35mm SLR Cameras And Lenses

35mm SLR Cameras And Lenses

In the past, we have always found at least a half dozen new SLR cameras at the photokina trade show. That has changed, at least for now, as most manufacturers devote their R&D resources to digital equipment. During my five days of touring the many buildings at photokina, I discovered only two new 35mm SLR cameras. Happily, there was no shortage of new lenses intended to satisfy every photographer, regardless of specialty or the type and brand of camera used.

Not all of the new lenses will be in stores by the time you read this but additional information on most models should be available on the manufacturers' web sites. Do visit those to find full specifications on any lenses of interest, since lack of space precludes us from providing the full lists. For actual selling prices, visit some of the online retailers' sites since the prices provided to us in October were often estimates or full list prices.

Rebel With A Cause
The best selling autofocus SLR in many countries, Canon's EOS Rebel camera is frequently upgraded. The most recent incarnation is the Rebel Ti, one of the most sophisticated entry-level cameras on the market. Featuring an entirely new, curvy style, the Rebel Ti offers a better control layout than its predecessors, including a huge LCD data panel on the camera back. Competitive with more expensive cameras, this model includes a multitude of automatic, semiautomatic, and manual capabilities. Boasting an "autofocus tracking speed rivaling that of the professional EOS-1N," the Ti employs a seven-point CMOS AF sensor.

While touring the castles and villages in the Mosel River valley of Germany, I used a Rebel Ti to shoot a dozen rolls of film and found its autofocus system to be incredibly successful: ultra fast, highly reliable, and very versatile. The additional feedback--in large numerals in the rear data panel--made overall camera operation highly convenient. Other new features worth noting include 2.5 fps motor drive, a stainless steel lens mount, eyepiece diopter correction dial, superior built-in flash, and more advanced flash metering capabilities with EX Speed- lites. At the $379 street price--with a 28-90mm zoom--this camera offers incredible value for the money.

Next Gen Leica SLR
At the other end of the price spectrum, there's the new Leica R9, an SLR camera that should squelch two rumors: that Leica would introduce an autofocus SLR model or that it would discontinue SLR cameras entirely. This manual focus camera bears a strong resemblance to the R8 but includes several enhancements including new materials such as magnesium that make it 3.5 oz lighter while retaining the same rigidity. A new exposure counter on the top cover and additional information shown on a back cover display offer more feedback. The new six-zone metering system should provide more accurate exposures while a superior flash system should produce better fill flash results in Program mode.

Naturally, the Leica R9 is a well-equipped camera, with all the features of the R8 including three metering patterns, high-speed flash sync with Metz Mecablitz 54 MZ-3 flash with SCA 3502 M3 adapter. The body is available in black or in "anthracite lacquer" finish. Although it is not a conservative camera like the M7, this model should satisfy Leica aficionados, with a satisfying blend of proven mechanical and computerized technology. The appeal of the R9 and the R-series lenses is certainly understandable and the system should attract serious photographers who can afford the very best. (List price: $2150.)

New Tamron Lens Series
As discussed in Bob Shell's and Joe Farace's photokina coverage of digital SLR cameras, Olympus and Kodak discussed a new format to be available in the future. The new "Four Thirds" system will include lenses optimized specifically for the 18x13.5mm size image sensor. However, neither company plans to show any actual products until the spring of 2003, at the earliest.

In the meantime, Tamron USA was already demonstrating functioning prototypes of five new lenses that are optimized for use with current digital SLR cameras; these will be released one by one, between March and August 2003. Designated as "Di" or "digitally integrated," they should also be ideal for use with conventional SLR cameras.

By press time, I had not been able to obtain full specifics as to the Di technology but a Tamron USA rep provided the following preliminary summary of its benefits. "Lenses designed for 35mm SLR cameras pose two problems with digital models: ghosting and flare in backlighting, as well as peripheral light falloff with less light reaching pixels at the edges of the image area. Depending on the specific focal length the problem is more, or less, noticeable. The optical systems of the new Di lenses were designed to decrease flare/ghosting and to offer increased peripheral light gathering capability or `increased corner luminosity.' Hence, they provide better performance with both silver halide film and digital sensors."

