Monday, February 11, 2013

Top 5 Friday: Canon lenses in need of updating

Before anyone asks - yes, I know it's Monday today, I was a bit late posting this. 2012 was the year that saw most of Canon's pre-1990 lenses finally got refreshed, for better or for worse. Even with those out of the way, there are still quite a few lenses out there that are showing their age in one way or another

5. EF 100-400 f/4.5-5.6L IS USM
Canon Museum
An update to the 100-400L has been rumoured for ages, though a patent did surface last year for a new f/4-5.6 version with more traditional zoom ring. The main reason for an update would be to replace the old 2-stop IS system, which is a bit lacking for a 400mm focal length. Some like to note it could use improvement in regards to its wide-open sharpness. I haven't found this to be much an issue in my own usage of it, but any progress in this department would be welcomed.

4. EF-S 17-85 f/4-5.6 IS USM
Canon Museum
Ever since the EF-S 15-85 was introduced in 2009, this lens has had a bit of identity crisis, one that was made worse by the fact that the aforementioned lens wasn't the 17-85's replacement. So it stayed on the market and has since seen its street price fall to a fraction of its MSRP of $599, nestled between the optically superior options of recent years, and really only having a ring USM to differentiate it from newer lenses like the 18-135 STM. Heck, it's not even offered as a kit lens anymore. With a useful focal length range, fast focus, and IS, this really only needs an optical update to improve corner performance slightly and a more logical price to make it worthwhile again.

3. EF 50 f/1.4 USM
Canon Museum
While an update for this one may not be urgent, it has a few lingering issues that a mark II version could easily improve. With varying performance at apertures lower than 2.0, occasional mechanical breakdowns, and a strange micro-USM, there's no shortage of areas where minor improvements could be made for a mark II edition. The new 35mm f/2.0 IS USM also makes me wonder if Canon will add image stabilization to an updated version of this.

In more unsettling news, the new primes announced in 2012 certainly raised the price ceiling for consumer-level primes. Considering the price difference between the f/1.4 and f/1.2 version, an update of the 1.4 can easily fit into the lineup, whether it be stabilized (like its new peers) or not.

2. EF 28-135 f/3.5-5.6 IS USM
Canon Museum

Currently Canon's only non-L EF standard zoom, it's been on the block for 15 years now. For the price, the optical performance and feature set and pretty much spot-on, but it could use some aesthetic modernization, a weight reduction, and an updated 4-stop (currently 2-stop) IS system . Having a shiny new version of this would make a tempting buy for new 6D owners who can't afford the 24-105 or 24-70 kit options.

Of course Canon could also give the 28-135 a much-needed brother or sister.

1. EF 50mm f/2.5 Compact Macro
Canon Museum
One of two surviving lenses from 1987 in the lineup, the weak parts here actually don't reside in the lens itself but rather the competition. In the last half decade or so there's been a bit of explosion in the number of the short focal length (30-70mm) 1:1 macro lenses getting released from Nikon, Sony, and third parties for both APS-C and FF. The short working distance these lenses offer causes their usefulness at 1:1 to be debatable for certain subjects, but at least they offer that capability, and at a reasonable price.

The 50 CM is known for being sharp and distortion-free, but these days 1:2 magnification probably isn't going to cut it, especially when even the 18-55 kit lens goes to 1:3. Add that to the fact that the 'life-size converter' for 50 CM costs nearly as much as the lens itself, by which point the package costs more than 100 2.8 macro. Bundle that with the AFD focus motor and a huge amount of extension while focusing, and the lens hasn't aged well from a design point of view. A new 50mm macro lens from Canon that did 1:1 wouldn't even cannibalize any of their sales, since they don't have an EF macro lens shorter than 100mm, and would be for a different market than the EF-S 60mm 2.8.

Honourable mentions:

Some lenses are commonly mentioned as in need of an update, but didn't make the above countdown for a few reasons. Main reason being that this is Top 5 Friday, not Top 10 Tuesday - I on;y have so much room in here. Nevertheless, here's why some popular choices were excluded from the top 5:

EF 400 f/5.6L USM
Canon Museum
The lens is sharp, small (relatively), light, and quick to focus. The one overwhelming complaint is that it doesn't feature image stabilization, so why not add it in? Well, I can think of a few reasons not to - at least not yet. The lens has had 20 years for its price to settle where it is today, so releasing a new version with IS today would catapult the price above that of the 100-400L. A prime costing more than its equivalent zoom isn't something you see often. However if an updated 100-400 were released this year (at a higher price, of course), then the door would be open to a 400L update afterwards.

EF 50 f/1.8 II
Canon Museum
I'm only putting this here because it's requested for an update just about every time the subject comes up on online forums. The 50 1.8 II was designed (and priced) as a no-frills lens, and any new version of it will just add frills to it or revert it to what the mark I version was. It may be 23 years old, shakey, and noisy, but its mixture of price, speed, and image quality is unmatched, plus there's a safe price gap between it and the 40 2.8 STM. Any update to it would only change that.

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