Canon EOS350D lens advice required.
October 15, 2009 11:44 AM   Subscribe

Basic photography advice required: what lens should I get to replace the scratched kit lens on a Canan EOS350D?

About four years ago I was able to buy a Canon EOS 350D relatively cheaply. I had the intention of getting more seriously into photography, but that has not as yet actually happened.

There's a small scratch on the lens, and I'm going on a once-in-a-decade trip next month to Libya, where I'll be travelling around in the desert and through Triploi and Leptis Magna. I want to be able to take the best photographs I can given my low level of expertise, and it seems like a good time to replace the lens.

I've been through the other AskMe threads on lens recommendations, but they're a bit over my head. What I want is a general-purpose lens to replace the kit lens that will allow me to take upper-end-standard-tourist-shots, hopefully costing less than about USD$500, and which will be useful to me when I do have the time to get more seriously into photography.

I'd also appreciated any general advice you might have on what other equipment would add significantly; I'm thinking along the lines of filters, but am unsure if that's even relevant.

Thanks in advance!
posted by StephenF to Technology (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you are only going to carry one lens then the Canon EF-S 15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM UD is the one. It is a bit above your price range though. You will have wide angle capability plus moderate telephoto with high quality glass. They make a cheaper lens in this zoom range but it is not nearly the quality optically that this lens is.
posted by caddis at 12:11 PM on October 15, 2009

I bought this f/2.8 17-50mm tamron as an upgrade/replacement for the kit lens and I've been really happy with it. Only complaint is that the autofocus mechanism is a bit noisy, but that hasn't been a big deal. Sigma and Tonika I think have similarly priced equivalents that are pretty well regarded.

You might also consider a lens that goes further on the telephoto end. To keep it in the same price range, you'll end up sacrificing the max aperture (and the ability to use a shallow depth of field), but that might be fine for you.
posted by Good Brain at 12:18 PM on October 15, 2009

I guess I should have asked, besides the scratch, what are the top one or two frustrations you've had with the kit lens?
posted by Good Brain at 12:20 PM on October 15, 2009

In your price range, I'd recommend Canon's 17-85. When I was shooting with a 350D, I used the hell out of that thing, and it served me well.
posted by notsnot at 12:35 PM on October 15, 2009

This lens: sigma 30mm 1.4 is more or less equal to a "standard" 50mm lens on your crop-sensor camera. It is also a fantastic lens. It's fast (you can shoot in lower light), sharp (far sharper than kit zoom lenses will ever be), and simple.

Lots of folks recommend zoom lenses, and that's fine, but: I think that cheap zoom lenses (like kit zooms and their ilk) do the world a disservice because they force photographers to shoot with small apertures, fuzzy edges, and distortion. If you get a quality zoom, alot of these issues are dealt with, but on the cheaper end (less than a grand), if you want nice photos, stick with a nice fast prime.
posted by gyusan at 12:43 PM on October 15, 2009

"I guess I should have asked, besides the scratch, what are the top one or two frustrations you've had with the kit lens?" +1

NB: small scratches on the objective (very front most from the camera) lens elements rarely affect picture quality. This is because they are not in the light path when the light is focused. dust on your sensor will probably have a bigger effect on the image as far as being actually visible. I am not suggesting you shouldn't replace your lens, but if you haven't already, maybe you could shoot some test pictures to see if the scratch actually affects the pictures. If you haven't really gotten into phototgraphy yet, you probably don't need anything better than the kit lens.

You should really be able to tell us what about the kit lens limits your picture taking, then we can recommend something better. Do you need a wider angle field of view? A longer max focal length? Image stabilization? A wider aperture? Do you take landscape tourist shots? People? Both? Night time photos?
posted by kenbennedy at 12:50 PM on October 15, 2009

NB: small scratches on the objective (very front most from the camera) lens elements rarely affect picture quality.

