Canon USM system - worth it to a novice?

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Canon USM system - worth it to a novice?

Postposted on Mon Mar 29, 2010 12:02 am

How valuable is the Canon USM (ultrasonic motor) system to a novice photographer?

Reason I ask is that I'm doing some spec comparison between eBay, Newegg, and Amazon, and am noticing that the USM system adds at least $100 to a lens with nominally the same specs as a similar non-USM lens.

I've borrowed a friend's 28mm f/1.4 USM lens a few times and it is a sweet piece of hardware, but my status is entry-level half-frame (Rebel XS 10MP) and my budget does not tolerate $500 lenses at this time, let alone anything in the L-series. Does the USM system really help me if I can get the same glass for less money without it, and if it does help...how?
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Re: Canon USM system - worth it to a novice?

Postposted on Mon Mar 29, 2010 12:21 am

Quieter
Faster
Full time manual focus "override" though I've not found this to be particularly useful with my 400L. It focuses so fast there's really no need in helping it along and I'm usually in Servo mode.

Unless you're shooting a lot of fast action, lenses with the plain old focus motor should be fine.
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Re: Canon USM system - worth it to a novice?

Postposted on Mon Mar 29, 2010 12:58 am

Same marketing bull that every other mfgr uses. As it seems canon is one of the few remaining mfgs not to have every lens use this system, try it out instore to see if the difference is worth your monies.
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Re: Canon USM system - worth it to a novice?

Postposted on Mon Mar 29, 2010 4:01 am

phez wrote:Same marketing bull that every other mfgr uses. As it seems Canon is one of the few remaining mfgs not to have every lens use this system.
Those other few would be Nikon, Sony, Sigma, Tamron, etc. :lol:

All Canon EF lenses have the motor inside the lens. The least expensive of these have micro-motors. Those labeled USM have high-frequency "Ultra Sonic Motors". Canon's best lenses have ring-type USM.

Unless you plan on manually-overriding the focus in AF mode, or you need extremely fast or quiet focusing, the type of drive motor in the lens doesn't matter much. Pay more attention to how well the lens works. The ones that have ring type USM also tend to have superior optical performance, more mass, larger size and higher prices than the basic lenses.
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Re: Canon USM system - worth it to a novice?

Postposted on Mon Mar 29, 2010 11:18 am

As for the what phez said, i disaggree, theres a whole lot of difference between a normal motor, and the piezoelectric ring-type motors. So, no, not that much marketing bull. Compare it to a non pro body with the motor in the house or a normal non USM/SWM/HSM/etc motor. Nowdays most manufacturers has HSM(Sigma), USM(Canon) or SWM(Nikon), USD(Tamron) etc. But not in all lenses. But for a long time, most lenses beyond Canons own didnt have USM. Compare Tamron 90 Macro and Canon 100 USM Macro and you will see a difference. Canons 70-200 is also faster than Sigmas 70-200, even though both uses USM/HSM.

But most lenses that use a Ring-Type USM focus faster than lenses that use any other motor, within the canon line that is. And if you see USM, think Ring-Type unless its the 50/1.4 USM lense you are looking at. Not to mention the full time manual focus which can be a nice treat, especially nowdays when many cameras allow film capturing of higher quality.
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Re: Canon USM system - worth it to a novice?

Postposted on Tue Apr 06, 2010 6:30 pm

There is a big difference in quality between the motors used in different manufacturer's lenses. My friend's Sigma 24-70 is loud and slow. On the other hand, my Canon 17-40L focuses instantly and is nearly silent. My Canon 50mm f/1.4 is quieter and faster than the Sigma, but is painfully slow and loud compared to the 17-40L. In the best of all possible worlds, you'd want to get good Canon L lenses if you have a Canon body (don't use Canon, so don't know about its cameras). Ring-type USM is really superior to what else is out there. Unfortunately is comes at a price premium, so I know that all of my lenses will not be L's. I am very happy to own an L, though, because it is so fast and quiet, it's almost like magic when it works. It makes that part of taking the picture transparent, which, IMHO, is useful whether you are a novice or a pro.
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Re: Canon USM system - worth it to a novice?

Postposted on Tue Apr 06, 2010 6:43 pm

My EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM focuses extremely quickly and quietly. My EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM focuses very quietly and very quickly for a macro lens. My EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM and EF 85mm f/1.8 USM are somewhat noisier. The optical image stabilization system on the 70-300 is noticeably louder than on the 17-55.
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Re: Canon USM system - worth it to a novice?

Postposted on Tue Apr 06, 2010 6:49 pm

Yeah, there are clearly some lenses that are better than others, and I definitely acknowledge that there are excellent non-L lenses. In fact, I'm probably going to buy a 70-300 IS soon. Even though I'm not fond of its focusing motor, it produces some incredibly clear photos. I've used it on 20D and 30D bodies, and I can easily excuse its faults considering the image quality and price. I don't mean to be a lens elitist or anything, but I think you should try the 17-40L if you can, just to see what I mean. It does make a difference, but I'm still in love with my 50mm f/1.4's amazing photos.
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Re: Canon USM system - worth it to a novice?

