Monday, March 16, 2015

[Review] Canon 11-24mm 4L vs. 14mm 2.8L

Canon 11-24mm 4L with the 1DX (Notice the size)
Canon 11-24mm f/4
Pros: Flare control, straight lines at 11mm, versatility, sharp across 11-24mm
Cons: Big, heavy, and a liability; F/4; rear filter; front element moves across focal length
Bottom-Line: Amazing landscape/architecture lens

Canon 14mm f/2.8
Pros: f/2.8, smaller and lighter
Cons: Fixed focal length, rear filter
Bottom-Line: Was an amazing landscape/architecture lens; may still have use as a traveller's lens - but 16-35mm f/4 IS or f/2.8 would be more than enough

It has been a while since I was very excited about a lens from Canon. I primarily shoot sports, but I do do some landscapes and traveling on the side. I love ultra wide angle lens, because they give this very unique perspective in the images. I primarily shot with the Canon 14mm. I will be selling the Canon 14mm 2.8 because of this 11-24mm 4 lens.

The most amazing aspect of this lens is flare control. The Canon 11-24mm coating did some magic in this department. I pasted an example comparison below,

Flares from the Canon 14mm @ f/5.6

Flares from the Canon 11-24mm @ f/5.6
(Notice the very nice distinct flares)
Note: that this comparison is not done at the same exposure and not the same type of light-source. But the comparison is pretty typical. The flares in the 11-24mm are just beautifully rendered.

Next in line is the straight edges. A perfect example at 12mm is shown below,

                                                 Shot with Canon 11-24mm f/4 @ 12mm

Notice the lines are very vertical and little barrel distortion is present. This is some technical achievement Canon has made and is very impressive.

In terms of sharpness, this lens is very comparable with the 14mm 2.8 at f/4, f/5.6. Given the 14mm is a prime lens, the Canon 11-24mm f/4 really just eliminates the need of the 14mm in my arsenal. The corner to corner sharpness is fantastic. The only wide-angle lens that I can recall that has better sharpness in the corners is my Canon 24mm f/3.5L TSE II.

Flare control, straight lines, versatility of 11-24mm, and sharpness are outstanding aspects of the lens. However, the trade-offs are not trivial. First, the lens is very heavy. It is very well balanced on the 1DX, okay on the 5D, and front heavy for others. Second, the lens is very big. Not that I do not like big lenses, the front element is a protruding one. When I walk around, I need to put the cap on. Third, is that the front element moves when you change focal lengths. I am more of a fan of a contained lens for traveling (such as the 14mm, 16-35mm with a front filter, etc.) because of dust problems, etc. However, Canon did claim this lens is highly dust resistant.

If you can forgo the fragile and yet not so fragile nature of the lens, there is absolutely no complaints. A lot from the Nikon camp talk about how their 14-24mm is only 3mm difference and has f/2.8. But really, 3mm makes a huge difference as shown below,
Shot with Canon 14mm f/2.8

Shot with Canon 11-24mm f/4 @ 11mm (3mm does make a difference)

These were taken at the Palace of Fine Arts. The 11mm focal length is truly magical. I rarely shoot at f/2.8 in my landscape/architecture photography. The only time I did shoot at f/2.8 at with the 14mm is when I was taking pictures of stars and meteors- but that is not my personal forte.

Shot with Canon 11-24mm f/4 @ 24mm
Shot with Canon 11-24mm f/4 @ 12mm
Shot with Canon 11-24mm f/4 @ 11mm (it it also very good for selfies)

Canon 11-24mm 24mm 11mm f/4 f4 4.0 f4L 4L UWA WA

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

[Review] Canon 400mm 2.8 IS II, 300mm 2.8 IS, 200mm 2.0 IS for Sports Photography

Summary: The 400mm, 300mm, and 200mm dilemma. Lots of people asked me which big white-lens to get. Hopefully this post will help some of you out. 

