Nikon 50mm f/1.4G or Sigma 50mm f/1.4 HSM

Recently, Nikon just launches their new 50mm f/1.4G lens. This lens has been long waited by Nikon fans. But is this lens a lot better than its predecessor? Nikon 50mm f/1.4D ? or Sigma 50mm f/1.4 HSM?

What is the improvement?

  1. First, this lens will work with Nikon D40, D40X and D60 digital slr camera.
  2. Second, it has a faster focusing due to AF-S motor
  3. Third, it is sharper wide open.
  4. Fourth, it produce better color-contrast

According to Tom Iancu, a Nikon user who posts review in Amazon.com, the extreme sharpness of this lens has a trade off. The bokeh or blur in the background is not smooth. On the other hand, the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 (slightly cheaper by the time I write the article) is not as sharp wide open, but it create a smooth, buttery bokeh.

About the build quality, Sigma is better. It feels tougher, but also heavy and bigger (520g vs 290g).

So it boils down to what you like, extreme sharpness, or smoother bokeh. Tom personally suggests that you get both.

For Nikon 50mm f/1.4D owner, the upgrade will help boost sharpness and faster in auto focus especially if you use older or smaller Nikon cameras (D70, D80, D60, D40).

Tokina AT-X 116 11-16mm f/2.8 PRO DX For Canon

Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 is the best super-wide angle lens up to date. The build quality of the lens is very good. The image quality is excellent in any aperture and focal length. Auto focus is fast and quiet.

Unlike Canon EF-S which have a smaller aperture of f3.5-4.5, and also is not compatible with full frame body, Tokina 11-16mm have a constant aperture of f/2.8 and compatible with full frame body up to 15mm which is great. It is also slightly cheaper.

The constant aperture of f/2.8 made this lens great for low light and also good enough to create shallow depth of field.

The limitation of this lens will be the zoom length. 11-16mm definitely shorter than Canon EF-S 10-22mm, Sigma 10-20mm, Nikon 12-24mm, and ultra wide lens from Tamron. (Tokina is available for Nikon cameras as well).

There is also no manual focus override, you need to push-pull the focus bar to change focusing mode.

Overall this lens is great in super wide angle category. If you are in love with the ultra-wide coverage for landscape, architecture (outdoor and indoor), and some of photojournalistic work (close crowd shots), then this lens is a must have.

Image Quality : Excellent 5/5
Build Quality : Very Good 41/2 /5
Price value: 4/5

Samples: at 11mm – Canon XSi/450D

Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM

Canon 85mm f/1.8 USM is probably the best value Canon lens. The quality of the image is very good, big aperture allow low light hand held shot and create a shallow depth of field. The auto focus is quiet and very fast.

Build quality of this lens is very good, feels very solid and definitely a step up from kit lens. It is relatively short and light weight compared to general purpose lens (3.0″ x 2.8″, 15.0 oz. / 75.0 x 71.5mm, 425g).

Application of this lens will be portrait, indoor sport (basketball, volleyball), art performance and candid photography.

Using this lens for soft and sharp images

  • Wide open at f/1.8, this lens is soft but create a very nice ‘bokeh’ great for girls portraits.
  • at f/2.8, the center of the image is very sharp, my favorite setting for general portraits and sports.
  • at f/4 and above, the image is very sharp edge to edge, especially f/8 where you get the maximum sharpness.

There is nothing that I can complain about this lens at this price point because it has very good built quality, excellent in low light especially freezing motion, and awesome for portraits. It worth every penny. I recommend this lens in addition to your general purpose kit lens.

Image Quality : Excellent 4/5
Build Quality : Very Good 4/5
Price value: 5/5

Canon 135mm f/2L usm mini review

Canon 135mm f2 L USM is regarded as one of the best three prime lenses that Canon produce (Along with 85mm f/1.2 L USM and 35mm f/1.4 L USM).

The images from this lens are very sharp, contrasty and show a lot of details even in wide open at f/2. The depth of field is very shallow at f/2. As a result, the background will be compressed.

Because of that features, Canon 135mm is ideal for portrait, especially candid portrait, street photography and indoor sports.

Build quality is very good, the best Canon can made. The lens is not as big and heavy as telephoto zoom.

But unfortunately, this lens does not have Image Stabilization built-in. Image stabilization in telephoto is quite important so you can shoot with shutter speed lower than the focal length X crop multiplier. For example, when you attach this lens into crop sensor camera such as Canon Rebel series or 0XD series, then you need to set a shutter speed to at least 1/200 or greater to get a tack sharp result. It is also depend on how steady your hand is. If you have steady hand, then 1/160 will be adequate.

This lens have a decent closing focus (1m) this is better than most of the telephoto zoom range. You can also get a extension tube to get the focusing even closer (.6m with 2x extension tube).
Therefore, this lens will be quite good for macro photography.