Postposted on Tue Apr 06, 2010 7:58 pm

I don't believe that the EF 17-40mm f/4L USM would be an upgrade from my EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM when used with an APS-C DSLR. These two lenses cover the same range of focal lengths at the wide end, but the 17-55 zooms in 37% closer. My 17-55 f/2.8 lens is a full stop faster and has three stops of image stabilization, making it possible to shoot hand-held in situations where the 17-40 f/4.0 won't get the shot. If I had a 5D or 1Ds full-frame camera, the "L" lens is full-frame and has weather sealing that my EF-S lens lacks, but with my current EOS 40D camera, neither of those matter a great deal.

Check out this review:
http://www.the-digital-picture.com/Revi ... eview.aspx


As for the EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM, I sometimes wish that I'd jumped at a deal on the EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM instead. The 70-300 captures sharp enough images, but the out of focus background frequently isn't as pleasing as what I see with the "L" telephoto lenses. The 70-300 is considerably lighter and much less expensive (about 1/3 the price), though. In this example, the squirrel is nicely sharp, hand-held at 300mm (480mm equivalent field of view), the shrubbery, fence and grass are blurred out of focus, but the diagonal pattern on the tree trunk bothers me just a bit:
http://i230.photobucket.com/albums/ee12 ... G_0605.jpg


Here are a few hundred shots that I've taken with the EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM:
http://s230.photobucket.com/albums/ee12 ... ineer/Zoo/
http://s230.photobucket.com/albums/ee12 ... /Wildlife/
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Re: Canon USM system - worth it to a novice?

Postposted on Tue Apr 06, 2010 9:01 pm

JustAnEngineer wrote:I don't believe that the EF 17-40mm f/4L USM would be an upgrade from my EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM when used with an APS-C DSLR. These two lenses cover the same range of focal lengths at the wide end, but the 17-55 zooms in 37% closer. My 17-55 f/2.8 lens is a full stop faster and has three stops of image stabilization, making it possible to shoot hand-held in situations where the 17-40 f/4.0 won't get the shot. If I had a 5D or 1Ds full-frame camera, the "L" lens is full-frame and has weather sealing that my EF-S lens lacks, but with my current EOS 40D camera, neither of those matter a great deal.


I missed the fact the the 17-55 has ring USM. That means that, for my purposes, the only real benefits the 17-40L has over the 17-55 is its weather sealing and price. With the 7D body, I can actually get very nice usable shots indoors in poor lighting with the 17-40L, though I recognize I'd have more leeway if I used a lens with a wider aperture. At any rate, I wasn't trying to make a case that the 17-40L is a better lens, just that it's focusing system is better. However, in light of the fact that both use ring USM, that's probably not true.




For this guy to rate anything other than an L lens good, it has to be spectacular.


As for the EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM, I sometimes wish that I'd jumped at a deal on the EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM instead. The 70-300 captures sharp enough images, but the out of focus background frequently isn't as pleasing as what I see with the "L" telephoto lenses. The 70-300 is considerably lighter and much less expensive (about 1/3 the price), though. In this example, the squirrel is nicely sharp, hand-held at 300mm (480mm equivalent field of view), the shrubbery, fence and grass are blurred out of focus, but the diagonal pattern on the tree trunk bothers me just a bit:
http://i230.photobucket.com/albums/ee12 ... G_0605.jpg


The odd background blur of the 70-300 IS is probably due to the image stabilization.

I'm stuck on the 70-300 IS. It's good enough to draw me in, but its drawbacks might be magnified given the body I'm using.
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Re: Canon USM system - worth it to a novice?

Postposted on Tue Apr 06, 2010 9:18 pm

FireGryphon wrote:
JustAnEngineer wrote:My 17-55 f/2.8 lens is a full stop faster and has three stops of image stabilization, making it possible to shoot hand-held in situations where the 17-40 f/4.0 won't get the shot.
With the 7D body, I can actually get very nice usable shots indoors in poor lighting with the 17-40L, though I recognize I'd have more leeway if I used a lens with a wider aperture.
http://i230.photobucket.com/albums/ee12 ... G_3876.jpg
1/8th of a second exposure, casually hand-held at ISO 800. Most of the indoor shots in that album were slower than 1/30th of a second.
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Re: Canon USM system - worth it to a novice?

Postposted on Tue Apr 06, 2010 9:25 pm

JustAnEngineer wrote:
FireGryphon wrote:
JustAnEngineer wrote:My 17-55 f/2.8 lens is a full stop faster and has three stops of image stabilization, making it possible to shoot hand-held in situations where the 17-40 f/4.0 won't get the shot.
With the 7D body, I can actually get very nice usable shots indoors in poor lighting with the 17-40L, though I recognize I'd have more leeway if I used a lens with a wider aperture.
http://i230.photobucket.com/albums/ee12 ... G_3876.jpg
1/8th of a second exposure, casually hand-held at ISO 800. Most of the indoor shots in that album were slower than 1/30th of a second.


