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Guide to Buying Used Photography Gear

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Buying gear within the used market can be a great way to save money. However, you can also be left with a lemon, and no way to return your soft lens or broken gear. Since we work with thousands of pieces of gear on a daily basis, I figured it was time to discuss the many tips you can use to look out for when purchasing gear on a used market.

This is also a great time to talk briefly about a few programs we have to sell used gear through our own rental channels. First, I'd like to quickly mention our keeper program. If you've rented from us before, you've probably figured out how the keeper program works for a renter. To put it simply, if you rent a piece of gear from us, and can't possibly fathom returning the piece of gear, you can purchase it from us without ever needing to send it back. With our Keeper program, we find the fair market used price for the gear you have, and then remove the rental costs you've already applied to the gear, giving you an exceptional price for the gear you already have within your possession.

The other service we have is through our sister site, LensAuthority. LensAuthority is the storefront where we often sell our gear after it has passed its rental cycle. the gear is cleaned and inspected, then given a rating and price through our LensAuthority marketplace. Because we have no ties with companies directly and work purely as a rental house, we have no allegiances to different brands or pieces of gear. So you can ensure that the prices and rating on LensAuthority are accurate and fair for the pieces of gear.

Lenses

Lenses are likely the most common thing you will find when searching the used market for photography and videography gear. One of the many benefits to selling used lenses is that they maintain their value for an incredibly long time, especially when comparing them to camera bodies. Often, major manufacturers will update a lens design once every 10-15 years, so if the gear is well maintained it's pricing will likely not fall quickly. Though the pricing of these lenses rarely fall over time, the quality often will. As discussed frequently in our technical articles, lenses will begin to lose sharpness over their use, and will need to be serviced to prevent back or front focusing issues. However, here are a few tips to keep in mind when purchasing a lens from the used market.

Date Codes

What a date code is, is simply a serial code used to identify when the lens was manufactured. Without going too far into detail with this, the older the date code, the more likely you'll have issues with sharpness, chromatic aberrations and other issues that can develop over time. While finding the date code, and reading it is not a difficult task, it would be complicated to explain it in detail here for Canon, Nikon, Sony, Sigma and other brands (or to do it without having people fall asleep). So, as a result, I've included links explaining how to do this with each individual brands of gear, for your reference.

Our friends at The Digital Picture have put together a handy guide for reading Canon Date Codes, while Nikon has a somewhat more complicated process, their codes can be found here. Sadly though, Sony, Sigma and many other third parties do not share their serial coding process publicly, though you're often able to contact them directly to get the information and manufacturing date.

Scratches, Dust & Dirt

While we've proven it time and time again, dust inside the lens rarely has an effect on the image quality of the lens. That said, cosmetic damage can show signs of improper use and general mishandling of the lens. However, if you're confident on the visual damage doing no harm to the image quality, it's a great way to pick up a used lens on the cheap. Heck, my Canon 135mm f/2L looks used and abused, which allowed me to get an otherwise perfect lens for about 60% of the used price - simply because the filter ring was a little scratched up. However, one alarming problem you may face when purchasing used gear is unsmooth focusing from dirt and sand inside the focusing barrel. The build up of sand and dirt in the internal moving parts of your lens can begin doing damage to your lens over time, and would want to be serviced before long.

Focusing Issues

Perhaps the largest problem you can face when buying used gear is improper focusing with an older lens. Generally, these problems in accuracy occur over the life of the lens, and can often be calibrated through the respected manufacturers, and sometimes, on your own camera using micro adjustments.

Warranty Cards & Boxes

A common practice among photographers is to hold on to the warranty cards and boxes for their lenses, so when it comes time to sell, they can include that in the package. Often, with a warranty card in place, you're still able to take advantage of the manufacturers warranty if something was to go wrong. While this practice and warranty lengths vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, having the box and warranty cards help safeguard the buyer from any unforeseeable problems with the equipment.

