Digital Rebel Lens
December 15, 2003 10:58 AM   Subscribe

Lens dilemma - I'd appreciate some help in choosing my first "non-kit" lens for my Digital Rebel. [more inside]

I'm a novice photographer, new to SLRs. But my main new year's resolution is to learn to make decent photos. I want to start building a selection of lenses that will do a good job of allowing me to shoot the following (in order of priority):

-urban landscapes and street scenes
-architectural details
-indoor, low-light shots of my cats and my family
-tourist-y landscapes

My Canon Digital Rebel came with a mediocre EF-S 18-55mm f3.5-f5.6 lens. Because of the size of the CMOS sensor, there is a 1.6x field of view crop.

I'm currently torn between two lenses, and my budget means that I probably won't be able to justify another lens purchase for at least 8 months. The contenders are the Canon EF 28-135mm f3.5-5.6 IS USM and the Canon EF 50mm f1.4 USM.

I've read the reviews, and these are both very well-regarded. I'd like to know, given the field of view cropping on the Digital Rebel, and the kinds of photography I'd like to do, what are the limitations of each lens and which is the better choice for me (keeping in mind that I do have the mediocre kit lens, as well). Any advice the in-house photo gurus can offer would be great.
posted by stonerose to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (19 answers total)
Just my opinion, and I don't have a Canon, so I don't know these specific lenses, but 50mm is about the most visually boring focal length there is. That one's nice and bright and all, but...ew. I'd go for the zoom, assuming it's a decent lens, it will give you far more variety, and if you're going to choose a fixed focal length, pick ANYTHING but 50mm (on my film camera, my all-time favourite fixed length lens is my Nikkor 105mm 2.5, followed by a 20mm 2.8).
posted by biscotti at 11:06 AM on December 15, 2003

I have a conventional 35mm EOS Elan, and I quite like the 28-105mm USM, the only lens I use in practice. It doesn't have that fancy-dancy image stabilization but it's cheaper and works quite well. So far as I know you'll have that crop with any lens, which means that a 28-105 mm is more like a 35-130mm. You'll often want to be able to go wider than 35mm equivalent for landscapes, etc, so hold onto that 18-55mm until you get something fancier.

On preview: bear in mind that 50mm, long considered the standard if-you've-got-to-buy-just-one lens, is equivalent to something more like 70mm on the Digital Rebel.
posted by Songdog at 11:08 AM on December 15, 2003

50mm, long considered the standard if-you've-got-to-buy-just-one lens, is equivalent to something more like 70mm on the Digital Rebel.

I had assumed that "50mm" was already adjusted to the 35mm equivalent length (my comments were based on this assumption, since most of the time we talk about the 35mm equivalents, rather than the digital). If it's 50mm digital, then that's a fairly decent focal length in my opinion.
posted by biscotti at 11:57 AM on December 15, 2003

based on your listed subject matter:
-urban landscapes and street scenes
-architectural details
-indoor, low-light shots of my cats and my family
-tourist-y landscapes

I'd get the widest prime I could. Or, at least, a wide-angle zoom. One thing that's going to make this harder is the built-in cropping because of the sensor.

Telephoto zooms (IMHO) suck for landscapes.
posted by bshort at 12:30 PM on December 15, 2003

Thanks, all of you - I'm now leaning towards a 20mm f2.8 (effectively 32mm on the D-Rebel). Anything wider - but not fuzzy - gets into huge money.
posted by stonerose at 12:59 PM on December 15, 2003

Hey Stonerose, I got the Sigma 20mm for my Canon D30, and occasionally wish I had something shorter. No disappointments (except the cost of filters). Check out all the reviews at, it's a good site for "serious" canon owners.
posted by daver at 1:06 PM on December 15, 2003

50mm f1.4 USM - I have this lens for my Canon D60. You don't need it. Please don't buy it. Or please buy mine. I've taken over 20,000 pictures with the D60, only about 200 with the 50mm. It's a great lens, very sharp, very fast, but it just isn't called for very often.

A true macro lens is great fun. I'm very happy with my Tamron 90mm macro, although I'd love to have hte 180mm macro.

A telephoto over 300mm is wonderful, but rarely needed.

Canon EF 28-135mm - This is a great "everyday lens". The IS is golden.

For practical purposes you won't find anything wider than your 18-55mm. Unless you are unhappy with the quality I would advise not getting another wide angle lens.