This is very true, I've seen pictures from lenses with cracked front elements and they were perfectly normal. For a fun experiment, point your camera up and place a penny in the center of the lens and take a picture.

kenbennedy, sums everything up correctly. My only tip is to check out the used lens market, you'll save some money.
posted by aGee at 1:06 PM on October 15, 2009

If what you want is maximum versatility, try the EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS. There is nothing else out there at around $500 that will go from wide the telephoto with the same quality at all focal lengths. Check the reviews, Canon did an amazing job considering the massive range in focal lengths on this lens.

It pushes up to $600 though, and like any zoom, it's not perfect, no USM and the max aperture is slow, but if I was only ever going to buy one lens for under a grand and leave it on all the time, that's what I would look at.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 1:19 PM on October 15, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice guys.

Regarding the scratch, when I take pictures of the sky, for example, there is a small dark imperfection which I assumed was the scratch. And the 'scratch' I could probably describe better as a 'scuff'. From what you guys are saying, maybe the mark I'm seeing in the pictures comes from dust somewhere other than the objective (thanks for the new word) lens element?

As for actual technical limitations I've encountered with the lens, I don't have any because I don't know how to reach them. kenbennedy, I like to take landscape shots, pictures of my friends and close-up of the detail of buildings and what not that catch my eye, so pretty standard tourist stuff.

The motivation behind this question was that I assumed the scratch was causing the imperfection, which I find quite annoying, and thought my trip was a good reason to fix that.
posted by StephenF at 1:25 PM on October 15, 2009

A scratch and a scuff would be two different issues. A scuff is far more serious.

Let this be a lesson to you, never put a lens on your camera without some sort of replaceable filter over the front element. A $50 Hoya UV filter can save a $2,000 lens very easily.

Also given what you added, you do want a wide to telephoto lens. I still suggest the 18-200.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 1:28 PM on October 15, 2009

If you're seeing a dark imperfection when taking pictures of the sky, it's most likely dust on your sensor. Take pictures of a light wall or clear sky at various focal lengths. If the imperfection doesn't move, you have sensor dust.
posted by zsazsa at 1:52 PM on October 15, 2009

I think the 18-55 lens is probably a good general use lens for you to use. If you have time before your trip, get used to the lens. Take a ton of pictures around town, and see if you still feel limited by the zoom. I think the 18-200 is a good recommendation if you want more reach, or even the new 18-135 for about $100 less (both have image stabilizers, which will help reduce camera shake and some blurry pictures in less than ideal light).

I think your imperfections are probably sensor dust - and suggest using zsazsa's test. Dust will be especially obvious at smaller apertures, but the focal length comparison will make it a dead giveaway. You can try to get rid of the dust using something like THIS. I would advise you to NOT try to clean it by touching or brushing it with anything physical.

When you start dong more internet reading, you will discover there are 2 groups of people: filter people and non filter people. I use (and suggest the same to others) a lens hood rather than a filter. A good lens hood will protect the front element from physical intrusion, is cheaper than a good filter, and will prevent sun flare rather than make it worse. But for certain, ALWAYS use either a lens hood or filter. And definitely use a filter at the beach, near water, in the desert, etc...

To each his own, but I won't spend $1500 on a lens and put yet another piece of glass in front of it to diffuse the light even more. For the kit lens though, just be sure you dont buy THIS FILTER, and also be sure to read the first part and the results of THIS TEST. Some filters really are a waste of money.
posted by kenbennedy at 2:51 PM on October 15, 2009

If you're itching for a new lens then by all means get one.

However, as others have pointed out, you'd be amazed at the degree to which you can have a scratched or even a cracked front lens element with virtually no discernible impact on image quality. If you think I'm full of it, you should see some of the front elements of the lenses any number of high profile professional photographers use on a daily basis.

It sounds like your sensor needs cleaning.

Also, every time I read a Metafilter response advocating putting some kind of a filter on a lens to "protect" it I end up wishing I was selling filters instead of shooting pictures for a living.

