How do i determine the best buy for a Canon EOS 30D with lenses?
August 12, 2006 3:09 PM   Subscribe

i am buying a Canon EOS 30D. that much i do know. what i don't know is whether i should buy a kit that has one or two lenses included for slightly more, or just buy the body and buy my lens(es) separately. from what i gather the lenses that come with the kits are not very good quality. is this true? what lenses should i be looking at?

i am a student, i hope to make a career out of this so i want the best i can get for around 2 grand altogether. i'd like to have a good wide angle lens and a good zoom lens.

ive been looking at B&H, adorama, amazon, and any suggestions to help me make sense of all my options would be greatly appreciated.
posted by slowtree to Media & Arts (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Buy the 50mm f1.8 ($70ish, fast for low light and everything else) and then use that with the kit lens to see what you want to buy. Some people do sports (long, fast glass), some do street (wide angle and small in form factor), etc. You don't know what you need yet, and we don't know what you'll want either, so just buy as you find you need it rather than guessing beforehand.

You don't need to spend thousands of dollars to make a career out of having an eye for photography, though. In fact, it's probably easier to sell art prints made with a Lomo or a pinhole camera created from an apple core and two playing cards than it is to sell a picture of a cat taken with a few grand in toys.
posted by kcm at 3:32 PM on August 12, 2006

The lenses that come as a part of a kit are often "slow": High "f" apertures mean you need a longer exposure time for darker shots. Longer exposure times mean more image noise and a blurrier image.

If you're a student, buying lenses separately may "break the bank". But depending on what you want to photograph — e.g. nighttime, indoor or other low-light shots — you may want to consider faster non-stock lenses.

Wide-angle lenses pull in more light to start with, so this is less of an issue with those. Correspondingly, zoom lenses pull in much less light and so the fast zoom lenses are much, much more expensive than slower equivalent lengths.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:33 PM on August 12, 2006

Also, don't bother buying from anywhere but B&H or Adorama. I've had OK experience with Buydig but honestly, the few extra dollars you spend for the first two are worth it.

See if you can borrow/rent lenses, also, as you find you want to buy them. You might find a push-pull telephoto lens irritates you or that a lens hood blocks your flash, etc., before you spend a ton of money on making it part of your kit.

Don't ever discount home-made solutions like the homemade tilt-shift lens adapter or $30 at Home Depot for quartz worklights and PVC/fabric for a softbox.

And don't ever go anywhere near the DPReview forums. The site is great, the forums are a colossal trainwreck of human indignity.
posted by kcm at 3:37 PM on August 12, 2006

The lenses which come with the Canon kits, at least the ones from B&H, aren't great, but they aren't awful either.

That said, to a professional photographer, the glass is what matters the most. The different digital bodies have different strengths and weaknesses right now (framerate, sensor size, noise characteristics, control placement) but the glass is more of the "investment" side of photography.

I'd spend more money on the glass first and then buy bodies as you progress. The Digital Rebel 350 isn't a poor body, but pair it with a 70-200mm USM w/IS @2.8 and I'd bet people would have a hard time distinguishing shots from that pairing from shots with a 30d and the same lens.

As with all glass, no matter the vendor, you pay for the good stuff. The lens mentioned above is a very good mid-length zoom with built-in image stabilization, and it's $1600. A very good wide-angle zoom, like Canon's 16-35mm USM @2.8 is around $1400. To round out that range, a 24-70mm USM @2.8 is around $1200.

Don't get me started about primes, either. You could easily spend every bit of money you make on lenses and still want to buy more.

To reign in my answer a little, you might consider the type of professional photography you wish to get into before you start buying glass, as the type of glass you buy will be heavily dependent on what, and how you are shooting.

You might be able to get away with one body and lenses a bit slower than the ones I listed above, which will shave quite a bit of money off of the price, but might limit you if you change shooting environments slightly.