Stop pissing a longer stream than me! :P

The next one-up would be if I showed you pics that I took in the rain, but, although the rain was moderate and the pics were good, you can't really tell they were taken in the rain (I was on top of an observation deck shooting scenery). Note that I recognize the awesomeness of your 17-55 optically, but the weather sealing is a big deal to me. The decision to get the 50mm f/1.4 was hard because it doesn't have weather sealing. If it wasn't so cheap, I wouldn't have done it.
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Re: Canon USM system - worth it to a novice?

Postposted on Wed Apr 07, 2010 12:17 am

JustAnEngineer wrote:As for the EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM, I sometimes wish that I'd jumped at a deal on the EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM instead. The 70-300 captures sharp enough images, but the out of focus background frequently isn't as pleasing as what I see with the "L" telephoto lenses. The 70-300 is considerably lighter and much less expensive (about 1/3 the price), though. In this example, the squirrel is nicely sharp, hand-held at 300mm (480mm equivalent field of view), the shrubbery, fence and grass are blurred out of focus, but the diagonal pattern on the tree trunk bothers me just a bit:
http://i230.photobucket.com/albums/ee12 ... G_0605.jpg


Here are a few hundred shots that I've taken with the EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM:
http://s230.photobucket.com/albums/ee12 ... ineer/Zoo/
http://s230.photobucket.com/albums/ee12 ... /Wildlife/


Yeah, the bokeh in those shots is rather busy. The picture with the stork had really distracting bokeh (although a lot of that is the cage). As a general rule, I've found that vegetation+highlights is the worst case scenario for bokeh. The picture of the white alligator looks great, in comparison.

The 100-400L is a pretty old design, though, and a lot of people say it's not as sharp as the more recent zooms, so I don't know if you'd have been that much happier. I had a 300/4L IS USM lens, and that was a great lens for bokeh and shallow DOF. Loaned it to a friend who took some awesome shots of the Melbourne F1 a few years back, with a teleconverter.
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Re: Canon USM system - worth it to a novice?

Postposted on Wed Apr 07, 2010 12:36 am

Voldenuit wrote:The picture of the white alligator looks great, in comparison.
If you mean this one, that's because it was shot with the EF 85mm f/1.8 USM instead of the 70-300. Yes, I walked all around the New Orleans zoo in near-100 degree weather carrying a flash and an extra lens. :lol: This one was shot with the 70-300 in West Palm Beach. In both cases, the most challenging part of the shot was to shoot through a clean space in the glass cage with minimum smudges and reflections and not much lighting.

The shot of the stork not only has a cage screen in the background, but it was also shot through the front screen of the enclosure. With a wide enough aperture and a bit of distance between the front screen and the animal, you can shoot through the mesh.

I'm using a slightly-cropped version of this zoo shot as my desktop wallpaper.
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Re: Canon USM system - worth it to a novice?

Postposted on Wed Apr 07, 2010 1:08 am

JustAnEngineer wrote:
Voldenuit wrote:The picture of the white alligator looks great, in comparison.
If you mean this one, that's because it was shot with the EF 85mm f/1.8 USM instead of the 70-300. Yes, I walked all around the New Orleans zoo in near-100 degree weather carrying a flash and an extra lens. :lol: This one was shot with the 70-300 in West Palm Beach. In both cases, the most challenging part of the shot was to shoot through a clean space in the glass cage with minimum smudges and reflections and not much lighting.

The shot of the stork not only has a cage screen in the background, but it was also shot through the front screen of the enclosure. With a wide enough aperture and a bit of distance between the front screen and the animal, you can shoot through the mesh.

I'm using a slightly-cropped version of this zoo shot as my desktop wallpaper.


Hehe. That'll learn me to read the EXIF.

Don't worry, I hiked through 8 miles of tropical jungle with a camera, 3 lenses, and a tripod (which I never ended up using). Boy am I glad I went Micro Four Thirds, as doing that with my Dad's 40D would have been unthinkable. Surprisingly, I ended up using my portrait prime a lot to take pictures of baby turtles at the turtle sanctuary in the National Park.

EDIT: Damn, the 85/1.8 image is so superior to the 70-300, it's not funny. And that's at f/1.8!
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Re: Canon USM system - worth it to a novice?

Postposted on Fri Apr 09, 2010 9:33 pm

I've seen (and taken) much clearer shots than those from the 70-300 IS. Are you sure you didn't have some setting improperly set that day while you were shooting? Ridiculously sharp pictures may not be its norm (though I've seen a handful), but that looks a bit softer than I'd expect on average.

EDIT: On further examination of your post, the lack of clarity is probably due to shooting through a glass cage.
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Re: Canon USM system - worth it to a novice?

Postposted on Sat Apr 10, 2010 1:52 am

Just about the only reason the 17-55/2.8 IS is not classes as an L-glass is because its EF-S, and EF-S exlucudes it from the L-family. That and the weather sealing kindof. That was about the gist of what canon told us when i worked as a technical writer for a photography magazine.
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