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Cameras, Lenses and Accessories: Discuss Pro on a budget....Canon EF 17-40 f4.0 L: As something of a self confessed gear head it was inevitable I would invest in ...
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Old 18-07-2008, 12:01   #1 (permalink)
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Pro on a budget.

Canon EF 17-40 f4.0 L:

As something of a self confessed gear head it was inevitable I would invest in some pro grade glass eventually. For those on a tight budget, this can be an agonizing time as there are many to choose from but none that can really be considered universal.
I am essentially a lazy person and the thought of lugging around a giant magnolia 70-200 zoom did not appeal and, as such, was quickly discounted along with the other baseball bat proportioned lenses.
I’m not a fan of image stabilization either so this whittled down the choice to three lenses namely, the 16-35, 17-40 and the 24-70.
It soon became apparent that on a 40D 24mm was not wide enough and the 16-35 was, at the time, two and a half times the price of the 17-40.

So with this borne in mind I parted with my cash and left the shop with a 17-40L.

Let’s take a quick look at it externally:

This is a well crafted lens which becomes immediately apparent by it’s weight alone.
Both the zoom and focus rings move smoothly and in a well damped manner and, are consistent throughout their rotational ranges.

The lens benefits from a USM motor and as such is quick and virtually silent even when racking through extremes of focus.
Reading the available literature, the lens is to a degree weather and dust sealed which is nice to know if you get caught out in brief adverse conditions. It’s a compact lens and is inconspicuous when strolling around with no fixed subject in mind.
Sadly attracting attention as a photographer these days is something I’d really like to avoid.
The only thing I really miss on this lens, as with most modern lenses, is depth of field markings. Why do camera makers think we don’t want to know this on digital cameras? Oh Well!

On a camera sporting an APS sized sensor the effective focal length becomes 27-64mm.

OK, there are a number of different conventions for the effects of using a “Full frame” lens on a “Cropped Sensor” body but, for the object of this document I will use a focal length convention.

As far as I am concerned this lens still fulfills its original design intent on both formats.

What It’s Good For:

In use I have found 27mm (17mm) to be easily wide enough to encompass most landscape situations and, for use at indoor events, it’s rare I can’t get far enough away from my subjects for this to be an issue.
At 64mm (40mm) it is also useful for portraits whilst maintaining a natural perspective.

The downside of portraiture with this lens is, at f4.0 you will struggle to achieve “bokeh” or background blur.
That said, with some creative post processing, this can be improved upon.

What It’s Not Good For:

If you have more than a passing desire to capture wildlife be it birds or cute mammals? forget it. You’ll need to be so close to your subject that it’ll either have to be dead, blind or possess no sense of smell.
It’ll be all bar useless for sporting events with the possible exception of Olympic chess or lawn bowls, it won’t work so don’t try it.


The lens does not have a close focus setting but can achieve a magnification of .24 at a distance of 11”
Oddly enough, the lens is really quite sharp at f5.6 and beyond so reasonable close ups can be achieved.

Here is a shot of some Damsel flies doing what Damsel flies do:


This is lens is pretty much sharp across it’s focal range. Its best performances are turned in from about f5.6 and up to about f16 when diffraction limitation becomes an issue.I am led to believe that on “Full Frame” cameras vignette or corner shading can be a problem with this lens at 17mm and wide apertures. The good news is, on an APS sensor, this is barely noticeable even under close scrutiny so not a real world issue.

Colour and Contrast:

When reviewing images from the 17-40 I have found colour reproduction to be natural but highly saturated. For reasons best known to Canon, this lens appears push reds and blues slightly off balance with greens.The images produced are at a contrast level which need little if any adjustment in post processing (peculiar lighting excepted).All lenses I have owned have weaknesses and in the case of the 17-40 it is chromatic aberration. This is particularly noticeable on tree foliage with a clear sky background.
Canon must also have realized this and, in their latest iteration of the popular Digital Professional software, have included a feature for correcting this which I have found to work well.

Final thoughts:

I was in two minds about the lens prior to purchase; was 17mm wide enough and 40mm long enough. I can now say, with confidence, that this is the best walk around lens I have ever owned.It looks and feels great on the front of a 40D and, for a bit of “Bling”, Canon include a petal shaped lens hood which, while I consider to be all bar useless, does make the lens’ front end look more impressive.
Another reason for me to be happy with my purchase is, when APS sensors finally become obsolete, my lens will live on.
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Last edited by Soupdragon; 18-07-2008 at 12:57.
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