These new lenses will offer other benefits as well. To minimize weight, the barrels include components of "engineering plastics that excel in dimensional stability and strength." Unless otherwise stated, all Di lenses offer internal focusing and are available in Canon AF, Minolta AF-D, Nikon AF-D, and Pentax AF mount. The three new Di telephoto models employ a Filter Effect Control (FEC) system: a ring near the front of the barrel that can be used to rotate a polarizer while the lens hood is attached. This is a highly convenient arrangement that precludes the need to frequently remove the lens hood.

Regardless of the type of camera used--digital or film--light falloff near the corners of the image is most common with conventional zooms of short focal length. Consequently, I was most interested in the wide angle Tamron models that should correct this problem. The SP AF 17-35mm f/2.8-4 Di LD Aspherical [IF] is the shortest of the new zooms and its optical formula includes an aspherical element plus a Low Dispersion (LD) element to correct all types of aberrations. Claimed advantages for this pro grade zoom include "high contrast in the low frequency range" and "super high definition" across the entire frame.

Because it has smaller maximum apertures than most competitors, the 17-35mm f/2.8-4 zoom is not excessively large (3.4x3.3") or heavy (weight info not available). Like the other Di models, it features two gold tone metallic rings, a more detailed pattern in the rubber of the zoom and focus rings, plus a new "burnished" (matte) black finish for a professional look. At a street price of about $449, this ultra-wide zoom is likely to become a best seller.

Billed as the "world's lightest and most compact fast standard lens" the new Tamron SP AF 28-75mm f/2.8 XR Di Aspherical [IF] Macro zoom is surprisingly small (2.9x3.6" with 67mm filter size) and reasonably light (19.4 oz) for an f/2.8 model. The optical formula is impressive. It includes XR (Extra Refractive Index) glass plus four hybrid aspherical elements and three LD elements to correct all aberrations. This zoom does not include the Filter Effect Control system, but is surprisingly affordable. (Street price: $299.)

Many serious enthusiasts and pros love a fast tele-zoom, and the new Tamron SP AF 70-200mm f/2.8 Di LD [IF] model will satisfy their needs. Employing two LD elements to effectively correct chromatic aberration, the optical formula should produce high resolution, excellent color rendition plus high contrast. The focus ring does not rotate during AF operation and it offers plenty of friction in manual focus for a familiar feel. There's a bonus with the Nikon and Canon AF models: "one-touch switching" between auto and manual focus by sliding the ring backward or for ward. Although this model is quite large (7.3x3.5"), it's said to be "the world's lightest fast tele-zoom" at 41.9 oz with removable magnesium alloy tripod mount. (Street price: $749; not available in Pentax AF mount.)

Tamron has not offered a long macro lens in the past, but their new SP AF 180mm Di [IF] Macro 1:1 model addresses that omission. This long lens is ideal for nature photography especially, allowing for high magnification--up to 1:1 or "life size" --without the need to get excessively close to a subject. As with the 70-200mm model, two LD elements compensate chromatic aberration while the optical formula also emphasizes high contrast. Tamron's floating element technology plus internal focusing ensures that the lens length remains constant at all focused distances. Resembling the 70-200mm zoom, this macro lens close focuses to 18", includes the one-touch AF/MF control, and weighs 31.2 oz including the magnesium alloy tripod mount. (Street price: $749; not available in Pentax AF mount.)

The longest of the five Tamron Di lenses, the SP AF 200-500mm f/5.6-6.3 Di LD [IF] is a big tele-zoom with one low dispersion/low diffraction (LD) element to minimize chromatic aberration at long focal lengths. Replacing the highly popular AF 200-400mm LD model, this one offers several advantages: even better contrast and resolution across the frame, a more convenient rotary zoom mechanism (not push/pull), the FEC control, plus reduced size (8.8x3.7") and weight (not stated) plus a tripod mounting collar. The maximum aperture at the longest focal lengths is a bit small, but otherwise this affordable zoom should be great for wildlife or sports photography. (Street price: $749; not available in Pentax AF mount.)

