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Canon EF 28-80mm f/3.5-5.6 Mk II Zoom Lens Review

(If you can't see the video, please click here.)

Last month Suzanne, Oliver and I went for a weeks holiday to the Isle Of Wight, staying in a small Chalet at the Gurnard Pines Holiday Complex. We travelled over on the car ferry, deciding to take Suzanne's small (but perfectly formed) car, but it meant we were pushed for space to take things.

I also didn't want to have to be lugging around all my camera equipment, so I had to make a decision about which gear I'd be taking. I was a little worried that the EF 28-80mm, coupled with 75-300mm would be a big compromise in terms of image quality, but I needn't have worried. The little kit-zoom was more than up to the job.

(Click on the photo's to go to Flickr, where you can see larger versions.)

Picture 442

I got this example from a charity shop a couple of months ago. It's nice and clean, the focus and zoom rings are smooth, and it takes rather nice photographs. We often disparage kit-lenses for their sharpness and contrast when compared to more expensive glass or primes, but as long as you play to their strengths, there's no reason why you can't get great photo's with this lens on the front of your camera.

Picture 186

All these photographs were taken using the Canon EF 28-80mm f/3.5-5.6 Zoom Lens. It was on the front of my Canon EOS 350d / Digital Rebel XT dSLR. The Photo's were taken on the highest .jpg setting (not RAW) and processed in Photoshop. The black and white conversions were done using the Nik Software Silver Efex Pro Photoshop Plugin. You can see the whole set of images together on Flickr.

Picture 535

It is true that the EF 28-80 doesn't have the best build quality. It is very "plasticky" and doesn't feel like it would survive a drop onto the hard floor. You do have to ballance this against the price of replacement - so you could say it's almost a throw-away lens.

I had no hesitation to use it when it was raining, or down on the beach, or hanging it out of a train window. Not because I thought it could take the abuse, but rather because I wan't going to let my fear of damaging the lens get in the way of a good photograph, especially when a replacement wouldn't be very expensive at all.

Picture 270

Right, so let's think about those limitations and figure out techniques to overcome them. First up, that slow (small) maximum aperture or f/3.5, shrinking down to f/5.6 when you zoom in. This means that the lens lets in less light than say a 50mm f/1.8 or a 80mm f/2.8.

So we just have to be careful that we don't let our shutter speed get too long if we're shooting in Aperture Priority or Manual Mode. If light conditions mean that we're approaching slower shutter speeds (1/100th and slower) we need to be either using a tripod, or if we're hand-holding, pushing up our ISO or using flash. If we're shooting Auto we don't need to be worrying about it.

Picture 472

We can also consider the overall sharpness of the lens. (I'm not talking about focus here, rather how well the lens can resolve a scene at a particular aperture).  Don't get to hung up on it, because you can make up for a lenses softness by adding some sharpening in post - but it helps to know that all lenses tend to be sharper a couple of stops down from wide-open.

This means that if you're shooting zoomed out (at 28mm) your photos at an aperture of f/3.5 will be softer than if you shoot them at f/5.6. Also if you're zoomed in to 80mm, your maximum aperture will be f/5.6, so to improve sharpness you could "stop down" to f/8.

What this means in practical terms is that to get the best out of this lens in terms of sharpness, you want to avoid shooting wide open, but if you do reduce that aperture keep an eye on your shutter speed, and use a tripod, bump up your ISO, or turn your flash on.

Picture 387

Lack of contrast is a trickier one, but what I've found is that as log as you're shooting in good light, the EF 26-80 Mk 2 takes very nice photographs indeed. If the light's poor, just shoot a HDR, or convert to black and white in post and bump up the contrast. Simples!

Picture 098

To say I was surprised by what this lens could achieve would be an understatement. I thought leaving the 50mm f/1.8 and the 28mm f/2.8 prime lenses at home might have been a mistake, but the 28-80 did a good job. Using this budget zoom meant that I didn't have to fiddle about changing lenses to re-frame a shot where access was difficult, I could shoot faster, and I didn't have the family complaining that I was stopping all the time.

Remember, the lens reviews I do are not scientific tests - I just  photograph scenes that I find interesting then give them my usual post-processing. 

The Canon EF 28-80mm f/3.5-5.6 Mk II is a more than usable lens. It can help you take great photographs, it's cheap, light, and won't cost you a fortune to replace. Mine is staying on my camera!

Cheers, Rob.

More lens reviews.

Your opinions!

What's your favourite walk-around lens? Have you used a 28-80? What have your experiences been with "faster" or "sharper" glass been? Please share what you think below!

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