On Perceiving Brands
On Perceiving Brands
The mind is a strange thing.
We use stuff with different labels on it. We have good experiences with some of it, bad with others. Whether we like it or not, we hang these experiences on the peg conveniently provided by whatever's written on top.
"Tyre Cat," Tyre, Lebanon. Canon FD 50/1.4 SSC on Provia 100F
I've gone through a quite a few Canon lenses since I started with the brand in 1987. My experiences with them have not been uniformly positive. Early on with the 10D, I had a major malfunction with what's now probably my favorite lens, the 35/2.0 -- it was eventually sorted out, but only after a month or so in service. My 50/1.4 misfocused and needed adjusting. My choice for budget telezoom, the 90-300, was frankly pretty lousy at the long end.
"Pink Flamingoes," Camargue, France. Canon EF 90-300/4.5-5.6 USM on EOS-10D.
Consequently, I lost a good part of my trust in the Canon brand when it came to lenses, and started looking elsewhere. I got a Tokina 17/3.5 for my wide-angle, and loved it. It was a bit of a cranky lens, though, that needed to be babied to get the best out of it -- but when I learned to do that, the results were awesome. Encouraged by this, I broadened my search.
"Golden Dawn," Snappertuna, Finland. Tokina AT-X Pro 17/3.5 on EOS-10D.
My first Sigma was the EX 12-24/4.5-5.6, which turned out very well too. I followed that up with the 20/1.8, which exceeded my expectations -- it produced beautiful quality at all apertures of f/2.0 and below. I was impressed. I started to consider Sigma as a very serious lensmaker -- perhaps a bit rough around the edges (both of my Sigmas had their share of design and usability issues), but nevertheless a known quantity and reliable performer. So, when the chance came to swap the 12-24 for the 14/2.8, I went for it -- despite the somewhat dodgy reputation the lens has in certain circles.
"City Lights Books," San Francisco, USA. Sigma EX 12-24/4.5-5.6 on EOS-10D.
It only got better. The 14/2.8 worked out great -- other than the flare issues and the not-so-pleasant design characteristics that come with the territory of being a full-frame 14. Sharp, consistent, fast-focusing, a pleasure to use, and with a depth and clarity to the images that I had come to expect from primes.
Unfortunately, from there on, things with me and Sigma started to go downhill.
"Young Aounists," Beirut, Lebanon. Sigma EX 14/2.8 on EOS-20D.
I was extremely excited about the announcement of the 30/1.4, and put in an order as soon as it became available: I am especially fond of the normal focal length. So I was highly disappointed to have gotten what seemed a pretty clear dud -- soft corners with obvious astigmatism until f/11 or so. I sent it for repairs. It was there for twelve weeks. Once it got back, it was exactly the same. So I returned it.
This was the final push that got me to go with the EOS-5D.
Unfortunately, neither of my Sigmas is quite as good as I expected once the full frame they project was revealed. The 14/2.8 needs to be stopped down past the diffraction limit to get sharp corners near infinity, and the 20/1.8 only has about one thoroughly and evenly sharp aperture.
This means that the 20 only just clears the full-frame hurdle: it's still good for situational-type subjects at open apertures, it's still almost unbelievably resistant to flare, and I know what I need to do to get a really good frame out of it, so I'm keeping it. But I have to admit that I was expecting better -- a sharp frame at f/8 at the minimum.
"Joanna And Moose," Helsinki, Finland. Sigma EX 20/1.8 on EOS-5D.
At the same time, as the Sigmas looked worse, my Canons held up fine: both the 50 and the 35 look better on full-frame, and the cheap-o 55-200 was a really positive surprise. Today, I added a third Canon "pocket prime," the 24/2.8, and from my very preliminary test shots it looks enormously more consistent than the somewhat wider Sigma, while being a cleaner, more usable design, and having none of the minor optical weirdnesses that the Sigma has.
The upshot of this is that my feelings towards both brands have changed -- and I don't feel it's quite fair. My experiences of these particular widgets have been fortuituous: marred by problems with individual units on both sides, hampered by a lack of in-depth experience with alternatives, and strongly affected by the individual models of lens I've happened to pick.
For example, I'm finding that because of my experiences with the 35/2.0, the 50/1.8 Mk I, and now the 24/2.8, I'm associating particular optical qualities with a particular build -- that duck-egg sized plastic prime with a narrow, ribbed focusing ring slopping about in the middle. When I look at a lens with a similar build, such as the 28/2.8, 15/2.8 FE, or the bigger but clearly related 135/2.8 SF, I find a pleasant wash of recognition and a feel of "Mmm, that one must be sweet" come over me.
"The Mason's Tomb," Helsinki, Finland. Canon EF 24/2.8 on EOS-5D.
Irrational, but there it is.
Finally, although by now I've seen samples that demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that that 30/1.4 that so disappointed me was, in fact, a dud, I find myself not being able to bring myself to recommend it to people looking to buy one of them, or hedging my recommendation with any number of disclaimers.
So, when I say, "those little primes from early in the history of EOS are the bee's knees," don't take it as fact: take it merely as an opinion that's evolved partly through empirical observation, and partly through emotional moments of delight and disappointment. Or when I hem and haw about the 30/1.4, for God's sake don't take it as meaning that all or even any significant number of them are duds.
And... treat anyone who expresses strong opinions about a particular product line, whether it's Canon L, Sigma EX, or something else, as a valuable data point, but potentially suspect. All it means is that that particular individual has had enough shït happening to them that they've formed this impression.
"Cyclist And Shadows," Helsinki, Finland. Canon EF 35/2.0 on EOS-5D.