Lenses With Camera Shake Compensation
As the first independent lens manufacturer to announce a lens with Image Stabilizer, Sigma attracted a lot of attention with its APO 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6 EX HSM OS ("Optical Stabilizer") zoom. This model incorporates two shake-detecting sensors that measure the angle and speed of lens movement. Once that is determined, a high-speed microcomputer sends an electronic signal to an actuator to shift a group of lens elements in the appropriate direction to counteract the effect. By moving the elements in parallel, incoming light rays are refracted and the image is returned to the center of the frame. Consequently, light rays reaching the film or image sensor are stable instead of vibrating at the moment of exposure.

Intended for static subjects, OS Mode 1 provides horizontal and vertical stabilization to assure sharp images without blur from camera shake. Providing only horizontal stabilization, OS Mode 2 is useful for panning with a moving subject at long shutter speeds. In handheld shooting, this technology should certainly produce sharper images in longer exposures: roughly a two shutter speed step advantage over conventional lenses. The only drawbacks? This zoom does not include a USM (ultrasonic) focus motor in any of the available mounts (Sigma, Canon, or Nikon D) and it is larger (3.7x7.5") and heavier (58.2 oz) than the previous Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 USM model.

Other notable features include two Special Low Dispersion (SLD) glass elements to control aberrations, manual focus override in AF mode, removable tripod collar, a lock to prevent "zoom creep," and rear focus system that prevents rotation of a polarizing filter. This is a pro grade lens in both construction and appearance as reflected by the $2600 list price.

Nikon's VR Intro
Nikon continues to expand its own line of lenses with a Vibration Reduction system that offers a three shutter speed step advantage over conventional lenses. To be made in black and light gray, the AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G IF-ED will offer some significant features starting with a three mode VR function. Each mode is suitable for a specific situation: for a static subject, for panning with a moving subject, and for correcting vibrations while the camera is mounted on a tripod. As the AF-S designation indicates, it also includes the Silent Wave (ultrasonic) focus motor for nearly silent and super fast AF operation.

As a G-type lens, this zoom does not have an f/stop ring but offers all of the advantages of a D-type lens in Matrix metering; it's fully compatible only with the F5, F100, F80, F65, D1-series and D100 cameras.

The AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G IF-ED incorporates 21 elements including a full five made of ED (Extra-low Dispersion) glass to correct chromatic aberration and produce high resolution and contrast. Naturally, it is a large/hefty zoom (3.4x8.5"; 51.9 oz plus tripod collar) and it is extremely rugged, offering the high degree of durability required by pros such as news photographers. The all-metal body, internal seals, black crackle finish, and rubber external protection should also appeal to serious outdoor photography enthusiasts. (US price and shipping date not available at press time.)

Other Long Zoom Lenses
While Sigma makes many very affordable zooms, some of its latest lenses are more likely to appeal to serious photo enthusiasts. The two most impressive models are their long tele-zooms both designated as APO EX IF HSM and featuring metal construction: the 120-300mm f/2.8 and 300-800mm f/5.6 zooms. Both include two elements of low dispersion glass, internal focusing, removable tripod collars, and ultrasonic HSM focus motor for fast, nearly silent operation. Some photographers will consider the shorter zoom as "hand holdable" since it's not excessively large (4.4x10.6")/heavy (91.7 oz) and offers a very wide maximum aperture for fast shutter speeds. Naturally, the price is high as you would expect for a 120-300mm zoom of professional quality with a constant maximum aperture of a very wide f/2.8. (List price: $4600.)