Overall impressions of the lenses:

Canon 400mm 2.8 IS II
(the most essential of the three in my experience)
+ bokeh is amazing
+ 400mm is just perfect in many situations
+ weight is dramatically reduced from version I
+ the best heavy kit lens (400mm 2.8, 560mm 4.0, 800mm 5.6)
+ 70-200mm or the 200mm is a very nice companion
- it is still big and heavy
- not as sharp as the 300 or the 200

Canon 300mm 2.8 IS 
(the least essential of the three in my experience)
+ very sharp
+ much lighter than the 400mm (especially with the II)
+ 300mm is not bad at all
+ the best middle ground kit lens (300mm 2.8, 420mm 4.0, 600mm 5.6)
+ better for beginners (400mm might be too tight)
- it is a middle ground lens, meaning, in many situations, 400mm does it better

Canon 200mm 2.0 IS
(the lens that gave me the most unique images out of the three in my experience)
+ bokeh- oh my goodness, gives you very special images
+ 2.0 is good for low light
+ AF is very reliable
+ Much lighter than the 400mm
- 200mm is not long enough
- somewhat a specialty lens
- not very good with extenders- I don't really bother

This is my list of recommendations for lens/sports combo (using a full-framed camera)

Canon 400mm 2.8 IS II
- Football
- Rugby
- Soccer (may need an extender-- the field is huge)
- Track and Field
- Waterpolo
Rugby with the 400mm gives you a good half-quarter field shots
(Shot with the Canon 400mm 2.8 IS II)

400mm gives you nice and tight shots in waterpolo
(Shot with the Canon 400mm 2.8 IS II)

Nice bokeh and subject isolation for football
(Shot with the Canon 400mm 2.8 IS II)

400mm simply does things better than the 300mm
(Shot with the Canon 400mm 2.8 IS II)

Canon 300mm 2.8 IS
- Basketball (for opposite court-side)
- Track and Field (I prefer 400mm but 300mm is good)
- Waterpolo (I prefer 400mm but 300mm is good)

300mm gives you a wider view than the 400mm
(Shot with the Canon 300mm 2.8 IS)

The 300mm may yield higher keeper rates than 400mm
(Shot with the Canon 300mm 2.8 IS)

Canon 200mm 2.0 IS
- Tennis
- Swimming
- Gymnastics
- Basketball (for half to your court-side)

Very unique shots with the 200mm
(Shot with the Canon 200mm 2.0 IS)

The sharpness is fantastic and AF works so well
(Shot with the Canon 200mm 2.0 IS)

The bokeh is breath taking
(Shot with the Canon 200mm 2.0 IS)

The 200mm works very well in low-light indoor sports
(Shot with the Canon 200mm 2.0 IS)

A specialty lens that will make your work standout
(Shot with the Canon 200mm 2.0 IS)

Canon 200mm 300mm 400mm 2.8 f/2.8 is i ii

Monday, March 25, 2013

[Review] Fujifilm X100S (Updated)

Low light capabilities such as high ISO image quality and AF are excellent
(Taken with the Fujifilm X100S)

Summary: This is what X100 should have been. They addressed almost every issue of X100 (unresponsiveness, slow AF, large MFD, manual focus annoyance) and added a few welcoming goodies (better sensor, no anti-aliasing filter, gorgeous electronic view finder). However, the upgrade worth from the X100 to the X100S depends on you (as always).

This review is done with a X100 wide-angle converter, SanDisk Extreme Pro 95MB/sec card, LR 4.4, ACR 7.4. Yes, these all did somewhat affect my opinion of the camera. I had this camera for a few days (which warrants the quick impression for less of a false advertisement).

