Photography Gear Reviews

New Lens Vs Old Lens

We compare the Canon 16-35mm F/4 IS against the older Canon 17-40mm F/4 in a landscape photography setting to see if the upgrade is worth the money.

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After a recent video some said I should get the Canon 16-35mm to replace my 17-40mm. So I have. But I’ve been talking recently how the gear doesn’t make the photographer so I’m not totally convinced this purchase was required. So I thought I would put it to the test, possibly prove myself wrong, and help you when it comes to making your next lens purchase decision.

Sharpness

There are certain things important to me in a lens when shooting landscape photography. Sharpness is important up to a certain extant. Once an acceptable level of sharpness is reached then I am happy. Most photographs are viewed at a reasonable distance and a normal viewer is not looking at minute details or pixel peeping an image. The overall story is much more important.

Lens Distortion

When working with super wide angles like 16-20mm, distortion can become a real problem and is extremely distracting and prevalent in cheaper lenses. The Canon 17-40mm handles distortion reasonably well so I was interested to see if Canon 16-35mm F/4 IS would be better.

Chromatic Aberration

The coloured soft edges in high contrast areas of an image look extremely unpleasant and can make an image look cheap. Also known as chromatic aberration, one major benefit of a high quality lens is the ability to control it. These days, it can be controlled in post-processing but it results can be hit and miss depending on the image. The Canon 17-40mm can be susceptible to chromatic Aberration, can the 16-35mm improve matters.

When conducting a camera lens review I am also looking at build quality and extras such as IS. Image stabilisation is not important to me for stills. For video, it is much more important so it is still something I look for.

In the video I pit the two lenses against each other at Ribblehead viaduct in the Yorkshire Dales. The Limestone pavement provides some big foreground interest for a shot, something I really wanted to include in the lens review.

Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM Review

In this video review we take a look at the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM.

Buying photography gear can be an expensive pursuit and this is particularly the case when it comes to lenses. When first looking at the price of lenses it can be a shocking experience. Even when using one of my favourite lenses, the Canon EF 500mm f4 L IS II USM, I am still astounded when reminding myself it costs £7000. Thankfully there are lenses out there that cost less than cars. The Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM is one such lens.

See my related video on why you should invest in your photography. https://www.firstmanphotography.com/blog/why-you-should-invest-in-your-photography

Budding photographers often ask me what lens they should buy when upgrading from the kit lens. My answer is almost always, a 50mm prime lens. Canon’s cheapest lens fits into this category so how does this ‘new’ cheapest lens shape up?

The Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM has always been an excellent upgrade from the kit lens, introducing photographers to prime lenses and the joy of extreme blurred backgrounds at a very reasonable price. It also teaches new skills, such as being more thoughtful about composition; when zooming is limited to what you can do with your feet. Shooting with bigger apertures also introduces bigger challenges when it comes to focusing due to the small depth of field where less than a millimetre of movement can be the difference between a great shot and an unusable shot.

The Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM Lens is an improvement on the previous version. The old lens had a cheap plastic construction and mount. The newer lens is still made from plastic, albeit a better plastic, but the mount is now of metal construction offering a more solid feel. Other improvements include the aperture blades; where the old lens had five, the new version has seven curved blades offering better bokeh. The bokeh is however a bit rough and does not have the creamy properties of more expensive lenses.

Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM Review
Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM Review

The focus system also receives an upgrade to STM. This is an improvement over the standard focus motor but is still quite noisy. The lens focuses very quickly though and without hesitation providing the kind of assurance normally reserved for much higher end lenses. Even when working with a very shallow depth of field at f/1.8, the focus rarely missed. The focus system is ‘focus by wire’ meaning the camera needs to be powered on in order for the lens to adjust focus, even in manual focus.

STM lenses operate well in live view mode and this often makes them great for video. Sadly this is not the case here due to the noise of the motor. Often this problem can be solved by manual focusing but because the motor operates in this mode as well, your only option is to move your sound recording off the camera. Whilst this step will improve your videos generally, it becomes more difficult and there is also the associated cost of buying microphones and sound recorders. The lens is also lacking image stabilisation which is not an issue for stills but is a must for any kind of decent video work.

