Where, oh where, do I go?
June 18, 2009 2:48 PM   Subscribe

PhotographyFilter: What's the next logical step up from an 18-55mm kit lens?

I bought my first dSLR a month back -- a Canon Digital Rebel XT -- and I love it. But I'm beginning to see the limitations of my kit lens, the Canon 18-55mm. What's the next, logical step-up?

18-55mm seems to me to be decent at midrange photography, but particularly good at portraits and close-ups. Is the logical complement a long-range lens? One with better aperture? A high-speed lens? I'm so bewildered by the wealth of selections; general suggestions as well as specific lens recommendations welcome. Thanks, MeFites.
posted by the NATURAL to Media & Arts (23 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
The logical complement is whatever you need.

I, for example, do very little long-range shooting, but a lot of midrange portraits - I went for a fast normal-ish lens (a 35 f/2). I also do a lot of low-light photography, so a fast aperture was a high priority for me. If you don't need/want to get really bright - if most of your work is still life shots on tripods, for example - that may not be as important for you.

The question is, which of these limitations are bugging you the most right now? Which one(s) are making you gripe about missed shots?
posted by Tomorrowful at 2:54 PM on June 18, 2009

What do you like taking photos of? I think this is the first thing you need to figure out before shopping for a lens. A better portrait lens (if that's what you want) is the very cheap Canon 50mm f/1.8. And if you search the other photography threads it comes up all the damn time. If you want something more versatile, the Canon 28mm f/1.8 is fast and wide. I'm biased here in that I like non-zoom lenses more. They are generally higher quality. (Less distortion and shaper.)
posted by chunking express at 2:56 PM on June 18, 2009

And yes, it's easy to start buying lenses because you think that will make you take better photos. This is rarely the case. You should figure out what exactly your current lens is lacking, and then buy a lens to fix that hole.
posted by chunking express at 2:57 PM on June 18, 2009

Get the nifty fifty that Chunking Express mentions - it's great.
posted by dirtdirt at 2:58 PM on June 18, 2009

Nifty Fifty - super sharp, fairly fast, cheap, lovely bokeh. Seriously, you'll love it.
posted by dirtdirt at 3:00 PM on June 18, 2009

Keep in mind that a nifty "fifty" on your Rebel XT will have an effective focal length of 80mm, not 50mm. A 50mm ought to do you well for portraits, but if you want a "normal" field of view, you'll need to get something closer to 31mm. The Canon 28mm f/1.8 mentioned by chunking express would be a good possibility, as would the Sigma 30mm f/1.4.
posted by Juffo-Wup at 3:04 PM on June 18, 2009

The best investment of your camera dollar is in lenses- so you are wise to stop and think carefully before blindly going off and purchasing (probably) a 55-200mm zoom tele.

I'd suggest the next lens you buy be a (faster) 50mm 1.8 or 35mm prime lens. Maybe even a 28mm given the crop factor. This does two things: gets you using your feet instead of zooming, making you a better photographer, and gives you some speed to handle lower-light situations. Once you've mastered that, you'll have a much better idea of where you want to go.
posted by pjern at 3:08 PM on June 18, 2009

If you're in a city, you should be able to find someplace that rents lenses. You can try a few out without the expense of buying outright.

It does really depend on what you want to shoot.

I have the kit lens, plus a Sigma 28-200 which is a decent range for walk-abouts, and a Sigma 70-300 for getting closer to nature (although I preferred my previous Tamron). Yes, I don't like to spend a lot on glass.

I've seen the 50mm Canon lens recommended many times, but it doesn't suit the photos I take. I like to have zoom.

/Former XT owner, using an XTi now
posted by hungrysquirrels at 3:10 PM on June 18, 2009

My "travel kit" of camera stuff includes 17-55mm, 70-200mm, and 10-22mm lenses. With a camera body and flash, this pretty much fills a reasonable backpack. I end up using all three lenses quite a bit, but rarely find myself wanting the others left at home.

We probably need to have some idea of your budget, and whether you have any technically challenging types of photography (tiny insects, birds, planes, night photos, etc.) in mind to provide better recommendations.

More and better lenses won't make you a better photographer, but will expand the range of things you can do successfully. What do you want to try next? If you have some disposable income, maybe buy a lens suited to whatever you want to attempt, as incentive to try it.
posted by FishBike at 3:25 PM on June 18, 2009

Personally I would buy faster glass, like an f/1.8 if you can afford one, in whatever focal length you use most. (Wide, normal, portrait/short-tele.) Being able to shoot in lower light, and actually get usable photos, without using a flash really makes a big difference to the kind of situations you can photograph.
posted by Kadin2048 at 3:29 PM on June 18, 2009

I just want to add a note of caution about buying a third party lens. As Canon introduces new cameras and as you upgrade in the future, your older lens may not work with the newer camera. I had a Sigma 70-300mm APO Macro that quit working when I upgraded my Canon body (film SLR). The lens could be rechipped, but you may want to keep that in mind that a third party lens might not work in the future if you choose to upgrade the body.
posted by robtf3 at 3:29 PM on June 18, 2009

For me the "next lens" was a Tamron 28-75 f/2.8 as a replacement for the kit lens. It's a bit longer than the kit lens. The lens quality is fantastic and the auto-focus works great.

And yeah, you can't go wrong with the Canon 50 f/1.8.
posted by Nelson at 3:40 PM on June 18, 2009

A little nitpik, the effective focal length of that 50mm doesn't change due to the fact you'll be using it on a "crop" sensor, but the effective field of view will be like that of an 80mm on a full-frame camera. Which is to say, it will still render perspective like the human eye, but it will be like you are looking out a smaller window. Basically, its going to act like the kit lens near the long end of the zoom range, only much better.

