For every lens that gets rave reviews from the photographic community and intimate examination by the pixel peepers, there are many others that get shunted aside or ignored. Not because they are intrinsically awful, at least in most cases, but simply because they don’t rival the greatest. Most often they fail in the sharpness category, but other factors such a distortion, color fringing, vignetting and basic build quality also play a part.
Sharpness, however, is the main differentiating factor, and, judging by the amount of space devoted both to articles about lens sharpness and to the comments that tag onto these articles, an issue that is uppermost in many (maybe most) photographer’s minds.
Because sharpness is so highly valued, lenses that fall short in that department are swiftly rejected by many. One of these is the recently discontinued Canon EF 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 IS DO USM lens.
I, too, reading negative reviews such as Bryan Carnathan’s in the The Digital Picture dismissed this lens as a potential purchase and bought instead a number of large, heavy but beautifully built and sharp Canon ‘L’ lenses that covered the long telephoto range.
But I’m getting older and prefer to slim down my equipment for travel. I also like less ostentatious equipment that does not draw attention to itself. Those large white ‘L’ lenses always stand out, intimidating subjects and raising my fears of camera theft.
So when an opportunity arose to buy a used 70-300mm DO lens for about one fourth of the retail price arose, I decided to get it for travel purposes.
I didn’t have a lot of high hopes for this lens. I was intrigued by its Fresnel lens elements that help reduce size and weight, but as long as it was serviceable it would do.
Well, now that I have it, I find it to be a lot more than simply serviceable. Firstly, the image quality, so widely disparaged, is more than adequate. True, wide open and at 300mm, there is some softness and loss of contrast but stopping down no more than a single stop improves the image considerably. It may not rival in absolute pixel peeping sharpness the latest generation of ‘L’ lenses but it compares well with the prior (2000-2010 era) lenses. Not better but not significantly inferior. And I have felt no need to replace those older ‘L’s with newer models; the upgrade in quality wasn’t worth the extra cost in my opinion.
This is salutatory lesson. I spent a lot of time researching and way too much money in the past chasing and buying the latest and greatest lenses when, in reality, they did little to improve my photography and have often found themselves underused. I would have been better off spending more time using what I had, such as consumer grade kit lenses, making actual photographs rather than dreaming about making better photographs.
So I fell slap into the trap, carefully cultivated by camera manufacturers, that better equipment means better photography. It’s taken much longer than it should to get out.
At last, though, I find myself able to look beyond what is fashionable or critically popular highly rated and look for myself at what I really need. The Canon DO zoom is relatively small and compact, unobtrusive and lightweight in comparison to many of its competitors and will do me very well as my long telephoto zoom for future trips.
(Photograph take with the DO lens)