Great Upgrade or Waste of Money? | Active Light Photography | Photo Tours to Hidden Destinations, Anasazi Ruins
(408) 483-3782
Curious about how to shoot ruins?(408) 483-3782

Many of us look through virtual store windows like little kids staring at video games. We salivate over new stuff, sweaty hands on credit cards, even when we’re unemployed. Most of the time, we already have last year’s model operating perfectly.

When is it time to upgrade?

Canon just announced the EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II lens. It released the updated EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II last year, along with a new EF 24mm f/3.5L TS-E II.

Canon revamped its digital SLR line with four new models in the last 18 months. One of them, the EOS 5D mark II, replaced a model that was 4 years old. The 5D mark II offers a self-cleaning sensor with much-improved noise reduction and almost twice the resolution, plus four times more dynamic range. It also offers full-frame HD 1920p video, originally a competitive marketing feature unused by many of us.

But new gear doesn’t make your old stuff stop working. In fact, Canon’s other new dSLRs seem evolutionary compared to their predecessors. I never upgraded to the EOS 1D mark III since it just didn’t offer enough improvement over an EOS 1D mark II I still use.

Pasta Parmesan


This image was made with that camera and Canon’s original EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS (not the II). I’ve used that lens with a variety of cameras including my 5D mark II, which reveals all the warts and defects (aberrations for you physics majors) of any lens you mount on it.

I’ve yet to see anything I couldn’t live with using the original EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS for food, commercial portraits, pro mountain bike races, and wildlife. My philosophy is getting it right in the camera, since I don’t particularly enjoy endless tweaking in Photoshop. That lens delivers the raw image quality I need.

On paper, the new 70-200mm f/2.8 II looks very similar to the original – same number of elements with different grouping, slightly closer focusing, same weatherproof construction, same 77mm filter diameter. It’ll probably cost more.

I also have the original 24mm f/3.5L TS-E. The new one has some nice new features for combining lens tilts and shifts. But I don’t combine the two. In fact, most of my architectural work uses shifts alone to correct perspective.

Campbell Heritage Theater, California


The 24mm f/3.5L TS-E II’s enhanced corner sharpness would be nice, but I can’t justify spending $2200 for it.

So where does that leave us?

These new Canon lenses may show improvements, but without obnoxiously nasty behavior in the originals, it’s hard to justify replacements.

Commercial photographer Kirk Tuck once told me not to be an equipment junkie, that I could make salable stuff with a Yashica MAT 124 as easily as a high-bucks Leica. For commercial clients, I use better equipment than that old Yashica, but usually stop short of Leica.

After all, your unique contributions to any client’s projects are creative shot design and lighting, not the tools you use.