Roger's Take

For my personal use, I love scratches and dust. Minor ones almost never (say, 99.9%) affect image quality and operation, but lower the price significantly. I fear dents, though. Dents usually mean an impact and a lens is like a shipping box full of crystals: the impact may mess stuff up inside. It depends a lot on which lens, in specific you are considering. The original Canon 24-70 f/2.8 lens, for example, very often decenters when an impact sufficient to dent the front filter ring occurs. Many supertelephotos can look like they've been hammered and still function fine. But a dent generally means look at the optics carefully.

I'm very careful to check the mechanicals on any used lens I'm considering. If a barrel zooms out, make sure it doesn't rock back and forth significantly. Make sure the mount fits well and the lens can't rock back and fort (a bit of rotation is fine). The zoom and focus rings should operate smoothly. The focus motors shouldn't squeal (nor should the focusing ring when turned manually). Image Stabilizing units are different in different lenses. Some are fairly loud and seem to jerk the image in the viewfinder when they are perfectly fine. In a different lens this may be a sign of failure. So it really helps to have handled a lens of the type you're buying, or at least be able to talk with someone who uses it.

Optical quality is probably what causes people more stress than anything else. I do recommend taking a few 'brick wall' shots at various focus lengths (for a zoom) and focusing distances (for any lens). Just see if the corners appear equally sharp. Then take some pictures and see if they seem OK.

As has been repeated so many times on forums, though, if you take hand held shots with a wide angle, wide-aperture lens and a corner is soft, it's your technique. Checking those does require a tripod and being absolutely square to the target. And if you check a lens using autofocus and it's fine, well, that's fine. But if it's not fine, the problem is with focus until proven otherwise. Live-view manual focusing is the only accurate way to test a lens' optics.

Camera Bodies

Perhaps the biggest way to save money in photography is to buy your camera bodies on a used market. Because of the frequent release cycle of new cameras, camera bodies will often lose their value much faster than lenses or other pieces of gear. Alongside the frequent updates of new bodies, cameras will often lose their value faster than lenses, because they have more moveable parts, which leads to higher chance of failure. Shutters on all cameras have a timeline, and if used long enough, will fail eventually. These variables will eventually bring the price of a camera down, and lead to more risk when purchasing used. When buying a camera body on the used market, here was some things to look out for.

Shutter Count

As mentioned above, all shutters will fail over time. Many shutters a rated for 100K to 500K shutter clicks before they fail, a number that can easily outlast, or succumb to. However, there is no real way to detect when a shutter is going to fail (unless of course it's making weird noises, or you're able to literally watch to start to come apart). That said, you can often look up the shutter count using various programs and you'll want to double check the shutter count prior to purchasing any camera body used.

Checking the Sensor

Certainly giving a full comprehensive test of the sensor may not be a viable option, but checking it for any damage can easily be done by locking the mirror up on the body, and looking at the sensor at different angles. Dust and dirt can easily be removed with a simple cleaning, but if cleaning was not done properly, damage could have been done to the sensor. The most obvious to detect is scratched on the surface. While uncommon for most cameras, this check can be done visually and in just a few seconds. It's important to double check the sensor prior to purchasing your used camera body.

Roger's Take

With cameras, they generally either work or they don't. BUT I do recommend checking every I/O port on the camera. You may never use the HDMI port, etc., but if they are broken or not functioning, on most cameras, the entire main board will have to be replaced. I'd also always do an f/16 sky shot to look for sensor scratches (dust is no big deal). On a full-frame camera a sensor replacement will often be over $1,000. It makes a shutter replacement seem inexpensive.

These are just a few tips to help ensure a good buy when searching the used market. That said, there is no guarantee that you'll get perfectly good gear when buying equipment, both used or new. If you're worried about quality, I again recommend either taking advantage of our Keeper program or looking through our sister site at LensAuthority.com. No gear is more rigorously  tested and cleaned as often as our own stock, and it is one way to promise the highest quality of gear when buying used.

Canon 100-400 IS II MTF and Variation Tests

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When the Canon 100-400 f/4-5.6 IS L Mk II lens was first released we immediately did some testing. First we took one apart and were extremely impressed with the build quality. Then we compared it using Imatest to the original Canon 100-400 IS L and the new Canon 400mm DO L IS Mk II lenses at 400mm. I was impressed with the Imatest results too, but wanted more. Imatest, like all computerized target analysis tests the lenses at fairly close range and I wanted to see how these did at infinity, not to mention how it tested at other focal lengths.