Application
The application of the lens will be quiet narrow. Candid photography is one in my mind when I think about this lens. It is because the telephoto range, maximum aperture, and the size is not that big and obtrusive.

The second one will be close-up and head-shoulder portraiture, and then for indoor sports such as volleyball, basketball and so on.

The downside
This lens does not have a wide range of application because the inflexibility of fixed focal length lens (prime lens).

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Although the focusing is quite fast, but it is not as fast as EF 50mm f/1.4 USM or EF 85mm f/1.8 USM. So in the fast action sport, expect to miss some shots.

Other alternatives:
Other lens that you might consider to buy is Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L or 70-200mm f/4 IS.

They are similar in price. the 70-200mm f/2.8 has more flexibility but bigger. The 70-200 f/4 L IS is great because it has IS but you don’t have the luxury of big aperture. The weight of f4L lens is almost the same, but the length is slightly longer.

Other ‘budget’ telephoto primes alternatives: Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 and 100mm f/2. Both are not as sharp and detailed as the Canon 135mm f/2 but when stopped own to f/2.8-4 they will impressed you.

In conclusion
You will love this lens if you are into close-up portrait, candid photography and indoor sports shooters. With extension tube, you can transform this lens into a super sharp macro lens.

Is it worth it? This lens has a narrow application, so if you are specialized in candid portraiture or indoor sports and want the sharpest lens. This lens is definitely for you.

If you are looking for more versatile lens, then investing on high quality telephoto zoom lens will be better.

Image Quality : Excellent 5/5
Build Quality : Very Good 41/2 /5
Price value: 3/5

Sony vs Canon Lenses

Sony has been pretty active and aggressive in recent years in digital SLR market. Sony DSLR department inherited technology from Konica Minolta that does not exist anymore. In camera section, Sony has any camera for any class. From entry level: Sony A200, enthusiast: Sony A300/A350, Semi-pro: A700 and Professional full frame Sony A900.

In lens department, we can see a huge gap between entry level lens and pro level lens. Let’s compare Sony lens collection with Canon lens collection.

Note: The price might change, and if the market price change, it tends to be lower.
BC is build quality, IQ is image quality

As we can see, Sony prime lens collection is not only less compared to Canon lens, but they are also quiet expensive. Most of the lens are for professionals. The most affordable of the crop is Sony 50mm f/1.4 a standard lens which is around $350.

In the wide general purpose lens section, Sony delivers many options for entry level to professionals. For professional, Sony offers 16-35mm f/2.8 and 24-70mm f/2.8. For enthusiasts, there are many to choose, 16-105mm is a affordable versatile lens, and 16-80mm produces great quality image but a bit expensive.

Sony also has superzoom telephoto that is ideal when you only want to travel with one camera and one lens but you still want to have a lens that have wide coverage of focal length. The lens is also great for social events outdoor such as a parade.

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In telephoto zoom lens section, Sony only have several lens in the market. Two of them are entry level lens (usually called kit lens), and the other two are for professionals. So we can see there is a huge gap between entry-level and professional grade lens.

It is also interesting that Sony just launch the 70-400mm lens. This lens focal length is very flexible, mechanically excellent and the image quality is great.

In macro lens category, Sony lenses are overpriced.

In Conclusion
I feel that Sony is focusing in only two kinds of photographer, one is entry level users that buy a cheap digital slr with kit lens and use it for years. The other one is professional photographers.

Looking from lens collection, there are very limited choice for entry level users to grow to enthusiasts level because there is a huge gap on the price between entry level and pro level lenses.

The price of the professional grade lenses are also relatively expensive. It is mostly because Sony have to share the profit with Carl Zeiss, the famous lens manufacturer. Also because of the size of the market share Sony posseses right now, It is quiet hard to find a used or bargain lenses.

The expensiveness of Sony lens is a bit disappointing because Sony cameras offer built-in body stabilization. So the lens should be less expensive than lens-based stabilization that Canon or Nikon offer.

Because Sony digital SLR is still in infant and will keep growing, we hope that in the future Sony makes more lenses to bridge entry level users and professionals, and set a more competitive price.

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Canon lenses vs Olympus lenses

Like other big manufacturer of Digital SLR system, Olympus offers full range of lenses for their system. Compared to Canon lens collection, Olympus has a good collection of standard general purpose and telephoto zoom lenses but not so many in low light prime lenses.

Note: The price might change, and if the market price change, it tends to be lower.
BC is build quality, IQ is image quality

As a said before, Olympus does not have many collection of prime lenses. Prime lens is a fixed focal length lenses which are used greatly by photographers in many occasions such as for sports, portraits, social events, etc. For prime and zoom lens differences click here.

