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Wednesday, 26 May 2010


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I looked at your recommendations for picking a zoom lens. Hmm...
What about the Zuiko duo 12-60 and 50-200? or Canon's 24-105? Should they really be avoided?
Perhaps you should mention the few exceptions.

Ducati, the Leica of motorcycles. The Ducati brothers designed some pretty nifty cameras, then switched to building motorcycles.

"A few of the comments yesterday got me interested in the Canon EF-S 17–55mm ƒ/2.8 IS USM zoom, ...and the picture quality looks generally luscious. The "perfect" contemporary all-purpose zoom? Could be."

Could be!

By the way, I've always felt that the notion that primes make you a better photographer is a bunch of nostalgic silliness. What's the difference whether you frame with your feet, or by zooming with the lens? In some cases, unless you carry a group of primes, you might not get the framing you want.

Here, for example, I was perched on a ledge, looking down on the Kern River, CA, waiting for the sunrise. No way could I change my position. Framed @38mm with the 17-55mm:


This lens is also convenient for candid portraiture at parties/receptions, since you can quickly get both group and solo shots with one lens. Here, @55mmm (about 85mm in 35mm terms - a very nice focal length):


By the way, your "TOP Guide to How to Buy a Zoom Lens" is great advice!



re EF-S 17-55 - $1100 and they still can't include the hood. They should really be taken to task for this. Along with failing to replace the direct print button with mirror lock up.

James (grumpy old man in training)

RE: Canon 17-55mm f/2.8 EF-S IS USM zoom

I have owned and used this lens extensively. In fact, I rented one for a recent pro photo shoot I did for a local non-profit agency. In my experience its optical quality is excellent and the built-in IS works quite well. The problem is that this excellence comes at a price: the 17-55 is large, heavy and pricey. Unfortunately, the build quality is not as good as you might expect for the price. It's a push-pull zoom and not particularly well sealed, so the pumping action tends to suck in air and dust. The dust slowly accumulates on the rear of the front element. I never noticed any effect on my photographs, but given a choice between dust and no dust I think we'd all prefer the no-dust option.

If I were a pro who needed a fast, high-resolution, wide-to-short telephoto zoom the 17-55 f/2.8 would be a no-brainer. It also holds its value well. I sold it for not much less than I paid for it. The reason I sold it was because I seldom shoot professionally anymore and in the absence of someone paying me to carry such a big and heavy lens, I opted to buy something smaller, lighter and just as sharp. YMMV, of course.

Funny, at first I thought the "Location isn't everything" bullet was accompanied by the image below it.

Make of that what you will.

Re the Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM

"The only problem is that a "nested" fast prime would not have IS."

Which could be a good thing, according to Lens Rentals
Lens Repair Data

Annualized Repair Rate: 29%
Typical Problems: IS failure, AF electronics, ERR99

Too cheap or to expensive I would guess, depending on your viewpoint.

Ah, jeez...don't you just hate it when the stand-up guy messes up the punchline? I originally used the wrong version of the Handy TOP Guide to How to Buy a Zoom Lens! Fixed now, and sorry. The last line of "1." was meant to indicate its somewhat tongue-in-cheek aspect....


Zooms are great if you have a good one, or should I say great one. A good one is just not good enough imho.

I just purchased a Nikon D700 and will be taking it on a trip to South Dakota and Jellystone. Now you must understand I am a Scot and have been shooting Nikon for well forever. I have a slew of old Nikkor prime lenses some AI and some not. I also have a couple of their newer zooms. Three actually. Not being someone who wanted or could justify spending the big bucks on Nikon's pro zooms I bought (always second hand and a a good price - remember I'm a Scot) consumer zooms.

The cheapest and flimsiyist actually turned out the be the sharpest, go figure. This morning I just did a bunch of pixel peeping comparing my primes against my zooms. In all circumstances the primes spanked the zooms at all apertures for both sharpness, colour fidelity and contrast. In all cases the primes can be picked up on the used market for much less than even the consumer zooms.

I am sure if I were to spend $1K plus for a pro zoom the results may be different. Since I'm not doing photography as my primary business I find it hard to justify (Scot remember). On the other hand if I trek into some God forsaken place to get a shot I want to be darn certain it's going to be sharp.

I'd rather spend my money on getting to the photography destinations rather than on lenses and then not being able to afford to use them anywhere but around town.

Maybe I'm just not as well heeled as the average TOP reader.

My primes and I will enjoy our trip and I will have enough jingle left in my trousers to buy a few cool road pops along the way.

