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  • Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM Lens vs. Non-L Lens Comparison

    Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM L vs. non-L LensesWhen Canon announced the 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM lens late last year, we took it as very welcoming news. We could not think of a customer who was not happy with their 70-200mm L lens in terms of performance (whatever version it may be, although the f/4 non-IS is our most popular seller most likely due to the size, weight and price), but many of those 70-200mm owners wished they could have just a little more reach without the heft and weight of the 100-400mm L lens, in addition to the more awkward "push-pull" zoom function (the 70-200mm f/4 L is approx. 1.5 lbs., the 70-300mm L is approx. 2.3 lbs. and the 100-400mm L is just over 3 lbs.). The 70-300mm L lens now fits perfectly in that void of L lenses: a good compromise in size, weight, and focal length.

    The non-L 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM lens has always been a good seller for us. The price is right for the quality and features packed into this lightweight and portable zoom telephoto lens. Our customers on the whole have always been pleased with this lens, although we normally do not market it to the most discerning enthusiasts or professionals. One question that we have been hearing for a little while now is how does this lens compare with the newer L version of the same focal length zoom? In terms of L lenses, the 70-300mm L lens is not necessarily considered expensive, but compared to the non-L 70-300mm lens, it certainly does seem expensive, considering it is close to $1000 more. So, again, customers wonder, how do they compare? Is the L lens really that much better? We decided we had to definitively find out for ourselves, so we got out our old lens test chart from the basement, and had a look. What we found was interesting.

    We first tested both L and non-L 70-300mm lenses at the 300mm focal length. Customers purchasing a longer focal length telephoto lens are most likely purchasing it because they are planning on using the longer focal length. So, it only makes sense to start testing the lens at the longer focal length end of the zoom. We decided to try the testing with the Canon 60D, which is currently our most popular selling Canon digital SLR camera body. We set up the camera on a tripod at 26 times the focal length being tested, and shot with the exact same settings, only changing the lens in between shooting through a couple of apertures. We made sure to turn off any in-camera corrections, like Canon's peripheral illumination correction, noise reduction, etc.. The differences between these two lenses at the 300mm focal length are very, well, different. The L lens, hands-down, wins. Browse through the images below to see for yourself. Each image is a 100% crop of the lowest most right-hand corner of the lens test chart.

    Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM Lens at f/16

    non-L @ f/16

    Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM Lens at f/16

    L @ f/16

    We took a shot at f/16 to see both lenses closed down a bit. Looking at just the non-L image, you would consider that fairly sharp considering it is a 100% crop at the very edge of an image taken with a lens at 300mm. But, when you scroll down to see the image taken with the L lens, you realize the first is really not all that good. The clarity of the image taken with the L lens is phenomenal. The green and red Chromatic Aberrations of the non-L lens are very unsightly and distracting. The L lens holds them in check quite wonderfully.

    We then wanted to check the lenses both wide open. At the largest aperture, the optics of a lens are put to the test.

    Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM Lens at f/5.6non-L @ f/5.6
    Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM Lens at f/5.6

    L @ f/5.6

    As you can see, the non-L lens falls apart and turns to mush while at the largest aperture of f/5.6 for this focal length. Although no longer tac-sharp, the L lens still maintains definition--you can make out what some of the numbers are supposed to be.

    We then wanted to see what the images looked like at the shortest focal length of both these lenses--70mm. S0, we moved the tripod closer to the test chart and gave it another go. Here we are including just the image taken with these lenses wide-open, at f/4.

    Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM Lens at f/4

    non-L @ f/4

    Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM Lens at f/4

    L @ f/4

    As you can see, at 70mm, there is not as great a difference between the two lenses as there was at 300mm. Both lenses are very sharp. If you quickly scroll up and down the L 70-300mm appears to have a little bit more clarity. As the aperture was stopped down, the differences between the two became less apparent.

