Best every day dSLR lens and accessories?
October 11, 2006 7:13 AM   Subscribe

This is a two part question: Which every day lens should I buy for my dSLR, and what other camera accessories should I get? There is

I'm going to buy my first dSLR in the next few months. It will definitely be a Canon, mostly likely the 20d. I'm pretty sure I don't want the kit lens, though I'm not sure what to get instead. I'll end up with a variety of lenses eventually, but for now I just want a good every day lens to get me started. Money is not an issue so much as quality. I've been considering the Canon EF-S 17-85mm w/IS. Opinions? Suggestions? Bonus points for example photos. (Yes, I've seen the other related AskMe questions.)

See Flickr for an idea of the kinds of photos I like to take.

And for part two, what other acccessories do I need for my new camera? I will probably get an extra battery and some sort of case, but what else do I need to get me started? Flash, filters, cleaning equipment?
posted by geeky to Media & Arts (25 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
It looks like you take a lot of outdoor shots. As far as equipment goes, you shouldn't need all that much for standard daylight outdoor shooting. Maybe a polarized filter for increased contrast shots. You can probably get away with using the onboard flash for fill flash, but if you're going to be using flash more often consider getting one with TTL (through the lens) metering.

A bag with a big, soft strap is essential to me. The one thing that wears me out most when walking around with my camera is sore shoulders from my bag.
posted by backseatpilot at 7:21 AM on October 11, 2006

For most of my shots lately, I've been using a dirt-cheap Canon Canon EF 50mm 1.8 II. It's about $80, but it features no zoom. It's a great accessory lens when you need to just point and shoot.

Here's some outdoor action shots taken with it just the other day.
posted by beaucoupkevin at 7:35 AM on October 11, 2006 [1 favorite]

Your flickr stuff is nice. I particularly like 'inverted sky.'

My trepidation with the lens you link to is that f4 is what I'd consider on the slow end for a short-barrel lens and f5.6 when you're shooting at the full 85mm could cause you some difficulty if you need to get a faster shutter speed for movement. Based on your first page of flickr that seems less likely, but perhaps you'll miss the ability to have a narrower depth of field that you could get with f-stops under 5.6
posted by phearlez at 7:45 AM on October 11, 2006


I *loved* the two 17-85's I owned. Both were sharp, great copies of the lens. I took quite a few shots that I love with that lens:

I will probably buy another used copy someday soon.

I definately love the 50mm F/1.8 lens as well.
posted by SirStan at 7:46 AM on October 11, 2006

I think I lied, that last shot was probably with a 50mm F/1.8 (note the small DOF that a F/1.8 lens can produce, that a F/4 probably cant as well..)
posted by SirStan at 7:48 AM on October 11, 2006

@backseatpilot: Good point about the flash. And the bag. Got any bag recommendations?

@beaucoupkevin: the 50mm lens looks like it takes nice shots, but I think I'm looking for something with a little more flexibility for my initial lens. I will keep in it mind for later though!

@phearlez: Thanks! I'm not worried about faster shutter speeds as I rarely take action shots, but I do like shallow depth of field. Do you know of a lens with a similar focal length but better f-stop range?

@SirStan: Thanks for the examples!
posted by geeky at 8:05 AM on October 11, 2006

Kit lenses are usually crap so yeah stay away from that. Seriously for an everyday lens you may want to choose based on size and weight. Smaller sized and weights are the better options. If you get a big heavy L lens it can be a strain to carry around. I love my 28-80mm L but it is heavy to carry around for a length of time. For the DSLR, stick with a 28mm or 35mm prime. These provide an excellent f1.8 which allows you to have fun in low light without needing IS. The size and weight cannot be beat.
posted by JJ86 at 8:19 AM on October 11, 2006

The Canon 50mm f/1.8 is a very nice lens for the price. There is little reason not to own it. I also recently bought the Canon 17-40mm f/4 L which is a nice lens for outdoor shots. I've heard the lens you mentioned is quite nice, but being an EF-S lens, you can't really use it on a full-frame camera.

A rambling post on the two lenses I mentioned which I wrote a while back.

