Is the canon XTi kit lens even worth it?
January 30, 2007 9:56 PM   Subscribe

Any point in getting the Canon XTi lens kit? Tamron or Sigma?

I'm getting my first DSLR, and am going to buy a Canon Rebel XTi, even though I have a few minolta lenses sitting around that would work on the Sony A100. I thought deciding which camera to get was the hard part, until I looked into lenses.

After much review-reading I've decided that I want to at some point soon get either the Tamron 17-50mm 2.8 or the Sigma 18-50mm 2.8 Macro. My first question is, does anyone has know which of those two are better? I've read reviews of each individually but it's hard to tell. (I've seen comparisons of the Tamron with the pre-macro Sigma 18-50, and it seemed like the Tamron was better, but from what I've read the new marco version is better)

And more importantly, when I buy the camera, is there any benefit to getting the kit with the Canon 18-55 for an extra 70$ as opposed to just getting a better lens right away? I don't know if image stabilization alone is worth it. In general, is it better to actually have a camera before you start buying lenses for it? Do you typically try them out in stores before you buy it? I've never bought lenses for any of my film SLRs before and am unfamiliar with the process.

posted by illegiblemess to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I actually have the Sigma (the macro version) and in general I like it lot. On my D50 it works quite well. The f/2.8 aperture is awesome and bokeh comes out smooth and pleasing.

I've never had any experience with the Tamron.
posted by roomwithaview at 10:05 PM on January 30, 2007

I wouldn't get the kit lens if you're going to get a roughly equivalent (in terms of focal length) right away. However, you might want a 50mm f/1.8. They're cheap and very sharp.

I would imagine the quality of the two lenses you're interested in is rather a toss-up and you'd probably be fine with either. Personally I'd go with the Sigma because its "macro" capability is better (it's not a true 1:1 macro though; if you're seriously into macro photography, you owe yourself a real macro lens, such as the Canon 60mm f/2.8 macro).

I have bought most of my lenses over the 'net with good results, so I don't think it's necessary to have the camera or try out the lens. Just buy from an outlet with a good return policy on the off chance that you receive an obvious lemon.

The image stabilization on the Sony is probably very nice; I had a Minolta A1 that I quite liked while I had it. On the other hand, you can go one or two ISO numbers faster on the Canon anyway (since the sensor makes less noise) and the increased speed freezes all motion, not just camera shake. In other words, the noise you'll get on the Sony at ISO 800 is approximately what you'd get on the Canon at ISO 3200, so you can just shoot at ISO 3200 on the Canon when there's not much light and not worry so much about image stabilization. And you'll have a lot more lenses and accessories to choose from with the Canon system.
posted by kindall at 10:23 PM on January 30, 2007

Having just bought that camera (with the kit lens) (back story), I'd say use the extra $70 you would spend on the kit to buy the 50 mm f/1.8 prime lens instead. Having a large-aperture lens is a good thing, and it'll let you take some good pictures out of the box without having sunk money in to something that you're going to immediately upgrade in to obsolescence.

The kit lens works, but I found myself immediately wanting something a bigger aperture, image stabilization, or a longer focal length, and it has none of those.

On preview, I agree with kindall
posted by 0xFCAF at 10:24 PM on January 30, 2007

The Tamron 17-50 is a great lens with a terrific balance, I have it for my D80 and think it was and is the best lens available on the Nikon side for that general price range; it doesn't hurt that it feels so good on that camera. Sigma makes superb products as well, but they've felt a little off to me lately. Also, keep in mind that the 18-55mm Canon is not an IS lens and by all accounts is a crappy lens that "does the job". The kit lens with IS is the 17-85mm (a pretty excellent lens).

To answer your questions:

-The benefit of getting the 18-55 kit would be if you had a hot 24-70 f2.8 lens (or some such) for general shooting but wanted to be able to shoot wider than a 35mm equivalent without paying the $400 for one of the third party lenses you mentioned (or even more for a first party), or if there was a backorder on the 18-200 you really wanted but you wanted to be shooting right away.

-in my opinion and experience, a fast f2.8 lens is going to be generally more useful than a slow lens with image stabilisation. i know lots of folks who have been disappointed by IS or VR or whatever, and in my own toying around the technology strikes me as a bit more specialized than advertised. it's a no brainer when you're adding it on to an already fast lens, but on something like a 3.5-5.6 you're probably losing to a 2.8 or larger.

-the lenses you should wait to buy are specialty lenses (high telephoto, fisheye, etc); a nice general purpose lens is going to make you like the camera a lot more, so you should have no qualms about getting something that's a bit of a step up (without going crazy) to start out

-all of that said, it's worth noting that the canon 17-85 IS is a bit more solidly constructed and retains its value better than a third party lens would. that's what you'd be gaining by going in that direction aside from the IS (although at the cost of maximum aperture).
posted by pokermonk at 11:03 PM on January 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

Speaking as a camera salesman, the 18-55 kit lens is crap, and even moreso if you get either the Tamron or the Sigma lens.