    Although we did not have the time (this test was to just quickly see if there was a noticeable difference between the lenses) it would be interesting to try the lenses at other focal lengths to see how they compare. We imagine that most people purchasing a telephoto zoom will be leaning more towards the longer focal length end than the shorter focal length end of the zoom, and in comparing the two lenses at 300mm the L is therefore a much better lens to have in your camera bag. If you are looking for a telephoto zoom that will produce tac-sharp images, the L 70-300mm is an obvious choice. Also, you have to keep in mind that when purchasing this lens, the image quality is not the only part of the equation. The L lens is more solid, and better weather sealed. It just feels more sturdy in the hand. In addition, the speed of the autofocus is phenomenally fast. If you are looking to capture images of wildlife, the L 70-300mm is a great choice for getting quick-moving animals (think birds in flight) in focus and capturing them in a tac-sharp image.

    If you are interested in purchasing either of the lenses mentioned here, please visit our retail website by clicking here.


  • Zeiss Camera Lens News Issue No. 40 - Macro Photography

    More than 3 months ago Zeiss transformed their Camera Lens Newsletter into a blog. The previous newsletter was a series of articles assembled in an easy to download, print and/or view PDF file. The new blog format has the advantage of being more current and up-to-date by providing instant publishing of current topics. The Zeiss Camera Lens Newsletter is now simply a collection of blog posts for the last quarter (3 months), usually on a given subject or topic. This CLN is on macro photography, and the articles can be found here.

    Our favorite articles are Mozart in Miniature, and the ongoing series of articles about Zeiss lens names with this one highlighting Planar. Mozart in Miniature helps to highlight the detail and artistic bokeh of the 100mm f/2 Makro-Planar, a customer favorite for our store.

    Also, although this is not exactly on-topic in regards to Camera Lens News, it does involve Zeiss lenses. The Zeiss M-mount lenses continue to be tight in supply. Luckily, we have started to see more and more come through the pipeline. More recently we have received the Biogon T* 35mm f/2, which can be found here.

  • Nikon Support Article: "Why is 'in-lens' VR superior to 'in-camera' VR?"

    Diagram of lens shift correction VR systems

    Lens Shift Correction (from Nikon article mentioned in this post)

    Let's face it, the draw for many photographers to camera systems made by manufacturer's like Sony and Pentax is the in-camera anti-shake technology. Take any lens, including older lenses being used with adapters, and you have VR. Nikon obviously recognizes this draw because they recently found it necessary to point out the benefits of an in-lens vibration reduction system over an in-camera system. See the support article here:

    Why is 'in-lens' VR superior to 'in-camera' VR?

    Nikon highlights four points in this article, which we will include here for quick reading:

    1. Corrected finder image makes photo composition easy.
    2. Each lens is optimally tuned to achieve reliable correction.
    3. Image information captured by the AF and metering sensors is corrected with in-lens VR.
    4. Patterns of image blur are not the same with all lenses.

    We think point number 2 is probably the most important for arguing the in-lens anti-shake system over an in-camera system. It has now been widely accepted that in-lens anti-shake systems are more effective at reducing blur than in-camera systems, for the exact reason that point number 2 mentions.

    One thing that Nikon does not mention, and it is no surprise that they don't, is what benefit is the in-lens system if the lens does not have VR? Does Nikon manufacture a 50mm f/1.4 with vibration reduction? The answer is no. But mount a 50mm f/1.4 to a camera with an in-camera shake reduction system and you will see at least some benefit.

  • Inside the making of a Leica lens: A brief video

    We recently ran across a brief video highlighting some of the processes involved in the manufacturing and assembly of Leica lenses. Many people ask: "Why are Leica lenses (and products in general) more expensive than many other camera equipment manufacturers?" After this video you'll certainly get a better idea. Notice all of the people who are part of the manufacturing process. A lot of human hands go into making one lens.

    Here's the video:

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  • Playing with Lens Mount Adapters

    Did you ever play with your food as a child? Ever stick broccoli in mashed potatoes to make them stand like trees? Then created a road of ketchup through the forest of broccoli to lead to a cabin built of toast?

