Lights. Camera. Rental.
September 5, 2011 11:28 AM   Subscribe

I'm renting a Canon DSLR (60D or T3i) for our vacation in Seattle. Help me choose one single lens to rent with it.

Since I'm going to buy a DSLR in December, I thought our vacation might be a nice time to try one out. (Yes, I'm bringing my excellent point and shoot that I already know how to use so that I don't come home with totally crap vacation photos.)

I'm planning on renting either the 60D or T3i (about a $15 difference in rental price), but that's only the body. I want to rent just one lens, but I'm not sure exactly which one to choose. I want to take detail shots of small things with nice fuzzy backgrounds, good outdoor photos that can be tilt shifted, nice portraits, good quality low light photos taken by shaky hands, and some videos.

Here's a small selection of stuff that's typical of what I take.

Here is an example (of an obviously edited-in-FinalCut) video I love and would like to work toward.

It's only in the budget to do one lense, and from recommendations I feel like it's probably going to be either a 50mm/1.4 or an 85mm/1.8.

And it needs to be available from, because that's where I'm getting the body.

FWIW, I took film photography about fifteen years ago, but haven't taken a digital photography course, so my knowledge of technical details is a little rusty.
posted by santojulieta to Technology (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I always took a 20mm f1.8 as my only lens when I was shooting with a 1.6X crop DSLR. You have plenty of pixels to crop but you can't go the other way. You don't seem to be shooting any serious wildlife or sports so I'd definitely not go longer than 35mm with that crop body.
posted by kcm at 11:32 AM on September 5, 2011

You like taking pictures of things that are right in front of you. Go with the 50mm and frame your shot by moving around.
posted by mhoye at 11:37 AM on September 5, 2011

From illenion's other half:
I have a 40D, 16-35 f2.8L, 24-105 f4L, and 70-200 f2.8L IS.

Without question, the most useful range for me is the 24-70 range, but I end up using the 16-35 because of that f2.8 aperture / light flexibility. Therefore, since you're renting - I'd jump on that 24-70 f2.8L unless you REALLY think you're going to be taking super low-light pictures (and would need the f2, f1.8 etc).

If I could trade my 24-105 f4L for the 24-70 f2.8L, I'd do it in a heartbeat - and then I'd be happy to have the low-light flexibility, a little bit of quality zoom, and a fairly wide angle capability.

Having lived in Seattle, you're going to want to take landscapes of the Sound, Rainier, etc - but also take some close-ups and portrait work. You need something with a range!

Lastly, rent something that you could potentially afford to buy.
posted by illenion at 11:51 AM on September 5, 2011

I would go with one of the 35mm lenses, to approximate a 50mm. f/1.4 would be nice, but i might go with the f/2 just for portability :)
posted by misterbrandt at 11:51 AM on September 5, 2011

My go-to lens on my Canon is the 24-105 f/4L, but the 24-70 f/2.8L is another option that I sometimes wish I had (especially when indoors). Since you are shooting a wide variety of things a zoom lens seems best, and although the crop factor is worth thinking about, it is important to remember that perspective does not vary with crop factor or focal length, but only where you are standing. Especially with portraits, you want to be able to use a longer focal length for best results. See here (from this question).
posted by TedW at 12:03 PM on September 5, 2011

The standard 28-80/2.8, 24-70/2.8, etc., mentioned above is a fantastic all-around length/capability/size/weight. That length is for a full-size sensor camera; on a compact-sensor camera like the 60D/T3i that'd be about an 18-50mm. All measurements below will be for a full-size sensor camera; just divide by 1.5 to get the equivalent for a 60D/T3i-sized sensor.

28 mm is wide enough to let you work where you just can't back up any more (indoors, market stalls, etc.). 80 mm is good enough for a lot of portraiture, can function as a mini-tele, etc. f/2.8 buys you a lot of room for shooting early, late, indoors, without a tripod, on the go. I can't emphasize the value of the f/2.8 aperture enough. And the lens isn't too hefty or awkward, so you'll keep it out and will get more images that way.

The Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS listed on LensRental is exactly what you're looking for (it's a compact-sensor lens so you're not wasting weight and size). The IS feature will buy you another stop of hand-holding steadiness, too, which is always handy.

If you were going backpacking, I'd say pick something longer. If you were going caving, I'd say pick something wider. Otherwise, go for the all-arounder.
posted by introp at 12:06 PM on September 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have the 85mm/1.8 on a crop frame sensor (7D, same sensor size as 60D or T3i) that I purchased after renting from and it hasn't left my camera since I got it. It's wonderful in low light, not too heavy, and has a good reach (note that 85mm on a crop sensor camera is roughly equivalent to 136mm because of the 1.6x multiplier)

So, unless you are comfortable working at that focal length, I think the safer bet would be with the 50mm 1.4.

It's even lighter and smaller than the 85mm 1.8, can focus at a closer distance, and has the edge in low-light. In addition, 50mm on a crop-frame sensor will be closer to the 85mm focal length that you will be expecting from your film days (50mm x 1.6 = 80mm).
posted by alrightokay at 1:02 PM on September 5, 2011

50mm 1.4, for sure. It's my favorite lens. Um, out of two that I own. You can generally buy a used one by all the usual makers for less than $100 if you look around, which I recommend if you ever decide to throw down on a camera body. Got to be one of the best lens values for money out there.
posted by smirkette at 1:50 PM on September 5, 2011

I agree with introp on the 17-55/2.8. Wide open you can still blow out backgrounds and foregrounds, but you have way more versatility than any fixed focal length lens.
posted by imjustsaying at 2:24 PM on September 5, 2011

Another vote for 24-105 f/4 IS - I always rent that lens when going on vacation. I find the IS more useful than f/2.8, at least when taking a variety of photos.
posted by miscbuff at 2:24 PM on September 5, 2011

I haven't personally shot with it, but I bet the 17-55 f/2.8 IS would be a fun 'normal'-ish zoom to play with. I do own a Sigma 30mm f/1.4 (comparable to Canon 28mm f/1.8) and that is a great lens for walking around and for low-light or narrow DOF work.
posted by Juffo-Wup at 2:37 PM on September 5, 2011

Errp, I somehow glazed over Introp's recommendation of the 17-55 f/2.8 IS. I agree with him completely, except I'd say that the IS is worth more like 2 stops of handheld steadiness for the average person, and 3-3.5 stops for me (as my hands are shakier than average due to a medical condition).
posted by Juffo-Wup at 2:41 PM on September 5, 2011

how about renting the 24-70L lens? I love mine, works well with my T1i. It's a splendid lens.
posted by seawallrunner at 4:23 PM on September 5, 2011

What about Canon's 28mm f1.8? That's more or less "normal" on a crop sensor camera and fast enough to get good pictures in pretty low light.

17-55/2.8 zoom would be good too, and very versatile, but there's a HUGE difference between 2.8 and 1.8.
posted by The Lamplighter at 10:46 PM on September 5, 2011

I would suggest something like Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L
posted by WizKid at 11:35 AM on September 6, 2011

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