On preview, what kcm said, in spades.
posted by tomierna at 3:44 PM on August 12, 2006

I seem to be making a habit out of this... a link to the excellent essay Why Your Camera [equipment] Does Not Matter. Really helped me realize that spending more money wouldn't make me a better photographer or necessarily even make technically better photos.
posted by santacruz at 4:02 PM on August 12, 2006

Dansdata had an excellent writeup a while back about lenses for the Cannon. In it he linked to an entertaining look at the different types of lenses.

I hope the 30D works out for you, I'll be getting one in a couple of weeks.
posted by quin at 4:13 PM on August 12, 2006

Buy the 50 1.8. For the price it's a great buy. The kit lens is decent, if a bit slow.

Then learn to take good photos. Then you can look at upgrading your gear.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 5:12 PM on August 12, 2006

I got the 50mm that kcm recommends with my Rebel and it shocked me how much better photos taken with it were than with the kit lens.

I had read that Why Your Camera essay before and it makes me very angry.
posted by Brainy at 5:21 PM on August 12, 2006

I wouldn't get the kit. I would invest in one of the cheaper L series lenses and get something wide angle.
posted by trbrts at 6:05 PM on August 12, 2006

From Why Your Camera [equipment] Does Not Matter:

"Any good modern lens is corrected for maximum definition at the larger stops. Using a small stop only increases depth..." Ansel Adams, June 3, 1937.

If the equipment doesn't matter, why did he say "Any good modern lens"?

I'm upgrading from the Rebel to the 30D very soon myself. I really think that whether you get the kit or get the body and lenses separately depends upon what lens comes with the kit and what lenses you want. See what the price of the lens in the kit is when bought separately - you may not be saving very much by getting it as a kit.

IMO, you'll be happier with fewer quality lenses than more mediocre lenses.
posted by Bort at 6:11 PM on August 12, 2006

When you say that you are hoping to make a career out of this, what kind of career are you talking? Wedding, sports, portrait, stock...? It matters for the kind of lenses you would buy.

For low light and general portrait, I would opt for the 50mm/1.4 over the 1.8. It's not too much more and the extra couple of stops can really make a difference, plus the build quality is a bit higher.

Also, you will need a wider than wide lens, since the digital SLR has a crop factor that multiplies the lens by 1.6, so a 20mm lens really becomes a 32mm.

First, though, figure out what kind of photography you are going to focus on. I do general photography as a hobby and I carry the kit lens (18-55mm), the 50mm/1.4, 70-200L, 100mm macro. These lenses cover most situations.
posted by jonah at 6:24 PM on August 12, 2006

Best answer: The f1.4 version of the 50mm is $230 more, which is 400%+ the cost of the $70 f1.8. It's certainly better built, but if I can buy four cpoies of the f1.8 (I have yet to need to replace it even once), that's fine.

If I had to spec you out a lens selection, knowing nothing, it would be a Sigma 20mm f1.8, Canon 50mm f1.8, something in the 85-105mm range (not zoom) f1.8-f2.0, and then if you find you need it, a 70-200 of some vintage perhaps with a 2X converter. After years of this stuff and hearing old fogies yap about primes day in and day out, I really do believe it's more fun to shoot with a lens that makes you think rather than mindlessly twisting a barrel to get what comes down to what could have been cropped had you been using a lower ISO a fast prime would have given you anyway.
posted by kcm at 7:24 PM on August 12, 2006

It's right there in your quote... Adams was speaking in 1937! Lenses have only gotten cheaper and better since.
posted by santacruz at 7:27 PM on August 12, 2006

Go and read up on some photographers whose pictures you admire. Unless they're sports photographers, you'll find many great photographers have used a surprisingly limited number of lenses. Like others have already said, it's not about the gear. Start with one, fixed lens and learn how to take pictures with it that make you happy. Back in the prehistory of photography, before digital cameras, a 50mm lens on a 35mm SLR was most often suggested as the lens to start with. I think that was more received wisdom than gospel, but there's virtue in limiting technical complexities in order to concentrate on the pictures, not the kit.