Unless you are a pro and need the marginal increase in image quality, don't go for primes.

Also concider other accesories - A really good tripd will help as much as a new lens.

However, don't by until you can't help yourself. Good lens are too expensive. Wait until you *know* you need the lens.
posted by y6y6y6 at 1:10 PM on December 15, 2003

I think I disagree with about half of all y6y6y6 has just said. But that doesn't mean he's wrong. This is one of the fun things in photography, discovering your own preferences and style. One of the big drawbacks of digital that they don't tell you in the ads is that getting anything wider than about the equivalent of 28mm (in 35mm) gets rather expensive, although that could change soonish.

One thing I will emphasise, though. Do consider a tripod. It will improve your photographs in many ways if you persevere with it, both technically and in how you consider the process.
posted by normy at 6:30 PM on December 15, 2003

I must disagree with y6^3 about the 50/1.4. If you find that the kit lens on the DRebel is too slow (i.e. aperture is too small) for you, the 50/1.4 is your best solution bar none without getting into serious money. You can only bump up the ISO so far on the DRebel, and you better be ready to post-process ISO 1600 and some ISO 800 shots. The DRebel is very clean at ISO 400 and below though. Having said that, if you don't use the 50mm focal length much, shoot outdoors in good light most of the time, and/or use an external flash, then you won't need the 50/1.4. It really depends on your shooting style, but my 50/1.4 has been invaluable to me because I like indoor and low light shots without flash. The bokeh (background blur) of the 50/1.4 at a wide DOF is wonderful for portraits. A great alternative to the 50/1.4 is the 50/1.8 at around $70 online. It'll give you most of the performance of the 50/1.4 for a quarter of the price. It's the single best bargain in the Canon EF lineup.

Agree fully with y6^3 about not needing a new wide lens if you have the kit lens. Almost all of them are too pricey to be cost effective, but supposedly new wide angles for the 1.6x crop factor DSLRs are in the works. Make sure to stop down the kit lens to around f/8 or so when taking landscape though--it's not very sharp wide open. It's worth bumping the ISO up to 400 to do this for the additional sharpness on the architectural details, and maybe even higher than that if the lighting is poor (and you're willing to post-process).

You'll probably want something with a medium telephoto reach to complement your kit lens on the long end. How long is up to you. The 28-135 is very popular, has great reach, and everyone loves the IS. However, if you don't need the 135mm reach of the 28-135, I'd recommend the Tamron AF28-75mm XR Di. Small, light, fast focusing, very sharp, and most importantly, excellent low-light performance. I would personally prefer the large aperture over the IS because of motion blur problems and better DOF for people shots, but again how important this is to you depends on your need. Keep in mind the Tamron doesn't offer much reach compared to the kit lens, so the 28-135 offers much better versatility in that department.

If you're hurting for more telephoto, the 70-200/4L is worth saving up for. It's well out of your present budget, but will solve your telephoto problems for a long time I'm sure. :) It may seem horrendously expensive (it's actually very cheap for an L lens) but the performance is truly professional quality.

One more agreement with y6^3: wait on lenses until you need them. The more you shoot, the more you'll know what you need. But if you really want a new toy for your DRebel this Christmas and you're not sure yet about what you need, the 50/1.8 is your best investment. It's so cheap that in some circles it's a floggable offense not to own either this one or the 50/1.4. I don't know of anyone who bought one of these and felt ripped off, despite its cheap-feeling construction. Everyone will need a fast aperture sooner or later.

Happy shooting!

On preview: agree with both y6^3 and normy about tripods, especially (but not exclusively) for landscapes. Pain in the ass, but indispensible.
posted by DaShiv at 6:39 PM on December 15, 2003

Since 50mm = "effective 80mm" with the DRebel's 1.6x crop factor, it's a nice length for full-body portraits. It also means it might not be wide enough indoors for group shots. You might want to see what 50mm looks like on your kit lens before you decide to plop down some cash for either the 50/1.4 or 50/1.8, so that you can make sure it's a useful focal length for you. There are wider primes available, but I find I really need something faster than f/2.8 to shoot indoor without flash a good chunk of the time, and it's hard to find decent-but-cheap lenses at that aperture apart from the 50mm primes.
posted by DaShiv at 6:55 PM on December 15, 2003

Thanks so much to all of you for your thoughtful comments! I think I'm going to go with the 28-135 IS - it has soooo many fans, and is really versatile - and I figure the IS will save me some messed-up shots while I'm learning. I'm going to heed your advice to hold off on primes and expensive wide-angle lenses until I know myself better as a photographer.

