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Canon Normal Zooms

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Peter Kun Frary


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Ultimately, the caliber of your images is determined by the quality of the lens, not the camera. Of course, a good eye and technique are helpful too. Even the humble EOS Rebel can deliver similar image quality as an EOS 1D series if you use the same lens and technique. If you like sharp, contrasty images, save your money for the best lenses you can muster.

Canon Normal Zooms

After using a 50 mm lens off and on since high school, I got my first zoom lens in 1987, a Nikkor 35-70 3.5-4.5 AI. The lens was beautifully made with engraved markings and silky smooth zoom and focus action. The ground glass focusing screen in my Nikon FM was not very efficient and darkened when zoomed to 70 mm. Strangely, after zooming back and forth to compose, I usually ended up at 50 mm. Years of using a 50 mm lens had taken its toll: I could only see in one focal length! That old zoom was sharp but had plenty of flare and ghosting, rendering it unusable if a bright light was in or near the frame. Times have changed and focusing screens are much brighter, lens coatings and optical design have improved and my inner eye sees a continuous stream of focal lengths.

The 46 degree coverage of the 50 mm lens is equivalent to the sweet spot of the human eye. Hence, "normal lens," is the term used to describe this focal range. What is a normal zoom lens? It's a zoom that "dances" around both sides of the old 50 mm standard. Thus, 24-70, 24-85, 28-70, 28-80, 28-105, 35-70, 35-105, 35-135, etc., are considered normal zooms on 35mm film and full-frame DSLRs. Here are the zooms I've had in my camera bag.

Canon EF 28-80 3.5-5.6 USM

This zoom appeared in 1991 as the kit lens for the EOS Elan/100 and is one of the forgotten gems of the EF line. It was a novelty due to its small size, silent operation and excellent optical performance. At only 330 g (11.6 oz), it falls firmly into the bantamweight class of lenses. However, polycarbonate construction and a metal mount make for a sturdy unit. Plus, at 77.5 (L) x 72 mm (D), you might mistake it for a 50 mm "normal" lens. The outer appearance is nearly identical to the EF 28-105 3.5-4.5 USM. The twist action zoom is smooth but on the loose side. Like most AF lenses, the manual focus ring is dinky and not as silky as the manual lenses of yesteryear.

Lamppost at Queen's Beach, Honolulu • Rebel II, EF 28-80 3.5-5.6 USM, Kodak Gold 200

Focus is achieved by front element extension. The ring-type USM motor dives the small front elements easily, resulting in extremely fast AF. Plus, ring-type USM allows FTM, something the newer versions of this zoom range lack. The front element rotates and the barrel expands and contracts during focusing and zooming, but the movement is relatively small (about 1 cm). If you prefocus manually, the distance window in meters and feet is very useful. The EF 28-80 3.5-5.6 USM has a 5-blade diaphragm and allows F-stops from 3.5 to 38.

This is the first Canon zoom to use a molded glass (GMo) aspherical lens element. This element (3rd) helps correct astigmatism, achieve sharp definition and to make the lens compact. Canon packed 10 elements into a 77.5 (L) x 72 mm (D) barrel! With all those elements, the optional hood, EW-68A, should be used at all times to protect the front element and reduce flare. Like the EF 24-85 3.5-4.5 USM, the EF 28-80 3.5-5.6 USM contains a flare-cut diaphragm.

Canon EF 28-80 3.5-5.6 USM • Metal mount, FTM and good bang for the buck

The filter size is a modest 58 mm, making filters affordable and easy to share with common Canon lenses. The front element is small, so there's plenty of room between the element and filter threads. I'm sure a 52 mm filter design would have worked fine. However, the extra space is safer--less chance of damaging the element when changing filters--and adds the possibility of stacking filters without vignetting. Unfortunately, the front element retracts into the barrel during zoom operation making use of a polarizer tricky--you must adjust it at 28 or 80 mm and then zoom. Some bulky filters snag on the inner barrel. In like fashion, the lens caps only fits at the 28 or 80 mm focal lengths.