So please, don't get the kit lens. Think of the children.
posted by ztdavis at 11:20 PM on January 30, 2007

I have a rebel XT. I bought it with the 17-55 kit lens. I figured that it would give me a chance to figure out what I really wanted, lens wise. As soon as I got it, I found myself less thrilled with the small max aperture from both an exposure and depth of field perspective.

I decided I needed a telephoto, because I was taking lots of pictures of my dog at the park and I needed the reach, so I bought the excellent 70-200 f4L. It didn't take many photos with that lens for me to realize that my photography skills weren't the only reason I was often unhappy with the results from the kit lens, so I resolved to replace it.

I originally had the Sigma in mind, but gradually through reading around, I concluded that the Tamron was a better bet for me. I thought the macro version of the sigma was a distinct part, with it's own intended applications, and not a successor to the non -macro version.

I'm very happy with the Tamron. It seems solidly built, and I really like the image quality of the photos I take with it. It is noticeably larger and heavier than the kit lens, and the autofocus is a bit noisy, but I'm really glad I got it. In addition to the improved image quality, I really like the options that the f2.8 aperture opens up, like being able to take shots in low light, and having the ability to have a pretty shallow depth of field.

If you want to see more examples, I have a few on flickr

The Sigma seems like a fine option too. Either should be vastly better than the kit lens.

Buying online with a reputable dealer, like B&H is a good way to go, though some people prefer to try a lens out and buy it at a local shop to be sure you get a non-quirky example. I think going with the Sigma or Tamron as a first lens is a good bet. Don't buy other lenses until you've done some shooting and figured out what photos you aren't able to take because of your lens. Even then, people will rent lenses to fill occasional needs, or to try them out in the field before deciding to buy.

As for IS, it's a nice idea, but it only helps with blurring due to camera movement. I find that mostly I have trouble with movement of the subject, and the only thing that helps with that is a faster shutter due to a wider aperture. Blurring due to camera movement does get to be a real problem with longer zooms, but even with my 70-200, I'm not sure how much IS would help me. If I were going to upgrade, I'd probably be better off going for the f2.8L, which is similar in price to the f4.0L IS
posted by Good Brain at 11:27 PM on January 30, 2007

Another approach you might consider is to get a couple of good zooms and optimize their characteristics separately for indoor and outdoor shooting. At least half my photos are taken with one of two lenses:
  1. Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8. Good indoor lens due to relatively large aperture. This range of focal lengths is generally very flattering for pictures of people and is comfortable to shoot with at 6-10 feet from the subject(s). The glass is widely considered close to Canon "L" quality.
  2. Sigma 18-200 f/3.5-f/6.3. Slow, but no big deal if you've got plenty of light or are shooting mainly stationary objects and have a tripod (e.g. landscapes, my particular passion). Despite the extreme zoom range, does not suck. There are compromises, of course, but it takes fine pictures stopped down to f/8 or f/11 as you would in daylight. It is also a very compact lens. Sigma's coming out with an image-stabilized version of this lens in a couple of months, BTW, which I might pick up.
I have a number of other lenses (a couple of nice primes, an ultra-wide zoom, a dedicated macro) and when I'm going on an outing specifically to take pictures and have plenty of room for gear, I take them all, but when I'm traveling light, the two above are the ones I always take.
posted by kindall at 12:03 AM on January 31, 2007

To agree with many above, the canon f/1.8 50mm lens is, without a doubt, something you should buy. It's less than $100, small, light, and brilliant for close ups of people, especially on a cropped sensor where it becomes 80mm.

I'm a photojournalist, and I have one in my pocket all the time, for chances at interesting portraits. here's one I took of Thabo Mbeki, the president of South Africa, just last week, using that lens. (admittedly on a 1dsmk2 back, but at this resolution, that's irrelevant.)
posted by DangerIsMyMiddleName at 4:45 AM on January 31, 2007

It's already been mentioned, but just to rephrase (since the ranges can get a little confusing): the 18-55 kit lens (the one you'd pay the extra $70) is not image-stabilized. There's a 17-85 IS kit lens which is, but it'll cost you a couple of hundred bucks to add that one (though it's a much nicer lens).

When I first got a DSLR, I got a used Digital Rebel with the 18-55 kit lens (I didn't know too much at the time, and the idea was to "learn by doing", mostly). Yes, the kit lens is cheap in terms of price, but it's also cheap in terms of quality. It's a very plastic lens, and while it's nice and light, and the range isn't bad, it feels like a cheap lens. Optically, it's not horrible, but there are much better lens out there, obviously.

