Why L Series Lens?

Discussion in 'Canon EOS' started by michael_w|7, Jan 22, 2010.

  1. Hi Everyone,
    I just started getting serious about photography last month, when I purchased my first DSLR, the Canon Rebel T1i with kit lens(18-55mm). I have been taking a lot of pictures with the it lens and a bunch with my friend's 28-135mm 3.5-5.6 IS USM. I was really shocked by how sharp the 28-135 pictures came out, compared to my kit lens. This prompted me to rent a L series lens (70-200mm 2.8L IS)just to see what the IQ was on it compared to the rest I have used. I was frankly a little shocked, since I read a lot about the 70-200 and how it is one of the most sought after lenses on the market. I honestly didn't see much difference in IQ from the 28-135mm pictures to the 70-200mm pictures and actually, I sort of preferred the contrast I got from the 28-135 lens. I went and read some reviews on the 28-135 lens and it is a decent lens, better than my kit lens but according to the reviews, should be lower than a L series lens.
    Please help, I don't know if it is me that is not using the lens properly or if I just went into the whole "L-series" testing with extremely high expectations. Set this green photographer straight about L-Series lenses.
    Thanks in advance everyone!
  2. did you use a hood on the 70-200
  3. Just because you use a professional lens, doesn't necessarily mean you'll get great photos. You could use Canon's EF 50mm f/1.8 and take incredible photos. The 70-200 2.8L IS is an incredible lens. What were you photographing, exactly and what time of the day? Were you shooting in P mode or aperture priority, etc. The Canon Rebel is an "ok" camera to start with, but you should still get some very good photos with the 70-200 attached to it. Compared to your 28-135, the 70-200 should be a bit sharper, but definitely more contrasty with richer colors and excellent background blur.
  4. the only thing that REALLY drives me to purchase an "L" lens is aperture choices....especially the constant aperture in zooms. There are, of course, other reasons, but that is the prime reason, and the only thing that helps me decide, in the end, to spend that kind of money.
  5. Obviously the optical quality is going to be better, but the drastically improved build quality and heft figure heavily into the appeal, at least for me. It the difference between plastic toys and potential murder weapons.
  6. Alan,
    Yes, I shot with hood attached.
    I was shooting a figurine that I have inside. I aperture priority and manual mode. I haven't had a chance to take it outside to try. When you say "sharper", how do you compare that? The way I was comparing sharpness before uploading was taking the picture and then reviewing it on the camera and zoom in all the way. I was expecting to see super sharp edges. But that was not the case. I made sure IS was on too. I like the background blur, but I honestly didn't think it looked any better than the 28-135 ones.
  7. Alright, so it seems like "L" lens will give better IQ but not drastically better, yeah? Is it safe to say that most lens sold now generate very quality images and the difference in lens grade as far as image quality is not drastic especially, if I don't have a high end camera to pair with it?
  8. My experience is just the opposite. When I used the 28-135 everything was a bit flat and dull and I sold it in favor of a Tamron 28-75 2.8 which I though was much better. I have the 70-200 non IS and its super sharp, probably my best performing lens. In your test, it could be user error or a maybe sample variation or what ever but there is more to the lens being an L then sharpness. Build quality, focus speed, full time manual focus, better color/contrast, constant aperture etc that contribute to it being a pro lens. Simply buying an L lens will not give you great photos but it certainly will help. But again there are many capable cheaper alternative and the 28-135 has a pretty good reputation and its a decent lens.

    My list of good cheaper alternative lenses
    • Tamron 17-50 2.8
    • Tamron 28-75 2.8
    • Canon 28-135
    • Canon 28 1.8, 50 1.4 and 85 1.8 is a great set of fast small primes that will rival any L zoom and give you faster aperture if you can live with changing lenses.
  9. Michael, recently after purchasing an EF 24-70/2.8 L zoom, I became convinced that its IQ was substantially inferior to that of my EF 50/1.4 non-L prime. Now it is true that primes generally have better IQ than zooms, and that this also applies to some non-L primes compared to some L zooms. But after more careful comparative "testing" of the two lenses (using only the center AF point, bracing the camera, shooting the same subject with the same aperture, shutter speed and ISO, etc.), I realized that the IQ of the 24-70 is very close to that of the 50, and in some respects is even better (it has warmer colour rendition, for example).
    The moral of my story is that I wouldn't dismiss the 70-200/2.8 IS L just on the basis of your cursory "testing." I have its slower cousin, the 70-200/4 IS L, and it's outstandingly sharp, almost as good as my primes within its range.
