M5 it just sux. Honestly a lens with a f/5.6 opening at the tele-end needs a good stabilizer. It is however sharper than many people in the photographic review business suggest. I read several reviews that rated this lens pretty dismal on tele sharpness. Perhaps the expectation based on the King Midas list price effected the “sharpness” they did or didn’t see. I don’t know, but I found it to be moderately sharp at the tele end and razor-sharp at the 70mm setting. I have images at the bottom of the page from all the lenses in this post.

I do like how small the lens is when zoomed to 70mm. It fits nicely into my Real Estate photo bag. That is a Tamrac 612 with an EOS 5D Mark III and Grip, 16-35mm L, Samyang 12mm, EX 580 flash, and this lens. Optically it is good enough but again, at $1400 Canon needed this thing to be sharper. If it had to be soft somewhere, it should have been at the short end where fewer shots will be made. I got a sweet enough deal that I don’t mind its short comings. This lens, unlike the non ‘DO’ version has the true ring type ‘USM’ that offers full-time instant manual focus and a whole lot of that legendary Canon focus speed. Honestly unless you ‘steal’ one of these by sniping it on an eBay auction for less than $350, I’d stick with the cheaper non ‘DO’ or step up to the 70-300 L which other than size, is better in every measurable way, and only about $50 more money..

Before I start this next segment, I have to issue a Capitalism Alert! I do have a couple of lenses for sale right now on my ebay store that I may just mention in this post. OK, fair enough, I WILL mention in this post 😉 Some time back when I got my first EOS M camera, I bought one of those old Canon Rebel 35mm series compact tele lenses. The EF 80-200 f/4.5-5.6 USM. This was a lens that back in the 90s no one liked because it was an early adopter of the plastic lens mount. Ew, Yuck, plastic, so cheap… blah, blah, blah. Well plastic is a big part of our lives now and that doesn’t seem to bug people like it did back then. Well I bought one on the cheap to use on my EOS M body. It is so small and light and at that time Canon still had no native tele-zoom. Even with the bulky EF adapter that little lens was super handy. The lens is awesome for what it is. And these things can be had online or at camera shows, like the upcoming PhotoFair in Newark, CA on June 3rd. I issued a capitalism alert earlier that covers this shameless plug for our Camera Show 😉 Oh yes, I am selling the 80-200 here.

Eventually I decided I wanted a stabilizer. Serious once you go ‘stable’ there is just no going back. So I found another fantabulous deal. It’s a word, I just invented it, so it’s real. I bought a Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS. This lens had already been replaced with a Mark II version so it was around a hundred bucks used in minty condition. In all fairness it was nearly twice the size of the 1990s full frame 80-200 but this lens had a stabilizer and 20% more tele-reach as well as some additional room at the wide end. This lens of course is only APS/C so it would not work on my full frame DSLR. I tossed the old 80-200 rebel lens in my Realtor® bag as an emergency back up tele in case I needed some reach on a shoot. I never like carrying my relatively bulky and heavy 200/2.8 L in the small real estate bag. Anyhow, that little 55-250 is a truly amazing lens. Sure it is cheaply made and there is no USM, but this is a lens that can be found under $100. It is very sharp, I mean genuinely sharp. I have three L lenses, I know sharp! The stabilizer works amazing. It gave me legit 3-4 stop performance and remember on a crop sensor camera like the EOS-M, any Rebel or xxD bodies it shoots like a 400mm. BAM! I could nail tack sharp shots at 1/30th at least 1/2 the time and almost every single time at 1/60th fully zoomed in 🙂 But this lens needed to be mounted on the EF adapter to work on the M series cameras and that made to overall package chunky in the little travel bag I use with that body. I finally came to the conclusion that I needed to bite the proverbial bullet and just buy the native lens for the body. This amazing 55-250mm is for sale here.

The native tele-zoom for the EOS M series cameras is the ridiculously small, EF-M 55-200mm STM IS. Canon is quite proud of this little plastic fantastic and now that I own one, I see why. First, it is sharper than the Rebel 80-200 but not quite as pin sharp as the EF-S 55-250mm. That 55-250 is ridiculously sharp for a econo lens. But this lens needs no adapter, so it is smaller by far than either of the other tele-zooms mentioned above for the purpose of using on an EOS M series body. I waited a long time because frankly the biggest turn off was the stupid slow f/6.3 at the tele end. f/5.6 is slow enough. That was my major hang up other than Canon’s USA list price of $350. I kept justifying the bulkier EF-S lens because it was faster and longer, there for better. It was also cheap 🙂 The native lenses however come with their own advantages. First they do focus quicker than a EF or EF-S lens on the adapter. They also have the full-time manual focus override that automatically zooms the focus window to 5x and activates the focus peaking feature (you have to enable these in the settings first). No need to switch a button or change modes, just twist the focus ring (while keeping light pressure on the shutter release) and presto! That is very cool. The IS works nearly as well as the ridiculously good EF-S 55-250mm. This lens is so crazy tiny that I can get an additional lens in my travel kit. What the hell was I waiting for?