    Playing with food

    Photo: Saxton Freymann, taken from the New York Times website

    Maybe playing with food is not a universal desire for children, but there is something undeniably appealing about mixing and matching that even adults cannot forsake. If you are a photographer, the desire to mix, match, or adapt has reached a golden era. I can think of no other time in photography when one could experiment with so many different lens and camera combinations with efficacious results. A lot of this success can be attributed to the mirrorless interchangeable lens digital camera.

    Leica Lens Adapted to Panasonic Lumix GH1

    Leica Dual-Range Summicron-M 50mm f/2 Lens adapted to a Panasonic Lumix GH1

    Doing away with the mirror box of a traditional SLR has opened up a whole new world for adaptation. And, this can only be done with digital, since digital cameras do not need a viewfinder for composition. The electronic LCD works just fine. Virtually any lens can now be adapted to these cameras because of the short distance from the sensor to the lens mount. Lens mount adapter manufacturers have a lot of play for getting lenses adapted to these cameras without jeopardizing the infinity focus of the lens being mounted.

    We sell a lot of different mount adapters. Most of the ones we sell are inexpensive, generic adapters we import ourselves. The results are generally good, but can be mixed. The overall build quality of the adapters are above average, but the machining is not always consistent. For example, when using adapters with an M42 screw-mount, once the lens is screwed on, it may not always line up as you would want. What is often considered the top of the lens--the focus and aperture markings facing up--may face down. The great benefit of these adapters is the value. None of theses adapters cost more than $50. If you are interested in any of these adapters, please give us a call.

    When it comes to high-quality lens mount adapters, the universal name is Novoflex. The machining of these adapters is right on, and the quality control is consistent. We have yet to experience a Novoflex adapter that does not smoothly and securely latch in to place when being mounted on a camera body, and the same goes when mounting a lens to the front of the adapter. In addition, the tolerances are spot on. Once the lens and adapter are mounted to a camera, there is virtually no play--the mount is solid. The downside of the Novoflex adapters is price. These adapters range from $150 to close to $300, which makes them as expensive as some lenses. If you are making an investment for a lifetime of use, however, the Novoflex adapters are a perfect choice. Many of the Novoflex adapters we sell can be found for sale at our website here.

    We recently took the GH1 pictured above for a photography stroll. The dual-range summicron is an excellent lens in terms of sharpness. The only issue with using a 50mm lens on a micro 4/3rds camera, however, is the 2x focal length multiplier. The 50mm focal length of the Leica on a GH1 has the field-of-view of a 100mm lens on a full-frame camera (you can learn more about this and depth-of-field on a another post we made here). The images featured below have no post processing, besides the cropped images, which were...cropped. In terms of sharpening and other enhancements, there was nothing done in post-processing to these images. I will say that the camera was set to JPG, so the image processor will have added some in-camera sharpening there. As you will see, however, the little 50mm dual-range Leica is a great performer. CameraQuest speaks highly of this lens, and more information can be found at their website here. In fact, you can find this statement from their website: "A 50 DR had the honor of having the highest resolution ever tested by the now sorely missed American photography magazine, Modern Photography, at over 100 lines per mm".

    Picture of flowers taken with a Panasonic GH1 and an adapted Leica 50mm f/2 lens

    Picture of flowers taken with a Panasonic GH1 and an adapted Leica 50mm f/2 lens

    Flower picture cropped to show detail

    Flower picture cropped to show detail

    Picture of walk sign taken with the Panasonic GH1 and an adapted Leica 50mm f/2 lens

    Picture of walk sign taken with the Panasonic GH1 and an adapted Leica 50mm f/2 lens

    Picture of plant taken with the Panasonic GH1 and an adapted Leica 50mm f/2 lens

    Picture of plant taken with the Panasonic GH1 and an adapted Leica 50mm f/2 lens

    Plant picture cropped to show detail

    Plant picture cropped to show detail


    Picture of Yoda taken with the Panasonic GH1 and an adapted Leica 50mm f/2 lens

    Picture of Yoda taken with the Panasonic GH1 and an adapted Leica 50mm f/2 lens

    Perhaps the most interesting part of using lens mount adapters is the sheer fun of mixing and matching old lenses with different camera bodies and observing the results. There is so much excitement in taken lenses from the 30's to 60's, or whatever time period, and using them on modern cameras. The results are usually surprisingly good, and often create a look that is not achievable with modern lenses. So go ahead, play with your food.