  10. "I was really shocked by how sharp the 28-135 pictures came out, compared to my kit lens ."
    actually your 18-55IS kit lens is sharper and has better image quality than the 28-135 !
    hint: it may be you rather than the other lens, including any "L" !
  11. 28-135mm is the worst zoom I have ever used. Some years ago, I purchased one for my walk around lens I could never get it to kit lens standard. I sent it back and got another one. Just as bad. I gave up. I hate to say this but if you don't think the 70-200 2.8 IS was THE BEST zoom you have used, either it was operator error or the rental was abused copy. You also shoot crop body so using that lens inside is very hard. Take the lens outside and it will perform like no other. I remember when I put my 70-200 2.8 IS to my digital rebel and thought this lens is way long. I snapped about 20 shots and switched back to my trusty 24-105 L. After I got the 5D, I went back to 70-200 2.8 IS and it has been on for 4 years. v/r Buffdr
  12. It's probably the way you are shooting the 70-200 that is the problem. That lens is almost universally accepted as an excellent performer and unless the lens is defective/damaged it will be tack sharp. For a longer zoom you need to adjust your shutter speed to compensate for the longer focal length. A good rule of thumb for handheld is 1/focal length in seconds. For example if you are shooting 200mm you need to set your shutter speed to 1/200 minimum. If you are a beginner and not use to a heavy lens I would go even more, maybe 1/300. Since your rental has IS that should help in this regard but keep it in mind. That said, if you want to really see what your lens can do in terms of sharpness you need to use a tripod to eliminate any chance of hand shake.
  13. Without knowing what kinds of distortions and optical issues are common it can be very hard to see any difference. Barrel distortion and vignetting (two of the more common issues) may only show up clearly in certain situations (aperture, focal length, and focus distance). Careful observations may also show some difference in color, flair, and boken. What one person may see as sharp may look soft to someone else. One could write a book just on optical issues and how to check for them. A person with limited experience may see big differences or no differences.
    Other than optics there are other reasons to purchase L lenses:
    • Durable construction. L lenses are designed to last.
    • Constant aperture on zoom lenses. Changing zoom will not change the exposure. This is really useful if you are setting shutter and aperture frequently.
    • Ring type USM motor which are very quiet, fast, and allow full time manual override.
    • Improved weather sealing. No lens is water proof but it is more difficult for water to get into L lenses.
  14. I cannot comment on the 28-135 but I do have the new 15-135 IS (it came cheap with the 7D). I also have both the 70-200 F2.8L (non IS) and the 70-200 F4L IS and I can assure you that on the 7D or the 5DII the difference is quite marked. Obviously you cannot use the 15-135 on film or the 5DII as it is EF-S but comparing images with the 7D and the EF-S lens to the 5DII and 70-200 shows significant differences. The L series images are sharper, focus faster, do not show CA and give the image a more "three dimensional" look. It is possible the lens you rented was not in good condition or needed micro adjustment for your body.
  15. You need to take the lenses outside into good light. Also forget comparing them on your camera lcd. Compare at similar focal length or adjust your shooting distance to provide similar image size.
  16. with the longer FL you'll need a faster shutter speed. If you're really going to compare two lenses you should use a tripod, shoot the same subject, focus on the same object, and set all camera settings identical such as shutter, f-stop, ISO, picture settings, etc. All things should be equal.
  17. Sample variation or technique? As Buffdr said, the 28-135 IS was one of the worst Canon lenses I've ever used, low contrast and not that sharp. Where as my 70-200/2.8 L IS is on of the best.
  18. Michael, you've clearly seen for yourself an L-series can do. Anything else will be a compromise. There are some Sigmas other things that get close.
    Renting, as you've done, is a good idea. I own the 70-200mm f/4L IS and find its IQ stunning on my full-frame 5D MkII and 7d. Since you're seeing these things, I think you'll ultimately end up with several good L-lenses, so why not start now. You might try buying used to save a little bit, but I've generally thought that they hold their value so well that I'd go ahead a pay the new price.
  19. I have to second the opinion that comparing images on your camera's lcd is pretty much useless. If you want to get the best out of a quality lens, you really should be using a tripod & mirror lockup, or shooting at a minimum shutter speed of 1/lens focal length (I'd recommend using even faster speeds). My personal experience with Canon L lenses is that they are generally very sharp, and have great contrast/color rendition.
    Also, all Rebels, even the old models, are capable of capturing the difference between a mediocre, and a top-notch lens.
  20. Its true what you say about the 28-135 being more contrasty and somewhat different image output than my other L's like the 24-105 or 17-55(not L but similar glass elements). I have that lens you are complaining about, but the non IS version and it gives stellar images.