I would recommend going for a better lens right off the bat. Having f/2.8 is very nice, as even if you're not shooting at that aperture, pictures at f/3.5-5.6 (the aperture range of the kit lens) will almost certainly be sharper with an f/2.8 lens. I can't help you with which one you should choose, though; I have a different Sigma zoom lens that I love, but that doesn't correlate at all to their other lenses.

As to when it's "ok" to buy lenses, it really depends on what you're shooting. I started off with the kit lens, and quickly realized I needed a telephoto lens (I sometimes photograph trains), I got one. More recently, I want to get a nicer, wider lens, so I'm looking for a good 24-70 f/2.8.

If you know you're going to be taking lots of pictures of landscapes, you'll probably want a wide lens. For portraits, you'll probably want to get a fast prime lens. If you know you're going to be shooting from a distance, you'll want a telephoto.

You're probably better off going with zoom lenses (in general) when you're first starting out (perhaps going with the 50mm f/1.8 prime as well) because of the flexibility they give you. A 17-50 or 18-50 lens would be a good choice for most non-telephoto stuff; if you keep up with it, you'll probably realize fairly quickly what's missing (i.e., you want do to 1:1 macro, you need more "reach" with a telephoto, etc.). It can be nice to try out a lens before you buy it (if for no other reason than to tangibly feel how much it weighs and such), but it's not really necessary. (I've bought all my lenses online; I try to read a lot of reviews to get a general feel for what's good and what's not.)

Lastly, and this is more of a general statement since you're already looking at third-party lenses, but don't feel that you always need to buy Canon lenses. They're often a lot more expensive, and sometimes the third-party lenses are as good or better.
posted by Godbert at 8:08 AM on January 31, 2007

I bought the Rebel XTi earlier last month and I opted for the 17-85 mm EF-S IS USM lens instead of the kit lens. For me, the main thing was I really wanted to have a versatile lens for travel and the 17-85 really fit the bill. I wanted to be able to handhold my camera a lot (as I'll be on the go quite a bit) and I'm guessing if I hit some of the museums, the IS is going to be quite useful as well.

I got a good deal on it in Canada, if you're from my neck of the woods. B&H has a similar price in the states.
posted by PWA_BadBoy at 8:53 AM on January 31, 2007

I have and love the Tamron 17-50 f/2.8. I don't know how it compares with the Sigma 18-50, but I would highly recommend the Tamron over the Canon 17-85IS. I've heard quite a few horror stories about the purple fringing and the barrel distortion on the wide of the end of the 17-85IS and the IS advantage is negated by the slow aperture.

I've tagged my Tamron pics on Flickr:

If you're mind is set on one of these lenses and you can afford it now, there's no need to get the 18-55 kit lens. If you need to save up, of course you're better off with the 18-55 kit lens rather than nothing. But I bet you could also pick up a secondhand 18-55 kit lens for ridiculously cheap (like $20) since so many people have an extra one hanging around.

One last point to consider is that whichever lens you decide on, you should definitely get one that starts at 17mm. The standard zooms for film cameras that start at 28mm or 24mm are not wide enough for the XTi if you want to try any sort of scenic landscape photography.
posted by alidarbac at 9:07 AM on January 31, 2007

At this point I would absolutely not get the Sony A100. Until they can demonstrate the willingness to fully support a DSLR line you'd be better off going with Nikon, Canon, or even Pentax. Sony has a very bad history of killing product lines with no notice at all, and that's the last thing you want in a camera manufacturer.

The Canon XTi is a fine camera and I'd recommend going with the 50mm f1.8 first. It's small, cheap, very fast and very sharp and it'll let you see what sort of lens you'll want to get next. If you find yourself backing up to get more in your picture you can go for something like the 17-50mm zooms, but if you keep cropping all your pictures you might go for something longer like a zoom in the 50-200mm range.
posted by bshort at 9:12 AM on January 31, 2007

I don't use it any more on account of having a 5D (which can't use it), but can attest that the 17-85 IS is, while not L quality, quite a great lens.
posted by notsnot at 11:34 AM on January 31, 2007

I owned both the Tamron and Sigma lenses in question, simultaneously, and did some comparisons. (Don't shoot me, but I deleted the images.) Tamron was smearier in the corners and the focus was a touch louder and slower. Both were light and contrasty (Sigma more so), and most importantly WIDE on a crop body. I ended up taking back the Tamron and keeping the Sigma, but they are both great lenses.

On a crop body like that, I wouldn't go anything tighter than 20mm for your primary, walkaround zoom.
posted by deadfather at 2:07 PM on January 31, 2007

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