Sub-$300 Rebel XT Lens
August 5, 2009 3:54 AM   Subscribe

Good sub-$300 Rebel XT lenses?

I'm looking for a sub-$300 (but preferably sub-$200) lens for my Rebel XT with the highest possible sharpness and contrast. It has to be better than the supposedly quite decent EF-S 18-55mm kit lens. Primes are okay -- even preferred.

(Everyone seems crazy about the 50mm f1.8, but 50mm is a bit close for me, and I have no idea how well the lens fits my criteria.)
posted by archagon to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
It's $389 at Amazon, and so a little above your budget, but I (and basically everyone else) highly recommend the Tamron 28-75 2.8. It has near-legendary status as a great lens at a great price, rivaling the same quality as Canon or Nikon lenses that cost 3-4 times as much. If you can manage the extra $$, this is a great lens.

Here's a quote a review on that Amazon page: "Then, I took pictures with the lens and I was absolutely floored! How in the world did Tamron manage to produce a lens that performed so well optically for such a reasonable price?! Beautiful contrast, excellent resolution, gorgeous colors, and extremely sharp, particularly above f2.8. But, f2.8 is very good as well.

Obviously the first comparison that comes to mind is between this lens and the Canon 24-70 f2.8 L. I would say, I kid you not, that this lens is in every respect optically the equal of the Canon or better than the Canon. I could not believe it. "
posted by zachawry at 4:11 AM on August 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

I've heard good things about the EF 35 f/2, which is currently running just out of your price range ($315) at amazon.

There have been alot of price hikes recently, which make sub-$300 difficult for good lenses. IIRC the 35 f/2 was $250 this time last year. If you're ok with used lenses I'd recommend used lenses from, who underrate their lenses by a lot. I've never had a problem with quality from them.
posted by motorcycles are jets at 5:30 AM on August 5, 2009

You mention the 50mm 1.8--but really, you should be looking at the 50mm 1.4. I bought mine used on Craigslist for about $250, and it really is a fantastic--fantastic!!--lens. It is exceedingly sharp, with great color saturation and contrast.

I have a number of pro (L) lenses, but I think I have taken a plurality of my best shots with that lens. I'm shooting now with the 35mm 1.4 L, and while I like the shorter lens, I don't think it is really much better than the 50mm 1.4 (which was over $1000 less expensive).

The 1.8 is a plasticky throwaway lens and should be avoided.

Here's a pbase link to photos taken with the 1.4.

I shot with the 50mm on a Rebel XT for about three years before moving up to the 5D Mark II. Yes, 50mm is tight on a 1.6 crop body, but you get used to it. It's a trade off--the high quality of the pictures and the fast aperture allow you to get a LOT of pictures you would not be able to get otherwise--but the long throw (i.e., close to 85mm on the crop sensor) make you lose some that you might have otherwise gotten.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 6:07 AM on August 5, 2009

I highly recommend reading the EOS Lens Forum over on You will find plenty of information and guidance on your exact question.

I've had good luck with a Sigma 30mm f/1.4 that is above your price new, but probably within it if you can find it used.
posted by alb at 7:28 AM on August 5, 2009

You have to think about (and then tell us when asking for help) what you typically like to take pictures of. Macro photography? Portraits? Landscapes? Planetary bodies? Birds? People on the street? Group photos? That would help us recommend something that would suit you well.

Sharpness-and-contrast-bang-for-your-buck may be higher with primes. Many lenses, though, get more sharp when not used at their maximum aperture (including the kit lens). Some more reading material specific to Canon hardware can be found here at The Digital Picture.

Also bear in mind that a lack of sharpness may just be a lack of proper focus, closely inspect your photos to be sure they are focused where you think/where you intended.
posted by kenbennedy at 8:38 AM on August 5, 2009

I have the Canon 35mm f/2 and I think it is just okay on a full frame sensor camera but quite good on a crop sensor camera such as your Rebel. I bought mine used from CL for $175. I find that I don't use it much but it is nice and fast and it is small and light.

On the full frame camera I think it suffers from a lack of sharpness at the outer edges but, since these aren't projected as much on the smaller sensor cameras I think you'd be pleased with the lens overall. It is a little slow on focus compared to L glass.
posted by bz at 9:31 AM on August 5, 2009

Have you considered buying a used lens? Also, do you know about It's my favourite site for lens reviews.