I think the best compliment for the kit lens is the trash bin. I thought it was fine until I got better lenses, but you can come to your own conclusions.

As others have said, what you get next really depends on where you feel the kit lens is holding you back.

For me, the first issue was that it didn't offer enough zoom for taking pictures of my dog (and others) in action at the dog park. I ended up getting the Canon f/4L 70-200mm, which did the trick and has great image quality to boot. Next I got a Tamron f2.8 17-50 to replace the kit lens because I wanted better image quality, and a larger max aperture. The aperture helps with both better low-light performance and ability to use a shallower depth of field to isolate subjects from their background.

I also picked up the f/1.8 50mm, but honestly, I haven't used it much at all.
posted by Good Brain at 4:20 PM on June 18, 2009

the effective focal length of that 50mm doesn't change due to the fact you'll be using it on a "crop" sensor, but the effective field of view will be like that of an 80mm

That's a distinction I wasn't aware of but now that I've looked it up, it explains something that I'd been noticing about some of the pictures I've taken. Thanks!
posted by Juffo-Wup at 4:29 PM on June 18, 2009

Get something with a really wide aperture and learn how to use it. I went with the Canon 50/1.4 and 80/1.8 as my first post kit lenses. Super sharp for the price since they are primes, but not as expensive as the 50/1.2L and 80/1.2L. Shooting wide aperture will help you figure out why wide aperture lenses are so much more expensive.
posted by jsonic at 4:44 PM on June 18, 2009

I would say that high-speed is always better than long-range (telephoto).

Some people say that no great pictures have ever been taken with an extreme telephoto lens. I would maybe disagree a little bit but not much. Depending on what you like (wildlife photography is different but it's not something that I'm much interested in).

Anyway, a great lens is the 35mm f2 EOS lens. It's something like a 50mm lens equivalent, it's very inexpensive and it takes lovely pictures. And if you ever get up to a full frame camera it's also great for that. Also ok is the 28mm 2.8 lens, which will be somewhere around 40mm on your camera. Not as great as the 35mm but still pretty decent.

50mm on your camera is fairly long. It's useful in certain ways for taking portraits and stuff, but it's not a great lens for learning to take great pictures. Generally, you want to be up close and personal with people, and wider focal lengths make you do that.

Self link: I have about 6 prime lenses but most of my pictures I end up using the 35mm on the 5D. The choice that would be most equivalent to that on your camera would be the 28mm 2.8 EOS.

Happy Shopping!
posted by sully75 at 4:44 PM on June 18, 2009

I bought the 50mm when I got my 400D. It's a great lens, but not that practical. I found a second hand 28mm f/1.8 (not the poorer 2.8) and used that constantly for two years. Now I have a full-frame camera, the 50mm lens gets a lot more use (I've since upgraded to a 1.4) and the 28mm is really useful as a wide-angle.

A bit off topic, and related to what Good Brain said, the combination of the 28mm on the crop sensor 400D produced a really nice look for full-length portraits, especially taken in a landscape orientation. It's a really interesting combination.
posted by Magnakai at 6:12 PM on June 18, 2009

Nelson: "For me the "next lens" was a Tamron 28-75 f/2.8 as a replacement for the kit lens. It's a bit longer than the kit lens. The lens quality is fantastic and the auto-focus works great."

I'm seconding this. I went from the 18-55 kit lens to the 28-135 IS USM and then to the Tamron. I wish I had gone straight to the Tamron and saved me some trouble and money.
Oh, I also have q Nifty Fifty which is also great.
posted by aGee at 6:54 PM on June 18, 2009

My next step (Canon XT as well) was to get an M42 converter. And some solid glass, for next to nothing.
The downside is, you lose AF. But honestly, if I'm doing something that the kit lens isn't capable of, it's usually something that I can either take the time to focus manually or use the super quick magic of hyperfocal distance.
posted by piedmont at 8:58 PM on June 18, 2009

I'm a Nikon shooter, but my next step was the "Nifty Fifty." It's a great lens, and much faster than the kit lens, which is good for the indoor shooting I do. I've used it more than my 18-55mm recently, but I wish the recently-released budget 35mm lens had been available then, because the wider FOV would be very useful.
posted by Alterscape at 9:43 PM on June 18, 2009

I came from a Prosumer Super-zoom, so I really wanted some more length to the kit lens.

I use the Tamron 18-250 F/3.5-6.3 (non-IS) as my walkaround lens on my XTi. Canon just came out with their 18-200 F/3.5-5.6 IS that I am considering upgrading to.

Tamron also just released a 18-270 F/3.5-6.3 VC (Their version of IS) that you may want to look into as well.
posted by stew560 at 11:28 PM on June 18, 2009

I'd just reinforce the idea that 99% of all good non-wildlife, non-sports photographs have been shot with focal lengths less than 100mm on a full frame 35mm camera. That 70-200 US ISM EOS lens is good for a few certain things, but in general, if you are looking to be a better photographer, get real close and use a wide lens. Not insanely wide (like a 17mm equivalent). But between 28 and 50mm equivalent, you can't go wrong.

This The Online Photographer post and the posts that follow will explain it.
posted by sully75 at 11:12 AM on June 19, 2009

The reason to get a short focal length prime is that to become a better photographer, you need to learn how to use your feet, shoulders and knees as your zoom. It helps you connect your camera, body and eye, because that's the only thing you can change the picture with.
posted by sully75 at 11:13 AM on June 19, 2009

« Older Help me with new screen resolution!   |   Maybe he's in some sort of tax shelter? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.