Update Notes:
I spent a lot more time with this camera, mainly with night-street photography. The X100S is absolutely essential for street photography. I got shots that I can't get with a DSLR because the X100S is just so quiet and discreet. The speed and new AF have really shined in these cases, where the AF performs so much better in low-light and snaps on moving subjects pretty decently. I would have to say this camera is certainly outstanding and has its place as my secondary camera. My DSLR still has the speed that I need, but the X100S has the discreetness that I need and is good enough in terms of speed (as opposed to X100).

- AF is fast for a mirror-less camera (if there is enough light)
- responsive
- minimum focus distance for non-macro is great
- image quality is amazing (I got to say very comparable to my 5D3)
- electronic view finder resolution is very good
- auto-ISO 200-6400
- leaf shutter
- packaged in a very nice body (stylish, small, and light)

- $1299 (at release) for a non-interchangeable lens camera
- phase detection AF is not quite DSLR
- f/2 and ISO 200 require you to turn on the ND filter
- I like to shoot wider than 35mm, but with the wide-angle converter, the camera gets big
- I am still a bit confused about the split image thing for manual focusing
- AWB likes warm images (making some images with gross yellow tint)
- X100's box is much nicer than the X100S

X100 is a shelf camera (true story). Fujifilm built a camera that I wanted to love. X100 was stylish and small. It had a fast and sharp lens. It also had a fantastic sensor. Unfortunately, the responsiveness of the camera, large minimum focus distance, sometimes stupid AF, AF that doesn't really work with low light, and AF hunting made it an oh-wow to me for a few weeks. I couldn't love it. I ended up always grabbing my DSLR.

Fujifilm X100S is now out. Fujifilm listened. I have to give Fujifilm credit for listening to their customers. However, let's address the bottom-line problem: will it replace my DSLR? 

AF Performance. The AF performance has improved significantly. They combined both phase and contrast detection (before it was only contrast). To summarize the benefits, phase detection provides the speed. Contrast detection provides the accuracy (loosely speaking). The X100S AF is much faster than the X100 and does a fairly good job in low light situations.The limitation of this hybrid detection that I observed is phase detection becomes somewhat useless under lower light and the refocusing motor drive on the lens is not fast, which makes changing focus at large distances slow (just like before!) even with the new hybrid system. 

Common AF X100 frustration. What is it doing? Is it me? It might be just too dark. Oh wait... I forgot about the minimum focusing distance.

Usability. The startup time and shutter lag have greatly improved. I was frustrated with the X100's shutter lag and speed, as it was... slow (coming from a DSLR . Although the X100S is not as snappy as a DSLR, I did not notice the speed as a huge problem. I do use auto-ISO quite a bit, so the extra stop (200-6400 instead of 200-3200) was very welcomed. It is also a very good idea to get the fastest SD card, as it does improve the overall responsiveness of the camera (lesson learned from the X100). The electronic view finder on this is absolutely beautiful. The images are very easy to review. LR 4.4 and ACR 7.4 made RAW file processing easy.

Image Quality. The image quality is a notch up from the X100. The color is processed a bit differently compared to the X100. The most noticeable difference is that greens are a bit deeper than before. One little annoyance with the X100S is the AWB is a bit quirky under indoor lights. For some odd reason, the images turn out a bit green/yellow. In terms of noise, the images are cleaner. Even at 6400, we can see that the luminance noise is very well controlled. What is amazing from both X100 and X100S sensors is that the color noise is very well controlled (I can even say better than a FF sensor of the 5D Mark 3). Here is an informal comparison, putting the X100S at a disadvantage:

X100S Noise @6400: notice the lack of color noise and noise patterns.
(Taken with the Fujifilm X100S ISO 6400 RAW)
X100 Noise @3200: lack of color noise but the blotches are larger
(Taken with the Fujifilm X100 ISO 3200 RAW)
5D Mark 3 @3200: controls luminance better but color noise is present
(Taken with the 5D Mark 3 ISO 3200 RAW)

The image quality also depends on the lens. Just like the X100, the lens is absolutely no slouch. Even at f/2, the lens delivers sharp images. I was and very impressed with the lens- and I only use this camera with the wide angle converter because of my shooting preferences.