In general purpose lens category (wide to telephoto zoom), Olympus offers a good selection of lenses. Some of the lenses are exceptional in image and built quality. One of the star is 12-60mm f/2.8-4 SWD. This lens has a versatile focal length equivalent to 24-120mm or 15-75mm (Canon range). That because Olympus has crop factor multiplier of 2 and Canon has 1.6. This lens has very fast and quiet focusing due to SWD (Supersonic wave drive) technology.

Along with 12-60mm, Olympus also offers other high quality and worth to mention which is 14-35mm f/2 SWD. This lens is very advance because it has a very big aperture and great focusing speed.

Both of the lens come out with a premium price tag of $850 and $2200.

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In Telephoto zoom lens category, Olympus is also have some lenses that are good for wildlife photography such as high power zoom 70-300mm and 90-250mm. Both focal length are equivalent to 87.5 x 375mm and 112.5 x 312mm (Compared to Canon length) respectively.

This focal length of Olympus telephoto zoom lens is significant because Olympus lenses have longer coverage than Canon famous 70-200mm series and also the 90-250mm has big max aperture of f/2.8 while in the same length, Canon only offer 100-400mm lens which has significantly smaller aperture of f/4.5-5.6. Of course the Olympus 90-250mm comes with hefty price tag of $5400 compare to Canon’s $1400.

In macro lens category, Olympus only offer two macro lens while Canon offers many more. But do not underestimate Olympus macro lens just yet. The 50mm macro for example can go down to f/2 which is great for low light, and both of the lenses have a decent price tag. Unfortunately, Olympus macro lens built quality and focusing mechanism are not as good as the image quality provided.

In conclusion
Olympus offers many lenses which capable to produce high quality images. It seems to me that the Olympus philosophy are less is good. If you love to use general “all you can do” lens and high quality long telephoto zoom lens in the market, then Olympus collection might be appealing.

The other advantage of Olympus lenses is the fact that most of Olympus digital slr cameras have built-in stabilization (Except E4X0 and some older models). So all lenses that you connect to the camera will have the benefit of image stabilization whereas in Canon only certain lenses have image stabilization feature.

But if you fond of prime lenses and macro, Olympus does not have many to offer. There is also a gap from Olympus lenses for example, to upgrade to a better lenses, the price different between the standard and the professional grade lens is very significant. For example, standard lenses costs around $200-500 but professional grade lenses starts from $850 and many costs thousands. This might be big a turn off for enthusiasts that desire more affordable pro grade lenses.

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Pentax lenses vs Canon lenses

Pentax offers a full range of lenses from wide, telephoto, zoom and specialty lenses up to date. Compared to Canon lenses, Pentax has some advantages. In this entry I will evaluate only modern up-to date lenses (not discontinued or legacy lenses).

First, Pentax lenses’ price tag is significantly cheaper than the Canon counterpart. For example, Pentax 14mm f/2.8 is $1400 cheaper than Canon 14mm f/2.8. General purpose low light lens Pentax DA* 16-50mm f/2.8 SDM is also significantly cheaper than Canon 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM or 24-70mm f/2.8. ($600 compare to $1000 / 1200)

When you have to pay quite a lot of money for lens-based Image stabilization in advance Canon lenses, in Pentax, you have built-in stabilization in camera body that work with every Pentax lenses up to date. That is one reason why Pentax lenses are cheaper.

Second, Pentax has exotic pancake lenses collection called DA Limited. These lenses are optimized for its small built yet very durable and produce great image quality. These lenses are affordable (starting at $250) and ideal for photographers who value ultimate portability.

Third, Pentax new DA* (DA Star) is a new breed of Pentax lenses. They are weather sealed and equipped by lens-based motor drive called SDM (Supersonic Motor). In the past, Pentax is quite behind Canon and Nikon in term of speed of Auto Focus, with the introducing of SDM and DA*, then the gap is narrower.

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On the other hand, Canon lenses has advantage of being complete. Practically, it has almost everything that beginner, enthusiasts to professional needs at any of price that they can afford.

Even though Canon IS lenses are expensive, but they are more advance from Pentax built-in stabilization in camera body. It has advantage of 1-3 more stops. Canon Lens-based stabilization also allowerd photographer to see the effect of stabilization from viewfinder immediately after it is activated.

Before you decide on what digital slr camera to buy, it is wise to check out their cameras and lenses at the same time. Because by making decision on camera, means that you decide on their lens collection as well.

Off course, they are also third party lenses that are available for both brands: Sigma, Tokina, Tamron.

Here are table of direct lenses comparison:
BC is Lens build, IQ is Image quality

Comments: Pentax offers a solid line-up comparable to Canon’s from super wide angle lens to standard general purpose lenses. Lenses like DA* 16-50mm f/2.8 SDM and DA 17-70mm f4 SDM is very versatile and almost a must have for most Pentax photographers.