But testing isn't my primary purpose in life, and testing 400mm lenses on our optical bench is really difficult, so it didn't get done. Until last week, finally. My expectations were pretty high for this lens, but the test results easily exceeded them. I don't shoot with this kind of zoom, but I sure do appreciate good optics and good engineering.

I'll keep this brief. First, here are the MTF and copy-to-copy variation charts. These are from testing 10 copies of the lens on our Trioptics Imagemaster optical bench.

Brandon Dube and Roger Cicala, Lensrentals.com, 2015 I put Brandon's name first because to be honest, I would NEVER have had the patience to do this test.

 

Both the MTF and Consistency scores are just outstanding. The 100-400 has some of the highest consistency scores of any zoom lens we've ever tested. It waxes the Canon 70-200 f/2.8 IS II lens, for example, having far less copy-to-copy variation.

To give you an idea of just how excellent the MTF is on this lens, I'll put the MTF of the 100-400 IS Mk II side-by-side with the Canon 70-200 f/2.8 IS II lens. Now remember, the 100-400 has the advantage of being shot at f/5 here. The 70-200 f/2.8 would have better MTF curves stopped down. The point here is that the 100-400, while not able to compete in aperture with the 70-200, certainly does compete in resolution. And the 70-200 IS II is one of the sharpest zooms made.

 

Roger Cicala and Brandon Dube, Lensrentals.com, 2015. And yes, things go back in proper order now.

 

I won't go into a long, drawn-out monologue telling you what you can already see for yourself. The new  Canon 100-400 IS II is optically superb.

 

Roger Cicala

Lensrentals.com

August, 2015.

Cine Lens Teardown Comparison: Zeiss 85mm CP.2 T2.1 and Rokinon Xeen 85mm T1.5

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I was pretty excited when I first heard about the Rokinon Xeen line of Cinema lenses. For several years now, Samyang / Rokinon photography lenses have given photographers with reasonable expectations some superb alternatives. They sell optically excellent lenses at amazingly low prices. There are compromises made to accomplish this goal, of course, but they are reasonable compromises. You can complain about copy-to-copy variation, or that they are more fragile, but the simple reality is you get a quality optic at a price that is a fraction of the lenses they compete with.

My expectation for the Xeen line would be similar to the photographic lenses. I expect the optics will be excellent, but inevitably some compromises would have to be made to reach the price point at which these lenses sell. I assume they will be smart compromises and cinematographers with reasonable expectations will be able to expand their equipment list.

I'll admit I have a little bit of fear, though. Photographers tend to treat lenses like, well, glass. They consider them a big investment and baby them. Cinematographers are a lot rougher on their equipment. So one of the first things I wanted to do was look inside and see how these things were built. Since Zeiss CP.2 lenses have a long history as a (relatively) low cost yet very durable cinema lens, we decided to use a CP.2 as a comparison. Since it's the 'standard' we'll look at it first.

Xeen 85mm T.15 (left) and Zeiss 85mm CP.2 (right) Lensrentals.com, 2015

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MTF and Variation: An Example

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We've spent most of the last month establishing a database of MTF curves and expected copy-to-copy variation for a number of lenses. Most people have a general idea about what we're doing, can follow along the basics of MTF curves, etc. But many other people also have a very good question, "How much of a difference does it make when I put the lens on my camera and take a picture." It's actually quite difficult to just show you a picture. I can take MTF measurements of 10 or 15 copies and average the results and give you a range that you can expect. But I haven't figured out a way to take a picture with 10 or 15 copies and average the results.

So today I'll try to do the next best thing. I'll show you how we use this data in-house to screen and adjust lenses. (That's what we actually do all this for. We just post it on this site because a lot of people are interested.)

For this example I'm going to use a copy of the Zeiss 21mm f/2.8 Distagon. This particular copy had been in our rental fleet for about a year. After it's last rental it was inspected and the tech noticed it was a bit softer in the corners than it should be and maybe just a little soft overall. He didn't think it was awful, but noticeable when he shot an ISO 12233 test chart with it compared to other copies of the same lens.

This is the same kind of testing a lot of people do at home or at their camera club. Nothing fancy, just take a well lined up picture of a test chart and look at the image on a decent monitor, comparing the centers and 4 corners.

 

Would you notice it in a photograph? I'm comfortable that if you took a few landscape or architectural images at f/2.8 you'd begin to notice the right side might be just a bit softer than the left. If you shot stopped down or only shot centered subjects, then maybe not. Or you might just think, "well, it's a nice lens, but not as world-beating as they say online." If you did the test for decentering I described years ago, you would notice the lens was very slightly decentered.

What We Expect the Zeiss 21mm f/2.8 to Look Like in the Lab

The inspection tech, of course, sent this copy over to the lab for some further testing. The first thing we did was pull up our reference charts for the 21mm lens (the same ones we showed you in an earlier post). On the left is the 'average' MTF curve of all Zeiss 21mm f/2.8 lenses we tested, on the right what we consider the range of acceptable results.

 

Then we put the lens in question on the MTF bench and compared it's results with the expected range for that lens. (Unlike the reference graphs above, the working graph shows both sides of the lens.)

The questionable lens (dotted and solid lines) versus the expected range.

 

It really is just about as the tech described it: a bit softer than we'd expect, but not awful. It meets minimum standards right in the center but falls below accepted standards away from the center. The Zeiss 21mm is popular here in the repair department because when it does get out of sorts it's easy to adjust; it's usually just a matter of recentering the front element. Aaron did that and then we repeated the MTF tests.

 

It should be pretty obvious, but when the tech repeated his test images, the lens passed with flying colors.

For those of you who wonder if all these MTF charts have any real-world implications, hopefully this demonstration helped a bit.

 

Roger Cicala

Lensrentals.com

August, 2015

 

70-200mm f/2.8 MTF and Variations

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Finally, the last in our series of MTF and variation tests is here. We'll be doing these going forward as new lenses are released but for now we've got a nice database of common lenses that we can measure others against. We've completed almost all of the common prime lenses, along with wide and standard zooms in Canon and Nikon mount. Today we'll post the Nikon and Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 telephoto zooms and that will end this series of posts for now. Yes, I understand you want to see the f/4 telezooms and some other stuff. But that will have to wait and trickle out over time.

MTF Charts

Roger Cicala and Brandon Dube, Lensrentals.com, 2015
Roger Cicala and Brandon Dube, Lensrentals.com, 2015

 

Most zooms have a 'better' end, but the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 IS II is pretty even throughout the zoom range. There are some minor, hair-splitting differences, with it having less astigmatism in the middle part of the zoom range, but it's really good from end-to-end. The Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 AF-S VR II is pretty close at both ends of the zoom range, although perhaps a tiny bit better at 70mm than at 200mm, but seems a little softer in the middle of the range. At the 70mm range, though, it's a bit better than the Canon, while the Canon is clearly better at 135mm. At 200mm, I'd call them different, but one is not clearly better than the other.

Copy-to-Copy Variation

I was a bit surprised at the amount of copy-to-copy variation we see in both of these lenses; I had really expected better.

Roger Cicala and Brandon Dube, Lensrentals.com, 2015
Roger Cicala and Brandon Dube, Lensrentals.com, 2015

 

I don't have a whole lot to say here except the results are pretty disappointing. The only Consistency score we would rate as excellent is for the Nikon at 70mm. On the other hand, at 200mm the Nikon has one of the lowest consistency scores of any game-brand lens. As usual, I expect a lot of people are going to start screaming about 'better quality control'. I don't think it's that simple at all.

Theses 70-200mm zooms are incredibly complex inside. Given how excellent their resolution is, I suspect they're engineered to very tight tolerances and some variation is inevitable given the state of manufacturing. We work on theses lenses pretty frequently and find there's often a compromise in making optical adjustments. Get better than good at the 200mm end and you start to cause problems at the 70mm end, etc.

Put in perspective, even the weaker copies of these lenses are really good. Sure if you put a few side by side you'd find Copy 6 is sharper than Copy 10 -- at one focal length. At another focal length chances are Copy 10 is sharper than Copy 6. It is the reality. You can either accept it, or go scream about it on the internet until you feel better (somewhere else on the internet instead of our comments section if you don't mind). But you aren't going to change it much. If you want the absolute best resolution at 200mm with great consistency, go buy a 200mm f/2.0 prime. Those have awesome resolution and little copy-to-copy variation.

The Simplified Look

I don't like compressing data, but I have to admit I think these 2-D graphs are pretty useful.

 

Roger Cicala and Brandon Dube, Lensrentals.com, 2015

 

Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 AF-S VR II

Roger Cicala and Brandon Dube, Lensrentals.com, 2015

 

And that, my friends, concludes the database building part of our MTF and variation series. It ended with a whimper rather than a bang, I'm afraid. I had hoped for a better performance from these.

As we add new lenses we'll be comparing them to these existing graphs and plots.

 

Roger Cicala and Brandon Dube

Lensrentals.com

August, 2015

Wide-Angle Zoom MTF and Variations

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We recently published the MTF and variation curves of standard range lenses and now are going to tackle wide-angle zooms.

As we've seen, zooms have more variation than primes and wide-angle primes have more variation than standard range primes. Also, the MTF curves of wide-angle primes are weaker off-axis than standard range primes. So my expectations for wide-angle zooms were pretty low. I expected to see a lot of copy-to-copy variation and some pretty weak MTF curves away from the center. As with most zooms, I expected the wide-angle zooms would be distinctly better at one end than the other.

Before we get started, let me address the inevitable emails that are coming, asking if I'll run out and test your favorite zoom lens tomorrow. The answer is no. This takes an incredible amount of time. Each wide zoom report you see below took a week of testing full time; the four lenses we've got here are nearly a month's work. These were chosen on a pretty simple basis; they are the 4 most popular rental lenses in this category. Someday I'll add the Canon 17-40mm (trust me, 17-40 fanboy, you're not going to like the variance), the Nikon 16-35mm f/4 VR, and the Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8. But it won't be until next month, as I have ADD and I'm really bored with wide zooms right now. Not to mention a large backup of lenses needing tested and adjusted for Lensrentals.

MTF Curves

Let's start with the not-so-incredibly wide, Canon wide-angle lenses: the 16-35 f/2.8 L and the 16-35 f/4 IS L.
Roger Cicala and Brandon Dube, Lensrentals.com, 2015
Roger Cicala and Brandon Dube, Lensrentals.com, 2015

 

The optical bench confirms a couple of things that most of us already knew. For example, the 16-35mm f/2.8 is weakest in the middle of its zoom range. At the 16mm end, it's at it's best in the center, but gets pretty weak in the corners. At 35mm it's not nearly as good in the center as it was at 16mm, but it holds up better in the corners. There's no question, though, that if you have a 24-70 f/2.8 lens in your bag you'll want to take it out for all your 24mm and longer shots.

The newer 16-35 f/4 IS L lens is clearly better than the f/2.8 (although remember it's being tested at f/4). It is, like the f/2.8 lens, at it's best at the wide end, but it holds up very well at 24mm and 35mm. Overall the 16-35mm f/4 IS gives very impressive performance. But I know what you're thinking. Would the 16-35 f/2.8 lens be just as good if we were testing it at f/4? Well, I'll show you.

 

Roger Cicala and Brandon Dube, Lensrentals.com, 2015

 

Stopped down to f/4, the 16-35 f/2.8 L dramatically improves in the center at both ends of the zoom range. It's now about as good as the 16-35 f/4 IS at both 16mm and 35mm, although it is a bit different. At 24mm, though, it's still not nearly as good as the IS lens. (BTW - those of you who notice the astigmatism jump at 16mm off axis when stopped down -- this is a real change and not an artifact. This lens has some higher order aberrations that don't improve much with the aperture reduced. Basically the sagittal plane gets much better and the tangential plane doesn't.)

OK, let's compare a couple of the even wider zooms: the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 and the Canon 11-24mm f/4. The Nikon is the gold standard for a wide-angle, wide-aperture f/2.8 zoom. The Canon has broken new ground for just how wide you can go with a zoom. I do want to point out that due to limitations of our optical bench we can't completely measure the Canon lens at 11mm from edge to edge. Instead of 20mm off axis (nearly to the corner) we can only measure to 17.5mm off axis. So the 'corners' on the graph below at 11mm look better than they really are because it's not measuring as far to the corners as the other lenses.

 

Roger Cicala and Brandon Dube, Lensrentals.com, 2015
Roger Cicala and Brandon Dube, Lensrentals.com, 2015

 

These lenses are both just awesome. They are both at their best at the wide end, but both stay really quite good to the long end of the zoom range. Even at f/2.8 the Nikon is as good as the 16-35 Canon is at f/4, except right in the center. And the Canon 11-24, in the center, is the best of all the wide-angle zooms. In summary, though, I'd have to say that all of the wide-angle zooms look better than I would have expected. Sure, the Canon 16-35 f/2.8 L isn't as good as the other lenses, but at the wide end it's still very good, and that's where many of us shoot these lenses most of the time.

But the MTF curves are the averages for 10 copies of each lens. Let's take a look at how much copy-to-copy variation these lenses have; at what the chance is that the lens you buy performs similarly to these numbers.

Consistency Graphs

Last week we posted the Consistency graphs for the 24-70 f/2.8 zooms and saw they ranged from 4.3 to 6.6 at various focal lengths. As zooms tend to do, the 24-70s all had more variability at one end of the zoom range. All of those zooms had Consistency Scores of less than 5 at the 70mm end, meaning there was a fair amount of copy-to-copy variation. My expectation was that the wide zooms would be about the same as the 24-70 zooms, or perhaps even worse.

Roger Cicala and Brandon Dube, Lensrentals.com, 2015
Roger Cicala and Brandon Dube, Lensrentals.com, 2015
Roger Cicala and Brandon Dube, Lensrentals.com, 2015
Roger Cicala and Brandon Dube, Lensrentals.com, 2015

 

So, as is so often the case, the results surprised me a bit. The wide-angle zooms had higher Consistency Scores than the standard range zooms did. The Canon 16-35 f/2.8 L clearly had more variation than the other wide zooms, which wasn't shocking; it's an older design and we've been commenting on the copy-to-copy variation with that lens for quite a while. The 16-35 f/4 IS was clearly more consistent, and the Nikon 14-24 f/2.8 was excellent.

The Canon 11-24 f/4 though was just shockingly good. We did not expect anything like those numbers. It's by far the most consistent zoom we've tested; far better than many prime lenses. I have no idea what Canon is doing or how they are doing it, but the copy-to-copy variation in most of their new lenses is minimal. I know people love to think that better inspection or QA procedures would accomplish this, but that's not really the case. A lot of it has to do with designing the lens so that tolerances are not so critical. Put another way, that means that a tiny movement of an element doesn't cause a huge change in the optics.

The Different Look

I know some of you prefer the 2-D interpolated graphs rather than the MTF curves we used above so I'll add those here. Remember, while this gives a nice, simplified, means of comparison, like any simplification you lose some data. Remember, too, that for these graphs we average out any astigmatism so I strongly suggest looking at the MTF charts for astigmatism (how far apart the dotted and solid lines of each color are) if nothing else.

 

Roger Cicala and Brandon Dube, Lensrentals.com, 2015
Roger Cicala and Brandon Dube, Lensrentals.com, 2015
Roger Cicala and Brandon Dube, Lensrentals.com, 2015
Roger Cicala and Brandon Dube, Lensrentals.com, 2015

 

Leaving out some data to make graphs like theses does reduce accuracy, but it gives a nice, easy comparison that shows which lenses are strongest where. As always, I suggest you take a trip over to The Digital Picture where our MTF data is posted in their lens comparison tool, letting you compare any two lenses side-by-side. They also post the 3-D graphs that I don't have the space to post here.

 

Roger Cicala and Brandon Dube

Lensrentals.com

August, 2015

Review of the Sigma 24-35mm f/2 Art Series

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Last week, Roger had the unique opportunity to get a single copy of the Sigma 24-35mm f/2 Art Series to test the sharpness up against the most common lenses in the 24mm and 35mm focal range. When Roger was done with his tests, and showing off his results, I had the opportunity to bring the lens home with me and give it some real life testing this weekend.

Admittingly, I was a bit perplexed by this lens when it was first announced. Certainly the Art series lenses from Sigma have impressed and surprised the entire industry these last couple years, with their incredible sharpness and equally impressive price points. So when Sigma announced a new lens, everyone was suspecting a refresh to their popular 24-70mm lens, which is why the 24-35mm had so many left a little disappointed. However, at f/2, this is the fastest zoom lens ever made for full frame sensors, and the early test on sharpness regained some interest from many.

Before I get too involved in this review, I’d like to start by stating I miss my 35mm f/1.4 lens, and this lens just fueled that feeling of discontent even further. A year or so ago, I agreed to trade my Canon 35mm f/1.4L for a 24mm f/1.4L II straight up with a friend. Financially, the deal was sided to me, so I had nothing to lose. Since then, however, my love and appreciation for the 35mm f/1.4 has only grown, and I just haven’t gone ahead to sell my 24mm f/1.4 for a new 35mm just yet. The Sigma 24-35mm f/2, if nothing else, has convinced me to swap out my 24mm for a 35mm.

Like all Sigma Art series lenses, the build quality is unsurpassed, and the attention to detail is incredible. Pairing that with the sharpness that comes with the Art series, Sigma has done it again with creating an incredible lens with an impressive price (and a pretty lens to boot). The only thing that really had me questioning the lens is the focal length, at 24-35mm.

I get it, the 24-35mm lens is designed to give people a two for one deal, and sacrificing only a stop in comparison to the premium versions of the 24mm and 35mms - and at an even cheaper price. That said, when I’m using a zoom lens, I’m expecting some severe changes from one zoom end to the other. 24mm and 35mm offer very limited differences in focal length, which is the big suffering point for the lens. It honestly felt more like a simple prime lens for me, and I often had it set to 35mm and left there. While the zoom might be important to some, I just can't find the purpose of having a zoom only cover 11mms.

The other suffering points come from the very nature of a zoom lenses as well. At nearly 950g, the Sigma 24-35mm f/2 Art is considerably bigger and bulkier than most 24mm and 35mm lenses, and nearly 40% heavier. And that bulk comes with a slower autofocus as well. Albeit, not nearly as slow as the Canon 85mm f/1.2L, the Sigma 24-35mm is obviously slower than its prime competitors, which could be an important element for some photographers.

 

All that said, these were shortfalls I could see before even using the lens. When I was able to use it this past weekend, I found that it felt really great in my hands. While the focusing wasn’t lightning fast, it was still able to capture moving subjects with ease and accuracy. The sharpness is great, and the distortion is minimal (given the focal range of the lens, at least). When shooting backlit and into the sun, I was still able to get plenty of accurate focus, with little to no flaring, a problem I often had with my Canon 35mm f/1.4L.

Perhaps what made me most excited with this lens comes in the super techy findings that Roger had during his lens testings. The Sigma 24-35mm has a large amount of astigmatism. To simplify that, the Sigma 24-35mm is more prone to what is commonly called “Swirly Bokeh”. Swirly bokeh is just as it seems, causing the bokeh to display itself with a slight rotation. I’m hoping to cover the topic of swirly bokeh more on a later article, with an explanation, more examples, and a list of the lenses most prone to the phenomenon. However, with the astigmatism of the 24-35mm, I did find a slight rotation within the bokeh when shooting with a shallow depth of field. Sadly though, at such a short focal length, the bokeh capabilities of this lens is limited, even when shooting wide open.