Re: 17-55 Canon lens. I have one in my personal kit, along with the superb 70-200/4 IS and the pretty darn good 10-22. With a pair of 40D bodies I am covered for pretty much anything I'd want to shoot outside of "real" work. While I understand the complaint about the 17-55 being somewhat large and heavy, my comparison is with EOS 1D bodies and all the f/2.8 lenses at work -- so my personal stuff is my "small and light" kit. (Which I occasionally take to work just for fun.)

If you want to compare sizes, take my (at the time) huge, heavy, all-metal old Canon F-1N camera with the 50mm/1.4 original FD mount lens, and put it next to my (now) tiny, light 40-D with the equivalent 28mm f/1.8 lens. The F-1 is svelte, the 40-D is gigantic.

Regarding the "minuses" of the 17-55mm:

1) "Build quality." Not an L lens and weather-sealed (which requires using a weather sealed body), but doesn't have zoom creep (barrel extending when pointed down). I hadn't planned on using the lens as a hammer, and I'm careful when hiking not to bang the lens against trees and rocks, so I wasn't too bothered by this oft-made comment on the forums. I also own a 70-200mm f/4L, and as I hold them both, I think the reason the L feels smoother is that the barrel doesn't extend-retract. Otherwise, I'm not aware of differences in "build quality" as I use them both.

2) "Repair frequency." I doubt if using a lens rental company's criteria is of value. Note this caveat from LensRental.com:

    "Remember that these are rental lenses: they get packed in boxes, tossed around by UPS, and sometimes the user isn’t as careful with them as you would be with your own lenses. What we have here is a 'lens stress test' — our repair rates should be much higher than any individual would experience with their personal lenses."

And this interesting observation:

    "— you won’t abuse it as much as ours get abused."

Well, why would anyone "abuse" a lens?

3) "Dust." The barrel extends-retracts as you twist the zoom ring (not a real push-pull like the 100-400mm), and dust can get sucked in. Solution: run your hand around the barrel before retracting it. It's a minor inconvenience that I've been willing to put up with. I've not had a dust problem, and have been on numerous trips to the desert under windy conditions.

4) "Weight." All is relative. The 17-55mm weighs just 2 oz more than my old Tamron 35-135mm f/3.5-4.5. That's amazing, when you consider the 17-55mm is a fixed f/2.8 with larger elements. I used the Tamron as a general purpose zoom with a Nikon FM-2, and the Canon 500D body is 3oz less than the Nikon, so I lose 1 oz in weight with the digital system. The use of polycarbonates contributes to the less weight in the bodies.

I read about all of the above "deficiencies" prior to purchasing the lens last year, but the superior optics made my decision, knowing all the while that B&H's return policy would provide an out, should I change my mind. Which I did not.

I relate all of this because I've known people who make their decisions based on other's evaluations. In many cases, they are very subjective evaluations, which may or may not pertain to any one else's experience.

I know Fred Picker isn't held in such great esteem by some who have posted here, but I've always benefitted from his advice,

    "Careful photographers run their own tests."



"Funny, at first I thought the "Location isn't everything" bullet was accompanied by the image below it."

Me too.

Lee Friedlander, "the Ornette Coleman of the camera."

A very apt observation, Mike.

Who would be the Thelonious Monk of photography? Walker Evans must be the Duke Ellington.

Maybe it's just me, but I think Friedlander's book "works" because of the square format.

What gets me about the Liz Kendall incident is not so much the breaching the rules (although we've had rather too much of that from MPs of late) but rather the fact that she seems to be acting giddy as a schoolgirl.
I want rather more maturity and decorum from my representatives. If all she can find to tweet is inane tourist nonsense, I'd rather she keep it to herself - doesn't do herself or her office any favours.

@Martin: I would rather have an innocent, tech-savvy school girl in the parliament/congress to represent us than all of pure business and calculating man or party robot there. After all, roughly 1/4 of the population is not adult and we are talking people rep. here. Some diversity is good. I like human in there. In fact, when I like a photographer and no matter how serious or good they are, they must have a human side to it. If not, I will give it a pass.

As one say, unless you become a child, yon can never go to heaven. Not that I got a pass to that place. But I think that is a good saying from this guy born 2014 years before.

P.S. WIfe is an English and hence all in British politics. So much phone call during hung parliament. Also, I was shocked to see the Moore plate there. To the extreme that I put it on my Facebook. I still remember the question, is he really a man for all seasons? I do not know but I guess he would allow twitter ... may be he will fight for the tradition here and hence the new story indication that he is similar to this MP may be going too far.

I used to use the 17-55 f2.8 IS as my only lens for months on end. The combination of range, IS, fixed f2.8 aperture and gorgeous image quality was perfect for me, and when I went full frame with the 5d MkII, I was disappointed that the closest equivalent was either the 24-70 f2.8 (no IS, shorter tele end, and much bigger and heavier) or the 24-105 f4 L (better range and uses IS, but only f4 max aperture).

