I just returned from three and a half weeks in Europe to find that most of the photos I took are worthless. It’s one of the worst shocks I’ve had in ages, and have only got myself to blame. You may wonder how, in this day and age, shooting with a digital SLR, it might be possible not to realise that the photographs you were taking were substandard, but that’s the truth of it, I didn’t actually notice. Shoot me.
Just prior to leaving – indeed, the day before – I went into town to buy a new lens. My old 18-55mm had gotten dust or mould inside and was producing shots with scattered blotches. These were hardly noticeable, if at all, in night shots, but alarmingly clear and unattractive in every other context. I didn’t intend to spend a lot of money, but rather was happy to get another standard Canon kit lens, which had worked fine in the past. I prefer shooting with a 70-200mm L-series lens anyway and wanted the 18-55 mostly for landscape, interiors and night shooting.
Once inside the shop, feeling rarely flush with cash, I decided that now was the time to upgrade my camera as well, which would, after all, provide a new lens or two anyway. Having been for so long using a Canon 450 D, I was inclined to stick to the same series that had served me so well in the past and bought the 700 D. It was at this point that fate intervened in a way that I initially thought was fortuitous, but was ultimately to bring about my downfall. The store had no remaining cameras with the 18-55mm lens, but only the 18-135mm, which would come at the same price. This seemed fortuitous in that I liked the versatility of being able to shoot more open, landscape shots, and, where necessary, zoom without having to change lenses, which can be a bit of an impractical ball-ache in opportunistic moments. This lens, it seemed, would be superior to the other anyway. It felt like a score.
Cut to Europe a few days later, and me happily snapping away with my new camera and lens and feeling pretty pleased about it. So far as I could tell from the screen on the back, things were coming up clearly and smoothly and there was nothing to be alarmed about. Despite travelling with my laptop and backing up all my photo files onto it each day, I didn’t actually look at the photos at all. This might seem kinda careless and crazy, and in retrospect, I’m kicking myself for not doing so, but in truth, because I was travelling with V, I didn’t want to agonise about my shots and spend time going through them each night, and anyway, I was confident from having had only positive experiences with Canon lenses before. I had done this on my last two trips to India, and did it all the time in Sydney – shoot first and ask questions later, confident that I would find good shots when I got back and sorted through them all. I even recall zooming in on several images on the viewfinder and feeling satisfied with what the camera was doing. It seemed to me that the upgrade was, in fact, an upgrade. When I got home I would find the usual mix of good shots and bad shots, dictated not by the standard of the lens, but by my choice of compositions, angle and the like… So much for blind trust.
Unfortunately, on returning, I found that this so-called lens is in fact a total and utter turkey. I do not have one positive thing to say about it at all – I don’t know what kind of second-rate glass they use in it, but it can’t handle anything in low light at all, it does not focus properly, has an awful depth of field which means that, in most cases, one very small section of the image, at any range, is in focus, and everything else is not – leaving an ugly blurring effect like a badly out of focus shot for most of the image, rather than the charming, heat-haze effect of quality glass; its colour reproduction is appalling flat and dull, with thin, glaring skies and dirty ochres, it lacks contrast and silkiness in shadows, the edges of things are not crisp, it can’t deal with movement at all… in other words, it’s a total and utter bucket of shit and Canon should cease production and sale of this lens immediately.
What makes this all so bloody awful is that for me is that, lulled into a false sense of security about this lens, I shot with it most of the time because of its apparent versatility range-wise. Many times I thought about changing lenses, but decided it was unnecessary on account of being able to achieve the required range with the 18-135. How I wish I had made those changes! Now, instead, I find that almost 95 percent of the shots I took, including all night shots, all interior shots, and pretty much everything else, are unusable swill. It’s a dreadful blow and I feel gigantically disappointed to say the least. It’s not every day that you get to travel through the Greek Islands and spend a week in Rome on an eating, drinking and shooting spree. I guess I shall just have to go back and do it all again… bugger.