Sharpness with the X100 Wide Angle Converter
(Taken with the Fujifilm X100S at f/2)

However, one observation I made is that my usual sharpening and upscaling techniques in LR or PS might cause artifacts with these files! Because of the lack of anti-aliasing filter and probably some image processing related to the demosaicing of the new sensor (they have a different pattern for this one), the images tend to look a bit odd when you sharpen it too much or upscale it too much. This is not quite a disadvantage, I am just saying to be a bit careful in post processing.

Top: Original patch; Bottom: Upscaled of foliage- notice weird patterns that evolved

When does it replace my DSLR?
The X100S has addressed my two biggest concerns: slow responsiveness and annoying AF. X100S has added small pluses like improved image quality and very nice electronic view finder.

Creativity. I love the both the X100 and X100S form factors (they are the same). Because of its discreetness, both these cameras serve as excellent tools for street and travel photography. I became a bit more creative than a DSLR in both situations, as it was much easier to take candid photos of people. Therefore, in this domain, both X100 and X100S do a good job.

Fast moving objects. The reason X100 became a shelf camera is that I do need a very responsive camera for my shots. When I walk down a street and see something interesting, I do like to pull out my camera and take a snap shot... quickly. X100S does address this very well with both its responsiveness and AF. Obviously, with sports (which I normally shoot), DSLR still wins this game hands down.

So is it worth upgrading from the X100?
For me, yes. I shoot things that move quite often (although this set of images does not portray my habits). Therefore, the X100S's improvements made it less of a shelf camera. However, if you shoot still photography and do like to take some time for a shot, I see no reason to tank $1299 (at release). This upgrade reminded me of the 5D Mark 3 and 5D Mark 2 era, as 5D Mark 3 became a much more usable camera just like the X100S (although not that as drastic).

Details and colors are amazing
(Take with the Fujifilm X100S)

(Take with the Fujifilm X100S)
(Take with the Fujifilm X100S)

(Take with the Fujifilm X100S)

Flare control is okay with the right exposure
(Take with the Fujifilm X100S)

Nice sharpness, and image quality even at night
(Take with the Fujifilm X100S)

Images are very easy to post-process in terms of noise reduction
(Take with the Fujifilm X100S)

Color and dynamic range are handled very well
(Take with the Fujifilm X100S)

This camera's night IQ is very good
(Take with the Fujifilm X100S)

The discreetness really shines with this camera
(Take with the Fujifilm X100S)

fujifilm x100 vs x100s finepix x100s review

Thursday, January 31, 2013

[Review] Canon 24-70mm 2.8 II

The color and contrast are absolutely amazing.
(Taken with the Canon 24-70mm 2.8L version II)
Summary: This lens is absolutely amazing. Period. The sharpness, color, and contrast are just unbelievable.

In this review, I will rival this lens to its previous lens (the Canon 24-70mm I) as a walk-around lens. I will rival this lens to a fast prime (the Canon 50mm 1.2) as an indoor basketball photographer.

The walk-around photographer perspective (vs. Canon 24-70mm I)The 24-70mm 2.8L II hands down replaces the 24-70mm 2.8L I.

Reasons for the 24-70mm 2.8L II
- Colors, colors, colors
- Contrast
- Lighter
- T stop is better!
- Noticeable sharper at corners
- Flare control

Reasons for the 24-70mm 2.8L I
- Bang for the buck
- A bit less distortion at wide
- 70mm is narrower than the II

Let's start talking about the 24-70mm version I. I personally did not find it to be not sharp, "kit lens grade," and lack of IS problematic lens. In terms of sharpness, the center sharpness is good enough and it isn't the problem of the lens. Next, "kit lens grade" lens argument is way too harsh. The lens is very well built and it does wonders in many situations- but I will clarify later why some might say so. 24-70mm isn't a range of focal length that really needs IS for photography. I have no problems getting non-motion blurred images, unlike the 135mm 2L, in indoor situations. This lens is good. The usefulness, build, and sharpness are really fantastic. 