  21. For various reasons I own mostly L optics. However... Yeah, opinions to the contrary, the 28-135 IS is a very good lens (optically, at least), as are the 18-55 IS (not the non-IS) and the 50/1.8. I think Canon likes to get these "common as dirt" lenses right and puts quite a lot of good engineering into them. They give them a rather cheap build and price them VERY low as entry lenses. I doubt they make much margin on them. Congratulations on recognizing that some consumer lenses are quite alright! Oh, also check into the 70-300 IS. I think you'll be very impressed.
  22. also check into the 70-300 IS. I think you'll be very impressed.​
    You won't be impressed with the AF speed, especially after using the 70-200mm L. This is a good lens and has a good range and IS, but AF speed is frustrating; and I think AF speed is a huge factor in a tele-zoom since a lot of tele-zoom photos are of wildlife/sports or some type of action.
  23. There are good reasons to buy the L-lenses:
    1. Build quality
    2. Optical quality
    3. Focus speed
    4. Another unique feature (constant aperture, range)
    Some of the non-L lenses provide the "highest" quality and can measure up with other L-quality lenses (17-55 F2.8, 85 F1.8)
    It is unlikely that you have discovered a new truth, after reading all the test as you already admitted. So either your 70-200 sample was bad (rental, abused?), or the 28-135 exceptionally good, both?, or you were not comparing apples to apples (both IS? distance? Aperture?) or you have a different preference than others (perfectly ok). Nobody here can find out but you.
    I'd say keep shooting with your 28-135 and enjoy it.
  24. Equipment shows its true performance when it is chalanged by demanding circumstances. It realy doesn't make a lot of difference which car you drive up to your local mall but you will sure notice the difference once you start driving off-road or on the speedway.
  25. Believe it or not, my 17-40 zoom is sharper at 18mm than the 18mm Distagon FFL from CZ :)
  26. I used to own a 28-135mm 3.5-5.6 IS USM. I have also borrowed a friends 70-200 2.8 IS L. Thought I really thought the 28-135 was a very good lens and a great value, yet there was really no comparison in my mind to the 70-200 2.8 IS L. They weren't even in the same league. Most obvious to me was super fast snap of the AF. Also the DOF and subsequent bokeh was another big stong point for the 70-200. Build qualty was obviously far better as well. I also thought the 70-200 did a better job of capturing realistic color.
    That aside, if you are going to make a really fair comparison, you should do it like the pros do. (I have done this a couple of times.) Select a simple subject. Set up your camera on a tripod and take a series of pictures using one lens at a variety of shutter speeds, apeture settings, and ISO. Then switch lenses and repeat the procedure. Then select a different subject under different lighting conditions and try again. Then compare images. Look closely for variations. If you are still convinced that the 28-135 is better than get it and use the extra cash for photo safari.
  27. "The way I was comparing sharpness before uploading was taking the picture and then reviewing it on the camera and zoom in all the way"
    Hardly what I would consider a controlled scientific test.
    There are many test shots out there on the web allowing examination of fine detail for lens comparison. Look at www.the-digital-picture.com for example.
    You may also want to setup on a tripod and shoot a newspaper hanging on a wall with each lens and keep all exif data the same. Then print each picture as large as possible on your home printer to compare. For me the proof is usually in the print. Let us know how you make out.
  28. 70-200 f/2.8 L IS has had some sample variation in them. The one I rented was particulary good, sold me on it, and I wound up getting one.
    Visual results are in the eye of the beholder. Knowing subtleties to look for is part of it.
    Understanding what you get in a continuous aperture lens is part of it.
    Learning how to use it matters. Example - I will not be able to handle a high-performance sports car the way an experienced driver will be able to.
  29. Michael, if you're going to be using a tripod to check out the 70-200 L IS, make sure that you turn the IS off. It can make a world of difference.
  30. Hi Michael,
    My original 28-135 that came with my 40D is super sharp. I shoot with 70-200 f4, 70-200 f 2.8 IS, 50 1.8, 28 2.8 and a older sigma 17-35. 28-135 comes in third behind the 70-200 f4 and the 2.8 IS, most of the time is seems to be sharper then the two primes that I have. The Image quality is very good with all of my lenes, I guess it really matters on your subject as well as your post processing skills. Some of the older 28-135 lenses might be a bit less sharp due to the fact that this particular lens tens to collect dust fairly fast. And there is always the question of copy variation as mentioned in previous posts. I would get a good cleaning kit and really get the lenses spotless and see if it makes a difference, I know that seems silly perhaps but makes a bit difference in my photography.
