New Photo Gear

Slightly before the holidays I picked up the Canon 5DmkII as a replacement to my original 5D. The 5D is still working like a champ, and I have no objections to its performance for the type of photography I do. It still takes amazing full frame images.

But the mkII offered some very concrete benefits. Almost doubling resolution is a big one, even though it’s a relatively tame increase in linear resolution. Live view is something I’ve been wanting for a long time along with auto sensor cleaning. Video out of this thing is just incredible and it’s hard to believe the results you can pull out in low light.

Along with the camera upgrade I’ve decided to pull the trigger on a change I’ve been contemplating for a while: A switch to primes. Most of what I do is landscape work, much of which is happening on a tripod. I’ve used Sigma EX zoom lenses for a while, which in my tests at f8 and f11 are largely the equals of their canon equivalents at least in the ranges that I commonly use at least in terms of sharpness and chromatic aberration.

But dedicating some serious time to the cheap and wonderful 50mm f1.8 convinced me that I needed to consider moving to primes full time. I got sharpness out of that lens that is unmatched in any zoom in the 50mm range, including canon’s L series zooms. And being a landscape photographer who prints large, sharpness is one of my chief concerns. Other 50mm primes offer benefits in other areas, like bokeh, construction toughness and wide open image quality that I just don’t need. I need a lens that is just dead sharp corner to corner at f8 and f11. The 50mm 1.8 is a really cheap way to achieve that.

So I’m happy with the 50mm choice, now I need to fill out the range of coverage I’m going to want. I ran a report on my lightroom database to see what focal lengths I typically capture my images at. It was a distributed histogram to be sure, but it had definite peaks. 28mm, 50mm, 80mm and 200mm.

Now 28mm was as wide as one of my zooms could go and 200 was as long, and there were a good bit of images that played in that ballpark. but the bulk were living in the range of 45mm-90mm or so.

So I built a wishlist of lenses that seemed like they would fit the bill without breaking the bank:

  1. Canon 24mm 2.8
  2. Canon 35mm 2.0
  3. Canon 85mm 1.8
  4. Canon 200mm 2.8L (maybe)

Kelli thoughtfully got me the 24mm 2.8 for Christmas and I threw it on the 5D2 in anticipation. I had checked resolution charts for the lens and knew it wasn’t the best out there, but wide angles are a tough lens to get right and usually have significant shortcomings.

This lens was just terrible. At both f8 and f11 it was horribly unsharp in the corners and displayed really bad chromatic aberration. So I went back to the intertubes and did more research and while I think my copy was worse than what I’d seen online, this lens never really gets that great. So it was returned. I ordered a replacement 28mm 1.8 last night. All the online testing shows this to be a wickedly sharp lens at f8, so I’m expecting the goodness.

With the move from 24mm to 28mm, I doubt I’ll end up getting the 35mm f2. It’s just too close to the 28mm in coverage.

I ordered and received the 85mm 1.8 and wow this is an impressive lens. The HSM is really quiet and it focuses really fast. But most of all, this little puppy is just sharp as all get out. Color is great and if anything, the contrast is a little too high. Raw file sizes can sometimes be indicative of image detail captured (along with a lot of other factors like how complicated the scene is and how much dynamic range you’re capturing) and this lens is the first I’ve seen to put me into the 35MB per RAW category when using good exposure technique.

I’ve largely only used the 200mm range while working on panoramics in order to get closer in and allow me to produce larger stitched images. This can be great, but I’m not sure how much I’ll actually continue to use this. I might want to sneak up to 135mm on some occasions, but I want to get into the field more and get a feel for where I’m missing that 200mm reach. I’m guessing it won’t be that often.

So for the time being, I’m set on a 28mm, 50mm, and 85mm and we’ll see if I need to push out to 135mm or 200mm.

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