Don't fall into the trap of thinking you really need a zoom. They're only especially useful in long telephotos. A wide zoom costs a lot in more than just dollars. The pathetically slow maximum apertures of most modern wide zooms for DSLRs, especially in combination with a smaller sensor's greater depth of field, is very limiting in low light or for carefully selecting your plane of focus.

If it was me, I'd get a 28mm (on the 30D's sensor, that's 40-something mm in the ways of the ancients) and play with that for a while. But I'm not you.
posted by normy at 7:36 PM on August 12, 2006

Digital Rebel body and a nice set of primes. Glass over body anyday. Primes over zoom.
posted by mmdei at 8:43 PM on August 12, 2006

This is my setup:

Digital Rebel XT ($700), Canon 10-22 ($700), Tamron 24-75 F/2.8 ($300), Canon 70-200 F/4 L ($500), Canon 50mm F/1.8 ($80)

The kit lens is junk.

I would look seriously at the Rebel XT instead of the D30.
posted by SirStan at 9:27 PM on August 12, 2006

It's all about glass. This quote from the article linked above:
Buying new gear will NOT improve your photography
is also total bunk.

I've used a Canon 85mm f1.2 and goddamn the blurred backgrounds and low-light ability is amazing. The same shot taken with a kit lens at 85mm? Shudder. Sure there's a point above which the return on your investment is minimal compared to an investment in getting better at composition, but overall -- get glass as good as you can afford.
posted by bonaldi at 7:54 AM on August 13, 2006

The f1.4 version of the 50mm is $230 more, which is 400%+ the cost of the $70 f1.8. It's certainly better built, but if I can buy four cpoies of the f1.8 (I have yet to need to replace it even once), that's fine.

What I meant by better build was that it is sharper, focuses faster, and also is more durable. I didn't mean that the f1.8 will fall apart. You're right that the f1.8 is a great deal.
posted by jonah at 9:18 AM on August 13, 2006

If you like the added features of the 30D over the Rebel XT, I'd suggest buying a 20D (there are still some around, check KEH for new or as new bodies). The $300+ you save can go towards a lens. I don't believe the jump from the 20D to the 30D was as significant as from the 10D to the 20D.
posted by inviolable at 11:37 PM on August 13, 2006

I agree on the 20d over the 30d. the differences are minimal. check for yourself at - a site you should always consider looking at, they have some lens tests in there as well, though I am too lazy to search now.

>See if you can borrow/rent lenses

the usual suspects like calumet or samys camera will gladly rent you prime lenses (try the canon 16-35 to get your hands on some really good glass) and pretty much of the ones I mentioned below will break your bank. what you should know is that the rental departments will require a hefty deposit that can easily range up to 2000 bucks. make sure you have a credit card with a huge limit and if you are in a crunch, show them your student ID and try to get them cut the deposit in half. that's how I made it happen back in college.

also: ebay is your friend in general but when buying a lens, please please please make sure it's a new one. brand-spanking-new off ebay is okay but if you go for the "only ultra ueber very gently used" ones, you are in for heartaches. I have seen it so many times. you can buy anything used, just not a lens.

my favorite canon lenses are as follows:

EF 16-35mm f/2.8L USM
superior glass and great for your 30d. it's wide enough to cancel out the smaller chip. this lens is expensive, I think it was 1500 when I looked recently but I am not sure. you could save a bit by taking the 17-40 instead, which is still pretty damn good.

EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM
another awesome lens. you really will see a difference between these things and cheaper variants

EF 70-200mm f/4L USM
yes, this is the cheaper one of the telephoto zoom lenses and it's not image stabilized. the latter is more of an issue - the canon IS system is really impressive when you are on the run. but you know what? I noticed I always use a tripod anyway when I am doing those golden hour exposures with this lens and that the faster shutter speed wasn't really an issue.
posted by krautland at 11:05 PM on August 18, 2006

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