  31. I haven't read everything in this thread so my apologies if this duplicates what others have said. But there are many things besides the lens that can affect the photograph - use of a tripod, use of mirror lockup, enlargement factor, other equipment in the chain, how you're viewing the image (a good print will be sharper than your computer monitor), use of a good lens hood (most of the hoods made for wider angle zoom lenses are useless but the hoods for longer lenses are o.k. though the ideal is a compendium lens shade), aperture used (one or two stops from wide open is usually the sharpest but not always), lighting, the amount of detail in the image, and probably other things that don't come immediately to mind. So it isn't all that easy to do a real scientifically controlled test of different lenses but at a minimum it has to be done in a way other than just making a bunch of random photographs and looking at them on your monitor or worse yet, the LCD screen on your camera.
  32. Like Nick Jeftic said it before, "equipment shows its true performance when it is chalanged by demanding circumstances". Try to focus in low light conditions, or on AI servo mode etc. Yet I have to admitt that I've seen outstanding art photos produced with kit lenses. lt depends of what do you need camera/lens for and how versatile are you in using your gear..
  33. I had just the opposite experience. I own a 40D and used the same 28-135 lens for over a year. The first L lens I purchased was the 200 F2.8 (prime). Holy crap did I notice a difference in IQ. I recently replaced the 28-135 with the 24-70 F2.8L. Again - night and day in terms of IQ, contrast, color, etc. There is no comparison, imo. One could argue that I'm just subconsciously convincing myself of these observations since I spent a fair amount of money on those two lenses, but I think the images provide an objective comparison.

    • Non-L Series Lenses
      1.Live Music (Avett Brothers)
      2.Space Shuttle Launch
  34. All of the lenses you mentioned are capable of producing excellent results under the right conditions. However, to really do the comparison fairly, use a tripod, manual focus, same aperture, turn off IS, and keep the lighting constant. What you will see is little real differences on printed images 8x10 or smaller. Try it and see. You will be surprised that even the lowly 18-55 IS kit lens produces excellent results despite it's cheaply built plastic housing. However, it's not likely that the 28-135 IS would produce better images than the 70-200 f2.8 L under similar conditions.
  35. Hi Michael;
    I don't know if anyone mentioned about that before but I believe you took your shots at f/2.8 with 70-200. So that might cause some softness, especially in the borders of your image.
    I actually did not use both lenses, but see lots of images taken with both of them and there's some visible difference at contrast, sharpness etc. My suggestion is try f/4 or f/5.6 aperture sometimes then you'll probably see some difference.
  36. Thanks everyone for the responses so far. I know the test I did was not in anyway a scientific test, but wouldn't it be considered a real world test. I don't know if I am make up terms and if it applies to camera lenses, but I mean a L series lens, a higher grade lens, should produce pictures that are clearly better than any "lower" grade lens, even for a not so advanced user like myself. Since my experience was markedly worse than pretty much everyone else's experience with L lenses, I am really thinking that I need to give this another go, the right way incorporating all the tips and techniques you've all given me. Some are saying that printing out the pictures is the best way to compare the pictures taken? Does that mean the computer screen is not a reliable method for reviewing pictures? And another thing, that was brought up was sample variation between lens batches? How one lens of the same model might perform better or worse than another. Is that a very common occurrence? I was under the impression that these lenses were subject to some very strict quality control.
    If I took pictures that came out like the L-series ones you took, I wouldn't have even posted this topic. You Non-L Series pictures didn't link properly, or is it just my computer?
    Are Martin's L-Series pictures typical examples of the quality everyone is talking about? Please share some of your L-series pictures, better yet, if you have a comparable picture taken with a lower series lens, please share that too.
    But its really becoming clear that I and or the lens was a abused rental lens was/were the culprit(s) in this little testing I did. I'll be making arrangements to try it out again, I will let you all know how it goes.
  37. New lenses are good: 15-85 MTF50 = 45lpmm, 60/2.8 macro MTF50=45lpmm, but famous lenses do not perform that well 70-200/2.8 MTF50=40lpmm, 70-200/4 = 40lpmm and finally 18-55 kit lens MTF50=40lpmm ( but not for 55mm). I think that for pixel observer MTF50 =45 is necessary to feel well. I cited numbers from www.optyczne.pl (english pages are available)
  38. Just a few comments on your comparison. I suggest you start by comparing just the optical quality. For a fair, apples-to-apples comparison, try removing as many variables as possible. Do this by mounting on a tripod. Turn off the IS function. Use remote or self timer if testing slow shutter speeds. Consider mirror lock-up as well for >1/30 sec. exposures. Shoot a matrix of shots with each lens across the aperture and zoom ranges common to both lenses. Compare those images, side by side, up to full image resolution on your PC monitor. That should be a fair test of the optical quality. If the 28-135 really performs better, then you may have a defective 70-200 lens. Either that or we've all been had!