1:1, center, and at f/2.8. Anything to complain about?
(Shot with the Canon 24-70mm 2.8L version I)

Canon 24-70mm 2.8 version II really answers that "kit lens" argument for some. Number one: color and contrast. The version I gives you images with flatter color and images do not seem to pop. Take a look at this example:

24-70mm I gives you flatter colors and less contrast.

The lens didn't really bring out the color of the paint and I would consider this image to look kind of bland compared to what I saw in real life. The 24-70mm version II really does a fantastic job at brining out color (look at the first image). Note: I understand the two are in different lighting situations, but, generally, I find the statement to be true given the images I've taken. The contrast is absolutely amazing, matching to what the primes can give. I am very amazed of the color rendering of the 24-70mm II. The color and contrast alone really justifies why the 24-70mm II is a much better lens than the 24-70mm I. It is really that good. Another note, the 24-70mm II gives a warmer tone to the images (I shoot RAW).

So really, the 24-70mm II is justified because of the color and contrast. A few goodies also come with the lens: sharpness at corners, T stop is closer the actual f/2.8 than the predecessor, much better flare control, and lighter (but it isn't a light lens). As a walk-around lens, I would highly recommend replacing the first version. Again, the colors and contrast really answers that "kit lens" argument about the 24-70mm I, even though I do not even agree with that statement. The images speak for themselves as you can see the fantastic details in the rendering. I replaced the first version as my walk-around lens. 

The colors and contrast are amazing. Stepping down does not improve sharpness by much.
(Shot with the Canon 24-70mm 2.8L version II)

The flare control is absolutely fantastic with the new coating.
(Shot with the Canon 24-70mm 2.8L version II)

1:1, center, f/2.8 - crazy sharp
(Shot with the Canon 24-70mm 2.8L version II)

The low-light sports (indoor basketball) photographer (vs. Canon 50mm 1.2L)
Go for the primes.

Reasons for the 24-70mm 2.8L II
- Multiple perspectives
- Sharper
- You can say bang for the buck

Reasons for the 50mm 1.2L
- Sharp
- f/1.2
- lower noise
- faster
- images are just better

Just as a background, I rarely shoot more than 70mm while shooting basketball, as I like my images wider. Yes, I shoot my basketball shots at f/1.2, nothing else. I have the 5D Mark 3 and only use the center point.

The Canon 24-70mm 2.8L II lets me use different focal lengths at the shoot, which is very convenient. The new zoom does a fantastic job at obtaining focus and f/2.8 gives such a great leniency in focus misses and provides a wider depth-of-field. However, when I shoot sports, I would like to get the best images possible. The f/2.8 really is the limitation in this particular field. I usually shoot at 1/800. This means I have to pump that ISO to 4000 (nasty in my taste). This also means that I do not get that "wow" bokeh I want in my images. The crowd in the background seems much fussier and the noise makes the image fussier.

At f/1.2, although the depth-of-field is much thinner, the players aren't exactly that close to me at 50mm such that the depth-of-field is ridiculously small. I found the lens to be superb at acquiring focus fast and accurate, and I do have a large yield rate with the 50mm 1.2L shooting basketball. The images that come out of the 50mm is just phenomenal- I am able to shoot at ISO 800, bokeh is amazing, and the players just stand out.

Therefore, in my sports photography experience, the 24-70mm II just can't replace my 50mm 1.2L. I am willing to give up sharpness at 50mm 1.2 for other properties. But really, the 24-70mm II is absolutely no slouch at all. It does the job very well.