So there is a tele-zoom bonanza and I will be reviewing the Kamlan 50mm f/1.1 lens that is available for a variety of mounts including NEX, 4/3, and EF-M in the future. Photos with the lenses in this post are below.

dog barking

Maggie barking at the wind. EOS 5D Mark II with EF 70-300 USM IS DO

picture of cat yawning

Muffin is tired, again. EOS 5D Mark II with EF USM 70-300 IS DO

picture of dog

Maggie on the back stoop, EOS 5D Mark II with EF 80-200 f4.5-5.6 USM

man cutting hair

Hair cutting demo at trade show, Canon EOS M5 with EF-S 55-250 IS

picture of cat

Socks, EOS M5 with EF-M 55-200 IS STMpicture of cat

Muffin, EOS M5 with EF-M 55-200 IS STM

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A while back you may remember I wrote up the Canon FD 135/2. That is a great lens, but people are getting wise to it, and prices have crept up pretty high. My primary complaint was that it wouldn’t focus to infinity on my EOS DSLR. It was awesome on my mirrorless body. I have paraded a whole bunch of 135mm lenses through my little Tenba travel bag that I use for my EOS M series cameras. I had the aforementioned FD 135/2 but I have also tried several others including the following:

  • Nikkor Q F mount 135/2.8 (1970-ish) Street price $20-$80 rough to mint
  • Nikon E Series 135/2.8 (1980-ish) Street Price $50-$150 rough to mint
  • Canon FD 135/3.5 (1980-ish) Street Price $30-$80 rough to mint
  • Canon FD 135/2.0 (1980-ish) Street Price $250-$550 rough to mint
  • Canon FL 135/2.5 (1960-ish) Street Price $50-$120 rough to mint
  • Takumar PK 135/2.5 (1975-ish) Street Price $40-$90 rough to mint
  • Super-Takumar Universal 135/3.5 (1965-ish) Street Price $40-$100 rough to mint
  • Super-Takumar Universal 135/2.5 (1965-ish) Street Price $90-$220 rough to mint

I have used all of these and found them all to be at least very good, and few are outstanding performers. I am that guy that buys stuff plays with it for a while and then either keeps or gives it back to the market. I have been doing this for the last 30 years. This is how I have managed to own at least 500 lenses and a couple hundred cameras over the years. Every now and then I find a gem and hold it indefinitely. In this modern world of DSLR and Mirrorless bodies that can adapt to shoot nearly any lens, it has become even more fun for me to play around with lenses across a wide spectrum of brands and mounts.

Of the lenses listed above all of them could be adapted to fit my EOS M-5. All but the Canon FD/FL models would adapt perfectly to my EOS 5D Mk II. The FD/FL lenses will mount with an adapter but you can’t focus to infinity. Minolta MD lenses will also suffer from no-infinity focus when mounted to a Canon DSLR. The M will take them all and just about anything else every made!

So what of these classic 135mm lenses? I’ll start with the Nikkor F. This lens was a classic heavy weight. I mean seriously heavy and fat! Although it took Nikon’s standard 52mm thread filters, the lens was way fatter than that diameter. I’ll say it was a sharp lens right out to the corners on my full frame body. It wasn’t spectacular, but it was definitely a solid performer. This was the early late 60’s early 70’s design and the focus ring was not buttery smooth. The real issue was its obesity, it was nearly as heavy as my early 60’s FL 135/2.5.

picture of dog

Canon EOS M3 Nikon E Series 135/2.8 @f/2.8

The Nikon Series E was an even better lens optically than the old school F series. Nikon’s E series was designed to be “economical” and suited to the new line of amateur cameras Nikon released in the late 1970s. Nikon EM and FG. To Nikon’s credit, they did not skimp on optics but rather made the lenses out of lighter weight materials and eliminated the “Metering Fork” that allowed metering on the older non-AI Nikons like Nikkormats and the F. Despite the “lighter” materials these E-series lenses had a silky smooth focus that I really like.