I could carry the 30D + 17-55 in a shoulder bag all day, and I often did. I traipsed through Hong Kong and Sydney for days on end with it. But the 5D MkII + 24-105L was just that much bigger and heavier so as to be uncomfortable for longer walks. If I ever use another APS-C body, I'll use the 17-55 again. It is that good.

Aynsley's book on the Duc will be a good
book, his motorcycle writing usually is.

As to Liz Kendall's iPhone image, bully for her! The Brits can be so stuck-up at times.
Mind the comment about her shoes also shows a certain amount of idiocy,
on the part of the commentator. Wonder what Auntie Beeb would say?

And as to lense selection guidelines, all worthwhile Mike.

About Liz Kendall:

every single time, no exceptions, I've dug under the covers on any incident involving "unauthorized photography", it has always been caused by a rule that negates photography to the general public while authorizing it to the "designated pro".

Every single time.

And also every single time, silly discussions on "freedom" of this and that ensue.

People, wake up: it's a simple case of a "pro" photographer getting away with a "monopoly" situation for a particular venue and someone else taking action on it.

Note: I am NOT saying pros shouldn't do that!

I am saying that it is NOT a case of discrimination against photography in general!

If all she can find to tweet is inane tourist nonsense, I'd rather she keep it to herself - doesn't do herself or her office any favours.

Martin, go to her Twitter account (the link is in the article); she tweeted about politics too, not just the photos.

"Who else would take landscapes the way we mostly actually see them, with the car in the way?"

Actually, I had a similar idea, and my portfolio "From a Car Window", was published by Lenswork Magazine in their Digital Edition #76:


Thanks for the mention Mike!

Ducati cameras, lenses and other optical products:


Now then, surely the perfect lens would be a better value than merely "not quite too expensive." Same for size; perfection is surely smaller than "not quite too big." ;)

But in all seriousness, while the EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM is no doubt a very good lens, at around the same price there is the very nice EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM - yes, this is a full-frame lens, but it has a more useful range, similar features and optical quality and its build quality is actually appropriate for a $1,000+ lens, which the 17-55mm's is not. The 17-55mm has the build of, maybe, a $500 lens. Indeed, I don't think its build is any any different from the sub-$500 EF-S 17-85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM (the now-discontinued kit lens for the EOS 20D). A $1,000 full-frame Canon zoom would inevitably be an L lens with excellent build quality. Indeed, the 17-40mm f/4L USM is much less expensive (around $700) and, being an L lens, has superb build quality (and when introduced was aimed at buyers of the APS-C EOS 10D no less, back before EF-S lenses were invented). Oh, and it also comes with a lens hood, which the 17-55mm doesn't. But it seems there is some Canon diktat that you cannot have an EF-S L lens, no matter how expensive it is ... and that a non-L lens can't come with a lens hood, no matter how expensive it is. Thus a crop of rather flimsily constructed, accessories-not-included EF-S lenses of high prices (and relatively high optical quality).

Oh, and the 24-105mm, incidentally, was introduced as the "kit" lens for the original EOS 5D, which is virtually indistinguishable in build quality from the cameras the 17-55mm was designed to go on ... and yet I suppose Canon wouldn't feel comfortable selling an averagely built $1,000 lens that people might put on a tank-like 1-series body. The 17-40mm was a slightly different situation since it was never actually sold as a kit with the 10D, though they were introduced together and Canon explicitly pushed it as the ideal normal zoom for that camera. But if the nicest thing you could put it on would be an xxD series....

(Of course now we have the 7D, the first ever really "semi-pro" APS-C DSLR from Canon ... but still no EF-S L lenses. This, despite the 7D having slightly better build than the 5D that was bundled in a kit with the 24-105mm!)

So to me, if it was perfect, the EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM would actually be an EF-S 15-50mm f/2.8L IS USM. But it has good optical quality, is fast, has IS and isn't that exorbitantly expensive, so it is indeed at least very good.

"Now then, surely the perfect lens would be a better value than merely 'not quite too expensive.' Same for size; perfection is surely smaller than 'not quite too big.'"

The problem is that we're in the realm of conflicting design parameters. I've written about this before:

"It's a case of classic opposing design parameters. My standard example of an opposing design parameter is a sailboat hull. You can have a hull that goes fast through the water, or you can have a hull that holds a lot of cargo. But you can't optimize for both at the same time. The more one parameter is optimized, the more the other is compromised. For a given amount of speed you can try to optimize capacity, and for a given amount of capacity you can try to optimize speed, but to say you want both to be optimized at the same time is oxymoronic, like saying you want long hair but you want it really short."