The thread about the 17-40mm L.
posted by chunking express at 8:25 AM on October 11, 2006

I've liked the 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM myself. Using a d20 as well.
I don't throw much up in flickr, but iirc most of this set was used with that lens
posted by edgeways at 8:33 AM on October 11, 2006

Geek: I agree with the folks above who linked to that 50mm F/1.8 Canon. It a great prime at an incredible price, but the problem is it doesn't feel very solid to me. I shot with one for a little while and then returned it for Canon's 50mm F.14. It's much more expensive, but it's worth every penny. The build quality is much better, I finde the shot quality a little better and most of all, that one extra stop is just so key, particuarly indoors (where I know you don't shoot much). I wouldn't even suggest this, except that you mention that price is not an issue. If you go to a camera store, ask to see both lenses. Pick them up and feel the difference. It's worth the money if you decide you want a 50mm prime for anything other than just fooling around.
posted by The Bellman at 8:34 AM on October 11, 2006

I just bought the Nikon 50mm f/1.8 lense, but haven't used it yet. I am considering getting a 35mm f/2 as well, because I am concerned that the 50mm on a digital camera acts like 75mm lense (slight telephoto) due to the sensor size. Something to think about when considering lenses...

Does anyone know what lense will product as little distortion as possible for a DSLR? I'm just curious to know what lense is neither telephoto nor wide. Sorry to piggyback on this question, but I thought you might be interested as well.
posted by xammerboy at 8:35 AM on October 11, 2006

I would advise you to get either the Sigma 17-70 or Tamron 17-50 over the Canon 17-85IS. Both lenses are at least a stop faster (Sigma starts at f/2.8 at the wide end and starts at f/4.5 at the long end; the Tamron is a constant 2.8 across) a couple of hundred dollars cheaper, come with hoods included (the Canon is extra $$), and optically they are a bit better than the Canon. The Sigma has a very close focusing distance so you can do near macro shots of flowers and what not. The Tamron is very sharp even at f/2.8, while other zoom lenses at this sort of price point need to be stopped down a bit to get nice picture quality. The only advantage of the Canon is that it has IS, but it's such a slow lens aperture-wise.

Many people have gotten by with the 17-40L as their standard zoom. That was the only game in town a few years ago, but now I think you'd be better off with one of the designed-for-digital zooms since they give you brighter apertures, longer zoom ranges, and lower weight. (Whether to buy digital crop lenses or to stick to full frame lenses inspire as many pointless flamewars as Mac vs. Windows. My personal opinion is to go for these digital crop lenses.)

I have the Tamron and I think it's just about perfect for a starter kit lens: reasonably priced, useful range, useable f/2.8 all round so you can start to play with low DOF. If I had the money, I'd jump up to the Canon 17-55/2.8 IS, but I don't, so it doesn't bug me.

My pics taken with the Tamron 17-50 on Flickr.

As for accessories: a nice Lowepro bag, a polarizer filter, a bulb blower for cleaning off sensor dust, a 50/1.8 for the hell of it, and a hood if you get the Canon 17-85.
posted by alidarbac at 8:51 AM on October 11, 2006 [2 favorites]

For examples of shots from the 50mm, you can check photos I took at a concert. It's a great low-light lens. Here are snaps from the 17-40mm L. Lots of people tag their photos with the lens they used, so you can find more examples on Flickr.
posted by chunking express at 8:55 AM on October 11, 2006

I shoot Nikon so I can't say anything about a specific lens. However, you should be looking for a lens with a 2.8 continuous max aperture. This will be the pro lens for your camera. Also, this will give you more leeway to shoot in low light. The resolution of the 20D can definitely tell the difference between good and bad glass. I spent as much on the lens as I did on the camera (D200) and I think it was worth every penny.

I have a 17-55 and I find I would like a little more on the wide end for landscape. I hear good things about the Sigma 10-20.

Whatever you do, go to DPReview and check out the forum for Canon SLR Lens Talk. 10 minutes of browsing will give you a pretty good idea of which lenses are good and which aren't (that will include the Sigmas and Tamrons as well).

Unquestionably, the most important accessory you can buy will be a good tripod.
posted by johngumbo at 9:05 AM on October 11, 2006

xammerboy writes "Does anyone know what lense will product as little distortion as possible for a DSLR? I'm just curious to know what lense is neither telephoto nor wide. Sorry to piggyback on this question, but I thought you might be interested as well."

