Canon 30-700mm DO - don't read old reviews

Canon 70-300 DO F4.5-5.6 IS

There are few online reviews of this old, now discontinued, lens. They were favorable but complained of low-contrast images and a high price tag (about $1,150 new). These two factors are no longer relevant - software can increase contrast, and the lens sells for about $500 on the used market. 

Canon's diffractive optics proof of concept

 The Canon 70-300mm DO was originally expensive because it was one of the first tests of 'diffractive optics' in a Canon lens. This used a saw-toothed fresnel lens to magnify an image while keeping the un-zoomed length of the lens to a minimum - at the expense of some contrast and a small maximum aperture (f4.5-5.6).

Historically, the lens competed against the better, and larger Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS (which is compatible with Canon's extenders. unlike the DO), along with the 50% cheaper, and larger,  EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM. At the original selling price, the DO was a tough sell - only people who valued its short length as a compact travel lens would pony up the cash.

But then the DO lens got older. The price came down. I also think the mediocre reviews (based on the high price tag) contributed to the massive reduction in the used price of the lens. The only other reservation you might have about this lens is the variable f4.5-5.6 aperture, but again, modern cameras and software compensate for this with excellent high-ISO quality that was unheard of when this lens was first released.

The best travel lens set for Canon

So when the DO is viewed in today's context - a low priced compact lens - it is a no-brainer for a small travel kit. I pair it with the 40mm pancake lens when taking a digital camera on trips. The 40mm stays on the camera and the DO comes out when the extra reach is needed. If the DO is on the camera, the 40mm can be in a trouser pocket. 

You can see some examples of images taken with this lens (including many of my own) through the Instagram tag #canon70300doisusm.

For those of you on the fence about getting an old 70-300mm DO lens, there has never been a better time to get one.

Canon travel lenses 40mm 70-300mm DO

Camera Kit: Digital 35mm, Canon 6Dii

I'm using digital less and less since I discovered mechanical film cameras. Developing the negatives is worth the effort. But digital still has a place, especially when it comes to capturing images of fast-moving sports, children and one-time events where the risks of shooting film outweigh the benefits.

What follows is not a review of this camera, but of using a digital camera alongside film cameras.

Canon 6Dii kit

What is it good for?

  • Unlimited shots. It is handy to not be picture-limited to take images of kids around the house, or on some trips where images might number in the hundreds.
  • Instant gratification. You know what your shot looks like before you leave a scene. You can also spend time experimenting with your lighting set-up. You can get your pictures processed and published online almost instantly.
  • Colour. I keep my film development costs down by only shooting black and white. That means that if I really want a colour image, digital is the easiest way to do it.
  • ISO as a variable for each image. With film you are often stuck at one ISO until you finish a roll. It is nice to use ISO as a variable in the exposure triangle for each image (like large format, actually). 
  • Autofocus. No mechanical film cameras have autofocus and I miss this feature sometimes. Especially when using wide apertures or of fast moving subjects like kids. 
  • Scanning film negatives. I use a DSLR in combination with a lightbox to scan my film negatives. The only reason I don't use a regular scanner is because I already have the camera and don't want another large piece of equipment on the desk.

What's the compromise?

  • Up-front cost. A 35mm ('full-frame') digital camera will cost at least three figures. A film 35mm camera costs barely two figures. And you can shoot a LOT of film for $1000. By the time you've spent that much, a digital shooter will be upgrading their camera to a new model for another $1000 or $2000. A film camera, ironically, will never be obsolete.
  • Size. Compared to film cameras, digital comes with a lot of bulk. This is especially true of the lenses which need to accommodate auto-focus and, often,  stabilization motors.
  • One system (usually). Related to the cost, it is generally the case you need to commit to one system. People are on the hunt for the perfect all-round camera for this reason. This is why the forums are filled with apologists for a given manufacturer (Canon vs Sony, for example). Unfortunately the perfect camera doesn't exist, and a compromise needs to be made, or money thrown at the situation to buy into more than one system. With film, the cameras and lenses are so affordable, you can get 3 systems (street, portrait and landscape, for example) for the price of one digital camera body alone. 

What's in my camera bag?