Canon 28-105mm f/3.5-4.5 USM II

TL; DR - use it at f/8 and it has (almost) L-class sharpness.

Back in 2001 or 2002 this was one of the lenses I wanted. It was too steep for me and I ended up with a Sigma 28-105mm f/2.8-4 (the infamously soft and bulky lens) which I used for some time on an EOS3000N and EOS50 until it got damaged (diaphragm stuck wide-open).

Fast-forward fifteen years and I have one from KEH for about $120 in "bargain" condition.

I have two lenses that cover (parts of) the range of this 28-105mm: the 16-35mm f/4 L IS, and the 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS. I was planning to compare these lenses but it turns out that The Digital Picture already has a lens comparison service. So here's the summary (so far as I can tell) on a 5D Mk III (which has the same sensor as my 6D):

Compared to the 16-35mm f/4 L IS (an $800 lens):
  • at 28mm and f/8, the 28-105 almost matches the 16-35mm wide-open (at f/4)
  • this is also true at 35mm
Compared to the 70-200mm f/2.8 L (a $1200 lens):
  • at 70mm and f/8, the 28-105 matches the 70-200mm at 70mm wide-open (at f/2.8) and at f/4, but notably the 28-105 has better corners than the 70-200 (note we are comparing f/8 to f/2.8 and f/4)
  • at 105mm and f/8, the 28-105 matches the 70-200mm at 100mm wide-open (at f/2.8) and at f/4, but the 70-200 beats the zoom in the corners even at f/2.8
The long and the short of it: the 28-105mm can produce almost-L class sharpness so long as you stick to f/8. However, the 28-105 has one massive feature that trumps these L lenses:
It is tiny (about the same size as a 35mm f/1.4) and not much larger than the Nifty Fifty.

My wife and I have traveled a lot with the 6D and 16-35mm f/4 L IS, and it is quite a large and bulky setup, which is why we ended up also buying a Canon G5X (which has a 24-105mm equivalent lens, with IS, and a 1" sensor). The G5X is tiny, but slow (slow to auto-focus and take photos) and has an EVF instead of an optical viewfinder.

I was stuck with the 16-35mm in Monterey in October 2016 when we went whale-watching, and 35mm is much too short for whales.  The 28-105mm would have been useful to have at that time: 105mm long end, f/8 is useful as there was full sun, and the 28-105mm doesn't add much weight or bulk to the camera bag.

Ultimately that's what I see the 28-105mm as: a useful adjunct to an ultra-wide L lens for travel. The 70-200mm is simply too large and bulky to be convenient when traveling. Furthermore, on a 5D Classic, I believe the gap between the 28-105mm and the L zooms would be even less.

I believe there's one reason the 28-105mm f/3.5-4.5 is unpopular and cheap, in spite of its FTM focusing, ring USM, and focusing scale: the zoom range is not very useful on reduced-frame (APS-C) DSLR's.

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