The 300-800mm model is huge (6.5x21.3") and very heavy (weight info not yet available) but it will be of great interest to wildlife and action photographers whose work can justify buying a $12,000 lens (list price). Encompassing the favorite focal lengths of those who use single super-tele focal length lenses--300mm, 500mm, 600mm--it extends by an extra 200mm for very distant subjects. The f/5.6 aperture is adequately wide to allow for fast shutter speeds, but I would recommend a very rigid tripod and ISO 400 film to reduce the risk of image blur from the slightest vibration. Both lenses will be available in Sigma, Canon, and Nikon D AF mounts at actual selling prices that are lower than the published list prices.

Other Short Zoom Lenses
While the "big gun" lenses are certainly impressive, most photographers tend to use more moderate focal lengths. Some short zooms are becoming smaller and smaller. For example, Sigma's affordable 28-70mm f/2.8-4 High Speed Zoom is only 2.4" long and weighs only 8.6 oz, impressive specs considering its wide maximum apertures. (List price: $250.)

Announced at the same time as the new EOS Rebel Ti, Canon's three new compact zooms would be great with any small EOS body. The EF 28-90mm f/4-5.6 II (non-USM) model is the least expensive and will be available in black or silver finish. The silver model will be included in the kit with the Rebel Ti and perhaps some other Canon cameras. Optically identical to the previous lens, including one aspherical element, this one includes a new lens CPU and data algorithm for faster autofocus. The USM II version is very similar but includes the nearly silent ultrasonic focus motor; this model is said to provide the "fastest autofocus in its class."

Canon's new EF 28-105mm f/4-5.6 USM II zoom is a bit more versatile since it reaches longer focal lengths. Billed as "the smallest and lightest zoom in the 28-105mm class" this one is surprisingly tiny--smaller than the 28-90mm models--thanks in part to a new ultrasonic focus motor that's half the size of earlier Micro USM motors. In spite of the small size, this model includes an aspherical element and internal focusing plus full-time manual focus. The latter is a useful feature that allows the user to fine-tune focus without switching out of the AF mode.

Other zooms target the pro and the serious enthusiast and are much larger. The Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM lens for instance, is 4.9" long and weighs 33.5 oz because of its wider maximum aperture and extremely rugged construction. Well sealed against dust, rain, and snow, it should withstand the harshest conditions encountered by photojournalists and adventure photographers. When used in conjunction with recent pro cameras, the system is "virtually impervious to moisture" according to Canon. Naturally, the optical formula is of top quality, with two different types of aspherical lens elements and a UD (Ultra-low Dispersion) glass element for obtaining sharper image quality. Useful features include internal focus, an ultrasonic focus motor and manual focus override even in AF mode. At the $2100 list price, this lens clearly targets professional photographers.

Other Noteworthy Lenses
Announced in conjunction with the new R9 camera, the Leica APO-Summicron-R 90mm f/2 lens is intended for portraiture and photojournalism. The optical formula incorporates two "high-refractive" glass elements for Apochromatic correction, an aspherical lens element, plus two elements with a special refraction property (high anomalous dispersion). This combination should eliminate all types of aberrations and produce "distortion so slight that it is practically undetectable" as well as "outstanding contrast and exceptional definition." Because the elements are very large, a new type of system was used to grind the aspherical surface, using "computer-controlled CNC machines." Relatively compact for a very fast Leica lens (2.7x2.3") it weighs 16.6 oz and will sell for about $2300 (list price).

Contax has expanded its line of AF lenses with a fast telephoto that will be available by year end, with a list price of $6000. The Carl Zeiss Tele-Apotessar T* 400mm f/4 is an Apochromatic lens that should produce exceptional sharpness, contrast, and color rendition. Although little technical information was available by press time, this lens is very long (11.5") with a moderate diameter (4.7") and a 46mm filter slot at the rear. Quite heavy (7.16 lbs) as expected with a lens that's built like a tank for long-term reliability, it's beautifully finished and includes a rotating tripod mounting collar. That feature is important because this lens is not likely to be used handheld. Intended for wildlife and sports photography, the 400mm f/4 model should satisfy Contax N camera owners who have been waiting for a long Carl Zeiss AF lens.