Chromatic Aberration is present in areas of high contrast but is no worse than on the more expensive f/1.4 non L version of the Canon 50mm. Stop down a bit and this becomes better controlled.

Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM Review
Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM Review

In terms of sharpness this lens is offers improvements over the kit lens and other more expensive zoom lenses but is not at the level of more expensive primes lenses. Be happy with the sharpness. For the cost, you can't complain.

Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM Review
Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM Review

Overall the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM lens is an improvement over the previous incarnation. There are some weaknesses along the way and there is a little point upgrading if you already own a 50mm 1.8. However the value and the opportunities it opens up make this lens a superb option to photographers upgrading from the kit lens. This will no doubt ensure this becomes Canon's new best selling lens.

Buy now Canon EF 50 mm 1.8 STM Lens - in the UK

But now Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM Lens - in the US

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Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM Review

In this video review we take a look at the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM

Macro. This fascinating field of photography grips most photographers at some point in their careers and often never lets go. Magnifying the miniature and blowing it up into a super large print is an addictive pursuit and often wows people with the rarely seen results. However, there is more to owning a macro lens than just running around the house and shooting everything small you can find. This Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM is a pro piece of glass and can be used for much much more.

Getting your hands on the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM, the first thing you notice (after that red ring of course) is the lens is relatively light. Although constructed from a plastic housing the lens still maintains a quality feel and the metal mount and water resistant rubber seal ensures the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM is safe and secure on your camera. This lens has all the usual Canon L quality and at 100mm distortion and vignetting is minimal even when shot wide open. Chromatic aberration is virtually non-existent thanks to the UD glass element.

The Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM compares directly with the cheaper 100mm Canon Macro non L lens and you may be wondering why it is worth paying the extra for this, especially when the non L version is such a good lens anyway. The answer, apart from the slightly better build quality, is the Hybrid IS system. This system compensates for the usual angular movement but also for shift movement too. This is important for macro shots when you are getting in close and even the smallest movement will ruin your shot. It means shooting macro shots handheld becomes easier and your number of useable shots will increase. The stabilisation provides 2 stops at 1.0x magnification, 3 stops at 0.5x and 4 stops in normal shooting conditions.

graham slee solo and sennheiser hd650 headphones
graham slee solo and sennheiser hd650 headphones

The Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM can be used for a lot more than close ups of flowers and bugs. The lens is such high quality that it is perfectly suited to studio work when shooting still life or product photography. I use the lens regularly for my water drop photographs and it is the perfect in this role.

Drop Collisions 2-6
Drop Collisions 2-6

If you want to shoot these water drop images for yourself check out this video tutorial - https://www.firstmanphotography.com/tutorials/water-drop-photography

The lens also doubles as a good portrait lens. The 100mm is an excellent portrait range on a full frame. At 160mm equivalent on a cropped sensor camera it is a bit longer but is still a useful portrait range. The IS works well for portraits and provides an added bonus in low light situations.

Overall the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM offers excellent value, especially given the cost, due to the versatility that it provides. If you are looking at the non L version my advice would be to save up the extra pennies and buy this lens. With a 5 out of 5 joy factor, you will not be sorry.

Purchase in the US - Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro Lens

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Tamron 24-70 mm F2.8 VC USD Review

In this video review we take at look at the Tamron 24-70 mm F2.8 VC USD.

If you are looking at the Tamron 24-70 lens you are probably in the market for a 24-70mm lens. The 24-70mm zoom range is probably suited to more situations than any other range and forms part of the holy trinity of zoom lens with the 70-200mm and a lens on the wider end like the 16-35 Canon or the 14-24 Nikon. Living in the bag of most pro photographers this focal range is perfect for weddings, portraits, street photography, some landscapes and much more. The question is whether this offering of a Tamron 24-70 mm is enough to pull you away from the Canon or Nikon equivalents.

