Optimus Prime (Lenses)
October 29, 2010 10:53 AM   Subscribe

What are your favorite prime lenses for a Canon EOS body?

My kit currently includes a 50mm 1.4 (my precioussss), a 100-400mm IS for wildlife photography, and a 28-135 IS (which I like, but don't love.) I've become a total convert to the prime lenses, and I'd like to make a plan of what lenses to buy (eventually). My primary interests are wildlife photography (so a 500mm prime is of course, on the list, though 6k I do not have), portrait photography to a lesser extent. I'd also eventually love a macro lens for close-shooting, and a big honking wide-angle for wide-angle stuff.

Since I learned about my beloved 50mm 1.4 here and I'm just as gaga for it as so many of you seem to be, what are other prime lenses that flip your lid? What's on your dream list? If you own it, where did you buy it from? If you've got a non-prime lens that has been the best thing ever, sure, let me know about that, too.

Asking here because I've found great info on AskMe in the past for camera stuff; photography forums and websites tend to make my eyes glaze over after a bit. Thanks!
posted by atayah to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (16 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I love the Sigma 20mm f1.8 for cost/performance (though I also got it used). I shoot 80% of my shots with it. I think anything at 20mm or so on a 1.6X crop body - you don't say what you have - is great, since you probably get f2 or faster with them all.
posted by kcm at 10:54 AM on October 29, 2010

Ugh, thanks kcm... forgot totally relevant info - I have a Canon 40d.
posted by atayah at 10:57 AM on October 29, 2010

I love the look of the Canon 85mm f/1.8 on my 5Dm2, but the 1.6x crop it is a bit too tight for comfortable portraits on the smaller bodies. Likewise for the 135mm f/2 -- a great lens for certain applications with dreamy qualities. The Sigma 20mm f/1.8 recommended by kcm is fine on the crop bodies (although I severely dislike Sigma's focus system), but on a full frame the vignetting is comically bad.

I've been thinking about trying the Zeiss EF-mount lenses after playing with a friend's 100mm f/2. The bokeh is very different feeling in the Zeiss compared to Canon's.

Do you plan to do any video if you upgrade from the 40D to one of the more modern bodies? Some lenses are better for film than others: "breathing" on the 85mm f/1.8 and 70-200mm f/2.8 is very exaggerated compared to the 50mm f/1.4, for instance.
posted by autopilot at 11:22 AM on October 29, 2010

I left the Canon DSLR system a while ago, but I love the 25mm focal length on 35mm format. Really wide. (I skip from 50mm all the way down to 25mm.) But not like 18mm, 15mm or 12mm lenses where I often have trouble coming up with a decent composition.

You're on a crop sensor so a 15mm lens would give you the same field of view as a 25mm lens on 35mm format.

(I'm not talking about fisheyes here at all, wide rectilinear primes are where it's at.)

Also, the 200mm f/2.8 is nice and worlds lighter and smaller (and less noticeable) than the 70-200 family.
posted by Brian Puccio at 11:23 AM on October 29, 2010

I really like the 28mm f/1.8 -- it's pretty close to a "normal" angle of view on a 1.6X body and I find myself using it a lot, especially at wedding receptions. It's better on a 1.3X body (where I use it) or full-frame, though -- it's not a true wide-angle on 1.6X.

For portraits, I use a 50mm f/1.4 (which I also love!) and 85mm f/1.8. I find that the 85mm f/1.8 is very good for the price, but I don't completely agree with the folks that call it "L quality". I'm planning to upgrade to the 85 f/1.2 soon -- while flawed (slow, somewhat awkward focus, expensive), it's an incredible portrait lens.

One thing you might consider -- if it's image quality you're concerned about, the new 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II has incredible IQ, by far the best zoom I've ever used. It's sharp even wide-open. It's great for portraits and decent for (closer-range) wildlife stuff -- with a relatively cheap 1.4x or 2x extender it might do double duty as a portrait and wildlife lens.
posted by jdwhite at 11:25 AM on October 29, 2010