The Canon FD 135/3.5 was a small lens with the second gen FD mount which I always liked since it was faster to mount. Many purists prefer the original breech lock for reliability, but that was a slower to use system. This lens, like the Nikon E, had a silky smooth focus. The deal with using FD lenses on modern cameras is you need the adapter with the aperture lock. Otherwise the lens is stuck wide open. It wasn’t as sharp as the Nikon E series and was a half stop slower.

The FD 135/2.0 is brilliant and I wrote about it on the blog already. The reasons that led me to sell it were the fact that I could not get infinity focus on my 5D Mk II and prices for it were skyrocketing. All that juicy cash was calling to me 😉

picture of cat

Canon EOS M3 Canon FL 135/2.5 @f/2.5

The Canon FL 135/2.5 is a fabulous lens. This lens is quite the tank. It is lighter than the FD 2.0 but much heavier than the others on this list. The FL lens is a “preset” style. This means it has two aperture rings. One “presets” the F stop and when the camera fires the automatic lever will quickly stop the lens to that F value. To focus you typically want the lens wide open but the older cameras had to stop down (make it darker) to meter. The other ring allowed you to do that, meter and flick it back wide open for focusing. When the shutter was pressed that original preset ring would determine how far the lens would stop down. When using on modern digital cameras this is almost a moot point. It sucks a bit on a DSLR but a mirrorless with electronic viewfinder of LCD screen is fine. This lens has a fabulous Bokeh and with the 8 curved-blade diaphragm, out of focus highlights are always circular. This old dinosaur is delicious. The old single coatings Canon used back in those days was decent but color contrast suffers a bit compared to modern coatings from the mid-1970s on. The only reason it isn’t still in my bag is besides the heaviness is the inability to focus at infinity on my DSLR. PS I am selling mine, click here.

I tried the Takumar 135/2.5 because it was as fast as the burly Canon FL but about 40% lighter and smaller on all dimensions. This one used the Pentax K mount which works fine on Canon DSLRs with a simple ring adapter. But this lens really isn’t that sharp. I was a bit underwhelmed. Now don’t get me wrong it wasn’t terrible, but it was a tad soft and not just at the corners, this guy was a bit squishy in the middle too. I am kind of a sharpness nut however so understand it did get a 7 which is well above “average”.

So after the Takumar fail, I looked a couple of Super-Takumars. The first was the little 3.5 that was in universal mount. This lens was mint and tiny. It was fairly lightweight but there was nary a piece of plastic anywhere. It was beautifully made. Focus ring was smooth but not buttery smooth like some of the more modern lenses. This lens was pretty sharp corner to corner even on the full frame and was noticeably better than the Takumar 2.5. I was so delighted with the Super-Tak that I ordered a 2.5 version that I use now.

picture of flowers

EOS M5 Super-Takumar 135/2.5 @f/2.5

Both the 3.5 mentioned above and my current 2.5 Super-Takumar are 42mm Universal thread mount. These work fine on Canon DSLRs and of course on the mirrorless bodies. The 2.5 is optically even BETTER than the 3.5 and that is awesome. It is 30% lighter than to beastly FL Canon and dimensionally about 20% smaller. This is a tiny lens for having such a big opening. My only complaint is that they chose to use a 6 blade diaphragm which can leave out of focus highlights a little ‘hexy’ if you get my drift. My version is an older single coated lens the coveted SMC versions are worth the bigger bux if you want really good contrast and virtually no flare.

I created a chart based on my results with these various lenses. The 1-10 scale stuff sans bokeh is rated 5 average, 10 is top 1%, 1 just sucks terribly. So for perspective a crappy 1970s  spirotone cheapo lens might rate a 2 or 3; a simple kit lens might rate a 5-6, and better lenses up the line. My Zeiss 35/2 Biogon gets a 10. The bokeh rating is just too subjective but the faster lenses tend have a more favorable bokeh. Other factors play in. The ∞ Canon DSLR indicates whether the lens can achieve infinity focus on a Canon DSLR. The lenses that get a “no” here can be mounted on the DSLR with appropriate adapter, but will fail to focus at infinity. Weight stats were found on various collector and fan forums as well as personal weighing on my scale.

P.S. some of you may wonder why I write so much about the Canon DSLRs. One: I use them. Two: Canon DSLRs are the best bet for people that want to use older glass. With few exceptions Canon can mount nearly any 35mm SLR lens ever made. Some, such as Minolta MD and Canon FD will not focus to infinity. But the Canon EOS mount is very wide and allows ample room for adapters to fit other lenses. If you are thinking about an DSLR and you like the idea of mounting old school glass, Canon is the ticket. But the best option for using old school glass is a mirrorless body from Canon or Sony.

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