For a consumer zoom, the EF 28-80 3.5-5.6 USM delivers sharp and contrasty chromes. Amazingly, image quality is excellent wide open at all focal lengths, with only slight improvement stopping down. In fact, it's sharper than all of the zooms on this page wide open. In other words, you can expect sharp 11 x 14 enlargements wide open and at any focal length. Like most zooms in this range, it exhibits a small amount of barrel distortion and light falloff at the wide end. Light falloff disappears by F5.6 but barrel distortion becomes increasingly noticeable in the macro range. The long end has little or no distortion or light falloff.

Flare and ghosting are well controlled for a zoom, but extreme conditions, e.g., a shearing Hawaiian sunset, will cause problems. Nevertheless, flare and ghosting are slightly better controlled than both my EF 28-105 USM and EF 28-135 IS USM, especially if you stop down a bit. The flare-cut mask diaphragm seems to make a difference, although this lens has less elements than most zoom designs (the fewer lens elements, the fewer surfaces for light to reflect off and cause flare). Keep the lens hood on to help reduce flare.

The EF 28-80 3.5-5.6 USM is a nice lens for the EOS Elan series, Rebel series or A2/A2E. Due to its light weight, it balances well on smaller cameras such as the Rebel or Elan series. It isn't as well suited for pro cameras like the EOS 1V or EOS 3 as the variable aperture of F3.5 to 5.6 is too slow to activate their cross AF sensors.

Unfortunately, the EF 28-80 3.5-5.6 USM was replaced in 1995 with the cheaply made EF 28-80 3.5-5.6 USM II, a move that soiled the reputation of Canon 28-80 zooms forever. However, the better optical performance, metal mount, FTM, distance window and more sturdy construction make the EF 28-80 3.5-5.6 USM an excellent value. It's a rare bird on the used market, but they go for $75 to $150 depending on condition.

 

Canon EF 35-105 3.5-4.5

In 1990 I bought an EOS 10S and an EF 35-105 3.5-4.5. This was my first really good zoom lens and, like my first love, I never forgot our time together. Canon introduced the EF 35-105 3.5-4.5, a small batch of other lenses and the EOS 620 and 650 cameras in 1987. This revolutionary event marked Canon's break with the old FD system and the genesis of Canon's EOS autofocus system.

Pink Clouds & Tree • Diamond Head, Hawaii • EOS 10S, EF 35-105 3.5-4.5, Bogan 3001, Fujicolor HG 100

The small size and moderate wide angle to medium telephoto range made the EF 35-105 3.5-4.5 ideal for travel and general use. Polycarbonate construction, but with a metal lens mount, kept it to a featherweight 400 g. Prior FD lenses were mainly constructed of metal, so this was a really light lens for its day. At 73.2mm D x 81.9mm L, it is also a compact and easy to handle optic.

Although it uses the Arc Form Drive (AFD) and front element extension, it focuses fairly fast. AFD designs aren't totally silent like USM, but are quieter than the AF motors of most other lens makers. The push-pull zoom is fast to zoom but less precise than the twist type. It's great for going from 35 to 105 in a hurry! Most of the grip surface is a rubber-like material. Unfortunately, the manual focus ring is small and feels gritty when rotated.

Canon EF 35-105 3.5-4.5 • The first of its breed and pretty dad burn good

The front element turns and the barrel extends/contracts during focus making use of polarizer filters frustrating. However, if you prefocus manually, you'll appreciate the distance window in meters and feet. The AF/M switch is difficult to move as it is flat and flush with the barrel surface. The closest focusing distance is .85 m and is available at all focal lengths. It sports a five-blade diaphragm, so bokeh isn't as smooth as the seven-blade EF 28-105 3.5-4.5 USM. A modest 58 mm filter thread makes filters affordable and easy to share with common Canon lenses.

Girl & Mandolin Canon EOS 10S, EF 35-105 3.5-4.5 & Fujicolor HG 100

For a consumer zoom, the EF 35-105 3.5-4.5 is sharp and contrasty, nearly as good as the EF 28-105 3.5-4.5 USM. Like most zooms, there is a small amount of barrel distortion at the short end and pincushion distortion at the long end, especially at macro distances. Flare and ghosting will occur if you strong light sources. However, considering that this is a 14 element lens, it is reasonably flare resistant under most conditions. I shot lots of Hawaiian sunsets without any problems. Of course, you should use the lens shade (EW-68B) to help keep flare in check. The hood is a standard wide angle design and is too shallow for use at 105mm. A petal design would have insured maximum coverage at the long end of the range.

