Spring 2012

Spring 2012
by ani

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My friends asked me about specific criteria when reviewing a lens, I've check ones from available online review sites, and they have different views and review basis. What are the things that one should know when reviewing lenses? Is there any checklist that one should know and any benchmark in a given parameter, and lastly how will I rate each parameter in each given criteria?

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Don't focus on the technical. Doing that well requires a meticulous approach and a careful technical setup, and, really, access to dozens of copies of the lens. Leave that to the technical review sites. They'll do it better than you can, and we don't really need more ad hoc attempts at it.

Instead, take the lens and use it to take pictures for a week — or even better a month. Look at your results, and then write about them and your subjective experience in using the lens. That's more valuable than the numbers.

If you really want to look at and report on some of the lens's rendering characteristics (rather than just talking about the photos and your feelings), take a look at What characteristics make a good lens good?

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Are you doing it for a professional work? If yes, then go on the technical and specifications of the lens, this question provides a list of online review sites. If no, here are some basic criteria that you should know, and for this I assumed you have the actual product because you'll will be actually testing it live.

  1. Predecessor record - If the lens has a predecessor, it's good to check it's record. Famous lenses will be re-develop/upgrade by manufacturers to keep its inline products. Many online review sites starts their review by introducing the lens' predecessor, if available.

  2. Sharpness.

  3. Chromatic Aberration.

  4. Distortion.

  5. Build Quality

  6. Price

  7. For the Auto-focus Operation depends on First, the camera body, if it has focus motor with it or none, and Second, on how you plan to use it. For you'll use it on sports photography, performance speed is a big deal.

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There are numerous technical measures, but which ones are important are going to depend on what you are doing and the best way to evaluate is still to get your hands on a copy of the lens or find photos taken with the lens that are similar to the kind of shots you expect to be taking.

Key things to look at when comparing are apparent sharpness both at the center and on the edges of the lens. Does it pick up more or less detail compared to another lens. You can either use the same or different exposures depending on if you want to account for the difference in speed of the lens or not. You can also use a tripod or hand hold it depending on if you want to see the impact of the faster shutter or image stabilization or not.

Also, take a look at color reproduction, both as shot and after correction. How much detail is found in the color and how smooth is it. It's rather astounding how much better some lenses will capture color than others. It was the biggest surprise for me when comparing Canon's 70-200 f/2.8 IS II lens to my old 70-300 f/4 IS USM.

Also look at the relative vignetting that occurs on the lenses (the amount the edges darken) and also look at the relative amount of chromatic aberration (which will also reduce the sharpness. You also want to look at things like focus speed and accuracy as well as levels of image stabilization when applicable. It's also important to just get a feel for the lenses. Do the zoom and focus rings move smoothly but hold position or do they feel too stiff or loose? Keep in mind there will be some variation from lens to lens and a rental is likely to be much different from a new lens in terms of the feel of the zoom and focus as well.

Design your tests to really emulate the way you will shoot with the lens, but giving you as much control over the shooting environment to limit the factors that will impact it and choose the subject to highlight differences. If you're working on color do something with rich blacks, bright whites and a vibrant range of color. If you're looking at sharpness, use a target rich in detail and be careful to focus correctly.

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