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Canon EF 55-200mm f/4.5-5.6 USM

The Canon EF 55-200mm f/4.5-5.6 USM lens was originally built to complement the Canon EF 22-55mm f/4-5.6 USM lens that came as a kit on the Canon EOS IX Lite APS film camera. For the smaller, 1.25x magnification APS sensor, the wider focal length helps fit more scene into the photograph frame. When digital SLR cameras made the even smaller 1.6x magnification sensor popular, these wider lenses became almost necessary.

Despite enjoying the older sibling, the Canon EF 75-300m f/4-5.6 USM lens (see my review elsewhere on this site), I had since then moved onto professional grade telephoto zoom lenses. Therefore, I didn't bother looking into this lens until years later, when B&H tried to clear this lens out for $85 (it normally costs around $200), in anticipation of the newer Canon EF 55-200mm f/4.5-5.6 II USM lens. The value was a little too good to pass up, plus I had a chance to put an inexpensive telephoto lens to good use (see my article on the "Virtues of Cheap Equipment"). So I promptly ordered one.

The lens came in a typical Canon box, professionally packaged with an instruction manual and front and rear lens caps. The front lens cap attaches to the lens via the 52mm filter thread. The rear lens cap attaches via the EOS bayonet mount.

As with all Canon lenses, the lens hood is not included with purchase. The optional lens hood is the Canon ET-54. I ordered the Canon ET-54 lens hood along with the lens. The lens hood twists onto the front of the lens via a bayonet mount. The front lens cap diameter is slightly bigger than the lens hood mount. Therefore, the lens hood cannot be attached or removed while the front lens cap is attached. The lens hood does not have a flower shape and rotates with the front focus element. So if you use a filter like a circular polarizer, you'll have to focus on your subject first, then adjust the filter orientation.

This lens actually did not have a focus ring. I used the lens hood as a focus ring during manual focus. The lens hood is really a required accessory if you do any amount of manual focus at all. For most folks, the lens will be used in auto-focus mode. The ultrasonic motor (USM) on this lens is fast and accurate. In bright light, it locks on the subject almost immediately. In dim light, the auto-focus is slightly less efficient, but still locks pretty quickly.

The Canon EF 55-200mm f/4.5-5.6 USM lens is similar to the Canon EF 75-300mm f/4-5.6 USM in construction. The telephoto zoom lens is long with a telescopic front lens tube, which extends at telephoto range. However, the Canon EF 75-300mm f/4-5.6 USM lens has a manual focus ring. The Canon EF 75-300mm f/4-5.6 USM lens also has a metal lens mount and the construction seems sturdier than the Canon EF 55-200mm f/4.5-5.6 USM lens. Due to the more durable construction, the Canon EF 75-300mm f/4-5.6 USM lens is also heavier. The Canon EF 55-200mm f/4.5-5.6 USM lens, with its plastic lens mount and its compact size, is much lighter and more portable for long trips on foot.

For a consumer grade lens, the Canon EF 55-200mm f/4.5-5.6 USM lens is rather sharp. However, the contrast is lacking at long telephoto range, where this lens will be used most often. The lack of contrast at long telephoto is quite common in consumer grade telephoto zoom lenses. Plus, its largest aperture is only f/4.5, making it a rather slow lens for any situation without a bright sun overhead.

When I bought this lens on clearance, it was a very good deal. If you happen to come across a similar deal, it's worth jumping on it. Its compactness and lightweight is a huge plus when traveling. Due to low-cost, this SLR lens is a comfortable equipment to carry in questionable territories. However, if you are serious about photography, you might consider saving your money for a professional grade telephoto lens that costs about five times more. The professional grade lenses are much sharper, higher contrast, and have bigger aperture.

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Copyright © 2006 by Chieh Cheng. All Rights Reserved.