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Canon EF-S 55-250 review

This lens is Canon's super telephoto for 1.6x cameras that gives 35mm equivalent to 88-400, like Canon's EF 100-400 L lenses on a full frame digital or film camera.

Sharpness

It is sharp, very sharp, very damn sharp.  Much sharper than EF-S 18-55 mm II, and about as sharp as my 50mm f/1.8 prime lens.  Don't be fooled by it's price!

Much more sharper than 18-200 from Sigma, Canon or Nikon.  Sharper than anything on Earth at this class of lens.  L lenses are sharper I believe (however I have none of them) to test and compare here.  However one of my pro friends said that this lens is as sharp as his professional 70-200 L lens!

This picture was taken on my Taman Safari Indonesia October 2009 trip.  Taken using EF-S 55-250 mm @ 250 mm.

burung mesir
A flightless bird

burung mesir
A crop just above the head

It was the crop of this image when printed 1.3 m x 90 cm.  An image large enough to fill an average living room.  No compact camera can produce an image at this level of sharpness.

Autofocus system

AF speed reasonably fast, which focuses in a blink of an eye.  However the AF speed is not on the league of a fast L USM lenses, but catches pretty well.  Although this lens is not as fast as my EF 50mm, however this lens is as fast as the Canon 75-300 USM!  It is quite surprising that the autofocus speed of a with normal motor could compete with ultrasonic motor.  Probably because the USM lens uses slower gearing.  I'm unsure about this.

For action, the EF-S 55-250's focusing speed is too slow, therefore it can't cope up with eagle's swift movement, resulting in wrong focus.

Anyway, auto focusing hard scene such as scene with low contrast, as expected this lens often hunt focus, and is very slow.  However when the focus point is easy it focuses really fast.  At 250 mm, the focus hunting process can be even slower probably due to at 250 mm the lenses depth of field become narrower, therefore more careful focusing is needed which renders the slower focusing process.

It has no direct manual autofocus override.

Ghosts and flares

It produces no visible ghosts and flares in Bali.  After more testing, still I can't find any ghost even I'll had abuse the lens on test. 

Extensibility

This lens can use EF 12 II and EF 25 II extension tubes. 

For even larger magnification, this lens also capable to use 250 D and 500 D close up filter for macro photography. 

Handling

On my tiny EOS 400 D (XTi), this lens made the camera feels front heavy.

Although this lens is lightweight, it's zoom barrel can extend very long.

And as usual I find some dust inside the lens right after I open the box.  Anyway, the dust went away after a few hundreds of shots.  Well, this probably due to air sucking in and out as the lens zooms and auto focuses.  Typical with non L lenses!

Image Stabiliser System

IS is visible from the viewfinder thanks to optical IS, which lesser system of Sony, Olympus and Pentax didn't have.

Viewfinder visible IS is important, not only it makes framing easier, it also makes me less headache, due to induced motion sickness.

Moreover the IS system can help me photographing something the dark at midnight such as Moon.

Probably the best IS system combines sensor movement and in lens stabilisation.

Anyway, watch your IS!  Since IS works by continuously shifting lens's image, having IS turned on when shooting sport and action will mess with framing and composition.  Just remember to turn off IS when shooting action.

Other interesting facts

An this lens ships with AF and IS set to on.

Made in Malaysia.

This lens has 1 UD glass and Super Spectra Coating on its bottom.  If you have no idea about Super Spectra Coating, neither do I.

It is a focus breather. Image changes size on focusing.  This lens have macro mode at 1.1m, which at 250mm, has magnification level of 0.31x.  Thanks to focus breathing, this lens is effectively an 300 mm on telephoto end, and 60 mm on wide angle end at 1.1 mm.

The figure of 300 mm and 60 mm are my approximate, I did no scientific test and measure

How do I use this lens

This is my 1st super telephoto lens, and I'm learning on finding subjects with this lens.   

Telephotos are hard to navigate properly.  I need to learn in shooting telephoto, as everything is zoomed therefore I could only see a little information from small section of images.

Especially when the background are uniform like a blue sky, navigating your views can me most difficult.  That's due this lens will render subject on the sky invisible if it is out of focus. Even a big black kite will not be visible over a blue sky.

Then I come to a trick on tracking subject with two eyes open, eye left saw the whole scene and right saw the zoomed version.  This I can point my camera to desired direction, guided by the image I saw in left eye.  Once the image is locked by my right eye, then I close my left eye and recompose the shot into perfection.