    Next, you can add the variable of IS for hand held shots. Be sure to compare images shot at the same settings. It may be that IS performs better on one lens vs. the other.
  39. More L series lenses contains flourite glass. Non L lenses contain none. The photos should be better.
  40. les


    Michael - here is my take on what you wrote:
    You have been shoting with a 18-55. It is reasonably easy to take a decent picture with a short focal lens. But 28-135 (which I owned) can make excellent images due to IS - particularly in good light.
    Switching to 70-200 needs a bit of practise. The lens is excellent without any doubt - but shooting at 200mm may surprise you a bit. IS works fine - but it barely compensates for difference in focal length compared to 18-55. In other words - it took me some time to get good pics out of 70-200 - and it was entirely my fault. Many people do not realise how different these lenses are. Good shooting technique is absolutely required - and once this is out of the way, the 70-200 will perform brilliantly. At least this was my experience.
    It is not enough to splash some cash (actually quite a lot of it) and expect instantaneous improvement. In fact - in my case I noticed deterioration - until I learnt how to use it properly. It is also worth to remember that IS needs a fraction of a second to kick in. In short - practice. Getting a golf club from Tiger Woods is not going to make you a good golfer.
    Regarding contrast - it is all in the light. The 28-135 is OK - but contrast can be actually quite bad at times. The 70-200 appears to be much better).
  41. Please share some of your L-series pictures, better yet, if you have a comparable picture taken with a lower series lens, please share that too.​
    Michael, I've only got L-series. These were hand held on a 7D using the EF 70-200mm f/4L IS with Canon's 1.4TC added:
  42. David, I'm guessing you're in Hawaii. These photo show a lot of artifacts, is there a lot of noise reduction in your workflow?
  43. because it helps you get chicks (like a porsche)
  44. Michael,
    If you are planning to purchase the 70-200mm 2.8L IS, I would hold off and see what the Mark II version is going to be like. The lens you are inquiring about is getting discontinued. The new lens is suppose to be faster in terms of AF, focuses at closer distance, and compensate an additional stop for the IS.
  45. Hi Jeffrey,
    I hear its supposed to come out some time next month. I will definitely wait and try it out before making any purchases.
  46. well there are plenty of things that the L is way better on
    two things. First is that the differences between the sharpness and contrast on a non-L to L can be as little as 1%. the thing is, you have to pay a heck of a lot more to get that 1%, but i never really thought the 28-135 was very sharp imo. anyways, i digress
    the second is the aperture and quality of bokeh (blur) if you look at the bird photo posted above, you get this wonderful smooth creamy blur. That's the kind of blur you will never get on the 28-135. Also, with the big white lens ( :) ) you can shoot with lower iso's in darker areas and therefore less noise and sharper
    The L lenses are also built to withstand a couple bumps and knocks here and there. the 70-200 is you can take out in the drizzle and still expect a perfectly functional lens afterwards (assuming you have a waterproof body :p)
    In the dark the 28-135 will be utterly confused and focus terribly, compared to the brilliant L lenses which can focus much faster
    as far as sharpness goes, try testing them at different apertures. All lenses are much sharper stopped up a couple notches. For example, the 70-200 will not be much sharper than the 28-135 at f/2.8. Try testing both lenses at f/5.6 or higher (dont go above f/8 tho, the lenses begin to lower in quality again starting at 8 ish)
    The 70-200 when utilized correctly should be tons sharper than the 28-135 and better in every aspect (including looks and sadly price :p)
  47. Also one more thing to consider is the use of lenses on full frame or crop sensors like the 5d vs 7d.
    Crop sensors literally cut out part of the image that EF lenses can see which also happens to be the weak spot for many lenses at the edges. You can expect L quality glass, for the most part, to work really well from the center of it's image all the way to the corners. Obviously some L glass is better than others, but aside from all the build quality/opitcal formulas/lens treatments, this is why you'll want L glass if you ever start shooting full frame.
    I've read many times how some great lenses lose their luster when they switch over to being used on full frame cameras. They may still work well, but your usable image has just become smaller.
    I'd say that is also from a pro stance as well, as amateurs I don't know that we'd notice it as much.
    As a side note, I also own the Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 and love it, as it really is sharp. But I'm glad the 7D came out because I was thinking that whenever I upgraded it would probably be to a 5D mk II and that my lens may not look as nice as it once did. But that's also a year or two down the line for me anyways.

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