Living on a full frame camera this lens will offer the versatile range described above. On a cropped sensor camera however things get a big longer. The 35mm equivalent is 38-112 which is still useful but some of the wide areas are lost meaning, for example, the wedding group shot or some landscapes will be more difficult.

This lens has a f/2.8 aperture throughout the zoom range making it good for low light and matches that offered from Canon and Nikon. The USD (Ultra Silent Drive) means silent focusing and it does this well and without delay. The rubber ring around the lens mount ensures this is weather sealed and it has performed well in this area during the time I have used it. 

The quality of this lens is very high and it takes professional grade images. Even in comparison to the most recent Nikon and Canon lenses this still holds up as a great shooter. There is some loss of sharpeners to the edges of the frame on a full frame camera and there are a couple of issues with flare at the long end. These are minor issues though and will not be noticed in everyday shooting.

This lens is optically not as good as the Canon and Nikon and if that is the most important thing to you then you should opt for one of them. However let me provide two good reasons why you should buy this Tamron 24-70.

Firstly, value. This lens is currently half the price of the Canon and Nikon equivalent at £679 in the UK and slightly closer to them at $1200 in the US. For glass that is almost as good, this is amazing value. The Tamron 24-70 has a secret weapon up its sleeve though - image stabilisation. No other 24-70 f/2.8 has image stabilisation leaving the Tamron 24-70 out on its own in terms of versatility. Although not totally necessary for still shots the image stabilisation makes this lens a must have for photographers shooting video. The stabilisation makes shooting video handheld a real joy and combined with some stabilisation in post (warp stabiliser) this lens can produce video that looks like is was shot with a very expensive rig.

With all this in mind the lens deserves some serious attention and if you are already looking at this lens then it is likely the price tag has already attracted you. Given the excellent images this creates and the ability to shoot high quality video with just one lens, this will certainly be sitting on many cameras where previously a Canon and Nikon lens would have ruled.

Sigma 35mm F1.4 DG HSM | ART Lens Review

Is the Sigma 35mm F1.4 DG HSM Lens a True Contender?

Typically, when research begins to buy a new lens most people will begin looking at the options from their chosen camera manufacturer. This is a sensible approach as historically the output from the likes of Canon and Nikon was better than the offerings from third party manufacturers. Recently however things have changed with companies such as Sigma and Tamron producing some excellent lenses that are giving the big boys a run for their money. The truly superb Tamron 24-70 mm F2.8 VC, for example, challenges closely in image quality and offers benefits not found currently in the main models. There must be some nervous people around at present in Canon and Nikon as Sigma has been rolling out a number of new lenses branded under it's Art line and they have been gathering much favour.

The Sigma 35mm F1.4 DG HSM is one such example. Unboxing is a pleasant experience as you are struck by just how beautiful this lens looks and the solid feel in your hands. The metal construction is welcome in the face of the more recent plastic trend. The look is more Zeiss or Sony than Canon or Nikon. Once attached to the camera it formed a nice balance in the hand with a large focus ring perfectly placed with a satisfying smooth motion. On the smaller cropped sensor cameras the lens was a little more weighted towards the front as the optics and quality build provide some bulk. This lens is much bigger than your standard 50mm f/1.4 or f/1.8.

When shooting the first few images I noticed that focusing was off leaving images soft. Whilst this could just be the model I was using a lens should come ready to shoot perfect images, straight out the box. Not ready to give up on the initial impression this lens had made on me I spent a few irritating minutes shooting a wall chart from my tripod to calibrate my camera to the lens. Sigma do offer a lens dock for some of their new lenses where calibrations can be made to the lens itself and firmware can be updated but I would rather it all just worked so I could get straight to shooting.