The 85mm f/1.2 doesn't leave my camera often - its incredible. I'm also a big fan of the 300mm f/2.8, but I rarely need anything that long. I have the 50mm f/1.4, and while its a nice lens it gets little use because I can usually do what I need to do with the 85mm. My 100mm macro does a decent job - I'd recommend it if you're in the market for a macro. I think all the Canon macros do a good job though. I like my 15mm fisheye and would recommend it also - although on your crop sensor body, it won't be as fishy. And actually, I was just given (and am now selling) a Sigma EF mount 15mm fisheye - its equally sharp and very well built with a much better lenshood/cover.
I'd replace that 28-135 with the 24-70 f/2.8. Its a great lens with a very useful range - and faster than the f/4 that the 24-105 offers. I find the 70-200mm f/2.8 IS to be one of my most universally useful lenses though. I use it quite a bit in the studio as well as on location. When paired with the 24-70, there's very little you can't do.
I've got plenty of examples of these lenses in action at flickr if you're interested.
posted by blaneyphoto at 11:39 AM on October 29, 2010

I have a Canon 1.6x sensor and I love the 50mm f/1.4 and the 85mmf/1.8. Even with its tight crop, I mostly use the 85f1.8 for portraits.
posted by ssri at 11:49 AM on October 29, 2010

I have the 85 f/1.2 Blaney mentions; it's great, but the focus by wire can make it slow in operation.

While I think the 50 f/1.4 is the best value among all primes, the 35 f/1.4 never leaves my camera. A bunch of photos here, and, say here (most of my flickr stream, other than roller derby shots is with the 35 f/1.4 and the 70-200 f/2.8IS).

On your crop body it will feel about 50mm. A really lovely lens.
posted by dam1975 at 11:52 AM on October 29, 2010

I have a 5D (full frame), and I have the 50/1.4 and 100/2. I'd love to have the 24/1.4 L.
posted by phliar at 12:38 PM on October 29, 2010

I absolutely love Canon's 10-22mm f3.5-4.5 wide-angle lens. It's my only non-prime lens, and it's absolutely to die for. I use it inches from people's faces for dramatic amazing portrait photography, and loan it to my mother for real estate purposes. It can take in an entire room, or bring your subject into dramatic contrast with the background.
posted by Eshkol at 12:47 PM on October 29, 2010

Although it might be a little long on your crop frame, the 100mm/2.8 macro is a great dual-purpose lens. It gives you the macro capabilities necessary for great closeup work, and then it doubles as a sharp portrait lens. The older model (non-L, non-IS) is still available, and you can find it for $400-$500. The new stabilized, L-series model is available somewhere in the $800-$900 range. I used the older model for years before upgrading, and it's just as capable and just as sharp. Because it performs both functions so well (macro & portrait), it returns a lot of value for the investment.
posted by Hankins at 1:20 PM on October 29, 2010

I used to have a XTi as a secondary camera and used the 28mm f/1.8 on the cropped sensor almost exclusively.

That said, I have a 24mm f/1.4 on a 5D and love it (friends who shoot Sigma wide primes complain about sharpness in comparison to my shots when we're shooting side by side). It's a great lens but very pricey.

The 28mm f/1.8 is a reasonable compromise in terms of quality, price, and ability to be used on a full frame camera should you choose to upgrade some day.
posted by kathryn at 1:58 PM on October 29, 2010

I'm fond of my 60mm macro. It's cheap, solid, and has the sonic focus ring so I won't accidentally grind the gears by manually focusing. The spec'd minimum focus distance is .2m but I swear I've focused in way closer than that. Maybe that's .2m from the sensor?
posted by chairface at 2:01 PM on October 29, 2010

When I used a 400D (same crop as yours) the 28mm 1.8 was on my camera 85% of the time. Now that I use full-frame cameras, it's on there a lot too. Great little lens. It doesn't seem to get such a great rap quality-wise, but I have little-to-no problem with it. It focuses well, is fast and performs very well in low-light situations. FWIW, I managed to get it for a bargain price second hand from Fixation in London. Three thumbs up.
posted by Magnakai at 5:59 PM on October 29, 2010

35 L (f/1.4) - my all time favorite
posted by kenbennedy at 1:37 PM on October 31, 2010

I use the Sigma 30/1.4 for pretty much everything from concerts to food to chasing my niece around (on a 7D and a 30D, fwiw) as it's got great IQ wide open and it's ludicrous at f/2 and up. It works out to being roughly equivalent to your field of vision when on an EF-S body, and it's about a third of the cost of the 35/1.4L.

As well I frequently rent (to the point of considering a purchase) the 45/2.8 TS-E, which is a full-manual tilt-shift lens, and is quite a lot of fun for recreational shoots where it's less about getting a specific image out of the exercise and more about seeing how you can see things differently.
posted by heeeraldo at 3:22 PM on October 31, 2010

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