Friday, 22 June 2012

Review: Canon 17-40mm F4 L

Well look what arrived in the post today:


Up to now, I've always used the Tamron 17-50mm F2.8 zoom lens to cover this range, and I've been almost completely happy with them. The Tamron's produce excellent images (especially on 1.6 crop sensors), and have an extra f-stop and 10mm at the zoom end over the Canon 17-40mm which I must admit I think I'll miss.

So why did I buy the Canon? Essentially it's because I'm completely sold on Canon's weather-sealing and I'm about to lose the second Tamron in 2 years to salt and/or water and/or mud and/or slime damage so I figured it was time to make a switch. As you will know if you've already read about my photography gear, I give my stuff a pretty hard time. Aside from dragging it around on boats wherever I go, I don't even have a proper camera bag and tend to just shove it all into a rucksack with my lunch if I'm heading out anywhere. I'll use it in rain, seaspray, snow or whatever and I've alarmed more than a few people with the amount of mud and fish scales that have occasionally coated it! The lenses and camera are covered in scrapes and bumps, but not a single bit of it has ever stopped working or failed to produce images as sharp and clear as the day I bought the kit. Except the Tamron. Which is a real shame because like I said, it's a great lens and I'll miss it.

Anyway, my first impressions of the Canon 17-40mm so far are pretty much that it works. I wandered through the main campus at Glasgow University on my way home today and took loads of pictures of wildflowers, architectural shots, a view of Glasgow from the top of the hill, and even a load of shots from a graduation celebration in the main quadrangle, which was great until I got home and the thunder and lightning started and I got too excited... In my haste to try and shoot the storm, I deleted everything off my memory card to make room for the video files and I lost everything I'd shot today. So I don't really have anything very sensible to say about the images as yet, so I'll just show you this frame grab instead!

Lightning strike over Glasgow city, with an Alexander 'Greek' Thompson building in the foreground (which wasn't hit).

The only things I can really say about the lens so far though are that the autofocus is absolutely silent (to the point that I thought I'd switched it off completely) and incredibly fast and the build is nice and light, but feels sturdy. The zoom ring feels a little heavier than I'm used to from my other lenses, but it's not a big deal at all. The one thing I can't quite figure out is the ridiculous lens hood that is supplied with the lens. It's absolutely enormous and converts an otherwise perfectly normal-looking lens into  something that looks more like a giant cartoon flower. Maybe it's just there to make it look more impressive, but I can't imagine it offers that much protection or shading? I'll use it anyway since it can't hurt (except to make it slightly more awkward to squish everything into that rucksack), and since I regularly whack lenses off things it makes more sense to have the lens hood take the impact than the glass. Still, I'm pretty glad I bought a polariser to fit it as well since there doesn't seem to be a lot of front-end protection there.

Normal lens

Enormous flower-thing! 

Anyway, if the weather stops terrifying the dog long enough that we can actually go outside again for more than 30 seconds I'll hopefully have some replacement photos to share with you from this lens over the weekend. If not, the hound will have to be my test subject!

Ok, so the weather improved over the weekend and although we couldn't head out of the city because we had some friends staying over, I took a wee trip out to the Glasgow Botanic Gardens and the Kibble Palace to test the lens out. I'm quite pleased with it! Here are a few test shots, all taken wide open at F4 across the zoom range. None of these have been sharpened, so they're shown here as they were shot:

Koi carp in the Kibble Palace pond. The glass roof is reflected in the water.

A close-up of one of the statues ('Stepping Stones')

As a portrait lens, it's pretty nice at the 40mm end. Kev was angry I made him look at plants.

Close up of a banana leaf

A close up of a red flower. The bokeh is quite nice, though it doesn't give the same separation of subject and background that you can get with wider aperture lenses.

Triffids! ... I mean Venus fly traps and pitcher plants

I'm pretty impressed with this. The sharpness and overall image quality already seem better than I was getting with the Tamron 17-50mm so I'm looking forward to seeing how it performs in more 'real-life' shooting scenarios on the next research cruise. It looks pretty nice as a short portrait lens (at the 40mm end), but the 17mm end shows a fair amount of distortion as you'd expect. It's not as bad as the fisheye, but it's not very flattering!