After I the subject is already on the frame, and I can follow them.  When I lost it, well, I open my left eyes again!  This trick is a lot of help.

Assigning this lens

This lens was coupled with Hoya DMC (Digital Multi Coated) Pro 1 Filter.  However I change my decision and now the EF-S 55-250 lens with Hoya HD UV Filter.

Sample images

This are the sample images of EF-S 55-250mm from my Business trip to Bali

This lens also capable of taking images of celestial bodies which is available here.

Cost of ownership

Bought at Focus Nusantara for Rp 2.480.000,00 or USD 248 at that day's dollar.  They shipped this lens to Bali for free.

Weakness

This lens should not be used indoor.  It's minimum focus distance is more than 1 metre, and this lens had difficulties focusing even when the light level is not low such as in an average well lit living room.

Moreover even the camera fires flashes to lock object into focus, this lens often failed to lock the object.  Although when the object was locked, it locks with a surgical precision and extraordinary sharpness.

Recommendation

Compared to Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L

I've never tried the 100-400, however as its specification suggests, the 100-400 lens must be on behemoth sized and weighted.

What's great with this lens compared to the 100-400 is this lens is lighter weight, smaller size, slightly wider zoom ratio, macro mode and cheaper while having the same F number. 

The 55-250mm lens lacks of USM, so probably it won't focus as fast (I've never tried the 100-400, so this is just my guess) and without manual override.  Moreover the 55-250 probably uses less sophisticated IS system (one mode, but with panning detection) and less UD glasses.

The 55-250 is also very sharp, although there are a high probability that 100-400 mm is sharper, it doesn't matter since the 55-250 only costs 1/6th of the 100-400 and at normal prints (10R), the image quality of those lens is indistinguishable anyway.

That's the advantage of EF-S lens!

Get this lens if you need a slow super telephoto lens over the 6 times more expensive 100-400.  However, if you need on the field durability, get the 100-400.

Important

With the 55-250, the lens's the near far effects is not the same with the real 100-400 mm lens.  Moreover, bokeh blur effects is not as good as a real 400 mm.

That is due to actually the image from 55-250 at 250 mm is a real image from a 250 mm lens design which is cropped at the middle to give point of view equivalent that a 400 mm lens give.

Compared to EF 75-300mm f/4.0-5.6

The 55-250mm is on the same class with the 75-300mm lens, they are both Canon's basic zoom lens.

Get this lens over the cheaper 75-300 mm, although the 75-300 mm can be found for Rp 1.700.000,00, however the IS system is worth money. 

Never mind about the shorter range.  The EF-S 55-250mm at 55 mm is actually wider than that lens at 75 mm, therefore offering 4.5 zoom ratio, compared to 4 on the 75-300 mm lens.

Moreover this lens is EF-S which is way sharper than the EF 75-300 mm lens.

The 55-250mm is sharper, focuses faster, focuses shorter, lighter, zooms more, and more stable thanks to its IS.

Recommendation to Canon for improving their lenses

One of my biggest complaint with this lens is I require to switch the AF off when I about to store this lens.  That's due to lacks of manual override.  Then I came to this idea:

When the lens cap is put, the camera should see total darkness.  Then when I tap the shutter halfway, the camera normally auto focusing.  When it detect total darkness, camera should adjust the lens focus so that it's length should be at minimum.  This means assuming the cap is placed and the lens will be stored.  Therefore the lens will assume storage position. 

This saves me from switching AF off to retract the lens for saving, and saving me in forgetting to switch the AF to on when about to shot.

Conclusion

This lens will be my only telephoto for a long time, I only need 1 other lens, the EF 10-22, then I'll have range of 10-250 with 3 lenses, equivalent to 16-400 mm on 35 mm.  Probably I'll get the 10-22 by the end of the year, since I'll need to master the 55-250 first before I buy other lens, otherwise I'll never master it properly.

This lens is enough for everything but low light.  For low light I'll assign my super sharp 50 mm f/1.8 the task and leave the 55-250 at home, or probably I'd get the 28 mm f/1.8 instead.

Additional note on power drain

My camera was at IMG_5438 when I attached this lens with fully charged battery, and the battery finished in IMG_5857 or capturing in total of 419 picture. 

This is number is about 20% less compared to the usual 500+ images in one fully charged battery with EF f/1.8 50mm lens.

The heavier power drain is attributed to the heavier Auto Focus system required to drive this heavy lens and Image Stabiliser system.

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