Sigma 35mm
Sigma 35mm

On taking the first few frames i was reminded of just how much I love the 35mm focal length. It is neither a hugely wide field of view nor a close in one. In fact it is very near to the field of vision of the human eye. This makes it a hugely versatile focal length with virtually endless creative possibilities. It is the ideal focal length to hone your eye and get used to taking beautiful pictures because you are forced to think and work for it. Close in you can capture portraits whilst further away you can grab a beautiful landscape. In the middle it is perfect for documentary and street photography. On a crop sensor camera this lens will give you a 56mm focal length which is still perfect for street photograph and portraits.

sigma 35mm
sigma 35mm

The Sigma 35mm F1.4 DG HSM has thirteen elements in eleven groups and the optical quality is simply excellent. With nine aperture blades and a large f1.4 aperture the quality of the bokeh is dreamy and satisfying. Chromatic aberration is well controlled and I have never once felt the need to correct this in post production.

sigma 35mm
sigma 35mm

There is a small amount of distortion that is noticeable when shooting portraits close in but this would be true of most lenses at 35mm. There is noticeable vignette when shot wide open but performs better than the equivalent canon 35mm L and can be quickly and easily removed in post. In terms of sharpness the lens performs superbly well even wide open and at this focal length I could not ask for more. Sharpness across the image is better than the Canon and Nikon and as soon as you stop down a bit, you might get cut. The Sigma 35mm F1.4 DG HSM is not weather sealed but thanks to the build quality, should survive a bit of drizzle just fine.

sigma 35mm
sigma 35mm

This lens has been a joy to use and once you get your hands on it you simply want to hold on and never let go. If you are starting out with a cropped sensor this will act as a beautiful 56mm lens, then, on upgrading to full frame, you will already have an amazing 35mm in your arsenal. Whilst the focal length is covered by many excellent zoom lenses the optical quality achieved by this lens could make it worth the purchase alone. When you consider the low light capabilities, the simplicity and the value, at nearly half the price of the main manufacturer equivalents, the Sigma 35mm F1.4 DG HSM is a lens I will be keeping in my bag and very often attached to my camera.

Please use one of the below links if you decide to buy this lens.

Buy in the UK -

Graham Slee Solo and Sennheiser HD650 Headphones

Photographers Have a Need for Great Headphones

In this video we look at the Graham Slee Solo and Sennheiser HD650 headphones and amp combination. We know as photographers we love shooting. Time passes quickly as we put our skills to use capturing beautiful and amazing moments. This could be anything from your most recent wedding to a family holiday.We all know at some point we are going to have to organise and edit them all ready for the end user. This means hours sat behind a computer screen on your own. It is fair to say that sometimes this can get boring, especially when you have hundreds of images. Therefore we need something to keep us going. Food and drink are a good help but listening to music is vital,at least to me.

Although you never intend it, it's far too easy to sit up editing late into the night to get a job finished. I have been there many times. It is at this point that a good pair of headphones are truly essential to maximise your enjoyment of the music whilst not disturbing your neighbours or family.

Headphones are very much like camera lenses. They are a well established technology where new models only come out rarely and only offer modest improvements. With this in mind it is a very safe bet to invest in a good pair of headphones that will last years and years.

That is why I invested in a pair of Sennheiser HD650's. They are over ear, open backed headphones. That means they sit right over your ears providing wear-all-day comfort. The open back means they provide a cleaner more open sound with a wider and more impressive sound stage in your head. The downside is that more sound will leak out of them so they are not ideal for portable use. They also require a large amount of power to drive them so will not work well with your phone or MP3 player. Instead they need to be plugged into an amplifier, home stereo or dedicated headphone amp. Once these drawbacks are overcome though you are left with an almost perfect set of cans that provide a natural and spacious sound that you will not tire of. 

My setup currently has these hooked up to a dedicated headphone amp. For the last couple of years I have been using a Graham Slee Solo SRGii connected to my computer via a separate DAC for maximum quality. Graham Slee is a UK based company and they specialise in creating hifi equipment using their knowledge of electronics to create truly musical gear that defies their price point. Whilst not cheap the Solo produces such a clean, valve like sound that combined with the Sennheiser's just makes you want to rediscover your entire music collection all over again.

The Sennheiser's are currently available for £250 and the Solo is about £400. Whilst admittedly this is expensive, if you consider the amount of time you are sat editing and the many years of joy that a good pair of cans will provide, the return on investment is significant.

Get more details on the Graham Slee Solo and Sennheiser HD650 Headphones here: