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A Free Lens

dark_lord

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A Free Lens

2 Jun 2021 3:33PM   Views : 443 Unique : 290

I thought that would get your curiosity aroused. Canon had a promotion in the late 1990s where purchasers of photographic gear could claim a free lens. Which one did I go for? And is it still useful?

The exact details are lost in time, at least as far as I'm concerned. I think it involved buying a new camera body. The upshot was that there were several different lenses to choose from. The selection is something else that hasn't lingered in the memory, and why would it having made my choice.

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I went for the EF 24-85 f/3.5-4.5 USM zoom for the wide angle view and the convenient range. Indeed, as a walkabout and travel lens its small size and lightweight were attractive. I even used it with extension tubes (not a first choice and I guess not recommended by Canon) to photograph leaf cutter ants in Costa Rica as I'd prioritised longer lenses for bird and mammal photography. It worked well enough.

The lens had been designed with the smaller format of the then recently introduced APS-C cameras but was also compatible with 35 mm SLRs (what would be referred to today as 'full frame' cameras). When more affordable digital cameras entered the market from the early 2000s their sensor size was around the size of the APS-C film camera format. The lens was ideally suited to those smaller cameras in size, weight and focal length range. While newer lenses were available of course, it meant older lenses had a place and were still a valid choice if you'd got one.

With the advent of mirrorless cameras that are smaller it was time to dig out that lens and give it another go. There are some nice lenses for the new cameras. The initial flagship models while being tantalising are, no two ways about it, on the large and heavy side. If absolute weight isn't an issue, maybe balance when hand-holding could be. With a lens design around 20 years old and the high resolution sensors in modern cameras I wasn't expecting top notch results. Where weight might be a premium, would the results pass muster to allow consideration of the lens? My first choice as a general lens is my EF 28-70 f/2.8 L, itself getting on a bit but still able to hold its own. The smaller lens has a more useful range. Apart from the smaller aperture at the wide end not allowing as effective differential focus, very good high ISO performance these days means that's much less of an issue in many situations. Vignetting and distortion aren't a concern either (not that I recall any significant issues) as they are adjusted either in-camera or in RAW conversion software.

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After digging it out of the bag, literally as it's been living in the bottom compartment of a Billingham 335 along with other bits of gear, it was time to give it a go.

First impressions are good. It balances well on the smaller EOS R. Currently I need three lenses to cover the range of this lens, and going from wide to telephoto takes a bit of readjusting. Results look fine, and given it was designed for APS-C where greater enlargement of a negative for a given print size was required that's good to see. The coming weeks and months will allow a further and more critical evaluation. Nonetheless, even at this stage I can say it's a combination I'll make more use of especially when size and weight are a big consideration.


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All text and images Keith Rowley 2021

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