Canon outshines Pentax in telephoto ranges. Canon 70-200mm series are awesome along with high range 70-300mm and affordable entry level 55-250mm IS. Canon also have stellar collection for professional sport photographers in low light – super telephoto prime, while Pentax only provide medium telephoto DA* 50-135mm f/2.8 and 60-250mm f4 lens.

In conclusion
In general photography, especially wide to medium telephoto (14-135mm) Pentax has many quality lenses for you, but in telephoto range of 70-400mm, Canon provides many more options especially pro-quality lenses. If you care about portability, Pentax pancake lenses could catch your attention. Overall, Pentax system could save you significant amount of money, but Canon has significantly better collection to deal with low light, sports or fast action photography.

Related post: Pentax System, Canon EOS System, Pentax vs Sony vs Olympus lenses

Pentax 40mm f/2.8 Limited Review

Pentax 40mm f/2.8 limited is an exotic lens which can produce a really nice image quality even wide open at f/2.8. Physically, it is very small and thin even with the lens hood attached. (When you buy this lens you will get the lens hood and also nice small leather pouch). It can focus pretty close 30cm to infinity. When you focus in, the lens will rotate and protrude around 1/2 inch. At around 165g, this lens is very light, basically you’ll feel like you are only carrying a camera without lens, which is good for portability.

This lens is capable to produce very good quality image with nice background blur at f/2.8. It is also very sharp that it can capture speckles of dust. The focal length is equivalent to 60mm which is considered a standard lens.

Being a standard lens, there are many things you can do with the lens, portrait, still life, general travel are some of the application. But for indoor, wide landscape or architecture shots, this lens is not wide enough.

Tried with Pentax k100D, the lens focuses accurately but not as quickly as lens with SDM (Supersonic Drive Motor) or other lens-based motor. It takes almost 1 second for the lens to focus. It also create a some noise in the process. So this lens with Pentax k100d is not ideal for action or candid shots. For general photography such as still life, travel, portrait, the lens will do very fine.

Build Quality
The built quality is also impressive, it is all metal construction, no plastic or rubber. Due to the size of the lens, the focusing barrel is quite small, but it is very smooth and easy to work with.

The other not so good about the lens is the lens cap. It is screw cap, means that you need to screw out the cap by hand. It takes me at least 5-10 seconds. the lens cap is very small and if you’re not careful, you could lose it.

Sample pic on the above right is taken by Pentax 40mm with Pentax k100d camera, no post-editing, straight out from the camera.

Overall this lens deliver a very impressive image quality, detail and sharpness with reasonable price. I will highly recommend this lens.

Other alternative will be Pentax 50mm f/1.4 which is slightly bigger, longer, sand cheaper but 2 stop faster. Also consider Pentax 70mm f/2.4 Limited pan cake lens which is ideal for portrait.

Image Quality : Excellent 5/5
Build Quality : Very Good 4/5
Price value: 5/5

Related article:
Sigma 50mm f/1.4 EX HSM

Canon EF-S 17-85mm IS USM vs 18-200mm IS

Canon 18-200mm IS is the new general purpose lens released in Fall 2008 with Canon 50D. This lens is ideal for vacation due to its versatile focal length. 
Canon also have 17-85mm IS USM f/4-5.6. Both are considered in the same class as 18-200mm. But which is better? 
17-85mm auto focus operation is faster and quieter. This lens is also around $175 cheaper. But 18-200mm has 125mm focal length advantage. This allows 18-200 mm users to shoot nature such as birds, ducks etc. Also this lens could be used to shoot outdoor sport. The Image Stabilization of 18-200mm is 1-2 stops better than 17-85mm too.
Here are some observations about these two lenses:
  • Shooting at 17mm wide open (largest aperture available) both of the lenses as similar sharpness. 18-200mm is sharper in the center but worse in the corner. 
  • Shooting at 24mm-f/4, 18-200mm is sharper in the center. 
  • Shooting at 50mm f/5-6, 18-200mm is significantly sharper in the center
  • Shooting at 80mm and 85mm f/5.6, 18-200 has worse corner sharpness.
  • Shooting at 135mm f/5.6, 18-200mm has very bad corner sharpness.
  • Shooting at 200mm f/5.6, 18-200mm is sharp at f/8 but suffers from high chromatic aberration or color fringing in high contrast areas.
In conclusion
Overall Canon EF 18-200mm is sharper in the center across the focal length but worse in the corner. At telephoto end, from 150-200mm, this lens suffers dramatic color fringing.
Both lenses are not perfect, but they are good enough for casual use. Mechanically, 17-85mm has a better AF operation but 18-200 has better IS. 18-200mm has also longer focal length.
So does investing $175 more for 18-200mm worth it? it depends on your needs. Are you planning to use the lens for outdoor sport / nature? If yes than you will need 18-200mm otherwise, 17-85mm might serve you well. 
Other alternative for general purpose lens in the same class (consumer class) are 28-135mm IS USM.