Among the 16 lenses I currently own are six $1500+ optics with great big vulnerable front lens elements. I have used these along with other $2000+ lenses over the last 33 years in all manner of nasty conditions; up to and including paint spraying booths, kindergarten classes where every kid's ultimate desire to touch the lens, wood shops where there are chips flying right and left, metal shops where shards of aluminum are flying through the air, petting zoos where the llamas want to lick my lenses, being knee deep in the surf where spray is kicking up big time, and any number of other "lens hostile" environments.

I have never ever had a lens damaged due to the lack of an image-degrading ostensibly protective filter.

A filter puts a minimum of two more air/glass surfaces between your camera's image sensor and what you're shooting. Don't do it. The potential for flare, chromatic aberration, and unsharpness far outweigh whatever bizarre-o "protection" you may or may not achieve.

Learn how to properly keep your lenses clean. Make sure the rear element of your lens is clean and undamaged. Clean your sensor. Use the correct lens shade for your lens for protection.

Don't buy some damn filter expecting it to "protect" anything other than the seller's bank balance.
posted by imjustsaying at 3:51 PM on October 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Clearly there are differing opinions on the UV filter argument. Just remember that there are good filters and bad filters. I've heard the effect of a bad filter described as 'the equivalent of smearing peanut butter on the front element'.

I guess my point is that if you invest in a quality filter (Hoya HMCs for instance) they really don't degrade the image significantly, and you do have some extra protection. Heck, some weather sealed lenses quite clearly state that they are not fully sealed until you do put a filter on it.

The choice is yours!
posted by WinnipegDragon at 5:02 PM on October 15, 2009

If you have the money to spend, ditch the kit lens for a better one. It's soft and flimsy.

I'd personally recommend the Sigma 18-50 2.8 EX Macro. I bought this after using the kit lens for a while and was stunned by the difference in sharpness. It's one of the Sigma's "professional" lenses, which means it has better glass and build quality than the consumer line.

It only goes out to 50mm, which I find to be enough, but if you want more reach you can go for the Sigma 18-200 or the Canon one mentioned above.

Also buy the Canon 50mm 1.8 II, it costs less than $100 and at that price, it's a no brainer. Don't think about it. Just get it. It's worth it.
posted by kenliu at 5:35 PM on October 15, 2009

"If you have the money to spend, ditch the kit lens for a better one. It's soft and flimsy."

Yeah, the kit lens is not the best lens on the planet, but you should really take a lot of pictures in order to help yourself decide what the best lens FOR YOU to replace it with is. The lens that works for me is not necessarily the lens that will work for you. Don't rush and buy something that you will find out in 6 months you want to replace because it doesn't do _______.

I didn't mean to derail the thread with a filter discussion; FWIW that Hoya HMC UV filter is as good as it gets, both performance and $ wise.
posted by kenbennedy at 5:53 PM on October 15, 2009

I'm currently looking at a 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM as a good walk-around lens. Nothing too fancy, but it has some nice features for the $$. I have loved, loved, loved my Canon 50mm f/1.4 USM lens, and prime lenses will generally give you a lot of bang for the buck in terms of photo quality, but of course no zoom. Anyways, it is a great lens (and the Canon 50mm f/1.8 is decent as well, and SUPER cheap, they call it "fantastic plastic").
posted by sararah at 7:27 AM on October 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

I recently sold my 28-135 IS (I have a 40d) becuase I felt 28mm is not wide enough for landscapes and city works.
posted by kenbennedy at 1:20 PM on October 17, 2009

Rather than buying a new lens, I look at big trips as a great excuse to rent fantastic lenses I can't justify (much less afford) to buy, but can certainly handle renting for 10 days or 2 weeks. Here in the US I've used with great experience. Perhaps there is something similar in Ireland? That way you can try out one or more lenses before making a committment.
posted by ambrosia at 11:01 AM on October 20, 2009

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