In a zoom, you can have a fast constant aperture and optical near-perfection, OR you can have reasonable size and cost, but you can't have both.


I own and use the Canon EF-S 17-55 f/2.8 lens and have used it as my primary walk around lens for almost 2 years. This lens is an excellent performer but like almost all other lenses it isn't perfect, but I would advise those that want to use Canon APS DSLRs and can afford the lens - get the lens.

It always amazes me about the complaints I read regarding this lens.

Weight - When I think of the days days of carrying heavy Nikon F2s with a MD4 motor drive using lenses made of brass, I rejoice over the materials used for building cameras these days.

Size - I have smallish hands for a man and the lens has never posed a problem in that regard.

Lens hood - Yes I absolutely agree Canon should include a lens hood for the price of lens.

Image Quality - OMG! I borrowed one from a friend in August of 2008 and spent a week in New Mexico shooting with a Canon 40D, I was amazed at the IQ. When I returned home out came the credit card to order my copy.

Professional build - Yes it could be better but at the same time I've got L lenses that I wouldn't want to drop either.

Durability - After two years using it as a walk around lens, shooting portraits, events, and weddings the lens never misses a beat - but I try to take care of my equipment.

With the advent of the 7D I will predict that Canon will eventually build L quality EFS lenses but will probably not brand them as Ls, just to avoid confusion.

So my basic kit is the Canon EFS 10-22, EFS 17-55, EF 70-200 f/2.8L MKI and a 50D and 7D bodies, along with a few primes. I like primes but when I go out to do personal photography I usually opt to take just the 17-55 f/2.8 or the 10-22.

Boy, do those Italians know how to design some pretty things! I don't ride motorcycles because I'm too risk averse but I love looking at pictures of Ducati's and Moto Guzzi's. Che bella!

Now for a selfish request that fits in (kinda) the industrial design theme started by the Ducati book: Mike are you still planning on doing TOP's recommended film cameras? I love mechanical items so I'm curious to see what cameras you would recommend. I'm especially interested in "focus snap" since you are the only person that I seem to have found that mentions it. I've long wanted a Contax Aria based on your review of it because the idea of focus snap and small size appeals to me. I've never even held one and probably would not like that it is motorized but I still want one! It also doesn't help that the Zeiss CY lenses are still expensive unless I sell some things. (And I have a serious problem letting go)

I'm a really old photographer; took my first serious pictures in 1969. Never liked zooms much, probably because they were so awful for the first 15 years or so. The 17-55 brought me to the light.

It's plenty sharp, but also renders in a way that makes even crummy pictures worth looking at, at least once. Great for people pictures.

"I hear that" its not built very well, and fills up with dirt, but I haven't noticed these problems with mine. Maybe I got a really good one.

I knew a woman 15 years ago who was painting landscapes with the car in the painting. The ones I saw had the view out the front and included the rear view mirror.

"In a zoom, you can have a fast constant aperture and optical near-perfection, OR you can have reasonable size and cost, but you can't have both."

Mike (or anyone else, for that matter),
Would you care to nominate a zoom lens, even of a short zoom range, by any manufacturer, that optical near-perfection and reasonable size? With a tripod and higher ISO's, I don't mind a variable aperture, and I can bite the bullet on cost, but do the other two combine anywhere?

"In a zoom, you can have a fast constant aperture and optical near-perfection, OR you can have reasonable size and cost, but you can't have both."

Oh, of course. I was just intentionally taking "perfect" a bit too literally, though my criticisms of build quality are genuine. I don't think anything other than cheapness and marketing strategy have kept Canon from giving this lens better build quality. Making it better built would not make it larger and I don't imagine it would make it much more expensive, as (as I mentioned), full-frame Canon lenses in this price range are far better made. IMHO it's really a matter of what Canon could get away with. (It reminds me of early Canon DSLRs - the D30 and D60 were great from a "digital" standpoint but the bodies were awful, those of maybe a $300 film camera - but lack of competition meant it didn't matter, and they progressively improved those aspects with the 10D, 20D, 40D and most recently the 7D.)

I'm not trying to bash Canon here - I'm a satisfied Canon user of many years, and they make many excellent products (including this lens). I just have a very high standard for "perfection." ;)

In my early lens-buying days one consideration I had for evaluating lenses was the filter size. If two lenses were comparable in their specs, I would buy the one with the bigger filter size (e.g. 52mm instead of 49mm, 58mm instead of 55mm, etc.)

I have been wanting to test this theory of lens performance with the Sigma 50 1.4 lens. It has a 77mm filter size, as opposed to a 55mm filter on its Canon cousin. Surely there must be some advantage to that extra diameter.

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