I enthusiastically second the recommendation on the Tamron 28-75 f/2.8 for $390. It's my everyday lens and has fantastic image quality, good focus, and is relatively light and inexpensive. It's higher than your price range, though, and eBay doesn't have any used ones at the moment.

The Canon 50mm f/1.8 is justly famous for $100. It is a little long on the small sensor cameras. Just yesterday I was frustrated because I couldn't shoot things on the same side of the street as me. But the image quality is beautiful and the price can't be beat. (And yes, as Admiral Haddock says it is a plastic body and has a crummy mechanical focus. It's $100 and has fantastic glass.)

Another option in your price range is the Canon 28mm f/2.8 at $220. I've never used it and the reviews are a bit mixed. And it doesn't have the best focus system (although better than the 50/1.8). But that's the range you want on a zoom.

I recently considered the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 but passed because it's a heavy lens. I just yesterday ordered the Canon 28mm f/1.8 instead ($460). It's backordered everywhere, wonder why.
posted by Nelson at 9:42 AM on August 5, 2009

It looks like I can find the Tamron used for around $300, but is there a 24-35mm prime lens with better sharpness/contrast in the same price range? Are there websites that actually measure this data?
posted by archagon at 11:21 AM on August 5, 2009

The thrifty-fifty is actually sub-$100 (I think around $80) and I would highly recommend it. Yes it's a bit close, but it something you get used to. And at only $80, it'd almost be silly not to get it.

I heart my nifty-thrifty-fifty f/1.8.
posted by carpyful at 12:53 PM on August 5, 2009

Yes, but at 1.6 crop, it's really really close. I want a more general purpose lens.
posted by archagon at 2:09 PM on August 5, 2009

It looks like I can find the Tamron used for around $300, but is there a 24-35mm prime lens with better sharpness/contrast in the same price range?

Well, you're somewhat comparing apples and oranges. Zooms and primes are different things. If you want a general purpose lens, you probably want a zoom. If you want a light, inexpensive lens with great optics, you want a prime. I use both. Mostly I use that Tamron 28-75 because it's so versatile. I use the 50mm prime when I want really sharp pictures without having to fuss, or when I want the simplfication of not having any zoom other than my two feet, or when I just want to have a camera with me without a pound of glass hanging off the end.

Are there websites that actually measure this data?

Yes. The magic word you're looking for is "MTF". (If you want to get really nerdy, read here on what's better than MTF). Here's an example detailed review of that Tamron lens; it helped convince me to buy it in the first place. Beware, though, that proper lens sharpness is hard to really test. I don't trust most of the data I see online because it's too easy to screw it up. Also note that a lot of lens problems are most visible on the edges of the picture, particularly chromatic aberration and general softness. One hidden advantage of small-sensor cameras is they only use the center of the image where lenses typically perform best.

In the end almost any lens from Canon, Sigma, or Tamron will give you a good picture. Primes will be sharper than zooms. Faster lenses are better than slower lenses, mostly because all lenses are sharper when stopped down a bit. When I shop for lenses these days I select based on focal length, aperture, focus system, and weight. There's really only a few choices out there.

One last resource for you: the Canon EF Lens Specification PDF. It's a list of all the lenses Canon makes in a simple chart form. Great for seeing what all the options are from Canon. But Tamron and Sigma are worth looking at too.
posted by Nelson at 4:40 PM on August 5, 2009

HTML FAIL. Here's better tests than MTF.

Re-reading this thread it sounds like you want a prime for better contrast and image quality. Primes are definitely good for that, you just give up the flexible range. I think the Canon 28 f/2.8 really is exactly what you're asking for. Or maybe the 35mm f/2.0.
posted by Nelson at 4:50 PM on August 5, 2009

I am not a Canon shooter, but did have a six month flirtation with the Tamron 28-75/2.8 on my (then current) Nikon D1x bodies.

It was the only non-Nikon lens I'd owned in over ten years, and since I do this for a living, I own and regularly use all of the very expensive Nikon exotics.

From an image quality point of view I was extremely impressed.

It's a lot of capability for not a whole lot of money.

Build quality pales in comparison with the better Nikon lenses, but if you don't beat the hell out of it you'll have a real bargain. If memory serves me, it also comes with a five year warranty.
posted by imjustsaying at 5:10 PM on August 5, 2009

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