(1) Pentax K-1000 (all manual, all the time, film)
(2) Pentax ZX-M (fully auto to fully manual, film)
(3) Olympus D-360L (1.3 megapixels, first digital)
(4) Canon S3 (12x optical zoom, from fully auto to fully manual; 6MP, the gateway drug)
(5) Canon ELPH cameras that I gave as gifts
(6) Canon Rebel XT (2nd generation Rebel, 8MP, now we start buying lenses)
(7) Canon EOS 50D
18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens (w/ Rebel)
70-300mm telephoto zoom f/4-5.6 IS
17-40mm wide angle zoom f/4 (L series)
70-300 telephoto zoom f/4-5.6 IS (L series)
I decided to redo my website from the bottom up. TFrog.com is an evolutionary product which has undergone incremental changes over the past two decades. From my first “website” as an AOLer to my very own TFrog domain, there have been generations of my website, but the last redesign was basically put up in 2007. Since then, I find:
(2) Bowing to the times, I concurrently created a parallel universe, designed to display on phones, tablets, and other devices. While I believe that the photography pages are still best viewed on a traditional monitor, I live in the real world. You can now see all of the tasty bits on your smartphone.
Why Real World Lens Tests?
When I was considering the purchase of a new lens, I did my due diligence, searched the internet for information, reviews, and sample photos. More often than not, the samples that I found were beautiful, professionally processed images that convinced me to spend a good bit of money on that lens. When I started shooting with my new lens, I was disappointed that my pictures did not measure up to the samples I’d seen.
The purpose of my Real World Lens Tests is to show the results that a dedicated amateur can get with each of these lenses. I present a good range of images, several of which link to full-size, straight-from-the-camera JPGs, so my fellow amateurs will know that they can get the same results as I do, before any post-processing work is done. “You, too, can expect this level of photos or better if you buy this lens.” In a lot of cases, the images shown have been edited mildly for sharpening, levels, and saturation, and some have been cropped. But the out-of-body JPGs are untouched by human hands.
But how did I get here?
There was a time, believe it or not, that I did not have a camera with me at all times. Lenses are important to me now, to be sure, but it’s not the lenses that got me to this place. It was a succession of cameras, and the first one WAS NOT MY FAULT.
Part of the process of rebuilding this website involved going back in time – to the beginning, the genesis of my obsession with photography. We don’t have to go back all that far, either.
(1) I will only briefly mention FILM (old folks, explain “film” to the youngsters, please), and only to say that my wife was taking a filler course in Black and White Photography toward her college degree. For the course, she bought a Pentax K1000 – all manual, all the time – and even learned to develop film in our basement. I picked up the Pentax and couldn’t put it down. Over a thousand dollars was spent in having bad, bad photos developed. (Old folks, explain “developed” to the youngsters, please.)
(2) When DIGITAL was born, I jumped on an early Olympus D360L (released in 2000). This camera took photos at a stunning 1.3 megapixels, or a best 1280 x 960 (a size that is barely adequate today on Facebook). As I recall, the memory card it came with could hold all of two photos at best quality. The camera was slow, downloading photos took forever, and it took 4 AA batteries and ate them like candy. I know, because I still have the camera. And I wish I could go back in time and re-take every one of those photos with modern equipment. As a digital camera, it made me want to keep using film.
My second digital was the Canon S1 IS (IS = image stabilization, not quite as universal then as it is today). Oh, how I loved that camera. Issued in 2004, the S1 was a “superzoom” camera with a 10X optical zoom (the equivalent of 38mm to 380mm) PLUS digital zoom (which one should never, ever use). This little handful took excellent photos, packing 3 megabytes (or twice the size of the Olympus’ best setting). After a month shooting on automatic, I read the user guide, switched over to manual settings, and never looked back. And I was never without that camera.
(3) Eventually, my beloved S1 developed a zotzed display screen. I found out that this was A Thing, that Canon had issued an advisory on it, and that I was supposed to send the camera in for free repair. It turned out that the parts needed to complete that repair had run out, so Canon’s new “repair” was to replace the S1 with a refurbished S3! No complaints from me. I just went from 3MP to 6MP, and from 10X zoom to 12X. But by that time, I had a new love.
(5) In all of my reading, I found myself lusting after better resolution, more clarity, more vivid photos. I wanted a DSLR. At the end of 2005, I picked up the Canon Rebel XT (the 2nd in the Rebel line), an 8MP beauty with an 18-55mm kit lens. Coming from the S1, I was mightily impressed with the quality of photos from the XT. Within 6 months, I had bought a 70-300mm telephoto zoom lens and the Canon jewel 50mm f/1.8. To these, I later added the 100mm macro lens. I think my photography improved over the years, and I was eventually asked to shoot a wedding. A very special wedding. And not long before that wedding, some IDIOT (could have been me) left the XT outside on a rainy night. The camera was soaked and nonfunctional. A brick. Luckily, it dried out over the next 24 hours and returned to normal, but I was convinced that I couldn’t go shoot a wedding with this one camera.
(6) So in 2009 I bought the Canon 50D, the newest release at the time in the next level of Canons. Somewhat larger than the Rebel, the 50D fit my hand like it was built for it. Now I had 15MP, a much faster, cleaner, and more capable camera. With this camera, I upgraded the old 18-55mm kit lens with the 17-40mm L series lens, and most recently upgraded to the 70-300 L series telephoto. I also added a Speedlite 580 flash unit, which is wonderful, and a real Manfrotto tripod for the heavy lenses (as opposed to the plastic KMart tripod of my earlier days).
Now here’s the thing.
It occurs to me that all of this digital activity took place in the first decade of the new millennium. From 2000 to 2010 I bought a succession of cameras that eventually got me to where I am now. And my “new” camera is 6 years old. Are the glory years for semi-professional digital photography over? Where is the new camera that’s going to make me NEED to buy one?
Even in the lineage of my EOS 50D, it seemed that Canon was bringing out a new model almost every year through that decade:
Today, toward the end of 2015, the 70D is still the “new” camera in this line. The professional series has seen releases only every 3 to 4 years, so a long time between models is nothing new. And the Rebel series has continued unabated. But improvements are incremental – there are no great leaps in digital photography.
And through all of this, Canon has kept churning out lenses. And lenses change even less often than camera bodies. The 70-200mm f/2.8 IS lens today is the same as it was five years ago. (And still the pick of the litter.) So I think it’s still important that folks thinking about putting out $1,600 for a new lens should see REAL photos from those lenses, not polished and made-up professionally processed images.
And that’s why my Real World Lens Tests.
[Update: I added the Canon EOS 80D to my list in late 2018. This is 24MP, full HD 60p video, WiFi connection, etc. – and a 45point focus system.]