  • First Impressions of the New Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G Lens

    Nikon has been going through some of their most popular lenses and updating them with enhanced features like, but not limited to, SWM (silent wave motor, designated by the AF-S), the addition of an aspheric lens element (to help correct spherical and optical abberations), and full-time manual focus override (allowed by the SWM). The AF-S 85mm f/1.4 and AF-S 50mm f/1.4 are a couple of other lenses that I can quickly think of that have also gone through this type of updating. The latest to this updating is the very popular Nikon 50mm f/1.8. We recently received the new Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G lens, and were curious how it stacked up.

    Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G Lens

    The older version Nikon 50mm f/1.8 was considered a must-have lens, if for no other reason than the $134 price tag. The new AF-S 50mm f/1.8G is over 60% more expensive, but still very reasonably priced at $219. There aren't many quality lenses out there in this price range. We've been seeing a lot of more modern, inexpensively priced lenses being made with plastic lens mounts. Although this will not hinder the image-making performance of the lens, we've seen a lot of broken lenses having to go out for repair due to the plastic mounts cracking, snapping, or wearing over time to a state of being loose from mounting and unmounting the lens to camera bodies. The new 50mm f/1.8 to our excitement has a shiny, all-metal mount:

    Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G LensWhile staying on the topic of build quality, the build quality of this updated lens is great. The focus ring is larger and more burly than the previous version, making for an easy grip for manual focusing, and the overall design and finish of the lens is clean. This lens even has a rubberized gasket around the metal mount to help keep out dust and moisture when mounted to a camera body.

    Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G LensThis Father's Day weekend, I had my nephew's birthday party to attend, and I thought it would be a good opportunity to take the new 50mm f/1.8 for a stroll. I gave the lens a test drive with the Nikon D7000. I was extremely impressed with the results.

    The first thing I noticed with this lens is that it was still very sharp wide open, especially for a lens in its price range, and provided an excellent overall wide-open image quality with the D7000. This lens is compatible with FX cameras (full frame digital and film cameras), and it would be interesting to see how the corners look there. But, on a DX (crop) camera, I was impressed.

    Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G Lens

    Lens set at maximum aperture: f/1.8


    Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G Lens

    Same image with 100% crop on in-focus area

    The silent wave motor was fast and silent. I was able to pop off several shots of my 6 year old nephew (who, like any 6 year old, changes his expression every fraction of a moment), and I couldn't even hear the lens working. Although I did not test the video much, anyone shooting video with the autofocus engaged will appreciate the silence of this lens, instead of hearing the whir-clink-whir-clink-whir-clink of a more noisy, non-SWM lens.

    Stopping down the lens to f/5.6 made for some extremely sharp images. In a couple of cases (do I dare say it?), the images were so sharp I felt it detracted from the photograph. Sometimes seeing every nook and cranny is not the most aesthetically pleasing experience for a photograph.

    Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G Lens

    Lens set to f/5.6, 100% crop of portrait

    Overall I was very pleased with my experience over the weekend of using this lens. Compact, quick, silent, sharp, overall pleasing bokeh, with minimal aberrations for my lighting conditions, and good build quality...all at an affordable price.  Throughout the day I kept looking at my images and thinking, these look really good, which, to me, makes for a worthwhile lens. Please see some more examples below to get a better overall feel for the lens:

    For the money, I really don't see how you could go wrong with this lens. For full-frame users, it might be a different story, if the edges fall completely apart. All of the images shown in this article are unaltered, except for the 100% crops, which were cropped...of course. I didn't need to apply any unsharp mask, etc., although I was using the D7000 saving to JPG, so there was some sharpening going on there. In conclusion, I would recommend this lens to a friend.

    If you have any questions about the lens, please feel free to comment on this post. If you are interested in purchasing this lens, please visit our website by clicking on this text.

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