That having been said, I was sorely tempted by the Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L. But it does look at though there's some interesting wide-angle DSLR glass in the works.
posted by stonerose at 7:07 PM on December 15, 2003

It's a great walkabout lens. Good luck!
posted by DaShiv at 7:53 PM on December 15, 2003

In defense of my panning of the 50mm 1.4 - I really hate using anything less than f2.8. So for me it's not worth it to switch lenses. The depth of field at f1.4 is tiny. But that's just me. Lots of people rave about this lens. So many times lens choise will come down to shooting styles and preferences. If you need this lens, you really do need this lens.

And for the most part, "L" glass is out of my price range, so you may have moved out of my comfort range in terms of lens reviews.
posted by y6y6y6 at 7:58 PM on December 15, 2003

No argument there, f/1.4 has a tiny DOF. But when you need speed you need speed (we're talking shooting by candlelight speed in a lens here), and the results at f/1.4 are wonderful when you get lucky. :)

Lenses are an intensely personal choice, but that the 28-135 has such a huge fan club should be indicative of something. I think you'll be pleased with the 28-135, stonerose.
posted by DaShiv at 8:22 PM on December 15, 2003

The 1.4f isn't worth the $$, anyway - the 50mm 1.8 is a PERFECTLY good bit of glass, and you can pick them up used just about anywhere for $50-$100.
posted by SpecialK at 9:51 PM on December 15, 2003

I did mention that part about the 50/1.8 already--"It'll give you most of the performance of the 50/1.4 for a quarter of the price." :) I do own a 50/1.4 because of the extra 2/3 stop, full-time manual focus (useful for fine-tuning DOF), sharper at f/1.8-2.8 than the 50/1.8 version, micro-USM for quieter operation, metal mounts instead of plastic, and rounded bokeh on highlights (instead of the artificial-looking pentagram bokeh on the 50/1.8). All this was worth the money to me but won't be for many others.

Of course, then the next upgrade costs ten times the price (around $3000) for the discontinued 50/1.0L. All for one lousy F-stop! Price performance ratios can really spiral rapidly out of control when it comes to lenses.

Since this is Ask Metafilter, my "answer" is for stonerose to pick up the relatively cheap 50/1.8 if he ever runs into any low-light problems after his new 28-135. :) It's much better optically than the price suggests.
posted by DaShiv at 1:08 AM on December 16, 2003

I'm a sucker for fast lenses, so I would recommend that you go for a faster lens than what you already have. For the urban and indoor stuff you said you wanted to do, f 5.6 is awful slow. You'll get a lot of grain in your images, which defeats the purpose of carrying around that SLR.

I like DaShiv's answer of the 50mm f1.8. That lens in the Nikkor line-up is great for the money.

(I own some of the fastest manual focus Nikkor lenses, and while they are heavy beasts, the images they can produce, at low light, are worth it. The Nikkor 105mm f1.8 and the 35mm f1.4 are famous. Those are probably my two most favorite lenses although my favorite focal lengths are probably 24mm and 105mm.)

Also, have you thought about investing in some classes or a printer or other aspects that might broaden your perspective/ output?
posted by gen at 2:58 AM on December 16, 2003

Oh, and if you are going to go for a 3rd party lens, you should start looking at the Tokina lenses before any others. I was most impressed by the Tokina glass/ image quality when I was evaluating them against the Nikon equivalents. I can't speak to their autofocus quality on the Canon platform though- you gotta check that out for yourself.
posted by gen at 3:05 AM on December 16, 2003

Thanks, Gen. The IS system on the 28-135 is supposed to gain me up to two stops, so I'm hoping it will be satisfactory for a year or so - then I'll have learned what fast primes I need.

I do have a good printer - an Epson 2200, which I impulsively purchased a year ago when all I had was a 4megapixel Minolta point and shoot. (The printer was actually a great purchase because it really drove home the limitations of a non-SLR). As for learning, I'm mostly depending on books, web tutorials ( and trial and error. But there is a good photography school in Toronto that I might check out.
posted by stonerose at 7:14 AM on December 16, 2003

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