In 35mm everything from 35mm to 55mm has been considered as normal. On a APS sensor those same lenses will give you the same perspective but a narrower field of view. If you are wanting the same field of view you need to go wider but that also give a different perspective. I've always considered 40mm as normal because that was what I got used to on my first carry every where camera. Now I use a 35F2 on an APS DSLR and it feels similiar.
posted by Mitheral at 9:37 AM on October 11, 2006

Re: bags

Buying a bag is pretty subjective, I think. Once you have all your gear (or at least the stuff you plan on taking out every time you go shooting), cart it all over to the camera store. Make sure it all fits in the bag, then make sure the bag is comfortable on your shoulder.

I would tend to go for the backpack style more than the over-the-shoulder type, since it distrubutes the weight on your shoulders better. Again, it's a pretty subjective thing.
posted by backseatpilot at 9:49 AM on October 11, 2006

I found this Wikipedia page that helps calculate what lense will provide a "normal", neither-wide nor telephoto'd picture. I would use this table to calculate which lense will provide you with a "normal" view.

I believe a 27 mm lense will give you what a 50 mm will on a non-digital camera.
posted by xammerboy at 11:17 AM on October 11, 2006

Thanks everyone for the advice and samples so far! I have a lot of reading to do before I make any decisions, but this is a great start.

Also, I just happened to come across ZipLens this afternoon, where you can rent Canon and Nikon lenses to try them out. Brilliant!
posted by geeky at 11:37 AM on October 11, 2006

I am pretty happy with my Canon 350/XT with Sigma 18-200, as it is easy to carry around, but I always have my Canon 50/1.8 in the bag too for night shots. a few shots
I probably miss some IS-lens, and the 17-85 sounds great.
posted by KimG at 12:07 PM on October 11, 2006

My favorite photo accessory is a white card similar to this product. Setting a custom white balance makes an amazing difference in your color reproduction, but if you're just shooting standard daylight it may not make a big dif for you.
posted by daver at 12:12 PM on October 11, 2006

I was going to mention the Sigma 18-200 that KimG mentioned. I have the 18-55 kit lens that came with my Digital Rebel, and I often find myself wanting more reach. I have a Sigma 70-300, but switching lenses in a hurry can be a hassle. I'm thinking about ditching those two lenses for a single lens that can stay on my camera most of the time. If I was doing it all over again, I'd get a decent all-purpose lens with a bit more zoom ratio, like that Sigma, as well as a few special-purpose lenses like the 50mm f/1.8 and possibly an IS telephoto.

Also, an 18% gray card is a nice thing to have for a digital camera. Setting white balance can be a pain, and if you shoot RAW, it's dead-simple to shoot your card, shoot your pictures, then fix the white balance when you get back to the computer and you have a nice big screen instead of a camera LCD.

Someone mentioned this as well, but I want to heartily second it: Get a real flash as well, preferably a Canon EX. I don't know if the 20D has a pop-up or not, but the pop-up is worthless anyway. Canon flashes use IR (I think) to allow for multiple wireless slaves, and you can bounce the flash to reduce harsh shadows. Plus, redeye disappears with a 'real' flash.
posted by cebailey at 1:06 PM on October 11, 2006

Hah... I already responded to this on your blog, no wonder this question seemed so familiar! But apparently you were reading my mind when you asked this question, as my response was to get the 17-85 IS lens. Hah!

Having said that, here's a bit of a response to people saying that it's too slow: if you want shallow DOF, get a cheapy 50mm F1.8 for the few times that you want to get EXTREMELY shallow DOF. For everything else, f/4 is PLENTY shallow for most of your everyday shooting. And you don't really have to worry about f/4 being too slow, because in-lens IS apparently gives you up to 4 stops. That is MENTAL.
posted by antifuse at 1:49 AM on October 12, 2006

Oh, and that ZipLens site is AWESOME. Too bad they only ship to the US :(
posted by antifuse at 1:50 AM on October 12, 2006

antifuse writes "And you don't really have to worry about f/4 being too slow, because in-lens IS apparently gives you up to 4 stops. That is MENTAL."

Image stabilization is not a replacement for a fast lense. It only helps mitigate the effects of shake of the camera. Besides DOF effects it doesn't help brighten view finders, freeze fast action, extend flash range, or help auto focus under low light conditions.
posted by Mitheral at 11:21 AM on October 12, 2006

For anyone coming back to this question wondering what I bought, I ultimately went with the Canon 24-70mm L series lens. It cost a small fortune, but I don't regret it one bit!
posted by geeky at 10:22 AM on November 17, 2006

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