Acquires focus fast and accurately
(Shot with the Canon 24-70mm 2.8L version II)

Even at ISO 4000, with a 5D3, the lens does a great job
(Shot with the Canon 24-70mm 2.8L version II)
However, the 50mm 1.2L really captures images that stand-out
(Shot with the Canon 50mm 1.2L)

Monday, October 15, 2012

[Review] Canon 200mm 2L vs 70-200mm 2.8L IS II

Canon 200mm 2L produces unbelievable images.

Canon 70-200mm 2.8 IS II is not a slouch at all.

Summary: Canon 200mm 2L for the images. Canon 70-200mm 2.8 IS II for the convenience and price. (Tested on full-frames: 5D Mark III and Mark II)

Reasons for the 70-200mm 2.8 IS II
- Thousands of dollars cheaper
- Very sharp
- 70-200mm
- Lighter and smaller
- Filter in the front
- More usable (easier to take out and have fun with it!)

Reasons for the 200mm 2 IS
- One of the sharpest lens ever made to this date (in my experience, it beats out the 400mm 2.8 IS II and the 300mm 2.8 IS I)
- Image quality - sharpness is not the only thing. The bokeh and out-of-focus rendering is gorgeous and unbeatable.
- f/2
-> faster AF because f/2 provides the AF sensor with more light
-> better in low light
-> bokeh

Before the Canon 70-200mm 2.8 IS II came out, the choice was a bit easier. The first version of the zoom is outdated with a bigger gap between the zoom and the 200mm f/2 in terms of sharpness, IS, and overall image quality. All you need to consider is forking out that few extra grands.

Now let's talk about image quality. If you are into taking pictures of boxes and charts, the 70-200mm 2.8 IS II falls short in sharpness with the 200mm 2L at f/2.8. Even when the 200mm 2L is opened at f/2, the lens is sharper than the zoom. We should expect all this because generally zooms require a lot more elements to construct, which means image quality naturally looses quality on the way to the camera sensor. However, let's talk about everyday shooting. The zoom is absolutely amazing. If you were to compare the two lenses' sharpness, it is hard to discern. I have to say, comparing the sharpness between the two lenses is just silly. Image quality, however, is not just about sharpness. The bokeh- or out-of-focus regions- are rendered very smoothly and pleasingly on the 200mm 2L. The 200mm 2L is like 85mm 1.2L on steroids. There is just that unique oh my goodness look. Every time I take the lens on the field, I am absolutely awed by the results. The images from the 200mm just beat out the competition.

Usability and reliability. Both lenses focuses very accurately, fast, and reliable. I have no issues getting superb images from both. However, the 70-200mm 2.8 IS II is much easier to carry out. It is smaller and lighter without all the fuss. The Canon 200mm 2L is not a trivial carry to the park and you cannot simply put a UV filter in front to protect the lens. However, one small note- the AF on the Canon 200mm 2L is noticeable faster. This is simply due to the fact that the bigger aperture lets in more light for the AF sensor to pick up. I just like the more care-free nature of the zoom.

The Canon 70-200mm 2.8 IS II absolutely the most competitive lens against the 200mm 2L in the Canon lens line-up. The cost and flexibility of the zoom cannot be ignored, as the sharpness, contrast, AF, and IS are very much up to par with the 200mm 2L. However, the Canon 200mm 2L is the cream-of-the-crop. Images from the lens will awe you away. Don't get my wrong, right techniques such as relatively "clean" backgrounds and foreground/background distance still apply for the 200mm, but the lens just makes these elements much easier due to the fantastic image quality it gives. I use the 200mm 2L to shoot at f/2.0. If you don't care about the f/2.0, then there is really not enough reasons to go for the prime. For me, I ended up letting the zoom go. In my line-of-work, I am able to sacrifice versatility.

Out-of-focus rendering makes the prime stand out. (Taken with the 200mm 2L)

Colors and contrast on the zoom are amazing. (Taken with the 70-200mm 2.8 IS II)

Keywords: 200 f/2 f/2.8 f2 f2.8 70-200