4th of July Fireworks in Waikiki • Canon EOS 10S, EF 35-105 3.5-4.5, Bogan 3001, Fujichrome 100

This lens went out of production in 1990 but used stock appear on EBay and KEH.com often. One in excellent condition goes for $100 or less. It's a great lens for the EOS Elan series or A2/A2E. With a 35 mm short end, it isn't wide enough for small frame cameras such as the D30/D60. It also isn't well suited for pro EOS cameras like the EOS 1V or EOS 3 as the variable aperture of F3.5 to 4.5 is too slow to activate their cross AF sensors.

Here are more sample images taken with the EF 35-105 3.5-4.5:

 

Canon EF 35-135 4.0-5.6 USM

In 1990, Canon introduced three consumer-level zooms with ring-type USM: EF 35-135 4.0-5.6 USM, EF 70-210 3.5-4.5 USM and EF 100-300 4.5-5.6 USM. The EF 35-135 4.0-5.6 USM debuted as the kit lens for the EOS 10S. I gave my wife an EF 35-135 4.0-5.6 USM and EOS Elan as a gift in 1994. The small size and moderate wide angle to medium telephoto range made an it ideal as part of her travel kit.

Polycarbonate construction, but with a metal lens mount, keep it to a featherweight 425 g. The twist action zoom is smooth and does not creep. Zooming is accomplished by expanding and contracting nested barrels. Like most AF lenses, the manual focus ring is small and not as silky or fine turning as manual lenses of yesteryear.

Haleiwa Sunset • Elan 7, EF 35-135 4.0-5.6 USM & Kodak Max 400

The EF 35-135 4.0-5.6 USM is the first Canon zoom lens to use a rear element focusing group. The ring-type USM dives the small rear elements easily, resulting in extremely fast AF. The ring-type USM also allows full-time manual focusing. A molded glass (GMo) aspherical lens element (12th) is used to correct astigmatism, achieve sharp definition and to make the lens compact. Canon manages to pack 14 elements into a 72 x 86.4 mm barrel!

Dude at Chuckanut Elan, EF 35-135 4.0-5.6 USM & Kodak Max 400

The front element does not rotate and the barrel does not expand or contract during focusing. If you prefocus manually, the distance window in meters and feet is very useful. The closest focusing distance is .75 m and is available at all focal lengths. A modest 58 mm filter thread makes filters affordable and easy to share with common Canon lenses.

Canon EF 35-135 4.0-5.6 USM • Sleek and black; a dependable travel companion

For a consumer zoom, the EF 35-135 4.0-5.6 USM is sharp and contrasty, on par with the EF 28-105 3.5-4.5 USM. At normal distances there is little distortion. Like most zooms, the short end has noticeable barrel distortion at macro distances. Flare and ghosting will occur if you shoot bright sunsets or other strong light sources. However, this lens is reasonably flare resistant under most conditions. Of course, you should use the lens shade (EW-62) to help keep flare in check. The hood is a standard wide angle design and is too shallow for use at 135mm. A petal design would have insured maximum coverage at the long end of the range.

Colorful Guy In San Francisco • Elan 7, EF 35-135 4.0-5.6 USM & Portra 400VC

This lens is out of production (replaced by the EF 28-135 3.5-5.6 IS USM in 1997) but used stock appear on EBay and KEH.com often. One in excellent condition goes for $75-150. It is a wonderful lens for the EOS Elan series or A2/A2E. With a 35 mm short end, it isn't wide enough for small frame cameras such as the 10D/20D. It isn't well suited for pro EOS cameras like the EOS 1V or EOS 3 as the variable aperture of F4 to 5.6 is too slow to activate their cross AF sensors.

Chuckanut Sunset • Bellingham WA Elan, EF 35-135 4.0-5.6 USM & Kodak 400

Review of EF 24-105 4L IS USM

Review of EF 28-105 3.5-4.5 USM

Review of EF 28-135 3.5-5.6 IS USM

6/11/2001 • Revised 07/06/2011

©Copyright 2001-2013 by Peter Kun Frary • All Rights Reserved

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