 

Final Thoughts

The Sigma 24-35mm f/2 Art Series is an incredible lens, with incredible sharpness and the fastest f-stop available in a full frame zoom lens. That said, I was left still scratching my head as to why. To my knowledge, I don’t see a purpose for owning both a 24mm and 35mm, so this lens fixes a problem that many people don’t have. While the functionality of the lens is great, I can’t imagine people who already own a 35mm or 24mm interested in what this lens has to offer. But if you’re looking for a discounted price yet capable wide angle lens, and versatility beyond a 24mm or 35mm, the Sigma 24-35mm might be the lens for you. If you’re looking for even more diversity beyond the wide angle focal ranges, the 24-70mm is still the king of zooms in my opinion and the better buy. For a more techy look into the Sigma 24-35mm Art Series, be sure to check out Roger's post from last week.

Turn Love into Loot!

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Sony a7R II: A Brief Review

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I’ve been a fan of the Sony a7 series bodies for a while, and I’ve been incorporating them into my paid work slowly but steadily. I was lucky enough to already try the new Sony a7R II at a wedding I was second shooting for Well Worn Co. I figured that would give me a good idea what I could do with the improved AF system, high ISO noise performance, and higher resolution. And I have to say, I was not disappointed.

Image quality was great, exactly what I was hoping for out of such large files. Candids and portraits look fantastic at 100%, and making prints should be a breeze. Here are some samples from the wedding day, before the ceremony:

 

1/640 f/2 ISO 800, Leica 90mm f/2 APO Summicron

 

1/400 f/2.8 ISO 800, Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro

 

1/40 f/2.8 ISO 800, Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro

 

1/250 f/4 ISO 400, Leica 21mm f/1.4 Summilux

 

I was most intrigued by the AF system. It was supposed to be much better than the bodies that came before, and it seem to be living up to the hype. I left it in AF-C for most of the wedding and reception. I don’t know if I’d trust it for a sporting event, but walking, dancing, and the chaos of a wedding reception were all easily handled by the a7R II.

 

1/100 f/2.8 ISO 3200, Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro

 

1/125 f/2 ISO 12800, Sony FE 28mm f/2

 

1/80 f/2 ISO 12800, Sony FE 28mm f/2

 

1/80 f/2 ISO 12800, Sony FE 28mm f/2

 

Those last three are at ISO 12800, which I thought I was going to have to convert to b&w to keep them usable, but even at 100%, they're grainy but really not bad at all. And then when you realize they're 42MP, well, I’m impressed, to say the least. You can click on that last image to see it full size.

As an added bonus, the new AF system even improves performance with A mount lenses on the LAEA3 adapter, and Canon lenses on the Metabones adapters. Here’s a video showing the AF speed using a Canon 24-70 II on a Metabones IV:

Sony A7R II Auto-focus speed from LensRentals.com on Vimeo.

If you’ve ever tried using your Canon lenses with the previous generation bodies and the Metabones IV, you’ll see right away how much faster things are now. Do note that in AF-C with either the Metabones or the LAEA3 there is no lock-on tracking option, only wide, center, and flexible spot. To get the full advantage of the improved AF, you have to use native E mount lenses.

I really think Sony nailed it with this one. Maybe I wouldn’t shoot roller derby with it yet, but for pretty much everything else, I think this is going to be my go to camera, especially once the lens line up is filled out more. I absolutely love the Sony FE 28mm. The Sony FE 90mm macro is nice, but it’s slow. I had good luck with M mount lenses, though, with the Leica 90mm APO-Cron and Leica 21mm Lux really knocking it out of the park on this high res sensor. If you’ve been waiting for a better alternative to your big, bulky DSLR, this might finally fit the bill. I’ve been hesitant to say that for the a7S, a7R, and the a7 II, even though I love those cameras, but the a7R II, I think this is the one. Try it out ASAP!

Sony a7R II

Sony FE 28mm f/2

Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro

Leica 21mm f/1.4 Summilux

Leica 90mm f/2 APO-Summicron

Voigtländer VM-E Close Focus adapter

Sony LAEA3 adapter

Metabones Canon EF to Sony E adapter IV